THE BLOG

MH17 and Israeli Air Strikes: How the West Responds to Civilian Casualties

25/07/2014 12:53 BST | Updated 21/09/2014 10:59 BST

The last week has witnessed hundreds of civilian causalities, as innocent non-combatants found themselves caught in the cross-fires of brutal foreign conflicts. As the world waits to find out the precise circumstances in which flight MH17 came to be shot down amidst separatist violence in the Ukraine, elsewhere in the world, the civilian death toll in Gaza continues to rise as non-combatant residences are destroyed in Israeli air strikes.

Watching the coverage of these disasters, one can't fail to be moved by the depth of the tragedy and extent of the destruction brought upon the innocent. It is also compelling to note, however, the manner in which Western media highlights certain victims as particularly 'innocent', or exceptionally tragic.

The number of innocent Palestinian civilians needlessly slaughtered in the ongoing conflict is almost treated as something that is to be expected - collateral damage in a foreign war which does not concern us. By stark comparison, the loss of those British nationals who were on board flight MH17 is highlighted and emphasised by the British media.

I wish to make it entirely clear, that I regard the loss of any civilian lives as wholly tragic and unjustifiable. I do not intend in any way to disparage the cataclysm and injustice of the death of those British nationals aboard flight MH17.

The same can not be said for a great deal of the reporting of recent Israeli air strikes. Whist I assert that the loss of any civilian life is utterly tragic, atrocities in this conflict are often treated with an air of 'business as usual'. The reality of Palestinian civilians being faced with the choice of abandoning their homes or being killed could not be more emotionally compelling, and yet the sense that these events don't concern us in the West is startlingly apparent.

Every day, the death toll of Palestinian civilians rises, but we dismiss it as a natural consequence of life in a war zone. The realities of those living in the midst of an ongoing conflict are so far removed from our own, that we rarely take the time to reflect upon the sheer injustice of any civilian fatality.

We assign our empathy and compassion to international tragedies in an illogical fashion. The closer to home and the more relevant to our everyday lives, the harder it becomes to ignore the suffering of others. We mourn the loss of the innocent based on a set of visceral attributes upon which we pin our sympathies. Whilst we become desensitised to the ongoing suffering of those in foreign war zones, events like MH17 strike uncomfortably close to home and subsequently jolt us into consciousness.

Neither the victims of MH17, nor those killed in Gaza this week were culpable in their own fates. Both tragic events were equally unjust and resulted in parallel heartbreak to the families of those killed. Nationality and proximity to a conflict do not dictate the devastation felt when a loved one is lost, and conflicts are blind to individual innocence or civilian status.

We must force ourselves to engage with the suffering of others that goes on every day. We can not wait for events like MH17 to jerk us into consciousness and remind us that we too could find ourselves falling victim to the inexplicable injustices of a conflict we did not choose to be a part of.

Whilst indifference may be the easiest option, it is not the moral one. The continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine is complex, far-reaching and historically rooted. Even the most conscientious and politically active individual may find it difficult to maintain a comprehensive level of awareness. However, events like the crash of MH17 remind us that even our privileged position in a peaceful Western nation can't protect us entirely from the fall-out of foreign conflicts.

The inconvenient truth is that non-combatants, as innocent and blameless as ourselves are needlessly killed every day. We can't continue to wilfully ignore to their plight. It's time for us all to become more engaged, aware and empathetic to the suffering of innocent civilians around the world.