Israel-Palestine is a subject I have avoided for years. For a serious newspaper columnist or a humble Blogger, its a thankless task to try and analyse that particular conflict. History is about “nuance” and the partisans of Israel and Palestine just don’t do “nuance”. You are either “with us” or “against us”. It scares people. It scares journalists and academics as every word is scrutinised for some kinda ethnic defamation.
For LetsGetAlongerists, Peace Journalists and Conlict Resolutionists…there is “right and wrong” in every conflict. And for Historians also. But the thing is that the blame for war is not 50-50. Can we really say that on 1st September 1939, the Poles were as much to blame as the Germans? Can we really say that on 7th December 1941 the Americans were as much to blame as Japan?
Oh yes ..there IS Nuance. But ultimately it is not an equal share of blame. In April 1861, it might well have been possible for a person in uncommitted Kentucky, Maryland or Delaware to say “I like States Rights but I don’t like Slavery”. Many wrestled with the dilemma (and often influenced by a fealty to a family or community) made a decision. In Politics, Nuance is a good thing….in Conflict, Nuance is a luxury.
Which brings me to Israel. Created by United Nations and a member of the UN a full eight years before Ireland was admitted into membership….really I can only speak from my experiences as a nine year old, watching the News and learning about Israeli bravery in capturing-kidnapping-rendering Adolf Eichmann in Argentina.
Strangely that Eichmann incident is fictionalised rather a lot in BBC and ITV Dramas of the early 1960s. Israeli heroism and Egyptian treachery feature a lot. Why? After all Israel owes its very existence to the Stern Gang, a very anti-British terrorist organisation…anybody even mention the King David Hotel these days? Of course Terrorists stop becoming Terrorists when they win the War. And of course in the early 1960s and post-Suez Canal, it was Nasser’s Egypt that was the new enemy.
And of course it was less than two decades since World War Two and the full horrors of the concentration camps emerged.
The point I make is that by the Six Day War in 1967 (I was 15 years old) there was a lot of Goodwill towards Israel. As the momentum to war was building, it seemed very likely to me that Plucky Little Israel, surrounded by more numerous enemies would be destroyed but the only destruction was the Arab Air Forces………Plucky Little Israel won. An my thoughts were that I wished Plucky Little Ireland had the kinda Air Force that would destroy the Royal Air Force.
Of course…..this was at the height of the Cold War. The point was that the “good guys” …USA, Britain, France were on the side of democratic Israel and the “bad guys” …Russia, Cuba, China were on the side of the totalitarian regimes in Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
And of course it did not help that the dispossessed Palestinians were hijacking airplanes to be blown up on desert air strips. Or indeed that Israeli athletes were massacred at the 1972 Olympics. And of course there was more Israeli bravery at Entebbe Airport in Uganda (1976) when hostages were taken and rescued.
And Hollywood immortalised “The Raid at Entebbe”……….with Charles Bronson. As indeed it had immortalised the founding of the Israeli State in “Exodus” ….with Paul Newman.
And of course more real-life heroism in the 1973 Yom Kippur War ………..yet by the end of the 1970s the Western love affair with Israel was faltering. While Golda Meir had been popular, there was something sinister and unlovable about Prime Minister Begin…certainly unloved by Britain because of the King David Hotel massacre three decades before. And of course, the Palestinians a sideshow in Arab-Israeli Wars were moving centre stage under Yasser Arafat.
The Israelis and their unholy alliance with Lebanese “Christians” were massacring Palestinians in refugee camps. And of course the Jordanians had expelled them.
The Western World was certainly waking up to the realisation that the Palestinians had a story to tell……a story that Israel was anxious should not be told.
And as the Cold War staggered to an end, it was no longer simply a case of Western Europe going along with the Israelis. Yet USA………any administration was uncompromising backers of Israel. We kinda bought into a myth of the American Jewish Lobby. Oh yes, its powerful…..but not nearly as powerful as we tend to think in Europe.
Clearly no New York politician can afford to offend a large voter base but New York is Democrat and perhaps open to “nuance”. Meanwhile in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma are not great areas for a Jewish demographic…yet that’s where there is no nuance. That’s maybe the strength of the Israeli Lobby…white men with guns. Men who identify with border incursions and who have the bizarre notion that GOD gave them the land. Its as Biblical in Texas as it is in Tel Aviv.
The Old Testament. Manifest Destiny. Plantation of Ulster…if GOD gives a land to a race of people, well its likely to believed in Tandragee as it is in Tel Aviv.
For Ulster Unionists have the same siege mentality and convenient “GOD loves us more than HE loves everybody else” religion.
So little wonder that the unionists identify with Israel. Back in the 1970s when the IRA were headquartered in Dundalk, a unionist went on record as saying “if Moshe Dayan was here (sic) he would be in Dundalk (sic).
We have zero sum politics of course. But it is not just a default reaction that makes the Irish support the Palestinians. A gesture of support in An Dáil this week…a minutes silence nominally for Peace in the Middle East rather than overtly pro-Palestine…but hard to see how that gesture could happen on Capitol Hill or Westminster.
It is not just a default nationalist-republican position. There is that uncomfortable notion that things are never really 50-50 and of course the identity is not with Plucky Little Israel……it is with a dispossessed and, despised and stateless people…deliberately under-developed and marginalised.
THERE IS NO WAR IN GAZA. War requires symmetry and there is none in the Palestine-Israel conflict. All the big weapons are with the Israelis. The statistics prove it.
Israel is NOT the front-line of “our” civilisation.
My 11 year old Grandson has seen “The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas”. It is good that he mentions it a lot. I have seen too much footage of Nazi atrocities. And I have seen too much of polished westernised Israeli spokespersons with a vague American accent defending themselves as “people like me”. That I should almost be grateful for their actions that they are fighting a battle for MY Civilisation
For a man of my age…South Africa is still too fresh in my mind.
There is actually a connexion between South Africa and Israel. White men of Dutch and English heritage with their heads buried deep in the long grass, trying to convince themselves AND me that South Africa was actually situated somewhere between the Netherlands and the East Coast of England.
And those preppy Israeli spokesmen seem to want to convince me that Israel is actually situated somewhere between Eastern Europe and New York. Aided in the belief Israel competes in European sports competitions and the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Apartheid regime never really understood that it was in Africa…and Israel cant quite grasp it is in the Middle East.
So we pick a side. The loyalist fleggers at Belfast City Hall today waved an Israeli flag. And there were predictable scuffles between loyalists and Palestinian supporters who were attending a rally.
But the slow slide from being supportive of Israel (1967) thru struggling with nuance for decades to a declaration of open support for Palestine is for me …complete.
Of course I understand that historically and especially from 1933 to 1945, Jewish people have no reason to trust anyone other than themselves. They wont let another Holocaust happen. But Israelis and their supporters would be better advised not to equate me …or my nation …with anything other than Decency. And there is no decent bone in my body which can justify the actions that Israel has taken over decades in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank or the “territories”…their illegal settlements.
They do appear ambivelant about real and lasting Peace and have a powerful ally in USA, which has stayed too loyal to Israel, long after it was justified by the realpolitik of the Cold War.
Of course, there is obviously a degree of Islamophobia in USA and just as obviously there is a degree of anti-Semitism in criticism of Israel. Yet Israel seems to play the victim rather too easily as plainly in the Gaza Strip for the past ten days, they are NOT the victim. Israel is the Aggressor. Yet for those of us, who value “nuance” there is no real point in differentiating between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Zionist. The accusation of being anti-Semitic frightens us off.
I looked for quotes and I looked for names that are supportive of Israel…and was really too scared to use them …because the names often have a known or implied ethnicity.
Of course the Arab World has threatened to blow Israel off the map of the world. I condemn that utterly. But I observe that the Arab World has been manifestly unsuccessful. And I further observe that Israel has been rather more successful at making sure Palestine never gets on the map of the world.
So……….is there any hope for a settlement in the Middle East?
The Conflict Resolutionists might think so. But there is no 50-50 here. It is…maybe…Norn Iron writ large. Norn Iron was after all a sordid conflict that ended in stagnation and stubbornly refuses to move beyond stalemate. We have already allowed Post-Conflict behind and are in the Pre-Conflict stage. Seconds Out! The next round of the Anglo-Irish Conflict will start soon enough. Increasingly I believe it can only end in Victory or Defeat…not Compromise.
And that is even more true of Israel-Palestine. The Israelis simply don’t care about kids playing football on a Gaza beach or ordering civilians from their homes or photographs of an Israeli soldier beating a Palestinian child. It begins and ends with the Holocaust must not happen again. The hatred of the Arab World and the animosity of the Western World bonds Israelis……….well as long as the United States supply the weaponry.
Will it end? Probably. But not in compromise. Total Victory or Total Defeat.
Nuance is a Luxury. Choose a side.