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A man grieves as his daughter was killed by an air raid at a hospital in Rafah, Gaza on March 26. Alamy Stock Photo

Opinion Israel's treatment of innocent Palestinians is reminiscent of humanity's darkest days

Israel has failed to accept that Palestinian lives are as valuable as Israeli lives, according to former ambassador Bobby McDonagh.

THERE IS AN important and sensitive question about the Gaza tragedy that many people are inevitably asking themselves these days. How could a country established in response to the appalling and unparalleled suffering inflicted on the Jewish people inflict such death and brutality on so many innocent Palestinian civilians? How could Israel, of all countries, behave like this?

There has only been one Holocaust. To deny that or to diminish its significance is wrong. To equate other atrocities directly with it would be both misleading and counterproductive.

However, there can be no doubt that what we are witnessing on a daily basis in Gaza carries clear and disturbing echoes of humanity’s darkest days: the shocking level of civilian casualties, including women and children; the indiscriminate punishment of the ordinary inhabitants of Gaza; the pattern of deadly attacks on hospitals and humanitarian convoys; the plausible accusations that starvation is being used as a weapon; and the continued injustice of the ever-expanding illegal occupation of Palestinian land over which Israel has no legal, political, historical or moral rights.

Going too far

The International Court of Justice ruled in January that some of Israel’s behaviour in Gaza appeared, at that stage, to be capable of falling within the provisions of the Genocide Convention. Since then, Israel’s behaviour has, in many respects, deteriorated.

Three crucial points of context must be borne in mind. First, many Jewish people, both inside and outside Israel, are horrified by the policies and behaviour of the Netanyahu Government. They very courageously and unreservedly condemn it. Second, antisemitism is as disgusting as it always was and has no place in our world. Third, the Hamas attacks in October and the continued holding of Israeli hostages, including women and children, are also grotesque.

rafah-on-march-21-2024-people-gather-to-get-food-relief-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-city-of-rafah-on-march-21-2024-the-people-of-gaza-are-enduring-catastrophic-levels-of-hunger-and-famine-is-i Rafah, on March 21, 2024. People gather to get food relief in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on March 21, 2024. The people of Gaza are enduring “catastrophic” levels of hunger. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

However, two wrongs never make a right. Israel cannot deny responsibility for its own deliberate decisions and actions. It cannot, by blaming Hamas, simply wash its hands of the indiscriminate death and destruction it has chosen to inflict on innocent civilians.

In exactly the same way, Hamas cannot salve its conscience, in respect of its own brutality, by blaming the injustice inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people. Whether as states, organisations or individuals, we are all responsible for our own actions. If an eye must be taken for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, morality has no meaning. Not least because there will never be agreement on which eye or which tooth was the trigger for the unending spiral of human suffering.


One distinct sinister echo of the darkest past is the tendency, of the extremists on both sides, Netanyahu and Hamas alike, to question — by their actions — the full and equal humanity of those they consider to be their enemies.

gaza-17th-mar-2024-people-wait-to-receive-aid-supplies-in-gaza-city-march-17-2024-the-palestinian-ministry-of-national-economy-on-friday-condemned-israel-for-using-starvation-as-a-weapon-in-its Gaza. 17th Mar, 2024. People wait to receive aid supplies in Gaza City. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Hamas atrocities required the perpetrators to convince themselves that the innocent Jewish people they were massacring were in some way lesser human beings. In the same way, the carnage being inflicted on Palestinian civilians, for six months now, has in practice required denial by the Netanyahu government of the self-evident truth that each Palestinian life is worth every bit as much as each Israeli life.

Israel would, of course, angrily proclaim otherwise and probably repeat lazy accusations of antisemitism. But the relentless and systematic violence, on such a vast scale, against innocent human beings — 33,000 now dead and many more wounded, displaced or being deprived of the basic requirements for human existence — is incompatible with an acceptance of the equal value of every human life.

When we consider Israel’s behaviour under the Netanyahu government, an urgent question people increasingly ask is how Israel, of all countries, could lose sight of our equal and shared humanity. Hopefully, the question will increasingly be asked in Israel itself and by its traditional and increasingly exasperated friends.

‘Good men do nothing’

In a country like Ireland, we have a particular and immediate responsibility to call out the Israeli Government’s behaviour because its brutality is ongoing, and because Netanyahu threatens ever more destruction, despite the now near unanimous global criticism, including very belatedly from Israel’s diminishing number of friends around the world.

Our indignation is necessarily strengthened by Netanyahu’s largely now meaningless claim to represent, in some way, our western and democratic values.

Even Netanyahu has been shamed into apologising for the killing of aid workers from World Central Kitchen, six foreigners and one Palestinian. A supposedly independent Israeli inquiry is to be held into whether the incident was due to gross incompetence, indifference or worse.

But the equality of all human lives arises in this specific context too. Large numbers of Palestinian humanitarian workers have been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces in numerous previous incidents. Even President Biden has pointed out that the Gaza conflict is one of the very worst for the number of humanitarian workers killed. Where was Netanyahu’s apology for those killings? When will the inquiries attribute serious blame to those involved and punish those responsible? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish Ambassador to the EU, UK and Italy. He is an executive coach and commentator on subjects around EU and Brexit.