Jeremy Corbyn has attacked Israel for its use of violence in clashes along the border fence which separates it from Gaza. So far there have been at least 27 deaths. The pro-Palestine lobby and the comrades of the ‘Stop the War’ movement are enraged, claiming murderous brutality on Israel’s part. The truth is rather different.
These aren’t just demonstrations. Hamas have been repeating their old trick of putting their civilian population directly in the way of Israeli security forces and then provoking violence. Their aim is simple – to create casualties among their own people. This allows them to portray Israelis as brutal killers and to feed their bizarre cult of martyrdom. They have form for this sort of thing, such as their well-documented tactic of launching mortar and rocket attacks from densely populated areas so that residents are inevitably hit when the Israelis return fire.
In the latest Gaza demonstrations, Hamas are again using civilians for cover. Gunmen hide in the crowds, waiting to infiltrate the border using the chaos as cover. The confusion is increased by burning tyres to create thick clouds of smoke, masking the movements of the Hamas fighters and making it difficult for Israeli soldiers to pick targets.
The risk of non-combatants being hit increases; more propaganda points can eagerly be picked up by our media, who too often are either actively biased against Israel, or bizarrely incurious about finding out the full facts. Consider this quote from Andrew Marr on his show last Sunday that ‘the Middle East is aflame again. There’s lots of Palestinian kids being killed further south as well by the Israeli forces’. The author of the blog post I’m linking to here says: ‘As a context-free assertion of Israeli villainy that’s surely pretty hard to beat.’ Respectfully, I would have to disagree with him – it’s well within BBC standards of poor reporting.
Where possible, the Israelis use non-lethal force. In their long history of conflict they have become skilled at applying the appropriate level of force for the particular threat faced; doing their best to minimise casualties. Despite the shrill claims of the Left and admittedly some lapses, a large body of international military-legal opinion holds that Israel’s army sticks to the highest standards of ethical conduct in its operations. Strikes are delivered with precision and where possible efforts are made to give warnings. Israeli retaliatory attacks are often preceded by leafleting and (using their immense technical resources) mass text messaging and automated phone calls to civilians in affected areas, telling non-combatants when to shelter or run.
No army is perfect. But Israel’s is subject to internal scrutiny with routine investigations when lethal force is used and vigorous external scrutiny from her domestic media, quite apart from the attentions of the global media. Israeli soldiers are accountable for their actions. They can be, and have been, jailed.
Certainly Israeli security forces get things wrong, sometimes terribly so, and condemnation must be given when appropriate. But it is not ‘whataboutery’ to expect Israel’s critics to apply the same standards, with as much vigour, to Israel’s enemies. Yet they rarely do. When did you last see the British Left demonstrating against the ruthless attacks on Israeli civilians? (Of which there are many.) And Israel’s reactions must be set against the persistent, seemingly endless violence she faces.
Although often ignored by much of our media, Israel is still at the receiving end of a ‘stabbing intifada’ – the direct result of incitement by radical Islamist and terrorist elements, which calls on Palestinian youth to murder Jews.
This slow-burning campaign has resulted in 65 Israelis murdered and more than 900 injured in two and half years, despite Israel’s best defensive efforts.
In contrast to Israel’s self-scrutiny, it is doubtful that Hamas would be able to recognise the concept of an unlawful killing of anyone who opposed them. In their warped and deeply racist ideology, the only good Jew seems to be a dead Jew.
Hamas’s original charter from 1988 had the words (although since moderated, doubtless for PR): ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’
And it’s not just Jews that Hamas are happy to kill. Amnesty International, hardly a Zionist front, points to Hamas’s war crimes against their own population, both murder and torture.
It is horrible to imagine what would happen if Israel’s defences were less efficient, given the pathological hatred, steeped in lurid mythologies and conspiracy theories, that her enemies display. These range from the ‘blood libel’ of the Middle Ages, that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children in mysterious rituals, to the modern myth that Israeli medics harvested the organs of Haitians following the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Many Israeli-haters still treat the demented and repeatedly exposed hoax, the ‘Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, as a work of unquestionable truth, despite its obvious absurdity. To be blunt, many in the Arab world simply hate Jews.
Those who demand inquiries into the casualties in Gaza in recent weeks may well be right to do so. But we should never hold Israel to a higher standard than her enemies. This would be to mix hypocrisy with anti-Semitism. And we should recognise that despite the half-hidden acceptance she has gained from various Arab governments, she still faces an existential threat from those who wish her harm.
Hamas, sitting behind the rock-throwers, the burning tyres, petrol bombs and catapults, are murderous, hate-filled and determined. Israel is entitled to defend herself with whatever force might be necessary.