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Reports from Gaza need a more balanced perspective | The Australian

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Editorials

Reports from Gaza need a more balanced perspective

THE deaths of 15 Palestinians in a UN school sheltering displaced civilians in northern Gaza on Thursday has been a public relations disaster for Israel. The deaths of women, children and UN staff were a human tragedy. They followed moving images a few days ago of a boy, covered in shrapnel wounds, screaming for his father in hospital. Last week, the deaths of four cousins who were playing on a Gaza city beach when they were hit by Israeli shellfire also provoked outrage. International coverage has focused heavily on the death toll in Gaza, as it has climbed towards 800. Such reports reflect one side of a complex conflict that needs more balanced coverage by most Western media if it is to be understood. Accounts of the attack on the school shelter differ, but it reportedly occurred after Hamas ignored warnings by the Israel Defence Force for civilians to vacate the area.

While concentrating on the plight of Gaza’s long-suffering citizens, few reports pay comparable attention to Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel’s main cities. Terrorists have fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel since it withdrew from Gaza as a sign of good faith in 2005. About 1700 rockets have been fired since June when three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered at the outset of the present conflict. Up to 150 rockets are bombarding Israel daily, with five million Israelis living under the threat of attack. Casualties have been low because of the powerful Iron Dome air defence system. But daily life in Israel and Tel Aviv’s international airport have been disrupted badly.

Hamas has not been held properly accountable, either, for its despicable practice of using residential areas in Gaza as fortresses, stockpiling rockets and other weapons in and around homes, playgrounds, hospitals, mosques and schools. Apologists for Hamas deny it uses ordinary citizens as human shields. But that judgment is highly doubtful. This week, a stash of rockets was discovered in a building between two UN schools housing 3000 displaced Palestinians. Deliberate or not, the collateral damage inflicted on Palestinian families by Hamas has been vast. They deserve far better.

As Israel exercises its right to defend itself, Hamas’s predilection for hiding its arsenals among civilians has been one of the main reasons for Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza, a campaign that already has cost the lives of several dozen Israeli soldiers. A more concentrated air offensive against Gaza would have put many more Palestinians at risk in heavily populated areas. Nor would an air offensive have been as effective in identifying and destroying the extensive network of underground tunnels used by Hamas for moving weapons and fighters. Some of the tunnels stretch under the border into Israel. In March, former Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said these were “a new strategy in confronting the occupation and in the conflict with the enemy from underground and from above the ground”. For these reasons, a UN Human Rights Council inquiry into alleged war crimes by Israel in Gaza is one-sided.

Gaza’s citizens voted for Hamas in 2006. For those whose spirits have been crushed as spouses, parents and children have died, the price of that electoral choice has been a series of armed conflicts, provoked by Hamas, in which Israel has defended itself robustly. Gaza citizens who long for peace, not bloodshed, and economic infrastructure rather than rockets must grasp the reality that while Hamas prevails, the prospect of sustainable peace is remote, at best. Eventually, a ceasefire will see this particular conflict end. But hostilities will erupt periodically while Hamas, with its passionate commitment to Israel’s destruction, retains its hold on Gaza. The Middle East’s strongest nation and only functioning democracy is here to stay. Amid the current tide of Islamic militancy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes it is impossible to revisit earlier, generous deals offered to the Palestinian people 21 years ago and repeated, in various forms, in 2000, 2005 and 2008. Foolishly, all were rejected or met with hostility, even though they would have secured a Palestinian homeland. Long term, a two-state solution is vital. Westerners who want that outcome need to be better informed and less naive about such a complex conflict.

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