Wednesday 23 July 2014

"Give them back their childhood"

I recently went to my local synagogue for the first time in a few years to hear the former mayor of Sderot speak. He spoke remarkably well, especially given English is not his native language and without notes. A lot of what he said was nothing I haven't heard before, though it made me emotional hearing it said with such passion and feeling. It was also, perhaps crucially, nothing that even the most casual of Facebook commentators on Israel-Palestine won't have heard so I won't repeat it here, but two things really stuck with me:

1. He asked us to imagine children born in Sderot in 2001.

They would have just had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and all they will have known is rocket fire. 8000 rockets worth. 13 years of constant running for shelters and living in fear with the first thing they learnt being "Tzeva Adom" or red alert, the Israeli rocket siren alert. They've grown up such that they are unlikely to lead normal lives, every detail in their lives geared towards missile defence from ballistic windows in schools, playground toy structures that double up as bomb shelters and concerted efforts to ensure that wherever they are, they are never 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

It made me think of the Guardian article I was reading earlier. (Bear with me!) It made the point that there have been 3 wars in Gaza in the last 6 years. That means a 7 year old Gazan child, lucky enough to survive so far, has grown up, much like his/her fellow child a few miles away, with war. Imagine it for a minute. If your little brother or sister had seen 3 wars. Heck, if you had seen 3 wars. Lived through them.

When you consider the lives of children in Sderot (and other cities near Gaza and, unfortunately, increasingly more distant cities) and Gaza are so tragically similar, you realise there is a humanity missing from vehement supporters on both sides. Of course there arguments there to be had and ignorance to be dispelled - I would find it impossible not to defend Israel against cries of disproportionately and anti-Semitic libels (all too common amongst even the most learnéd of my friends) - she remains my country and a Jewish homeland that the protests across Europe are ironically yet unfortunately continually confirming the need for, but you realise what is truly important.

No child should have to grow up like this. This is no way for a child to live.

2. "I hope one day to test peace with my neighbours"

There was a shake in his voice that made this the most genuine thing he said all night. Of course I felt moved by his entire story, everything he had to say but this was one of the last things he said to us and the way he said it was so heartfelt and moving. He, just like most on both sides of the border, wants to live in peace. He wants his children to never have to see the inside of a bomb shelter. He wants the children in Gaza to live long lives, in prosperity that could have been theirs prior to Hamas. It's a genuine desire, one that most Israelis and most Palestinians genuinely harbour. It is one that is all to easy to forget about, to ignore when bashing Israel or defending her actions. It is one that is almost easier to dismiss as if it is not important, when it is the most important thing to remember during this conflict. He spoke movingly about peace, a Palestinian state and a Jewish homeland, about there being enough land for everyone to enjoy and prosper in.

It's easy to forget about the regular people on the ground when we discuss Hamas or Israel and the big players in the region. There are just two people, wanting to get on with their lives. Why don't we let them?

Sunday 20 July 2014

We're doing it wrong

I have recently liked two groups on facebook: 'Palestine Loves Israel' and 'Israel Loves Palestine'. I didn't know they existed until I read what I think is the best piece I have read on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I am glad to have found them. They put everything into perspective.

Whilst I sit here and argue with people on Facebook on whether or not Israel is committing genocide; post links complaining about BBC bias; and try to expose Hamas' use of human shields and their culpability in Palestinian deaths there are Palestinians, innocent civilians like you and me, fleeing their homes, living in fear and dying.

Whilst pro-Palestinians accuse Israel of genocide; suggest all Jews are responsible for the shelling of Gaza; blockade Jews inside Synagogues and the anti-Zionist-but-not-anti-Semitic brigade are out in force on twitter and the streets, innocent civilians are running from rocket attacks, living in fear and, also, dying.

Whilst we all rush to lay blame at the feet of Hamas or the feet of Israel homes are being reduced to rubble, livelihoods destroyed and families destroyed.

Whilst we all clamber to the moral high ground, accusing pro-Palestinians of deafening silence over Syria and Iraq or hiding anti-Semitism behind the cloak of legitimate criticism of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian people, there are two groups of people who just want to earn a wage, feed their families and enjoy their lives.

Enough really is enough. I've had enough. I don't want to argue against ignorant anti-Semites on Facebook and Twitter anymore. It won't get me anywhere. I don't want to have constructive discussions with intelligent critics of Israel about settlements and Israeli policy. It won't get peace any nearer.

It's time for more of us regular civilians, pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian and hopefully pro-both, to 'like' Palestine Loves Israel and Israel Loves Palestine on Facebook and listen to stories from civilians under fire. It's time for more of us, including myself, to stop engaging in fruitless Facebook discussions. And what is more, it is time for peace. Peace doesn't come if you can prove Israel acted disproportionately. Peace doesn't come if you can prove that Palestinian deaths are tragic but somehow inevitable and therefore okay. We, mostly, all want the same things. Israelis no more want to live under fire than Palestinians want them to live under fire. Palestinians no more want to be shelled and live under Hamas than Israelis want them to be shelled and live under Hamas. When we realise that, we may get closer to peace.

Peace comes when you reach out to what is the other side in a genuine attempt to understand their situation and realise that we're all the same.

Saturday 12 July 2014

The Tragedy of Palestinian life

Israel should not and will not make any apologies for investing heavily in the Iron Dome defence system as well as bomb shelters to protect her citizens. That Hamas choose to keep its leaders safe in bunkers and bomb shelters, leaving its civilian population to look after the rockets kept in homes, schools and places of worship is a horrific war crime, one that leaves ordinary Palestinians fearful for their lives. But it makes you wonder, what exactly is Hamas hoping to achieve? Their genocidal intent is unquestionable and it seems to me that often when I read someone tell me that Hamas rockets don't kill, I sense a twinge of disappointment. Regardless of their obvious dreams to murder as many Israelis as possible, you have to feel that if they cared about Palestinian lives they would not fire rockets at a country they know will respond. It seems an obvious point, but one that is conveniently ignored whenever rockets are dismissed as (usually) ineffectual.

Whatever you think of Israel's response, you must admit that firing rockets into Israel is a ludicrously stupid thing to do - unless you are comfortable with placing every Gazan under the threat of one of the world's largest militaries. Indeed, that rockets have hit the supposedly holy should-be-our-capital Jerusalem as well as actually Palestinian cities in Hebron and Bethlehem, one is inclined to doubt Hamas has any commitment to the Palestinian cause and Palestinian life, rather they are willing to jeopardise both in order to score propaganda victories against Israel. When a Hamas rocket falls short, landing in Gaza, leaves UNRWA warehouses ablaze I think one is entitled to question Hamas' true motives. Palestinian lives are reduced to mere point-scoring machines and when Israel does not kill enough, pictures from Syria that are never before seen in the western media are circulated to make a dire situation seem worse. Over 100 Palestinians, terrorists and civilians, have been killed since the launch of Operation Protective Edge. The only thing more tragic than this number is the fact that Hamas and pro-Palestinian activists on twitter do not deem this enough. Instead, they must steal pictures of dead Palestinians from Syria that no one cared about because Assad, not Israel, was to blame and claim they too are amongst the Gazan dead.

No one truly cares about the Palestinians. Not Hamas and Fatah, the political entities that are supposed to represent them yet endanger their lives by firing indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities and refusing them access to bomb shelters. Not Arab countries that surround them who either restrict their rights (Lebanon/Egypt/Jordan) or murder them (Syria). Not Western governments who are too busy falling over themselves to confirm that killing people is indeed a bad thing. Not the pro-Palestinian activists littered about on Twitter who value Palestinian life so highly that dead Palestinians outside Gaza are only worthy of mention when not enough die in Gaza for their liking. And certainly not the antisemites who point out that hundreds more Palestinians die than Israelis and this proves the disproportionate nature of the Israeli response, implying that if hundreds of Israelis died too, the Palestinian deaths would be less tragic.

I wish there was a way for Israel to stop rockets raining down on her people without responding with air strikes that will kill innocents. I wish equally, perhaps even more, for the Palestinian people to be represented by political entities and supported by activists that value their lives above delegitimising Israel. That they are not is the real tragedy of Palestinian life.

Friday 11 July 2014

There should be no 'but'

One of my pet hates is starting a sentence like, "I'm not racist..." and following it with a 'but'. Invariably what follows is a racist statement, or a statement justifying racism. There is no but. It should just be "I'm not racist." I've noticed few examples of this that have frustrated me.

The first is "The Palestinian deaths are tragic but..." The next bit is, "Israel must defend herself," and something about how they are unavoidable and/or, "It is Hamas' fault." Both are true. Both are/should be irrelevant when discussing the tragic nature of Palestinian deaths. We need to distance ourselves from this culture where justifying death is permissible. There should be no but, there is no justification for the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians. Rather, let's say, and mean, "The Palestinian deaths are tragic and we pray there is a way to end them whilst still protecting Israeli civilians." Because you know what? There is. The removal of Hamas, but that is a political point we do not need to argue here.

This works the other way, the second is: "Israel has a right to defend herself but..." or "The rocket attacks are terrible but..." The but is usually followed by some reference to no Israelis dying or the fact that Palestinians do or some other statement contradicting the principle of the bit before the but. Again, there is no but. Israel has a right to defend itself, full stop. The rockets are terrible full stop. It's the same as above, stop justifying rocket attacks and stop reducing the capacity of Israel to defend herself.

Owen Jones is responsible for an awful example of the above, whilst his latest piece in The Guardian is horrific for other reasons.

Firstly, he quotes a human rights activist saying that Israel is targeted by "shitty rockets" and that Israel has bomb shelters etc whilst Gaza does not. The former is an example of "The rockets are wrong but..." That the rockets aren't very good is no excuse, is no justification for their use. This reward for Hamas' incompetence vs Israel's ability to protect her civilians is bizarre. The latter is simply false. Gaza is awash with bomb shelters. It's just that the civilians are not allowed to use them, Hamas forces them into the firing line using them as human shields.

Secondly, Owen, in one brilliant paragraph manages to both justify Hamas rockets into civilian areas *and* belittle the fear amongst Israelis that he states you should not belittle. It really is a feat of journalism not to be sniffed at. The first sentence of the second paragraph gets off to a good start. There is no defence for Hamas' firing of rockets into civilian areas and you should not belittle the fear that it causes Israelis in the bomb shelters. What he then goes to do is say 'but Israel has weapons and the rockets aren't very good' defending exactly what he states there is no defence for and belittling exactly that which he claims should not be belittled. What relevance does the ineffective nature of the rockets (which do kill, which do injure and which do damage property all whilst instilling a sense of fear into Israelis running for the bomb shelters) have? Similarly, why should the fact that Israel can defend herself and defend herself well make any difference to whether Hamas rockets are indefensible or Israelis should be scared of them? These two facts bear no relevance, not to media coverage (I mean, if Hamas fires a rocket into Israel, should the fact that Israel has "nuclear bombs" change the fact that Hamas fired a rocket into Israel?) and not to the initial statements that Owen makes and then dismisses.

Owen then tells us that 565 Palestinians were killed since January 2009. He also tells us that 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed in the same period. Seems a huge difference, right? Firstly, this has the horrible implication that somehow if 565 Israelis died, this would be okay. It is not Owen's intention, but the implication is some sort of barbaric bible-style eye for an eye justice would be preferable, as if somehow the 565 Palestinian deaths would be less bad if 565 Israelis had died. What's worse is Owen's deliberate misleading of his readers. In order to make it seem like more Palestinian civilians have been killed, he does not distinguish between, civilians and terrorists on the Palestinian side, but does distinguish between civilians and security personnel on the Israeli side. If you click on the link he provides, you will find that the number of civilians that died is about half that which Owen suggests it is, an intentional misrepresentation of the facts. Why distinguish on the Israeli side but not the Palestinian side? Is it because 565 reads much worse than the lower figure representing solely civilian casualties? Anything to make Israel seem even worse, eh? The irony of it all is, is that 242 civilians killed in the Gaza strip is still a horrifically high number, 242 higher than Israel wanted. 242 is still a tragically shocking number. Owen Jones, however, feels he needs to distort the facts to paint Israel in a bad light to suit his agenda. 242 deaths is not enough for Owen apparently.

Finally, in a bizarre move, Owen tells us that Human Rights Watch is not a "den of lefties." Perhaps. The organisation has its own anti-Israel bias that Owen would no doubt agree with. Its director, for example, finds it impossible to condemn unequivocally the kidnapping of Israeli teens. Every time he tried to, he managed to criticise Israel for her actions or mention the teens were settlers. As if either justifies the kidnapping and murder of innocents. Kidnapping teens is awful but...

Update 12/07/2014

I've just read Mira Bar Hillel's piece in the independent. Her overriding point is bizarre - because, in a democracy, there are politicians who believe and say horrible things, she is considering burning her Israeli passport. By her logic when Nick Griffin became an MEP we should have all been on the verge of burning our passports. Regardless, that's not what is wrong with the article. No, what's wrong with it is that she commits the cardinal 'but' sin. Not only does she make the same mistake as our friend Jones above, justifying Hamas terror because Israel can defend herself but she also places Israel and the Nazis on the same level. "I'm Jewish and the Holocaust was terrible - I should know right? My aunt and children perished but..."

Frankly, burn your passport Mira. Burn it now. We don't want Hamas apologists and Jews who compare Israel to the Nazis on our side.

Update 13/07/2014

Mira Bar Hillel read my blog. But she didn't read it very well.

Monday 7 July 2014

What exactly is 'proportionate'?

As you probably know from my Facebook and Twitter posts, I have recently downloaded the 'red alert' app, which sends a push notification every time a rocket is fired into Israel. About an hour ago, my phone couldn't keep up with the barrage of rockets that had been fired, with at least 80, reportedly, being fired into Israeli territory just today. Whilst Israelis run for cover, media outlets and Western politicians - as they did after the brutal murder of 3 Israeli teens last week - will call for Israel to act with restraint and no doubt accuse Israel of a disproportionate response. It is amazing how easy it is to clamber to the moral high ground when your starting place is a comfortable arm chair, sheltered (pun not intended) from the rocket fire that kills and injures Israelis. I ask two simple questions of everyone calling, perhaps with good intentions, on Israel to act with restraint:

1. What would you do? Just think about it for a minute.

2. What exactly is a proportionate response to indiscriminate rocket fire? Israel responds with targeted air strikes. Perhaps, simply returning rocket fire tit for tat would be proportionate?

I despair for the situation in the Middle East, truly I do. The cycle of violence looks like it is about to escalate, which will only lead to more needless Israeli and Palestinian deaths. (Initially that sentence read "deaths on both sides", but I decided to change it. This culture of "sides" and "us against them" is unhelpful.) What makes me irate, however, is people preaching at Israel, dictating what she should or should not do in response to attacks on her civilians, aimed at killing as many of them as possible.

I ask each and every one of you to download the app 'red alert'. Let your phone notifications reveal to you not only the joy of a new mention on twitter or a text from that person you're flirting with but also the horror and frequency of rocket fire into Israel. Perhaps you can change the sound to the actual alert sound thousands of Israelis will hear when you hear it, the only difference being they will run for cover and you will tell their government to act with restraint.

Update (8 July)

It has been pointed out to me that 'proportionately' does have a legal definition in international law. I must confess to not being aware of this, though initial research suggests that Israel is acting well within international law. What is important to make clear is that when I ask the question, I do so without reference to international law, knowing those who accuse Israel of disproportionate responses, make such accusations in the same way. When 'tweeter x' tells me Israel killed a Gazan woman and therefore did not act proportionately, s/he means that because Hamas are unsuccessful in their attempts to murder Israelis, Israel acts disproportionately when she responds and causes, regrettable, civilian casualties. S/he does not mean that Israel's act go against international law (though s/he may claim as much). Thus when I ask what would be a proportionate response, I do so (obviously) rhetorically but also in direct response to this individual. What exactly would be a proportionate response given Israel does act in accordance with international law? It is not enough for a response to be proportionate as far as international law is concerned for those who accuse Israel of disproportionate responses, so what exactly is proportionate?

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Let me ask you about Israel-Palestine

Recently, I have had a couple of internship interviews where I was asked the same question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely what I thought was the biggest issue on the Israeli side. Reading this, you may think I said something half-hearted about settlements or "disproportionate" responses, unable to think of anything I honestly think Israel does wrong. Or maybe you think the settlements are such a big issue that it is just obvious I mentioned those because they are, of course, the biggest problem on the Israeli side. I mean the conflict is about land right?

Wrong. I did mention settlements but only to dismiss it as my answer. I did so because I couldn't tell you for a minute what areas of land are considered part of Israel or part of a future Palestinian state. I couldn't explain the terms of the Oslo Accords and I don't have a working knowledge of the different areas that Israel is allowed to build on or isn't allowed to build on. Frankly, I am inclined to believe that virtually no one who lectures me on Israeli policy knows a damn thing about settlements other than they're, of course, very very bad. Believe me, it isn't as simple as the 'West Bank' being one big collection of settlements.  Simply put, that's about as much as I would claim to actually know. 

Instead I spoke about Israel's PR problem. I said that it is very easy to argue that media outlets are anti-Semitic or bias against Israel (which I think they are) and it may be the case that Israel operates from the position where she is guilty until proven innocent by which point it is too late. In an ideal world Israel would be held to the same standard as every other country; pictures of Syrian children would be considered newsworthy without an excuse to blame the Israelis; and I would look like George Clooney but we do not live in an ideal world. Of course Israel has to act in her interests, but I do wish our politicians would, for once, stop and think about their decisions and what they say. An excellent article on the failings in Israeli diplomacy can be found here. I mentioned the article in my response, though I could not remember the foreign secretary that it mentioned but I spoke of my own example that I think sums it up. An example that has, in the last 24 hours, taken heartbreaking turn. 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this blog on the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. The Israeli response to this deal was to declare the impossibility of negotiation with any Hamas backed government. As it happens, I agreed entirely but that is not the point. In the world that we live, when Netanyahu states that he cannot negotiate with a government backed by an entity that is committed to Israel's destruction he is accused of being anti-peace and looking for any excuse to back out of talks. And you know what? That is what it looks like. Sure it should not be like that. Sure Fatah should be condemned for being anti-peace by, um, you know, agreeing a unity deal with a terrorist organisation. But Netanyahu must have been aware that would be the consequence. Rather than unequivocally announce that peace was impossible with any Hamas backed government, his message should have been one of hope. Instead of suggesting this meant the end of peace talks, his message could have been that he hoped Hamas would back the peace talks and end their violence. Had the world seen this message, it may have been pleasantly surprised. This message would lend itself much better to the 'Israel wants peace narrative'. I do not, for a minute, disagree that it says a lot about the sorry state of the world that Israel, in stating it can and will not negotiate with an entity committed to her destruction, is the side labelled as anti-peace, rather than Fatah in agreeing a unity deal with them. But this is the reality Israel faces.

Had Netanyahu given this message to the world, he would have only had to wait a couple of days to come out and say, not "I told you so," but "I was mistaken - this is the same Hamas, as if proof were really needed." The latter comment, in my eyes, has a lot more force. Hamas was always going to prove my optimism could not have been more misplaced but that is exactly the point. Netanyahu did not need to come out immediately and state Hamas could not be negotiated with. Rather, he could have voiced his hope that there was still a possibility of peace, even with Hamas, and just been patient. Waited for Hamas to prove him wrong. Which they did. By kidnapping and murdering three innocent teenagers. Just a couple of days later. The tragedy is, this tragedy was bound to happen. Of course Hamas cannot be negotiated with. Of course Hamas would commit acts of terror that would ultimately prove Netanyahu right. It is also a great shame that this was not realised by a political mind I happen to have a lot of respect for.