Stop ignoring the facts about Cast Lead

It featured the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the histo

Three years ago, Operation Cast Lead saw Israel send troops into the Gaza Strip in response to the thousands of rockets and mortars launched into Israeli civilian areas. Which other government in the world wouldn't defend its citizens in such circumstances? If some wish to portray this operation as a "massacre", they would have to ignore the facts to do so.

John Stuart Mill wrote in 1862 that "war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things". Indeed today, even with laws, regulations and technology intended to lessen the horrors of battle, war is always ugly and tragic. But sometimes, it is still an essential response to something far uglier.

In 2006, following the Israeli disengagement and pullout from the Gaza Strip, there was an increase of 436 per cent in the number of Palestinian rockets launched towards Israel from that very territory. For some time, Israel resisted a large-scale military response to such acts deliberately aimed at civilians. As a result, the attacks got worse, and every country, including Israel, has the moral responsibility to defend its people from such actions.

Increased Palestinian terror attacks from Gaza were the cause of Operation Cast Lead. Yet Israel's is a conscript army. Indeed Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to protect its young soldiers (witness the efforts make to secure the release of the kidnap victim Gilad Shalit), and does not send them to war easily.

In the three years since the operation, there has been an unprecedented 72 per cent decline in the number of rockets launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza. No surprise, then, that Israel's Defence Forces Chief of Staff should call the operation "an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas". (However, that deterrence is still not enough to have prevented Palestinians from launching 1,571 rockets since the operation, including one attack with an anti-tank missile on a clearly identifiable Israeli school bus.)

Just as Israel's erection of a security fence to prevent homicide bombers from infiltrating Jerusalem saw a bigger than 90 per cent reduction in such attacks, Operation Cast Lead was undeniably effective in reducing terror attacks from the Gaza strip. The numbers speak for themselves.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, has repeatedly commented that, "during its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare." Furthermore, he points out that the steps taken in that conflict by the Israeli Defence Forces to avoid civilian deaths are shown by a study published by the United Nations to have resulted in, by far, the lowest ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.

Kemp explains that by UN estimates, the average ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide is 3:1 -- three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan. But in Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to have been 4:1. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.

Since the 22-day Gaza operation, Israel has also been demonstrably fastidious in its efforts to protect civilian lives while targeting combatants. The Israel correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly sites Israel's record this year, saying "the IDF killed 100 Gazans in 2011. Nine were civilians. That is a civilian-combatant ratio of nearly 1:10."

In fact, Israel's effort to combat the Hamas regime in the Gaza strip, while still safeguarding the rights of civilians, can be seen in her actions away from the battlefield as well. Despite the continued and sustained terror attacks from the area, around 60 per cent of Gaza's electricity comes from Israel, rather than from Gaza's other neighbour, Egypt, against whom no missiles are launched by the Palestinians.

Israel allows thousands of tonnes of goods to pass into Gaza weekly, and provides a large amount of the strip's water. If destroying infrastructure were truly Israel's aim, as some claim, this goal could be achieved without the risk to Israeli soldiers inherent in operations which see them sent into the Gaza strip.

It is time to stop blaming the Israeli government and defence forces for protecting Israeli civilians. Instead, we must demand that Palestinian leaders (and their apologists) work towards improving the welfare of their own citizens, rather than constantly attacking Israel's.

www.jonathansacerdoti.com.

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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.