What If It Had Been 35 Palestinian Dead, and 800 Israeli?
PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 28 Jul 2014
Sunday 27 July 2014 – Many hundreds of thousands of people – I wish I could say millions – around the world want an end to this impunity.
Impunity is the word that comes to mind. Eight hundred dead Palestinians. Eight hundred. That’s infinitely more than twice the total dead of flight MH17 over Ukraine. And if you refer only to the “innocent” dead – ie no Hamas fighters, young sympathisers or corrupt Hamas officials, with whom the Israelis will, in due course, have to talk – then the women and children and elderly who have been slaughtered in Gaza are still well over the total number of MH17 victims.
And there’s something very odd, isn’t there, about our reactions to these two outrageous death tolls. In Gaza, we plead for a ceasefire but let them bury their dead in the sweltering slums of Gaza and cannot even open a humanitarian route for the wounded. For the passengers on MH17, we demand – immediately – proper burial and care for the relatives of the dead. We curse those who left bodies lying in the fields of eastern Ukraine – as many bodies have been lying, for a shorter time, perhaps, but under an equally oven-like sky, in Gaza.
Because – and this has been creeping up on me for years – we don’t care so much about the Palestinians, do we? We care neither about Israeli culpability, which is far greater because of the larger number of civilians the Israeli army has killed. Nor, for that matter, Hamas’s capability. Of course, God forbid that the figures should have been the other way round. If 800 Israelis had died and only 35 Palestinians, I think I know our reaction.
We would call it – rightly – a slaughter, an atrocity, a crime for which the killers must be made accountable. Yes, Hamas should be made accountable, too. But why is it that the only criminals we are searching for today are the men who fired one – perhaps two – missiles at an airliner over Ukraine? If Israel’s dead equalled those of the Palestinians – and let me repeat, thank heavens this is not the case – I suspect that the Americans would be offering all military support to an Israel endangered by “Iranian-backed terrorists”. We would be demanding that Hamas hand over the monsters who fired rockets at Israel and who are, by the way, trying to hit aircraft at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. But we are not doing this. Because those who have died are mostly Palestinians.
More questions. What’s the limit for Palestinian deaths before we have a ceasefire? Eight hundred? Or 8,000? Could we have a scorecard? The exchange rate for dead? Or would we just wait until our gorge rises at the blood and say enough – even for Israel’s war, enough is enough. It’s not as if we have not been through all this before.
From the massacre of Arab villagers by Israel’s new army in 1948, as it is set down by Israeli historians, to the Sabra and Shatila massacre, when Lebanese Christian allies of Israel murdered up to 1,700 people in 1982 while Israeli troops watched; from the Qana massacre of Lebanese Arabs at the UN base – yes, the UN again – in 1996, to another, smaller terrible killing at Qana (again) 10 years later. And so to the mass killing of civilians in the 2008-9 Gaza war. And after Sabra and Shatila, there were inquiries, and after Qana there was an inquiry and after Gaza in 2008-9, there was an inquiry. Don’t we remember the weight of it, somewhat lightened of course when Judge Goldstone did his best to disown it, when – according to my Israeli friends – he came under intense personal pressure?
In other words, we have been here before. The claim that only “terrorists” are to blame for those whom Hamas kills and only “terrorists” are to blame for those whom Israel kills (Hamas “terrorists”, of course). And the constant claim, repeated over and over and over, that Israel has the highest standards of any army in the world and would never hurt civilians. I recall here the 17,500 dead of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, most of whom were civilians. Have we forgotten all this?
And apart from impunity, the word stupidity comes to mind. I will forget here the corrupt Arabs and the killers of Isis and the wholesale mass murderers of Iraq and Syria. Perhaps their indifference to “Palestine” is to be expected. They do not claim to represent our values. But what do we make of John Kerry, Obama’s Secretary of State, who told us last week that the “underlying issues” of the Israeli-Palestinian war need to be addressed? What on earth was he doing all last year when he claimed he was going to produce a Middle East peace in 12 months? Doesn’t he realise why the Palestinians are in Gaza?
The truth is that many hundreds of thousands of people around the world – I wish I could say millions – want an end to this impunity, an end to phrases such as “disproportionate casualties”. Disproportionate to what? Brave Israelis also feel this way. They write about it. Long live the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Meanwhile, the Arab, Muslim world becomes wilder with anger. And we will pay the price.
Robert Fisk, based in Beirut, is a multiple award-winning journalist on the Middle East and a correspondent for The Independent, a UK newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.
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