I agree with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. I’ve never written those words before. But on Oct 24, Guterres said to the UN Security Council (emphasis added):
The situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour.
The war in Gaza is raging and risks spiralling throughout the region.
Divisions are splintering societies. Tensions threaten to boil over.
At a crucial moment like this, it is vital to be clear on principles — starting with the fundamental principle of respecting and protecting civilians.
I have condemned unequivocally the horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel.
Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians – or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.
All hostages must be treated humanely and released immediately and without conditions. I respectfully note the presence among us of members of their families…..
It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.
The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.
They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.
But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people….
What was the reaction? Israel’s government demanded that Guterres resign for justifying (sic) Hamas’s crimes. According to statements from Israeli UN ambassador Gilad Erdan and foreign minister Eli Cohen, Guterres therefore is unfit for his job.
According to the officials, Guterres’s offending words were these: “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.” Those words preceded Guterres’s reference to what the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank endured under Israeli occupation since 1967.
Beyond doubt, Guterres condemned Hamas’s mass atrocities of Oct. 7. He clearly said that killing civilians cannot be justified. And he unequivocally called for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages. Look at his remarks. But he has been vilified by Israeli politicians for saying in effect that history did not begin on October 7, 2023. Of course, the statement is true, but some things just may not be said.
Strangely, the Israeli government says Guterres did not condemn the horrendous Hamas violence against Israeli civilians. Israel’s position apparently is that even to remind people that history did not begin on October 7 is to justify murder, kidnapping, and mayhem. It’s as if trying to comprehend is to justify. But those are two different mental operations.
The Israeli officials also presumably objected to Guterres’s condemnation of the collective punishment that Israel was inflicting, again, on the rightless Palestinians in the crowded Gaza Strip, most of whom are not members of Hamas and most of whom could not have voted for Hamas almost 20 years ago because they were too young or had not even been born yet. Almost half the 2.3 million Palestinians of tiny Gaza are under 18.
So Israel is gaslighting. If we can’t believe the Israeli government on something we can so easily check, how can we believe it on anything else? Just the other day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said something similar to what Guterres said, but so far without consequence: “Ultimately, the only way to ensure that this crisis never happens again is to begin setting the conditions for durable peace and security, and to frame our diplomatic efforts now with that in mind.” In his requests is that Israel not reoccupy Gaza and that it end the 17-year blockade. That sounds like another way of acknowledging that the October 7 attacks “did not happen in a vacuum.”
Why is Israel going after Guterres for his unexceptional statement? It wasn’t just the timing. Yair Lapid, a former prime minister of Israel and a former journalist, gave the answer when he said, “If the international media is objective, it serves Hamas. If it just shows both sides, it serves Hamas… My argument is that the media cannot just claim to bring both sides of the story. If you do that, you are only bringing one – Hamas’s side….”