Gaza strike fire 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
With the exception of the White House - which reacted to Israel's Gaza operation by labeling Hamas leaders "nothing but thugs" and blaming the "terrorists" for igniting the violence - international political and media reaction has, by and large, fallen into two broad categories: low-key evenhandedness and knee-jerk condemnation.
The evenhanded school appreciates that no country can permit, indefinitely, its citizens to be bombarded by an enemy committed to its annihilation. Still, they oppose "disproportionate" Israeli measures - basically those that might actually compel Hamas to end its campaign of terror.
Among these evenhanded are Quartet envoy Tony Blair, French President Nicholas Sarkozy (who also holds the EU presidency), British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The quintessentially evenhanded Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy czar, holds any non-combatant deaths on the Palestinian side "unacceptable." His advice? Hamas should stop attacking Israel, and Israel should stop retaliating.
But it is the Vatican's reaction that captures the very essence of evenhandedness: "Hamas is a prisoner to a logic of hate; Israel to a logic of faith in force as the best response to hate." What to do? "One must continue to search for a different way out, even if that may seem impossible."
THERE are those who make no pretense at being evenhanded. For them, Hamas has been exercising its inalienable right to resist "the occupation" by violently opposing the existence of the Jewish state. For them, practically out of the blue, the Zionists went berserk, massacring women, children, and the occasional Hamas "martyr."
Desmond Tutu weighed in by calling Israel's use of its air force to stop Hamas "a war crime." Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of Britain's Guardian, said that Israel's actions ranked with what he termed the massacres of Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatilla.
Tim Butcher of London's Telegraph aimed to provide context. As time goes on, he explained, Israel lowers the threshold for who it considers a legitimate target. In 2004, "an elderly man in his wheelchair, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed by an Israeli missile as he was pushed out of a mosque after weekly prayers." Butcher went on to note that Yassin "was the Hamas leader responsible for ordering suicide bombings." Still, his point was that, nowadays, "any Hamas traffic cop on a street corner" has become fair game.
ISRAEL embarked on this operation to compel Hamas to stop terrorizing our population in the South. It did so reluctantly, and only after Hamas rejected multiple appeals from Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptian government to maintain the "cease-fire."
Despite the difficulties inherent in presenting Israel's position to a not always sympathetic media, the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry and IDF recognize that public diplomacy is an integral element in getting Hamas to stop its attacks. To that end, the articulate former UN representative Dan Gillerman has been appointed to coordinate the Foreign Ministry's response to the crisis. On the whole, Israeli spokespeople have rarely been more proactive or competent.
Israel has had no military or civilian presence in Gaza since 2005. Quiet would prevail across the Israel-Gaza border, and the Palestinians could build a model state, if their Hamas leadership were not insistently bent on attacking Israel. Hamas acknowledges as much. Even as its spokesman Taher al-Nunu was telling al-Jazeera and other channels of the current "ferocious Zionist massacre," he was also emphasizing that Hamas will never abandon its determination to destroy Israel.
The declared Israeli aim in the military operation - putting an end to a neighboring terror-state's ability to threaten our populace - is precisely the goal that any other nation would set itself if attacked as Israel has been.
All of this should be obvious to fair-minded observers everywhere. But when dramatic pictures from Gaza threaten to overwhelm clear thinking, Israeli leaders have in the past two days often formulated effective reminders. "Military actions are not easy to support," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni noted in one interview on Monday, for instance. "But this is the only way we can change realities on the ground... This is our responsibility as a government to our citizens."
Carefully chosen words set against dramatic images? It's an uneven media battlefield. But at least, this time, Israel is fighting.