On Saturday, 7 October, the world was shocked by the massive attack launched by the political and paramilitary group Hamas against the population of Israel. Ten days later, on 17 October, the world was shocked again shaken by the bombing of a hospital in the Gaza Strip (Palestine), killing more than 500 (innocent civilians). For more than ten days now, the world has been watching in horror what is happening in Palestine.
Hamas attacks, mostly against civilians, have already left more than 1,200 people dead in Israel. Israel’s overreaction against the Gaza Strip has killed more than 3,200 people, in a crime of collective punishment classified as a crime against humanity and prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians is reprehensible. Israel’s attacks are also condemnable. Every killing of innocents is. When one condemns Israel, however, it should not dwell on the thousands of deaths it has accumulated in the last ten days. One should condemn Israel’s violation of international law, its annexation and occupation of Palestinian territories, the forced displacement, discrimination and apartheid regime to which it daily subjects the Palestinian population on a daily basis.
Israel’s war response has been dehumanising, as has the media and political response of the European Union and the United States.
Israel has invoked international law to argue that, in the face of a foreign attack, a state has the right to respond proportionately. An eye for an eye might in itself might raise an eyebrow. Yet Israel’s response has been anything but proportional. The response to Hamas has been extended to the population of Gaza as a whole. The Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated territories in the world (more than two million people live in 51 km long and up to 12 km wide), has been rained down by more than 6,000 Israeli bombs in a single week (to put this in perspective, during its fight against ISIS, the US dropped between 2,000 and 5,000 bombs a month across Iraq and Syria). In Gaza, 40% of the population is under 15 years old.
Save the Children has reported that a child dies every 15 minutes, more than a third of the casualties that have occurred are children or adolescents. A week ago, Israel completed the siege by cutting off Gaza, which is living without water, electricity, food or petrol. “We are fighting human animals and we will act in the same way,” said Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant. No statement could better reflect the level of dehumanisation that Israel’s attack has acquired.
As numerous scholars have denounced in relation to this country’s actions, the destruction of non-military property, the forced deportation or evacuation of the population, the indiscriminate and deliberate targeting of civilians, the attack on hospitals and schools, the use of illegal gases such as white phosphorus, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, the delivery of weapons to civilians – all these are war crimes.
One and the same dehumanisation by the West
If it is Israel that wields the weapons, it is the United States and Europe that hold them. Israel’s war response has been dehumanising, as has the media and political response of the European Union and the United States. After the Hamas attack, Israel claimed that they were experiencing their own “9/11”, which – they believed – gave them carte blanche to respond to Hamas by any means imaginable. The EU has validated this idea.
Turning our back on Palestine will have immeasurable humanitarian, moral and diplomatic consequences.
Already on the first day, Ursula Von der Leyer, President of the European Commission, proclaimed “Israel’s right to self-defence”. A week later she repeated the statements in the country itself, accompanied by the president of the European Parliament. “Israel has the right and duty to respond to Hamas’s acts of war”. Neither statement mentioned the victims in Gaza, nor condemned Israel’s targeting of civilians.
Her visit and unequivocal support for Israel, which had already announced its decision to cut off all supplies to Gaza, was widely criticised by European civil society. On that day, his reaction to Russia’s attack on civilian infrastructure and water supplies in Ukraine was picked up (and went viral). What were legitimate responses in Israel were ‘pure acts of terror’ and ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine. Denouncing the EU’s hypocrisy and double standards has led the European Union to step up its humanitarian aid to Palestine, but not to condemn Israel’s actions.
This blind support for Israel hides a parallel between Hamas and Palestine, between a terrorist organisation and the civilian population of a territory.
Europe’s uncritical stance towards Israel has been repeated by most member states: condemnation of Hamas and solidarity with Israeli victims, with no mention of Palestine. As the situation has become untenable, political statements have been extended to demand compliance with international law. By international law they mean the targeting of civilian casualties, forced evacuations of the population and cuts in supplies and food. Not the illegal annexation of territories after 1967, the construction of illegal walls separating the territory or the violation of the rights of the Palestinian population. These rights are part of the status quo and are not fulfilled.
It is impossible not to appreciate the difference in treatment between the war in Ukraine and the attack on Gaza. Monuments that were once covered in blue and yellow now project the Star of David. Concerns about the displacement and human rights violations of the Ukrainian population disappear when it comes to the Palestinians, and sanctions on Russia are non-existent when it comes to Israel.
Moreover, France has banned demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine, the UK suggested that waving Palestinian flags could be illegal, and Germany has just announced that support for Hamas, its symbols, or calling for action against Israel will be considered “anti-Semitism” and prosecuted as such. This blind support for Israel hides a parallel between Hamas and Palestine, between a terrorist organisation and the civilian population of a territory.
In fact, VOX in Spain has taken the opportunity to call for the suspension of nationalisation processes for all citizens from Islamic countries. Although this Islamophobic attack is nothing more than a wake-up call to capitalise on the conflict, it draws on the same narrative spread by Israel. Hamas and Palestine are all terrorists and should be treated as such.
A historic mistake
Turning our backs on Palestine will have immeasurable humanitarian, moral and diplomatic consequences. It is difficult to defend European impassivity in the face of genocide broadcast live on television and social media. The attack on Gaza, still with no end in sight, will be a before and after for the Palestinian people, and the European Union and its members will be weighed down by inaction, vetoes in the UN Security Council, and indiscriminate support for the actions of the aggressor country.
Morally, this impassivity calls into question all the values on which the European Union was built: human dignity, equality, freedom, human rights… They all constitute the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, and they are all being flouted in Palestine.
Diplomatically, it is difficult to justify to the rest of the world the gulf between the reaction to Ukraine and Palestine. As one G7 diplomat told the Financial Times:
“We have lost the battle in the Global South. All the work we have done with the Global South [on Ukraine] has been lost … Forget about the rules, forget about the world order. They will never listen to us again.”