Tuesday, 18 October 2011

An eye for an eye?

Today the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was returned to Israel after 5 years captivity in Gaza. 

This single Israeli was set free by Hamas in return for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails and some have questioned the size of the ransom which has secured his release.
Certainly 1,000 Palestinians in return for one Israeli appears disproportionate to some Israelis, even after his 5 year ordeal, and Hamas are portraying the exchange as a victory.

But there has always been a disproportionality in the relationship between Israel and Palestinians.  For every Israeli killed since the second intifada began in 2000, 6 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, and the ratio is getting worse, not better.
There are two watersheds in the recent history of the killing feud that continues between Israel and the Palestinians.  The first we have already mentioned - the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.  The second is Operation Cast Lead in which the Israeli army and air force pounded Gaza relentlessly for 3 weeks at the beginning of 2009.

Before Operation Cast Lead, the killing ratio between Israel and the Palestinians was 5 Palestinians killed for every 1 Israeli death.  But since the end of that operation, that ratio has risen to 10 Palestinians for every Israeli.   And that does not include the casualties of Operation Cast Lead itself where 155 Palestinians died for every Israeli soldier killed.
Among children the disproportionality is even more acute.  For the horror of every Israeli child killed in terrorist attacks, 10 Palestinian children have been killed since 2000, and during Operation Cast Lead 345 Palestinian children lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli security forces.

Nor are the casualties limited to those who are combatants.   Since 2000, amongst those who took no part in either uprisings or security operations the ratio is 4 innocent Palestinians  killed for every innocent Israeli civilian death.
As I researched these statistics today (from the Israeli Human Rights Group B'Tselam) I couldn't help reflecting on the Old Testament Law which says, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life".

To many in the developed world this law seems archaic and barbaric - outdated by  modern concepts of justice and human rights for all.  But at least this law of retribution limited the level of retribution to the level of the crime committed.  And in Israel and the occupied territories today, even this old law of proportionality would require much greater restraint in Israel's security policy.
In the meantime Hamas will undoubtedly be celebrating their success in negotiating such a high ransom for their one captive, but as they do, we could all miss the deeper question.  Whether in relation to violence or ransoms, death or life, captivity or freedom, why is it that Palestinian lives are worth so much less than Israeli lives?

Are we not all made equal in the image of God?

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