In the first days of 2009, the forces of civilization won a decisive and perhaps even definitive victory against one of the world's most fanatical and bloodthirsty terrorist organizations.
While media outlets focused on the far less brutal and costly conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Army of Sri Lanka finally overran Kilinochchi, the long-time base of operations for the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam" – the implacable guerillas whose depredations produced as many as 500,000 internal refugees. According to official government and UN figures, the fighting in Sri Lanka since 1983 claimed at least 70,000 lives among fighters and civilians on both sides.
By contrast, the battles between Israelis and Palestinians in the same period (1983-2009) killed at the very most some 15,000 -- including civilian and military who fell in direct combat together with all victims of various terror operations.
Why, then, should the world give so much more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle than to a cruel, seemingly endless fight between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus that produced nearly five times the number of casualties?
The Palestinians' own figures claim 2,162 dead in the First Intifada (1987-93) and another 5,837 in the Second Intifada (2000-2005), with Palestinian-on-Palestinian savagery responsible for at least one-fourth of those who perished. In the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and the Shiite terrorists of Hezbollah (not strictly speaking a clash between Israelis and Palestinians), the Lebanese government identified 700 Hezbollah fighters and 1,191 civilians who lost their lives.
In the first week of Israel's current military operation to stop Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, the U.N. reported that 500 died, at most 125 of them civilians.
At precisely the same time, Ugandan rebels slaughtered an estimated 400 civilians in the Eastern Congo (according to the Catholic aid agency Caritas) and piled at least 150 of their horribly mutilated bodies like cord wood in a church sanctuary on Christmas day. "The scene at the church was unbelievable," Captain Chris Magezi of the Ugandan Army told the Associated Press. "It was horrendous. On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces."
Why should the suffering and martyrdom of these African villagers count for less than the simultaneous, vastly more publicized misfortunes of Palestinians in Gaza?
What gives Palestinian victims their special status—a standing that brings with it a wildly disproportionate share of the world's concern and attention?
The United Nations General Assembly, as well as the Security Council, blithely ignored the more numerous and sadistic civilian casualties in the Congo, and paid no heed to the climax of an unspeakably bloody 16 year war in Sri Lanka, while investing virtually all their time in obsessive debates over the defensive Israeli incursion into Gaza.
What makes the residents of Gaza so uniquely worthy of compassion, concern and publicity from western journalists and even policy makers?
None of the most straightforward or convenient answers to these questions begin to account for the unbalanced focus on Palestinian woe.
No, the struggle between Israel and Hamas hardly counts as "the world's most dangerous conflict." The rag-tag jihadists of the Gaza strip, with their largely home-made rockets and twisted, suicidal impulses, may well be a menace to the peace of the region but hardly constitute an existential threat to civilization itself. In India, on the other hand, Islamic terror has claimed 4,000 deaths since 2004 (a far higher level of blood-letting than anywhere in the Palestinian territories or Israel proper) and the core conflict in south Asia involves two well-armed nuclear powers (Pakistan and India) who have fought several devastating wars in the recent past.
Strategic or financial considerations also fail to explain the ridiculously overwrought concentration on Israel and its enemies. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians control any oil resources, yet a titanic struggle between two of the world's three leading petro-powers (the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88) killed 1.3 million soldiers and civilians and drew distinctly limited attention from global media.
The history of displacement among Palestinians hardly makes them unique among the peoples of the world, though they've seized on the term "refugee" as the very essence of their identity. At most 750,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees after five Arab states simultaneously attacked Israel in 1948, but within the next ten years an even greater number of Jews (800,000) became refugees from persecution in Islamic nations in North Africa in the Middle East and resettled in the Jewish state. At precisely the same moment that Israel won world recognition in 1948, the partition of India and Pakistan led to 14.5 million refugees (and at least 500,000 deaths in the "Independence Riots"). The Lebanon Civil War of 1975-1990 produced 900,000 refugees (according to that tormented nation's own government) and an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 deaths in horrific clashes between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians.
Jew-haters (who feel inevitably energized and encouraged by any conflict involving Israel) explain the inappropriate obsession with conflicts like the current confrontation in Gaza as a reflection of the unsavory influence of Jewish interests. According to this logic, the 2% of Americans who identify as Jews want special attention to these battles because of their tribal identification with cousins in Israel. This may account for some portion of the U.S. fascination with the Middle East, together with concern of committed Christians regarding the "Holy Land" where Jesus spent all his years on earth. But such explanations hardly account for the European fixation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The nations of the Old World identify as famously, stubbornly secular rather than Christian, and among the 500 million citizens in the E.U., Jews account for less than one-fourth of one-percent (Hitler took care of the rest).
Unfortunately, an absence of Jews doesn't mean an absence of paranoid, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. The Japanese, for instance, seem fascinated with accounts of "Jewish Power" and eagerly scoop up frequent bestsellers about Hebraic control of the world financial system, despite a nationwide Jewish population of less than 4,000. Even for nations that remain altogether "Judenrein" ("Pure of Jews") the fascination with the Children of Israel seems to remain a factor, directing an illogical (and unwanted) focus toward their modern-day descendants in the Middle East. As the old-saying goes, "Jews are News," and remain newsworthy even in parts of the world where they haven't lived for centuries. In this sense, the Palestinians receive disproportionate notice not because of any distinctive quality of their own nationhood or history, but because their purported oppressors remain the most controversial, compelling, loathed, admired and polarizing people on the planet.
Another factor serves to explain the blinding spotlight on all conflicts involving Israel and her neighbors: the deep engagement in the region of the United States of America. Domestic critics of recent U.S. policy suggest that much of the world (especially among Islamic nations) hates America because of our connection to Israel. In fact, the evidence actually suggests that the nations of the earth despise Israel because of its close attachment with the United States.
Early in Israel's history, before the U.S. emerged as the nation's leading supporter and ally, the struggling Jewish state attracted far more world-wide support (in the U.N. and elsewhere) than it does today. The U.S. only began serious military cooperation with Israel in the 1970's, in response to Soviet sponsorship of Israel's Arab enemies. Before that switch, France, not America, sold Israel most of its high-tech weapons, leading the IDF to rely heavily on French Mirage fighters, for instance, in the key aerial engagements of the 1967 war.
As American involvement with Israel deepened, world hatred and resentment toward the Jewish state correspondingly intensified. The government in Jerusalem became a convenient outlet for the hatred of the United States that seemed to seethe and bubble-up everywhere, even among our European allies. Bashing the U.S. could only go so far among nations of Europe, Asia and Latin America because they realized on some level that they might someday need America's help or support. No such compunction stood in the way of cruelly irresponsible attacks on Israel (like the ludicrous yet ubiquitous claims that the Zionists have perpetrated a Nazi-like "Holocaust" against the Palestinians – despite the undeniable evidence of rapidly growing, not declining, Palestinian populations).
In a very real sense, Anti-Americanism has helped to fuel anti-Israelism, far more than anti-Semitism has shaped or encouraged anti-Americanism.
Understanding the irrational nature of America-hatred (see THE 10 BIG LIES ABOUT AMERICA, my new bestseller) won't put an end to it any more than understanding the unjustified concentration on Israeli-Palestinian disputes will reign in that groundless obsession.
The unfolding events in Gaza do, in fact, matter deeply and will help to determine the future course of the worldwide war against Islamo-Nazi terror. Inevitably, the world will continue to apply ferocious focus on Israel's struggles, even though they claim a few hundred civilian casualties at a time when other conflicts produce such victims in the thousands or tens of thousands. No one can deny the fascinating and dramatic nature of the recent battle against Hamas, but responsible observers should at least make some serious attempts to place their concerns and compassion in a more appropriate and balanced global perspective.
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