So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a nights work in Gaza by the army that believes in purity of arms. But why should we be surprised?
Have we forgotten the 17,500 deadalmost all civilians, most of them children and womenin Israels 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?
What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties, yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last nights butchery on their hands. Had George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.
What happened was not just shameful. It was a disgrace. Would war crime be too strong a description? For that is what we would call this atrocity if it had been committed by Hamas. So a war crime, Im afraid, it was…
Yes, Israelis deserve security. Twenty Israelis dead in 10 years around Gaza is a grim figure indeed. But 600 Palestinians dead in just over a week, thousands over the years since 1948when the Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin helped to kick-start the flight of Palestinians from that part of Palestine that was to become Israel is on a quite different scale. This recalls not a normal Middle East bloodletting but an atrocity on the level of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And of course, when an Arab bestirs himself with unrestrained fury and takes out his incendiary, blind anger on the West, we will say it has nothing to do with us. Why do they hate us, we will ask? But let us not say we do not know the answer.
It all depends where you live. That was the geography of Israels propaganda, designed to demonstrate that we softieswe little baby-coddling liberals living in our secure Western homesdont realise the horror of 12 (now 20) Israeli deaths in 10 years and thousands of rockets and the unimaginable trauma and stress of living near Gaza. Forget the 600 Palestinian dead; travelling on both sides of the Atlantic these past couple of weeks has been an instructivenot to say weirdly repetitiveexperience.
Heres how it goes…
My favourite moment came when I pointed out that journalists should be on the side of those who suffer. If we were reporting the 18th-century slave trade, I said, we wouldnt give equal time to the slave ship captain in our dispatches. If we were reporting the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, we wouldnt give equal time to the SS spokesman. At which point a journalist from the Jewish Telegraph in Prague responded that the IDF are not Hitler. Of course not. But who said they were?