The West’s conception of the social order, it has been remarked, is organised into hierarchies, structured by our attitude toward different kinds of violence. Violence directed down the hierarchy is invisible; violence upward is unthinkable.
So it is that when, as generally happens at some point during an Israeli massacre, a hapless Lib Dem MP sticks their head above the parapet – making a few, inoffensive remarks on the root causes of Palestinian violence – that head is immediately blown off. A couple of years ago it was Jenny Tonge, sacked from the Lib Dem front bench after a remark about the root cause of suicide bombings, and finally expelled from the party after questioning whether Israel could long survive the way it was going – a suggestion Nick Clegg condemned as “wrong and offensive”.
This week it was the turn of David Ward MP. As he tweeted on Tuesday:
“The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”
Just over an hour later, he added:
“Ich bin ein #palestinian – the West must make up its mind – which side is it on?”
Ward fleshed out his views more fully on BBC Radio Leeds:
“There will be a ceasefire, then there will be a period of calm.
“But during that period of calm when hopefully people are not being murdered, there will still be Palestinians who are being shot by the Israeli forces, they will still be beaten up, there will still be child detentions, that to the Israelis is peace.
“When someone is not firing a rocket at Israel, that is peace.”
The response was quick, vitriolic and virtually unanimous. Echoing the Israeli ambassador, who condemned Ward’s “statement justifying these attacks” as “abhorrent and damaging”, The Mirror and Telegraph respectively reported that Ward “appeared to back Hamas’ rocket attacks” and had offered an “apparent endorsement of Gaza rocket attacks”.
A Labour spokesperson declared:
“At a time when all sides should be working for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement, it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible. Nick Clegg must act immediately to disassociate his party from this comment.”
The Lib Dems “utterly condemned” the tweet as “not representative of the Liberal Democrats”, adding: “The party takes this matter very seriously and will treat it as a disciplinary issue”. A Lib Dem spokesperson told the BBC the comment was “clearly vile, crass and offensive”. Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams weighed in:
I think Israel’s response is heavy handed but Hamas rocket firing is deplorable too. I’ve seen school bomb shelters in S Israel.
George Eaton, political editor of the left-wing New Statesman, wrote that Ward had “shamed himself” with this “insult”, and called for him to be permanently expelled from the Lib Dems. The Independent on Sunday’s Political Editor Jane Merrick tweeted:
Suspension isn’t right for David Ward. He needs to be kicked out of the party tonight. Risks debasing Parliament by remaining. @nick_clegg
To everyone asking me why: am horrified by deaths of civilians in Gaza but you cannot be an MP and support terrorism. End of story
Chief political commentator for the Independent on Sunday John Rentoul chimed in:
Just not good enough for Lib Dems to condemn David Ward MP – he should be expelled without delay http://order-order.com/2014/07/22/rocket-man-libdem-mp-backs-hamas-terror-attacks/
Not sure what the hold-up is with @nick_clegg on David Ward. Is he on a cookery programme?
Tory ex-MP and activist Louise Mensch tweeted:
Really, are LibDem activists content to be in the party of David Ward? Is that OK? Is inaction OK? Is that seat worth your honour as people?
A few days earlier, she had tweeted:
Israel should be able to defend herself against these non-stop Hamas rockets directed at nurseries. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace/#.U7wTgpFagUU.twitter
Conservative Party chair Grant Shapps tweeted:
Appalling: No MP should tweet what’s essentially incitement to violence. Mr Ward must withdraw now. Completely irresponsible.
Conservative MP Nadim Zahawi went one-up on Shapps, reporting Ward to the police, and asking them to investigate “prima facie evidence that he has committed the offence of encouragement of terrorism”.
This is not the first time Ward has faced a run-in with the Lib Dem party machine. Last year, he tweeted:
Am I wrong or am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?
This comment was apparently so offensive as to merit disciplinary action, and Ward was duly suspended from the party.
This entire episode is notable for a number of reasons. First, for the knee-jerk misrepresentation of Ward’s remarks: the media and political class immediately portrayed Ward as offering active support for Hamas rocket attacks, when there was no evidence of anything of the kind. Second, and more importantly, in light of Israel’s engaging in terrorism over the past two weeks on a far greater scale, and of a far greater intensity, than has Hamas over the past several years. In a single airstrike, at 7pm on 20 July, for instance, Israel killed almost twice as many members of a single Palestinian family as Palestinian rockets killed Israelis between 2000 and 2009 (according to Israel Security Agency figures). Israel has adopted a deliberate policy of targeting civilians, with the result that roughly 80% of Palestinians killed in Gaza have been civilians. It recently released a list of “senior terrorist leaders” killed; the list featured 8 names. Gaza’s death toll to date is over 800.
Third, Israel’s attacks have received constant, explicit backing from the West. Nor is this backing limited to (though it certainly includes) rhetorical support for Israel’s “right to self-defence”. It includes diplomatic cover for its violations of international law, and material support in the form of ongoing transfers of weapons, military aid and military equipment. None of this support has met with anything like the level of outrage or calls for disciplinary action evoked by one mild, inoffensive tweet from one MP reflecting on the root causes of Palestinian violence. And fourth, it overlooks the fact that, while Israel is the occupier, in gross violation of international law, armed with the deadliest, most sophisticated weapons available and inflicting severe collective punishment through prolonged economic warfare and regular atrocities against an entire population, Hamas are a group possessing severely limited military means, engaged in resistance to that occupation. So extreme is the state of the debate in the West that, while the occupier’s right to aggression is axiomatic, commentators not only struggle to comprehend that there might be a plausible defence of Hamas’s puny rocket attacks, but – as Ward’s case shows – take offence at the idea that there might even be a reason for them.
Let’s take rhetorical support. On 8 July, a White House spokesperson said:
“This conference is also taking place at a time of growing threats to Israel’s security. Over the past several days, Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, forcing local populations into their shelters. The United States strongly condemns these attacks. No country should have to live under the constant threat of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians. We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.”
On the same day, EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said Europe wished to “express its unreserved solidarity with citizens of Israel.”
On 9 July, the British Government released this statement:
“The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this evening about the situation in Israel. The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians.
“The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”
On 10 July, the Kuwait News Agency reported that French President Francois Hollande had expressed to Netanyahu “the solidarity of France in the face of rocket fire coming from Gaza”, adding that “France firmly condemns these aggressions” and that “It is up to the Israeli government to take all measures to protect its population in the face of these threats (of rockets)”.
On 14 July, President Obama stated:
“And I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket [sic] fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”
On 15 July, Israeli daily Ha’aretz cited US Secretary of State John Kerry:
“I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets, in multiple numbers … It is important for Hamas not to be provoking and purposefully trying to play politics in order to gain greater followers for it opposition, [sic] and use the innocent lives of civilians who may hide in buildings and use as shields and put in danger. That is against the laws of war … But Israel has the right to defend itself.”
On 16 July, Obama stated:
“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people. There is no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets.”
On 18 July, the Jerusalem Post reported:
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday there was a “new quality” to weapons used by the Palestinian territory’s dominant Islamist Hamas group against Israel and added that countries that come under attack must be allowed to defend themselves.
““Both sides must accept painful compromises but we stand by the side of Israel when it comes to self-defence,” she said at a news conference in Berlin.”
On 19 July, the Star (via Reuters) reported:
“U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the situation in Gaza, underscoring the U.S. support for Israel to defend itself …
““We are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties,” Obama told reporters at the White House.”
On 20 July, US Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN’s Candy Crowley:
“Israel is under siege by a terrorist organization … No country could sit by and not take steps to try to deal with people who are sending thousands of rockets your way … People can’t live that way. And Hamas needs to understands. [sic]”
“Candy, Candy, please, no country, no human being is comfortable with children being killed, with people being killed. But we’re not comfortable with Israeli soldiers being killed either”.
On the Andrew Marr Show on 20 July, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was asked three times if Israel’s action in Gaza had been disproportionate – a legal requirement of self-defence. He refused to answer the question, instead stating:
“But Israel does have the right to protect itself and the best way to avoid Palestinian loss of life in Gaza is for Hamas to stop firing rockets from Gaza”.
On 22 July, the Jerusalem Post cited an official statement by the European Union:
“The EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts. The EU calls on Hamas to immediately put an end to these acts and to renounce violence. All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm. The EU strongly condemns calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.”
On 24 July, under the headline “UK supports Israel’s ‘right’ to self-defence”, the Pakistan Daily Times reported that:
“At a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, [British Foreign Secretary Philip] Hammond expressed Britain’s support for Israel’s ‘right’ to self-defence, saying the current fighting was caused by Hamas firing rockets ‘indiscriminately’ at Israeli towns and cities.”
As NDTV reported, Hammond had mentioned the Western public’s waning sympathy for Israel in a Sky News Interview. He declined to mention it at all during his press conference with Netanyahu.
Imagine, on the basis of this, the implications of even a modest attempt at even-handedness between Israel and Gaza on the part of the West. Western leaders would have to be in regular, cordial, public diplomatic contact with Hamas, and at times hold press conferences shoulder-to-shoulder with them. The White House would have to acknowledge the threat to Gaza’s security from “inexcusable”, “indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians” at the hands of Israeli “terrorists”, and support Hamas’s right to self-defence. The British Prime Minister would have to “strongly condemn Israel’s appalling attacks against Gaza’s civilians” and “underline Hamas’s right to defend itself from them.” The British Foreign Secretary would have to blame Israel for the current violence and note Hamas’ right to self-defence against “indiscriminate” attacks on Gazan towns and cities. The French President would have to offer his country’s “solidarity in the face of Israeli attacks”, “firmly condemn these aggressions” and declare that “it is up to Hamas to take all measures to protect Gazans in the face of these threats”. The EU would have to express “unreserved solidarity” with the citizens of Gaza, condemn Israel’s “indiscriminate” attacks on civilians as “criminal and unjustifiable”, demand Israel “disarm” and “renounce violence”, and condemn the suggestion that Israelis should act as human shields for their government. John Kerry would have to declare Gaza “under siege by a terrorist organisation”, and publicly equate the killing of innocent Israeli children with the killing of Palestinian militants, justifying Palestinian attacks with the words “people can’t live that way. Israel needs to understand.”
The response to any of these statements from even a minor official – as the David Ward episode proves – would be complete hysteria. Yet who in the political class has yet called for the resignation of Kerry, Merkel, Cameron, Obama, Hammond – or anything even close – for making equivalent remarks about Israel?
Even these statements would evince no genuine even-handedness, however, because they do not take into account the phenomenal disproportionality in the overall situation, in culpability for it, and in the scale of violence applied. Hamas militants are not invading, occupying or destroying the most basic requisites of human life in Israel. Israel is doing exactly that in Gaza. Hamas lacks the capacity to “target” anything, let alone children; the IDF not only has the capacity, but does so. It would be as perverse as to place the blame for the violence, impoverishment and repression in apartheid South Africa “even-handedly”. As Greg Shupak points out:
“This rhetoric of “both sides” implies that pain and fault belong equally to Palestinians and Israelis. It erases manifold, unmistakable, qualitative and quantitative differences at play in Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip and the political-historical context in which this is taking place — most centrally, that what is occurring is part of a settler-colonial invasion.
““Both sides” rhetoric refuses to make even the easiest, most obvious judgment, to which any honest evaluation of the information points: that Israel is massacring Palestinian adults and children, 77% of whom are civilians, and subjecting them to collective punishment; that Israel evidently claims for itself a right to extra-judicially execute anyone who it says is a Hamas member, a practice too few among even Palestine’s allies have denounced; that Israel is bombarding what is essentially a giant refugee camp home to an imprisoned population of a people Israel has ethnically cleansed, occupied, subjected to apartheid, and repeatedly slaughtered; that international law does not grant Israel a “right to defend itself” against the Gaza Strip. And that international law does grant Palestinians a right to resist using armed struggle.
“To employ “both sides” rhetoric completely misrepresents the situation. It is not “both sides” who take thousands of political prisoners. Both sides do not systematically torture each other. Both sides do not control each other’s freedom of movement, or access to the sea, drinking water, and education.”
More to the point, David Ward is not an active military accomplice of terrorist organisations. The same cannot be said of Cameron, Obama or the European Union. As the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reported in January:
“Despite hostilities between Israel and Gaza in March and October 2012, military export licenses from Europe to Israel increased from €157 million to €613 million, an increase of 290%. The majority of this increase came from the advanced trainer aircraft Alenia Aermacchi M-346 deal with Italy which was worth €472 million: in exchange Italy has agreed to purchase military equipment from Israel for a similar amount.”
On 23 July, CAAT’s Andrew Smith pointed out that “the UK has awarded almost £50m in military licences to Israel in the last five years, including £10m last year”. Israel has used British arms to commit war crimes:
“In 2009, David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary confirmed that Israeli equipment that had been used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components.”
At last week’s Farnborough Air Show (a “glorified arms fair”),
“promoting “battle-tested” weapons was Elbit Systems, which is working with UK arms company, Thales UK, on a Ministry of Defence contract worth nearly £1 billion for the development of Watchkeeper WK450 drones. The aim is for these to be exported from 2015 onwards.”
The US role as consistent enabler of Israeli aggression is widely acknowledged: the largest recipient of US aid per annum is not a poor country but a single, rich, developed society between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. For the fiscal year 2014, the US supplied Israel with $3.1 billion in military aid. That’s roughly $8.5 million a day.
And Israel remains in occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The common claim that its occupation of Gaza ended with the 2005 pullout is untenable, as Human Rights Watch point out, because the redeployment of troops to the borders of the territory does not in any way alter the fact of Israel’s control over that territory. Moreover, Israel has violated ceasefire agreements by engaging in an extreme form of economic warfare against Gaza and frequently bombing densely-populated civilian areas.
Resistance to such an occupation is of a fundamentally different quality from violence directed at maintaining the occupation and crushing resistance, as we easily recognise in other cases, even those that involve brutal forms of violent resistance. If, as the West Bank is colonized and carved up, as Gazans are imprisoned, starved and butchered, their sole means of resistance is indiscriminate rockets, is it reasonable to insist that they never use them? As California State professor of Political Science Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil notes in “Western standards of Palestinian resistance”:
“People in Africa and Asia were only able to rid themselves of colonialism through the use of different forms of armed struggle. Armed struggle is never clean and Europe fought the Nazis in the most dirty of ways but the West never cast judgment on itself. Acts of resistance against Nazi occupation in Europe is remembered with fondness and admiration and no one questions the methods even when innocent civilians were killed. Even in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, Americans refrain from questioning the methods in which collaborators were dealt with (necklacing, for those who remember).
“Yet, the Palestinians are asked by Human Rights Watch to achieve the impossible: to adhere to standards of combat that no armies and no liberation movements have ever adhered to. Human Rights Watch quickly accused Hamas of war crimes while it has been equivocating for years on whether Israel commits war crimes. Its recent ploy was to castigate the Palestinians for not possessing advanced weaponry, presumably like Israel. But the advanced weaponry of Israel – theoretically the more precise ones – have caused far more civilian casualties than the weapons of the Palestinians. They are also expected to live away from their strugglers as if the fighters of the resistance in Gaza hail from another planet. This is like asking the members of the French resistance in WWII to live away from population centers and to concentrate in an open field to facilitate their elimination by German air force. That is how absurd the arguments of American media and human rights organizations are.”
If anything, in fact, John Kerry implies an even more extreme doctrine: that the killing of invading Israeli soldiers on the battlefield is on a par with murdering children. David Gathara captures the thinking perfectly:
“the victims are seen to be deserving of their victimhood and any resistance, especially that which results in the loss of life of the oppressor, as the real act of aggression. So we almost never hear affirmations of the Palestinians’ right to self-defence because their oppression and dispossession is not perceived as an act against which they need to defend themselves.”
The David Ward episode, then, provides a window on the grotesque racism of Western political culture when it comes to the Middle East. One mild, equivocal statement suggesting an underlying reason for Palestinian attacks against a violent occupying force elicits unalloyed hysteria; yet far more extreme statements and actions in explicit support of Israeli atrocities are regarded as natural, normal, and so obviously justifiable that they require no explanation, let alone sanction. This is the double-standard of the colonial power towards the colonised, manifested in characteristically ugly form this week.