Conflict & Justice

Gaza: The conflict heard round the world


Protesters march in London to call attention to the plight of the Gaza Strip.


Frantzesco Kangaris

BOSTON — As divided as Israelis and Palestinians are, the world is also significantly split.

Negotiations toward a cease-fire deal accelerated as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem Tuesday. But the weeklong rocket barrage to and from the Gaza Strip has already reverberated around the globe.

Here's a look at how people and governments around the world are reacting to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.

The United States

America's stalwart political and public support for Israel remains undiminished. Geopolitical shifts in the Middle East, most notably the Arab Spring, have not reduced Washington's economic, military or social support for the Israeli cause.

As of March 2012, Israel had received $115 billion from the US in bilateral aid, most of it in the form military assistance. A report by the Congressional Research Service entitled, "US Foreign Aid to Israel," said Israel was the "largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II."

Every US president reaffirms the country's support for Israel and its security. On Sunday, President Barack Obama from Bangkok voiced uncritical support of Israel’s right to defend itself:

“There's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said. “So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

However, the Obama administration cautioned its ally against waging a ground assault that would escalate the violence.

Still touring Asia, on Tuesday he sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem to help broker a diplomatic solution, after a week of violence in Gaza that only seemed to be escalating.

A CNN/ORC International poll, taken from Nov. 16 to 18, suggested 57 percent of Americans think Israel's attacks on Gaza are justified, though support is far from unanimous. On Nov. 16, demonstrators gathered in front of the White House to protest for a free Palestine. "What do we want. Justice! When do we want it? Now!" they shouted.

The CNN/ORC poll concurs with decades of American support for Israel, as evidenced by the collection Gallup Polls taken on issue.

Middle East Sympathies, Full Trend, 1988-2011

— Daniel DeFraia (follow @ddefraia)


The European Union

LONDON — The hostilities between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have sorely tested European allegiances as leaders struggled to balance support for the Israelis against public outrage at the mounting death toll.

Countries with traditionally strong ties to Israel have tempered expressions of support with appeals for restraint, some warning that further escalation could result in the Jewish nation being deserted by its international friends.

Turkey, once counted by Israel as a rare Muslim-populated ally, responded with a forthright declaration of the enmity it has felt since Israel's 2010 military operation against a flotilla of boats carrying aid to Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Israel's air raids on Gaza marked it as a "terrorist state" guilty of "terrorist acts."

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Hamas rocket attacks as "unacceptable" and urged his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netenyahu, to do "everything possible" to end the crisis in Gaza.

William Hague, the UK's foreign minister, said Hamas bore "principal responsibility" for the violence, but warned that an Israeli ground offensive could "lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation."

In several UK and other European cities, including Berlin, Rome and Paris, pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets to voice anger at Israel's bombardment of targets in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian sentiments are strong across much of the continent. A recent poll found that a majority of Europeans back an Israeli-opposed bid for Palestinian recognition at the United Nations.

From France, where official support for Israel may no longer be as explicit as in the days of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, there were official appeals for caution.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for a halt to hostilities while Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, paid a visit to Mahmoud Abbas, the acting head of the Palestinian authority.

Italian President Mario Monti expressed his concern about the escalating violence without attributing blame to either side. Italy recently cemented its military ties with Israel with an $850 million deal that will see its defense group Finmeccanica supply aircraft.

There was less equivocation in Germany, a country whose leader Angela Merkel has previously sided with Netenyahu's opposition to a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid. Merkel’s spokesman Georg Streiter explicitly blamed Hamas for the outbreak of violence.

Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative, condemned the rockets fired by Hamas, but then clambered back onto the fence to “call on both sides to refrain from exacerbating the situation.”

— Barry Neild (follow @barry_neild)


Latin America

LIMA and RIO DE JANEIRO — Latin American leaders have called on both Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the violence, and in particular avoid civilian deaths.

Nevertheless, reflecting the majority view in the region — that heavy-handed repression by Israel is the principal cause of the conflict — the request appeared aimed more at Tel Aviv than Gaza.

After a telephone plea from Egypt’s new leader Mohamed Morsi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff contacted United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over the violence in Gaza and urged the UN to work toward peace there, Brazil’s state media reported.

Meanwhile, Mercosur, the trading block made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, issued a short statement calling for all sides to show restraint and asking the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

“The path to overcoming the present crisis lies through diplomacy and dialogue,” it said.

The text largely came across as a model of neutrality. But there were two clear exceptions. One was an attack on the “disproportionate” use of force, apparently a reference to Israel’s response to the Hamas rockets.

And another sentence left no doubt that Mercosur did not see any moral equivalence between the two sides’ demands, by noting that its members supported “the request of the Palestinian State to acquire observer status at the United Nations.”

That reflects a long-standing demand from Latin American governments for the rest of the world to join them in recognizing the Palestinian Territories as a state.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, an ally of his Iran counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was predictably more blunt.

In a speech placed online by his government, Chavez complained of Israel’s “aggression against the Gaza strip” and accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of acting in a “savage” manner for bombing the crowded enclave.

Chavez’s words might have carried more weight had he not previously backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s “legitimate” leader, even as his desperate clinging to power has bathed Syria in blood.

Uruguay, possibly the Latin American country with the largest Jewish community relative to its national population, made no official statement of its own.

However, the Movement of People’s Participation, one of the parties that make up Uruguay’s ruling left-wing Broad Front alliance, issued an outspoken statement rejecting the “policy of extermination” that it alleges Israel is implementing in Gaza. It also noted that the majority of victims of the clashes were Palestinian women and children.

Although he has made no public comment so far, the MPP is the party of Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, an octogenarian former leftist guerrilla.

The statement went on: “We regard as disproportionate the use of force by the State of Israel, provoking in the Palestinian territory, and in particular the Gaza strip, a constant deterioration in living conditions and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”

Meanwhile, most Latin American news coverage focused far more heavily than many US media on the suffering in the Gaza Strip.

Typical of the reporting was this article in Clarin, a leading newspaper in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, home to Latin America’s largest Jewish population. The article, titled “The death of babies and children, the darkest side of the war in Gaza,” includes a graphic photo of the corpse of a 5-year-old girl being carried from the rubble.

The report highlighted information from nonprofit Save the Children that half of Gaza’s 1.7 million population are children, many of whom have been trapped in their homes without electricity, water or food for long stretches.

It noted that 25 schools, two clinics and one hospital have so far been damaged by the Israeli bombardment.

Simeon Tegel (follow @SimeonTegel) from Lima, Peru. Taylor Barnes (follow @tkbarnes) contributed reporting from Brazil.



HONG KONG — Given China’s long history of supporting the Palestinians’ cause, it is no surprise that its official stance on the latest outbreak of violence tilts in their favor.

On Monday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the press that the government urged both parties, “especially Israel,” to reach a cease-fire and “exercise maximum restraint.”

Even while improving relations with Israel, China has repeatedly reiterated its support for Palestinian sovereignty and called for its recognition by the United Nations. 

Among ordinary Chinese, however, matters are less clear. If anything, Chinese people following the conflict online appear to harbor a strong strain of sympathy for Israel. 

On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, one user shared re-circulated Chinese op-ed from 2005 that criticized Hamas for not wanting a Palestinian state at all. (“To put it bluntly, Hamas is most afraid of building a Palestinian state,” the piece argues. “They know what fate they will face once it is founded.”)

The post generated hundreds of replies, most of them in support of Israel. 

“I’ve always supported Israel, I always believed in its real strength before the world!" said one user in Beijing. "I hope that we will report on Israel objectively. We only hear about the number of Palestinian casualties, and not why Israel opened fire.”

Others drew parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and China’s own history of rule by non-Chinese emperors. (The Yuan dynasty was founded by Mongols, the Qing dynasty by Manchus.)

Responding to a pro-Israeli post, one user argued that if Chinese people were going to admit Israel's claim to sovereignty, then "by the same logic," the Mongols should set up their capital in Beijing.

— Benjamin Carlson (follow @bfcarlson)


NEW DELHI — India's ties with Israel have grown ever warmer since 1992, when New Delhi established full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, following decades of strong support for an independent Palestine. But public opinion, at least among the educated elite, nevertheless appears to remain divided as Israeli air strikes rain down on Gaza.

“When you look at the humanitarian situation, I don't see why some of these countries are favoring Israel,” said Shweta Mukesh, a Delhi-based student.

“I think particularly in the '90s India was trying to build relations with US, because historically US was pro-Pakistan. Along with that came building strong relations with Isreal but that's not something I'm in favor of.”

“Even though Palestine [Hamas] may have made the first move, according to what I've read, that still doesn't justify Israel's retaliating back and killing innocent people,” said Aaron Basaiawmoit, another Delhi student.

With India's communist parties officially condemning Israel for the air strikes and demanding the government break off military ties, the left still clearly sympathizes with the Palestinians, according to responses posted on Twitter.

“Think the time when Israel could claim self defence passed when they started bombing babies. Tho Hamas no angels,” tweeted one user.

“Form the 2 states already. (Though I think this round is because of the coming election. Hamas rockets have fallen thru the year),” posted another.

But right-leaning Indians see the Israelis as allies in the fight against terrorism — particularly after a Jewish outreach center was targeted in the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

“For all those ppl tweeting 'Pray 4 #Gaza', find some time 2 Pray 4 #Israel too. They are being bombed by Hamas as you tweet...” tweeted a user affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“While Hamas use arab kids as human shields, Israel soldiers shield Arab kids from rockets fired by Hamas....” tweeted another Hindu nationalist.

India voted against the creation of Israel in 1948, and New Delhi delayed establishing full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv until the end of the Cold War provided a new impetus for normalizing ties, according to Jawaharlal Nehru University professor P.R. Kumaraswamy.

With the coming to power of the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1992, however, New Delhi not only established full diplomatic relations, but also began actively courting Israel as a military supplier and economic partner. Since then, a succession of Congress-led governments have continued to strengthen ties — perhaps with the view that Israel's own terrorism problem makes Tel Aviv more understanding than Washington when it comes to India's troubles with Pakistan. And though Kumaraswamy, the author of “India's Israel Policy,” maintains that New Delhi has not dropped its support for Palestinian sovereignty or the two-state solution — it has certainly dropped it from the public conversation.

When then-Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna visited Israel this January, observers remarked that the candid nature of the interaction reflected a new stage of the relationship, according to the Times of India. Noting that for years, India met with Israel quietly, always with an eye to Arab opinion, an official who was part of Krishna's meetings in Israel told the paper, "This visit proved that at the highest levels, India and Israel can openly discuss issues of interest and concern with each other like other normal partners, without inhibitions."

Along with that change, India's growing stature in world affairs has raised the stakes in taking a strong position for an independent Palestine — as New Delhi continues to lobby for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. So while tiny Bangladesh issued a stern, if meaningless, statement condemning Israel's air strikes, India has maintained a studied, and meaningful, silence.

— Jason Overdorf (follow @joverdorf)


South Africa


JOHANNESBURG — There are renewed calls in South Africa for a boycott of made-in-Israel products, following a bloody week of Israeli air strikes and Hamas rocket attacks.

During decades of apartheid, South Africa’s white minority government developed close ties with Israel. But under the African National Congress, the liberation movement turned ruling party, the country has become an increasingly fierce critic.

The South African international relations minister on Tuesday strongly condemned the “disproportionate use of force” by the Israeli government against Gaza, which has caused “deaths and injuries on both sides, particularly among Palestinian civilians, including children.”

Maite Nkoana-Mshabane said in a briefing to media: “At the heart of the conflict lies Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, especially the continuing blockade of Gaza.”

This is a perspective echoed throughout the ANC.

At the ANC-organized International Solidarity Conference last month in Pretoria, the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the key topic of discussion.

ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete accused Israel of being ‘’worse than apartheid South Africa,” according to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa group, which was also in attendance.

A declaration agreed to at the conference called upon delegates to condemn the "continuous occupation of Palestinian territories by the Israeli government.’’

With the explosion of violence between Israel and Hamas, anger against Israel has grown. This week the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group called on the South African government to step up a boycott of made-in-Israel goods, immediately recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and expel the Israeli ambassador from Pretoria.

They were supported by Cosatu, South Africa’s politically powerful trade union federation, which in a statement said it “reaffirms its total solidarity with the Palestine people's struggle and its legitimate demand for full national sovereignty and human rights.”

South Africa has a significant Jewish population, numbering about 70,000 people, and many Jews played prominent roles in the struggle against apartheid.

Responding to the most recent Israel-Gaza conflict, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the Israeli government is “carrying out defensive operations.”

“This is not a war the Israeli people wanted, and we do not believe that the majority of the people of Gaza wanted it either,” the group said in a statement.

“Rather, it has been instigated by ruthless fanatics driven by an obsessive desire to oppose the very existence of the State of Israel, regardless of how many innocent people on either side will suffer.”

The outspoken Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Friday said that “once again, the innocent people of Israel and Palestine are paying with their blood to advance the divisive and exclusive agendas of the intolerant few.”

Tutu has long been a critic of Israel, including of its ties with South Africa during apartheid times. While Israel officially opposed apartheid, it had close connections with South Africa’s government during the years of white rule.

"Once again, fanatics on both sides blame each other and claim to be acting with the approval of God,” Tutu said in a statement Friday. "Once again, the world wrings its hands and seeks to heal this gaping wound with a flimsy, impermanent plaster of tenuous cease-fire."

"The sustainable solution must include the return of illegally occupied land and the creation of two nation states, in a process overseen by UN peacekeepers," he said.

— Erin Conway-Smith (follow @ejcs)