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Israel's slaughter of aid workers is a tragedy. But it is also a story of western racism

The western media and political classes have made more noise about the Israeli killing of seven aid workers than about the 32,000 dead Palestinians
UN staff members inspect the carcass of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza on 2 April, 2024 (AFP)

In approaching six months of genocidal horror in Gaza, the Israeli army has slaughtered more than 32,000 Palestinians, with thousands more bodies decomposing under the Gaza rubble. More than 70,000 are wounded, many maimed for life.

Among the dead are at least 90 Palestinian journalists and media workers, and nearly 200 aid workers. Some 13,000 children and 9,000 women have been killed by Israel.

And that's not to speak of the systematic destruction of schools and hospitals, the displacement of 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, nor the deepening famine.

The same attrition rate in the UK would have seen at least one million Britons dead, including approximately 400,000 children.

Until yesterday, politicians of the two main British political parties, Conservative and Labour, along with the mainstream media, have been relaxed about all this. They supported the slaughter and protected the killers.

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The British media have demonised or dehumanised Palestinians, while throwing their weight behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Too often the media have believed lies and fabrications told to them by the Israeli army, while suppressing or ignoring mounting evidence of Israeli atrocities.

Overnight, this appears to have changed.

A media outcry

Look at the splash headline, for example, in Britain’s leading newspaper of record, The Times. It reads: "Outcry at aid worker deaths".

Spread prominently across the front page were photographs of three victims of Tuesday's Israeli strike against an aid convoy travelling through Gaza on behalf of the World Central Kitchen charity.

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Seven aid workers have been killed in total in the attack; three Britons, one Australian, a Pole, an American-Canadian, and only one of whom is reported to be Palestinian.

This is the same Times newspaper which only two months ago consigned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that Israel should be investigated for genocide to page 42 (page three of the international section).

We need not delude ourselves that The Times, and other British papers, would have run the story on its front page had the dead carried Arab names

The same Times newspaper which two days ago completely failed to report the bombshell remark by Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Alicia Kearns that government lawyers knew that Israel had breached international humanitarian law but Foreign Secretary David Cameron had failed to make the knowledge public.

It's not just The Times which has changed its tune. Every British newspaper today has given the Israeli army slaughter of the seven aid workers the full treatment.

And of course we all know what has caused the change; the victims of the latest Israeli atrocity were, with one exception, white foreigners. 

We need not delude ourselves that The Times, and other British papers, would have run the story on its front page had the dead carried Arab names. In fact, they would probably not have carried the story at all. 

Official condemnation

How many of the Unrwa aid workers killed by Israel made it onto the front page of The Times?

As far as I can tell the answer is nil, and the only Unrwa workers given widespread coverage in Britain’s premier paper of record were those accused by Israel, on the basis of unevidenced claims, that they played a role in the 7 October atrocities.

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This is not in any way to diminish the heroism and self-sacrifice of the seven World Central Kitchen charity workers killed yesterday. Quite the contrary. 

But it is deeply relevant to note that countless Palestinians, equally heroic and equally innocent, have been slaughtered by Israeli forces’ actions in the same way - with scarcely an eyebrow being raised by western politicians and negligible outcry in the western media.

It is fair to say that, among the western media and political classes, there has been more noise made in the past 24 hours about the Israeli killing of seven aid workers than about all the 32,000 dead Palestinians put together. 

Let’s take Cameron. He appears relaxed about dead Palestinians. It took the deaths of seven international aid workers - including three white Britons - for him to summon the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Office.

Take the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Countless massacres, along with collective punishment of the Palestinian population of Gaza, weren’t enough for Sunak to withdraw his "unequivocal" support of  Netanyahu.

Yesterday’s atrocity has finally elicited something like a statement of condemnation.

A turning point?

It is often relatively small events that change public sentiment. In 2003 it took the death of government scientist David Kelly to focus attention on the scandal of Tony Blair’s falsehoods about so-called weapons of mass destruction and the illegality of the Iraq war.

It took the revelation that Rupert Murdoch's journalists had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler to bring the phone hacking scandal to public attention.

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So when I saw the reaction to yesterday’s atrocity, I wondered whether it would be enough to change the mood at Westminster and Washington towards Israel’s murderous conduct.

I hope that will happen, but I doubt it. I anticipate thorough investigation - though only by Israel itself - into the narrow circumstances surrounding the Israeli army killing of the seven charity workers. We will hear from the families of the dead, and learn their life stories.

I expect that the Israeli army officer responsible will, most unusually, be punished.

But the matter will end there and life will move on. Few want to say this out loud. There were no serious official protests in Britain and the United States so long as  atrocities were confined to the Palestinians.  

The real crime in the eyes of the West was Israel’s slaughter of white people. What happened yesterday is a terrible human tragedy for the aid workers and their families. But it is also a story of western racism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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