THE BLOG

Quick, Pick a Side, Israel or Palestine?

12/08/2014 14:19 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 10:59 BST

It's not the mutilated bodies of Palestinian children that has retained the world's attention. It's the ease with which the media has managed to package up the conflict into bitesize portions that we can chew on for about thirty seconds and spit back out again on Twitter. Israel versus Palestine. The Jews versus the Muslims. The terrorised versus the terrorists. Like a tennis match or football game, the ability to take a firm position on a conflict - to 'pick a side' and stick with it - makes it all the more interesting to watch.

All-American Fox News presenter Sean Hannity epitomised this process on his latest Fox News showdown with Palestinian Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development. 'Is Hamas a terrorist organisation?' yelped the news presenter, before dismissing his guest for failing to provide the digestible portions of information that his fast-food restaurant of a news programme habitually manufactures.

In fact, I received my own similar dismissal on Twitter the other day in response to my apparently far too convoluted claim that self-defence against an armed attack requires a proportionate response. Like poor Yousef, I was pushed into a Palestine vs. Israel corner with replies such as:

Not to mention the final (and slightly irrelevant) crushing blow from one particular UKIP supporter:

You didn't call Hamas a terrorist organisation. Goodbye.

So apparently we are presented with two monochromatic sides of this argument, Team Israel vs. Team Gaza, and failure to select one on the basis of who is or is not a terrorist means that your opinion is unlikely to rear its humdrum head in mainstream news or grant you a few thousand followers on Twitter. One only need take a glance at what's trending on the ultimate log of bitesize news to realise that rational argument doesn't earn retweets.

But if there was a greater focus on the individual acts being committed and less discussion of Israel and Palestine as though they had neat, irreconcilable identities of 'good' and 'bad', the truth becomes clearer and all misplaced cries of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia fall away. It is against international law to launch rockets into another country, even if that country is your occupier. It violates international conventions for Israel to respond with an attack that is disproportionate to the threat posed to them as a State. Civilians can never be targeted. Even if Hamas is using children as human shields - an Israeli claim for which there is no evidence - Israel has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to take measures to prevent those civilians from being harmed.

These boring facts don't make it onto our Twitter feed, but the aftermath does. The children writhing in pain and crying out for their mothers. The mothers wailing on their knees in bombed out streets. All of this earns Hamas the explosion of media attention it inevitably hopes for. Hamas will keep sending its rockets. Israel will continue to retaliate with increasing force. The media will, for a while, continue to broadcast the victims on our screens. But just like a mediocre singer who twerks in front of the paparazzi, the photos, and the emotions and anger they stir within us, can only last so long. Our sympathy will fade, and the civilians will continue to suffer.

So for the sake of the school children dying in Palestine as a result of Israeli missiles that (given the quality of the arms supplied by the U.S. and the U.K) have the ability to target with higher precision than Israel appears to be using, closer attention needs to be paid to international law and to the framework that binds Israel as a Sovereign state and as the occupier of Palestine. Obsession with the term 'terrorism', for which there is no internationally agreed definition (sorry, Sean Hannity), merely serves to qualify the conflict on subjective terms and exacerbate international divisions at a time where cooperation is crucial. Amnesty International has taken the first concrete steps in urging the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into mounting evidence that the Israel Defence Forces have been targeting medics and health facilities - an action which, if proven, constitutes a war crime.

This does not mean that they are Team Palestine. This just means they are Team Justice, and this is side I'll be rooting for.