Gaza: A toxic brew

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AS soon as Israel started to bomb Gaza last month, a massive and very expensive mistake was waiting to happen — like what happened in 2006.

Conway Tutani Echoes

And was it not ironic that as President Robert Mugabe was condemning the West over the Gaza bombings, a menacing-looking Israeli-made anti-riot water cannon tank was being driven outside the headquarters of the main opposition MDC-T?

For want of a better analogy and without making light of the tragic deaths — with the toll now over 1 000 — bombarding one of the most crowded places on Earth meant there would be more blunders than goals let in by hosts Brazil at the World Cup, there would be more collateral deaths than legitimate military targets, meaning the whole mission was disproportionate.

There is a way to understand what is happening which allows us to address it on different levels. Accurate and essential facts are critical.

On one level, granted Israel has genuine security concerns, a measured response would still have done — not the images of civilians — including women, children and even babies — bombed in hospitals and other non-military shelters by Israelis going after Hamas militants.

At the end of it all, it appears Israel is at war with the enterity of the Palestinians — like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, bombing a whole house in order to kill a rat.

Even journalists from the West, which has traditionally and strongly supported Israel, have been visibly aghast at the disproportionateness of it all. From BBC, CNN to Sky News, the issue has been handled with the even-handedness and graveness it deserves. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Sara Sidner come to mind. A slaughter is a slaughter. Those people who have been killed in Gaza remain killed — in the same way those killed in political violence in Zimbabwe in 2008 and before remain killed.

Wrote former Cuban leader Fidel Castro this week: “Why does the government of this country [Israel] think that the world will be impervious to this macabre genocide that is being committed today against the Palestinian people?”

And for the first time, the United States has expressed grave reservations about civilian deaths at the hands of Israel. We are living in a different world and a broader and better approach is needed to accommodate and protect both Israeli and Palestinian interests. Arming Israel to the teeth means you shoulder blame for the bloodletting that has been witnessed so far.

Russia also has blood on its hands after arming ethnic Russian separatists in Ukraine who downed a civilian plane last month, killing all 289 people on board. They never foresaw this. This is the heavy price to pay for blind political support. When such turmoil happens, it means something has got to give.

There has to be recalibration of policy in the West instead of this appearance of a blank cheque for Israel to do as it pleases.

Britain is now reviewing its arms deals with Israel.

Israel has always been torn between those who want to cede land to the Palestinians and those who want to annex more territory. Now the right-wing and religious parties have gained ground. The fastest-growing populations in Israel are the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, and both groups lean heavily to the right and they vote for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s hardline coalition.

Wrote Jewish columnist Dan Ephron: “Since the core motivation for their political hawkishness is largely unchanging — a Biblical injunction to maintain Israeli control over Judea and Samaria [their term for the occupied West Bank] — it’s hard to imagine them ever shifting alliances. The upshot: With each passing year, the Israeli right grows stronger.”

But the misgivings also extend to Hamas itself. How can they continue to do what they are doing and claim that they are the victims? It doesn’t add up. For one, Hamas should have tactically — not to be misconstrued as cowardly — held fire to save lives in Gaza.

In military parlance, at times you retreat in order to advance; not keep on firing rockets just to make a point that you can hit back while exposing civilians to bear the brunt of retaliatory attacks. That is why Hamas has been accused of using civilians as military shields.

Furthermore, the conflict that Hamas leads does not recognise any existence of Israel on any part of the land, egged on by Iran, whose previous leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed in 2005 “to wipe Israel off the map”. He was so anti-Semitic to the point of denying the persecution and genocide of six million Jews by Nazi Germany before and during World War II (1939-1945).

But Castro retorted: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust . . . They have [suffered] much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything.”

It becomes intractable when both sides are firm believers in the Old Testament fundamentalism of “eye for an eye”. These people have refused to evolve and embrace modernity or complexity.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews are extremists. There are extremist Muslims. It neither serves their faithful nor the world. It’s like those religious sects which reject modern medicine, but accept computers and the Internet.

We should be grateful that in Zimbabwe, we do not have that toxic brew of religion and politics.

But it is not morally justifiable for people anywhere to target only their real and perceived enemies and either ignore or find excuses for corrupt, murderous deeds within their own ranks.

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