Monday 25 August 2014

They should have been friends

This photo I came across recently courtesy of the Peace Factory and the Palestine/Israel loves Israel/Palestine groups on Facebook gives me chills every time I see it. It sums up the horrific situation Israelis and Gazans find themselves in. It is a beautiful, yet heartbreaking photo of two young boys with a remarkably simple message.

Two young boys who never knew each other, despite living within mortar range of each other. Two young boys who have no opinion on the situation. Two young boys who are now dead because their leaders cannot seem to find anything better to do than relentlessly shoot at each other. Two young boys whose tragic deaths are being used on either side to score political points.  Two young boys who did not live to see their 5th birthdays yet saw two wars. Two young boys who could have loved but were trapped in a cycle of hate and violence. Two young boys who should and could have grown up together as friends rather than have their parents' generation's hate forced upon them.

Two young boys who could still be alive today if we had chosen peace not war; reconciliation not revenge; and love not hate.

Saturday 16 August 2014

The JC, Gaza and Charities

The Jewish Chronicle this week has apologised for running a Gaza Appeal advert by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) after complaints from its readers. There is a fundamental problem with complaining about running an advert from a charity. It's a charity. We like charities, we think they do good work helping people who suffer for all manner of reasons. There is an even bigger problem when a Jewish newspaper receives complaints about an advert calling to help Gaza's children. It looks like the Jewish readership of the JC somehow fundamentally objects to helping Gaza's children, or at least objects to advertising an appeal for Gaza's children. It also strikes me as incredibly unlikely that one of these readers complained to The Guardian after they published arguably a far more controversial advert than the JC have and they probably responded to those who did by crying for free speech. There is a problem with the DEC however, which I will get to later.

The JC's apology, first off, is worth noting. They claim that the advert is "not an expression of the JC's view". What? An advert calling for money to go to the children suffering in Gaza? I would very much hope it was an expression of the JC's view, an expression of every decent human being's view. As I have repeated, you can support Israel vehemently (as I do) and still support the Palestinians, have sympathy for their plight (whoever you blame for it) and wish to help them. This idea that somehow publishing (=supporting?) anything that highlights the situation in Gaza is anti-Israel/pro-Hamas is ludicrous and needs to go. No, it does not even matter if the advert does not mention Hamas and just focuses on children suffering. The cause is irrelevant.

I have no doubt, for a minute, that some of those objecting to the JC's publication of the advert do so because they feel to have any support for Gaza or the plight of Palestinians in Gaza is somehow to support Hamas, the group that is undoubtedly (also) responsible for their suffering. If you have been reading my last few blogs, you will know that I am not interested in the blame game and frankly even if you had the most convincing arguments regarding Hamas' complicity in the plight of Gazans, that does not make any appeals on their [Gazans] behalf any less important. Just because you believe Hamas, and not Israel, is to blame for the situation Palestinians in Gaza find themselves in, you cannot object to organisations trying to alleviate that suffering. 'Hamas is to blame therefore we don't have to care'?

Nor do I buy this idea that any money going into Gaza somehow ends up in the hands of Hamas. I don't really want to have this argument, but it is incredibly lazy just to state 'Gaza = Hamas' and somehow any money donated to relieve the undoubted suffering of Palestinians in Gaza must be going to Hamas. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that you have to be careful with donations and charities have to be careful when working in areas with such immense corruption, but to simply dogmatically assert that money going to Gaza goes to Hamas will not do.

There is a small facebook group calling for a boycott of the JC until they apologise, which I suppose is unsurprising. Upon receiving the apology, the group's admin posted a status complaining that it was not good enough.  It commits an awful example of genuine 'whataboutery' (as opposed to those Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan often like to complain about) asking why the JC chose to print a Gaza appeal and not one for an Israeli charity as if somehow the JC was faced with a direct choice. As if somehow advertising a Gaza appeal means you do not support the work of Israeli charities. It then asks if an Islamic paper would post a Magen David Adom appeal. I am inclined to agree that such a paper would not. Does this make an iota of difference? Of course not! Just because an Islamic paper may not publish a Magen David Adom advert does not mean a Jewish paper cannot publish a Gaza appeal advert. What a nonsense. It then tells me that the JC has chosen money over the sensitivity of the Jewish Community. I do not wish to be part of this Jewish Community then. Anyway, the group has fewer likes than my average per-post readership so I suppose I should leave them alone.

Inspite of all of that, there is reason to object to supporting the DEC (and by extension the JC's decision to run an advert by them). Obviously the JC do not support the organisation and were merely advertising a worthy message. Rather than object to the cause it supports, it is possible to object to the charities that collectively form the DEC. This idea that somehow charities are all saintly organisations is as much a nonsense as the idea that supporting the plight of Palestinians is anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas. Of the charities that form the DEC, three have been reported on by Stand For Peace an organisation that I have previously worked for, as having links to extremism. Those are Christian Aid, Oxfam and Islamic Relief. These are worrying reports and reports that do mean supporting the DEC should be approached with some caution - though it is worth noting there are 10 other charities that make up the organisation. We all have a right to know that our money going to Gaza to help children that need help right now will not end up in the hands of Hamas and be used to build terror tunnels or rockets. It is a great tragedy for the Israeli civilians that live at risk of these attacks but it is an even greater tragedy for the Palestinians who could so benefit from the money flooding into Gaza if it were all used correctly and to alleviate their suffering rather than to inflict it upon Israelis.

It is a tricky one for me. I do not think the DEC intends for its donations to be abused but it is a sorry fact that they will be. And it won't just mean the Palestinians continue to suffer, it will mean the money flows directly to terrorism. So we should be vigilant and careful and lobby hard to ensure the charities mentioned, and others, know exactly where their money goes but object to a Jewish Paper running an advert for Gaza? Do me a favour.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

This is called 'whataboutery'

I quite like that word. It sounds somewhat funny and it's relatively nice to say. It's also one I've only heard being used twice. Once by Mehdi Hasan and once by Owen Jones, both in reference to pro-Israel supporters attempting to deflect attention from Israel by highlighting other, worse, incidents in the world that somehow escape the world's attention. There is some truth to the idea that this is a cynical ploy and there is no question that the mere fact that IS is painting the Middle East red with the blood of Iraqis and Syrians, for example, does not render the Palestinian deaths in Gaza any less significant or tragic.

There are problems with this dismissing of 'whataboutery'.

Maybe I will concede that bringing up silence on IS in reference to Israel is not a great argument. However, when Owen Jones and others remain silent on Palestinians being oppressed and murdered in, say, Syria because Israel cannot be blamed, then I am perfectly within my rights to point this out. There is some weight to the claim that if you only care about 'human rights' when Israel is involved, then you are not pro-Human rights but just anti-Israel. There is absolutely no denying that if your moral compass only starts working when Palestinians are killed in Gaza but not when they are subject to the same fate in Syria or when they are supposedly oppressed in the West Bank but not when they are throughout the rest of the Arab world, then you have absolutely no concern whatsoever for the Palestinians, merely with bashing Israel. The Palestinian cause is a convenient cloak with which to hide your attacks on Israel and you flirt with anti-Semitism at best and are guilty of it in most cases.

Thursday 7 August 2014

A few things I have learnt

Despite Hamas' claims that they will recommence firing tomorrow morning at 8am when the current ceasefire is due to end, I remain optimistic that we may see an end to the fighting for now. With that optimism in mind, I thought I would write a few things that this most recent conflict has taught me.

1. Hamas really are really quite evil aren't they?

From human shields to indiscriminate rocket fire to terror tunnels to storing rockets in schools and firing them from Mosques, they really have shown their true colours once again. What a horrible, disgusting organisation.

2. My Mum is completely mental

As if this needed confirming. My mother took the opportunity to go to Israel at the height of the conflict, which I thought was crazy enough. Whilst I was in Barcelona I was informed that she had gone to Gaza with her hairdresser and had been allowed to hold a rocket. She was told, "Don't drop it or it will explode." Nervy stuff.

3. There is no military solution

Combined with this, Israel is not the entity to destroy Hamas. On her travels my Mum was informed that any operation to destroy the tunnels would take upwards of a year and reports from cabinet meetings is that it may be closer to five years. This would obviously be at the risk of thousands of lives, both civilian and those of Israeli soldiers. Hamas cannot be destroyed militarily.

4. Thousands more Palestinians will die needlessly

The reason does not matter. The sorry, sad fact remains that they will die and they will die in their thousands and people will pretend to care only insofar as they can blame Israel or Hamas. Their deaths won't bring about the end of Hamas nor the end of the conflict nor does proving Israel is responsible or Hamas is responsible actually achieve anything. This blame culture is almost as predictable as the cycle of violence and whilst it is not as destructive, it is as pointless and futile.

5. Anti-Semitism is growing

And growing fast. My old History teacher remarked that Russia's incursion into the Crimea gave his history students a unique opportunity to relive the events of the Crimean war of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, the latest escalation in Israel-Gaza has given Europeans a unique insight into what 1930's Germany was like. Synagogues were blockaded and destroyed, Jewish cemeteries vandalised, swastikas appeared on Jewish owned homes and property and just randomly, Jews were boycotted and the whole sorry affair is beginning to look eerily familiar to any European of a certain age. When you cry Free Palestine but harass a Jewish woman in Oxford Street; weep for dead Palestinians but draw a swastika on a home in Hendon; or scream anti-Zionism whilst throwing bricks through the windows of a synagogue you are an anti-Semite. Pure and simple.

6. People are ignorant

People accuse Israel of a disproportionate action when they have no idea what that actually means. People scream war crimes when their knowledge of international law is non-existent. People talk about human shields as if it makes a gram of difference to the Palestinians whose lives have been ended and destroyed. People tell Israel to stop complaining about harmless rockets conveniently forgetting they have no idea what living under rocket fire would be like. People call for Israel to flatten Gaza as if somehow every Palestinian should pay for the crimes of Hamas. Frankly, I'm sick of it all.

  • Israel's actions may or may not be disproportionate but let me tell you one thing, it has virtually nothing to do with numbers.
This is offensive to Israelis, blaming them for not dying but also suggesting that somehow if they did, killing Palestinians would be less bad. I've said it before and I will say it again, if you reduce proportionality to numbers, suggest Israel is disproportionate because it has killed more Palestinians, you advocate some sort of barbaric eye-for-an-eye Bible style justice. Let's be clear, if more Israels died this would not make the Palestinian deaths any less tragic. Crying about numbers suggests it would.

  • War crimes is a very serious accusation
Israel may or may not be guilty of war crimes but I can be sure as hell that everyone that accuses her of them has no idea what a war crime constitutes and certainly would never dream of accusing Hamas of anything anywhere near as serious. Firing petty rockets is the worst ever leveled at Hamas.
  • Palestinians die
This is tragic. End of. Stop justifying. Stop making it less bad. 
  • Rockets do kill
This is a simple one. I won't even bother discussing the impact of rockets on the lives of Israelis. They do kill and they do injure and there is no defence for them. End of.
  • As I have said before, there is no military solution in Gaza
Sure as hell flattening Gaza would not achieve a solution. It is a horrific thing to suggest and just as Jews are rightly horrified when people chant death to the Jews and incite genocide against them, so we should be when our very own do the exact same. 

People are ignorant and horrible and stupid and just wrong. It's offensive and counterproductive. Proving Hamas is to blame brings peace no closer than proving Israel is to blame. 

And finally, 7. There is still hope.

Despite everything I am still hopeful. Despite anti-Semitism and Western commentators suddenly finding moral compasses they can use to bash Israel and the persistent justification of death and everything else I have mentioned, I still have hope. I am moved by groups on Facebook that I have recommended before - Israel loves Palestine and Palestine loves Israel. I still read updates on those groups and believe that peace is possible, that the majority, even if they don't love Palestinians or Israelis, just want to get on with their lives and give their children a world free of shelling and rockets. I am moved by the Mayor of Sderot who tells me he wants to test peace with his neighbours. I am moved by pictures drawn by a boy in Sderot. 

I remain hopeful that we can move beyond the past as two peoples and reach out to our common humanity. When you realise the other side is just the same as you, maybe with a different favourite film or sport or whatever, you realise there is no 'other side'. When you realise there is no other side, there can be peace. Let's pray for that.