Yesterday UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon fell into the customary lack of moral clarity which has made the UN famous. He traveled to the Middle East to visit the Gaza War Zone. He started at Gaza to “express solidarity with Palestinian suffering.” His declaration showed a lack of backbone to lead. You see, in Gaza it was all Israel’s fault, but when he spoke in Israel Hamas shared the blame, almost of a duplication of the Palestinian strategy of saying one thing in Arabic, another in English.
The list of things he neglected to mention in Gaza was incredible. He blamed Israel for all of the destruction, civilian casualties and attacks on UNRWA facilities, but he neglected the fact that Hamas had provoked the conflict, or used Gaza civilians as human shields. When he spoke in Gaza, there was no mention of the 8,000+ projectiles fired by Hamas into Israel or the fact that Hamas’ stated goal is to destroy a UN Member State. Moon left out the fact that Hamas had broken the ceasefire OVER and OVER again, or even the part about the CONTINUED smuggling of a huge and increasingly lethal arsenal through tunnels on the Egyptian border.
Through his lack of having enough of a backbone to state the complete facts in ALL of his MIDEAST Stops, the UN Secretary General perpetuated the myth that Hamas is anything but a terrorist group exploiting Gaza citizens for its selfish hateful agenda:
MANY friends have berated me about Israel’s “crimes” in Gaza during the conflict between Hamas and Israel. I understand how they felt. When I saw the images of women and children, victims of that war, I couldn’t help, still can’t, but feel a profound sense of loss.
At the same time, however, my friends only saw the international media hysteria against Israel, which was predictably exactly the same as in past conflicts. But consider this: it was Hamas that formally declared all peace agreements with Israel null and void, which formally ended the ceasefire on December 19, 2008, after having violated it with the firing of thousands of rockets on the southern Israeli populations prior to Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
I did not notice any media hysteria about these attacks on southern Israel, in fact, barely a mention. What country in the world would allow 3500 missiles to be fired during a 12-month period on its civilian populated areas and not retaliate?
Some commentators have said that the rockets fired by Hamas claimed only a few Israeli victims, as if this somehow justified the attacks.
I was in the southern Israeli town of Sderot last June when the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange screened the opening film of our annual Australian Film Festival there as a mark of solidarity with the local population.
Given its proximity to Gaza, Sderot had until recently been the main target for Hamas’s rockets. The reality on the ground there is this: the population had stopped breathing for over a year. In order to protect civilian life from the Hamas rockets, extraordinary measures are taken. Shopping is planned like a military operation and taking kids to school becomes an operational nightmare.
The siren alarm system gives people less than 30 seconds to reach the nearest shelter. The people of Sderot, and now Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva, observe this rule with great discipline. This duty of care to protect civilian life by the Israeli state and their local civic leaders explains why there are so few casualties on the Israeli side.
The psychological trauma of living with the anticipation of the next rocket attack and the threat of danger, day in day out, is the real definition of the word “terror” for these people.
What is so galling and paradoxical to average Israelis, is the consistent call for Israel to be apologetic for the fact that it puts the welfare of its citizens first and seeks to minimise civilian casualties on both sides, despite the thousands of rockets hurled at its towns by Hamas. In contrast, Hamas’s stated aim is to kill Israeli civilians, yet they are virtually exempt from criticism in regards to these acts. Some media outlets even go so far as to justify Hamas’s targeting of civilians as a legitimate form of resistance.
Sure enough, some television programs did invite a token Israeli guest who tried to explain Israel’s case. But the answers given seemed to be presented as propaganda, and the implication was that the only story to be believed was the Hamas narrative.
If Israel has learned the lessons of the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas has learned from that war too. Hezbollah was able to use the southern Lebanese population as human shields, and get away with it.
You would think that such a crime would be denounced by humanitarian groups, by the UN and by Western media.
Alas, the strategy has worked for Hamas: it produced the images that screamed from the front pages of newspapers and TV screens, pushingthe buttons of people across theworld.
Emotions cloud the context; the result is a circus. It is mind-boggling that barely any media outlet outside Israel has consistently denounced Hamas for using Palestinian women and children as human shields.
By forgetting the context, voluntarily or not, much of the Western commentators have implied this: it is permissible for terror groups to use civilians as human shields, but not fora legitimate country to mistakenly kill civilians in the course of battlingenemy.
The latter is being portrayed as a crime against humanity. However harsh it is to lose civilians, this logic isabsurd.
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy said recently that you must not confuse the intentional act of shooting rockets on civilian populations with the clear intention of killing them (a crime against humanity) and the fire that is aimed at the enemy combatant that mistakenly kills civilians (however unacceptable and heartbreaking the loss of civilians always is).
After all, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Hamas has built an infrastructure of bunkers and tunnels that were located under the most populated areas of Gaza. These were not for the benefit of the civilian population, but for Hamas’s own leaders to smuggle arms and hide.
The Hamas leadership had even taken refuge at the Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, and at the UN Relief and Works Agency, which normally provides humanitarian and health services. There has been a lot of ranting by the UN regarding the attacks on UNRWA. It is interesting to note how the UN places the blame on Israel but does not place any responsibility on Hamas.
The rocket shootings against southern Israel take place from the buildings where civilians live. Mosques and schools are used as ammunition caches and arms depots. Hamas combatants had taken off their military fatigues from the start of the Israeli invasion and were wearing civilian clothes, surprising Israeli soldiers by mixing with civilians.
In such an environment, it is no wonder civilians were caught in the crossfire. The only surprise is the low number of civilian casualties in an area where 1.4 million Palestinians live. This is a result of the care with which Israel has operated.
Israel says 12 per cent of casualties are civilians, Hamas say 40 per cent. Whatever the percentage, it is a tragedy. But citing numbers and showing images while forgetting the context creates one more casualty: the truth.
Immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unilaterally declared a ceasefire on Sunday, accepting the Egyptian plan, Hamas fired eight rockets on southern Israel.
Albert Dadon AM is the founder and chairman of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.