The ugly asymmetry of the conflict between Gaza and Israel was tragically underlined this week when four unarmed Palestinian boys, all from the same family, were killed by a rocket fired from an Israeli gunboat, pushing the death toll in the current hostilities to more than 200 Palestinians.
On the other side of the border, the state-of-the-art Iron Dome defence system, deployed by one of the world’s largest military powers, has limited Israeli deaths from Hamas rockets to one.
The taking of civilian lives by either side cannot be defended, and if one accepts Israel’s right to statehood, which the Mail & Guardian does, one must also respect its right to guarantee the safety of its citizens. What cannot be accepted, however, is its grossly disproportionate response, suggesting the underlying belief that Israeli lives are far more important than Palestinians’.
Israel has claimed that the killing of the four children on a Gaza beach on Wednesday afternoon was an accident. Few will believe this. Many will draw the obvious conclusion that it was a deliberate reprisal for the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, and part of a broader policy, using the horrible weapon of collective punishment, to bludgeon Hamas into a ceasefire.
Despite Israel’s insistence that it does not target noncombatants, the United Nations has confirmed that close to 80% of the Palestinian dead have been civilians, a fifth of them children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson Mark Regev insisted Israel is not at war with the Palestinians, but with Hamas. The Israelis blame Hamas for operating from civilian areas and claim that its military operation aims to eliminate extremists. Can this justify the indiscriminate pounding of a city where the overwhelming majority of people have absolutely no military involvement?
The views of the Israeli hawks was ably captured this week by Israeli reserve major general Oren Schachor, who said that “if we kill their families, that will frighten them”. Bombardment and air strikes, of a far more lethal and systematic kind than Hamas missiles, are seen as a deterrent to terrorists and a warning to citizens not to support them. There is no sign that this policy is working. This is the third large-scale armed offensive against the Gaza Strip in five years; when hostilities eventually cease, the countdown to the next round of violence will begin.
With each onslaught against impoverished, congested and blockaded Gaza, world sympathy for the Palestinians grows. Within Israel, there are worrying signs: indifference to the deadly price of the Gaza operation is matched by growing incitement by right-wing leaders, the murder of a Palestinian teenager, and the violent, unrestrained gangs that attack people.
Netanyahu can restore his credibility somewhat by extending the United Nation’s temporary ceasefire – but what remains glaringly absent is any Israeli government vision for a sustainable peace. Is it really planning to continue bombing Gaza at 18-month intervals for all eternity?
A sincere commitment to a negotiated solution – including acceptance of John Kerry’s peace proposal, lifting the blockade of Gaza and recognising Hamas as its elected government – is the only way forward. Otherwise, the future belongs to the lunatic fringe on both sides of the barricades.