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Some Lives Worth More Than Others

By Ben White

28/02/08 "
ICH" -- - Once again, we are learning that when it comes to the conflict in Palestine/Israel, some lives are worth more than others. Earlier today, dozens of Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip fell on Sderot, the Israeli town that has borne the brunt of Palestinian rocket fire over the last few years. This time, an Israeli man, “father-of-four” Roni Yechiah, was killed in a car park by shrapnel. Others have suffered injuries.

Even as I write this, however, there is news that in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military, in separate attacks, has killed a 6 month old baby and three Palestinian children age 10, 12 and 14. No names yet. In the case of the three children, the Israeli army claims that it was aiming at militants, and a spokesperson said it was “strange” that there should be children around the alleged vicinity of rocket launchers.

But it is not the first ‘strange’ occurrence recently in Gaza. On Saturday, three Palestinians in their early 20s, Mohammad Talal al-Za’anin, Ibrahim Ahmad Abu Jarad, and Mohammad Hasan Hussein, were killed as they prepared a picnic in a field near Beit Hanoun. The Israeli missile hit their hut, 1.2km from the border fence, killing and dismembering them instantly.

‘Strangely’, the Israeli army claimed it had targeted militants firing rockets. Then on Tuesday, Palestinian farmer Hassan Abu Sabatt was tilling his land near Qarara village, when Israeli soldiers shot him dead. Once again, the IDF said it had killed an armed militant – a spokeswoman said he’d been spotted planting a bomb.

These drastically contrasting versions of what happened become less mysterious when we remember that the IDF has a long track record of lying, backtracking and deceiving when it comes to the killing of Palestinian civilians. Of course, Western media outlets either unquestioningly reprint official IDF press releases, or ‘balance’ the two contradictory accounts.

Let’s be clear. The residents of Sderot are unquestionably living through a nightmare. Indeed, some thought it worthwhile to organize a concert in Los Angeles this week in solidarity with the town. Hollywood stars were in attendance, and according to Yedioth Ahronoth online, the three presidential candidates all sent messages of support.

John McCain, bizarrely, believes that Palestinian violence “is not condemned by world nations”. Hilary Clinton commented on Sderot’s courage and sacrifice, while Barack Obama said that as a father, he “could only imagine the terror that these rockets cause”. The deaths of Mohammad the university student or Hassan the farmer, however, went unnoticed and unlamented.

Presumably, if asked bluntly, Obama, McCain and Clinton would all profusely stress that they believe a Palestinian life is equal to that of an Israeli’s. But there will be no A-list concert for Palestinians living under daily terror – indeed, such an event is inconceivable because there is simply no understanding of Israel as a practitioner of terror.

Yesterday, coincidentally just before this new bloodshed, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on Sderot and Gaza by Bret Stephens (linked to approvingly by UK-based ‘centre-left’ blog, Harry’s Place). There is not enough space here to dissemble line by line every falsehood in the piece. But here, in the pages of a mainstream, respected US newspaper, a writer is afforded space to call for ‘punitive’ military operations against a civilian population.

Stephens idly hypothesizes that perhaps a ‘proportionate’ Israeli response would involve “firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza”, since the Qassam operators are themselves apparently intent on inflicting “indiscriminate terror”. For Stephens, moreover, the documented and condemned Israeli collective punishment of Gaza deserves mocking inverted commas, as if it didn’t really exist. The writer concludes that Israel, unable to practically apply its “right to self-defense”, is instead “counseled” to “negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas”.

In reality, as a survey published by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz today testifies, it is Israelis themselves who are ‘counseling’ their government to negotiate a ceasefire (64%). Despite Stepehens’ claim to the contrary, moreover, Hamas has in fact held to ceasefires before, even in the face of deliberate Israeli provocations.

When picnicking Palestinian can be killed without outrage, and Palestinian farmers can be shot without triggering angry, impassioned editorials, then Sderot will continue to be seen as a victim of decontextualised, irrational violence by Palestinians. For the sake of the Israelis in Sderot – living in fear from Qassam attack – as well as for the Palestinians in Gaza – besieged, shelled, and raided at whim by an occupying army – the Israeli government and Hamas must sit down and talk.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specializing in Palestine/Israel. His website is at www.benwhite.org .uk and his email is ben@benwhite.org.uk.

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