You don’t “defend yourself” by creating martyrs and encouraging terror

Okay, reluctantly, I’m going to bite and enter into the Middle East “debate”…

Like most people who have actually visited Israel and the Occupied Territories (i.e. both, albeit in my case the West Bank not Gaza), my first response to the all too regular outbreaks of murdering and maiming in the region is human concern. These are by and large fine, diligent, fun people who just want to get on but realise they are pawns in somebody else’s game. It doesn’t help to “take sides” partly because dividing the world into “goodies” and “baddies” is generally neither helpful nor legitimate, but mainly because it creates the view that this is some sort of sport where we have “our team” and “their team”. Actually hundreds of human lives are being wasted, and thousands of friends and relatives are being left in despair. It is more helpful to show concern at innocent lives being wasted through the actions of warmongering idiots than to pick a side on the basis of national or religious affiliation.

Closer to home, of course, we have the particular and frankly unbelievably irritating spectacle of thousands of people who have never been near the Middle East picking their “side” to legitimise their view of Northern Ireland rather than the basics of democracy, the Rule of Law and Fair Play. It is borderline pathetic to see people pick “Palestine” or “Israel” in the precise same way they pick “Celtic” or “Rangers”, and then justify or condemn everything from that ill-defined and frankly ridiculous position. It was the Israelis who kicked the British out in pursuit of a national homeland, and the Palestinians who (generally) seek partition, but, well, you know…

My good friend Richard Price pointed out the outrageous offence these parallels cause. The Army and RUC may have done some bad and illegal things, but they never carpet-bombed Newry; so shame on those who endorse equivalent actions elsewhere. Many people on all sides may have suffered from terror, but never on the scale of those on the Israeli/Palestinian border right now and on countless previous occasions; so stop pretending we “understand”. Most of all, we were never blatantly pawns in a global game, powerless in reality to do anything about our own society’s future – as we proved in 1998.

Then of course there’s the “well-meaning” but in the end almost equally non-sensical attempt to propose solutions which apparently “worked” elsewhere, which almost always involve for some reason involve South Africa. Let us leave aside the complete coincidence that Mandela’s release came five months after the Fall of the Wall (when the West no longer needed the White South Africans to defend Southern Africa from Communism) and 15 years after the ANC more clearly defined its goals and means of attaining them through popular protest and internal sanctions of a kind. Get this: South Africa is South Africa; Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland; and Israel/Palestine is Israel/Palestine.

Of course, there are universals in seeking peace and democracy, but so determined are we all to take “sides” or make “parallels” which happen to suit us that we tend to miss them. Firstly, if you want peace, it’s a good idea to stop killing each other; anyone doing so is to be condemned without reservation no matter what – and, for the record, you certainly don’t create peace by bombing hospitals and murdering children (an inevitable consequence of current Israeli action, no matter whose narrative it suits). Secondly, there’s more to democracy than voting – if people vote Likud or Hamas, be clear you’re not moving towards democracy (see above). Thirdly, and here’s the real biggie, people need to be motivated to seek peace – never underestimate the power of a populist seeking to justify violence for their own (not their people’s) ends.

On Israel/Palestine I will say this: we are all complicit in demotivating those who seek peace. The West has clearly decided that it is in its interests to prop up Israel, no matter how many children it murders; or even dare I suggest to promote instability in the Middle East no matter how many millions of lives it costs. I can only guess at the reasons for that, but I would guess they are at least indirectly almost all to do with oil. Until we in the West decide it’s actually in our interests to seek a degree of stability in the Holy Land through actions not words – and to deal with the short-term economic penalty (presumably a rising cost of living) to do so – we can put out all the hashtags we like, nothing will change. Honestly, I don’t expect to live to see that day – sadly.

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4 thoughts on “You don’t “defend yourself” by creating martyrs and encouraging terror

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    “It is borderline pathetic to see people pick “Palestine” or “Israel” in the precise same way they pick “Celtic” or “Rangers”, and then justify or condemn everything from that ill-defined and frankly ridiculous position.”

    You’d have to be sure that they’re actually doing that. My impression is that there is a degree of genuine affinity in both communities with Palestine and Israel (and with Celtic and Rangers for that matter, tragically stupid as that is). On the CNR side there is the feeling that the Irish were also expropriated, deported and colonised by religious zealots. On the PUL side there is the feeling of being a democracy assailed by terror and, for some, of being a chosen people. That’s not to say that some numpty or other will on occasion put up an Israeli flag just to annoy the taigs, though (it’s probably unavoidable, given the vertical integration of the two communities).

    “Get this: South Africa is South Africa; Northern Ireland is Northern Ireland; and Israel/Palestine is Israel/Palestine.”

    True, although as thinking people we’d also have to admit that Apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel are much more like each other than either is like Northern Ireland, and that Israel is by far the most violent of the three ethnocracies (as well as being the only one that actually still is an ethnocracy). We’d also have to acknowledge that, although, even at its worst, Northern Ireland was only ever a comparatively mild form of tyranny, not everyone’s narrative starts in 1922.

    I don’t think it’s all to do with oil, either. Much has to do with US politics, in which Israel is more or less a domestic rather than a foreign-policy issue. There is also a very strong generational divide, with much more sympathy for Israel the closer one is temporally to the Holocaust. The trouble for Israel is that those generational changes in attitudes are likely to be complete at a time when a) it is no longer possible to extricate the two communities from each other and b) there is a Palestinian majority in mandatory Palestine. I think, therefore, that Palestine-Israel may turn into a version of Northern Ireland, with a great deal of violence along the way. It will be far more unstable and less pleasant than Northern Ireland too, with a majority of people either Muslim or ultra-orthodox even within Israel’s legally recognised borders within a few years, given present birth rates. Under those circumstances, I suspect that many of the secular Ashkenazim will find themselves applying for European or American passports, depending on their entitlement. There are 17,000 Israelis in Berlin already.

    • Last point is very interesting. It ties with my instinct that actually there is a sense of moral compulsion to support Israel post-Holocaust – but that may not be limitless.

  2. tim... says:

    I am not well enough versed to enter the debate at a political level, but one thing that is happening, and that can effect the long term solution is that there is a growing support for the Palestinian cause from people that are generally apolitical. The main driver of this is the attacks that are killing and injuring children. I am seeing people post on Facebook who have little or no interest in international politics, but who are getting very upset by the actions of the Israeli leadership.

    • Yes, I think that’s right. And there’ll come a time that Israel is expendable to the West – financially and even morally. Have the Israeli hawks a plan for that?

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