Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What is a life worth?

The answer apparently depends on whose life is being taken. Before I move on to more recent events, remember the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a month ago. This was one of the biggest news stories of the year and was described as if it were the worst terrorist incident in Indian history. The death toll from those attacks is now reckoned to be 173 people; in contrast the violence in Gujarat in 2002 claimed around 2000 lives. So why so much emphasis on the recent Mumbai attacks? Is it because the targets this time were 5-star hotels used extensively by westerners, including the media, i.e. an attack on people like us? Whereas the victims of the Gujarat violence in 2002 were overwhelmingly Muslims, slaughtered in reprisal for an Muslim attack on pilgrims on a train.

Fast forward to the last few days. Israeli jets killed more people in a day than the Mumbai terrorists in total. The leaders of the USA and its allies struggled to find words strong enough to condemn the killers in Mumbai, but when it comes to Israeli aggression, what do you hear? Nothing stronger than ‘urging both sides to show restraint’, or worse putting the blame on Hamas, as per Condoleeza Rice here .

The double-standards which are applied throughout this massacre are breathtaking. For example, Israel condemns Hamas for having put their police stations in civilian areas. I checked out the location of the main Tel Aviv police station and it is of course in a densely populated area, on Dizengoff Street, (noted for its designer shops apparently, I bet there aren’t many of those in Gaza).

So, in terms of loss of life in this conflict what’s the score? As I write it is something like 362-4 ; so if we take it that both sides are equally at fault, pace the BBC and others, then that makes an Israeli life worth about 90 Palestinians. That’s extreme even by the usual western media rating, where American and British lives are worth most, and at the other extreme are Africans in places like the Congo, which has seen the deadliest war worldwide since 1945 over the past 10 years and it’s barely been noticed.

The media then go on to explain that only about 62 of those Palestinian deaths are civilians; this seems quite a low proportion until one reads the small print and finds that all adult males are excluded just in case they include uniformed personnel (as reported in today’s ‘Independent’). I was at a vigil for Palestine yesterday in Manchester, and it’s strange to think that had an Israeli bomber wiped us all out, only half of us would have been deemed to be civilians.

As to what will happen next, I can only see the cycle of violence continuing. Those who pin their hopes on Obama to solve the crisis may be sadly disappointed. Even though he takes office in less than a month, he has been noticeably silent on the current events. With Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, and a hardline pro-Israel chief of staff, I think we can expect more of the same.

I think the Israelis are hoping that ordinary Palestinians will turn against Hamas as a result of this bombardment; that may actually happen but not in the way they hope. If I were a Palestinian in Gaza forced to live under permanent siege and seeing friends and relatives destroyed by Israeli jets I might well turn away from Hamas – but to a more extreme group that would never waste time on ceasefires with such an implacable foe.

No comments: