Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Disproportionate Forces at Work in Gaza
HIRAYAMA Kentaro  / Former NHK Executive Commentator

October 6, 2014
As in the military clashes over territory that took place between Russia and Ukraine, and advances made by extremist Islamic State militants across the Syria-Iraq border, Gaza in Palestine had been yet another stage for mass destruction and bloodshed this summer. Over the course of fifty days beginning on July 8, the Israel Defense Forces bombarded Gaza from land and sea and launched ground-based attacks in addition to launching over 5,200 airstrikes, leazving more than 2,100 dead and 10,000 injured on the Palestinian side. A great number of civilians, including children who had taken refuge in United Nations buildings, were among the casualties. The Palestinian side struck back by firing rockets and missiles into Israeli territory and also fought on the ground, killing 64 Israeli soldiers and several civilians.

The U.S. administration of President Barack Obama has repeatedly assured that it respects Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist acts such as missile attacks launched by the Palestinian side, namely Hamas. Yet, it also urged self-restraint on the part of Israel by frequently referring to the phrase "disproportionate use of force." Similar clashes had taken place on the eve of President Obama's first term in office towards the end of 2008, which continued into the New Year and lasted 22 days. The death toll at the time followed a similar pattern, with 13 soldiers dead on the Israeli side compared with 1,400 dead on the Palestinian side. Israel is a regional military power, whereas Hamas effectively controls only the Gaza strip with a population of merely 1.5 million and is armed with weapons smuggled in by the military wing of tis sympathizers. In view of the extreme asymmetry that exists between these two warring parties, it is easy to see how the relative number of casualties becomes so disproportionate - that is, unless Israel recognizes its superior strength and exercises restraint.

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" – the phrase from the Hebrew bible-Old Testament appears word for word in the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, which shares the same religious roots. According to the Muslim interpretation, retaliation is justified between equals, although "excessive retaliation" is prohibited. Hamas does not have the power to retaliate on equal terms. Hence, it seeks to turn the table on Israel by exploiting the "disproportionate" logic that the life of a single Jew is worth several tens of Muslim lives, no matter how repulsive the idea may be. The disproportionate number of casualties itself gives rise to anti-Israeli sentiment in the international community, which Hamas manipulates for its own political ends. And the same logic is applied to the ratio of exchange between hostages and political prisoners.

Take the case of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal who was abducted by Hamas-affiliated militants while patrolling the border in southern Gaza in June 2006. After five years of negotiations that also involved third-party mediation, Corporal Shalit was freed in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians detained by Israel. Disproportionate exchanges such as this are not uncommon. It could have been repeated during the war in Gaza this summer. An Israeli officer who had entered Gaza on a ground operation went missing during a fierce exchange with the Palestinian side. While his disappearance caused an uproar, he was later found to have died in battle. The officer and his troops had been on a mission to destroy the underground tunnels that led from Gaza into Israeli territory. The Israelis suspected these tunnels were intended for carrying out terrorist activity inside Israel, particularly for capturing Israeli soldiers. The destruction of these tunnels had been the central target of Israel's latest military strategy.

It was perhaps due to their failure to capture an Israeli soldier that the ceasefire brokered by Egypt made no mention of the release of political prisoners the Palestinian side had been demanding. And this has caused concern for the durability of the ceasefire. While it is difficult for Hamas to capture an Israeli soldier, it is quite easy for the Israeli side to maintain a "reserve" of several thousand political prisoners at hand. Israel can arrest suspects at any of its numerous check points dotting the West Bank of the Jordan River, or during various demonstrations staged by Palestinians. Here again, we see the disproportionate dynamics at work.

In the latest war in Gaza, Hamas has come under fire once again for using civilians including children as "human shields" or "hostages." I would be the first to condemn such an act. And yet, when I think of the austerity of the blockade against Gaza, the land grab on the West Bank of the Jordan River that has accelerated in pace under the current Israeli government with what amounts to tacit approval by the U.S., or the utter futility of negotiations between President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and how this has all led to the deepening sense of stagnation and despair among the Palestinian people, I feel it will be difficult to prevent another outburst in Gaza. The problem stems from the very manner in which Israel continues to occupy the region in the face of international law. Whatever became of the concept of a "Palestinian state," which was proposed as a solution by none other than the United States?

Since the brutal killings of American journalists in Syria, the U.S. and international media have focused their attention in the Middle East on the actions of Islamic State extremists and on countering their advances. However, along with a military response, some have also pointed to the need for political reforms, such as restoring the rights of Sunnis in Iraq. From an even broader perspective, the U.S. could declare its intention of taking action to resolve the Palestinian issue and put an end to Israeli occupation. Such a move would be an important part of the process. "Protective Edge" - the name given by the Israel Defense Forces to its latest summer offensive in Gaza had a literal significance. A number of U.S. weapons had been supplied to Israel at the height of its operation, including bunker busters capable of demolishing medium-rise buildings in a single strike. Is that the right way to go? I cannot help but ask.

Kentaro Hirayama is former Executive Commentator of the NHK.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎 / 元NHK解説主幹

2014年 10月 6日

オバマ米政権は、パレスチナ(ハマス)側のミサイル攻撃などテロ行為に対するイスラエルの自衛権を尊重すると繰り返しながらも、「不釣り合いな力の行使」(DISPROPORTIONATE USE OF FORCE)という言葉をしばしば織り交ぜて、イスラエル側の自重を促している。オバマ政権(一期目)発足直前の2008年歳末から翌年の年始にかけ22日間続いたガザでの同様の戦闘でも、イスラエル兵士13人の死亡に対し、パレスチナ側の死者は1400人を数えている。地域の軍事大国であるイスラエルと、人口150万そこそこのガザだけを実効支配するハマスとその同調者たちの軍事部門が密輸入した兵器という、極度に「非対称」な紛争当事者の関係を考えれば、犠牲者の数の「不釣り合い」は、容易に理解できる。強者であるイスラエル側が自制しない限り。





米国や国際メディアの中東での関心は、シリアでの米人ジャーナリスト殺害事件をきっかけに、シリアとイラクにまたがるイスラム過激派「イスラム国」の動向やその対策に集中しているが、軍事的な対応と並んで、イラクでのスンニ派住民の権利回復など政治面での改革の必要性も指摘されている。視野を広げて見れば、パレスチナ問題の解決、イスラエルによる占領体制を終わらせるため、アメリカが動き出す姿勢を示すことも、その重要な一部ではないのか?イスラエル軍のこの夏のガザ攻撃の作戦名は、文字通り「PROTECTIVE EDGE](防衛力の優位性)。一発で中層ビルひと棟を全壊させるバンカーバスターを含め、多数の米国製兵器が作戦さなかにも補給されている。それでいいのだろうか?

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Disproportionate Forces at Work in Gaza