Mythbuster: Israel’s attack on Gaza

Tom Walker takes apart the excuses Israel is using to justify its massacre

July 18, 2014
7 min read

MYTH: The Palestinians started the conflict

From looking at some of the media coverage you would think so – but it’s vital to put today’s problems in the right historical context. The key date is 1948, when the state of Israel was created by Jewish settlers in Palestine. Fleeing persecution in Europe, they were handed the land by Britain, which held it as a colony at the time.

Israeli myth has it that the country was mostly empty at this point. In fact, terror gangs murdered large numbers of Palestinians, and forced others from their land and homes, in order to expand Israel’s territory. Around 400 Palestinian towns and villages were ‘wiped off the map’ or renamed.

Israel’s militarised, colonial nature is part of the state’s very foundations, and has continued ever since. Every time the borders of the map are redrawn in Israel’s favour, Israel pushes still further – the areas usually described as ‘settlements’ are in flagrant violation of international law, but nothing is done. New settlements continue to be built in the West Bank today.

Most Palestinians, meanwhile, have been left stateless and landless, some living in refugee camps. Jewish people from all over the world have the right to move to Israel, but Palestinians do not have the right to return to their villages or homes.

MYTH: Whatever the history, the problem now is the violence on both sides

This is a common position, and allows the speaker to feel very even-handed in their condemnation. There’s a problem though: as I write, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed since the start of the recent offensive. The Israeli death toll, on the other hand, stands at… two – and one of those is thought to be from ‘friendly fire’.

This is not new: massively disproportionate death counts have long been a feature of Israel’s attacks on Palestine. In Israel’s 2008–9 invasion of Gaza, an estimated 1,400 Palestinians were killed, compared to 13 Israelis. It is also the case, both then and now, that the majority of the Israeli casualties are military, while most of the Palestinian dead were civilians.

Lazily drawing an equals sign between Israel and Palestine ignores that one side is the occupier, and one is being occupied. Right now, one is invading the other! To equate them is as absurd as talking about the US’s invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan by condemning ‘both sides’. If you are against violence, surely you need to focus your anger on the side that is committing the vast majority of the violence? If every death is a tragedy, one side is bearing a far greater weight of tragedy than the other. There can be no peace without justice.

MYTH: Israel is defending itself against rockets fired from Gaza

The ‘rocket fire’ is a central part of how Israel is justifying its invasion of Gaza – so let’s take a minute to look at the reality of these rockets. Many of them, known as Qassam rockets, are improvised from basic steel parts, fuelled by sugar and fertiliser and with a range of only a few kilometres. More recently there have been the Grad rockets and a few others, old cast-offs from Iran and Syria, with a slightly greater range.

To get an idea of the level of ‘threat’ to Israel, have a look at reports of the damage done by Gazan rockets. Again and again you will see the phrase ‘no injuries or damage’. In one case some marks were left on a road. Another caused a small fire in a field. More recently a cat was startled from a tree:

Israel, on the other hand, is a US-backed nuclear power with billions to spend on the latest military hardware – including the ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system which shoots down most Palestinian rockets in any case. Israel’s weapons are capable of massive destruction, it has many more of them, and it uses them constantly, even during supposed ceasefires.

There is much talk of Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ from the Palestinian rockets. But what about Palestine’s right to defend itself from Israel’s infinitely more powerful arsenal?

MYTH: The attacks are targeted at ‘terrorists’ and their tunnels

This is one of the more transparent of Israel’s lies – not least because the list of Palestinian dead shows such incredibly high numbers of children. For example, Peter Beaumont, the Guardian’s correspondent, witnessed four Palestinian children aged between 7 and 11, who were playing on a beach, being killed by Israeli shelling. ‘I’ve seen some truly shocking scenes this morning,’ he tweeted later, after the invasion started. ‘A man putting the remains of his two year old son into a shopping bag…’ These are not exceptions but the everyday reality of Israel’s victims.

Israel attempts to claim that any civilian casualties are the result of Hamas using ‘human shields’, but from its actions it is clear that everywhere in Gaza is a potential target. Israel literally demolished Gaza’s el-Wafa hospital. A hospital is quite obviously not a ‘terrorist tunnel’, yet these were no accidental hits – the building was hit on all floors with up to 20 rockets and shells, then burned down. It is an upside-down world where it is ‘terrorism’ to dig a tunnel but ‘self-defence’ to destroy a hospital.

Israel claims that it drops leaflets and makes phone calls so that civilians can evacuate any building or area it is planning to bomb. But the whole of Gaza is under siege, and Israel does not let Palestinians cross the border. Where, exactly, are they supposed to go?

MYTH: While Israel can be criticised, it is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’

Surely if Israel was a democracy, then the Palestinians in the areas it is occupying would have at least basic civil rights and a vote. In fact even the few Palestinians who are allowed to live in Israel itself as citizens are subject to discrimination and harassment.

People talk about Israel as if it is a small, vulnerable island surrounded by hostility on all sides, its very existence in need of defending. But it is Palestine, not Israel, whose existence is at risk. It is Palestine that is gradually disappearing from maps. In fact, if it weren’t for the resistance, Palestine might have already passed into the history books, forgotten by the world.

What is really meant by the ‘only democracy’ phrase is that Israel is a reliable ally of the US and other Western governments: that Israel is on their side. But their criteria are not ours.

We need to target Israel with boycott, divestment and sanctions, and continue to build the global mass movement to free Palestine.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace


3,619