Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some Hard Truths About Gaza Conflict

There are some difficult truths that need to be articulated in relation to this latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas. Since it is the third time a virtually identical war has broken out between the two, after operations Cast Lead in 2008/09 and Pillar of Defense in 2012, I do not intend on writing in a particularly diplomatic tone.

The general consensus in Ireland is that Israel is the aggressor in this conflict. Given the disproportionate casualties on the Palestinian side I understand why some people come to this conclusion. However, some key factors cannot be ignored.

On the specific issue of casualties, consider the following. Israel has a state of the art missile defence system called Iron Dome, which shoots down many of the rockets fired from Gaza. They also have an extremely well organised alert system which enables most of its citizens in range of the rockets to enter bomb shelters within twenty seconds of the air sirens being sounded. This obviously reduced their casualty numbers dramatically. Hamas aims all its rockets into civilian areas. When people make the point that the conflict is unfair because many more Palestinians than Israelis die, do they mean that if Israel shot down less rockets, and delayed their air raid sirens allowing more of their civilians to die, that this would make the conflict fairer. If so, it is a logic I do not share.

Demonization of Israel
Israel is a nation that is involved in an exceptionally difficult conflict. Over the years it has done some things right, and some things wrong. However no nation on earth receives the level and type of abuse that Israel gets, a few recent examples of which are:

  • British MP George Galloway has begun referring to Israel on twitter as a "Satanic State".
  • A Councillor in Dun Laoighre climbed a flagpole and ripped down an Israeli flag that was on display at an international sailing event for children.  
  • A Synagogue was vandalised in Belfast. 
  • A campaign has begun to expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland.
  • Constant calls for a complete economic, cultural and sporting boycott of Israel. 
No similar actions to these have been taken against other nations whose conduct is far worse than Israel. 

Councillor Hugh Lewis removed the Israeli flag from Dun Laoigre harbour on July 19th. 

The Irish Comparison
I have heard it said frequently during the past week that it would have been catastrophic and inexcusable had the British responded to Provisional IRA attacks by aerial bombing of West Belfast. Yes it would have been. But the comparison is invalid because the PIRA were not committed to the destruction of Britain. They generally gave warnings when they planted bombs and did not as policy deliberately target civilians. They were a completely different creature to what Hamas currently is.

It was never IRA policy to expel northern Protestants from the province.  

Israeli Culpability.
Israel is not without blame during the past two weeks. While I believe it does all it can to reduce civilian casualties as policy, it is clear to me that some Israeli soldiers do act out of malice.The rules of engagement that the IDF have are crystal clear. But ironically, I believe that does allow Israeli soldiers, motivated by hatred, to deliberately kill innocent Palestinians. In other words, when a soldier is so familiar with the rules of engagement, they also know how to kill and get away with it. This is my only explanation for the horrific deaths of the four boys on the beech in Gaza on July 16th. I'm sure this occurs with some sniper kills as well. The attack on the hospital was also inexcusable. Hospitals are off limits. And even if the IDF tank involved had identified gunmen at the Al Asqa Hospital they should not have fired.

The Solution
Many commentators claim that the rocket fire from Hamas is a response to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip and if it were lifted, the rocket fire would stop. This is a complete fairy tale. There is a blockade on the Gaza strip but consider the following. Hamas is the government of Gaza. It's number one objective, as per its charter, is to launch a war of destruction against Israel. Naturally Israel do not want to see economic growth in the Gaza Strip whilst Hamas is the government. If there is economic growth in Gaza, then the capabilities of its government increases, just as economic growth in Ireland or any country leads to more revenue for the state. Therefor Israel has adopted a policy where humanitarian aid is allowed to flow unrestricted into Gaza, but anything that could help the economy grow is subjected to the blockade. Their policy is very simple, no economic development and no humanitarian crisis.

As I have already mentioned this is the third time this war has broken out in the last 5 years. Anybody who does not wish it to occur a 4th, 5th or 6th time needs to face some facts. Israel will not end its siege of Gaza while Hamas remains in power under its current form. The people of Israel, a Jewish nation, learned a very difficult lesson in the 20th century, and that is that when someone threatens to wipe you out, you take them at their word that they intend to carry out that threat. Israel will not back down and simply hope that Hamas will not attack. Therefor, the dynamics of this situation have to change in order to prevent this from happening again in 12 or 18 months time.

If Hamas were to moderate its position, by recognising Israel's right to exist this would make a significant difference. Scholars of the Northern Irish peace process know that the decision taken by Sinn Fein in 1986 to recognise the southern state, and engage in constitutional politics was a vital step in the long road to peace. What we need is for Sinn Fein, or other similar organisation to lobby Hamas to follow a similar line. At present, the widespread opposition to Israel that comes from the international left only serves to make Hamas more belligerent.

Asking Hamas to abandon violent resistance is not realistic. But even a modest gesture or conditional recognition of Israel might be enough to convince Israel to loosen the blockade. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Hamas does not take this step, the siege of Gaza will continue, as will the rocket fire, as will the horrific cycle violence between Israel and Hamas. People concerned about the ongoing suffering in Gaza must recognise this reality. Otherwise, Operation Protective Edge will have a violent sequel.