During the slaughter at the Nahal Oz kibbutz last Saturday, terrified residents hiding from Hamas killers pleaded for help on their WhatsApp group. When their phones started pinging with messages in Hebrew telling them the attack was over and it was safe to come out, and they duly did, the gunmen were waiting outside to mow them down. It transpired the killers had used the phones of earlier Israeli victims to lure the people to their deaths.
Within 48 hours, on the other side of the border In Gaza, 260 children lay dead amid the rubble and smoke of Israel’s counter-attack.
Two wrongs do not make a right. What they make is a vortex of reprisals that erode the humanity of enemies. There is a saying attributed to a Japanese proverb that, when you are seeking revenge, you should dig two graves – one for yourself.
True friends would caution the aggressors in what we used to call the Holy Land that the way to a genocidal cul-de-sac is paved with retaliation. Two eyes for one eye; two teeth for one tooth. Instead, Joe Biden in Washington sent Israel a warship after Hamas unleashed its savagery on Saturday. While Israel’s prime minister was vowing to exact “mighty vengeance”, Rishi Sunak in London said: “There are no two sides to these events. There is no question of balance. I stand with Israel.” In Dublin, Leo Varadkar said the Irish Government supports Israel’s right to self-defence but that it should not be disproportionate.
What constitutes disproportionality? Is it acceptable for Binyamin Netanyahu’s government to massacre the same number of Gazans as the number of Israelis massacred by Hamas? Is mass murder tolerable but near-annihilation a step too far? How can anybody even calculate the rate of death when the rest of the world is unable to see up close and personal the horrors now being wreaked upon Gaza from the sky above it that Israel controls? Without electricity, Gazans cannot charge their phone batteries, thus ensuring the detail of what is happening in the tiny territory remains invisible.
As in every war, it is the people without the power to stop it who are being sacrificed. They are the fodder for the guns and rockets, the collateral damage tolerated by the so-called “international community”. Hamas exploits injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people to further its own agenda to destroy Israel. The Israeli state endangers its citizens by provocatively breaking international law while its purported friends in the international community look, determinedly, away.
If there are wickedly-motivated people on all sides, there are good people too, such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Combatants for Peace. These people risking their own lives in pursuit of justice are being put at greater risk by the obdurate blind eye of Israel’s so-called friends. Some of their volunteers were interviewed by John McColgan of Riverdance fame for a film he made on behalf of Trócaire called This is Palestine. It is worth watching, if you are not one of the million people who have seen it already. It ought to be compulsory viewing for Britain’s prime minister to disabuse him of the fallacy that there is only one side. There are four sides, at least – two viciously warring enemies, the multitudes of innocents trapped between them, and an outside world more concerned with the tactics of geopolitical poker.
Among the 2.3 million people squashed into the 25-mile long Gaza Strip – a coastal ribbon less than half the size of Louth – McColgan met the parents of three little children beheaded or left with their brains blown out by Israeli state forces who, post facto, claimed they were terrorists. He met a young boy who had been rendered speechless after witnessing his playmates on the beach being exterminated by Israeli gunboats. The boy had not uttered a word in the years since the atrocity.
Across the border in Israel, regular practice drills for rocket attacks and the wailing of sirens warning people to drop to the ground in self-preservation are part of normal life. Everyone suffers while the war mongers square up and their allies – be they in Washington or Tehran – inflame them ever more with disingenuous rhetoric.
If Sunak honestly thinks there is only one side, he is not fit to be in charge of any country. Orly Noy, the editor of Local Call, a Hebrew-language news magazine, wrote in the Guardian on Tuesday that, were she to ignore the context of the conflict she would be surrendering part of her humanity. “Because violence devoid of any context leads to only one possible response: revenge,” she said.
Commentators implicitly blame Gazans for electing Hamas in the enclave’s last parliamentary elections in 2006, as if they have collaborated in their own victimisation. There is no parity of blame extended to Israeli voters who have elected one of the country’s farthest-right governments in its history. Nor should either electorate take the blame. Voters are susceptible to the apocalyptic fears fomented by their political leaders.
Of the four sides, the delinquency of the so-called friends is the most insidious. They have the power to intervene on behalf of the majority who did not start it and cannot stop it.
Instead of acknowledging the context, global powers and their media indulge in the politics of condemnation when the occasion suits them. Rightly, they deplored the barbaric mass killings and the kidnappings by Hamas last weekend, but their denunciations have been feeble since the UN declared Israeli settlements in the shrinking Palestinian territories to be illegal. And what are they doing now other than waving the Israel Defence Forces onwards to Gaza like ushers in a theatre to try to stop the indiscriminate air strikes on the general population? The Geneva Convention says people must not be punished for offences they have not personally committed.
By not acknowledging the context, Israel’s so-called friends are choosing to kindle revenge and light the fire of hatred in future generations yet to be born.