When It Comes to Israel, The Standards of Warfare are Different
Watching the condescension with which a Sky News reporter interviewed, or more accurately, harangued Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett about civilian casualties in Gaza, I would have thought that Britain must have set some high moral standard in the conduct of warfare when it involved civilians. But, of course, quite the opposite is true.
A nation’s conduct in war is seldom determined solely by its own moral values; it is also determined by the moral values of its enemies. In World War II, the Germans introduced strategic bombing against Britain‘s civilian population and industrial base, a tactic that then was as unprecedented as it was shocking.
Britain, for years, did not retaliate. But in early 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally agreed to Britain’s use of strategic bombing against the industrial capacity of German cities and to the purposeful targeting of their civilian populations.
Churchill referred to the policy as “de housing” German workers and crippling its industrial capacity.
By 1945, it was clear that Germany’s defeat was inevitable. The allies, however, wanted Germany’s unconditional surrender, and Russia wanted a quick end to the heavy fighting on the Eastern front.
To destroy German morale, the allies sent some 5200 sorties of heavy bombers against the city of Dresden. Although justified as an attack on an industrial base and communications center, Dresden was in actuality a cultural center, with much of its industry outside the city and was largely untouched by the massive bombing that killed anywhere between 25,000 and 100,000 civilians. The flames from the bombing of Dresden were visible 200 miles away.
One might find justification for the strategic bombing of Germany in terms of the brutality that awaited Britain if the Germans won the war. But then would that same justification, repeatedly used by Britain, not apply to the Israelis who can look at the wanton brutality perpetrated by the Islamists across the Middle East?
Britain’s brutality in dealing with enemies, however, did not end with WWII. After all, how does one explain Cyprus? When the Cypriots rebelled against British imperialism in 1955, the British responded with a policy of collective guilt and torture. They rounded up 3000 ordinary Cypriots and placed them in what is best described as torture camps in retaliation for rebel bombings.
The same technique was later used in Kenya, where 1.5 million people were rounded up, placed in concentration camps, used as slave labor, and tortured.
During the 1920 uprising in Iraq against British imperialism, the British purposely bombed civilians from the air and even used poisonous gas. They even conducted vengeance operations by destroying whole villages at random.
Unlike Hamas’ existential threat against Israel, the Cypriots, Kenyans, and the Iraqis posed no existential threat to Britain. They simply wanted to exercise their right of self-determination.
Most viewers of the most recent war between Hamas and Israel do not know that even while the war raged and Hamas vowed repeatedly to fulfill its Jihadist goal of Israel’s destruction, Israel continued to supply the people of Gaza with food, medicine, and basic necessities and thereby supplied Hamas’ fighters.
Israel also supplied Gaza with electricity, or did so, at least, until an Hamas rocket knocked out the generating station in Israel, which Israel is working to repair.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission, which has condemned Israel more than all the other nations of the world combined, is now seriously entertaining a Palestinian request for condemning Israel for war crimes in the most recent fighting in Gaza. In a world turned upside down, there has been no formal call for condemning Hamas, which fired rockets and missiles from civilian populations to civilian targets in Israel.
Even as she was ending her term, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay expressed concern regarding the "rise of incitement for violence against Palestinians by Israelis" on social media. It is obvious that Pillay does not possess a FaceBook account, where attacks on Jews generally, not just Israelis, proliferate and which FB censors refuse to remove. And, of course, there is Hamas, whose very charter calls for the destruction of the world’s Jewish population. Iran has repeatedly called for the total annihilation of Israel. None of this was or will be on the agenda of the UNHRC as incitement.
As the ceasefire that Israel was pressured to accept went into effect on August 1, 2014, Hamas militants rushed an Israeli position and killed three Israeli soldiers and crushed the ceasefire before it could bring the humanitarian relief the people of Gaza needed. This too will not make it to the UNHRC agenda.
Hamas knows it cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield, but with its strong sympathizers in the UN and the international media, for whom hypocrisy is not an obstacle, it appears to have defeated Israel in the propaganda war.
For now, a 72-hour truce is in place. Whether it will hold is another question, as every other truce has collapsed and even if the truce holds, there are no viable long-term prospects on the table.
In the likelihood that the war will reignite, the lesson for Israel is that no matter what it does, it will lose the propaganda war. If Israel must return to the battlefield, it will have to fight according to its own standards and not those of international hypocrites cheering for its destruction and willing to create the diplomatic pressure to make that happen.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. He also served on the faculty of the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.