The figures make for stark reading. In a little under a fortnight, Israel’s powerful military, which is the fourth largest in the world and one of the most sophisticated, has killed more than 700 and injured more than 3100 in Gaza. The fatalities include at least 220 children, five of them from one family that happened to live next to a mosque affiliated with Hamas. In Israel, four civilians have been killed by the crude, homemade rockets fired from Gaza.
Although the attack has been likened to a war, in truth the Israeli invasion of Gaza is a slaughter. As ever, the figures are emblematic of the egregious power imbalance in this most imbalanced of conflicts.
But there is more to the conflict than mere numbers. While hundreds of Israelis have been affected in some way by the rockets sent by Hamas and other groups in Gaza, in Gaza itself, the entire population of 1.5 million people has been targeted for collective punishment — a war crime under international law. The human experience of this trauma is difficult to convey.
For those of us living in safety abroad, however, it is important to consider how the world community has reacted to the invasion, particularly given the modern means of communication at our disposal.
To read, see or hear our media, or to listen to our leaders, you’d be forgiven for thinking that what’s happening in Gaza is a skirmish or a battle between opposing armies. Within the standard prism which this conflict is understood, particularly in the West, Israel is merely reacting in self-defence to Hamas rockets that terrorise Israeli communities.
Israel always act in self-defence, never in revenge. Nor does it ever seem to have ulterior motives.
The mantra of self-defence has become so blind that it has begun to lose any semblance of credibility. Even the corporate media, which generally err on the side of a "balance" that is in reality a favourable stance towards Israel, has been forced to relay the vast disparity between Israeli and Palestinian violence.
Apologists for Israel are also increasingly forced to avoid close scrutiny of events. They instead repeat the time honoured myth that the Palestinians bear responsibility for any and all deaths caused by the Israeli Defence Force. Along the same line of reasoning, Hamas and other Palestinian groups always instigate any violence, with a clear intention to kill and maim. Israel only ever "retaliates".
Sadly, our major political parties have failed to read the writing on the wall and continue to parrot the shameful self-defence line.
There is a clear hypocrisy in this understanding. Apart from being inaccurate, it avoids acknowledging that the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves too. Indeed, it is enshrined in international law.
Although Israel’s right to exist is always mentioned, and it is a feature of diplomatic statements on the conflict to premise any criticism of Israel with assertions supporting its right to exist, it is the Palestinians who, in terms of statehood and self-determination, are not permitted to exist by Israel.
This double standard could not be sustained without a pliant international community championed by Western nations which continue to boost, not reduce, their relationships with Israel.
Jews are speaking out against Israel’s violence in increasing numbers. Although representative of a minority of the population, pro-peace grassroots organisations in Israel like Gush Shalom have held protests against the Gaza attack. In Australia, Independent Australian Jewish Voices have also issued a powerful statement condemning Israel’s assault.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile in the West is that Hamas has largely restrained its violence since ending all suicide attacks in Israel in 2005.
We are already familiar with Hamas’s reputation. Originally created with assistance from Israel as a religious movement aimed at undermining the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, it is a socially conservative, grassroots movement which seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in all of historical Palestine.
What most do not appreciate is that they are also a political party democratically elected in June 2006 by the Palestinian people. Although the Hamas charter speaks of destroying Israel, its leadership has offered to recognise the Jewish state along the lines of the two state solution supported by the vast majority of international community.
Pressure needs to be placed on Israel to return to this path. A ceasefire alone is not a solution because it does nothing to punish Israel for the murder of hundreds. In contrast, every aspect of the Hamas Government, from the courts and universities to mosques and hospitals, have been attacked ostensibly as punishment for rocket attacks on Israel.
As Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas Government in Gaza, said: "end the aggression without conditions, end the siege and open the crossings, then after that we can speak positively, nationally … and we can start all the dialogues."
The ceasefire negotiated last June, which ended in early December, largely failed because Israel refused to honour its spirit, instead deciding merely to reduce the scale of its attacks on Gaza. It also refused to significantly reduce its draconian blockade preventing the import of vital humanitarian supplies.
Last month the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper revealed that Israeli leaders used the ceasefire as an opportunity to prepare for another invasion. It is safe to presume that these preparations were undertaken in the knowledge that any attack could be justified as self-defence.
The freedom to get away with this sleight of hand is the same freedom that enables Israel to avoid responsibility for its crimes. It is the biggest blank cheque in international politics.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.