Saturday 15 May 2021

FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT, Radio 4, Saturday 15-05-2021, 11.31 - TRANSCRIPT

JEREMY BOWEN - I have never much liked the phrase that sometimes pops up on television news programmes that says ''Some of the videos were too graphic to show.'' I don't believe in gratuitous gore, but killing is at the core of warfare, however much it is dressed up with euphemisms like 'eliminate' or deliberate deceptions like 'collateral damage'. Sometimes it is necessary to see. The truth, which should be the purpose of journalism, can feel uncomfortable. Please don't switch off the radio. I'm not about to try to horrify you. 

A video arrived on my phone this morning from northern Gaza. The man filming with the phone is running towards the place that has been hit, getting more and more agitated as he realises what he's about to see. The video shows the destruction of a family. A grown man holds the body of a small boy. The man throws back his head and roars with grief to God. He lays the body down next to two other dead boys. The man filming goes from dead body to dead body. It's hard to say how many, perhaps six, all males, as far as I could work out. Someone finds a teenage boy alive. He is unconscious and they bundle him onto the back seat of a car to take him to the hospital. I won't describe the injuries that killed the boys and the men, except to say that human tissue is delicate and has no chance against high explosive and shrapnel. I guess they had been working. A cart with an empty harness for a horse is half loaded with white sacks and others were stacked up waiting to be taken away. It is the most horrible sight, the immediate aftermath and its slaughter.

Just after I viewed the video I heard an Israeli on the radio speaking from Tel Aviv. He defended his country's conduct vigorously. He said Israel had to protect its people. Hamas had launched around 2,000 missiles at civilian areas. A 5-year-old Israeli boy had just been killed by an anti-tank missile that blasted through the wall of his home. No country, he said, would tolerate it. I thought, 'He's right'. A government has to defend its citizens. It is a prime duty. 

Hamas people say something similar. Their consistent message in the last week has been that they are the only true protectors of Palestinians, the only ones who can end the occupation and fight for their rights in the holy city of Jerusalem. 

The issue is how the defending is done. That's why the idea of proportionality is at the heart of the laws of war. Force used in self-defence is legal, but it has to be proportionate to the threat that is being faced and every effort must be taken to avoid harming civilians. 

Perhaps there was a threat coming from the area where those dead farmers were working. Perhaps someone in a uniform thought the sacks they were loading contained something suspicious. It was a clear day. Perhaps it wasn't the Israelis at all. Perhaps a Hamas missile fell short onto those people.

Israel argues that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and does not have the right to use force in any circumstances. Those who disagree believe that Palestinians also have a right of self-defence to resist Israeli occupation.

Are the military activities of both sides legitimate? Are their responses proportionate and legal? I can tell you now what the two sides' answers are going to be. For that family, the questions are too late.

In the wars in and around Gaza, many more Palestinians than Israelis die. In the last war in 2014 more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the UN. Israel lost 66 soldiers and 7 civilians. The imbalance is not just because Israel's military is much more powerful. It has also spent billions on defence measures, reinforced buildings and shelters, sophisticated early warnings - not just sirens but an app - and a highly effective anti-missile system called Iron Dome. 

When the ceasefire comes it will be a time for investigation and recrimination until it's time for the next war. I am pretty sure I wrote something similar after the last one in 2014, and the ones before that. 

The only way to end the killing is to settle a conflict that started a century ago. Start by accepting that a military solution does not exist. 

Simple? No, actually very hard, maybe impossible.

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