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Israel v Gaza: taking sides

gaza-photoIt is astonishing to find that the level of violent conflict in the world at present has pushed stories about ISIS rape and murder of Christians in Mosul down to third place in the news. Western military intervention in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan was in large part based on a narrative that as countries become more civilized, they will naturally turn into Western-style liberal democracies. The wave of violence across the Middle East shows what empty hubris this myth really is.

The tragic shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and the horrific killing of civilians, and particularly children, in Gaza have jostled for first place in the news. We wonder how one airline could have suffered two such tragedies in so short a period of time, and reel at the agony of relatives who do not know what will happen to the bodies of their loved ones. But the coverage of Gaza, particularly on social media, has highlighted another deadly dynamic in Western coverage. Just as the camera of the news crew cuts out the wider context of the picture we are seeing, social media coverage has often prohibited the asking of questions about the Israel/Gaza conflict. We are expected to move from our horror at child deaths straight to condemnation of one side in the conflict—and to ask questions about such a move is (in my experience) greeted with disgust or disdain.


How we use social media in this case really is a matter of life and death. As John Gray points out, ISIS, Hamas and other Islamist groups are very adept at making use of social media. Why did Hamas start firing rockets randomly on Israeli citizens without warning? The only really plausible explanation is that they knew that Israel would retaliate; that because of their superior weaponry and defence, the Israelis would suffer many fewer casualties than the Palestinians in Gaza; that by siting rockets in schools and hospitals there would likely be civilian casualties; and that this would cause an outcry in Western media leading to pressure on Israel to make concessions. It appears to have worked. Every time we take sides in response to the horrific stories of death, we are participating in this process—making it more likely that Hamas (or other groups) will do the same again.

An excellent piece in the New York Times at the weekend highlighted the other problem with Western responses—or in fact any idea of taking one side or the other:

The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.

Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.

Both sides have plenty of good people who just want the best for their children and their communities, and also plenty of myopic zealots who preach hatred. A starting point is to put away the good vs. evil narrative and recognize this as the aching story of two peoples — each with legitimate grievances — colliding with each other.

There is a useful video that has been doing the rounds, and gives a basic outline of some key historical moves—it is worth watching as part of understanding the context.

This is brief overview, and there are some important things that need fleshing out here—and some impressions that will no doubt be contested.

225px-Theodor_HerzlThe first important thing to note is that the process of Jews settling in Palestine did not suddenly happen in 1947 as you might infer from the video. It started in the 19th century as a result of the rise of Zionism, particularly under the leadership of the Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer Theodor Herzl. Hebrew began as a modern spoken language when Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, living in the Old Quarter of Jerusalem in the 1890s, forbade his wife and children from saying anything at home unless they said it in (biblical) Hebrew. The kibbutz I lived on in my year out, Kfar HaMaccabi, was established by members of a Jewish youth movement from Czeckoslovakia and Germany in 1936.

Like many of the problems in the Middle East, this one had its roots in the decisions by the former colonial powers in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Just as the problems with ISIS and the borders of Iran and Iraq have their ultimate origin in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the problems of the two-state settlement in 1948 go back to the British promising the land of Palestine simultaneously to Arabs and Jews, the latter in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

There was a significant change in Israeli politics, when it elected its first right-wing Likud government, led by Menachem Begin in 1977. Up until then, the state had been governed by the Labour party under a more liberal, European style of democracy. The reason for the change was primarily demographic; European Ashkenazi Jews had a lower birth rate than Sephardic Jews who had emigrated from Arab states, and who had a much less tolerant attitude to the Arab nations who had been oppressing them. In other words, Israel began to treat the Arab nations much more as they had been treated.

ShowImage.ashxThis makes the peace agreement of 1978 with Egypt all the more remarkable. But the change in outlook led to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the first war that was not pre-emptive of or in response to an Arab invasion of Israel. I was shocked to learn that the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila had been created by the Lebanese refusing to allow Palestinians refugees to settle and integrate (as in other Arab countries) and that the massacre there was carried out by Lebanese Arabs, though with Israeli collusion.

The theoretical commitment of Israel to exchange land for peace has been seriously compromised by the illegal settlements on the West Bank—though Israel has removed settlements in the past, at significant political cost.


In reflecting on what is happening, we also need to be honest about the nature of Hamas as a movement. It come to power by means of a coup in 2007, which means that there is no longer a single Palestinian Authority governing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as there had been previously. The coup was a battle between Hamas and Fatah, and relations between these two movements seems to be as complex as relations between either of them with Israel itself. During the fighting, both sides were guilty of serious violations of international law, including the murder of prisoners and civilians, and throwing opponents to their deaths from the top of buildings:

These attacks by both Hamas and Fatah constitute brutal assaults on the most fundamental humanitarian principles. The murder of civilians not engaged in hostilities and the willful killing of captives are war crimes, pure and simple. (Human Rights Watch)

Alan Johnson highlights the difference in the formal positions of Israel and Hamas to the current impasse about the future of the land:

People do not know that when Israel left Gaza in 2005, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who, like Rabin and Barak before him, and like Olmert after him, had crossed his Rubicon, finally accepting the need to divide the land – said: “We desire a life living side-by-side, in understanding and peace. Our goal [in disengaging] is that the Palestinians will be able to live in dignity and freedom in an independent state, and, together with us, enjoy good neighbourly relations.”

They do not know that the reply from the Hamas bomb-making chief Mohammed Deif was instant. On the website of the Izz-al Din Qassam Brigades he declared: “I thank Allah the exalted for his support in the Jihad of our people. I ask for your assistance to our jihad… We shall not rest until our entire holy land is liberated … To the Zionists we promise that tomorrow all of Palestine will become hell for you…”

They do not know that Hamas describes Palestine as “an Islamic Waqf (Endowment) consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day” or that it pledges “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”.

They do not know that Hamas rejects all possible compromise with Israel, and all possibility of a negotiated peace in the following terms: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”

As the New York Times piece makes clear, this does not mean either side is all good or all bad—many Israelis have voiced criticism about Government policy or the behaviour of their own troops—though with a free press in Israel, they are allowed to do so.

How does all this affect our response to the current tragedy? It doesn’t mean we should not grieve. But for me it does mean we should be very careful to take sides, or suggest simplistic solutions—still less become part of the social media phenomenon, which is now helping to exacerbate this conflict. The best way to understand it is as an unreasonable response to an unreasonable provocation. And the Palestinian people have been oppressed by the other Arab nations and their own leadership as much as by the State of Israel.

We need to pray and work for peace, and the coming of God’s kingdom of justice for all.


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41 Responses to Israel v Gaza: taking sides

  1. Pete Phillips July 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Thanks, Ian, for showing how easy it is to take sides. No mention of the blockade, of the horror of living in a refugee camp, of borders, of massive walls, of the gradual erosion of Palestinian territory. Yes, Hamas is awful. Yes, they are a terrorist organisation. Yes, they should stop sending rockets towards Israel…

    And no, children do not die because of a tweet.

    They die because the world’s fourth largest army decides to bomb hospitals and schools, homes and playgrounds.

    Killing 500 civilians and saying that Hamas has done it is simply no excuse. “What you do to the least of mine, you do to me”

    Taking sides…mmm…

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Well, Pete, if I covered all the issues then I would have spent all day. But I think your comment illustrates how every issues adds a layer of complexity. I agree, as I say above, that neither side is beyond rebuke. But it is worth again noting Alan Johnson’s observation:

      They do not know that in spite of the Hamas threats, after leaving Gaza Israel signed an Agreement on Movement and Access with the Palestinian Authority which gave the Palestinians control over their own borders for the first time in history, allowed for imports and exports, and even approved construction of a seaport and discussions on an airport.

      Unfortunately, Hamas does not respect deals made between the PA and Israel.

      They do not know that as a direct result, not only Israel but also Egypt put restrictions on the borders with Gaza, and Israel instituted a legal maritime blockade around Gaza to keep rockets and other weapons out of the hands of Hamas, while letting food and other humanitarian aid in.

      They do not know that a UN inquiry (the 2011 Palmer Report) determined that Israel’s policy was legal given the threat it faced.

      They do not know that in March 2014, Israel intercepted an Iranian ship, one of several intercepted by Israel, with a cargo of weapons to Hamas in Gaza, including advanced M-302 surface-to-surface missiles, showing again why the naval blockade is necessary.

      If you think these facts are in error, please let me know.

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      And btw, the parable of the sheep and goats is about something different altogether..

      http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/matthew-mission-and-muslims/

      • Pete Phillips July 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

        OK – we won’t get anywhere here, will we?

        It feels like Israel cannot be criticised. And you determine what Jesus’ parables mean. I’m not so sure I need to be referred to a bible study on the subject. I’ve taught New Testament long enough to understand the potential polyvalence of the texts.

        What a pity that violence begets division. But I suppose that goes with the territory.

        Might be better to delete this thread and remove my initial response as you cannot see the issue from my point of view.

        Pete

        • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

          I am not planning to delete anything, and I am not trying to ignore your point of view. But I think making a statement like ‘children die because the world’s fourth largest army chooses to bomb schools and hospitals’ looks to me like an exercise in commenting on what is in front of us by removing it from any context. And I think that is what media, and especially social media, are doing to this debate—inhibiting not only understanding the complexities, but even ruling out the exercise of understanding as being of any value at all.

          And I don’t think that the popular reading of the sheep and the goats arises because of polyvalence of the text, but ignorance of it. That interpretation was unknown before the 1850s.

          Happy to keep going if we can engage with each other’s points…

        • Ian Paul July 24, 2014 at 11:22 am #

          (It’s not me determining what jesus’ parables mean…it is the text.)

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

      Social media, including Twitter, is more important in this than you give it credit for. Both sides have invested considerable time, energy and resources in their social media strategies.

  2. Emlyn July 22, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Thanks Ian – very thoughtful. I remember hearing Tony Campolo on a 5Live phone in at the time of the Bosnian crisis saying that the problem with the discussion was that people had been simplistically divided into goodies and baddies. As he said, the line between good and evil runs right through all of us. We may not all be equally culpable but we do need to avoid simplistic analyses. Now I need to take note of that for myself!

  3. Wolf Paul July 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Pete Philips, and you demonstrate the same thing by omitting the reasons for the blockade, the reasons for the targeting of hospitals, schools, and playgrounds, etc.

    Ian did not discuss the horrors of living in refugee camps, but he did mention who is responsible for the fact that the camps are still full.

    Yes, war is horrible, but saying or implying that Israel is at fault for bombing these civilian sites you list ignores the fact that the government elected by the people of Hamas (albeit perhaps under duress, in which case that needs to be highlighted as well) places rocket launchers and uses them right in the midst of these civilian sites with the declared intent of having huge collateral damage from the inevitable counter strikes.

    It is indeed easy to take sides.

  4. Graham July 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    This is a disappointing article. Firstly, there is no ‘no taking sides’ since there is no neutral position. Secondly, the subtext appears to be that we should not highlight the injustices of the state of Israel because to do so would be to support the position of any who oppose Israel. Not all who oppose Israel’s policies call for Israel’s destruction. Thirdly, the video with the post is awful. A much better introduction is found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y58njT2oXfE.

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Graham, and for the other video. I think that it, too, has serious flaws, some of which I address above:

      1. It is not the case that a ‘refuge’ from persecution was built ‘where another people already live.’ As I comment above, the flow to Palestine happened long before WW2, and was part of free movement of people around the Ottoman Empire.

      2. The video fails to mention that many of the new Jewish communities were established in areas that were largely uninhabited by the indigenous people, because of malarial infection. Prior to Jewish immigration, large areas of land were unproductive. Whole generations died of malaria settling the land and turning it into farmland.

      3. The maps are interesting, since they show (but there is no comment) that the 1948 settlement significantly matched the by then population distribution.

      4. The ‘massive destruction of life’ did not come with the 1948 plan so much as the war that followed…which was initiated by the Arab nations.

      5. The video is right in numbering the total of refugees to 750,000. Gaza alone now is home to 1.8m because of population growth. But the failure to mention why refugees are in camps, and their treatment by their host Arab neighbours—whose war created their problem in the first place—is shockingly inaccurate.

      6. I think the depiction of the State of Israel as institutionally discriminatory is at best a half truth. There are real issues…but minorities have representation in the Knesset in the way that is not true conversely in many Arab nations. The real problem here is that we are not measuring different groups by the same standard.

      7. In what sense is Israel ‘still holding on to Gaza’? It long ago allowed self-government through the PLA until Hamas took over in 2007…

      8. I totally agree with the illegality of the West Bank settlements. This is contentious within Israel.

      9. There is a wonderful irony in the conclusion, where this Jewish Voice for Peace video says it wants ‘democracy, human rights and equality’ for Palestinians. I share this absolutely. But the problem is that this does not appear to be what the Palestinians leaders want for their own people—and certainly not for the Jews. It is completely asymmetrical.

      As one commentator notes:

      Now if the Palestinians would have accepted the original UN partition plan none of this would have ever happened. And the very solution this video proposes would have happened in 1947 and none of the wars and death would have ever happened. Arabs need to learn to compromise.

      I don’t think that solves the problem…but again this all demonstrates the difficult of taking sides. I am not sure what you mean by saying ‘there is no neutrality’…?

      • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

        Graham, one further thought on this.

        I am just reading Andrew Atherstone’s biography of Justin Welby, and he cites Welby as commenting that not taking sides is crucial to reconciliation. You must take each side on its own terms, and listen to its case sympathetically, no matter how evil it appears to be, if you are to have any hope of reconciliation. And the goal is not to eliminate disagreement, but to eliminate violence as a way of resolving it.

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      I should perhaps add that I do believe that Israel needs to observe human rights, and it is not above criticism. I don’t agree with the widespread theological notion that the State of Israel has a divine right to exist or ignore the law or is a fulfilment of ‘end times’ prophecy…

    • ann smith July 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      Very good video. The previously recommended one was extremely biased, not telling the whole story.

      • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

        Ann, I don’t think either tells the whole story—hence my detailed critique of both.

    • Iqra July 27, 2014 at 3:10 am #

      Completely agree with you, its a shame that Israel’s bombing, killing and essentially Genocide on Palestine needs to be ‘put into context’. Clearly the author is very much Pro-Zionist and indeed agree with anyone being against Israel and their atrocious actions to be ant-semetic. This is not the case, especially seeing as Jewish people who abide by their religion correctly, recognise that the Torah itself states that the Jews are not supposed to settle in their own land. Thou shall not steal.

      Yet here you are, publishing a post that essentially condemns anyone who can see the truth; Israel is a terror state.

  5. Brian July 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve never heard of a single war – not least one in which there really is an existential threat – in which the combatants of one or either side have acted perfectly. How many American soldiers were hanged for raping and murdering civilians in WWII?

    The ethical standards of the IDF are pretty good really (their soldiers are trained in this) – and there is a double standard in what the world expects of Israeli Jews compared with Muslim Arabs.

    The Israeli AND Egyptian blockade of Gaza is intended to keep out WMD, which Iran and North Korea would certainly provide if they could. What has this to do with Iran? This is just ideological/religious hatred. As for Israel’s alertness, useful to remember the IRA’s threat: ‘You need to be lucky all the time; we need to be lucky only once.’ There isn’t much hope for progress if the Gazans under Hamas keep playing a zero-sum game. Eyeless in Gaza? Meanwhile, the Christian communities there shrink into nothing, while the Christian communities in Israel are doing all right.

  6. Etienne July 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    The Israelis will continue to protect themselves and their families and, as far as I can see, they have a perfect right to do so.

    Israel is faced with a wall of implacable enemies determined to push it into the sea. Its enemies are ready to sacrifice just about everything, including the lives of their own children, to win their war. They purposely put their children in harm’s way in order to show the world images that cause the unthinking among us to condemn the Israelis as child killers.

    But let’s be clear about this. When Palestinians fire rockets from the roof of a hospital or a school playground, or even the middle of a densely settled quarter of one of their towns, THEY are responsible for the death and suffering caused by the armed response that follows.

    I live in Paris and I had the misfortune to be caught up in the violent and illegal anti-Israeli protest that took place in the Barbès neighborhood a few days ago.

    Riot police faced off against a baying crowd of religious and nationalist fanatics, who were out to sack and destroy the premises of the mostly Jewish-owned discount clothing stores that line the boulevard de Magenta (hence my presence in a district I rarely visit – the summer sales are on and the lure of de Fursac and Givenchy at 70% off is stronger than the instinct for self-preservation in the hearts of all properly constituted Frenchmen … 😉 ).

    Had you been there and seen the hatred etched in those faces and the outrage in their eyes as the forces of the Republic foiled their plans for violent retribution, you would have realized that compromise is not possible. It’s a Western pipe dream born of naive and romanticized Christian ideals of harmony and reconciliation.

    The Palestinians will never rest until they’ve utterly destroyed the Jewish state and the Israelis will never let that happen. As the Israelis are stronger, there’s only one possible outcome, which slowly but surely the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves.

    I don’t dispute the right of the Palestinians to their own state. But given their implacable commitment to vengeance and the destruction of Israel, it’s folly to think that state can exist where it is. Just as you would eradicate a hornet’s nest in your own back yard, or at the very least (if you were a fully paid up ecological “God-loves-hornets-too” organic vegetarian Christian) seek to relocate the pesky beasts somewhere where their vicious instinct to sting couldn’t hurt you, it seems to me there are really only two possible solutions to this conflict.

    Either Israel crushes the Palestinians completely, or one party agrees to leave and settle somewhere else.

    Obviously the Israelis are going nowhere. But what about the Palestinians? Maybe the Greeks could be persuaded to part with an island or two in exchange for an international write-off of their debt. Or maybe that just wouldn’t be far enough away. I realize this will never happen of course. Which is why I think that realistically this conflict is doomed to run and run until the Palestinians are utterly defeated.

    What other solution is there? If you had seen the primeval hatred in the eyes of those Palestinian demonstrators (or rioters and looters, to be true to their intentions), you would realize that dialogue is impossible. Such animosity forces you to take sides. If we let these people rampage through our streets in pursuit of the vengeance they seek, we cave in to mob rule and we condemn our fellow citizens to death, violence and the destruction of their property.

    Some conflicts have to be fought to the bitter end to ensure the survival of our democratic way of life. Had we bargained with the Nazis, where would we be now? As far as I can see, we should support Israel and show the Palestinians that the only way foward involves their acceptance of certain geopolitical realities and the total abandonment of their plan to destroy Israel. I don’t hold out much hope of any change. So I think they’re heading for complete disaster. But as Christians would no doubt agree, free will comes at a price and we must all face up to the consequences of our behavior. I fear that for the Palestinians, those consequences will be beyond catastrophic.

  7. Philip Mounstephen July 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    I was struck by the phrase ‘cross-demonisation’. I think the proper Christian response is to do the exact opposite. I don’t think neutrality is possible or desirable because it implies in a way one doesn’t care. So I think that what we have to do is not to take sides but to take both sides and to listen carefully to both narratives and all the passion and pain that motivates them. It’s the failure to listen to these opposing narratives that makes progress so hard.

  8. James Byron July 23, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Great post, Ian!

    I do believe that progress can be made, as it’s been made in Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan, but that progress will be rooted in hardheaded negotiation and concession, and glib moral pronouncements won’t help that. Morality applies to individuals, not nations.

    This mess is what you get when a decrepit empire dies, especially an empire as unlovely as the Ottomans, whose death throes took them from autocratic indolence to genocidal nationalism. Neither Jewish nor Palestinian residents of the Levant asked to be thrown into the middle of it, and no group would handle it perfectly. Add ideologies as potent as Islamism, Zionism and Arab nationalism, and you have a powder keg.

    If nothing else, we should be extremely careful about what sparks we throw at it.

  9. LF Buckland July 23, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    I would agree that there is no neutrality. It is not possible to view conflict as academically weighing the rights of either – the depths of understanding required in this conflict are not in our gift.

    The very reasonable comments above each try to add to, not abuse, the original post. But if, at the end, there is a sense of Ian’s larger sympathy for Israel, that may partly be based perhaps on his time on a kibbutz – it becomes more noticeable in his replies.

    As an academic debate concerning such suffering is not possible, and ‘neutrality’ is evidently impossible, either the discussion is redundant, or we need to view through a quite different lens. Shall we set aside the politics, and consider, say, the evidence of suffering – not ‘mine is greater than yours’ but the requirement for a bombardment by sea, air and land.
    How objectivity overcomes this is something that the Blog has sidestepped.

    Sidesteps, too, the Christian perspective of compassion for all who suffer, but most especially for children of whom we are instinctively protective, and absolutely none more so than Arab people (one reason why it is ludicrous to suggest Hamas is willing to sacrifice children, as one comment says).

    Finally, if co-existence was, and is by many, desired – and conflating ‘Jihad’ with Palestine is no more reasonable than assuming all Israelis are in favour of their present military actions – then surely a starting point would be quite simply …space. Objectively, science demonstrates the effects of overcrowding on colonies of *any* creatures. Israel, through its endeavours (as Ian notes) has reclaimed previously-unusable areas, and has enough space not to need the (illegal) settlements, or indeed further Palestinian lands.

    For over a million people to be contained within a strip of land, roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, where access is denied, and all Borders patrolled by restrictions varying from passports (of any kind) to a naval blockade – there can be no clearer recipe for disaster. The miracle is, surely, that the Palestinian families’ interconnectedness enables them to continue to survive without internal riots, under these pressures.

    So – no politics, but a truthful, sympathetic appreciation of the needs of living people, as opposed to the distorted political aims of a minority. There is then no further question of whose side we are taking: why is that necessary?

    • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      ‘LF’ (would love to know your first name!) thanks for your heart-felt comment.

      I need to make clear that by ‘neutrality’ (did I use the term?) I don’t mean indifference, but lack of partisan support. And my ‘sympathy’ is not for one side rather than the other, but for people to form their view in knowledge of, rather than ignorance of, the facts. I have been amazed to find how many people are willing to pronounce a verdict on this issue who in fact know little or nothing of the history of the area.

      For example, Graham offers some helpful comments…but does not appear to be aware that the term ‘Palestinian’ until very recently simply referred to the region. Jews living here were ‘Palestinian’ Jews; the Jewish newspaper published in Jerusalem was called the Palestinian Post. The word has been redefined for political ends over against the State of Israel—which is not in fact a ‘Jewish’ state—it is a liberal democracy, albeit an imperfect one. Contrary to Graham’s comment, there has been no Palestinian state, language, currency or leadership, any more than there has been for the ‘East Midlands’. I say this not to take sides, but to inform the discussion.

      I think you are opposing ‘compassion’ with understanding in a way which goes against the facts, and won’t help the issue forward. Compassion is, you say ‘one reason why it is ludicrous to suggest Hamas is willing to sacrifice children, as one comment says’. But the reality of this is widely documented, and something Hamas boasts of. If you deny this, then you are not being compassionate, you are simply ignoring the realities of the situation.

      As I say, this is the problem with our media coverage of the issue—we are confronted in our living rooms with close-ups of suffering children, and whilst this stirs our compassion it silences our enquiry. And it makes us open to manipulation by all sides. Young men who are very likely active with Hamas are called ‘children’ in their statistics—for media purposes.

      Compassion needs information before it is converted into action. Otherwise we are just pouring more fuel onto the fire of rage and violence.

    • Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente July 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

      “Ian’s larger sympathy for Israel, that may partly be based perhaps on his time on a kibbutz,” maybe you should try living there. I did my MA in Oriental Studies, Mr Buckland, and yes, I’ll take the Israelis over the Muslim Arabs pretty much every time. You try living there as a Christian and I can assure you, your sympathies won’t actually matter much in the face of people who either want to obliterate or convert you. But hey… hasher ko’ach, Ian, a balanced article, I thought.

  10. LF Buckland July 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I have seen references, as you mention, to Hamas claiming this odious concept, but if anyone has a direct link to a verifiable statement, it would be useful were it posted.

    If we accept that the politics of the region will always be presented in terms we can grasp, that the skills required of any media exponent include the (over) simplification of any situation without necessarily an assurance of truth, then we can not ever find it necessary or desirable to take sides – least of all when the people, their history, and our experience can not coincide. For instance, we were informed that, as part of the lead-up to an earlier Peace Process, Gaza must have a democratically-elected government, which could negotiate legitimately. The required elections democratically elected Hamas – the Peace Process has been stalled on many other pretexts, but that was the means by which Hamas was legally authorised to negotiate for a peaceful settlement.

    Is it sufficient to diagnose these terrible events under the headings of ‘Palestinian’ ‘Hamas’, ‘Jewish’ or ‘Israeli’ as if they carried consonance? Just as not all Israelis are Jewish, so by no means all Palestinians are Hamas.

    It is not unreasonable to say “Actions speak louder than words”. We observe the extent of Israel’s claimed retaliation (emotive word) both in duration and in the number of casualties, for Hamas rockets: we also observe the quantity and sophistication of that weaponry – Smart bombs, US fighter jets, the most destructive use of eg phosphorus bombs, and fragmenting shrapnel designed to explode within human bodies.

    We may choose to observe how little the world has to say about these continuing wars… But, without the need for words, the influence, actions and inactions of powerful nations speaks volumes.

    • Etienne July 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      If the Palestinians aren’t perfectly ready to sacrifice children, why do they put their own on the front line? Why are so many of their children injured and killed at violent demonstrations when any responsible parent would have left them at home? Why do they use schools and residential areas as launching pads for their attacks on Israel? They know the Israelis will riposte so they know their own families will be targeted. Why, if they love their own children so much, do they fire their weapons into Israeli residential areas effectively targeting other people’s children?

      The Palestinians are clearly ready to sacrifice their own and their enemy’s children in their struggle against Israel. Such fanaticism puts them on a par with the Nazis and makes it imperative for the West to support Israel in defeating them. I have every sympathy with the Israelis as they seek to neuter an implacable enemy. And whatever happens to the Palestinians, they’ll have brought it on themselves. If you attack your neighbor once too often, you shouldn’t be surprised when he acts to render you incapable of attacking him again.

      • LF Buckland July 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

        I wonder Etienne how Paris papers report these things? The children you mention can’t be left at home when they are already homeless, most casualties are those who, after Israeli 10-minute (or less) warnings of imminent shelling of their block, run even in their night-clothes to escape death. They may still be killed, as there is nowhere to run to…Nowhere, in that congested land, is safe.

        Farmers are shot at (guard-posts, built on confiscated land, where marksmen fire with intent, using rifles) when attempting to grow food; fishermen are fired on by Israeli naval vessels which *permanently* blockade the coast! Or have their vessels confiscated, even within Internationally agreed limits (Gaza fishing takes place in the sewage-laden sea close to land).

        Proportionality, if nothing else, makes this so repulsive: add to this, Israel has some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world – they prove this by the sheer efficiency with which they have killed a single Hamas occupant of a car without damage to any others. If Israel knows (as it clearly does) the building, even the flat or room, where a Hamas individual is living, then they are totally unjustified in dropping a bomb that destroys the entire block, and anyone close enough to be killed.

        • Etienne July 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

          Proportionality is the only thing protecting the Israelis from a savage enemy dedicated to their destruction. There’s nothing repulsive about preventing your enemies from murdering your family and bombing your home. They’re right to throw everything they have into defending themselves.

          The Palestinian plight is in large measure self-inflicted. If they’re hemmed in on every side, it’s because the Israelis have learned through bitter experience what happens when they relax their guard.

          Only a ceasefire respected by both sides will end this situation. But we all know the Palestinians never abide by terms of any ceasefire. They just use the time to regroup and rearm before launching another attack.

          In these circumstances, what would you do? Let your enemies grow in strength until they overwhelm you? Or do your best to render them incapable of harming you?

          Whatever abuse you throw at the Israelis, they’ll keep on defending themselves by attacking those who attack them. And I think they’re perfectly justified in doing so.

    • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      The statements are not hard to find. There are quite a few on the Hamas entry on Wikipedia. Or do an internet search. No-one is hiding them.

      Hamas *were* elected, but it’s not as simply as that. Look up the entry on ‘The Gaza War of 2007’ that I link to. They came to power by means of a violent coup which included murdering the leaders of their rival faction. If you really want to look, you can find video on YouTube of Hamas throwing the opposition leaders from blocks of flats to their deaths. Again, I don’t remember any protest about this in the West.

      It is worth asking why we measure ‘proportion’ in terms of death, rather than action. There are a challenging couple of paras from the article linked in the FB discussion:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/10983452/Britains-hypocrisy-over-Israel-is-shameful.html

      ‘This from the nation which sent its troops thousands of miles away to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which were firing even a single rocket at Britain. Your nation helped kill over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, while no civilians in Britain were killed in the fighting, and “only” 179 British soldiers were, tragically, killed. Your nation also ensured the killing of over 20,000 Afghan civilians, while no British civilians were killed, and “only” 453 British soldiers were killed. (Again, tragically.)’

      ‘What does the “low” British casualty rate tell us? Nothing at all. “Proportionality” does not mean that a “proportionate” number from each side has to die for a war to be fought morally and legally. Whatever your views on these wars (far less justifiable in both cases than Israel’s defensive war against Hamas terrorism), does anybody believe that, because of the low British body count, you indiscriminately murdered civilians? Does anybody believe that you invaded these countries to commit war crimes?’

      • LF Buckland July 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

        I have great respect for you, Ian, but on this we cannot agree. There are conflations, and confusions in some comments,which undermine the arguments.

        Nothing justifies the death toll, the indiscriminate use of a gigantic fire-power, the endless bombardment, and the unilateral decision to commit these crimes. They are crimes. No amount of comment of Hamas telling people to remain in their houses is sufficient to convince that humans willingly put their children at risk. The evidence points the other way, with families carrying their children and rushing to escape the bombs. Isn’t that how anyone would behave?

        Other wars, other armies, nothing justifies this war – or any different war. Proportionality is not to do with body counts vs size of army, or any such mechanical arithmetic. It is more to do with vulnerability – attacking the weak, or the disabled has always been abhorrent, and however it is described there is absolutely no getting away from the facts: women and children are being deliberately killed. As supporting reports demonstrate, the Israelis – if Hamas alone were their true target – have the sophisticated weaponry which permits ‘forensic’ killing.

        • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

          ‘LF’ (still…and by the way, I think you have typed your email address incorrectly–alerts of new comments are bouncing back), I don’t dispute the need for compassion, but you really need to do that in the light of the facts.

          All commentators are clear that Israel is not being ‘indiscriminate’. The idea that modern weaponry can ever be ‘pin-point’ was shown to be a lie in the ‘precision bombing’ in Iraq. It is just not possible.

          ‘women and children are being deliberately killed’ yes they are, but you MUST understand the Hamas approach to this.

          “Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri tells the Islamist group’s TV station that the tactic of using Gaza residents as human shields is praiseworthy and effective against Israel.

          “The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation,” he tells al-Aqsa TV. “Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.”

          Here are children wanting to die like martyrs. They are not planning to head warnings to leave:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mue96rYTY7M

          Hamas leader Nizar Riyyan was targeted by the IAF, and when a warning was phoned to his house last Thursday he invited his wife and children to gather around him to die with him. They complied. This is horrific…but please recognise what is happening here.

          The response to all this is for Hamas leaders to continue to fire rockets indiscriminately on Israeli cities.

          I say none of this in order to ask people to ‘take sides’ but to be honest about the dynamic of violence that is deeply embedded in this situation.

        • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

          I should add that none of this material—which is openly broadcast in the Arab world—features on UK news.

        • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

          We always think of using enemies or hostages as human shields to be a callous war crime. Hamas is asking their *own people* to do this.

        • Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente July 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

          a few hundreds is not gigantic fire power, it is achieved by a single missile aimed at a civilian plane in the Ukraine. As casualties go (look at Syria or Iraq, right now) this is, dreadful images of civilians and children on TV notwithstanding, a very low count.

  11. deacongill July 23, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    This whole comment thread exactly illustrates your point, Ian. Thanks for bringing a nuanced analysis. I worked with Andrew White when he was still involved with Israeli/Palestinian peace processes and he refused to take sides, saying that both have suffered. When we judge, we cripple any possibility of being engaged in reconciliation.

    • Ian Paul July 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      Thanks–that’s a fascinating insight. I think Justin Welby learned this from or with Andrew when they were working together.

  12. Nicola July 24, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Intresting comments guys giving both sides of the argument.

    For someone who has no idea about this conflict, other than what I see on the TV, this has helped me understand the complexities of the middle east conflict.

  13. Bernadette Burbridge July 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    There are sides and then there are people whose nations have been traumatised for different reasons but with similar consequences. Almost everything anyone says appears biased and it is hard to trust the motivations of the comments one reads from strangers. So here is another stranger.
    Today we welcome to our annual theatre summer school, four Palestinian teenagers from the West Bank. They are travelling in the company of their director from Al Harah youth theatre in Bethlehem. This is not the first time we have brought young Palestinian Christians to this intentional community and it was not hard to raise the money to bring them to be with us. Why do we do it? We are convinced that imagination is vital to peace and reconciliation – the capacity to put yourself inside the shoes of your enemy and to see his or her anger, to recognise your own pain written in his or her life. Our hope for our young friends is that they will make some good friends, have some fun, learn some new skills, go home with a renewed ability to imagine a different way of being, of going forward. They have to find their own way forward – our part is to offer what little support we can to all those who sincerely long for peace. There is a groundswell of peace building in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories and the language of reconciliation is different from the language of protest, though both have their place. However, protest nearly always makes space for those who deliberately want to ramp up the aggression. It is a vital part of the peace process and incredibly difficult to contain. Peace building comes with the genuine encounter of people who are committed to finding a way to live together and it takes a different kind of courage that stems essentially from humility. The theme of this year’s summer school is ‘Peace – Make it or Break it’

  14. Richard Davies August 4, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    Thanks for this (almost) balanced article.

    I think the statements of jihad by Hamas leaders should be balanced with Israel’s new president’s statements that he fully supports a one-state (Jewish) state. That is, leaders on both sides seem to aspire for a one-state solution, with ‘their side’ being the rulers.

  15. Richard Davies August 4, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    A second issues is one of the firepower methods, and the social media ‘outrage’ of Israel bombing civilian locations, and Hamas using infiltration tunnels.

    These of course are highly emotive, but I believe that both are products of necessity.

    Gaza has a population density of around 5,050 km2. In comparison, Israel has a population density of around 420 km2 (my home city of Sydney, about 60% the size of Israel, has a population density of 370 km2). It’s hard to imagine places in Gaza with a total land mass of 360 sq/km (it’s only 4-5 km wide) that would not be close to civilian populations, given the population density there.

    So, Hamas by necessity positions it’s firepower in civilian areas, and Israel must try to be highly accurate to hit military installations while trying to limit civilian casualties.

    Israel has the capability to get into and out of Gaza through traditional means (helicopters, tanks etc) while Hamas needs to resort to ‘resistance’ tactics of tunnels.

    Israel’s firepower is overwhelming, with most fully funded and provided by the US. Hamas does not have great firepower with almost no outside support any more (a problem of their own making) so resorts (again) to resistance tactics of small targeted attacks. The upside (for Hamas propaganda, if not their stated aims) is their targeted attacks can be more surgical, resulting in very few Israeli civilian casualties.

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