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Members of the Abid Raboh family mourn the death of a child killed by shelling, during funerals in Jabaliya near Gaza City. Photograph: Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

Members of the Abid Raboh family mourn the death of a child killed by shelling, during funerals in Jabaliya near Gaza City. Photograph: Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

Regardless of hypothetical murderous intentions on both sides, the facts are that only one side is bombing a condensed civilian population with F-16 fighter jets writes Barnaby Raine

Palestinian deaths are background noise. As the piles of corpses lining Gaza's morgues and streets grow apparently inexorably, they come to represent a constant hum of murder while Israeli deaths are sufficiently rare to make headlines.

Analysis from the first year of the Second Intifada shows The New York Times reported 125% of Israeli deaths, meaning they covered some deaths more than once, while giving the same level of coverage to only 18% of Palestinian deaths. For the media, it is easier to empathise with Israelis who look, live and sound like us than with the spectre of the impoverished stone-throwing Arab.

It is tempting, then, to respond to the clear imbalance in the number of deaths and in their media coverage by calling for parity of observation, as Owen Jones recently proposed. The apparently obvious anti-racist demand is for every Palestinian death and every Israeli death to be treated equally.

This demand for parity is importantly different from the view of neutrality emanating from the likes of the BBC, who tend to station one correspondent in Gaza and one in rocket-hit Israeli towns to talk in equal measure about the damage being inflicted on each area. Thus they hope to avoid accusations of bias.

As the respective Palestinian and Israeli death tolls make plain, treating both sides as if they were broadly the same is not a demonstration of genuine neutrality. It is a highly ideological misrepresentation, which flattens the difference between a heavily armed economically developed nation-state and a stateless people with no army and barely any military technology.

Hamas is not dropping leaflets telling 100,000 Israelis to leave their homes or risk death, nor is it demolishing whole Israeli suburbs. Treating every life equally, then, would mean spending much more time reporting from Gaza City and Khan Younis than from Ashkelon or Sderot. Regardless of hypothetical murderous intentions on both sides, the facts are that only one side is bombing a condensed civilian population with F-16 fighter jets.

In fact, even the goal of parity of observation obscures this context of uneven power. It presumes that each Hamas rocket is equivalent to each Israeli bullet, and we may criticise Israel more than we condemn the Palestinians only because it kills more children than they do. That analysis takes the status quo as its starting point, since it disapproves equally of all who actively meddle with it through violence. It implies that neither side would be worthy of criticism if both sides simply stopped killing people tomorrow.

In that peaceful ostensible utopia, what would the region look like? The West Bank would remain under Israeli occupation, with everything from freedom of movement to access to water restricted for Palestinians and a vast apartheid wall and a network of roadblocks still in place. Palestinians inside Israel proper would still be third class citizens, facing a raft of discriminatory legislation banning them from buying certain plots of land and even marrying freely. Gaza would remain under siege, starved of building materials and access to medicine.

If we remove only the killing from the picture, the scene remains one of Israeli domination over the Palestinians. Every shot fired by the Israelis is fired in order to secure and entrench that reality; on the walls of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is engraved the determination that Israeli sovereignty should rein over all of historic Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank. Every shot fired by the Palestinians is fired in an attempt to undermine that reality.

There are plenty of good reasons for despising Hamas, and we might think that all Palestinian violence is strategically unwise or morally unacceptable, but it is important not to collapse the difference, recognised in international law, between the violence of an occupier seeking to maintain their domination and the violence of the occupied seeking to live in freedom.

Contemporary Zionism is best characterised as a decontextualising project. When Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama tell us that 'no other country' has to suffer a barrage of rocket fire, they invite us to forget the question 'why is Israel targeted, and not others?' Their chosen question renders invisible the Palestinian people and their suffering. The briefest glance at context tells us that Israel is not like other countries, since its conception of security is predicated on the dispossession and occupation of another people.

Like Apartheid South Africa, indeed like all colonialisms, Israel invokes the violence of the oppressed as justification for its own violence, which is framed as reactive but is in fact the root of the problem. The Israeli desire to live in peace is a desire to maintain its supremacy – a Jewish state founded on the basis of expelling its previous inhabitants – unchallenged by Palestinian violence. It is a desire for Palestinians simply to accept an eternity as stateless refugees, as an occupied people or as non-Jews in a Jewish state that sees their very existence as a 'demographic threat'. To paraphrase Netanyahu, what other people but the Palestinians would be expected to endure that?

The 'conflict' paradigm is therefore inappropriately equalising. It sees two sides each with legitimate claims but each given to violent excess, and who must be brought together to find a 'solution' necessarily involving mutual compromise. In other words, it invites us to slip into the shoes of the international negotiators and peace envoys.

Instead, we should insist on our right to ethical judgement as ordinary human beings. We should call not for peace above all else, as the conflict paradigm invites us to do, but should apply the old slogan 'no justice, no peace!'

We should be clear that the region's troubles do not originate in Palestinian violence – that is merely a symptom. Violence stems from the Israeli desire for a religiously exclusive state in part or all of Palestine. If Israelis were prepared to live alongside and amidst Palestinians as equal citizens with the same rights in a secular democracy, there would be peace tomorrow.

But Zionism, claiming a biblically derived Jewish right to colonise the land, insists that any Jew has a right to live in Israel while barring indigenous Palestinians from living there. Israel establishes the conditions of structural violence and social exclusion to which Palestinians respond. The problem is not Palestinian intransigence, nor even extremism on both sides. The problem is Zionism.

Barnaby Raine

Barnaby Raine

Barnaby Raine is a Stop the War activist and was one of the organisers of the Jewish Bloc on the huge demonstrations for Gaza in London on 19 and 26 July.

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