West turned blind eye to Hamas until Israel hit back


Why did rocket attacks from Gaza not register on the political or media radar screen before the current offensive,? asks David Adams

I AGREE entirely with the anti-Israeli lobby on one point. The invasion of Gaza, and the resultant death, destruction and misery, need never have happened.

Between the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005 and the start of the offensive last December 27th, Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist groups launched about 5,600 indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

Yet the international community stood by and did nothing. Where was the UN during this time (unfortunately, this is a frequently asked question where that organisation and conflict zones are concerned)? What did it do to try to stop the attacks? Goodness knows it had plenty of bargaining power if it had chosen to use it.

Through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN has taken on much of the responsibilities of a government in Gaza. At a conservative estimate, it employs some 10,000 local people. It runs schools, medical centres and virtually all other social services, and provides many of the vital necessities of life such as food and medicine.

Why didn’t the UN apply pressure by letting it be known that UNRWA might consider withdrawing from Gaza if the attacks didn’t stop? The prospect of having to justify the loss of jobs and vital aid and facilities to the Palestinian people should have been enough to force Hamas into reconsidering its actions.

We’ll never know, since the UN didn’t bother trying to pressurise them. The level of UN administrative involvement in Gaza would be impossible without constant interaction between representatives of the Islamic fundamentalists and senior UNRWA officials. Perhaps relations between Hamas and some senior UN representatives have become too close, too driven by on-the-ground pragmatism.

The Israelis certainly think so. For years now, they have been voicing concerns that a blind eye was being turned to the storing of armaments in and around some UNRWA facilities.

Where was Tony Blair, official Middle East envoy on behalf of the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US and Russia), while rockets were being fired from Gaza into Israel? What was he doing? Not very much, it seems.

It was three or four days after Israel began targeting Hamas tunnels, launch sites and munitions dumps before he appeared in public (by which time the French and Egyptians had already begun trying to broker a ceasefire), and a week after that before he made any meaningful public pronouncement. Hardly the mark of someone on top of his job: frankly, he looked and sounded completely out of his depth.

Then there is the western media, the vast majority of which (most particularly, and vitally, in television news and current affairs) hadn’t bothered reporting on the three-year barrage of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

Why was this, if, as they rightly tell us, stability in the Middle East is of global importance? After not having informed the public of thousands of Hamas terrorist attacks over the previous years, television news simply continued in the same vein, content from December 27th to present the Israeli offensive as though it had come entirely out of the blue.

It was only towards the end of the first week that the rocket attacks finally did begin to get a mention, but only in the context of a comparative headcount of the dead and injured on either side to stress how “disproportionate” was the Israeli response.

By then it hardly mattered: the damage was done, the Israelis had already been painted as the bloodthirsty villains of the piece.

Israel made a major mistake by not allowing journalists in to cover the fighting at first hand. Consequently, in a fit of pique, the media has acted as little more than an unquestioning conduit for the flow of Hamas-controlled information and footage coming out of Gaza. One really does wonder at times how much encouragement religious fundamentalists take from the easy compliance of large sections of the western media. And, for that matter, from the easy compliance of many governments.

If there was previously no eagerness on the part of world leaders and international organisations to address the deteriorating Middle East situation, this changed dramatically after December 27th.

One of the first out of the traps was British prime minister Gordon Brown, to publicly condemn Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire. This was rich coming from him. After supporting the invasion of Iraq on the (spurious) threat of rocket attacks on the UK, he had a cheek castigating Israel for responding militarily to years of actual bombardment.

This week, thanks to BBC’s Newsnight, it became clear that the Brown government’s primary concern is not the fate of Palestinians or Israelis, but that events in the Middle East might lead to “the further radicalisation of young British Muslims”. In other words, a few extremists from within a tiny minority of the British population are now able to influence UK foreign policy. It is anybody’s guess where sending out that sort of signal to every bunch of fanatics and malcontents within society will eventually lead.

All things considered, is it any wonder that, finally, the Israelis decided to take things into their own hands?