Saying it all in 420 words: European commentators, Israel and the Gaza Strip

The Times, January 31, 2008

A barrage against Israel
The critics had another field day yesterday. But their arguments are dishonest

By Robin Shepherd

Yesterday’s publication of the Winograd report into Israel’s prosecution of the 2006 campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon provides a new opportunity for commentators to demonstrate their capacity for sober, balanced analysis. They will note the criticisms directed against Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Prime Minister, while lauding the report as a display of democratic accountability unthinkable in any other country in the Middle East. Never failing to see the bigger picture, they will carefully weigh the options faced by a democracy under fire from some of the dangerous people on the planet.

Forget it. Most commentators, of course, will do nothing of the sort. Such is the obsessive desire to beat the Jewish state with any stick available, we should prepare for yet more moral inversion and wilful distortion. To get a sense of the sheer irrationality of the anti-Israeli polemicists, it is worth looking at recents events in Gaza.

Apologists for extremism had long argued that occupation rather than ideology was the “root cause” of terrorism. Terrorism would therefore cease once occupation ended. That argument has now been conclusively defeated. Since Israel withdrew, Palestinian militants have fired more than 4,000 rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets.

Now, there is not a state in the world that could ignore this kind of barrage. So what were the options? One was reoccupation. Another was to carpet-bomb the areas from which the rockets are being fired. Many states would have done both. Israel has done neither.

What has Israel actually done? First, it has built a barrier around Gaza to limit the ability of suicide bombers to kill civilians. Secondly, it makes incursions to target the terrorist infrastructure. Thirdly, it has restricted imports into Gaza to stop bomb-making equipment from getting to the terrorists in aid and food packages. Fourthly, it has applied economic sanctions against the Hamas regime. Israel, in other words, has chosen the strategy least likely to cause heavy loss of life while still exercising its right to self-defence.

The condition of the residents of Gaza is dire. But ultimate blame for this surely rests with Hamas, other militants and the culture of violence in Palestinian society that sustains them. In the absence of all this there would, of course, be no security barrier, no military incursions, no trade restrictions and no sanctions.

In the topsy-turvy world of British and European commentary, however, reasoned argument is cast aside. The frenzied, rhetorical onslaught against the Jewish state is at best intellectually lazy. At worst it forms part of a hateful agenda that shames those who indulge in it.

Robin Shepherd, a senior fellow at Chatham House, is writing a book on European attitudes to Israel.

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