Tom Collins: It’s always innocents who pay price of war

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins is an Irish News columnist and former editor of the newspaper.

Palestinian children wounded in Israel strikes are brought to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City
Palestinian children wounded in Israel strikes are brought to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City

It is just over a week since the Hamas attack on Israel which has brought the Middle East to yet another of those moments that could only be described as the edge of the abyss.

The impact of that attack and Israel’s response to it has reverberated around the world. The scenes being played out on the Gaza strip and in southern Israel are apocalyptic.

For thousands this past week has marked the end of time, for them and for their families. The survivors await their fate.

As I write, refugees are massed at the border with Egypt, unable to get to safety, rockets rain down on civilians on both sides of the conflict, and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening all-out war on land, air and sea.

Read more:

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Patrick Murphy: Israel's role in creation of Hamas demonstrates how today's problems begin with yesterday's decisions

Tom Kelly: Violence begets violence and grief in Middle East

Given the scale of death and destruction, it is easy to understand why the global community has not been more nuanced in its response. The Hamas assault on Israel was beyond brutal, and on an unprecedented scale. The targets were civilians and, because of the ordinariness of what they were doing when Hamas struck, their stories cut through. But Palestinians have their compelling stories too.


We live in an age which is largely indifferent to history. In the west at least, this current crisis is being portrayed as a case of aggressor (Hamas) and victim (Israel), with October 7 being seen as day zero.

In reality, the current conflict has deeper roots. You cannot ignore what has gone before.

Unsurprisingly colonialism plays a part – the battle lines were drawn by Britain and France following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

At moments like this, responsible allies try to de-escalate conflict – stressing our common humanity, putting the interests of non-combatants first, and deploying diplomacy to find a way through the crisis.

That has not happened. Netanyahu’s vindictive siege of Gaza – the imprisonment of millions without water, food and electricity – has been encouraged by the United States and Britain. EU President Ursula von der Leyen hasn’t helped either, with a solo run that undermined the EU’s capacity to be an honest-broker and which also encouraged the Israeli PM’s basest instincts.

As ever tensions have been ramped up by the rising tide of disinformation on social media; by malign media actors using the conflict to promote their own twisted view of the world, and by others using the Israel-Palestine conflict as a proxy for their own ends.

The US and Russia are culpable in this regard. Opportunists too are the flag wavers in this part of the world who have taken sides for their own sectarian purposes. They should be ashamed of themselves.

It is possible to condemn the Hamas offensive while supporting Palestinian sovereignty, and the right of Palestinians to live in peace and security, free from Israeli predations. It is also possible to empathise with those on the Israeli side who have suffered immeasurably at the hands of Hamas, Hezbollah and other armed groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

There is no difference between a child killed by Hamas and a child killed by the Israeli army. Neither is the right to self-defence in international law a green light for retribution against an entire population.

If criticism is to be made of the Biden presidency it is its apparent indifference to solving the Middle East conflict. In part it is a reflection of the US turning in on itself. But letting sleeping dogs lie is not a viable strategy in international diplomacy. The dogs wake up.

It is also unhelpful that the world’s three major players – the US, Russia and China – are at each other’s throats.

What is needed now is a ceasefire allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza and southern Israel; an international plan, and funding to rebuild what has been destroyed; and a concerted diplomatic effort to bring about peace which addresses the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and provides for Palestinian and Israeli sovereignty within agreed borders.