Home Diplomacy Gaza – a sense of balance missing

Gaza – a sense of balance missing

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By Mian Abrar

Starting with the premise that sexual violence in war is not uncommon, we all need to acknowledge that it happens, it’s abhorrent and must be punished when it occurs. October 7th was no different, if sexual violence occurred, there is every reason to seek the perpetrators and punish them but what’s happened as a result of that fateful day seems … no, it doesn’t seem, it IS absolutely out of balance and cannot, in any sense of decency be accepted as a normal response, nor can it under any definition be described as self-defence.

Both the BBC and CNN, from either side of the Atlantic report that a UN Team has concluded that there were most likely rapes on October 7th carried out by Hama fighters, Hamas, of course deny the allegations: the BBC headline reads: “UN Team says Hamas likely carried out sexual violence in Israel on October 7th

But, reading on, the UN team held 33 meetings with Israelis and none with Hamas, the team admitted that not one victim came forward.

Whether rapes, sexual violence, mutilation of bodies occurred on that day is vitally important to establish and must eventually be done, perpetrators must be held responsible but balance needs to be brought to the narrative and the BBC is not very good at doing this.

The BBC attempts some balance with a collection of direct quotes from the UN report, for example:

 “Some allegations of rape and sexual violence could not be verified or were “unfounded”, the report explained, including the graphically publicised case of a pregnant woman whose womb was reportedly torn open and her foetus stabbed.

It also said it had not been able to establish a discernible pattern of genital mutilation”.

In other words, some of the allegations have been proven to be false and none of the allegations have yet been proven to be true.

For those of us who know CNN and BBC’s methodology it’s always worth taking a read of the sources and, in this case the source is a UN report issued on 4th March at a press conference by Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in conflict. And while many of the comments in the reports do indeed reflect the position of the UN, there is one major component missing from both: the report admits the evidence falls below the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. It also states that many of the victims and witnesses couldn’t be interviewed as they (have been) relocated both inside Israel and to other countries, and some first responders are unable to be interviewed due to military deployments. It is therefore inconclusive.

The UN goes further: the mission team interviewed several people from Kibbutz Be’eri and found they were inconsistent, several of them retracting earlier statements and no longer confident in their own recollections, or assertions that had appeared in media. The UN was, quote: “unable to establish whether sexual violence had occurred in Kibbutz Be’eri”.

The UN has said that the possibility of rape cannot be ruled out but categorically states “no tangible indications of rape could be identified”. It further concludes that “no digital evidence specifically depicting acts of sexual violence was found in open sources indicators” and, given the amount of information that was posted and circulated, it is unlikely that removal of all traces of it, would be possible.

While there was undoubtedly violence against innocents and there is circumstantial evidence that sexual violence took place, there is also “limited evidence” that mutilations occurred including decapitation or attempts to decapitate, the official response from Hamas gives a very different story: Our Narrative… Operation Al Aqsa Flood states that:

 “Avoiding harm to civilians, especially children, women and elderly people is a religious and moral commitment by all the Al-Qassam Brigades’ fighters.”

So, there is a direct contradiction. So many bodies were found partially clothed that it’s hard to believe nothing of a violent sexual nature happened but in a conflict, when there are hundreds of people running around shooting at hundreds of others, and a massive response from Israeli military was imminently anticipated, it’s equally as hard to believe fighters took the time to stop, participate in rapes and then continue their slaughter.

Notwithstanding what did or did not happen on 7th October, we must, at least for the time being, critically review our sources.

The UN is always a good starting place and a search on their own website is a good indicator that things in Gaza are not as Israelis, Western Mainstream media and many Western politicians would like us to believe. Article after article, report after report the wording is worrying. Examples include: Fear for Gaza; A humanitarian crisis; Catastrophic and unconscionable shameful conditions in Gaza; Lifesaving medical care collapsing; Babies perishing. I could go on but the UN messages are clear, Israel is behaving in an inhuman and overly aggressive manner. The International Court of Justice has described this as a “plausible genocide”.

A plausible genocide which could stop today if there was a ceasefire but the US has told the UN that a ceasefire isn’t needed, what’s needed is sensitive negotiations. The US is the only country that has vetoed a ceasefire, it is seemingly not interested in cessation despite Joe Biden’s claims last week that one was imminent.

Hamas representatives are currently in Egypt waiting to talk about how to achieve this, while Israel’s leaders are in Tel-Aviv, having decided not to attend the meeting that Joe Biden told us, over ice cream, was so close to a ceasefire that it would happen as soon as yesterday – it didn’t! And despite this development, on Saturday, Vice President Harris called on Hamas and not on Israel, to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

The US are still sending aid, still sending troops to the region, still reporting in all their mainstream media that Hamas are the guilty party but while this is happening, their citizens are not so convinced. Just over a month ago, public opinion in the US was that over half the population thought Israel had gone too far. Clearly, this is not a popular war; Every weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gather and march through cities throughout the USA and other parts of the world. Their calls for immediate peace are ignored

Aaron Bushnell became a global talking point “I’m an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide” was his message and “Free Palestine” were his final words. Anyone who has seen the harrowing video of his self-immolation cannot but imagine the physical pain he endured and the mental anguish that led him to that point. Something many veterans, and service military personnel must also be feeling.

Georgetown University reports the results of polls are moving higher into the “opposing” camp as time goes on, more and more Americans are in favour of a ceasefire despite the view that the cause of the current conflict being predominantly Hamas actions on 7th October. Even the US public, normally inured to violence in the Middle East, are creating a wind of change.

But the Administration are not so sensitive to these shifting nuances as Kamala Harris and called for Hamas, not Israel, to agree to an immediate ceasefire as recently as Saturday.

The US are correct in one aspect, “sensitive negotiations” are needed. However, for the reported 71,700 injured people and the families and friends of the 30,410 already dead and thousands missing those sensitive negotiations can wait – an immediate cessation of the conditions allowing the deaths, injuries, hunger and thirst of the people who remain in Gaza must surely take priority.

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