Casualties of war is life itself and a chance of peace for all

The Israeli/Palestinian war is not one of equals says the writer. Picture: AFP

The Israeli/Palestinian war is not one of equals says the writer. Picture: AFP

Published Oct 23, 2023


If the first casualty of war is the truth, what are the subsequent casualties? Are they morality, humanity, proportionality and justice? No doubt there are a cornucopia of other metrics depending on the context – historical or current – and the very combatants.

What about the environmental degradation, the pollution from the ordinance, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and the wanton devastation of natural resources, food, water, biodiversity, wildlife and infrastructure? Such are the vagaries of modern warfare. If confined to a narrow strip of land, as in Israel/Palestine, the casus belli defies logic given that it is in the “holy lands” supposedly sacred to the great Abrahamic faiths –Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

War is the perfect pushback against achieving the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and the net zero targets set by the Paris Agreement. The level and immediacy of the carnage makes a mockery of these ambitions as the world converges on Dubai for COP28 in December.

The stark reality-cum-perversity is that the ultimate casualty of war is life itself, let alone those maimed, displaced and psychologically traumatised and scarred for life.

Another casualty is the objectivity of the Western media in general, which feigns a supreme sense of entitlement bordering on chauvinism, as if they are the only arbiters of truth and objectivity.

How strange that the two 5th century historical figures to which “the first casualty of war is truth” adage are attributed to – Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, and Chinese general Sun Tzu – reflect a microcosm of the neo-colonial battle of nuances between the West and the non-West, which is as relevant today.

Whereas to Aeschylus, “in war, truth is the first casualty”, to Sun Tzu it was a case of “all warfare is based on deception”. Semantics aside, the former conjures up a spate of contradictions which can be propagandised along ideological, racial, cultural, genetic, intellectual and even eugenical metrics, while the latter is to the point.

Take South Africa’s Struggle for liberation. One man’s truth is another man’s lies. The apartheid regime dismissed any notion of equality between whites and blacks, even seeking biblical justification for their oppressive white supremacist policies and infantilising black people seemingly incapable of functioning as rational adults.

To them the ANC, PAC and others were a bunch of communists beholden to the Kremlin – a process of dehumanising those fighting for justice and freedom, which persists in the psyche and narrative of the West relating to similar struggles involving countries of colour. This in contrast to their unwavering support for European countries such as Ukraine in its struggle against Russian occupation.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher infamously branded Madiba as a “terrorist” and refused to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime, but to millions of people all over the world the Struggle was a fight for freedom.

One man’s prisoner of conscience is another man’s prisoner of no conscience. Even Amnesty International refused to designate Nelson Mandela as a “Prisoner of Conscience’’ on the grounds that he did not renounce the use of violence in the Struggle. Such are the fine margins relating to the rhetoric of war and terrorism.

How uncanny that the metrics which confronted those who fought against apartheid, can equally be applied to those fighting for a free Palestinian state, in which citizens whether Sunni, Shia, Anglican, Assyrian, Greek Orthodox and even Jews who wish to live there can do so in dignity, justice and hope.

No sooner had Madiba been released from prison in 1990, he set forth the ANC’s position on Palestine: “One of the mistakes which political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies. We identify with the PLO because like ourselves they are fighting for the right to self-determination.”

Madiba acknowledged Israel’s right to exist within secure 1967 borders. In the aftermath of the Hamas onslaught on October 7, President Ramaphosa echoed his sentiments.

Israel and Palestine can be highly emotive for many people. Both are far from being united as their leaders would like us to believe. Benjamin Netanyahu is not a moral leader. He has been pushing back against corruption charges for the past few years using every trick of lawfare to stay out of jail, jeopardising the reputation of the Israeli justice system.

He is so obsessed with staying in power that he is prepared to co-opt convicted racist theocratic minority settler leaders such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Minister of National Security. And yet not a word of protest from the Western democracies which regards Israel as the bastion of “liberal” democracy in the region.

No amount of impunity and destruction in Gaza can save Netanyahu when he answers to the Israeli people for his hubristic leadership shortcomings. Never mind Bibi’s attempts to capture the Israeli judicial system to undermine its very independence, which has seen protests from large sections of Israeli society.

The “Breaking the Silence” movement has seen former IDF soldiers speaking out against the brutal tactics of intimidation and violence against the Palestinian population.

Palestinians, too, are suffering from poor leadership, governance and factionalism, marred by allegations of corruption, which has served to give rise to extremist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These are Iranian-influenced theocratic parties, which is anathema to Sunni Islam, in which religious leaders serve to advise rulers rather than ruling themselves.

Palestinians comprise a majority of Muslims, but also Christian minorities.

Hamas certainly does not represent the majority of Palestinians. The leaders of the wider Arab countries pay lip service to the Palestinian cause. Many of their elites are showing signs of “Palestinian fatigue”. Had it not been for the Arab and Muslim streets, countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Sudan and even Saudi Arabia would have long ago normalised relations with Israel.

There is the moral ambivalence of terrorism. As long as Israel occupies Palestinian territories exacerbated by a flourish of illegal settlements and as long as the Palestinians do not have their own state alongside an Israeli one – both with security, as Madiba aspired to, the conflict is seemingly intractable. It is because of the status quo and the fact that Gazans are cooped up in a narrow strip of land that is perhaps the most densely populated in the world with no aspirations and hope, beholden to the generosity of an occupier to dictate what they can do, extreme acts of violence will continue to play out. Violence is wrong and begets violence!

Those who blindly condemn Hamas have short memories or wilfully live in denial. At least two Israeli terrorist leaders, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir of the Irgun terrorist group, designated as such by the British rulers of mandated Palestine, went on to become prime ministers of the Jewish state.

The Israeli/Palestinian war is not one of equals. Israel has some of the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction, supplied by the US, airstrikes with no impunity because the Palestinians have no fighter planes, and surveillance and intelligence intercept technology, including the US Patriot Defence Systems, which nurtured a sense of invincibility, entitlement, chauvinism and false security, as suggested by its Iron Dome security sobriquet.

The cost to the US taxpayer is between $3 billion (R55bn) and $4bn annually. The mainstream Fatah movement and the PLO are no longer a military force or threat. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are disparate militant desperadoes armed primarily by Iran.

No amount of succour can legitimise Israel’s claim of the moral high ground as a beacon of democracy when she is the occupier and dehumaniser of Palestinians as “human animals”, aided and abetted by the West either blindly or because of European guilt over the rampant anti-Semitism against Jews in Europe and North America over the centuries. And yet they can’t stop demonising Russia for its part in the occupation of Ukraine.

As to the future, I can only dream of a confederation of the two independent states of Israel and Palestine, co-existing, which can thrive politically, economically, development-wise and culturally (after all Jews and Arabs are Semites descendant from two biblical brothers), to become the breadbasket of the region and its surroundings, the technology and cyber hubs, and of course arguably the iconic must-go-to religious tourism destination of all time serving the three Abrahamic faiths.

For such a scenario we need a just transition to Palestinian statehood instead of the flawed Western just war rationale that underpins Israel’s continued neo-colonial stranglehold on the occupied territories.

Parker is a writer based in London

Cape Times