Middle East

US refuses to see it has blood on its hands in Gaza, Jeju massacres

They huddled in caves and tunnels. They died by the thousands as government forces battled to exterminate them as terrorists and terrorist sympathisers.

Does all that sound like the war being waged by Israel to root out members of Hamas from their hideouts in Gaza? Maybe, but it also could sum up the slaughter that engulfed the South Korean island of Jeju, which is less than 100 kilometres south of the Korean peninsula, from April 1948 through the Korean war that ended five years later. Official estimates place the number of people killed between 25,000 and 30,000, somewhat less than the 32,000 estimated to have died so far in Gaza.
The parallels between the killings on Jeju and those in Gaza might have struck the several thousand people gathered at the Peace Park on Jeju for a ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of sa sam, or “four three”. That is in reference to April 3, 1948, the day of the outbreak of the campaign to wipe out those opposed to the government in Seoul.
As in the Israeli war against Hamas, Korean authorities at the time cited the rebels’ attacks against police and soldiers. It was not until 2003 that South Korea’s president, the late Roh Moo-hyun, apologised for what took place. April 3 is now a day of mourning.

Just who was in charge in Seoul at the time of the outbreak of the slaughter in 1948 was not clear in the aftermath of US forces assuming control over the Korean peninsula south of the 38th parallel after the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945. However, there is no doubt who is in charge in Israel, and there is no question that the Israeli authorities are in command of the Israeli Defence Forces’ attacks against Hamas.


Humanitarian aid workers delivering food killed in Gaza in ‘unintentional’ air strike

Humanitarian aid workers delivering food killed in Gaza in ‘unintentional’ air strike

The common denominator between the events in Jeju and Gaza is US arms. The United States has poured more than US$100 billion of security assistance into Israel since its modern founding in 1948. Just as in Israel’s war, the police and military in Jeju used US weapons, first under the overall authority of the US occupation command in Seoul and then under the first South Korean President Syngman Rhee, who proved far more willing than the Americans had ever been to kill indiscriminately.
The Israeli military is killing much faster, and in much greater numbers, than the South Korean forces did on Jeju. While the Israeli government might not have deliberately ordered any attacks on civilians in Gaza, they must have known that an attack on a hospital Israel suspected of harbouring Hamas fighters would end up killing far more civilians than enemy combatants.
It might be possible to believe that any able-bodied man in the line of fire could be a terrorist, but no one can offer such a rationale for the deaths of women and children. Defenders of Israel might argue that collateral deaths are simply a fact of life in any war, as well as that some of the deaths taking place in Gaza are simply because of the kind of tragic errors that you have to expect during a conflict.


Hundreds killed in Gaza hospital blast, Israel and Hamas trade blame

Hundreds killed in Gaza hospital blast, Israel and Hamas trade blame

One large difference between the slaughter in Jeju and the one taking place in Gaza is the US response. There is no sign that the authorities in Washington, then under the Harry Truman administration, were aware of what was happening on Jeju, much less concerned about it.

In response to a request for comment, the US State Department said earlier this month that “the Jeju incident of 1948 was a terrible tragedy, and we should never forget the devastating loss of life”. It was the first the US government stated an official position on the issue, but it did not apologise.

What military support does the US provide to Israel?

The US response is essentially “innocent until proven guilty”, but of what? There is no evidence of any US role other than that of command responsibility as the ruling power for the first three years after the Japanese surrender. Just as the Korean war is often called the “forgotten war”, so the Jeju slaughter is forgotten.
Of course, Israel is another story. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from more attacks which are sure to kill more Palestinian citizens than Hamas fighters. Given the Biden administration’s hesitance to pull back the enormous amount of aid the US supplies to Israel, such pleas might come across as insincere. With Biden running for re-election this year, he is trying to sound like a peacemaker while still offering support to Israel.

The ambivalence in the US response to Gaza has echoes of its response to the killings on Jeju. It is true that US forces in South Korea did not order or condone what happened to the people of Jeju. They just failed to get Rhee’s forces to stop it.

The same might be said of the US role in Gaza. Judging from everything he has said so far, Biden appears to be doing all he can to rein in Netanyahu and the Israeli military, but some might say that’s all for show. Just as in Jeju more than seven decades ago as in Gaza now, the sin of omission is tantamount to that of commission.

Donald Kirk is an author and journalist from Washington, DC. His books on Korea include, notably, “Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine”, and “Korean Dynasty: Hyundai and Chung Ju Yung”


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