Gaza and Israel: How do we navigate the moral dilemmas?


Gaza and Israel: How do we navigate the moral dilemmas?

The world grapples with the moral dilemmas around the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel; the right of a state to defend itself and the right of people to fight for their freedom; the difference in murder weapons — guns in the hands of people or bombs falling from an aeroplane; with proportionality, civilian casualties and using hunger as a weapon of war. By MAX DU PREEZ.


JUST for perspective, to start with: at least 6,600 Palestinians have been killed in the first 12 days of Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Gaza's population is 2.2 million, Israel's is 9.4 million. So, the Gaza death toll is equivalent to about 28,000 Israelis in terms of its impact on the community. Or 186,000 South Africans, or more than 900,000 Americans.

What shockwaves would have gone through our country and continent if 186,000 people had been killed in 12 days here?

In 20 months of Russia's war in Ukraine, just over 9,000 civilians have been killed.

Or think about this: 69 people were shot dead by the police in Sharpeville in 1960. It changed the course of history, and that day is still commemorated in South Africa as Human Rights Day.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

At least 40% of the deaths in Gaza were children under 16, according to human rights groups. At least 50 families have been completely wiped out, from grandparents and parents to children and grandchildren. (The authenticity of the death toll was confirmed yesterday by Omar Shakir, head of Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine.)

The Al Jazeera journalist Wael Dahdouh's wife, two children and grandson were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Nuseirat camp in central Gaza on Wednesday. Dahdouh sent his family there to escape the bombing in the north. Twenty-three Palestinian journalists have been killed in Gaza since October 7.

In the West, it seems people are more shocked about the 1,400 Israelis killed by Hamas on October 7.

These were despicable, horrific, cold-blooded murders, and young children and the elderly were not spared.

Daily on CNN, BBC and Sky, we still watch interviews with survivors and loved ones of victims in Israel. Shocking stories. We see the faces of the dead, we hear their names, we hear what kind of people they were, what they did, what they loved.

But the dead Palestinians are mostly statistics. They are just corpses. Including about 2,700 children.

A Palestinian life is considered less valuable than an Israeli life.

The Muslims and Arabs are a violent lot, with their AK-47s and wild eyes and shouting “Allahu Akbar"; bewildered children playing in the dust; submissive women in hijabs. Losers. Israel's defence minister, Yoav Gallant, calls them “human animals".

The Jews are the noble descendants of the survivors of the Holocaust, a talented and successful bunch, not to mention God's Chosen People.

Listen to this moving monologue by the Dutch writer and actor Ramsey Nasr: do we know the name of every Palestinian victim?

You, reading this, can't help but have this unconscious bias. Decades of Western media have ensured that.

This week, I was listening to an interview about the conflict that BizNews did with political analyst Frans Cronje. “It's a divide between the civilisation of Western democracies and the barbarism of Iran, Hamas and their allies around the world," he says. “There is no equivalence here between the Palestinian cause and the attack on Israel and the actions of the Hamas terrorists and the actions of Israel's security forces."

Cronje doesn't say a word about the displacement and humiliation of millions of Palestinians over decades — as António Guterres of the UN says, the Hamas attack didn't happen in a vacuum.

Stellenbosch academic Fanie Cloete writes in his blog this week: “Hamas's actions are motivated by the clearly proven Israeli oppression of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and other occupied areas in Israel since the establishment of the current state of Israel, and with the support of most Western governments." 

American political scientist and activist Professor Norman Finkelstein, whose parents survived Nazi death camps, said at the University of Massachusetts last week: “People say Israel has the right to defend itself. But don't the Palestinians also have the right to free themselves from the largest concentration camp in history [Gaza]?"

It's a struggle between civilisation and barbarism, says Cronje.

Yes, attacking Israeli civilians on October 7 and taking hostages was barbaric behaviour. But does that make barbarians of the Palestinians and their quest for freedom and the return of their land?

In 2008 I spoke to eyewitnesses of the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbian soldiers rounded up and executed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys. I was also in Tuzla, not far away, where Serbs blew 71 youths into eternity during a Youth Day festival on May 25, 1995.

It was barbaric. But does that make Serbs barbarians?

On March 16, 1968, US soldiers killed 500 civilian Vietnamese at My Lai. Several women and children were raped.

During the Algerian Revolution of 1954 and 1962, French soldiers killed more than a million Algerians, destroyed more than 8,000 settlements, and held 2 million people in horrific concentration camps. Rape and torture were not uncommon.

The “hero of Rwanda", President Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front was guilty of several revenge mass killings of Hutu at the time of the 1994 genocide. 

Barbaric. Like the Vlakplaas policemen who killed MK soldiers, burned their bodies and used the fire for a braai, beer in hand.

Like the murders of more than 20,000 people in KwaZulu-Natal in the years before 1994, incited by the SA Army and police.

Let's think about his soberly: is the flattening of large parts of Gaza with missiles and airstrikes, including schools, mosques, churches and clinics, and without any regard to the number of civilians dying, any less barbaric?

Many Palestinian parents now write their sons' and daughters' names with felt-tip pens on the children's legs so they can be identified if they die in a bombing. This week I saw images of dead children on television with their names written on their legs.

I ask again: is it morally more unacceptable when a fighter shoots a civilian in the head with a gun than when a pilot pushes a button and drops a bomb that kills dozens of people? Is the pilot (or the drone operator in his air-conditioned office) acting more ethically because he can't see his victims — or exactly the opposite?

Is Israel's refusal in the last two weeks to allow food, water, medicine and fuel for hospitals to enter the besieged Gaza anything but barbaric? The aid organisation Oxfam says Israel uses starvation as a “weapon of war".

Listen to Queen Raina of Jordan, role model of liberated Arab women, on the issue in an interview with Christiane Amanpour:

Supporters of the Israeli government are happy to justify the brutal hunt for Hamas with the excuse that the group rejects the two-state solution and wants to destroy Israel.

Ehud Barak, a former prime minister of Israel, says Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners are also campaigning for a one-state solution: the entire territory must become Israel. He says Netanyahu quietly allowed Hamas to grow so he can evade the criticism that he doesn't want to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's newspaper Haaretz wrote this week: “Clearly, in retrospect the decision to promote Hamas and even permit its funding, which Netanyahu used to boast about as a way to build support for his coalition, was a terrible error."

To my Jewish friends and acquaintances who are angry because I don't simply side with Israel, I ask them to explain to me how the State of Israel is made safer by the massive bombings and the siege of Gaza.

Conflicts like the Algerian liberation war  - and colonialism and apartheid - show us that you can't kill people's dreams and ideals, no matter how many people you wipe out. What you do achieve is to cause immense generational trauma that will last for generations and will continue to threaten peace.

♦ VWB ♦

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