Israel's enemies have a strategy of provoking confrontation and then playing the victim, argues David Saks.
Currently arriving on a regular basis in my inbox is a 1950s Swiss cartoon commenting on the Middle East conflict.
In a series of panels, it shows Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, depicted as a hard-working farmer, being progressively provoked by a leering Gamal Nasser of Egypt while a motley group of bystanders, representing the international community, looks on and laughs. In the final panel the Ben-Gurion figure, the provocation having become intolerable, gives Nasser a sound thrashing, eliciting howls of outrage from aforesaid bystanders.
As the note accompanying the message bitterly asks, would such a cartoon appear in your average European newspaper today? It is a no-brainer that acts of violent provocation will inevitably evoke a similarly violent response, yet when it comes to Israel, it is indeed rare to see any kind of acknowledgement of this in today’s media.
Modern warfare is conducted as much in the diplomatic and public relations realm as on the battlefield. Well aware of this, Israel’s enemies have long pursued a strategy of provoking lethal confrontations and then playing the victim when the inevitable retaliation ensues. To realise how successful this is proving, one need look no further than Kader Asmal’s opinion piece, “World must deny legitimacy to Israel” (June 25).
Asmal’s column typifies standard anti-Israel polemics that studiously avoid holding the other side in any way accountable or providing any context for Israeli actions.
Why, for example, did Israel find it necessary to go to war against the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in Lebanon 30 years ago? Could the PLO’s cross-border terrorist raids (including the infamous 1978 Coastal Road massacre, with 38 civilians killed) have had anything to do with it? Such acts were planned and carried out from Lebanese territory, hence Israel had little choice but to invade that country and destroy the terrorist infrastructure there. Without those initial attacks by the PLO, there would have been no invasion and no bloodshed. Asmal, however, denies by omission any prior acts of provocation by the Palestinian side while piously deploring the suffering and destruction that followed them. This is as unjust as it is dishonest.
Just as predictably, Asmal avoids dealing with the reality that last year’s incursion into Gaza was preceded by thousands of missiles fired at Israeli cities. This is despite the fact that even the infamous Goldstone Commission, which was so conceived and structured as to be little more than a kangaroo court pursuing a predetermined verdict of Israeli guilt, considered such attacks to be war crimes.
Asmal further makes the entirely false claim that the Gaza incursion resulted in 1 400 Palestinian civilian deaths when, in fact, well over half of those killed were armed militants. He further seethes that even under apartheid the “racists” never bombarded civilian areas. Has he considered that this was because anti-apartheid activists were not using such areas as bases from which to rain deadly missiles on white civilians?
Just as false is the emotive image he concocts of Israeli troops indiscriminately bombing Gaza into rubble. Those familiar with the devastation of Dresden during World War II, where some 30 000 civilians were killed in a single night of bombing raids, will be aware of the kind of carnage that would have ensued had Israel indeed been guilty of this. Instead, the Palestinian non-combatant death toll was well under 1 000 after three weeks of intensive fighting, and had Hamas not deliberately conducted its military operations among its own civilian population, that figure would have been even lower. The casualty figures in fact indicate the remarkable extent to which the Israeli military acted with restraint, despite being forced by Hamas to operate within civilian areas.
Comrade Kader’s flamboyantly jaundiced approach achieves almost surreal levels with his assertion that “whenever an opportunity for negotiations arises, Israel derails it by perpetrating some provocative act of violence”. Can he seriously claim to be ignorant of how often Hamas, Islamic Palestinian Jihad and even the supposedly “moderate” Fatah regularly undermined and ultimately scuppered previous peace initiatives through acts of terror, the details of which are well-documented and easily accessible?
Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, accompanied by the uprooting of 8 000 of its own citizens, was not followed by reciprocal moves by the Palestinian leadership towards peace. Instead, it led in short order to the election of the extremist Hamas faction, the overthrow and expulsion of Fatah from Gaza and the commencement of more than three years of cross-border missile fire.
Going further back, one sees how terror attacks by Hamas continually occurred at times of apparent progress under the Oslo peace accord. The Oslo process itself was permanently jettisoned by Yasser Arafat, who rejected Israel’s far-reaching concessions at the Camp David talks and instead instigated an all-out war aimed at Israeli soldiers and civilians alike. All this is common cause to anyone familiar with the history of the region, but Asmal bizarrely attributes the guilt solely to Israel. Could this be the same man who once held the important education portfolio in the Cabinet? It is a scary thought.
Predisposed as he is to adopt an entirely Manichean view, one straightforwardly populated by wicked oppressors on the one hand and righteous victims on the other, Asmal’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian question is little more than a caricature of what is really happening. The truth, as is always the case when international conflicts are concerned, is a great deal more complex, and such shallow activist rhetoric merely serves to muddy the waters further.
David Saks is the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies