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Friday, March 07, 2008 

There will be no peace while Israeli lives are worth far more than Palestinian lives.

Reading and watching some of the coverage of the attack on the seminary in Jerusalem, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't been around last weekend for mistaking it for a completely unprovoked, entirely out-of-blue assault which directly threatened the peace process. The Israeli government spokesman, Mark Rejev, called it a "defining moment", while our own David Miliband said it was "an arrow aimed at the heart of the peace process so recently revived."

What peace process would that be then? The one where the Israelis sit down with Mahmoud Abbas, and talk about having talks towards a settlement at some point in the future, while all the while the checkpoints and occupation of the West Bank grip ever tighter, and as Gaza has its power dwindled? The one where as a direct result of the Israeli blockade the situation in Gaza is described as being the worst since 1967?

Let's be clear here. There's something that's long been apparent about the Israel/Palestine conflict, and that's the both sides' political representatives don't generally have any interest in genuinely seeking a just solution that would stand the test of time. The closest the talks came was in 2000, when despite common belief, it was Israeli intransigence which stopped Yasser Arafat from accepting the "deal" that was then on the table, a deal that would have never been accepted by the people, let alone the extremists. Mahmoud Abbas probably would deal if he was offered an acceptable settlement; the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; the dismantlement of 99% of the settlements which have riven the West Bank into a series of statelets that without their removal would never constitute a viable state; and compensation for the refugees uprooted and dispersed by Israel's creation in 1948. Israel though, despite all the advantages that would come from such a deal, refuses to remove all of the settlements, even though they themselves are illegal under international law.

The massacre at the seminary did not occur in a vacuum. While it was an act of savagery and terrorism targeted against the innocent that cannot be justified under any circumstances, one that was more planned and premeditated than the deaths of 60 or more civilians last weekend in Gaza who were killed by Israeli shells, Hellfire missiles and troop actions ostensibly directed at militants, they are both examples of the use of force to make a wider political point. Just as no one is safe in Gaza when Israel is assassinating militants or taking revenge for the firing of Qassam rockets, the message from the attacker, whichever group or none he was from, is that no one in Israel is safe either while civilians continued to die in their dozens in disproportionate military strikes.

No one can of course even begin to defend the vile comments from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad that praised the assault, and it's true to a certain extent that they show both groups' true colours (as if the colours especially of the latter needed to be nailed yet again to the mast). Hamas's attitude does nothing to help its own people's dire situation, just as the firing of the pathetic home-made rockets by the militants only endangers their own people far more than it does the town of Sderot and city of Ashkelon. How can it possibly hope to be taken seriously when it urges a universal ceasefire while it praises and celebrates the actions of a murderer? As self-serving and meaningless as Israeli "apologies" for killing civilians are, they have never directly delighted in the blood of the innocent being spilled. Even when we acknowledge the inflammatory and disgusting comments from an Israeli minister that warned of a "shoah", the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, if Qassams continued to be fired, words that may well have been taken out of context, it still doesn't come close to the inhumanity of welcoming an attack that takes the innocent lives of anyone.

The sad fact however is that Israeli lives are clearly worth more than Palestinian lives. During the height of the intifada, the casualty rate ran at around 3 Palestinians for 1 Israeli. Since the militant groups have turned increasingly away from suicide bombings, both because they were counter-productive and that the West Bank barrier has to some extent made the journey of bombers into Israel more difficult, the numbers of Palestinian dead as compared to Israelis has sky-rocketed. 2006's excursion into Gaza, which may well have triggered Hizbullah's assault which sparked the Israel-Lebanon war, meant the casualty rate rose to 678 Palestinians to 25 Israelis. Since 2005, 1290 Palestinians have been killed, with 86 Israelis dying in militant action. While we might on occasion see Palestinian funeral processions briefly on our screens, hardly ever do they receive the coverage which today's funerals in Jerusalem have, nor has the grief and anger of those left behind been voiced directly in the lines of the cameras, or in English, which of course makes all the difference.

While no one has formally claimed responsibility, the suspicion has immediately fell on Hamas, who at one point today appeared to have done just that, only for it to be retracted. More intriguing was the claim from al-Manar TV in Lebanon, Hizbullah's station, that a new group calling itself the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza. While it seems unlikely to be accurate, it points towards this being just another part of the inevitable blow-back from the assassination of Hizbullah's most notorious jihadi. The cycle of violence continues to inexorably turn, and while neither side listens to their own public who are crying out for peace, with 64% of Israelis even urging their government to talk to Hamas to reach a ceasefire, the blood will only continue to flow.

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Well said!

The difference, both in quantity and tone, in the coverage of the deaths in Israel and the many more deaths in Gaza is stunning and utterly reprehensible. Is the British media, including the BBC, pro-Israel?
Does the pope shit in the woods?

I must add a rider to my previous comment. It related largely to your first couple of paragraphs. When it comes to some of your other observations later in the piece I'm not quite so supportive but in the interests of positive commenting I'll leave it there ;)

It's also worth pointing out a fact that hasn't received wide publicity in the UK media. The seminary was the spiritual centre of the settler movement and therefore could be seen, by Palestinians, as a breeding ground for militant, racist, anti-Palestinaian zealots.

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