According to the most recent calculation, 1000 Palestinians have been murdered by the Israeli army, majority of them civilians, who have nowhere to run. Trapped by Egypt from one side and Israeli army from the other, the mostly defenceless Palestinians are being slaughtered in more than two weeks of relentless bombing by what is considered to be the fifth most powerful military on earth, armed to its teeth by the United States and its European allies.
But what does that absolute number – 1000 – actually mean? How would this number of Palestinians in Gaza compare if proportionately these bombs were to be dropped say on the US, or UK, or China, or India, or Germany?
The absolute number of Palestinians that are being calculated and reported as killed is misleading. It does not show the depth of the moral depravity of the assault on Gaza or the obscene scenes of Israelis watching from a nearby hill and enjoying the view of Palestinians beings mercilessly murdered. To understand the enormity of this terror, we need to look at these numbers differently.
The total population of Gaza is estimated to be 1.816 million people, of which the Israeli army has so far killed 627, which amounts to 0.055 percent of the total population. If we were to add victiims of other Israeli bombings of Gaza, which would amount to what the eminent Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has termed “incremental genocide”, the percentage would be much higher. But let’s just get a snapshot of what those Israelis enjoy watching from the surrounding hilltops.
Putting numbers into perspective
The total population of the United States is 313.9 million people. Suppose some Martian power invaded the US and started bombing it coast to coast from land, sea, and air and killed precisely the same percentage of Americans, namely 0.055 percent. How many Americans would that be? It comes down to 172,852 people – men, women, children, and even entire families.
I looked at a chart of the major US cities and this equals the average population of some 50 major US cities – ranging from Garden Grove in California to Providence in Rhode Island! That’s how many Palestinians Israel has killed so far, if we were to factor in the size and proportionately project it to the population of the United States.
What would President Obama do if after fourteen days of relentless bombardment by these fictive Martians some 172,852 Americans were to be slaughtered in any one of these cities? Would he say something similar to “Israel has every right to defend itself?” I seriously doubt it.
The total population of Germany is reported to be 81.89 million. If say Poland were to start bombing Germany for fourteen consecutive days and killed 0.055 percent of Germans, how many Germans would that be? It would be 45,039 Germans. What would the Germans do if over two weeks this many of them were systematically murdered? What would the EU do, or the US, or the UN?
Let’s take another example. The Russian population is 143.5 million. Suppose China began bombing Russia for two weeks and killed the same percentage of Palestinians that Israel has killed so far. That would amount to 78,925 Russians. Would President Putin react to that murderous act by repeating what he said to a group of visiting rabbis: “I support the struggle of Israel”?
One more example just to make sure we get the point. The total population of China is 1.351 billion – that number times 0.055 percent comes to 743,050 people. We could also calculate India. But let’s stop here.
What would any one of these countries do if so many of their population were to be murdered? Keep in mind these are all very powerful nations with a standing army, air force, navy, etc. Gaza has no such military capacity. Gaza is not a country, not a state. Gaza is an occupied territory of a larger land called Palestine that has been brutally colonised by a European settler colony for decades.
It is imperative not to be numbed by these absolute numbers that we keep following every horrid day after another, and ask ourselves how would the world react if some Martian power were to drop proportionately as many bombs on the US or Canada as Israel is dropping over Gaza? How would the world, the so-called “international community”, or the UN react?
Would the UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay be as cautious and circumspect in her phrasing when considering the fact that Israel has committed war crimes: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes?” The suffocating subordinated phrasing of this sentence does to truth what the Israeli army has done to the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza.
Equalising what is not equal
The New York Times is doing a meticulous job counting the number of dead on both sides, as if these are two equal sides – the occupier and the occupied, the ghetto masters and their inmates. You look at The New York Times page and keep comparing the numbers – 71/5, 52/2, 116/7, 122/15, etc. And day after day you see “the paper of record” has evenly divided the graphic photos it publishes, one shows a Palestinian suffering and the other an Israeli.
The pictorial and numerical narrative thus falsely equalises what is a fundamentally unequal and incomparable, screaming a disequilibrium through the thin veneer of impartiality that The New York Times feigns. These are Palestinian pogroms that Israel is perpetrating. There is no equilibrium here. But The New York Times manages to project that delusion as fact.
This is only one less obvious way in which the US media is coping with the reality of the moral equivocation they are facing. To compensate for the categorical imbalance the US media is freely partaking in the propaganda sound bits produced by the IDF that in effect tries to cover up the long and insurmountable distance between the two statistics, not just in absolute and meaningless numbers but in what these numbers actually mean.
“Israel has every right to defend itself,” or “Hamas is using human shield,” or “IDF regret civilians casualties,” etc. These are no longer words, phrases, or sentences. They are Orwellian newspeak par excellence bereft of any meaning at all.
The question for the US President Barack Obama is when he retires at the end of the day and goes to his family, having hopefully left his presidential mask behind in the Oval Office, behind what sort of a “human shield” does he hide his sense of right and wrong? Does he, even in the privacy and sanctity of that moment, still repeat the sound bites “Israel has every right to defend itself,” or “Hamas is using civilians as human shield?”
“This great evil, where’s it come from?” The deeply troubling poetic passage is from a ghastly gory sequence in an absolute masterpiece of world cinema, Terrence Malick’s sublime film “Thin Red Line“. Half way through the sequence, the somnolent voiceover sneaks in and wonders, “How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?”
We may never know how leaders ranging from Netanyahu to Obama – commanding over massive machineries of death and destruction and providing the means and the justification for the slaughter of children – stole into this world. But we cannot allow them to continue “robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known”.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative literature at Columbia University in New York.
Follow him on Twitter: @HamidDabashi