As I write these words, the Israel Defence Forces has begun a ground invasion of Gaza, the inevitable result of which will be yet more Palestinian civilian deaths, in what even David Cameron has described as ‘an open air prison.’ Israel has apparently dropped leaflets and left messages telling Gazans to evacuate – a cruel gesture when they know full well that with the borders with Israel and Egypt sealed, the people of Gaza have nowhere to go.
The excuses for Israel’s actions which are routinely trotted out simply don’t stand up. One line we often hear is that Israel has a right to defend itself. But as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, bombing and then invading a territory which you have subjected to occupation and an illegal blockade is many things, but it is not defence.
The argument is often made that Israel is simply doing what any state would do if they faced terrorism; some apologists even go so far to say that Israel actually acts with more ‘restraint’ than any nation in a comparable situation. This is patently absurd. When the IRA targeted British civilians in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, the RAF did not respond by bombing West Belfast or Derry. Indeed, Israel even used chemical weapons such as white phosphorus in the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza. In the case of the Palestinians, it seems that this kind of brutal collective punishment is an acceptable response.
Another excuse is to blame the conflict on Hamas. I condemn Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians. However, there is no credible evidence to link Hamas to the murder of the three Israeli boys which was supposedly the reason for Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza. And even if it were to be established, the idea that this somehow justifies Israel’s bombs killing Palestinian boys playing football is simply grotesque.
Some say that Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel is the real obstacle to a peaceful settlement. But the same was said about the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). In 1988, they took the step to recognise Israel and nothing changed. The Palestinians continued to be denied their right to statehood. And in fact, since 2006 Hamas’ political wing has been moving towards recognition of Israel along its legally recognised borders. The Jerusalem Post reported that the unity government agreement formed between Fatah and Hamas a few weeks ago included the recognition of Israel within its internationally recognised borders. On the other side, Israel has never once recognised the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state and has instead continued to occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, built an illegal wall and continued to build more settlements in total breach of international law.
For all the talk of Israel’s enemies apparently wishing to ‘wipe it off the map’, the fact of the matter is that it is actually Palestine which is being wiped off the map. A Palestinian state, no matter which political group governed it, could never pose an actual threat to the existence of the state of Israel – a country with the fourth most powerful military in the world, and which possesses nuclear weapons. This alarmist claim just serves to deflect from the real issue which is that Israel continues with its land grabs in an on-going attempt to make any kind of Palestinian state impossible.
Activists in the UK who support the Palestinian people are often asked why they care so much about this issue. The reason is that our government, as a supporter and supplier of arms to Israel makes us morally complicit in its appalling treatment of the Palestinian people. Calling for restraint on both sides, as our government does, is totally inadequate. And even a ceasefire changes nothing. Anyone who calls for these things, but does not also call for the immediate creation of an independent Palestinian state, as has been the Palestinians’ inalienable legal right since 1948, has no moral authority whatsoever.
The conflict is no more complicated than many others which have occurred between an occupying and an occupied nation. There can be no excuse for any individual or any government to remain neutral.