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Benjamin Netanyahu leads Israel down wrong path in Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu leads Israel down wrong path in Gaza

Equally indisputable is that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have set a precedent by recommending arrest warrants on war crimes charges for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

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Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 04:46 IST
Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 04:46 IST
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By Marc Champion

Israel stands accused of genocide as it fights to destroy Hamas in response to its attack last October. Is the world’s only Jewish state being held to a different standard?

Many Israelis believe this to be true, and they are, undeniably, right. It doesn’t, however, make all criticism of the war in Gaza either unfair or anti-semitic.

It’s surely true, to name one example, that the appalling death toll in Gaza — now estimated by the Hamas-led health authority at about 36,000 — cannot alone explain the scale and depth of the international outcry it has caused.

Where were the campus protesters and genocide claims when at least 10 times that number of ethnic Tigrayans were killed or deliberately starved to death by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments in a war that ended only last year?

Equally indisputable is that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have set a precedent by recommending arrest warrants on war crimes charges for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

If the court approves that request, it will be the first time since the ICC’s inception in 2002 that it has targeted the sitting leaders of a democracy, even though other democracies have, of course, done some very bad things. Invading Iraq on a lie, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dead, would be one candidate.

The ICC warrants sought against Hamas are equally unprecedented; never before has the court indicted terrorists for war crimes. Many Israelis are furious at the idea that their elected leaders should be equated with terrorists in this way, no matter how much they may dislike Netanyahu.

All of the above is accurate, but it also entirely misses the point. And that’s in no small part, I think, because those same Israelis are seeing a different war unfold on their TV screens and news pages than the daily horror show of broken Palestinian children that’s seen outside the country.

On Monday, news organisations around the world (as well as Israel’s own leftist Haaretz) led their news pages with an IDF strike on Rafah that set refugee tents on fire, killing 45 people, according to initial reports from the Hamas-controlled Gaza health authority.

Yet neither Israel Today nor Yedioth Ahronoth (Latest News), which together account for about half of all Israeli news readership, had that story on their home pages for much of the day — even after the prime minister acknowledged the IDF had made a “tragic mistake”.

Instead, they headlined on the long-term threat posed by Hamas, on newly released footage of the October 7 massacres, a further twist in Netanyahu’s trials on corruption charges, or on rockets fired from Lebanon (an evacuated home was hit).

This sanitised account of the IDF’s continuing effort to eliminate Hamas is either missing or glossing over undeniable facts. The first is that Gaza is being leveled. You can argue as to why and who is to blame, but it has happened.

The 2,000- and 1,000-pound bombs that the United States only recently stopped sending Israel cause fatalities within a radius of about 360 meters (1,181 feet), making high rates of collateral damage inevitable in a densely populated urban area such as Gaza. Israel has used these bombs liberally, which is a choice.

Equally undeniable is that the unfolding IDF assault in Rafah has blocked the main aid crossing to Gaza, undoing recent improvements in the quantities of food and other aid that had been making it into the territory. People will go hungry as a result.

Israeli officials say they’re doing their best and point to aid theft by Hamas. Yet the decision to resist opening more crossing points, and to not crack down on Jewish extremists who blocked or destroyed aid on its way into Gaza, suggest the government is, at a minimum, recklessly negligent in ensuring the provision of basic necessities to Gaza’s civilian population.

None of this proves the legal charge of genocide, a crime that requires not a certain number of casualties or weapon types, but the intent to wipe a group of people out in the place where they live.

When 8,000 unarmed men and boys were executed by Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, it was ruled a genocide because the intent to exterminate a whole class of people in that particular location was so clear.

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have provided South Africa with fodder for its genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice — which hears state-on-state complaints — by calling to remove Palestinians from Gaza, at the same time IDF actions are making it uninhabitable.

It isn’t enough to say these men aren’t in the war cabinet; Netanyahu depends on them to stay in power, and Israelis should be concerned they are being led by extremists toward a crime they would not condone.

Of course, Israel is a special case. It will always be singled out, often unfairly and for malign reasons. No other conflict, after all, takes place on the Holy Land, a patch of desert claimed as a spiritual home by three major religions and fought over for centuries.

No other nation was formed as a refuge from pogroms. Few others have such a controversial modern history, in which Arabs and Jews have fought multiple wars aimed at removing one or the other people from the land, a contest that remains unresolved after 70 years.

Fewer still have resulted in a permanent, unstable refugee status, accompanied by de facto military occupation and aggressive settlement.

But the arrest warrants, campus protests and genocide accusations were not inevitable. These were the direct results of the Netanyahu government’s policies, pushed into hyperdrive since he scraped back into power with the help of ultra-right parties in December 2022.

Double standards should not be Israel’s big concern here. The question for Israelis should be how they want to be led, how they retrieve the remaining hostages in Gaza alive, and how they win the war.

That victory won’t come the day Hamas commander Yahya Sinwar is killed in a Rafah tunnel, but when Israelis can live in security, which will depend on addressing the Palestinian despair Hamas feeds on. This is the goal by which Israelis should judge their own leaders, as well as the claims of outsiders.

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