Israeli attacks, Hamas attacks:
Moral equivalence…? A ‘cycle of violence’?

Published: 9 March 2008
Briefing Number 212

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“Violence that cost the lives of eight Israeli religious students and 120 Palestinians in Gaza threatens to plunge the area into a new phase of an old conflict….”

- Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor, The Times ( London ), 8 March 2008

“Hamas and Israelis trade attacks, killing at least nine….”

- Story headline, New York Times, 28 February 2008

“There isn't much point trying to work out who started it, both sides blame each other….”

- Jeremy Bowen, Middle East Editor, BBC Today programme, 1 March 2008

The above are just a sample of endless similar comments made in recent days.

Israel kills Palestinians. Hamas kills Israelis. It's a cycle of violence. Each party must stop. Each is morally culpable, each trying to use violence to achieve a goal. They blame each other, which just shows that they are equally at fault.

This notion of equivalence between the actions of Hamas and of Israel is echoed in the media approach to interviews.

Following the shooting by a Palestinian terrorist of eight mainly teenage students at the Mercaz Harav college in Jerusalem on 6 March, Israeli foreign ministry spokespeople were interviewed on the BBC. But so were Hamas spokemen, repeatedly. The Hamas figures were treated as though they spoke for a respectable international organisation. They claimed that the Mercav Harav killings were a response to “ Israel 's occupation”, and to “the Israeli massacre of Palestinians” in Gaza . These claims were unchallenged.

To the BBC, balance seems to mean giving equal airtime to Israel and to Hamas.

Underlying this is the notion of a ‘cycle of violence', and that each party is morally equivalent for contributing to it. Here are four fallacies to the ‘cycle of violence' idea:-

1. The objectives of Hamas and of Israel are totally different

•  Israel desires to build a Palestinian state

•  Israel believes in the need for a two-state solution

•  Hamas aims to dismantle the Jewish state

•  Hamas opposes a two-state solution

There is no moral equivalence there.

2. Their plans for Gaza are different

•  The Israeli view of Gaza : Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005 in the hope that it could develop into a prosperous, stable Palestinian mini-state living side by side with its Israeli neighbour

•  The Hamas view of Gaza : Hamas see Gaza as a front line in the Islamist confrontation with Israel . They have turned it into an armed camp, and Hamas leaders have squandered international goodwill towards the Palestinian people. They have led Gaza into self-imposed international isolation, so as to maintain the Iranian-backed confrontation with Israel

Which vision helps the Gaza Palestinians? There's no moral equivalence there.

3. Harm to civilians – Hamas aims to maximise, Israel aims to minimise

The Israeli perspective

•  Purpose of attacks: Its strikes and incursions into Gaza have been aimed at stopping the illegal rocket and missile attacks (over 7000 since 2002) launched by Palestinian groups. Most of the 120 casualties in the recent fighting were from the Izz al-din Qassem Brigades, the Hamas armed wing.

•  Israel 's military operations have been taken in self-defence, and are last-resort measures to intended to quell the attacks, and deter Hamas

•  Israel has tried to minimise civilian casualties, and its military strategy is shaped by that requirement

The Hamas perspective

•  Purpose of attacks: Hamas deliberate targets civilians indiscriminately in population centres, striking hospitals, schools and kindergartens

•  Hamas uses rocket and missile attacks as a first-resort, ie as a chosen strategy

•  Hamas aims to maximise civilian suffering and casualties

•  Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields, to prevent Israeli attacks, or to maximise the propaganda value if Palestinians are killed in Israeli counter-measures. This Hamas method is illegal under international law

There is no moral equivalence there.

4. The attitudes to civilian suffering are different

•  Israel has maintained humanitarian aid and assistance into Gaza during the crisis, with hundreds of lorries bringing in food, medicine, and other equipment for the civilian residents of Gaza

•  The number of Gaza Palestinian patients entering Israel for medical treatment has greatly increased in recent years

•  Yes, it is a violent situation, and innocent Palestinians have been killed.

•  But the responsibility for that lies with Hamas. Israel has been trying to reduce the impact of the conflict on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

•  Israel is trying to avoid “collective punishment” of the Gaza Palestinians.

What about Hamas?

•  Following the Mercaz Harav killings, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Hamas-controlled Gaza in celebration.

•  Not only do the Palestinians of Gaza, led by Hamas, not regret civilian loss of life; they rejoice in it.

•  And their radio, TV and other media contain many demonic stereotypes of images of Jews and Israelis

•  The indiscriminate rocket and missile assault run by Hamas inflicts collective punishment on civilian Israelis – men, women and children - living in Southern Israel .

There is no moral equivalence there.

Other Beyond Images resources

Briefing 11 – Why are there more Palestinian than Israeli victims of the conflict?

Briefing 75 – The ‘cycle of violence' between Israelis and Palestinians

Also: ‘Cycle of Violence' under All Briefings on the Beyond Images home page.

Israel 's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published extensive information on the conflict with Hamas, on humanitarian assistance; and on legal issues: see

See also the thorough and informative materials from the Israel Project, and their graphic photos of the Mercaz Harav attack: