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Israel is increasingly portrayed as the villain. Some perspective, please

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22 December 2023, The Age, by George Brandis

The scenes from Gaza on the nightly television news are, of course, awful. Bewildered and suffering children, hysterical parents, outraged doctors and paramedics struggling to cope. Predictably, Western opinion, appalled by what it sees, is beginning to shift against Israel.

There were no television crews about in southern Israel on October 7 to record the massacre by Hamas of 1200 Israeli civilians (most of them young people attending a music festival) and the kidnapping of 240 others (most of whom remain hostages). It was as medieval in its bloodthirstiness as the ideology that inspired it.

Those events rightly shocked the world. However, absent a visual record, and because it was a coup de main executed in a matter of hours, the news cycle moved on. So, over the past weeks, the atrocity that precipitated the conflict, though not forgotten, has begun to fade from memory, as the narrative is overtaken by Israel’s military response. All we see are Palestinian casualties, with Israel – the undoubted victim of the massacre that caused it – increasingly portrayed as the villain.

Of course, Hamas knew that, when it executed the greatest mass slaughter of Jewish people since the Nazis, Israel would respond powerfully, and that the response would be daily depicted by the media and anatomised by world opinion, in a way the October 7 attack never was.

So let us bring some perspective into the discussion. First, let it never be forgotten that, while some media outlets (including, of course, “our” ABC), have taken to referring to Hamas as “militants” – or sometimes simply as “Gazan authorities”, as blandly as if they were describing any municipal government – Hamas is a terrorist organisation, listed as such by Australia and most other democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Its declared aim is the elimination of the state of Israel.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by unanimous resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 1948 with the Holocaust explicitly in mind. Article 2 defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Hamas is not only a terrorist organisation; it is one whose avowed purpose is to commit the crime of genocide against the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

How can it be that those on the political left – including, disgracefully, weak-kneed members of the Albanese government – cannot bring themselves to condemn, forthrightly and without ambiguity or caveat, a civilian massacre by a listed terrorist organisation with an explicitly genocidal aim? Rather, they avoid the issue by hiding behind a pusillanimous moral equivalence which is wrong in fact, in law, and in morality.

There is no valid comparison between the conduct of Israel and that of Hamas. Under international law, a state has a right to self-defence, including pre-emptive self-defence. That may include military action undertaken for the purpose of eliminating the threat. It is obliged to carry out such action in a manner which is proportionate to the threat and, where civilian populations may be affected – as in a crowded space like Gaza, they undoubtedly will be – to use its best efforts to minimise civilian casualties. That is particularly difficult where, as is the case in Gaza, Hamas deliberately embeds itself among civilian facilities, such as hospitals, using Palestinian civilians as human shields as callously as they murdered Israeli civilians.

While there is room for debate about whether Israel’s response has met the requirements of proportionality and mitigation of harm to non-combatants, it is very difficult to make conclusive judgments on those questions in real time and amid the fog of war.

Israeli authorities have taken steps to shape their response to mitigate civilian casualties – such as giving advance warnings to evacuate identified areas, pausing the conflict to enable civilians to flee, and publicising designated safe precincts (although, in a military operation taking place in a small territory, safety is relative). The question is not whether Israel has, to some degree, calibrated its military response to observe its obligations under international law, but whether it has done so sufficiently.

There is no equivalence whatever between that and what Hamas did on October 7. The terrorists who murdered 1200 Israelis were not pursuing military targets. They were not trying to avoid civilian casualties, but to cause them.

There is no equivalence, moral or legal, between a terrorist organisation whose very raison d’etre is genocide – carrying out the mass slaughter of innocent people because they are Jewish – and the nation whose citizens have been attacked taking the steps to eliminate the threat that international law allows it to do.

The behaviour of the pro-Hamas hate marchers has challenged us as a multicultural democracy far more than the Cronulla riots ever did. There can be no objection to demonstrations in favour of Palestine, or calling for an Israeli ceasefire. Those who champion free speech have to accept it applies as much to opinions they despise as to those they share. But when Hamas sympathisers chanted “f— the Jews” as they did outside the Opera House on October 9, days before the Israeli action in Gaza had begun, they were not expressing an opinion. They were not just demonstrating solidarity with a terrorist organisation. They were not just condoning genocide. They were encouraging it.

Article link: https://www.theage.com.au/world/middle-east/israel-is-increasingly-portrayed-as-the-villain-some-perspective-please-20231208-p5eq6w.html
Article source: The Age/George Brandis 22.12. 2023

2024-02-22 05:36:48.000000