Israel's Level Playing Field


There is a four letter word that blinds us every time we try to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian reality on the ground. The word is as loaded as a suicide bomber or a cluster bomb: "side".

We hear it when our media interviewers endeavour to avoid bias and show balance: "So to be fair, now let’s hear from the other side…"

We hear it in the public discourse and talkback that follows: "They are always blaming each other for the blockade and the rockets. I think each side is equally in the wrong."

We hear it from politicians, such as our Foreign Minister Bob Carr, calling for "both sides to exercise a high degree of restraint".

The word side subtly suggests equality of two nations, two armies, two peoples.

What Israelis and Palestinians share is their love of the land and their religiosity. 

But beyond this, their comparative military muscle and political power is beyond "sides" because of the sheer scale of Palestinian military inferiority: one to one thousand fold.

Australian born spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister, Mark Regev, perpetuates this propaganda of parity when he asks, "How would you respond to rocket fire attacks from terrorists?"

The latest in a series of "surgical" assaults on Palestinian targets has been translated as "Operation Pillar of Defence" for Western audiences, but in Hebrew means "Pillar of Cloud", after a story from the book of Exodus, where God adopts the form of a pillar of cloud to protect the Israelites and confuse the Egyptian army. Indeed, using the word "side" blows a pillar of cloud to obfuscate some obvious facts about the inequality.

Only one side has the backing of "the most powerful nation on Earth", by US President Barack Obama’s own admission; a nation ready to (ab)use its power of veto to block any motions against Israeli aggression, and block any motions for Palestinian statehood, even the upcoming bid for UN non-member observer status on 29 November.

Only one side has the most sophisticated technology and weaponry, made in the US, to actually obliterate Gaza into non existence, or indeed a pillar of cloud.

Only one side deploys unmanned drones for military surveillance so that the eye in the sky is constantly invading its neighbour’s sovereign airspace.

Only one side has imposed a unilateral blockade since 2007 as collective punishment for electing a Hamas government, depriving 1.6 million people of essentials and of any semblance of a normal life.

Only one side has the infrastructure to sound the sirens so that its citizens have some advance warning to seek shelter and survive an attack. 

Only one side can assassinate a leader, such as Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari on 14 November, and escape international condemnation.

Only one side still milks the "war on terror" rhetoric to justify their "self defence" against a population under siege.

Only one "side" predictably unleashes an assault against its neighbours with impunity in the lead up to elections, and is more interested in the numbers of political points scored than the Palestinian people killed.

This was the case with Operation Lightning Strike one month before the March 2006 election. This was the case with Operation Cast Lead three months before the February 2009 election. And this is now the case in the lead up to the 22 January election. The incumbent Israeli prime minister plays the politics of fear while assuring his voters that only he could protect them. The incidental quota of killings is about 100 Palestinians for every Israeli.

The pillar of cloud blinds us to the growing chorus of enlightened people who refuse to be locked into sides, but are rising above the pillar, cloud, missiles and drones to see an ever shrinking Palestine.

Such people have liberated themselves from the shackles of sides. People like Israeli historian Ilan Pappe who visited Australia in September and declared, "the less Zionist I became, the more Jewish I became". People like veteran Israeli soldiers who have confessed and denounced their inhuman abuses against occupied Palestinians in their courageous and collective testimonial "Breaking the Silence".

Carr must privately know the truth about Gaza, but cannot admit it publicly, as he warns Israel of the "danger of the world seeing it as a disproportionate reaction".

Enough smoke and mirrors. The word "side" flattens a turbulent terrain into a level playing field. It blinds us to the mountains, valleys, deserts and walls that differentiate the occupier from the occupied. The only level playing fields in the past have been those homes that have been bull-dozed to a series of ground zeros to make way for settlement expansions. The level playing fields of the future will be those created by the devastating effects of Operation Pillar of Cloud.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.