European voters and Gaza - Reply to Shada Islam's piece in EUobserver

June 21, 2024

Shada Islam’s opinion piece “While EU leaders look away from Gaza's agony, European voters do care”, published on EU Observer on 4 June 2024, is a striking example of how a self-proclaimed “progressive” can abuse noble ideals, such as promoting the rule of law and defending human rights, in the pursuit of sectarian identity politics.

The price of the most recent war that Hamas and its regional allies started against Israel is undoubtedly very high, both for Palestinian and for Israeli civilians, the latter of whom Ms Islam rarely, if ever, considers worthy of more than a fleeting mention. In addition to those who were killed, raped, and kidnapped on 7 October 2023, tens of thousands of Israelis have been displaced from their homes partly because the entirety of Israel has been subject, already well before the so-called “Al-Aqsa flood”, to relentless and indiscriminate bombings and rocket attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian forces. The only reason that the Israeli civilian death toll is not higher is because Israel decided to use its resources to defend its people with the ‘Iron Dome’ and other protective systems, not due to the lack of the attackers’ will.

Civilian casualties are always the terrible price of wars. When referencing the “laws of war”, however, including International Humanitarian Law, it becomes a legal question what these laws allow or prohibit. While tragic, the killing of civilians for the achievement of legitimate military objectives, under several constraints, is in fact allowed by these laws. Assessing whether Israel is respecting the relevant conditions under the law is a difficult exercise that must be based on a dispassionate, objective, and informed knowledge of relevant facts. Social media sources, more often manipulated than not, and propaganda outlets, even if often uncritically echoed by ‘reputable’ news organizations, are not a good basis for such assessments. 


Too many people, Ms Islam included, seem to ignore this very simple exercise, to the point that even Joan Donoghue, the former President of the International Court of Justice, had to take the unprecedent step of publicly clarifying that the ICJ had not taken any position concerning the factual truth of the South African accusations of genocide against Israel; nor on the existence of a “plausible genocide”, as the quote in Ms Islam’s piece might erroneously suggest.

Much of the data that is given amplification and credence is largely, if not entirely, coming from Hamas, whose Orwellian-named ‘Gaza Health Ministry’ and ‘Government Media Office’ should not be trusted by anyone who cares about facts and evidence. Yet, such data is often repeated uncritically not only by well-meaning, if misguided, protesters, but also by top political leaders, in Europe and elsewhere, who really should know better if only they were willing to try. 

It is hard to understand how Ms Islam, and many others, can use in good faith axioms such as “egregious breaches of international law” and “blatant violations of human rights”, implying that Israel is the one committing these, without any qualification – unless, of course, those terms refer to Hamas’ past and current actions. This does not seem to be Ms Islam’s position, however.

The truth is that massacring, torturing, and kidnapping civilians in a systematic, premeditated way is a sure-fire way to trigger a war, which is why it is a good idea not to commit them in the first place. Even less so if the rulers of the land claim to care about the well-being of their own people. All the while Hamas has made no secret of its intention to repeat the October 7 attack “again, and again, and again”, using their (now waning) military capabilities.

Another truth, as proven by evidence, is that the leaders of Hamas and their supporters only exploit and oppress Palestinian people to advance their apocalyptic-nihilistic ideology using cheap labor (often including children) to dig terror tunnels, or as cannon fodder for their genocidal “from the river to the sea” agenda, or as pawns for their anti-Israel, antisemitic propaganda campaign.

A third truth is that, if it wanted to, Hamas could stop this war, which Israel did not want and did not start, in a heartbeat: by returning all living and murdered hostages and unconditionally surrendering.

Finally, Ms Islam clearly suggests that the underlying reason for what she laments as a “double standard” in Europe – where, apparently, we “cheer” for Ukraine, but not for Palestinians – lies in our “racism” and “dehumanisation”.

She is, of course, entitled to her opinion.

Another way to look at it is that many Europeans understand perfectly well that Russia launched a war of aggression against Ukrainian people, with the stated goal of erasing their very identity, while Israel is also defending its very existence against a genocidal movement which has amply demonstrated both the willingness and the ability to kill Israelis. These Israelis live in a country where close to 20% of its citizens are in fact Arabs, enjoying the same rights and obligations as every other citizen, and where more than half of its citizens are “brown and black people”, to use Ms Islam’s words, all the while they, too, are the targets and victims of indiscriminate attacks by Israel’s enemies.

Most Europeans are aware that Israel has demonstrated, time and again, its openness to peaceful co-existence with other countries in the region, one of the most stellar examples of which is the conclusion of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Today it is nevertheless fighting against an enemy which has brazenly diverted (read: misused and stolen) billions of European and US taxpayers’ money, originally intended to aid civilians in Gaza. This money, generously provided despite Ms Islam’s accusations of “racism” and “dehumanisation”, was used by Hamas not to invest in Gaza’s future but rather to build more tunnels than the length of the entire London Underground, and to fully embed itself within the civilian population whom it cynically considers as nothing more than human shields and potential “martyrs”.

In short, it is important to understand that equating completely different situations is just another form of “double standard”, which Ms Islam laments, but does not seem to apply to her own reasoning. This helps neither progressive values nor the people in the Middle East.