Battle of the words – the storm following Operation Pillar of Defense

The Israeli spin machine is hard at work getting its version out to Americans and Westerners about what happened during the 8-days of Operation Pillar of Defense.   I have copied Israeli Ambassador Meir Shlomo’s piece at the end of this blog.  Needless to say, having witnessed Israel’s military assault from the ground in Gaza, I adamantly reject many of the Ambassador’s assertions.  I wonder where he was sitting while the bombs were falling?

Thankfully, the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico has written a strong rebuttal which I hope the local paper will publish.  Whether you side with Israel, with Palestine or sit on the fence, I hope you will read both pieces carefully and judge for yourself which narrative rings true.

The Albuquerque Chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace wrote the following:

“In a recent op-ed piece, Ambassador Meir Schlomo, the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest, demonstrates the asymmetries he claimed differentiate Israel from Gaza in the context of the latest Israeli Defense Force (IDF) operation in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense. It is no accident at all that Mr. Schlomo has seized upon the concept of asymmetry in both justifying this IDF operation and demonizing Hamas and the people of Gaza.  This is a case in which an argument tries to attack the strengths of an opponent’s case rather than attacking their weaknesses. The asymmetries between Israel and Gaza are so utterly stark, so severely contrastive, that Mr. Schlomo reasons that he must directly confront the concept and turn it on its head in Israel’s favor. 

 What are the asymmetries that Mr. Schlomo seeks to obscure? 

 The first important set of asymmetries contrasts the economies of the country, Israel, and the territory, Gaza. According to the United Nations, Israel boasts an intensively modern industrial economy ranked 17th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index; Israel’s GDP is the 39th largest in the world. It is difficult to obtain as complete an assessment of the economic conditions in Gaza, since most observers before 2007 at least looked at conditions in all of the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank.  But it is clear that over one third and perhaps as much as one half of Gaza’s adults are unemployed; over 40% are considered “food insecure” and at least 80% rely on food aid for daily nourishment.   Gaza is an extremely densely populated area, with over 1.6 million people in just 140 square miles, just about the size of metropolitan Albuquerque.  The vast majority of Gaza’s people are refugees whose families were displaced by Israel in previous conflicts.  Severe water and electricity shortages are daily crises for them.  By any measure, the people of Gaza are extremely impoverished, while the people of Israel are among the world’s most fortunate.

The second set has to do with the political status of the two. Israel is an internationally recognized country with diplomatic relations with countries everywhere in the world. The influence of Israel is notable, particularly in the United States, where during our recent national election the Prime Minister of Israel weighed in on his candidate preferences in a fashion that might be deemed extremely inappropriate were another world leader to have behaved in this fashion.  By contrast Gaza is a territory with an entirely anomalous status.  While IDF forces did vacate Gaza’s surface lands in 2005, the UN “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” stated in 2007:

Israel remains an occupying Power in respect of Gaza. Arguments that Israel ceased its occupation of Gaza in 2005 following the evacuation of its settlements and the withdrawal of its troops take no account of the fact that Israel retains effective control over Gaza by means of its control over Gaza’s external borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax revenues and governmental functions. The effectiveness of this control is emphasized by regular military incursions and rocket attacks.

Over one third of Gaza’s farmland is inaccessible because of Israel’s self-declared “security zones” that lie within Gaza’s territory; the Israeli navy does not permit Gaza’s fishermen to fish beyond three miles from shore.  Every other country in the world controls a belt of coastal waters that extends twelve miles from shore. 

Finally, the asymmetry between Gaza and Israel with respect to military power is perhaps the most exaggerated of all.  While Israel produces and deploys one of the most sophisticated military technologies and one of the largest armies per capita in the world, Gaza’s people have limited means to defend themselves from Israeli incursions, targeted assassinations (like the one that initiated the recent IDF operation), and death rained down from the sky.  In this most recent operation, 156 Palestinians were killed, among them 19 children, whereas six Israelis died.  Since the first home-made, highly inaccurate short-range Qassam missiles were fired from Gaza towards Israel in 2001, 59 Israelis have been killed and over 4700 Palestinians.  While the death of even one person is deplorable in such conflicts, it is this asymmetry – – who and how many die in these conflicts- – above all others perhaps that Mr. Schlomo wants to obscure.”

Measure of Israel/Hamas TragedyIs Not Symmetrical

Once again, there has been another upsurge in the violence from Gaza: more rockets falling in Israel, another military operation by the IDF, more photos from both sides of parents and children running from the shelling, more tragedy on both sides. It seems to be agonizingly symmetrical, with pain and suffering on both sides of the border.

But the symmetry is only an illusion. If we can examine the true picture, we will find that it is far from symmetrical.

We will find that while Israel is a democratic country which follows the rule of law, Hamas is a terrorist organization that has ruthlessly taken control of a small territory — namely, the Gaza Strip.

We will find that while Israel strikes carefully picked military targets with surgical precision in order to avoid hitting non-involved citizens and children, Hamas deliberately fires at civilian targets.

We will find that while Israeli civilians are urged to run to shelters and take cover when the rockets fall, Hamas fires from densely populated areas and from public buildings in order to be shielded from Israeli fire by the civilians within them. When Israel sends fliers and phone messages to Palestinians in danger of being in the line of fire, Hamas deliberately seeks to harm civilians.

Yes, we will find a higher death toll on the Palestinian side, but this only demonstrates that while Israel is more successful in protecting its citizens, Hamas terrorists are more successful in using their civilians as human shields.

We will find that while Israel is profoundly sorry for every civilian injured or killed, Hamas celebrates civilian deaths on both sides — on the Israeli side as a military victory and on the Palestinian side as a propaganda victory.

Finally, we will find that while Israel wants to live in peace and quiet with its neighbors and has no claims on Gaza; Hamas’ declared aim is to destroy the state of Israel.

Israel famously exited Gaza in 2005. At that time, it was the hope and belief that the Palestinians would take the infrastructure that had been left for them by Israeli entrepreneurs and Jewish philanthropists and turn Gaza into a Middle Eastern success story.

Palestinians were left with greenhouses, factories and warehouses, all of which could have been used to advance the Palestinian economy. Israel withdrew its military governance and the Palestinians could have used the opportunity to show the world that they have the will and capability to build a democratic, peace-loving state.

Instead, Hamas grabbed power, continuing to say that they will never end the “armed resistance” — their code word for ‘terrorism’ — until the ‘Zionist entity’ is entirely eradicated: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” (Article 13 of the Hamas Covenant).

Billions of dollars have been offered to them in order to develop infrastructures, but all their resources have instead been used to buy weapons and ammunition. Any infrastructures left have been used to house rocket launching pads and ammo stores. Most tragically, during this time, thousands of rockets have rained upon southern Israel.

You might be shocked to learn that during Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel continued to supply electricity, medical supplies, food and water to Gaza. Tragically, Hamas would rather have its citizens go without than accept help.

The ultimate asymmetry exists in this: if Israel were to lay down its arms tomorrow, tomorrow it would be annihilated. Conversely, if Hamas were to lay down its weapons tomorrow, there would be peace for Israel and the Palestinians next week.

As long as Hamas abuses its own population and continues its aggression against Israel, true balance — true symmetry — will remain out of reach.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Media

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