Gaza: The injustice of even-handedness

by Maskil on March 3, 2008

I tend to avoid commenting on incidents such as the latest “outbreak of violence” in Gaza; there are many other commentators far better informed and qualified than I to analyse these events and global media reaction to them. In this case, however, I simply have to make a few comments, particularly regarding the reaction of the UN and its esteemed Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

The quotations are from a briefing appearing on an official UN news website. It struck me because of how – what I assume to be – attempts at even-handedness can serve to disguise the issues and roles of the various players, and thereby possibly even prolong the conflict. The briefing begins on a righteous note:

The Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have condemned the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, which has claimed dozens of civilian lives in recent days.

Very noble. All right-thinking people would presumably join in the call to condemn “escalating violence”. Violence, however, does not simply escalate by itself. Someone needs to pull the trigger. Strip away the layers of smoke and mirrors, media manipulation, spin, and political correctness and we find terrorist rocket attacks on Israeli population centres, and desperate attempts by Israel to prevent such attacks and protect its population, while trying to avoid casualties on the other side. Why not actually just say so?

Council members met in emergency session late last night and early today to discuss the situation in the Middle East, where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have launched air and land attacks on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets at targets in southern Israel, including the city of Ashkelon.

Why are the IDF air and land attacks mentioned BEFORE the terrorist rocket attacks? Except in this alternate universe, those rocket attacks preceded the IDF response, and were the direct cause of this response. Why does this statement not simply say so? Instead, it gives the impression that the exact opposite occurred, or that it’s such a mess that nobody can figure out what really occurred.

It would also be helpful to have a refresher as to why these guys are militants and not terrorists. Terrorism is as terrorism does, and launching rockets against civilians is by definition terrorism. Here’s our answer: the rockets were launched against “targets” in southern Israel, not Israeli villages, towns and cities. Hence, we’re dealing with militants, not terrorists. Well, I sure am glad we cleared that one up!

The United Nations estimates that at least 59 Palestinians – including 39 civilians – were killed yesterday in Gaza, and hundreds more injured, while two Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed in the fighting and an Israeli civilian was killed in Sderot following a rocket attack and at least five other civilians were injured in Ashkelon.

Once again, failing to follow the timeline of events makes for moral and political confusion between aggressors and victims, attack and defence, right and wrong.

It would also be helpful to know who keeps track of civilian and military casualties here. Members of Hamas and other terror groups are not members of a legitimate armed force of a nation or state. Are they then counted among the civilian casualties, as were members of Hezbollah in Lebanon?

Voicing deep concern about the loss of civilian life and the escalation of violence in the region, Council members called on all sides to respect their obligations under international law and to immediately cease all acts of violence.

Once again, wonderful eve-handed sentiments; “civilian life”, “escalation of violence”, “respect obligations under international law”, “immediately cease all acts of violence”, etc. In this case, however, only one side (Israel) has any obligations under international law. Neither Palestine nor Gaza are states, but an explosive cocktail of semi and non-state actors, including unrepentant terrorist organisations. How appropriate is it to issue such statements calling on both sides to respect norms and obligations only incumbent on the one?

UN humanitarian agencies operating on the ground, especially the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), are also continuing their efforts to help people in distress.

That sounds terrific, but I’m not aware of UNRWA, or any other UN humanitarian agency helping the people of Sderot or Ashkelon. Would it be gross injustice, therefore, to conclude that the UN cares only for people in distress on the Palestinian and not the Israeli side?

Mr. Ban condemned and urged an end to the Palestinian rocket attacks, which he noted “serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians, and bring misery to the Palestinian people.”

“Endanger Israeli civilians”? How about kill, maim and traumatise Israeli civilians, Mr Ban? “Bring misery to the Palestinian people”? You mean the Palestinian people who democratically elected a terrorist organisation as their government of choice, and consistently support the use of rocket attacks on civilian targets and the use suicide bombing against Israelis? Those Palestinian people? Forgive me then for caring just a tad more for the misery being brought to the Israeli people!

The Secretary-General also said that while Israel has a right to defend itself, “I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children. I call on Israel to cease such attacks. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost restraint. Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.”

Thanks Mr Ban, you have no idea how much your recognition of Israel’s right to defend itself means. Just for one minute there I thought you were going to question the right of a member state of the UN (a state that, in the legal sense, owes its existence to the UN) to defend itself from attacks against its civilian population by terrorist organisations. (A democratically elected terrorist organisation is a terrorist organisation nonetheless.)

About your liberal use of the highly charged term “disproportionate and excessive use of force”, would it not be more fitting to send an objective commission of enquiry to the region to examine whether the use of force was justified, before making statements like this? Statements that you know very well will be wielded like a club against Israel’s name and reputation?

Just by the way, apart from the children, how do you know who was a civilian and who a combatant? Has Hamas now adopted the use of dog tags?

There’s one more thing missing from this paragraph, Mr Ban, and that is your unequivocal condemnation of the embedding by Hamas of military installations within civilian contexts; the use of civilians as human shields. Oh well, I expect we’ll see it in your next statement on the subject…

All schools operated by UNRWA in Gaza have been closed and many families are trapped inside their homes because of the violence, and Mr. Ban called on Israel to facilitate full access to hospitals and medical centres for the injured.

I’m saddened by news of the closing of schools and families trapped in their homes, just as I have been on hearing about the children of Sderot falling victim to rocket attacks in their schools and homes. Maybe you missed some of those news reports? I have a few clippings I can send you. And I’m sure Israel would be glad to facilitate full access to hospitals and medical centres. Perhaps this could be timed to coincide with the cessation of rocket attacks on Israeli hospitals?

In addition, he voiced extreme concern about the effect they are having on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process, and he called on members of the international community and other stakeholders to use their influence on the parties to both stop the violence and allow humanitarian relief to flow.

There is no meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process, but I know you’re obliged to pay lip service, so I’ll let that one go.

I choose to believe that you’re attempting to be even-handed, Mr Ban, but this moral equivalence been a member state of the UN and a band of murdering terrorists, between civilisation and barbarism, and between democracy and various shades of autocracy and theocracy just undermines your message and your mission. Surely you MUST know that Israel does not need the influence of members of the international community and other stakeholders in order to play its part in a real peace process.

Save your breath for convincing the other side.

We heard much from the UN regarding Israel’s denial of goods, services and utilities to Gaza just a little while back. If that option is denied to Israel, and the use of military force in defence is also unacceptable, what remains? Is Israel expected to just kneel and wait for the sword stroke?

Mr Ban, I have an enduring image of you flinching behind the microphone stand when the mortars fell on Baghdad. I imagine that your ordeal there has helped shape your sympathy for the people of Gaza. I look forward to you expressing the same sympathy for the people of Sderot and the rest of the Negev.

Links/Reading/Resources:

Security Council, Secretary-General alarmed by deadly violence in Middle East

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