Moral Equivalence in the Middle East

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I don’t really see a clear moral distinction between the two groups because I just think that one is more open about its aims and behaviours than the other”.

These are the words of a friend I have been debating on a daily basis, for a little over two weeks now, on the subject of the conflict in the Middle East. The two groups he refers to are, of course the Israeli government and the current government of Gaza. More generally though, our discussions have touched upon the tactics of each organisation as well as their primary goals and objectives.

I have debated this friend on a number of occasions and on a number of subjects and although we get along well in person; we tend to disagree on virtually everything and anything of a political nature. Being, as he is, debilitated by a form of progressive liberalism that ignores important distinctions of any kind when they either risk painting certain Muslims in a negative light or if these distinctions risk overlooking an opportunity to criticise the actions and ideals of the democratic West, it goes without saying that I have heard some pretty irksome and dubious statements from this same friend in the past.

This particular statement is one I feel compelled to address more comprehensively as it is one I have heard previously from people who suffer from the same inability to draw what I would consider to be pretty transparent and important distinctions; the same people who tend to nonchalantly reap the benefits of living in a pluralistic democratic society and therefore, you would hope, would not need the differences between a multicultural democracy and a fascistic, theocratic dictatorship spelt out to them.

In the entirety of the Middle East, only 1.6 million Arabs have complete political and religious freedom. All of these Arabs live in Israel. 20.6% of Israeli citizens are Arabs and Arabs have served in the Israeli parliament since 1949. There are thirteen non-Jewish religious communities which are recognized in Israel, the biggest of which being the 17.3% Muslim population and each of these communities are afforded the right to practice their own religious family law. Consider and contrast this attitude towards ethnic and religious minorities in Israel with the attitudes of the Gazan Government of Hamas, which expresses a wish to install a global theocracy in the form of an Islamic Caliphate in which the dictates of one religion supersede the rights of all citizens.

Hamas has in its Charter, the obliteration of Israel as an Islamic obligation as well as Anti-Semitic rhetoric including quotes from the Hadith and references to the well-known forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. The statements of its leaders, founders and authorities frequently display a base hatred of Jews, an adoration of Adolf Hitler and a denial of his holocaust against the Jews coupled with a desire to commit a “real” one.

There is no place for you Jews among us and you have no future among the nations of the world you are headed for annihilation” – Mahmoud al-Zahar (Co-Founder and leader of Hamas)

Allah take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah take hold of the Americans and their allies…Allah count them and kill them to the last one and don’t leave even one.” Ahmad Bahar (acting chairman of the Gaza parliament)

These are religio-political statements of genocidal intent made by an elected governement who were voted into power by a majority of Palestinian citizens. Whether or not the majority of Palestinians agree with and approve of the stated goals of these leaders and the foundational documents of its party is entirely irrelevant to the nature of the enemy that Israel is fighting against. A victory for Hamas would mean a victory for Hamas’ stated aims and goals, not a victory for the aims and goals of individual Palestinians whatever those goals may be.

One of these approaches represents an attempt by a government at an inclusive  pluralistic society and the other represents an attempt at an autocratic dictatorship in which one of its main objectives is the total annihilation of an entire people. In other words: Israel wants the right to exist and Hamas wants to prevent Israel from existing. If this wasn’t as clear a distinction as there could possibly be; Hamas helpfully illustrates the difference between itself and Israel further by stating its aims of committing genocide against all people of a certain religious persuasion wherever they are residing globally.

Perhaps though, as my friend implies in his statement, Israel too wants to install a global theocracy and commit genocide against all Muslims, but they just keep that to themselves. This could well be the case but it would be a case entirely unsupported by evidence. Israel has shown no signs of genocidal intent towards the global Muslim and/or Arab population nor does it espouse anything like the bigoted, racist rhetoric that its neighbouring states routinely promote against it by way of Anti-Semitic propaganda. Where are the examples of Jewish parents and teachers “educating” their children to think that Muslims are sons of apes and pigs for example? Where are the Israeli equivalents of statements such as the following?

My message to the Jews is that there is no God but Allah. We are a nation that drinks blood and we know there is no blood better than the blood of Jews. We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood and our children’s thirst with your blood.”(Hamas suicide bomber )

Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption…The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them…Allah Willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers” – Yusuf al-Qaradawi (Spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood)

Of course if Israel wanted to kill all Palestinians it could do so with relative ease, being that it is the biggest military power in the region. In contrast to this supposed genocidal ambition, it in fact goes out of its way to minimise civilian casualties on the Palestinian side by using a multipronged tactic of warning shots (known as roof-knocking), text messages, phone calls and leaflet drops to advise Palestinians of impending retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets in the area and advising them to evacuate the location. This is an unprecedented measure in the history of armed conflict to reduce the number of deaths of non-combatants and completely contradicts the baseless assertion that Israel is trying to commit genocide against all Palestinians.

Despite these measures, there is no getting around the fact that there is significant loss of civilian life on the Palestinian side. This is largely due to Hamas’ predilection for using Human Shields, its insistence on stockpiling rockets in civilian areas and its continual indiscriminate launching of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from the grounds of schools, hospitals and mosques in Gaza. The entrances to Hamas terror tunnels are regularly in areas of high civilian populations and Hamas instructs the people of Gaza to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate. Israel protects its civilians whereas Hamas deliberately places its civilians in harm’s way. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated: “We are using our missiles to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missles.”

Israel’s Iron Dome defence system protects Israelis from Hamas rocket attacks deliberately targeted against Israeli civilians, warning sirens also sound allowing civilians to flee to shelters and bunkers built to protect them from these attacks. Hamas, in contrast, has invested in building a network of “terror tunnels” and bunkers for the stockpiling of weapons and for the shelter of Hamas leaders and terrorists. The number of tunnels and bunkers built for its civilians to seek protection from Israeli retaliatory fire is precisely zero.

This, I would have thought, illustrates a day and night difference in the priorities of each group; whereas Israel attempts, and for the most part succeeds, in protecting the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of this conflict, Hamas pays absolutely no regard for civilian lives on either side. However, according to my friend, these approaches are indistinguishable from each other.

The following video shows an Israeli airstrike being abandoned upon the discovery of the presence of Palestinian civilians at a Hamas target.

Here is another showing the Israeli military ensuring that a rocket launching site is clear of civilians before strikes are made upon it.

To imagine Hamas displaying similar concern for the protection of non-combatants is, I would argue, impossible.

Consider, for example, the reaction of the official Hamas spokesperson in light of the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teenagers which sparked this latest round of fighting. Whereas the Israeli government categorically denounced the subsequent revenge attack and murder of a Palestinian boy as “despicable terrorism” and made every effort to bring the killers to justice resulting in 6 arrests, the Hamas reaction to the murder of the Israeli boys was to call the killers “Heroes”. Indeed the mother of one of the suspects expressed her overwhelming pride at her son’s alleged involvement. It should not need pointing out that the differing reactions on display here occupy completely opposing positions on the spectrum of ethical attitudes and behaviour.

To be Pro-Palestine, to support the rights of Palestinians to have their own state, to be against the killing of Palestinian non-combatants and to genuinely support a two-state solution; it seems to me you must deride and denounce the Hamas government of Gaza at every opportunity rather than make excuses and apologies for them by claiming some kind of moral relativism. The future of the people of Gaza depends on the overthrow or destruction of the fascist terrorists of Hamas that are currently governing the region and using its people as disposable citizens.

Hamas MP Fathi Hamed has stated:

For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel… the elderly excel at this… and so do the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children.”

In the same speech he also announced:

We desire death more than you desire life”.

That otherwise educated people would continually excuse the behaviour of Hamas by using arguments of moral and ethical equivalency is an insult not only to Israel but to the people of Gaza that are suffering at their hands and whose only hope for peace is a government that cares more about the lives of its own civilians than the deaths of Israeli ones.

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