By- Nick Wilbar
Much like beauty, truth is often only in the eye of the beholder. As the beholder changes, so does the truth he beholds. Conflict, particularly when it is complicated, exemplifies this reality. From its inception some generations ago, the Palestinian-Israeli feud has been laden with divergent perspectives and thus differing flavors and fashions of truth. In this regard, the most recent engagement in Gaza was not unique.
The truth of the tale began in earnest in mid-June of last year when an Egyptian mediated “lull” in hostilities between Israel and Hamas went into effect for the Gaza region. As the truce was on its way towards expiration in early last December, talks of extending the ceasefire began after Israel made public its desire to do so. This, however, was not to be. Subsequent to the formal conclusion of the truce on the 19th of December last year, Hamas—citing purported Israeli transgressions—declared its intention to abstain from any type of renewed agreement. This was then followed by an increase in Hamas rocket attacks on neighboring Israeli towns and villages. To this, Israel responded by launching an aerial assault on December 27th, followed by a larger scale ground invasion in early January of this year. Unsurprisingly, Hamas met Israeli force with continued and increased rocket attacks throughout the engagement’s duration.
After being initiated on a broad-scale, the military engagement claimed well over a thousand lives—the vast majority of which were Palestinian. Not surprisingly, the saga just told, and the media commentary by which it was accompanied, has generated a number of ‘truths’ as to the nature of the conflict. As is often the case with supposed truths of any kind, we would be ill-advised to leave these unquestioned.
Truth: Hamas is to blame for the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perhaps, but it depends. Conventional understanding of the engagement, as delineated above, holds Hamas to be the initial transgressor and therefore the primary bearer of blame. But as the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC) reports, the story may in fact be less straight forward. According to the IMEMC, Israeli violations did not cease during the six-month “truce.” Rather, the IMEMC claims that “the Israeli army killed 22 Palestinians, wounded 62, and kidnapped 38” over the course of the ceasefire’s intended duration. Obviously, given the source, these numbers stand to be somewhat biased. But irrespective of their potential flaws, they serve to illustrate a point. Not everybody sees the conflict through a lens of infallible Palestinian guilt. This is particularly jarring when considering the notion that as far as future transgressions are concerned, it’s really the perspective of the presumed perpetrators that matters most. The numbers mentioned above are indicative of that perspective.
A similar and contestably more credible report came by way of the Guardian on November 5 of last year. According to the newspaper’s online publication, “Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into [Palestinian] territory.” The raid, which involved an attack on a suspicious tunnel into neighboring Egypt, has been frequently mentioned in the rhetoric of Hamas officials. The claim has also been repeatedly put forth that the continued Israeli blockade on some portions of Palestinian territory should be considered an act of war, thus augmenting the extent of Israeli liability.
These accusations may not, however, be as damning as they first seem. The portion of the onus falling on the Israelis can only be rightfully determined when bearing in mind the barrage of Palestinian rockets that indiscriminately showered Israel during the run-up to the conflict proper. Worth making especially clear is the fact that Palestinian aggression of this sort did not start only when the truce officially ended. Though greatly reduced and largely unsuccessful, Hamas continued to sporadically lob missiles towards southern Israel throughout the six-month duration of the truce. Palestinian weaponry, however, is notoriously ineffective and, according to fair.org, failed to claim a single Israeli life during the truce. The same cannot be said for Israel, as even before the six-months were up Palestinians had died at the hands of the Israelis.
Truth: Hamas is simply a terrorist group and should be treated as such.
Maybe, but as it turns out the actual ‘truth’ might be less straightforward. An ideological offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is listed unconditionally as a terror organization by the United States, the European Union and, rather unsurprisingly, Israel. The organization, whose name when given in English signifies something akin to “Islamic Resistance Movement,” has grown to become the single most substantial and influential Palestinian military movement. But to simply consider Hamas a terror organization—implying something on par with groups like al-Qaeda—is somewhat misleading.
Common understanding dictates that Hamas operates a military wing responsible for suicide bombings and rocket attacks, the likes of which Israel suffered in the run up the recent conflict. In stark contrast, however, the Council on Foreign Relations reports that Hamas dedicates a substantial portion of its $70-million annual budget to “an extensive social services network” replete with schools, healthcare clinics, mosques and sports leagues. This, in specific terms, is not the doing of terrorists. Nor is the entirety of the endeavor enacted by an organization which carries out “approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities” as Israeli scholar Reuven Paz claims Hamas does. Additionally, it’s rather unlikely that if Hamas was solely inclined towards terror it would waste time or money looking after the affairs of the homeless or orphans. Yet, it does. Terrorists—as they are commonly conceived—simply don’t do these things.
Terrorists do, however, aim to kill and as their title suggests invoke terror. In addition to the pursuits just listed Hams stays quite active on this front as well. Since 1993, it’s been estimated that Hamas has been responsible for the deaths of some 500 individuals over the course of approximately 350 separate terror attacks. In light of this and numerous other pieces of similar evidence it remains worth noting that despite the gentler face of organization detailed above, there are very tangibly two sides to the Hamas coin.
Truth: The Israeli response to Palestinian transgressions has been damningly disproportionate.
Upon first glance this seems to be unconditionally so, but it too is worth considering deeper. The divergence in military capacity between Israel and Hamas is at once quite staggering. As reported by the CIA’s World Fact Book, Israel’s yearly military expenditure is approximately $13.5 billion in purchasing power parity terms. This is well over twice the combined GDP of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Needless to say, a conventional military assessment, would suggest that Hamas is at a rather distinct disadvantage. The Israeli military has the very obvious capacity to enact unthinkably more damage than its Palestinian counterpart and, so far, it has.
As of January 18th, the New York Times reported that 13 Israelis were claimed by the conflict. In staggering contrast, it’s been approximated that roughly 1300 Palestinian lives were taken by the hostilities. For purposes of contextualization, that’s almost as many American troops as have been killed in the past two years of the Iraq war. Similarly, there have been reports of Gaza residents claiming that the recent volley of Israeli strikes set their territory back “50 years” in terms of development. The same cannot be said of the limited damage suffered by the Israelis.
What can be said on behalf of the Israelis, however, is no less real and no less important. No population should be forced to exist under the near-perennial strain of terror endured by those Israelis within striking distance of Hamas. All contemporary notions of sovereignty assert the right of a nation to defend itself, and insomuch as Israel is in everyway a sovereign entity it cannot be excluded from that right. In a point made perfectly transparent by RealClearPolitics.com’s Michael Gerson, “the goal of military action, when unavoidable, is not to take one life in exchange for each one unjustly taken; this is mere vengeance. The goal is to remove the conditions that lead to conflict and the taking of life. So far, Israel's actions have been proportionate to this objective.” Furthermore, Israel, which has access to some of the most advanced military technology available, can at least claim to attempt to spare civilian targets. The same cannot be said of Hamas which, in addition to using indiscriminate artillery, has been routinely accused of endangering its own citizens in order to pad casualty statistics. It may just be that despite the numerical lopsidedness of the situation, Israel’s response has not only been misrepresented, but misinterpreted as well.
The narrative of the most recent engagement, much like the truth it creates, is as of yet still incomplete. As it continues to evolve, undoubtedly the ‘truth’ by which it’s defined will do likewise. Any new or changing positions taken by the Obama administration or the recently designated Israeli Prime Minister will surely add additional dimensions to the story and its reading. As the ever-interpretable saga of the Israelis and Palestinians continues to unfold, it may just be that the only real truth in Gaza is that there isn’t one.
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