President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that his Palestinian people are the victims of “genocide” at the hands of the Israeli military has caused a global uproar this week. After the President’s address at the United Nations, furious Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu is already on his way to appear before the U.N. on a mission to defend his people and refute what he says are lies directed at his country.
Such an accusation is not to be taken lightly. Defined as the deliberate murder of large masses of people, especially those of particular nationality or ethnicity, there are many who would argue that genocide is a very appropriate term for the crisis in Palestine, especially in the Gaza Strip.
The most recent conflict in Gaza claimed the lives of over 2,100 Palestinians in just 50 days. Even though Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” was launched to combat Hamas fighters that were firing rockets across the border from within Gaza, the excessive tally of civilian deaths drew international condemnation.
This is not unusual when it comes to Israel’s history of acting with exceptional aggression against its neighbor. In the Gaza War of 2008-09 over 1,000 civilians were killed. Operation “Pillar of Defense” claimed 167 lives in 2012, more than half of which were civilians. In these conflicts and almost every previous clash between Israel and Palestine, the vast majority of the casualties are Palestinian civilians.
Netanyahu could be forgiven for defending his country against claims of genocide if it was not for the fact that he continues to show a reckless disregard for the lives of the Palestinian people who reside within Gaza, people who often become innocent victims every time Israel launches a new campaign. Over 1.8 million people call Gaza home, a total of over 4,500 for every square kilometer. While it is true that Israel began Operation Protective Edge to combat Hamas, the sheer number of people packed into the Gaza Strip make it seem almost impossible that Netanyahu’s fighter planes would be able to bomb anything without hitting dozens of civilians.
Perhaps most troubling of all is Netanyahu’s dispute of the U.N.’s total of 1,462 civilian casualties who died in Operation Protective Edge. According to the President’s figures his forces killed around 1,000 terrorists, which would suggest that the civilian death toll was much less. Whether he believes this or Netanyahu is simply lying to protect himself, the fact of the matter is that he has shown far more emotion over being labelled “genocidal” than he ever has about the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have died throughout his many years as Israel’s president.
While it is not surprising to learn that Netanyahu does not care about Palestinians, he should at least be expected to pretend he does. Even the United States, which has blundered its way through several wars in the Middle-East, knows when to say sorry for accidentally killing civilians. But not only is the Israeli military apparently free from such constraints, Netanyahu seems quite content to let them bomb Gaza and kill hundreds of civilians every time a new militant extremist group such as Hamas appears. So Abbas cannot be blamed if he suggests that the killing of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is, in fact, deliberate.
Perhaps the most frightening evidence is the world’s routine and well-rehearsed reaction to the most recent conflict in the Gaza Strip and its unsurprising lack of any real plan to stop the violence. The United States, as usual, called for both sides to exercise restraint. As always, non-profit organizations rallied to the cause and Muslims and Jews around the world took to the internet to voice their opinions. Eventually the violence gave way to a fragile peace and negotiations began again.
But Operation Protective Edge still left 1,462 civilians dead and already the world seems to have forgotten. Compare this to the tragedy of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, which transported the world into a state of shock in just a few hours and helped to create a global war on terrorism that has lasted 13 years. In the hours following the attack, Queen Elizabeth, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope John Paul II all sent personal messages to Former U.S. President George Bush and his American people.
Which suggests that the world has grown used to violence between Israel and Palestine and has become desensitized to large numbers of civilian deaths in Gaza. While this does not officially prove that Israel is committing genocide against its Palestinian neighbor, it does show that innocent people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been dying for so long that the western world is no longer surprised.
It appears that Abbas does not need to look very far to find an overwhelming amount of evidence that his Palestinian people are victims at the hands of an Israeli genocide. And while Netanyahu flies angrily towards New York where he will no doubt deliver a passionate and well-rehearsed account of Israeli morality and Palestinian evil, innocent civilians will continue to die in the Gaza Strip. While the U.N. may yet decide that Abbas is out-of-order and that his accusations must be withdrawn, there is no changing the fact that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will remain the victims of a very real and very obvious war crime.
Opinion by Mathew Channer