Global Calculus of Horror and Destruction

Why Do Some Conflicts Get More Attention Than Others?

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 22, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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On Tuesday, November 20, while negotiators from at least six nations, two terrorist movements and the United Nations were working frantically in Cairo and Jerusalem to nail down the details of an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire, the violence in the field was continuing and reaching new heights.

Rockets killed two Israelis that day, bringing Israel’s death toll in the weeklong flare-up to five, including four civilians. At least 150 rockets were fired at Israel, including, for the second time in a week, a rocket that was aimed at Jerusalem but landed in the West Bank. Targeting Jerusalem was a particularly shocking escalation, given that a poorly aimed rocket fired at Israel’s capital might just as easily hit an Arab neighborhood as it would have a Jewish one. A bus bombing in Tel Aviv the next day, the first in six years, only heightened tensions.

On the Gaza side, 31 Palestinians were killed that Tuesday in Israeli attacks on 130 targets, according to Reuters. That brought the seven- day death toll in the Hamas-ruled enclave to about 135, including 53 civilians. Another six Gazans were shot to death on the street by Hamas gunmen on suspicion of collaborating with Israel.

The week of Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting riveted the world’s attention and dominated headlines. But it was not the only killing in the region, or the worst. In Syria that Tuesday, 61 people were killed in fighting, bringing the death toll in that country’s 20-month civil war to nearly 38,000, according to the rebel-linked Violations Documentation Center. Of those killed that day, 29 died in a clash in the mostly Kurdish village of Ras al-Ain, near the Turkish border, between free Syrian army rebels, who had captured the village that day, and rebels linked to the Kurdish Workers Party, who are fighting their own liberation war against Turkey, the Syrian rebels’ ally.

Some 2,300 miles due south that day, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a Tutsi rebel militia known as M23 captured the eastern provincial capital of Goma after four days of fighting that killed 151 people. It was the latest round in a civil war that began in 1998 — itself a spinoff off the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda — and was supposed to end in 2003, when a treaty was signed, but didn’t. The 14-year conflict has left an estimated 5.4 million dead, either from fighting or from disease and deliberate starvation directly related to the fighting. It’s the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, and it won’t end.


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