I’ve avoided writing about the Gaza crisis up ’til now for the simple reason that it triggers that irrational style of debate we see in Northern Ireland known as “Whataboutery”. You’ll know it well, where every example given is countered by another example of an injustice inflicted upon the other side. The debate then goes into a whirlpool of claim and counterclaim, and all but the most zealous partisans just turn over and do something else instead.
But I would like to make a few observations. I’m not claiming any special insight, just a few thoughts that keep sticking with me throughout this, as the disturbing, dehumanising images from Gaza continue.
1. I’ve been to Israel. It’s an strikingly beautiful country, something you never associate with it. I was only about 14, but even then I was struck about how the Holocaust is to the Israelis a living, breathing thing. It’s a norm for families to have elderly survivors, with tattoos on their arms, people who saw their parents or brothers or sisters killed in front of them.
Think about that. Not people who went to Schindler’s List and were hugely moved by it. Not people who, like me, visited Dachau or Birkenau or Auschwitz and did the tour. Real people who sit with their grandchildren and tell them what it was like. An entire country founded by a people psychologically damaged by arguably the most evil regime in human history. An entire country of people who can look at each other and think, as they look at their children playing in the garden, or look across a table at their boyfriend or girlfriend, and think that just over 70 years ago there were people running almost a whole continent who wanted to murder every single one of them. Every single one.
This isn’t just history to Israel. Unlike those of us in Europe who solemnly come out with phrases like “Never again”, and then watch as Srebenica happened, the Israelis mean it. It’s happened before, and if it’s unlikely to happen again that’s only because the Israelis built a military machine powerful enough to make the idea unbelievable. If it is to happen again, it won’t be without Israel taking as many of the bastards with them as possible. They won’t be quietly shuffling on to trains next time.
That’s one side, and it allows many good people in Israel to sleep easily in their beds.
I’m not even going to get into the founding of the state, and the effective taking of Palestine off people who lived there. I just wanted to write about the Israeli mindset.
But here’s the question: What would happen if either side stopped what it was doing?
Supposing Hamas stopped firing rockets, indeed handed over its weapons to a respected third party. Would Israel stop firing? Probably. Would it improve the lives of Palestinians, aside from not dying from shelling? Probably not that much. Same with Israel: if the Israelis stopped retaliating, and let Iron Dome defend it, and let the IDF protect against ground attacks and incursions, and never set foot in PNA territory again, would Israel get any thanks? Probably not.
But I will tell you one thing: Israel is definitely losing the media war, and that surely is the Hamas aim. Not to militarily defeat Israel, which is impossible, but to rely on Israel reacting exactly as Hamas want them to react, in the full view of the world.
Israel is blinded by its own strength. Israel seems to believe that it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks, as long as it has the US on its side, but it does. More importantly, with the occupation and the building of settlements, Israel has ceded the moral authority it had a right to hold after the Holocaust. The occupation isn’t anything comparable to the Holocaust, but it is a filthy black mark across a country that should know better. You can’t treat millions of people like this and be a decent country, and that’s the problem. There is a section of Israel, like there was a section of the old South African population, who believe that the status quo is acceptable and can be continued indefinitely, but it can’t. Things change. Israel looks more and more like old South Africa, keeping millions of people in a political non-status, and across Europe a new generation of politicians do not see a respect for remembering past injustices as a carte blanche for present ones.
Every Israeli shell is not making Israel safer. It’s a recruiting machine sucking in the brother and sister of every victim, the son and daughter who watched their parents die. Some will just throw rocks, or maybe strap a bomb to their chest and try to get on a bus. But one day one will learn how to manufacture a biological weapon, or a crude atomic bomb. This is not making Israel safer.
Finally, let me say one thing: in recent days, I’ve stopped, maybe one of two paragraphs in, reading anybody who tells me that this is all 100% X’s fault. It’s true that Israel is the more powerful player by far, but even Israel can’t impose a solution on this, short of the total annihilation of the population of Gaza and the West Bank, something which Israel would never do because Israel is just not that kind of country (watch how that sentence sends the trolls bezerk. Even as I wrote this, I was constantly re-editing because “that’ll send the pro-Palestinians nuts” or “That’ll make the pro-Israelis kick off”).
But this? Israel is better than this. Israel has most of the power, and so the onus is on Israel to take the risks for peace if its current leaders are serious.
I shall now post this, and sit back and be accused by both sides of being an apologist for the other.