Is it fair to characterize as a war the conflict between a militant group (Hamas) and a country (Israel) which to date has resulted in a disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza? While experts are divided on the issue, they agree on the importance of better taking into account the decades that preceded the attacks of October 7 in media coverage of this humanitarian crisis.
At a time when the number of Israeli victims has stagnated at around 1,400 deaths since mid-October, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli bombings is climbing daily. On Monday, the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip — under Hamas control — reported more than 10,000 victims in nearly a month, including more than 4,000 children. Bombings also took place regularly in Gaza, under Israeli blockade since 2005, well before the attacks last October on Israeli soil.
“Israel is not attacking an army, but an armed group. And she does this without respecting international law. I find it difficult to call it a war for these reasons,” notes national security expert Huda Mukbil, who teaches at the University of Ottawa. She recalls that Israeli strikes notably hit refugee camps, while hospitals had to close for lack of fuel to supply them.
“In my opinion, this is not a war, and it’s not even a conflict,” says Yakov Rabkin, professor emeritus at the University of Montreal and author of the bookUnderstanding the State of Israel. Ideology, religion and society. Rather, he sees it as “one of the strongest armies in the world” opposing “a population with resistance groups who use all kinds of means that we call terrorists.” He thus compares the situation in the Gaza Strip to the “pacification campaigns” formerly carried out by the French and British empires against the “native” population of their colonies when “revolts” took place there. “Israel, since the beginning, in 1948, has been trying to control the Palestinian resistance in one way or another. »
Rami George Khouri, professor of journalism and researcher at the American University of Beirut, believes that it is crucial to recall the historical context that led to the attacks by the militant group Hamas on October 7. Attacks which echo, according to him, decades of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. However, “if we want to resolve this conflict and ensure that Palestinians and Israelis live in peace in the region, we must understand what brought us to this point,” continues Mr. Khouri.
A century of occupation
In 1923, a British mandate was established for Palestine in the territory that today includes Israel. Since then, the demographic weight of Palestinians has continued to decrease, while that of Israelis, who came to settle in the territory with the support of the United Kingdom, has experienced a constant increase, which accelerated on the sidelines of Israel's declaration of independence in 1948, following which some 760,000 Palestinians fled the territory that their ancestors had occupied for centuries.
“How can a Palestinian territory that was [composed] of Did 93% Arabs become 80% Jews and 20% Palestinians? » asks Mr. Khouri, who does not hesitate to speak of an “ethnic cleansing” carried out by Israel in the Palestinian territories for “a century” now — well before the creation of Hamas in 1987.
“I believe that words like 'ethnic cleansing', 'apartheid' or 'genocide' should be used if they are accurate, and they are in this context,” says the researcher. However, some international media “are completely biased towards Israel's narrative, and this is an injustice compared to what is happening in Gaza”, indicates Huda Mukbil, who insists on the fact that “the choice of words matter” to describe the horror experienced by Gaza residents.
I believe that words like “ethnic cleansing”, “apartheid” or “genocide” should be used if they are accurate, and they are in this context
— Rami George Khouri < /blockquote>
Sami Aoun, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Sherbrooke, believes that it would be appropriate to speak of an “asymmetric war” to describe the current situation, with Israel having much more weapons and support Westerners in their attacks on the Gaza Strip, where the militant group Hamas has limited resources. “After that, there is another morality that should be challenged here: this is not a war between two states, where we are, for example, obliged to respect the Geneva Accords or human rights. We are not in a war where both [camps] have signed treaties that they must respect,” adds the Middle East expert.
“There is indeed a war that is completely asymmetrical,” analyzes Rachad Antonius, professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Quebec in Montreal and specialist in conflicts in the Middle East. It was also “unidirectional” for years, until Hamas responded with violence on October 7, believes the expert. And the starting point of this conflict, historically, is Israel's intention “to take the land of the Palestinians”, today confined in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where many Jewish settlements have been built in recent decades, continues Mr. Antonius.
“It is important to note that what is at stake in Palestine is a massive ethnic cleansing that began more than 100 years ago.” , underlines the professor. And this is not a “Palestinian point of view”, affirms the expert, according to whom the historical context and the data on demographic developments in this territory allow his assertion to be validated objectively. “If we want to be objective, we must say that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians are the victims. That’s objectivity. »