Senior politicians in Europe and the UK, in their statements on the horrific crisis in Gaza and Israel are rightly condemning the Hamas-led attacks on civilians in Israel. They, however, are silent on the suffering of the people of Gaza from Israel’s military attacks other than to endorse Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’.
Israel’s right to defend itself
Of course, Israel has a right to defend itself. That is not at issue here and is a distraction regarding the current conflict in Gaza. Israel has exercised this right fully, including the building of a huge nuclear arsenal of its own. Moreover, since it was established, it has also been afforded political, financial, and weapon support by Western politicians in America, Europe, and the UK and this continues.
The current public statements of senior Western politicians giving blanket support to ‘the right of Israel to defend itself’, however, show no such support for the people of Gaza and their right to defend themselves. The Israelis are now starving them of food and water necessary for survival, forcibly transferring them from their homes, while, according to Amnesty International and ‘Human Rights Watch’, carpet-bombing them using the deadly poison, white phosphorous that that produces a fatal and terrible necrosis destroying a person’s face and organs, leading to a slow and hideous death.
In breach of international law
An issue is that Israel’s unilateral military attacks on Gaza is in breach of international law. This includes the 1948 ‘Geneva Convention 33’ that prohibits collective punishment, pillage, reprisals, and the 1948 Convention against Genocide that protects national, ethical, racial, and religious groups against intentional physical destruction to which Britain is a signatory. The silence on this is difficult to comprehend, and contrasts starkly with Western political condemnation of similar actions, such as that of Russia against the civilian infrastructure in the Ukraine, that is rightly and repeatedly described as a ‘war crime’ and a ‘crime against humanity’.
The formulaic statement ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’, in other words, does not hold up well to such scrutiny or to alternative readings of the conflict and its history. As it stands, it shows no humanity or understanding of the current impact of the scale of the bombing by Israel of hospitals, ambulances, highly packed civilian areas, and churches. This has included, the bombing of a Greek Orthodox church housing 400 civilians trying to seek refuge from the bombs. Also, according to authoritative accounts, it has bombed the Al Ahli hospital instantly killing 500 civilians with the death toll expected to reach 1200, including 400 children.
Horrifyingly, the ‘Palestinian Red Crescent’ has broadcast this message to the international community. “We have just received a threat from the occupying authorities to bombard Al-Quds Hospital and has demanded the hospital’s immediate evacuation. The hospital currently accommodates more than 400 patients and approximately 12,000 displaced civilians who sought refuge there as a safe haven, in addition to the medical staff.”
A dangerous time although not new
This is clearly a very dangerous time for the near, middle, and far east but it is not new or an immediate and a necessary ‘defensive’ response of Israel to an ‘unprovoked’ attack on its civilians. Political analysts and other middle east experts, including some within Israel have been predicting that a huge revolt in Gaza was inevitable against the cruelty and humiliations suffered by them at the hands of the Israelis. UN and other international bodies have also recognized the longstanding dire humanitarian situation in Gaza resulting from the Israeli government’s siege and bombing that began without justification in 2008, and was repeated in 2012, and 2014.
In 2008, for example, the Israelis carpet-bombed Gaza and on the first day of the 21 days of slaughter dropped 100 tons of bombs on civilians. The Jewish political activist, Miklo Peled, has called this “the most shameful day in Jewish history” perpetrated by “the best-equipped, best-fed terrorist organisation”. This has made an ‘open prison’ for over 2 million people (mostly made up refugees with ‘no right of return’ to their homeland). In between the bombings, every military, legal and official measure and action at the disposal of the Israelis has been deployed to take away from the Palestinians in Gaza all the human rights, land, and the opportunities for a safe and decent life, including the right to work, basic services and education of their young people.
There is a plausible suggestion, while the attack on Israeli civilians was shocking, the massive military retaliation by Israel is now part of an ‘end game’ in their colonizing project for the whole of Palestine based on the foundational myth of Israel that Palestine was ‘a land without people for a people without a land’. This suggestion, fits with the plan, ignored now by Western politicians in their support for Israel, first set out by Ariel Sharon’ in his statement many years ago, when prime minister, ‘to bomb Gaza back to the stone age’.
The language of genocide
In spite of this history, for which there is ample evidence, Israel now feels able to publicly, and explicitly, use the language of genocide describing the Palestinians as ‘human animals’ without the right to freedom and self-determination. It also sees no reason to constrain its intent to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Gaza. (There is now information on good authority that it is gearing up to perpetrate similar action in The West Bank). It says, it is prepared to achieve its aims by any means available to it, including the forcible transfer of people of Gaza even though it is a war crime.
Why the silence?
So why the silence on the breach of the two international conventions by the Israelis in their intentional physical destruction of Gaza? Why are the ‘rights’ of Palestinians to defend themselves against this action is ignored in the blanket endorsement of Israel’s actions. Raising such questions is not to condone the terrifying Hamas led attacks and hostage taking of Jewish people living near to the border and soldiers that triggered the current situation.
It is to ask why the Israeli’s siege, blockade, to collective punishment of innocent civilians to withhold water, food and electricity from Palestinian civilians is also not condemned? It is also to ask, given the evidence on what is happening on the ground, and world-wide condemnation of Israel, for the source of the democratic mandate for this one-sided position of elected politicians? These are not rhetorical questions and need to be urgently answered if a way forward is to be found.
The one-sided advocacy for Israel’s military action is a hugely missed opportunity. We are in a very dangerous time, and we need statesmen/women across the world who, like those who, after the Jewish holocaust of ww2, established conventions and worked together so that it ‘could never happen again’. On day 16 of the onslaught on the people of Gaza, we need some optimism and hope for peace and security for Palestinian and Jewish people in the region. This requires similarly judicious legal, ethical, and humane interventions by senior politicians in genuine dialogue calling for an immediate ceasefire and the end of the occupation of Palestine by Israel: this is not one of them.