The most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen the propaganda war flare up larger than ever before. Supporters of both sides have used all sorts of social media to promote their cause, whether it’s #FreeGaza or #BringBackOurBoys. So from the murky world of Facebook posts and official propaganda, here are 5 of the biggest myths about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Israel is like Nazi Germany”
This is a comparison that’s just made for shock value. For all its faults in how it deals with its neighbours, Israel is the most democratic state in the Middle East. Many of its policies against the Palestinians are extremely brutal, but they are still based on what Israel sees as its security needs, not a bizarre racial ideology. Maybe certain aspects of their policy are comparable to Nazi Germany, but you could say that about most countries if you try hard enough. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ran far more along those lines. Comparing Israel to a Nazi state is just unnecessary.
“Israel tries its best to avoid killing civilians”
The Israeli army often publicises the fact that they go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties. If this is the case, then they aren’t trying too hard. At least ¾ of Palestinian casualties under Operation Protective Edge were civilians. This is something we see in other Israeli wars as well. One Israeli general has stated openly that in the 2006 Lebanon War the policy was to destroy whole areas to cause civilian suffering, as a means of deterrence. This tactic led to the destruction of entire suburbs of Beirut. In the 1982 Siege of Beirut Israel also killed hundreds of civilians by destroying whole apartment buildings without warning, before one of their greatest generals allowed his Lebanese allies to massacre over a thousand Palestinian refugees.
There is no doubt that the Israeli army is forced to operate against organisations who use civilian areas for protection. However, for Israel to blame these civilian death tolls solely on that ignores their own lack of regard for Palestinian and Lebanese life.
“Hamas is a heroic resistance movement”
Palestinian civilians live under horrendous conditions and during this last war suffered unbelievably. Hamas on the other hand are hardly examples of virtuous fighters. In the 2001-2005 Intifada Hamas killed hundreds of Israeli civilians through suicide bombings everywhere from Passover feasts to pizza restaurants. Just like the Israeli military, Hamas has caused immense civilian casualties and suffering. Their rule over Gaza is also characterised by human rights abuses and lack of tolerance for opposition. Just as you can be against the Israeli government without being anti-Semitic, you can support the people of Gaza without backing Hamas.
“There was never a Palestinian state”
Well, that’s true. However, there was also never a clear Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese or Jordanian one. All of this area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for around 500 years. During this time regions of the empire did have some autonomy, but this often didn’t match up to the current borders. When the Western powers carved up the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the borders they drew had more to do with their own ambitions then who actually lived there.
For example, under the Ottomans ‘Lebanon’ was defined as an area – Mount Lebanon – populated by two autonomous groups – the Maronite Christians and the Druze. However during the colonial period, the French decided to enlarge the state of Lebanon by adding on several Muslim areas. This sort of thing happened all over the Middle East.
So while the Palestinians never had a state in the modern sense, they had lived in that area for centuries. Saying “there was never a Palestinian state” is kind of like saying “there was never a state called Wales”. True, but the Welsh people would object if you used that argument to convince them they don’t exist.
This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. We all see Facebook posts informing us that “Israel is committing genocide. End of story.”, or YouTube clips claiming “It’s not hard to explain the Middle East dispute – One side wants the other dead.” Painting the conflict as this type of black and white situation is ignorant and harmful. The conflict between Israel and its neighbours is incredibly complex and tied up with a multitude of different issues. For every argument from one side, there is another equally compelling argument from the other. Both sides have deep historical, cultural and religious ties to the ground they are fighting over, and this can’t be solved by a simple slogan or 5 minute video – or even a “5 myths” blog post like this.
This doesn’t mean there is no right or wrong. We can take a stand on the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank, or on the murder of Jewish teenagers. But whose capital should Jerusalem be? Should Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to Israel? Can Israel be a Jewish state? Can Hamas be a legitimate government? What should happen to the Israeli settlements? These issues will take time and effort to figure out, and sometimes they seem almost unsolvable. There is no ‘simple explanation’ of the Arab-Israeli conflict – and both sides should stop pretending there is.
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