My sister-in-law is visiting from England, and although Jewish, she reflects the prevalent view of most Brits when discussing the Middle East. She berates Israel for killing the poor Palestinians and especially the “disproportionate force” used in the last Gaza War, reflecting the biased media coverage. She admits that the focus of so many left-wing people on the Palestinians is a form of bias, but she does not accept that this is a form of anti-Semitism. She accepts that the total number of casualties in Gaza were ca. 2,200, but since this includes combatants (terrorists not wearing uniform) that Israel estimates from battle reports was about 40% of that total, the actual number of civilian casualties was around 1,300. But, she considers this excessive.
I asked her about some other situations involving Palestinian casualties:
Palestinians in Syria: She accepted that the toll in Syria is far, far greater than in Gaza, in fact according to reliable estimates the civilian death toll is around 420-470,000 after 5 years of the Syrian Civil War. But, she had no idea, of course, what were the Palestinian casualties in that war. According to reports, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, the Yarmouk Camp near Damascus, had ca. 360,000 Palestinian residents before the civil war started. Since the Palestinians are Sunni and the Assad regime is controlled by the Alawis who are Shia, the Camp was early on surrounded and besieged by the Syrian Army. It is estimated that ca. 200,000 Palestinians fled the camp, but no-one knows what happened to them, they may have intermingled with other Syrian refugees, or they may have been killed. The Syrian Army put a tight siege around the camp not letting food or water in. As a result the UNHCR declared the camp a “humanitarian disaster” (http://www.unrwa.org/crisis-in-yarmouk). Subsequently in 2014 the camp became the front-line in the fighting between the Islamic State and the Syrian forces, but after occupying half of the camp the IS forces retreated. Of the estimated 160,000 Palestinians that were in the camp before the fighting, it is estimated that only 18,000 civilians, men, women and children remained (http://www.wsj.com/articles/civilians-trapped-in-syrian-refugee-camp-as-militants-clash-1428255320; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/17/desperate-yarmouk-refugees-starve-as-battle-rages-in-damascus). What happened to the other 140,000 Palestinians, no-one knows. They may have starved to death, been killed in the artillery bombardment of the camp by the Syrian Army, been killed by barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian Air Force, killed in the fighting, been massacred by both sides, or escaped and joined the other Syrian refugees. However, very few Palestinians have been registered as refugees and it is likely that few of them survived. She knew nothing about this and in fact like most Brits is ignorant of the actual situation. Certainly there have been no demonstrations for the Palestinians in Syria, where many more have been killed than in Gaza, but as she admitted they were killed by other Arabs, not Jews, so they don’t really count.
Palestinians in Kuwait: During the Gulf War of 1991 the PLO officially sided with Saddam Hussein, whose forces had attacked and occupied Kuwait. There were ca. 400,000 Palestinians residing in Kuwait. During the war ca. half this number fled, leaving ca. 200,000 at the end of the war. The Kuwaitis began taking revenge on the Palestinians as collaborators with the Iraqis, and within a week almost all Palestinians in Kuwait fled, many to Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. No-one knows how many were actually killed by the Kuwaiti forces and civilians. Today it is estimated that there are ca. 20,000 Palestinians left in Kuwait (wikipedia.org/wiki/Aftermath_of_the_Gulf_War).
Palestinians in Lebanon: In Lebanon, the Palestinian population of 300,000 were treated terribly, they were not allowed to become citizens, to work or own property (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jun/24/middleeast-palestinian-territories). They were kept in camps and discriminated against and lived entirely on donations. Israeli Arab Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and other commentators accuse Lebanon of practicing apartheid against Palestinian Arabs who have lived in Lebanon as stateless refugees since 1948. Whenever there have been wars, specifically between Hizbollah and Israel, the Palestinians have suffered from both sides. As Shia militants the Hizbollah hate the Palestinian Sunnis and of course, Israel has fought the PLO. But it was Lebanese Christians who carried out the massacres of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps during the First Lebanon War.
Of course, my sister-in-law knew nothing about these situations. In fact, the number of Palestinians killed by fellow Arabs is far more than those killed by Israel. Further, the use of force by the US “shock and awe” in the Gulf War, where the number of civilians killed was estimated at a minimum of 150,000, was far more disproportionate than Israel ever has been. By comparison, only ca. 1,300 Palestinians killed in such a densely populated area as Gaza is in fact a rather small number. And she does not know the number of casualties caused by the British bombing in Syria and Iraq, but she is ready to criticize Israel.