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The Death and Gloom of Donetsk and Gaza

Vladimir Putin in Israel, visiting a memorial dedicated to the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany. June 25, 2012. Kremlin press service, public domain.

Vladimir Putin in Israel, visiting a memorial dedicated to the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany. June 25, 2012. Kremlin press service, public domain.

There were two headline-grabbing events on Thursday, July 17: the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, presumably by separatists in eastern Ukraine, and the beginning of Israel’s ground assault into the Gaza Strip. While the former received immense attention on the Russian Internet, the latter incident went decidedly less noticed. There are obvious reasons for this. MH17 crashed in Russia’s backyard, and the fact that Moscow might have provided the missile makes the story front-page news. Also, the media onslaught in Russia, which attempts to hawk any conspiracy theory to cast doubt on the possible guilt of separatists and Moscow, makes the catastrophe ripe for online discussion. 

The current crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t arouse as much passion as MH17. It is only tangentially connected to Russian interests, and though Putin is personally sympathetic to Israel, he stops short to condoning the Jewish state’s war on Hamas. Indeed, a perusal of RT coverage of the conflict puts Russia mainly on the side of the Palestinians. Also, the latest back and forth between the Israelis and Palestinians is easily cast off as just the latest round of violence in a never-ending conflict. Despite a mounting death toll on the Palestinian side (at the time of writing, the figure is 620), few RuNet users are writing substantive comments.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some chatter about the conflict. It’s common for Russian users of Twitter, for instance, to post regular updates about the conflict. Tweets counting Palestinian deaths are routine. A typical tweet reads:

500 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the operation into the Gaza Strip.

Or to highlight the intensity of the death, some have tweeted:

Over 100 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours.

Another user pointed to the fact that Gaza is essentially an open-air prison.

Palestine is the largest open-air prison in the world. #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack

Another Twitter user simply said:

The Gaza Strip is witnessing a humanitarian disaster. 

Aside from these and other news-headline tweets, not all, of course, are pointing to Israeli-inflicted death. For updates from an Israeli perspective, Russian language users can follow the Israeli Defense Forces’ official Russian Twitter feed, @Tsahal_Rus. There, you find tweets like the following:

Since the beginning of the ground operation, the IDF has liquidated 110 terrorists and bombed 1,302 terrorist targets.

Besides chronicling the war casualties, some RuNet users have pondered the apparent hopelessness of the age-old conflict. Blogging on Ekho Moskvy, political analyst Mikhail Osherov argues that Israelis are unwilling to give up the spoils of the Six Day War. Reflecting on the Israeli saying, “There are no solutions,” Osherov writes:

За счёт дешёвой и бесправной арабской рабочей силы, за счёт бесплатной земли на оккупированных территориях в конце 1960-х – начале 1970-х годов в Израиле произошёл экономический бум, плодами которого местные израильтяне пользуются до сих пор. Благосостояние израильского среднего класса, благополучие целых отраслей израильской экономики, таких, как строительство, дорожное строительство, сельское хозяйство, невозможны без дешёвой арабской рабочей силы, значительную часть которой составляют жители оккупированных арабских территорий. Прекращение оккупации означает для Израиля и израильтян если не конец “халявы”, то начало его конца.

Due to a cheap and disenfranchised Arab workforce, and due to free land in the occupied territories, there was an economic boom in Israel in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the fruits of which local Israelis still use. The welfare of the Israeli middle class, and the wellbeing of entire sectors of the Israeli economy, such as construction, road construction, and agriculture, would be impossible without cheap Arab labor, much of which composed of inhabitants of the occupied Arab territories. Ending the occupation would mean for Israel and Israelis, if not the end of the “free lunch,” then the beginning of the end.

Instead of delving into the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some users used the opportunity to make comparisons to Ukraine, mostly to point out the hypocrisy of world opinion.

@Schrodinger1986 tweeted:

Now, in the Gaza Strip, Israel annihilates six-year-old “terrorists,” and in Ukraine . . . believe it or not, in Ukraine it’s the same.

In a post on his Vkontakte wall, Sergey Gostev wrote:

ООН игнорирует ситуацию на Украине, где ежедневно гибнет больше людей чем в Секторе Газа.

The United Nations ignores the situation in Ukraine, where more people die every day than in the Gaza Strip [sic].

Another Vk user, Vladimir Vladimirov, asks

Мне вот интересно, летают ли гражданские самолеты над Сектором Газа? И если нет, то почему. 

I would like to know: do civilian planes fly over the Gaza Strip? If not, then why.

Dark humor on the Web is never hard to find, and the news from Ukraine and Gaza is no exception. Playing off the Russian word for gas (“gaz”) and the literal name of the Gazа Strip in Russian (“the sector of gas”), some users joked,

Putler [a play on “Putin” and “Hitler”] is establishing in the Donbass a sector of shale gas.

Israel—the Gas Sector, Ukraine—the No-Gas Sector.

And:

на Украине возник “правый сектор” потому что кремль вовремя не создал пророссийской партии “сектор газа” #Украина

The “Right Sector” [nationalist movement] arose in Ukraine because the Kremlin didn’t create its own pro-Russian “Gas Sector” party in time.

Not everyone was laughing on July 17. @isma_mustafaev tweeted:

How the headlines put me in a shitty mood!!! #news #politics #russia #ukraine @palestine #gaza

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