In the complex and often emotionally charged discussion around the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it is essential to adopt a clear and nuanced stance. Recently, Israel has been accused of committing genocide in Gaza. This accusation elicits strong reactions, but it is crucial to objectively view the facts and place the situation in a broader perspective.
A matter of perspective
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that any loss of human life is tragic. The death of civilians in Gaza is a heart-wrenching reality that should not be ignored. However, the term ‘genocide‘ – a systematic and deliberate extermination of a people – seems completely misplaced in this context.
Israel, with one of the most advanced armies in the world, absolutely has the capacity to inflict far greater damage than what we have seen so far. The fact that this does not happen indicates a certain restraint and an attempt to minimize civilian casualties, despite the complexity of urban warfare against an enemy like Hamas. This organization, often compared to groups like ISIS and the Taliban, has embedded itself in densely populated civilian areas, inevitably increasing the risks of civilian casualties.
Genocide or the reality of warfare?
It is a harsh reality that in any armed conflict, civilian casualties occur. Let’s take some historical examples to put this in perspective.
During the attack on Nazi Berlin at the end of World War II, an estimated more than 125,000 civilian deaths occurred (Source: Richard Overy, “The Bombing War: Europe 1939–1945”). This was a direct result of the intense bombings and fierce urban fighting in the last days of the Nazi regime.
Compare this to the fight against ISIS, a recent conflict that shocked the world. According to a report by Airwars, an organization that documents civilian deaths in conflict zones, about 8,000 civilian deaths were recorded as a result of airstrikes by the international coalition against ISIS between 2014 and 2019 (Source: Airwars). These figures highlight the tragic but inevitable reality of modern warfare, where even with precision bombings and thoughtful military strategies, civilian casualties cannot be completely avoided.
These historical examples show that civilian casualties in wartime, however tragic, do not automatically point to genocide. They are a somber reminder of the devastating impact of war on innocent lives, but they do not in themselves constitute evidence of a systematic attempt to exterminate a people. This distinction is crucial in understanding and assessing conflicts in their proper context.
Syria: genocide? Or a forgotten tragedy?
Another example that highlights the complexity of warfare and the response of the international community is the situation in Syria. The conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. According to figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 500,000 people have died since the start of the conflict, a significant portion of whom are civilians (Source: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 2021). These deaths are largely the result of actions by the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad, as well as other parties involved in the conflict.
What stands out is the relative silence and lack of protest in many Western countries against these massive losses. While there is outrage over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the tragedy in Syria often seems to remain underexposed in the media and public discussions. This raises questions about the consistency and criteria used in judging and responding to international conflicts, let alone accusations of genocide.
The situation in Syria shows that the response to conflicts is often selective and influenced by political and media agendas. This lack of attention to the Syrian crisis, despite the enormous scale of human suffering, underscores the need for a more balanced and consistent approach to international conflicts and human rights violations.
Extremist statements vs. state policy
It is – unfortunately – an undeniable reality that some extremist Israeli politicians have made statements that can be considered provocative and inappropriate. For example, a statement by an Israeli politician suggesting that “harsh measures” are necessary against Palestinians, or another comparing the situation in Gaza to a “cancer.” These statements are undoubtedly shocking and contribute to heated rhetoric.
However, and this is crucial, these statements do not represent the official policy or actions of the Israeli state. Israeli defense policy and military actions on the ground are not based on these extremist views, but are guided by strict military codes and international law.
The Israeli military (IDF) has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to minimizing civilian casualties and targeting military objectives, a policy that stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of these individual politicians.
It is essential to make a clear distinction between the rhetoric of individual politicians and the official policy being implemented. While the former may tend toward provocation and extremism, the latter is aimed at maintaining security and stability, with a deep awareness of the complexity and sensitivity of the situation. This distinction helps to form a more nuanced and accurate picture of the reality on the ground.
Empathy and humanity
From a humanitarian perspective, it is essential to show empathy for all victims of this conflict. The population of Gaza deserves our compassion and support in their suffering. However, labeling this suffering as genocide detracts from the complexity of the conflict and the multifaceted reality on the ground.
While we must recognize and lament the tragic reality of the conflict and the suffering of innocent civilians, we must be cautious in using loaded terms like ‘genocide’. Such an accusation requires irrefutable evidence and should not be used lightly. Let’s strive for a balanced and factual approach to this deeply complex and painful conflict.