by Steve Gabell
Aristotle was one of the finest minds in all of human history, and it is galling that a foundation bearing his name should write such a one-sided, simplistic article (Are we beasts?: War, civilian casualties and Hamas, Jan 11). Saying simply that Hamas should not have attacked Israel if they did not want to be bombed fails to address the issue of why Hamas decided to attack (and we should be clear that seeking to understand the reasons behind an event is not the same as trying to justify that event).
Some may dismiss Hamas as murderous, anti-Semitic terrorists, yet Hamas did not appear out of a vacuum. We have to ask what conditions gave rise to Hamas and why they still have the support or acquiescence of some Gazans.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. Israel has faced widespread criticism for its treatment of Palestinians. The actions of Israel have been likened to apartheid-era South Africa by Israeli human rights organisations, by major international human rights bodies including the UN Special Rapporteur, by former senior Israeli politicians, and by some who lived under apartheid in South Africa, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Some have described the Gaza Strip as “the world’s largest open air prison” due to Israel’s land, sea, and air blockade ongoing since 2007. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and independent Arab news outlet Al Jazeera reports that prior to the current war, the unemployment rate was a staggering 45%, 64% of households were food insecure, 81% live in poverty, and 95% lack safe drinking water.
In their response to Hamas’ attack which killed 1,200 people, Israeli forces have so far killed almost 25,000 Palestinians, and wounded over 60,000, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Only a third of Gaza’s hospitals remain operational, while 85% of the population have left their homes and the UN reports that one in four Gazans is starving. This heavy-handed, indiscriminate response is only sowing the seeds for future rounds of violence and acting as a recruitment agent for Hamas and other extremist organisations.
The prospect of a better future is important for peaceful resolution of conflicts, yet this has been crushed in Gazans by 16 years of Israeli subjugation. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu has also been supporting Hamas during his periods in power, encouraging Qatar to fund Hamas with the aim of preventing a two-state solution by weakening the Palestinian Authority.
Insurgent conflicts cannot be won in the same manner as conventional wars, as has been demonstrated in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Northern Ireland. More moderate factions need to be engaged with, and grievances from both sides need to be heard and engaged with. The conflict in Northern Ireland did not end because the UK government had destroyed the IRA and UVF, it ended because all parties engaged in dialogue, grievances were addressed, and creative solutions were implemented.
Jewish people have faced persecution for at least 2,500 years, with the Holocaust being the most destructive episode. Israelis quite rightly want peace and security, but this cannot be achieved with subjugation and wholesale slaughter of civilians. Seeking vengeance and retribution is a natural human instinct when we’ve been hurt but is ultimately self destructive. To quote Martin Luther King, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert”.