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A Satirist Calls Out the Calculus of the Horror of War. The Cost Must Count.

The ratio of killings for over a decade before the recent Hamas attack was roughly 400 Israelis to about 7,000 Palestinians. That is over 17 times Palestinians killed in the conflict ostensibly during peacetime. 

“So please tell us what is the new exchange rate for killings between Palestinians and Israelis,” asked Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef in the popular American TV show Piers Morgan Uncensored which went viral last week.

When rational discourse fails to articulate moral outrage, black humour or satire becomes the only  available instrument. With a straight face, Youssef suggests to Morgan that the civilised world should just let Palestinians know what is the new exchange rate for the killing of Palestinians vis a vis the Israelis. Youssef, whose wife is Palestinian, waves a paper carrying the statistics of such deaths over a decade and a half. He suggests roughly about 7,000 Palestinians to some 400 Israelis killed in the everyday conflict caused by Israeli occupation of Gaza and West Bank in that period.

Youssef urges the world to tell Palestinians if this exchange rate of deaths will change after the recent Hamas attack. “Please tell us what the new exchange rate is. At least we will know what the Palestinians should be prepared for!”

At the time of the Morgan show last week, Israel had lost 1,400 to the Hamas attack and the relentless  bombing of Gaza had taken a toll of 3,500 Palestinians. The Palestinian death toll today stands at over 6,000.

Youssef’s rhetorical question may seem like dark humour taken to another level but it is also deeply disturbing  because in the ‘peace diplomacy’ practiced by the ‘civilised’ world’ (the UN included), such proportionality of punishment is taken very seriously though it remains formally unstated. After all, even the UN chief called for a ceasefire only 11 days after the Hamas attack and subsequent Israeli bombing.

So the question posed by Youssef is a serious one and is relevant even today as the Palestinian toll continues to rise sharply and Israel prepares for a ground action. The ratio of killings for over a decade before the recent Hamas attack was roughly 400 Israelis to about 7,000 Palestinians. That is over 17 times Palestinians killed in the conflict ostensibly during peacetime.

Obviously, this ratio will change during a full scale war, as is happening now. Therefore, Youssef wants to know what is the new exchange rate that Israel and its key Western allies would settle at. The key question is after how many Palestinian deaths will the American establishment formally call for a ceasefire? The so-called peace time exchange rate of sacrificing 17 times Palestinian lives might take the civilian toll to well over 20,000 in Gaza (1,400 ×17) in the present war.

Perhaps Israel and its Western allies will not go that far. For such a genocidal exchange rate in wartime could trigger a wider conflagration in West Asia. As Youssef says, the colonisers at some point will stop and say, “We feel sorry for what happened to you.” They did it to the native Americans in the 19th century. After reducing their population to less than 10%, the colonisers felt sorry and stopped. Modern diplomacy has perhaps created a more refined version of such proportionality between the colonisers and the colonised. Of course, the Anglo-Saxon world has had enough net practice over past centuries of arriving at such an exchange rate of killings in the act of colonisation as well as during war. Sometimes, it is not even necessary to use arms, ammunition and bombing to arrive at a new exchange rate of deaths during war. After all Winston Churchill achieved it by simply diverting food grains from Bengal to the warfront to feed British soldiers.

As for the Israel-Palestine war, there has been no real peacetime since 1948, when – under the aegis of the UN – the territorial division of the former British mandate territory started with roughly 45% for Palestine and 55% for Israel.

Today Israel hold 77% of the land and even in the remaining 23%, Israeli military occupation persists. And this has been accompanied by decades of a constantly shifting exchange rate of killings on both sides. Of course, the coloniser backed by the mighty global military-industrial complex sets a hugely favourable  exchange rate with ruthless efficiency, notwithstanding all the politically correct UN resolutions.

Youssef’s question has profound implications in the amoral world of diplomacy.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.