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Getting Away with Murder

by Julia Irwin

You've got to hand it to the Israeli public relations flacks: only they could convince you that killing children was an act of self-defence.

As the recent bombing of Gaza began, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gave instructions for the Foreign Ministry to take "emergency measures to adapt Israel's public relations to the ongoing escalation in the Gaza Strip". Livni went on to call for foreign language speakers to put Israel's case to the world.

In Australia, the ABC relies for "independent" comment on the smooth Mark Regev, an official spokesman for the Israeli Government, and Martin Indyk, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

It's the oldest trick in the book: if they look and sound like us, we are more likely to be sympathetic towards them. Anyone putting an alternative view is immediately cast as anti-Semitic. Our media glibly accept the excuses of the Israeli public relations machine and ignore the horrific realities of Israel's barbaric behaviour in Gaza.

It's the same in most Western countries - the groundwork has been laid and the responses of world leaders are predictable. When the Israeli attacks began, right on cue Western leaders regretted the killing of children but in the same breath condemned Palestinians for firing rockets from their walled ghetto into Israel.

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an immediate ceasefire by both sides, US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called only for Hamas to halt rockets fired from Gaza. They did not call for Israel to halt its bombing.

There was a lot of handwringing by world leaders but no tough talk when it came to the bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza or the killing of 40 civilians in a United Nations school. We saw the same during the 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon.

It all reminds me of an old story from the days of the Roman Empire. The Emperor Nero was upset that his prized lions were being distressed by Christians who ran away from them in the Colosseum. Nero ordered that at the next circus a Christian was to be buried up to his neck in the sand to make things easier for the lions. When the lions entered the ring, the biggest and meanest saw the hapless condemned, swaggered over and stood astride the Christian's head, roaring for approval from the crowd. At that moment, the Christian craned his neck and bit off the lion's testicles. The crowd was shocked. "Fight fair! Fight fair!" they yelled.

It seems that no matter what injustice Palestinians have suffered in the past 60 years, they should be grateful for the privilege of being able to live under the jackboot of Israeli occupation.

For three years since daring to democratically elect a government not favoured by Israel or the US, the people of Gaza have been subjected to a starvation blockade. Yet the civilised world has barely raised a note of concern. Is this the standard by which we judge the behaviour of nations? We talk about Darfur and Zimbabwe but say little of the gross abuse of human rights that occurs daily in the illegally occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Our double standards have made a mockery of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention.

Our failure to condemn the totally disproportionate, not to say illegal, attacks by the Israeli Defence Force has changed the way conflict is regarded around the world. Last August, Russia employed the same tactics in its attack on Georgia as Israel did against Lebanon.

Neither Russia nor China sought UN Security Council emergency meetings in response to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. What happens in the Middle East today sets the standard for the world. And that applies to weapons as well as tactics.

Using cluster bombs or phosphorus bombs against civilian targets is perfectly legal if you can believe the Israeli Defence Force.

Assassinating Hamas leaders during a ceasefire does not constitute a breach. Collective punishments against communities, obstructing medical and humanitarian relief - all part of Israel's tactics - could now be considered acceptable behaviour in national and international conflict.

How can we criticise brutal regimes elsewhere in the world when we condone worse atrocities when they are committed by Israel? The Security Council has become a laughing stock. The Secretary-General is a pathetic figure reduced to faint pleas for a ceasefire while UN personnel are murdered on the ground in Gaza. And who will pick up the pieces when the bloodshed has finally stopped? The rest of the world will, of course. Through the world's contributions to the UN, its largest budget item is the UN Relief and Works Agency. With an annual $700 million budget going to support Palestinian refugees, the biggest component is being spent on Gaza.

Even before the Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur responsible for reporting on conditions in the occupied territories, Richard Falk, was denied entry to Gaza.

Last month, Falk called for an International Criminal Court investigation to determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.

To that long list of war crimes and crimes against humanity we can now add the atrocities committed in this recent invasion. But, with its superior public relations forces, Israel can easily deflect concern about its barbaric assault.

And will the world call Israel's leaders to account for their crimes? Not likely. Western leaders - including Australia's - will merely call on Palestinians to fight fair.

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