Yes, it’s a war crime, all of us these days are experts in international law. And, if the reports are to be believed, it is Hamas that is targeting Israeli civilians, Hamas that is using children as human shields, the Palestinians who should be in the dock. By the way, did you see what I did there? That smooth way of moving from Hamas as a discrete group, to the Palestinians, which is, well, all of them. A well-used media tactic. Watch out for it!
Here’s what’s wrong. Two things; first, we start with a little information and jump to a conclusion, and second, treat your audience as so stupid they can’t piece together more than two items of information. The claim ‘Hamas uses children as human shields’ is an assertion by Israel, conveniently believed by the international community, but for which there is no serious evidence. However there is evidence that Israeli soldiers have used Palestinian children as human shields.
But it’s the issue of the targeting of civilians I want to focus on. There are three things to consider, the comparative armouries, the nature of the societies, and the siege.
Let’s start with the armouries. In each of the last three conflicts Hamas, when attacked, has hit back with more powerful and longer range rockets than previously. What does that suggest? That Hamas has been stockpiling newer, better rockets supplied possibly by Iran? Yes, of course, but it also establishes beyond a peradventure that Hamas had not been using them. If, Hamas had initiated the attacks wouldn’t it make sense for them to have fired their best, longest range rockets from the beginning, especially if they want to get through Israel’s ‘iron dome’ defence.
More to the point, in what sense are these rockets targeted? They unquestionably cause fear and their apparently random use must at least generate questions. And the key question must then be why is Hamas making random attacks that have the capacity to kill and injure civilians, why not attack the Israeli army? Possibly because it can’t get at them? Partly true, but also because neither Hamas nor any of the jihadist groups firing rockets has the capacity to launch a missile at a specific target. They don’t have remote guidance systems and they don’t even have the kind of field gun calibration capacity of World War II weaponry. It is ‘fire and hope’. So is it a crime to fire non-guided rockets into areas where civilians may be at risk? Probably.
Now let’s look at the other side. Up against the Hamas rockets that are ‘point and hope’, Israel has, first of all its ‘iron dome’ defence, the capacity to shoot missiles or rockets out of the sky before they can do damage. For attack, Israel has the most up-to-date capacity for destruction second only to the United States. It has guided missiles with ranges of thousands of miles capable of hitting a specific target in i.e. Iran. Evidence? It has done it.
The Palestinians have no air force. Israel has bombers and F 16 fighters supplied with laser-guided air-to-ground missiles. Israel has weapon equipped drones that roam over Gaza with virtual impunity and can be operated from thousands of miles away. Israel has tanks and armoured bulldozers capable of demolishing a specific target at ranges of 6000 yards plus.
So, when, in the present conflict the civilian body count on one side is three and on the other is 1250 and counting the question of who is targeting civilians is crucial. To an independent observer the answer must be apparent.
Then, what has society to do with it? Comparisons here are much more difficult because both societies comprise peoples of different cultures, which may come as a surprise to some. But there are two aspects that are relevant. Both Israelis and Palestinians are taught to hate the other. This is general, but not universal. A surprising proportion of Palestinians do not hate Israelis despite the provocations. And, though the numbers are small there are people on both sides (all sides?) working for peace. But, and this is a very much to the point, Palestinian society and Israeli society differ in one important aspect: militarisation. From the beginning Zionism was steeped in militarism. By the way did you see, I did it again, start with Israeli then slip onto Zionism. And that is because it is Zionism that is the problem.
Every Israeli Jew, plus select a select a few Arabs, must serve in the military, unless a member of one of the strict religious sects with dispensation. Refusing conscription involves the probability of prison, often for longer than the term of military service, and difficulties in tertiary education and employment. Once military service is completed it is on to the reserve, with the possibility of recall at time of emergency.
Think it through. Every adult Jewish male and female in Israel under the age of 60, with a few exceptions, will have served, is serving or is in the reserve. It is a militarised population with the civilian population limited to the very elderly and the very young
By contrast Palestinians have no conscription. They wouldn’t be allowed it if they wanted it. And the ‘conscription’ that they do have is the very worst kind, that which arises from persistent, blind persecution. That is what is conscripting young men into the Jihadis. Hamas might think it reasonable to argue, I don’t, that any time they fire a rocket they have a better than 50% chance of hitting someone who has been involved in the war against them. Set that against the record of Israel where the civilian to fighter ratio is more than 25 to 1 and more children than fighters have been killed, who then is targeting civilians.
Finally, the siege. The picture changes just a little here since the international community has to bear significant responsibility for supporting the siege. On the face of it Israel seems to have justification. Why would you offer open borders to folk who are attacking you? Except they weren’t. The world told the Palestinians and Fatah and Hamas, that they must be democratic and that there must be a political solution. So Hamas and Fatah went to the polls and Hamas won, wrong result.
The West’s response to democracy in Palestine was sanctions and the siege, a brilliant example of doublespeak. ‘You must have democracy, but only if you choose the people we want’. Which to me sounds more like imperialism. Instead of giving Hamas the opportunity to demonstrate its democratic credentials the immediate response was to impose a blockade on Gaza. Power, food, water, construction materials, imports, exports: nothing in or out of Gaza except with Israel’s permission whether through Israel or Egypt. Who here was and is targeting civilians? Not just Israel but the US, UK, and the European Union, not forgetting Canada & Australia. Collective punishment is a war crime and it is clearly collective punishment on the people of Gaza that has been carried out over the last eight years with the active support of the international community. This must stop and the people responsible must be held accountable. Let us have balanced, honest and moral judgements.