Collateral damage? Palestinians beg to differ (Photo by Thair Hasani/Getty Images)
On Monday, 31 members of the same family--Samouny family--were killed by an Israeli shell in Gaza City, and 13 members of another family, the Al-Daiya family, were killed by another Israeli bomb. On Tuesday, three Israeli shells killed 30 to 40 civilians in a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, bringing the total number of dead Palestinians to about 600 in 10 days. "It is a bitter battle, but an unavoidable one," is how Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, never known until now for Victorian understatements, describes it.
Let's put that death toll in perspective.
In 13 years of the first Palestinian Intifada, 13 years between 1987 and 2000, including the quieter years of the mid- to later 90s following the signing of the Oslo accords, 439 Israelis--soldiers and civilians--were killed by Palestinians (compared with 1,853 Palestinians killed by Israelis).
In other words, Israel killed more Palestinians in Gaza alone in the last 10 days than Israel lost in 13 years of strife with Palestinians, prior to the second Intifada. (See the numbers for yourself, courtesy of B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.)
The second Intifada broke out in 2000. Since then, 1,062 Israelis (soldiers and civilians) have been killed by Palestinians in Israel proper, Gaza or the West Bank, compared with 4,897 Palestinians killed. At this rate, more Palestinians will have been killed in Gaza in two or three weeks than Israelis have been killed in nine years since the beginning of the second intifada.
This isn't self-defense. It's retaliation by massacre. And to what end? It's not as if anything will have been solved when (or rather if) the guns go quiet a week, a month, a year down the line. It's not as if Hamas will not re-emerge, not militarily stronger, but psychologically, propagandistically so, with the pulsing blood of 4 million Palestinians behind it, just as Hezbollah re-emerged, bloodied but ridiculously, arrogantly heroic after its 2006 war with Israel. Who could blame them, considering Israel's unleashing of untrammeled violence on belligerent and civilian targets alike.
But as Robert Fisk also notes, "why should we be surprised? Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?"
But for the Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon, the concern isn't the brutality of the Israeli assault on the densest population center on the planet. It isn't the unhinging of hope for the future or the birthing of who knows how many more suicide bombers and death-cult converts and revenge seekers. No. It's the "overall public mood as reflected in the media and by numerous demonstrations." It's the "the toxic environment" in letters-to-the-editor pages of the Irish press, or the lack of balance in other nations' media. And it's that, according to Foreign Ministry sources, "while the world is being fed dramatic pictures from Gaza, there are few dramatic pictures from Israel, and gaping holes in apartment buildings hit by Grad rockets can't compete with footage from Gaza of crying children splattered in blood."
It's not a war. It's not a humanitarian crisis (because Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says it isn't). It's a competition for the right images.
But when even Jon Stewart can't contain his disgust at Israel's degradation, there's a lot more than left-wing European opinion Keinon and his friends at the foreign ministry should be worried about.
And yet, as Fisk has it again, "What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. 'Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties,' yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night's butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive."
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- Profile: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
- Profile: Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
- Profile: Khaled Mashaal of Hamas
- Resumption of Barbarism Over Gaza
- This Day in Middle East History