When is a war crime not a war crime? How are all lives equal when some lives seem more equal than others? Who has the right to freedom and who doesn’t?
Events of the past few weeks in the Middle East will be weighing heavily on the heads of many of us. And the above questions have been weighing heavily on mine.
As hundreds of thousands of Israeli troops muster at the border of Gaza, I feel that same sense of impending horror as when Putin sent his tanks across the border of Ukraine.
I’m thinking about the ordinary people trying to get on with their lives. I’m thinking of the young children being traumatised by the horrors of air strikes, grabbed from their cots in the middle of the night to flee across the rubble of their neighbourhoods. I’m thinking of the young people, the sick, the old and all those others who just want to live their lives in peace.
And here I was worried about how my three-year-old would react to fireworks night. I think that’s what people mean by “privilege”.
But such feelings, it seems, must be limited on the grounds of who our allies are.
When the FA called on footballers to wear black armbands in remembrance of all those killed in recent weeks in both Israel and Palestine, it was met with outrage by a multitude of political commentators. Only the dead in Israel should be remembered, they said, demanding instead that the arch at Wembley be lit with the colours of the Israeli flag.
That’s a clear message: Palestinian lives don’t matter.
It’s a contradiction perfectly illustrated by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who tweeted last year: “Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes. Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror. And we have to call it as such.”
When Israel did the same last week, while also bombarding homes, mosques, schools and hospitals in the blockaded Gaza Strip with high-tech US-provided missiles, her response was only that “Israel has the right to defend itself”.
⚡️The first video shows Ursula von der Leyen "berating" Russia for so-called "targeted attacks against civilian infrastructure".
The second video shows Gaza, Palestine, now.
🤷♂️No other way but double standards.
Source ukraine_watch telegram channel pic.twitter.com/bDLpRmN3Bg
— Daniella Modos – Cutter -SEN (@DmodosCutter) October 16, 2023
And that’s a sentiment echoed by our own leaders.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered naval support to Israel – which already has one of the most advanced militaries in the world. How about sending humanitarian aid instead?
Meanwhile, his Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, called on police to clamp down on people flying the Palestinian flag – the exact opposite of the government’s response to Putin’s horrific war, which encouraged government buildings across the country to fly the flag of Ukraine.
And Labour leader Keir Starmer told journalists that he supported Israel cutting off Gaza’s electricity, water and food supplies. Maybe the one-time human rights lawyer hopes backing war crimes will boost his credentials as the heir to Tony Blair.
The siege they support is killing civilians. Babies in incubators are dying. People on life support machines are dying. Are they responsible for Hamas?
Collective punishment is a war crime. Yet Israel’s leaders couldn’t be more explicit in their intention to collectively punish Gazan civilians – half of whom are children.
Its President, Isaac Herzog, justified this collective punishment by saying: “It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians [in Gaza being] not aware, not involved [in Hamas’s killings]. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état.”
Incidentally, that’s what Osama Bin Laden said about Americans after 9/11.
Ethnic cleansing – like giving one million Gazans just 24 hours to move to the other side of the territory or risk annihilation, and then bombing the refugee convoys – is also a war crime, and the United Nations, World Health Organisation and a multitude of NGOs have opposed it.
And international law has little time for the targeting of civilians – yet Israel’s military spokesman, Daniel Hagari, felt little pushback for saying that their “emphasis is on damage and not accuracy”.
Israel dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the 365 square kilometres Gaza Strip in just six days. For comparison, the coalition against Daesh at its height dropped 2,500 bombs per month across 46,000 square kilometres in Syria and Iraq.
As I’m writing this, before any ground invasion has started, more than double the number of Palestinians have been killed than Israelis in recent weeks.
As the horrors of 9/11 were used to justify the devastating war in Iraq, Hamas’s reaction to Israel’s occupation is used to justify far greater crimes. Not that Israel usually waits for such an excuse.
There is a future where Jews and Palestinians live together in peace in the region; when the occupation of Palestine is over and senseless divisions have long since collapsed.
And when that future arrives, history will be unforgiving of today’s political leaders.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.