View from the Golan Heights
It's amazing what you can see when you change your vantage point. Just a few months ago, I stood atop the Golan Heights, a mountainous range in northeastern Israel. I looked to the north and saw the gorgeous, rugged mountains of Lebanon. Turning my gaze eastwards, I saw the rolling hills of Syria. Suddenly, a noise that sounded like a blast pierced the quiet and a small pillar of smoke emerged from the other side of a ridge several miles away from where I was standing. All of a sudden the Syrian civil war, which has claimed nearly 200,000 human beings, became real.
The relatively low profile of that conflict and others in the region starkly contrasts with coverage pertaining to the ongoing crisis in Gaza that escalated this past summer. But Israel has always been unique in its ability to make headlines and attract international attention.
Why is it that since Israel's conception, there have been 45 UN resolutions condemning it? This is nearly half of all country-specific resolutions passed by the United Nations Humans Rights Council (UNHRC), making it the most denounced country by the international community. Undoubtedly the inimitable, atrocious qualities of the country have caused it to be the only standing agenda item of the UNHRC. With stalwart champions of universal human rights Algeria, Burkina Faso, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela weighing in on the issue (coupled of course with the collective, repeated abstention of almost every European country), it's easy to see that the UNHRC is not an unbiased voice. UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer once compared the council to "...a jury that includes murderers and rapists."
Satire and distasteful-but-appropriate comparisons aside, the double standard in international coverage on the situation in Gaza is astounding. When the Israeli air force bombs an UNRWA school, major television networks and media outlets decry it. But rarely do they mention that these schools were frequently found to be harboring mortars and rockets and that when these armaments were discovered UNRWA officials returned them to Hamas. Hamas, a terrorist organization, hides behind international symbols and uses these facilities both to store weapons and as launching pads for missiles.
A reasonable person might conclude that the UN is not an impartial body and would acquire the impetus to delve deeper. Operation Protective Edge is an asymmetric conflict that pits a country's military against an organization intensely embedded in an urban environment. One side uses rockets to defend its civilians while the other uses civilians to defend its rockets. This indisputable reality on the ground contributes largely to the discrepancy in civilian deaths. It should go without saying that the number of deaths do not determine the righteousness of a side—after all, hundreds of thousands more German civilians died than American and British civilian in World War II.
Israeli conduct in the war has been remarkably compassionate. It makes extraordinary efforts to warn civilians to leave areas that are about to be attacked through leaflets, phone calls, texts, and taps on roofs called warning knocks. Whether setting up field hospitals or sending convoys of humanitarian aid, the Jewish state's commitment to the well-being of enemy-noncombatants is well documented. Every civilian death in Gaza is a painful tragedy that should never have had to occur, but demanding Israel 'do more' without tangible suggestions on ways it can still secure itself militarily is paramount to asserting that Israel does not have the right to defend itself.
Conversely, each and every rocket fired by Hamas is indiscriminately aimed towards population centers with the intent of murdering civilians. Simultaneously, Hamas commits a double war crime by using its civilians as human shields to protect weapons caches and other strategic locations within Gaza. Human beings constituting collateral damage is an injustice that should make any moral person question why such things occur.
But more disturbing is the use of people as part of a deliberate scheme to skew international opinions and enhance an entity's propaganda. Methodically and intentionally putting civilians in harm's way is a crime so horrid it should raise the hairs on the back of your neck and send chills down your spine.
So where does all of this leave us? Up a stream and without a paddle.
Some call on Israel to unequivocally accede to Hamas' demands to grant the Palestinian people the statehood and autonomy they have yearned for. Acquiescing to demands because a terrorist organization entrenched in an urban setting is willing to let its own people die and encourage a culture of martyrdom sets a terrible precedent that would encourage violent resistance groups to employ similar tactics not only to Israel but to liberal democracies around the world. For the peace process to continue and any semblance of a solution to be achieved, there has to be mutual trust.
It's often forgotten that in 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, leaving behind billions in horticulture, it also dismantled four settlements in the West Bank as a gesture of good faith. The move was met with the election of Hamas in Gaza, the destruction of the Israeli-made agricultural infrastructure and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. With a history like that, trust is a hard thing to mend.
Tyler Fredricks is a Trinity junior. This is his first column in a semester-long series.