Civil Fights: Why Israelis and foreigners view Gaza differently

It is often termed "double standards," but goes considerably deeper than that.

anti gaza op protest london 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
anti gaza op protest london 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The recent Gaza operation left many well-meaning foreigners baffled by one question. As New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner put it: "How can a war that looks so awful... be supported by such a vast Israeli public?" Bronner's article offered some correct answers: Hamas' deliberate use of human shields, which makes civilian casualties inevitable; our conviction that our army nevertheless strives to avoid such casualties; Hamas' commitment to our destruction. However, there is also another factor. It is often termed "double standards," but goes considerably deeper than that. Consider a few examples: "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!" was the slogan shouted at a Dutch rally against the Gaza war last week. Similarly offensive slogans were shouted at rallies in other countries, which collectively drew hundreds of thousands of protesters. Many Israelis have asked where all these protesters were while 6,000 Hamas mortar shells and rockets pounded the South over the last three years. But that is actually the wrong question. Hundreds of thousands worldwide also protested America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet would never have dreamed of protesting against Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. There is a known double standard among some Westerners whereby only Western actions merit condemnation, while non-Western thugs get a pass. This is outrageous and should be fought, but it is not unique to Israel. NO ANTI-AMERICAN demonstration, however, ever featured protesters shouting "Americans to the gas!" Nor did anti-American demonstrators shout "we are all al-Qaida," thereby implying support for the 9/11 attacks - whereas anti-Israel protesters routinely shout "we are all Hamas," thereby expressing support for suicide bombings, shootings and rocket launchings that have killed hundreds of civilians. Hence the underlying message of these demonstrations is not "we object to killing Palestinians," but rather "we support killing Jews." Worse, that message is not socially unacceptable: If it were, hundreds of thousands would not attend rallies where such slogans are chanted; these would be fringe affairs attracting a few dozen people at most. And that is a major reason why Israelis and foreigners view Gaza differently: A world where publicly calling for killing Jews is socially acceptable is not one whose standards Israelis find morally persuasive. International law UN officials have lined up to demand that Israel be investigated for alleged war crimes in Gaza. First came UNRWA's Gaza director, John Ging, then High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay and finally Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. IDF shells hit three UN facilities in Gaza, which might indeed be a war crime. Or, then again, it might not. It depends on whether Hamas was shooting from these facilities, whether they were targeted intentionally or hit accidentally, etc. In contrast, there is no doubt about whether Hamas committed war crimes. Over the last three years, it deliberately fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at civilians. Nor is there doubt about where to find the leaders responsible: International officials meet regularly with both Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political wing, Khaled Mashaal. Nor, finally, is there doubt that these leaders are responsible. When they approved a cease-fire last June, Hamas (though not other Palestinian groups) stopped shooting, proving that they control the military wing. No UN official, however, has ever demanded a war crimes investigation against Hamas. The UN proclaims itself the standard-bearer of international law, and equality before the law is a fundamental principle. But to the UN, international law's proscriptions seemingly apply only to Israel, while its protections apply only to its enemies. This also explains why Israelis and foreigners view the war differently: A "law" applied so unequally is not one we find either legally or morally persuasive. Jenin In April 2002, the IDF launched a major counterterrorism operation in Jenin. To protect Palestinian civilians, it used ground troops rather than aerial bombing, in full knowledge that this would increase its own casualties. The final death toll, according to a subsequent UN investigation, was 52 Palestinians, more than half of them armed, and 23 soldiers. Not what one would normally call disproportionate. For months, however, in complete disregard of the facts, the international media, the UN and human rights organizations accused the IDF of massacring hundreds of Palestinian civilians. The UN's eventual correction was issued only four months later, by which time it attracted little attention. To this day, much of the world still believes Israel committed a massacre in Jenin. Many of us concluded if we are going to be accused of massacre anyway, we might as well at least protect our soldiers. Hence soldiers in Gaza were told what other Western soldiers are: Avoid civilian casualties where possible, but use the force necessary to protect yourselves. However, another lesson was also learned. Just because the international media, the UN and human rights organizations all say something does not mean it is true. In Gaza, these bodies have accused us of slaughtering hundreds of civilians, often deliberately, as well as other war crimes. The IDF, in contrast, says most of the dead were Hamas operatives and vehemently denies targeting civilians. Maybe this time, the world is right. But absent hard evidence, we will remain skeptical. Other examples abound - like the fact that most of the countries condemning us have killed far more civilians in their own wars than Israel ever has. Or that none of the people who keep proclaiming that this country may defend its citizens, "but not like that," has ever suggested any potentially effective measure that they would consider justified. The bottom line, however, is this: We can support a war that looks awful to others because we start from different premises - that killing Jews is unacceptable, and this country has an obligation to prevent it; that we are entitled to use the same methods of self-defense as other countries; that international law must apply either to both sides or to neither; and that not every Palestinian accusation parroted by aid workers or journalists is necessarily true. Granted, our critics claim to accept these premises as well. But their actions, as detailed above, speak far louder than words.