Thursday, 24 July 2014

Lay off Israel (and beware those who think in primary colours)

I might come out of my comfort zone here and upset a lot of people, but listening once again to a report on the trouble in Gaza, I’ve decided to add my two ha’porth worth. The popular sentiment is on the side of the Palestinians in Gaza and so, by a rather cynical default, with Hamas. Thus Israel is inevitably cast in the role of ‘bad guy’. If only it were all so reassuringly simple.

I think the first mistake is to imagine there are only two protagonists here. The way I see it, there are three and possibly even four: the Palestinians living in Gaza, Hamas, Israel and Egypt. Specifically, I believe we should query whether Hamas is operating in the best interests of everyone else living in Gaza or, as I have come to believe, is pursuing its own agenda at whatever the human cost knowing full well that once again it is Israel which looks bad.

I don’t here want to go into the ‘rights and wrongs’ of the original establishment of Israel, primarily because I don’t believe there are any ‘rights and wrongs’. As much for political reasons as for anything else the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is now a political fact. And undeniably the Israeli approach to building a country and a strong economy proved to be a lot more effective than that of any other people who had occupied that part of the world. Incidentally, and contentiously - especially in view of what I have already written and shall be writing later on - I don’t buy into this notion that ‘Israel’ was and is the birthright of Jews throughout the world.

Few peoples have been as abysmally treated for the past 2,000 years as the Jews and they have been dispersed throughout the world. But I simply don’t agree that the land that is now Israel should always have been ‘theirs’. It most certainly is now, and I back them up to the hilt in their right and duty to defend themselves and their country. If anyone is to blame for the current chronic crisis in what was once known as Palestine and the surrounding land it is the British who, still operating in imperial mode, simply decreed the state of Israel and to hell with the rights of the folk who were already living there, the Palestinians. And that decree was essentially political.

But even writing that I, too, am straying rather dangerously into primary colours territory. In fact the campaign to have a state of Israel established had begun decades earlier and finally establishing the state was part of complex nexus of obligations and alliances. It wasn’t as though the British decided to do Israel a favour - it might well have been just to get the Stern Gang off their backs.

There is a great deal the Israelis should arguably not be doing: they, too, are at times behaving in imperial mode when they found ever more settlements on ‘occupied land’. I stick that in inverted commas because it, too, is a contentious issue. Israel gained that land after it was invaded - let me stress, it did not start the fight - and quite apart from seeing off the invaders, managed to grab some of their land.

It’s been happening throughout history: California and Texas were acquired on the same basis, but no one in their right mind is demanding that the U.S. returns the states to Mexico who had it before them. But, of course, it wouldn’t stop there: Mexico also took over the land from Native Americans - should it be handed back to them? But the state of Israel is a political fact and - this is crucial - unlike any of the countries that surround it, it is a fully functioning democracy with the rule of law.

What to make of Hamas? Well, I can only go by news reports - as is true of you reading this - and I am struck by just how cynically it is fighting this war: no one seems to be castigating Hamas for using hospitals and schools from which to launch its missiles and as human shields. In fact the boot is very much on the other foot with the bien pensant of the Western world falling over themselves to justify the group’s actions. Let me finish this with a question to all those criticising Israel for the means it has chosen to defend itself: what would you do if you came under attack?

Finally, and very reluctantly, I must admit that I feel I detect more than a trace of latent anti-semitism in the criticism of Israel. You can only believe me when I tell you that I find anti-semitism incomprehensible (rather like I find Chinese, Japanese and Urdu incomprehensible), but there is most certainly plenty of it around and most certainly, whether consciously or not, a great many folk are using the crisis in Gaza to indulge in yet a little more.

Then there is Egypt: I didn’t hear any of the voices now castigating Israel over how it is reacting in Gaze protesting when President Morsi was removed in an army coup. And I don’t hear any of those voices also protesting that the new regime in Egypt is yet another military dictatorship. Egypt, in fact, is no friend of Hamas, whose sympathies are with the Muslim Brotherhood. So Egypt will be rather pleased that Israel has had to take on the dirty work of neutralising Hamas.

As I say, these things are really not at all as simply as Hamas in White Hats and Israel in the Black Hat. Not that most prejudiced folk will care, of course.

NB Reading over the above, I do feel I could well have tried to express myself more subtly. But there you have it: however crude and rough-edged my reasoning, what I have written above represents what I believe. But I’ll repeat: there really are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this one and beware anyone who tries to persuade you otherwise (usually by shouting you down, and that is never a good sign).

1 comment:

  1. well put, Patrick, and entirely my views