“We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself” stated President Obama last Sunday during the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza. When he made the comment, Israel’s offensive had claimed the lives of 64 Palestinians and injured at least 560, the majority of whom were civilians. Hamas rockets had claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians.
Regardless of your position on the wider political conflict, framing those lopsided statistics as self-defence strains the very definition of the term. Indeed even Israel’s interior minister struggled to maintain the line of self-defence, commenting that “the goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”
Israel’s recently completed, US co-funded Iron Dome defence system has a 90% success rate in shooting down missiles launched from Gaza into Israel. With a line of defence this effective, it becomes even more difficult to justify an offensive of this scale.
While the Iron Dome protects Israel from physical attacks, an Irony Dome seemingly protects them from the blights of criticism and self-awareness. A political discourse that refuses to recognise Palestine as a state, and a mainstream media that uses the words “Hamas” and “Gaza” interchangeably, form the backbone of this defence system.
Indeed, Obama continued his aforementioned speech with the statement: “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens,” evidently not recognising Palestine as one. Similarly while Palestinian civilians died over the weekend, Israel’s tourism minister lamented a “heavy price on the tourism industry”.
Coming just after the US elections and two months before Israelis vote in early elections, the convenient timing of the offensive also stretches the party-line of self-defence. It handily shifts the political agenda away from the domestic issues that opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich has been focusing on and combats the growing image of the Likud party as an impotent force against Hamas.
Furthermore Ehud Olmert, the previous Israeli prime minister, was expected to announce his return to politics on the same day that the strike commenced. He launched Operation Cast Lead four years ago and would undoubtedly be seen as the candidate taking the hardest line against Hamas.
It’s both ignorant and offensive to label Israel’s treatment of Gaza “self-defence”. Only a significant shift away from the binary discourse around this conflict presents any hope of a peaceful outcome. Unfortunately, as Israeli ground troops begin mobilise, that outcome is nowhere in sight.