Israel-Palestine war: Europe is following the US into another disastrous war
Since Hamas’s surprise attack on 7 October, which claimed around 1,200 lives, Israel has responded by killing at least 11,500 Palestinians, which includes 4,500 children, equalling roughly one child killed every 15 minutes of every day.
Without debating the root cause of the Hamas attack - which even UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged was a result of “56 years of suffocating occupation [of Palestinian lands]” - Europeans need to remember post-9/11 US policy and the regrets that many of them have had since then.
Right after the 7 October attack, many officials, including US President Joe Biden, compared it to 9/11.
Biden making comparisons to 9/11 was far from true for many reasons, including, as the UN secretary-general stated, because “[Palestinians had seen their] land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”
But it seems that the world, and especially the western world, is creating a similar environment to the one post-9/11, including repeating many of the mistakes that they made over 20 years ago.
Blindly following US foreign policy
The US administration, despite its Democratic Party credentials, is behaving in the most hawkish manner imaginable; reminiscent of the administrations of Republican presidents HW and GW Bush.
Indeed, Biden’s response to the Hamas attack and unconditional support for Israel drew praise from the second Bush, one of the most infamous of US presidents for his manufactured war against Iraq. You might imagine that being praised by Bush, especially considering his approach when in office to the Middle East or Muslim-majority countries, might be a reason for Biden to stop and think about his actions.
Let us not forget that Israel's response has seen the disproportional killing of civilians through indiscriminate air strikes and the violation of international law by using tools of collective punishment in Gaza, with the withholding of aid and the cutting of water and electricity supplies.
If Biden appears to be taking a familiar and hawkish US line on the Middle East, so too are European Union countries and the United Kingdom, which seem to not have learned from previous mistakes of blindly following US foreign policy.
Two decades after the 9/11 attacks on US soil, which ended with the disastrous invasion of two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and sending the region into turmoil that persists to this day, western states seem ready again to make more deliberate mistakes.
The mistakes European leaders are making this time around are remarkably similar to those of 20 years ago. First, they are again ignoring huge domestic anti-war protests and public demands for a ceasefire. Second, they are ignoring widespread public calls to stop their unconditional support for the US (and, today, for Israel).
Third, European leaders are willingly accepting “information” that has not yet been proven, just like the infamous "intelligence" that identified Saddam Hussein's “weapons of mass destruction”. And, fourth, they are failing to learn the lessons from the US's experiences in Afghanistan, where the country was once secured from the Taliban but later handed over to it.
Even though support for the invasion of Afghanistan was much higher than support for action in Iraq, the public was acutely aware that the Afghanistan military campaign would destroy the country, and not just the “terrorist bases,” as protesters at the time made clear by shouting, “Destroy imperialism, not Afghanistan” in the US capital, Washington, DC.
Out of touch
While the UK Conservative Party, led by Rishi Sunak, and the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, have united in condemning Hamas and showing their full support for Israel, the streets have been full of pro-Palestinian marches, including one of the largest rallies ever seen in Britain, on 11 November, which organisers said attracted 800,000 people.
This huge turnout in support of the Palestinians angered many commentators in the UK press, including in the Spectator, a pro-Israeli magazine that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson once edited.
In another YouGov poll, published on 24 October, 21 percent of the British public who were asked supported Israel, and 18 percent supported Palestine, with the remainder either supporting both parties equally or not knowing - not even close to the government’s response.
The divergence between government and public is so great that former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked by Sunak on 13 November for writing a newspaper article critical of the police, called pro-Palestinian protests, attended by a wide section of the British public, “hate marches”.
The picture is no different in the EU. With the exception of some countries, such as Ireland, which has been critical of Israel and which itself was a victim of colonisation, and Spain, EU leaders race to Israel to pose with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and show their full solidarity.
France and Germany went even further than the UK and banned almost all pro-Palestinian marches, criminalising the flying of the Palestinian flag or chanting on behalf of Palestinians, while encouraging pro-Israel rallies.
Over 100 Jewish writers and academics in Germany signed an open letter asking for pro-Palestinian bans to be lifted.
Both Hamas and the Taliban are despised by western governments. Indeed, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was the first target for US revenge after 9/11 under the pretext of al-Qaeda’s apparent freedom to operate in the country.
And then there is the US's record of propagating the kind of lies that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Leaving aside the discussion of whether the US invasion of Afghanistan was just or not, western states should take lessons from events in 2021 when, two decades after the invasion and subsequent military campaign, which cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars, the US administration, without much consultation with its European allies, withdrew from the country and handed over to the Taliban.
Taking this as an example, the over-securitisation of Hamas, or any other organisation in Palestine, might be problematic, as the US could decide that any organisation can rule the country. European leaders should remember the chaotic and bloody scenes at Kabul airport during the evacuation before blindly following the US's lead on Hamas.
And then there is the US's record of propagating the kind of lies that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2016, the Chilcot report, following a British public inquiry into the war, concluded that the basis of the Iraqi invasion - the US claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction - was without grounds.
However, the then UK prime minister, Tony Blair, showed his full support for the US, saying that Britain stood “shoulder to shoulder with our American friends" to defeat and eradicate international terrorism and that "we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world".
With echoes of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction saga, President Biden claimed he had seen videos showing Hamas beheading babies.
Biden stated: “I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children.”
But shortly afterwards, the White House corrected Biden, saying that the president had not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently. "The president based his comments about the alleged atrocities on the claims from Netanyahu’s spokesman and media reports from Israel," according to the White House.
'Model of what not to do'
Recent examples of Israeli claims that were later proven to be lies include the 2014 air strike that killed children playing football on a beach in Gaza. The attack, which saw four young boys from the Bakr family killed, was claimed by Israel to have been a Hamas missile. However, foreign journalists staying nearby had witnessed the killing, and Israel was later forced to admit culpability, saying that the target had been a Hamas compound.
A later investigation found that the drone operators had fired without taking care to distinguish between the children and militants.
It is highly possible that Israel's claim that the explosion at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City - which saw 470 Palestinians killed - was caused by a Hamas missile will eventually prove to be yet another lie. This, despite Biden’s rush to say it was probably done by “the other team”, as if speaking about a football match.
The killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022 also had a similar feel. In the days after her killing, Israel denied responsibility and claimed that Palestinian militants had done it. After months of denial, Israel accepted the high possibility that Abu Akleh had been killed by Israeli forces.
Considering all of these factors and the long records of US and Israeli lies, European powers should be in no rush to believe the US and Israel and give full and unconditional support.
As Zeynep Tufekci stated in her column in the New York Times: “If the US response after September 11 is a model, it is a model of what not to do.”
Perhaps we should repeat the line, often attributed to Albert Einstein, who himself was Jewish, that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
In this case, insanity would be following the US's lead, despite its record - and then expecting different results.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.