Israel and Palestine: Tit for Tat?

by Craig Martin

I originally wrote the following post in October 2012. While I think much of the news coverage on Israel and Palestine still ignores the disparities of power between the two, we might be witnessing a change. Note, for instance, a recent story titled “The lopsided death tolls in Israel-Palestinian conflicts,” which appeared in the rather conservative newspaper, The Washington Post:

In the current conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, both sides have attempted to harm the other. Hundreds of rockets have been fired from Palestinian territory with the aim of harming Israeli civilians, while Israeli military strikes have hit hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip.

There’s at least one clear asymmetry to the conflict, however. By Friday morning, 100 Palestinians had died as a result of Israeli military action, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, with hundreds more wounded. To date, there have been zero reports of Israeli deaths due to Palestinian rocket fire ….

These are not surprising figures. During 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, 167 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military, according to human rights group B’Tselem, who said that less than half of that number were believed to be taking part in hostilities. The same report said six Israelis had died: Four civilians and two members of the Israeli security forces. In the 2008-2009 Gaza War, the pattern was also evident. According to numbers released by the Israeli Defense Force, 1,166 Palestinians died during that conflict, 709 of which the IDF said were  “Hamas terror operatives.” Thirteen Israelis died, three of whom were non-combatants.

While I find such reporting still the exception rather than the rule, it is possible that public opinion is shifting, such that pointing out this asymmetry is less likely to result in one being branded an anti-Semite.

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I recently saw this video, “This Land Is Mine,” which was making the rounds on Facebook (at least among my friends). There’s no doubt that the video is clever and that the choice of music is perfect for the author’s purposes. In addition, I’m somewhat sympathetic to the author’s agenda. However, as a relentless critic I cannot help but point out what I think the video obscures.

Like many accounts of Israel vs. Palestine (and, admittedly, this is not only about modern day Israel and Palestine), the video presents the issue as a “he said, she said” sort of affair. We’re presented with a variety of groups, all with competing claims on a piece of land, each willing to kill in defense of their claims.

Now pause for a moment, and imagine someone saying: “well, when the white colonizers spread across North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, they did some bad things, and the Native Americans did some bad things too. Why can’t we just get past all that?” Such a claim would distort to unintelligibility the differences in power between the whites and natives during the European colonial expansion.

However, people quite regularly frame the current conflict between Israel and Palestine as a sort of tit for tat competition, as if between two equal powers. Framing conflicts with clear disparities of power as if they were conflicts between equals seems, at least to me, as clearly set up—intentionally or not—to advance the interests of the already dominant group.

In addition, such a framing masks the extent to which Western nation-states are contributing to the conflict, to say nothing of the many other influential players in the region. In the present iteration of the back and forth depicted in the video, there are billions of dollars flowing from the United States to one party—a fact that is nowhere made visible in the video.

For these reasons, despite my sympathies with the creator’s agenda, I’m uncomfortable with it, and would be unlikely to use it in class except as data that would have to be unpacked and critiqued.

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4 Responses to Israel and Palestine: Tit for Tat?

  1. Russell McCutcheon says:

    Fair and balanced.

  2. Richard King says:

    Well put Craig.

  3. Yes, it’s an asymmetrical conflict, but I daresay the analogy here’s a little wobbly.

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