The lack of Western news coverage of the tragic case of the Eqdiah family, devastated by an Israeli rocket attack on their home in Gaza, is puzzling. Although the tragedy is far from exceptional in Gaza it is precisely examples like this which are able to awaken the public conscience in America and Europe so that in turn might pressure their governments to seek a just settlement for the Palestinians. Perhaps that is why there’s a media blackout.
Statistics and pictures of devastated homes are important but count for little in the public consciousness without human interest stories. The Eqdiah’s story is one the likes of which usually prompts interest in the Western media, which is generally receptive to stories of victims of crime in general and civilian victims of terrorism in particular.
Thus, in March, there was extensive media coverage of the exemplary life of Mary Gardner, the innocent victim of a terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem. Quite reasonably, readers and viewers were encouraged to empathise with the tragedy of her death and the immorality of her killers. However, it is extremely rare for Western broadcasters to balance emotive coverage of this kind with coverage of the equally devastating impact on Palestinian civilians in Gaza sustained in the name of Israeli counter-terrorism.
Not for the first time it has been left to Al Jazeera English satellite channel to plough a lone furrow, reflecting the lived experience of Gazans for a burgeoning audience in the West. Hence, we saw Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston sitting on a wall outside a home in Gaza and speaking to Jihad Al Qaraa about his last meeting with his fiancé, Nidal Eqdiah. Holding an engagement ring, a pendant and the seeds of two dates they had eaten together, Jihad recalled how the young couple sat on the same wall and made plans for their wedding on the evening before Nidal was killed by an Israeli rocket attack on her home.
[Show link to AJE video news clip here: http://english.aljazeera.net/video/middleeast/2011/04/201142016514562449.html]
Outside the same modest home, Johnston interviewed Nidal’s father, Ibrahim, whose wife Najah was also killed in the rocket attack, and whose second daughter remains in a coma in hospital. Ibrahim rejects Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters had launched rocket attacks against Israel from the same neighbourhood and has called for a human rights fact-finding team to investigate the attack on his home.
Let’s give the Israelis the benefit of the doubt and accept their predicable claim that Palestinian fighters were firing rockets from the vicinity of the Eqdiah family home, however implausible the claim may be in reality. I would argue that rocket and bomb attacks on civilian targets play no useful role in any counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency campaign, whether the operation is well conceived, morally justified or not. Rockets and bombs remain crude and cruel weapons that will always risk harming innocent civilians even if they succeed in killing their intended targets.
The only kind of counter-terrorism (or counter-insurgency) campaigns that have ever been found to be effective are ones that adhere to the rules of criminal justice and limit recourse to military might in general and air strikes in particular. In other words, campaigns that are narrowly focused on prosecuting terrorists lawfully while avoiding all kinds of collateral damage to the families, friends and communities where terrorists seek support and recruits.
In the circumstances of the attack on the Eqdiah home, who in all honesty could fail to understand if Jihad decided to respond to the airstrike that killed his fiancée with a terrorist attack of his own? Who among us cannot comprehend the gut impulse which calls for revenge?
Such is the vicious cycle of political violence that is perpetuated by the collateral damage of rocket attacks and airstrikes against civilians. Fortunately, Jihad was engaged to the daughter of a man who responds to the gravest provocation with a call for law and not for revenge – for a fair judicial investigation of the attack that killed and injured his family; quite remarkable dignity and courage.
Purely for the sake of this article, let us accept the Israeli view of Palestinian fighters as terrorists. Launching airstrikes against terrorist targets may reduce the risk of loss of life of the military personnel carrying out the operations but they may also increase the risk of terrorist reprisals in the future. Surely it is this kind of hard won experience that politicians in Israel should be familiar with?
However, if Israeli politicians refuse to face the consequences of their own actions then they are only following the example of their peers in Washington, London, Paris, Islamabad and Tripoli who choose airborne rocket and bomb attacks as their preferred tools of counter-terrorism (again, assuming that the intended targets are, indeed, “terrorists”). The vast majority of their innocent victims will remain unknown except to their families and loved ones. Each bereaved family member and friend, however, is joined in a universal chain of compassionate solidarity that transcends the politics that killed their loved ones.
To dismiss the victims, the children, parents, siblings, fiancées and friends of the bereaved, as “collateral damage” is morally repugnant and wholly counter-productive when measured against any realistic counter-terrorism yardstick.
How can we make hard-bitten, cynical politicians see this reality? Perhaps by recourse to shock. The war artist Steve Pratt, a retired British Special Services (SAS) soldier, has painted a moving diptych in which an equality of suffering is evoked and suggested between Afghani Muslim and British Army victims of the conflict in Afghanistan. Shocking to patriotic sentiment, it is only when politicians are brave enough to cherish the lives of all (not just their own) citizens that effective counter-terrorism will gain momentum.
Israeli politicians are adept at pleading exceptional circumstances in their counter-“terrorism” operations against Palestinian fighters, but they should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their actions. Civilian suffering in Gaza is equal to civilian suffering anywhere else in the world and should also evoke universal condemnation.
Sadly, so far as I can see, the personal devastation caused by the attack on Ibrahim Eqdiah’s family home has only been reported on Al Jazeera. That, however, is a significant step in the right direction. Television news is often the best way to highlight the human suffering that sits behind the political spin of politicians.
Jihad has an engagement ring, a pendant and the seeds of two dates to hold and remember his fiancée by. Ibrahim holds cherished memories of his wife and daughters. One young man and one old man who have joined the universal ranks of the bereaved. Everyone knows in their heart of hearts that civilian lives should not be sacrificed in the name of terrorism or counter-terrorism. If we pay very close attention to Jihad’s broken dreams and Ibrahim’s despair, politicians and generals will no longer be able to dismiss the deaths of innocent civilians as collateral damage. And that will be another significant step in the right direction.
Left The Ultimate Sacrifice in the name of God, Queen and Country (Steve Pratt, 2009: acrylic and oil on canvas on board – set into a wood frame, 65cms x 75cms x 3cms) and right Collateral Damage (Steve Pratt, 2009; acrylic and oil on canvas on board – set into a wood frame, 65cms x 75cms x 3cms)
*Dr Robert Lambert is the Co-Director, European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter and Lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews. Prior to embarking on an academic career in 2007, the then Inspector Lambert was head of the Muslim Contact Unit in the Metropolitan Police Service.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.