Israeli-Kiwi Daphna Whitmore responds to Donna Miles, an Iranian-Kiwi columnist and writer based in Christchurch, who published an opinion piece in the Press on the 19th of November 2023.
Donna Miles: Something in me has shifted. With no end to the killing of children and babies in Gaza, my trust in the international rules-based order and the political morality of the West has been shattered beyond repair.
The deaths of children and babies is horrific. War is a nightmare and it is the nightmare that Hamas sought. They say so. Hamas not only seized, attacked and murdered Israeli children and babies, it put its own population in the firing line as a military tactic. This is widely documented.
DM implies it is the aim of the Israeli army to target infants. She gives no context, and no acknowledgment that for weeks the IDF told civilians to leave. The IDF has made over 20,000 phone calls, dropped 1.5 million leaflets, sent 4.4 million texts, and 6 million voice messages urging civilians to leave. They opened up corridors and put their soldiers at risk to guard people from Hamas who shot at the civilians as they left. Hamas wanted civilians to stay as human shields.
Donna Miles: I grew up in Iran and experienced first-hand the scary lawlessness of those early post-revolutionary years where vengeance trumped justice and righteousness became a cover for horror.
Soon after the revolution, came the Iran-Iraq war and the misery of death and destruction.
I lived through most of the war and know something about how the children of Gaza are feeling right now as bombs explode all around them.
Not a word from DM about the many tens of thousands of rockets Hamas has fired at Israel’s civilians over the past two decades.
Children in southern Israel have grown up to the roar of sirens and rushing to safe rooms and shelters. No country would tolerate this. Hamas brought misery and destruction to Gaza when it came to power and threw their Palestinian political rivals off the rooftops of buildings and slaughtered them and ran them out of Gaza. They showed they don’t care for Arab Israelis or migrant workers in Israel who were also taken hostage and slaughtered on October 7.
Donna Miles: Most of you reading this could never truly understand what it’s like to live with the violence of war and to suffer food and fuel scarcity. Nothing you watch or read can ever bring home to you what it is like when children are forced to play hide and seek with death on a daily basis.
War is the most evil of all evils. My family and I were privileged enough not to suffer the worst of the Iran-Iraq war, mainly because we lived in the capital city of Tehran, away from the border with Iraq.
When I left the war-torn, revolutionary Iran to start a new life in my birth country of the UK, I felt relieved that I no longer had to fear the state and its disregard for the sanctity of human life
Those who leave their country know full well that their country never leaves them. And so it was that, after the war, I traveled back to Iran on many occasions to visit my family and assuage my homesickness.
Every visit left me disheartened and thinking that I could never have a place in a country whose leaders did not represent my values.
Decades after leaving Iran, I am once again filled with the same dread, realising that the leaders of my adopted countries of the UK and New Zealand do not fully represent my values either – and, more importantly, their commitment to the universal declaration of human rights is nothing but a sham.
Why else would they tolerate the slaughter of helpless children by the thousands? Why else would they not call for a ceasefire and force Israel to end what amounts to the deliberate starvation of besieged civilians? And why else would they allow Israel to bomb schools, mosques, churches, bakeries, even, according to news reporting, at least one hospital?
Again left out of the story is Hamas’ use of all those sites to store weapons and wage war.
It is deliberate deception to omit this when there is a mountain of evidence showing they were used in this way. Still, the IDF kept insisting civilians leave areas where Hamas was conducting its war from. Why does DM say nothing about the hospitals hit in Israel by Hamas missiles? In contrast, those Israeli hospitals were not military sites. Israel doesn’t put rockets in hospitals, synagogues, mosques, churches or schools.
Donna Miles: The whole world quite rightly condemned Hamas for its brutal attack against civilians and for taking Israeli hostages.
Where are the strong words of condemnation from our leaders for Israel’s laying siege to Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa, causing the death of multiple babies, including some premature, and putting many more at risk? Israel has forced 1 million people to flee their homes, and an unknown number to effectively starve. Where is the condemnation for that?
Israel says it has a right to defend itself.
But defend itself against whom? Hamas is only an ant compared to the military elephant that is Israel.
It is true that Israel has a strong military, out of necessity as it has been a tiny island in a hostile sea since the UN granted it status as a country in 1947 along with an Arab state which the Palestinian leaders rejected. They have continued those rejectionist politics ever since.
DM omits that Hamas is funded, armed and plays a proxy role for the Iranian Islamic Regime which is a major power in the Middle East, and produces state of the art drones and missiles. On Israel’s northern border the Iranian proxy Hezbollah has 200,000 long range and accurate missiles pointed at Israel. Syria on Israel’s other northern border is used to ship arms from Iran to its proxies.
Donna Miles: We know the horrific October 7 attacks only happened because of a complete failure of Israeli intelligence and because the kibbutz communities near the border were left unprotected by the Israeli military.
This is the most shocking statement. DM has airbrushed the murderous barbaric Hamas death squads out of the equation. There were intelligence and security failures, but the rapes, mutilations, the executions, the dragging of civilians out of their beds and hostage taking is on Hamas. To imply otherwise is disgusting.
Donna Miles: Yes, Israel had to respond. But instead of choosing a targeted response and putting the safety of the hostages first, Israel chose a strategy of “maximum damage”, thereby collectively punishing Palestinians and their children.
Israel’s disproportionate response was highly predictable of course.
Any serious commentator would acknowledge that urban warfare is the most difficult of all forms of war. Again DM airbrushes out Hamas so their use of civilian shields is not scrutinised. Again there is victim blaming so that the safety of the hostages is bizarrely assumed to be Israel’s responsibility according to DM, as if it were not Hamas who took them and have held them now for six weeks. She is silent too on the hostages already known to be murdered by Hamas.
Donna Miles: Netanyahu and his religiously extreme government believe in a medieval doctrine of “might is right” – and Western leaders, although a little uncomfortable with seeing the pile of little corpses building up ever higher in Gaza, have nevertheless chosen to turn a blind eye to Israel’s shocking display of indiscriminate violence.
There is no denying that many civilians have been killed, and that is truly horrible but it is dishonest to say the IDF is indiscriminate. The measures to get civilians to leave, described above, show that.
IDonna Miles: have lost count of the number of times the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and the UN Relief Chief, Martin Griffiths, have sounded the alarm, warning that a human catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza and that there is an urgent need for a ceasefire.
With Iran heading the Human Rights Council of the UN the credibility of that organisation reached rock bottom. Releasing the hostages, and Hamas leaders surrendering would result in a ceasefire that could lead to peace. Without that any ceasefire will prolong the war by giving Hamas time to regroup.
Donna Miles: Still, the two major allies of Israel, the US and the UK, whose arms and bullets are killing a Gazan child every 10 minutes, refuse to call for an end to the killings. And embarrassingly, most European countries and even our own government have followed suit, despite global protests and majority support for a ceasefire among the people.
So far the governments of Western democracies have to varying degrees recognised that Hamas is a disaster for Gaza and the Middle East and should not be enabled. That’s a good thing. Again pressure must be put on Hamas as the aggressors who have promised to repeat October 7 over and over again.
Donna Miles: It is for these reasons that suddenly, the democratic gap between the violent and dysfunctional politics of countries like Iran and those of the West do not appear quite as vast as what we previously assumed.
Knowing that there are no adults in the room, should worry us all. I have changed and you should too. There are plenty of people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide who are advocating for a political path. We should all join them, in our millions, to support their call to end the violence.
That political path is not the path of Hamas. When you stop talking over Hamas and listen to what they tell us in their words and deeds it is very clear they want to repeat October 7 over and over until there are no Jews and no Israeli state.