My initial intention in writing these “mini-posts” was to point out simple, self-evident things that seem to escape the attention of so many, when discussing Israel and the current war with Hamas.
So, in today’s instalment I’d like to return to that intention, focusing on the concept of “equivalence” in the current war. (Or, more precisely, the alleged lack thereof).
You see, as the war has progressed, general perception in the world at large has shifted such that you’d be forgiven for thinking the war is a one-sided confrontation. That is, Israel is ruthlessly bombing Gaza, wantonly killing civilians, and displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, but experiencing no equivalent “hurt” on its part (apart from the rapidly receding memory of the atrocities of October 7th, remember those?).
A situation that, in the eyes of the pro-Palestinian camp and the global woke intelligentsia, is “not fair” (or, if couched in terms of a closely related military concept, “not proportional”). Meaning that Israel can quite neatly get cast into the familiar role of “bad guy”.
Now, the notion of “fairness” in war is complex, and discussing “proportionality” is an international law quagmire. So, I won’t delve into it here, other than to point out that whatever “equivalence” is, it is emphatically not a symmetrical or numeric thing.
If it were, “equivalence” here would mean that Israeli troops should find a music festival in Gaza, murder revelers, rape some of the women, and take several hundred hostages in response to what Hamas did. Which, we can all agree, is a self-evidently absurd proposition.
As is the slightly more nuanced, but equally absurd proposition that in warfare some sort of “magic number” applies at which “equivalence” is reached, after which enough is enough.
Take for example the Irish Prime Minister, who this past week stated in an interview that what was happening in Gaza was no longer OK with him, because too many Palestinian civilians had died, and so it looks less like self-defence and more like revenge on the part of the Israelis. The inference being that there was some acceptable level of tit-for-tat: perhaps Hamas killed 1,400 innocent Israelis, so Israel could in turn kill a similar number of innocent Palestinians, possibly a few more because Hamas did their killing in a really barbaric way, but after that, it’s time for everyone to call it quits and go home.
[By the way, an obsession with the notion of “equivalence” seems unique to conflicts involving Israel. For example, after Pearl Harbor, America declared war on Japan and eventually dropped two atomic bombs, killing tens of thousands of civilians in a split second – not exactly an “equivalent” response. To defeat the Nazis and end WWII, the Allies demolished half of Europe – again, not a stitch of “equivalence to be seen. And the response to 9/11 can be described as many things, but “equivalent” is probably not one of them.
Hint: this is because in all cases (other than when Israel is involved) everyone understands that what matters is not relative absolute outcomes, but the pursuit of defined military objectives that create those outcomes, and the intent and method by which those military objectives are pursued].
Nonetheless, for today’s purposes, let’s accept that “fair play” in a war requires some sort of “equivalence” in the actions and experiences of both sides. Bringing us to a much bigger problem for those who maintain, almost as an article of faith, that there is no “equivalence” in the current case of Israel vs Hamas: there actually is.
Let’s begin to unpack what I mean here, by talking rockets and bombs.
Israel is bombing Gaza intensively. This much we all know, because the mainstream media and the massive pro-Palestinian protests happening everywhere have made sure we do.
Although here’s something that you probably don’t know. It turns out that every single day of this war, Hamas hasn’t just been on the receiving end of Israeli bombs, but has also fired rockets at Israel.
Not just a few rockets, mind you. A lot of rockets. Every day, for four weeks. Specifically, where Israel has dropped about 10,000 bombs on Gaza since the start of the war, current estimates are that Hamas has fired about 9,000 rockets at Israel in the same time frame.
So, Israel has bombed Gaza 10,000 times, and Hamas has fired rockets at Israel 9,000 times.
Doesn’t this simple, self-evident set of numbers merit even a tiny bit of consideration or discussion? No matter your views, isn’t this evidence of at least some level of equivalence in intent and actions?
But I bet you didn’t even know that Hamas has continued to attack Israel in this way, every single day, for the last four weeks. I bet all you’ve heard is that “Hamas did a bad, bad thing, and now Israel is doing an even badder, badder thing in return”. I bet the narrative is the one you’re most familiar with: Israel (a.k.a. the Jews) is a merciless aggressor, and those in Gaza, helpless victims.
Why is this? Why is there worldwide outrage about Israel’s bombing of Gaza, yet worldwide radio-silence about Hamas’ continued rocket fire on Israel, happening at exactly the same time?
I mean, it’s not like there is any ambiguity about what Hamas is doing. Their rockets launched toward Israel from Gaza are meant to kill Israelis. They are just as much an act of military aggression as anything Israel is doing (and arguably more so, since Hamas rockets come with no warning at all, and by design are completely indiscriminate in their targeting).
Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s not hard.
We don’t hear about Hamas’ constant rocket attacks on Israel because very few people in Israel are dying as a result of them. Although not for lack of trying on Hamas’ part – they would be over the moon if their rockets hit home and hundreds of Israelis were maimed and/or killed.
Rather Israel, unlike Hamas vis-a-vie the Palestinian civilian population it is meant to be taking care of, has invested massively in being able to protect its citizens from aerial attack. Things like the much-vaunted Iron Dome, bomb shelters in every building, a highly efficient early-warning system, and a well-prepared civil defence. Which protective measures, self-evidently, seem to largely work.
In simple terms, Israel’s success at protecting its civilian population renders the rockets being fired by Hamas at Israel not nearly as “newsworthy” or “outrage worthy” as the bombs being dropped by Israel on Gaza. There just aren’t enough associated images on the Israeli side of carnage, chaos, ruined buildings and/or injured and dead people.
Yet if you pause for a moment and reflect, you will see how twisted it all becomes when you follow this through to its endpoint. Because you’d quickly come to the (absurd) conclusion that what is “better” for Israel would be to allow Hamas rockets to do their job, and kill scores of Israelis. Then, at least, the global woke brigade would be able to see and acknowledge “equivalence” between the two sides. Either that, or their naked antisemitism would become impossible to hide.
The same myopic view is evident whenever the words “refugees” or “displaced peoples” come up.
Thanks to CNN, BBC, UNRWA, Red Cross et al, we all know that “over one million Palestinians” have been “displaced” inside Gaza as a consequence of the war, they are now “refugees in their own land”, and they “have nowhere else to go”.
Yes, 100% true.
But have you heard anything at all about the plight of Israeli refugees? Of course not. I mean, I can practically hear you asking yourself right now: “What the hell is he talking about? There are no Israeli refugees, right?”
Thanks to the aforementioned daily rockets from Hamas, and the ongoing war, plus the occasional rockets being directed at Israel from Hezbollah on the northern border, entire towns near Gaza and in the north of Israel have had to be evacuated. It is estimated that somewhere in the order of 250,000 – 500,000 Israelis have left their homes to avoid the impact of this conflict. They too are “displaced”. They too, by any definition, are “refugees in their own land”. They too have “nowhere else to go”.
And that doesn’t include what happens every time a barrage of Hamas rockets is fired toward central Israel. Sirens go off, and between 1.5 – 2 million Israeli civilians – men, women, children, disabled, Jews, Muslims, Christians, literally everybody – must drop everything they are doing and make a mad dash for the nearest bomb shelter. Where they then have to stay for an hour, two, sometimes three, listening to the booms of the Iron Dome interceptions overhead, until the all clear is sounded.
But global care-factor about any of this? Nil. Zip. Nada.
Again, ask yourself why is this so?
And again, I’d say, the answer is fairly simple: because Israel is more interested in actually helping those being affected by the war, protecting their lives, and alleviating their suffering, as opposed to parading that suffering around in front of waiting cameras to get sympathy votes.
That is why almost every hotel, motel and hostel room in Tel Aviv right now is occupied by displaced people from Israeli border communities. And that is why I know of many Israelis –including personal friends and family – who have taken in refugees to live in their spare rooms until this war ends.
The point is that just because Israel is quietly going about dealing with its own refugee / displaced person problem, it doesn’t mean the suffering isn’t there, or the issue any less real.
There are tens of thousands of Israelis who, just like people in Gaza, have lost their homes and everything they hold dear. Like in Gaza, businesses all across Israel are shut, and the Israeli economy has ground to a halt. There are about 1,500 dead Israeli civilians, young soldiers are dying every day, gut-wrenching funerals are a daily event, thousands of families are mourning their dead, 240 Israeli civilians are still being held hostage in Gaza. Fleeing from rocket fire is also a daily event for many in Israel right now.
And there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli refugees who have had to leave their homes, and who are being temporarily sheltered elsewhere in Israel, waiting for this nightmare to end. So, just like in Gaza, civilians in Israel are experiencing what could be described as some form of “collective trauma” at the moment.
Now I know, there are of course massive differences between Israel and Gaza. For one, Israel is wealthier than Gaza. The Israeli national infrastructure is better, and so the ability to absorb and cope with refugees / displaced people is so much better. Gaza is crowded, and civilian infrastructure is blended in with Hamas military infrastructure, so Palestinian casualty numbers are inevitably going to be higher. And so on. I can accept all of this as fair comment.
But what is absolutely not fair comment is to pretend, somehow, that the Palestinian suffering seen night after night on TV is completely absent on the Israeli side. It isn’t.
Let’s conclude in this way: despite what you may think you know, if you are willing to ask a few simple questions, you will learn some pretty self-evident things.
You will learn that for the last four weeks, Hamas has been waging war with exactly the same intensity, ferocity, and intent as anything you see on the Israeli side. Meaning it is not a “one-sided” conflict, no matter how convenient it might be to describe it as such.
You will learn that Hamas has continually been attacking Israel with rockets, in the same way and at the same scale as Israel has been bombing Gaza. Only the Israelis are doing a much better job at protecting and safeguarding their citizens, so the Israeli casualty number is a lot, lot less, and therefore the attendant media beat-up practically non-existent.
You will learn that inside of Israel there is a displaced persons and refugee consequence of this war every bit as significant as that being seen in Gaza. Only the Israelis are doing a much better job (and admittedly have greater resource available) when it comes to taking care of those affected.
No, the really stark difference, once you get right to the heart of it, is that folks know about one story, and don’t know about the other. Or cynics might say some folks do know about both stories, but choose to ignore one, because Jewish suffering is not nearly as outrage-worthy as non-Jewish suffering is.
Whatever the reason, I think that intellectually honest people should at least be able to look at the facts and conclude that this is far from a one-sided war. Obviously things aren’t numerically equal between Israel and Gaza in terms of casualties, relative military strength, etc., although expecting this kind of “equivalence” is a total nonsense that could never be possible in any war. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any equivalence at all: there most certainly is. Even if those committed to the Hamas and/or Palestinian narrative will never be willing to admit it.