I have felt silenced by the twin horrors on 17th July of Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza, and the shooting down over Ukraine of the Malaysian Air plane. Hundreds of people have died in both situations, in Gaza mostly Palestinians, and in Ukraine mostly Dutch.
The media of course have not been silent – far from it. Both events have been the subject of attention for the world’s media, and also of social media. However I have been struck by the differing priorities afforded to the two tragedies. These are the results of a totally unscientific straw poll – I entered ‘MH17’ and ‘israeli ground invasion’ into my google search box:
MH17 27.5 million hits
Israeli ground invasion 91,600 hits
In my equally subjective assessment of the BBC news (mostly radio 4 Today and PM/ 6 o’clock news) the lead topic has nearly always been MH17.
I am no political analyst, but the reasons for prioritising MH17 are not difficult to deduce. Firstly there is the shock factor of a plane ‘falling out of the sky’, and the even bigger shock that a plane flying at 34,000ft can be susceptible to being shot down by a rebel group. Many of the UK population can identify with passenger flights, many will be about to make such flights for their summer holidays. The majority of the 298 people who died were Dutch – a northern European people that again we can easily identify with. Then there is the vague and uncertain nature of the exact circumstances of the shooting. The UK media has more or less decided that the pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels were responsible although they have denied it. Similarly the media has attributed original ownership of the surface to air missile used to the Russians. Both may be, and probably are true, but neither is yet proven. The UK media certainly give the impression that they are. In this they have aligned themselves with the US, with both President Obama and David Cameron increasing the anti-Russian rhetoric. Currently Cameron is seeking support from the EU for tighter sanctions against President Putin, but is not gaining universal agreement about this. I was very amused to hear President Hollande’s spokesperson accusing Cameron of hypocrisy for attempting to take the moral high ground regarding the French sale of warships to Russia (‘this would be unthinkable in my country’). The French pointed out that London was home to a good number of Russian oligarchs and that we were not about to deport them.
Whatever the eventual outcome, I have felt that I was in a time warp – the time warp of my teens and twenties, when Russia (or rather the Soviet Union) was the big bad ogre. My grandfather used to talk about ‘reds under the bed’ and the ‘Commies’ who might get us. Now we seem to be in a similar place, where Russia is the default baddie. I heard someone speaking on the PM programme last night and warning about the dangers of failing to ‘come down hard’ on Russia now – the consequences might be dire, including Russia invading the rest of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and marching on into Western Europe. (I made that last bit up, but his alarmism was such that he could easily have said it).
By contrast the reporting of Gaza has been more diverse. There has been considerable coverage of the impact of the Israeli invasion, the direct hits on Gazan hospitals, the civilian casualties that include women and children. The Israelis themselves have admitted full responsibility for these deaths, but have blamed them on Hamas, accusing them of using the civilian population as human shields. This report is one of the few to detail the impact of the invasion thus far. Although the UN has condemned the humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion, condemnation of Israel has not followed. Demonstrations around the world have not been universally anti-Israeli either. Both the US and the UK have reiterated their underlying support for Israel.
I am not anti Israeli in the slightest and have some good Jewish friends, but the latest episode in the Gazan crisis seems uncomfortably close to the well recognised syndrome of the abused becoming the abuser. Nobody can deny the appalling plight of the Jews during the Holocaust and I cannot imagine what it must be like to know that a regime wants to eliminate your entire race. Equally I am well aware that anti-Semitism is alive and well across the world – this is unforgivable under any circumstances (just as anti-homosexuality, anti-black, anti-women and so on are). Many Jewish people are horrified at what is happening in Gaza. It is not anti-Semitic to condemn the killing of civilians, of women, of children. Hamas do indeed use human shields. They do launch numerous rockets into Israel. This is clearly unacceptable. War is unacceptable. Increasing the violence cannot solve anything in the long term.
Politicians may speak platitudes about the dead, but ultimately they are more concerned with politics. Even hundreds of dead may eventually prove politically expedient to overlook in the bigger scheme of things. Evil deeds are sadly relative.