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.
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?
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?
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.
Tom Anderson and Eliza Egret talk to Sahar Vardi from Imbala collective, who have set up a grassroots organising space in the heart of West Jerusalem.
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Creative protest can change the way people engage with Israeli apartheid, says Dan Glass, who organised a Dabke-dance action to mark the first anniversary of the latest attack on Gaza
Playwright Brian Rotman reflects on the background to his new play tracing the origins of the state of Israel
Daniel Whittall speaks to Vijay Prashad about the book he has recently edited, Letters to Palestine, and the wider dynamics of the Palestinian struggle
Ewa Jasiewicz, activist with London Palestine Action, explains how you can join the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel's massacre and occupation