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Ignoring the Bloodshed in Gaza

The world turns a blind eye to the Palestinian civil war.

8:00 PM, Jan 9, 2009 • By JONATHAN SCHANZER
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Jonathan Schanzer is deputy executive director of the Jewish Policy Center and author of the new book Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan).

After the first week of fighting in Gaza, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimated that the death toll stood at 161, including 41 civilians. That figure included 7 children and 11 women. After another week of fighting, Amnesty International upped the death toll to 350 and estimated that 2,000 people were injured.

Journalists were barred from the areas of conflict, so the particulars were hazy. But as reports trickled in, the world learned that Palestinians were being shot point-blank in the legs and arms to ensure permanent disabilities. Others were pushed from tall buildings to a horrifying death.

Indeed, just a few days ago, the Jerusalem Post reported that 35 innocents were executed and another around 75 were shot in the legs. Still others had their hands broken or were placed under house arrest.

Readers may be surprised to learn that the violence I describe above is not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has dominated the headlines in recent days. Rather, these are chillingly accurate reports from an internecine conflict between two Palestinian factions: Hamas and Fatah.

The Palestinian civil war erupted in June 2007. Hamas launched a bloody coup that ousted its political rival from the Gaza Strip, and has ruled the territory by fear ever since. In fact, it is for this reason that Israel is only engaged in hostilities in the Gaza Strip right now, and not the West Bank.

Quietly, this war has continued unabated for a year and a half. Hamas, according to the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency, has bombed churches and Christian schools. In some cases, the group has forced Christians to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

The group has also kidnapped rival faction members. Some victims were returned to their families. Some were not. Human rights organizations have issued reports of widespread torture. In fact, Hamas actually admitted, according to a Maan News Agency report, that it had engaged in torture against Fatah members.

Many informed readers have failed to learn about the conflict for the simple fact that Hamas has muzzled the media. Reporters Without Borders reported that the Islamist group refused to issue credentials to both Western and Arab journalists, and has issued threats to reporters who air content they deem questionable.

Meanwhile, with rare exceptions, the Western press has filed only spotty reports on this critical conflict. When stories appear in the papers, they are often hidden on page 8 or 10.

Where were the demonstrations in protest of Hamas's brutality? There were none in European capitals, none in major U.S. cities, and none in the Middle East.

The only notable demonstrations were Fatah demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, where civilians complained of the harsh Hamas treatment and the Taliban-style government there.

Fast forward to 2008. Another conflict has erupted in the Gaza Strip. This one, like the last one, can be blamed squarely on Hamas.

The world's reaction, however, has been drastically different.

When the brutal Hamas terrorist organization, in a naked quest for power, killed dozens upon dozens of Palestinians, the media coverage was virtually nonexistent. When Israel responds to rocket attacks by Hamas--at least 1,720 this year alone according to conservative estimates--the international media has flooded the airwaves.

Similarly, when Hamas began killing fellow Palestinians in what can only be viewed as war crimes (shooting injured combatants and killing prisoners point blank), there were no demonstrations. Yet, when Israel responds to Hamas aggression using great care to follow the international laws of war--avoiding civilian casualties at all costs--the international community is frothing. Demonstrators are pouring into the streets of Western capitals. The condemnation of Israel is unanimous.

The comparison of these two Gaza Strip conflicts raises a few sad but important observations.

First, those who vilify Israel's current military maneuvers and claim to be "pro-Palestinian" were nowhere to be seen during the Palestinian civil war, a conflict with equally devastating numbers of casualties, and a conflict that truly threatens to undermine the viability of the Palestinian nationalist movement. In other words, supporters of the Palestinian cause need to reconsider their values.