After two Americans and a French national were reported killed while fighting alongside the Israeli army in Gaza, the news passed as if this was a normal occurrence. This news did not cause any commotion in political and media circles in the West. Western and international media outlets reported the news without fanfare, and no side expressed its condemnation or called for an investigations into those who left their countries in order to participate in the Israeli army’s operations in Gaza.
The situation in Gaza has been described by human rights activists and UN officials as a “massacre.” with many calling for investigation as to whether the huge civilian death toll constitutes a war crime or not. However we did not see any politicians lining up to demand measures be imposed to stop “foreign” fighters from travelling to Israel.
This leads us to ask: How would the US and Europe react if their citizens of Palestinian origins decided to head to Gaza or the West Bank in order to fight Israel?
Probably, or maybe certainly, this would cause a great commotion and lead to these volunteers being listed as terrorists. There have been many cases of Arabs or Palestinians who were prosecuted or put under surveillance for raising funds for Palestinian organizations, or for their activism protesting against the Israeli occupation. Such activities are far less serious than volunteering to fight, an act which will inevitably lead to stricter procedures.
The picture seems to be completely different when it comes to dealing with the thousands of volunteers who travel annually from Europe, the US and other countries to join the Israeli army as trainees or soldiers. These foreign-born “volunteers” take part in direct military operations, such as the one currently taking place in Gaza. They, of course, are not branded as terrorists or dismissed as mercenaries. They fight alongside the Israeli army and then return to their countries of birth without being interrogated or prosecuted.
If one of them happened to be killed in a military operation, they would be honored in Israel and would find someone to defend them in the Western media, justifying their involvement in the killing of Arabs and Palestinians.
The Israeli propaganda machine, which is active in many Western political and media circles, promotes these volunteers and seeks to convince the world that they are “heroes,” while the volunteers who go to Arab and Muslim countries are, of course, terrorists.
There are thousands of Jewish volunteers from the US, Europe and other countries serving in the Israeli army today. According to official figures, the number of Jewish volunteers reached 5,500 in 2012. Today, there are an estimated four thousand volunteers who are contributing, in one way or another, in the military operations in Gaza, whether by serving on the front lines or operating from behind a desk.
The Israeli army has programs for recruiting Jewish “volunteers” who come to receive military training and serve for up to 18 months. A proportion of these do not return to their countries of birth and remain in Israel. In a bid to shield them from criticism, the Israeli propaganda machine claims that these volunteers are “patriots” committed to defending the “Jewish state.” They are not mercenaries fighting for money, Israel claims. This logic, of course, is not different from the logic of any extremist ideology, whether political or religious, and is similar to the logic being employed by the extremist groups operating in the Arab and Muslim world.
Fighters of an organization, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example, promote themselves as not motivated by earthly gains but seeking to promote their religion. They join the ranks of extremist groups because they feel a sense of belonging to its ideology and agenda.
In fact, the atmosphere that feeds the minds of Jewish volunteers is not much different from the one producing extremists anywhere in the world, including the Arab and Muslim world.
However, extremism always breeds counter-extremism. Volunteers who join the Israeli army are the product of extensive recruitment programs pumping racist propaganda against Arabs and Muslims by portraying them as terrorists and extremists who seek to exterminate the Jews and uproot their state. This propaganda is based on stressing “never again” to the injustices suffered by the Jews in Europe; however the Palestinians and Arabs are not the ones responsible for this ugly past. Little wonder that footage has surfaced on social media of recruits boasting about shooting Palestinian civilians and bragging about their desire to kill Arabs and Palestinians.
Double standards have become a familiar approach in international politics. But turning a blind eye to extremists on the Israeli side and Jewish volunteers from the US, Europe and other countries who join the Israeli army will not only exacerbate the situation in the region but also feed into an atmosphere of extremism from which no one will be safe.