McCully’s Calls for Restraint on Both Sides is Side-taking
McCully’s Calls for Restraint on Both Sides is Side-taking in of itself
July 9, 2014
Since June 12th, the world’s attention has been squarely focused on the events unfolding in the West Bank, Gaza and the occupied territories. The disappearance of three Israeli youths who were later found dead prompted a flurry of condemnations as world leaders and media commentators raced to express moral outrage. However, the search for the teenagers immediately gave way to an assault on Palestinians en masse, and any real discussion of circumstances surrounding the kidnappings has been largely absent.
When Minister McCully was asked for comment on the recent series of events, he extended the kind of routine platitudes we might expect from an indifferent parent watching two siblings argue over the TV remote. McCully responded by calling for “restraint” from “both sides”. An entirely unremarkable stance when viewed alongside a swathe of near identical statements emerging from Western political leadership in recent weeks. However, this framing informs a specific imagery in people’s minds, the imagery of a conflict whereby two equal sides inflict senseless violence on one another. This is simply not the reality.
While it is crucial to mourn and condemn the unnecessary loss of life, it is equally important for the public and the international community to reflect on the conditions that led to these violent and tragic deaths in the first place. These circumstances begin with a protracted expansion and colonisation by Israel, which has led to a brutal and decades-long occupation, during which successive Israeli governments have spared no effort in the quest to displace Palestinian communities and to then negate their legitimate claims to their homes and lands.
By issuing a call for restraint and implying equal onus on the occupier and occupied, political leaders such as McCully obscure an awareness of a history of ceaseless Israeli aggression. Part and parcel of this disruptive and usually violent affair is the policy of systematic and intensive building of settlements and the use of settlers as a proxy militia for the intimidation and harassment of adjoining Palestinian communities and villages. Settlements have been mostly developed in areas designated since the Oslo accords for exclusive Israeli use; areas which contain most of the West Bank’s natural resources. However, this has not stopped settlers from encroaching on areas which are under Palestinian civil control, and it is these expansionist tendencies that fuel conflicts and violent encounters between settlers and the already fenced in Palestinian communities.
As the Palestinian leadership has been quick to point out, the kidnappings took place in an area that, while officially in Palestinian hands, is firmly within Israeli military control. If the violent deaths of the Israeli youth are to be fully understood, they must be situated within the wider history of violence perpetrated against Palestinians by the presence of Israeli settlers and security forces.
It is inconceivable that McCully is unaware of this history, as well as the colonial violence that characterises it. In 2012, the Minister visited Israel and pledged New Zealand’s full support for the “peace process”. This arrangement, we are given to understand, is essentially one in which the Israeli regime is sanctioned in its life-long commitment to making Palestinian statehood a fantasy: in the very same year, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pushed for the building of nearly as many settler homes as had been approved in the preceding ten years combined. By the end of 2012, settlement expansion was expected to increase exponentially - particularly on highly contested lands including the areas surrounding Jerusalem - dooming any bid by Palestinian leadership for territorial sovereignty. McCully’s rhetoric now, as it was then, is a lazy and half-hearted attempt at whitewashing the realities of a bloody and violent occupation.
In the course of a few weeks since the kidnapping took place, over 560 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli security forces. These have gone on to swell the ranks of the thousands of prisoners, including many children, already languishing in Israeli prisons. Like many of these prisoners, the latest group to become a victim of Israel’s prison system has also been rounded up and detained without charge. For Palestinian parents, the threat of ‘pre-emptive arrests’ and subsequent detention of their adolescent boys is omnipresent. No Palestinian has escaped the pain of the periods of separation that Israel’s policies of repressive mass incarceration induce; each with a brother, sister, son, father or uncle who has been kidnapped by the occupation forces.
Yet neither the existence of 214 children kidnapped and held in Israeli detention during the prior month of May or the incarceration of hundreds Palestinians in the last few weeks has managed to garner even a comparable amount of attention or sympathy as the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli teens. There is a systemically unequal and overtly racist treatment of the plight of a subjugated society by both media and political establishments.
Israeli leadership and media justified the security campaign by designating the kidnapping as an act of terrorism and alleging that the suspects are members of the Hamas government in Gaza. These allegations have been made despite the repeated failure of Israeli authorities to provide any evidence to substantiate such claims. Regardless, Israeli military and security forces cracked down with impunity on Palestinian neighbourhoods and Hamas-affiliated infrastructure. In the process, over a thousand Palestinian sites have been subjected to the invasion: homes have been raided, and Palestinian men, women and children assaulted, harassed and killed.
This newest round of violence - the most concerted since the operations that immediately followed the Second Intifada - is an extension of a policy of collective punishment, which Palestinians are once again being subjected to. Mainstream media coverage has failed to address this reality by attempting to construct a narrative in which Israelis and Palestinians are seen as bad neighbours incapable of co-existing. The fact is that Palestinians are not Israel’s neighbours, but its colonial subjects, whose lives and most basic rights are deemed by the Israeli regime as negligible.
The number of Palestinian deaths increases each day, with at least five confirmed murders at the hands of Israeli troops during raids on towns and refugee camps. In its latest salvo on the Gaza strip, the Israeli military has added yet more victims to its ever growing list. This onslaught has taken place even while Israeli suspects confessed to the brutal murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair, the Palestinian teen who was the victim of a revenge killing. Yet for all its talk of fairness and justice, one can safely assume that the Israeli government will refrain from demolishing the homes and displacing the families of the criminals, as it has ritualistically done in the past to Palestinians unlucky enough to be suspected by the regime.
Political scientist Norman Finkelstein once described the Israeli government as a “lunatic state”. This assessment is being vindicated now: with a campaign of terror and aerial bombardment in full swing in Gaza, and amidst the excessive tactics of reprisal against the Palestinians, Israeli officials and spokespersons continue to call for harsher measures against the oppressed and embattled population. A member of the Knesset has even called for a declaration of war on the entire Palestinian population. This may be the voice of a fringe minority, yet one wonders if there is any other state in the world where a member of a higher governing institution can blatantly condone genocide and get away with nothing more than minor rebukes.
The current assault on Gaza, which has seen a rapid escalation of targeted bombings and troop mobilisation, is being referred to as “Operation Protective Edge”. If our foreign minister’s remarks are second to anything in cynicism, then surely it is this naming strategy, of which Israel has a long and proud history. Media coverage has attempted to portray this assault as a justifiable retaliation to Hamas rocket fire, evoking a scenario of tit for tat. Aside from the fact that Israeli raids on Gaza have in recent years become quite routine even when unprovoked, and the fact that rocket fire from Gaza is in response to Israel’s recent crimes and violations in the West Bank, there is no justification for the excessive and disproportionate use of Israel’s vast military capacity against a densely populated and vulnerable civilian population which has been in a state of siege for nearly a decade. For a regime that has touted the line of “de-escalation” for weeks now, waging an all-out war seems a peculiar strategy.
In yesterday’s strikes alone, at least fourteen Palestinians, including children, were killed in Gaza. For McCully to call for restraint on both sides is unapologetic side-taking cast as pragmatism, which ultimately places responsibility on the victims rather than aggressors. Western politicians who have a platform to do so need to denounce the roots causes of violence not ignore them.