Hard truths are… well… hard. In the midst of the Israeli ground push into Gaza, the hundreds of Palestinians who have been killed, the dozens of rockets that have been fired into Israel and the tens of thousands protesting around the world, finding truth is very difficult.
When covering a story such as this, it is easy to paint the picture of “two sides”, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. Most people, before learning even one fact have already made up their mind which side they are on. This is the kind of story where the average person already “knows” what they believe before they actually know the circumstances.
Having said that, the truth about what is happening today in Gaza is not a story of two sides. There are three players here, the Israelis, Hamas and the Palestinian people and without question, the losing side… the Palestinian people.
As of today, Israeli troops continue to battle Hamas militants in Gaza. The Palestinian death toll from the 12-day offensive has topped 340, according to officials in Gaza. 70 of those killed are children, not terrorists or soldiers, but children. So is Israel to blame for those deaths, yes. Are they solely to blame, no.
Yes, Israel is using force and weapons. Air strikes into Gaza have laid waste to homes and innocent people including those children. Though if we are looking for truth, Israel does take a number steps that in a war situation are fairly unprecedented. For instance, my sources, who are on the ground in Gaza, not simply reading about this story online, tell me that the Israeli military is using a system for SMS text messaging to contact people in targeted areas and warning of an upcoming strike in hopes that civilians will leave in time. In addition, the Israelis also use something called “roof knockers”, loud noise bombs which do not cause physical harm but are designed to scare civilians out of a home before the building is struck. Again, whether you support Israel or not, these are measures that most military do not and would not use to protect civilians.
On the other hand, Israel is using airstrikes that are killing civilians who are out in the open. Whats more, the show of force from Israel, with a death toll of 340 civilians is extraordinarily high when compared to the fact that only 1 Israeli has died in the past 12 days.
Some would argue that Israel is opportunistic in their offensive into Gaza, using a claim of self-defense to further clamp down on the Palestinian people. For instance, because the Israeli military has had a held a blockade on Gaza since 2007, they have severely limited necessary goods from reaching the Palestinian people such as food, water, electricity, gas, construction materials, and other necessities. To be clear, the stated purpose for the blockade is to prevent military weapons and mortars from reaching Hamas. The blockade however has a political purpose as well. The idea is to weaken Hamas politically and erode support among the Palestinian people when food and necessary items are scarce. When Israel began its ground offensive into Gaza days ago, the military stated its purpose was to close off tunnels into Gaza used by terrorists. However, another hard truth, those tunnels are used by more than Hamas for homemade rockets and other weapons. Civilians bring in medicine, food, and whatever else they want that doesn’t get through the Israeli blockade. By closing off tunnels, there is more need and lack of necessities for the people.
Meanwhile, Hamas continues to fire rockets into open spaces in Israel. Is this a provocation for war? Yes. But the death toll on the Israeli side is incredibly low. In fact, since this latest battle has begun, as I mentioned above, only one Israeli civilian has died. Is Hamas incapable of harming Israelis? No. Sources again tell me that Hamas is playing a political game and wants to see the death toll among Palestinians as high as possible for international sympathy, aid and support. These sources work on the ground to protect the Palestinians from abuses by the Israeli government and abuse by Hamas. They tell me that Hamas does not care for the Palestinian people and sees them as the means to an end. The deaths of innocent people is what Hamas is hoping for.
Therefore, I am told that when the “roof knockers” are fired over homes that at times civilians and families are kept inside, held at gunpoint. These civilians are literally prevented from leaving the building in hopes that they are killed by an airstrike. The higher the number of civilian casualties, the better for Hamas.
Just as Israel uses its relationship with the United States to draw in over $3.1 billion a year in foreign aid, Hamas garners international sympathy to collect billions in aid as well. From 2000-2009 the international community committed over $7 billion dollars to Gaza for Humanitarian aid. The Palestinian people came in second only to the Sundanese who garnered over $8 billion in aid. But apples to apples comparison in terms of per capita basis, the Palestinian Arabs receive about 9 times as much aid as the Sudanese do, and of course far more aid per capita than any other people on the planet. On the other hand, they receive far less from the United States than Israel. From fiscal year 2008-2013, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged over $600 million. A far cry from the $3 billion sent to Israel annually.
In addition, some experts believe that Hamas is using this situation to create political pressure on Egypt to open up the only land crossing for aid that Israel does not control. There’s only one major supply route to Gaza that isn’t a tunnel or Israeli-controlled: the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Currently, Egypt heavily restricts the flow of people and goods in and out of the crossing. The Muslim Brotherhood is the leading Egyptian opposition group, and the Egyptian government has little desire to help out their Palestinian brethren in Hamas. The theory is that Hamas is trying to leverage public Egyptian anger at Israel into concessions from the Egypt government. The primary concession would be to open up Rafah so as to aid the Palestinian cause.
Finally, the Palestinian people. The phrase, caught between a rock and hard place does not do justice to their situation. The Palestinians are despised in many ways by Israel and the situation there is continually worsening. The Gaza Strip is 146 square miles, and has a population of about 1.6 million. It is incredibly densely populated. In comparison, Philadelphia is about 142 square miles and has about 1.5 million citizens. Imagine airstrikes or bombings in Philadelphia? In Gaza, nearly half the population is under the age of 18 and if you consider that the first suicide bombing from Hamas in Israel was in 1994, these young people have never known a time when Israel and the Palestinian people were not engaged in this “war”. Nearly half the population is unemployed and lives off the small amount of foreign aid that actually reaches the people.
The Palestinians live under oppression and attack from Israel. In an ongoing study of violence between Israel and Gaza, The Jerusalem Fund, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., has catalogued cease-fire violations on either side. The principal finding is as follows: “Palestinian launches have been rare and sporadic and occurred almost always after successive instances of Israeli cease-fire violations.” The numbers show that Israel actually violates ceasefires more often than Gaza. As for the Palestinians, they also live under oppression and opportunism from Hamas. These people, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters are treated as pawns in this game. They are taught to hate their “oppressors” in Israel while being sacrificed by Hamas for sympathy and international funding.
Ultimately the question is not who wins in this latest battle in Gaza, the hard truth is that since 1994 one group has consistently lost in a rigged game. For those who believe that Israel has a right to self defense, in the midst of your anger toward those who would attack Israel, you should weep for those who are being killed as pawns in this game. For those who believe that Israel is in the wrong, you should be equally outraged at Hamas’ abuse of the Palestinian people who are being robbed of their lives, their children and watching their families torn apart simply to derive international sympathy.
There is no more stark of an example where Humanity should be Greater than Politics.