Hopeless in Gaza

21 November 2012

I have already tweeted my feeling of utter despondency at the situation in Gaza. I feel hopeless, both in the sense of having no hope and in the sense of being useless to help. Compared to the misery of what is happening on the ground my soul-searching is a mere pimple of suffering and I realise that I have no right to lose hope, when hope is what Israelis and Palestinians who want peace must cling to.

But what has struck me in this conflict, more even than during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, is how quickly those who care to comment about such matters have retreated into pre-rehearsed positions. Two articles in the Guardian, one by Hamas leader Musa Abumarzuq and the other by Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, were mirror images of each other: both men arguing that the actions of their adversary left them no choice but the path of violence. Hopeless.

I read Robert Fisk and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent this week, full of righteous and eloquent anger. I looked at Steve Bell’s now notorious cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet master manipulating Blair and Hague. A similar cartoon in the Independent showed him as the pilot of an Israeli plane with Blair and Obama as the helpless bombs on the undercarriage. I understand why Jews are horrified by these images.

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Where can we turn for reasoned and objective and advice on the situation? The difficulty is that everything is poisoned by this conflict. Fisk and Alibhai-Brown are distrusted in many sections of the Jewish community for their perceived pro-Arab and pro-Muslim stance (I would urge anyone to read the pieces they have written this week, which are balanced and well-argued.). Pronouncements from Chatham House or the Foreign Office are likewise perceived as “Arabist”. On the other side, the more eloquent advocates for Israel such as Bicom produce papers and organise teleconferences with experts but they are already condemned as apologists for the Zionist entity in the eyes of those who will never accept that Israel has a right to defend itself. Opponents of Israel scan bylines for signs of suspicious ethnic origins: Cohen, Aaronovitch and Freedland are thus easily dismissed. And, meanwhile, Blair and Hague are mere Zionist stooges for condemning Hamas rocket attacks and expressing the opinion that the Islamists, whose founding charter drips with anti-Semitism, must bear responsibility for this conflict.

For those of us who live in a country at peace it is difficult to imagine the lack of empathy that war brings. I remember naively asking mothers in Sderot in southern Israel who have to tolerate the Hamas rockets fired at their homes, whether they felt for the Palestinian mothers just over the border. No, they told me, what they care about is the safety of their own children. Of course. I also remember a Palestinian father I met in a refugee camp in Lebanon who had lost his sons during the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. He was empty and lost. He said he would look at Ariel Sharon on the television in the days afterwards the massacres and say to himself: “Why do you hate me? What have I ever done to you?” And then I think back to Abu Qatada, whom I interviewed in 1999. Wanted by Jordan for alleged terrorist offences, unwanted by Britain since he came to public attention as a key ideologue of jihad and an inspiration for the 9/11 bombers, it is easy to forget that he too is a Palestinian, his politics forged by his experience as a refugee. He was always courteous, avuncular, learned. But his message was also chilling in its clarity: the crimes of America and Israel’s stooges in the West were so great that the Muslim people had no choice but to resort to violent jihad.

It is impossible not to be moved by the words of Izzeldin Abuelaish the Gaza-based doctor and peace activist whose three daughters were killed in an Israeli air-strike in the last conflict. His challenge to Israel to show compassion for the Palestinian people and work for peace is an attempt, at least, to occupy the middle ground. And so is Hugo Rifkind’s column in The Times (£) this week. Angry at Steve Bell’s cartoon, he still big enough to say:

‘I don’t believe that criticism of Israel is born out of anti-Semitism usually. I think Israel often does a fine job of giving birth to it all by itself. Sometimes, though, the anti-Semitism sneaks in afterwards.’

But an extraordinary piece by American writer Dahlia Lithwick in Slate struck a new “listening” tone. For me she captured perfectly the writer’s feeling of frustration when faced by the cacophony of voices cheering and mourning for each side.

‘I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone—absolutely everyone—is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.’

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Good view.

  • Derk Aderkaderk

    Will this ever end? Or will mankind still be fighting for this little piece of land 10 000 years from now? Dont see whats so great about it,its at the centre of the world but what else? just heeps of sand and some oil,is it really worth it?

  • Augustus

    But surely, before any ‘reasoned and objective advice’ what remains to be understood is the unremitting hostility to Israel that exists throughout the Middle East and globally where anti-Semitism has existed for centuries. The Israelis have merely bought some time until the next attacks. Any ceasefire, as at present, is really largely meaningless. The fact is Israel withdrew from Gaza in a “land for peace” effort that has clearly failed. Israel does not illegally occupy land that is rooted in the millennia of its existence.The effort of Fatah, based in the West Bank after having been driven out of Gaza, to secure statehood went nowhere in the U.N. Indeed, the so-called Palestinians have never had anything but rhetorical support and have been dependent on a U.N. refugee agency for actual support. They constitute the oldest unresolved refugee population in the world. Furthermore, according to surveys, about 3/4 of Palestinians have no interest in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. ” the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes” will be as nothing if Iran develops a nuclear warhead. Israel needs to attack Iran’s nuclear and military facilities very soon, because only by inflicting major damage will Israel have any chance of long-term survival.

  • Yuval Sterling

    First of all, give it up. From experience, it’s easier to live without hope.
    Secondly, if journalists and bloggers would have despaired a month and half ago or six month ago or three years ago… about the drizzle of rockets fired into Israel, maybe pressure politicians about it, make public protest about the UN’s lack of interest and action in simply highlighting those crimes, it would have shown Israeli leaders that international law is used against terror organizations and possibly compelled them to use that arena more. At the worst it could have been used by Israeli opposition parties who would say to their potential voters that “the world is not against us” but it is Bibi and Lieberman who don’t want to work with it.
    But if you’re only bothered when Israel responds because “it can take it” than you’re as much part of the problem Martin.

    • Penny

      Thought-provoking points, Yuval.

  • Eli

    Dahlia Lithwick and Mr. Bright – and many other writers and thinkers of the Western press – must also be counted as suffering victims of this cruel war. Hand-wringing, head-shaking, tears, being at a loss for words – all symptoms of ETSD, Empathetic Traumatic Stress Disorder. Quite awful.

    Rifkind does not know the meaning of anti-Semitism, which is the irrational, baseless hatred of Jews. Jews being blamed for anti-Semitism is a manifestation of it. The torture and murder of the young French Jew was explained as prompted by Israel’s actions. The Jews are always bringing it upon themselves. Shame on Rifkind.

    • Hugo Rifkind

      Oh stop it. I didn’t blame Jews for anti-Semitism. I didn’t even blame Israel for anti-Semitism. Calm down and learn to read more carefully. It makes me genuinely furious when people piously throw this kind of smearing crap around, without for a moment considering the consequences. Shame on you.

  • Teddy123Bear

    Where can we turn for reasoned and objective and advice on the situation?

    For somebody who keeps filling his mind with those we call ‘left-wingers’, but are in reality militant Islamic appeasers, it’s hardly surprising you should ask this question.

    You could try a basic understanding of history to gain the ‘reason and objectivity’ you desire.

    Let’s see – the UN granted the Jews their own land, and the Arabs of the region their own. Unlike when countries like the UK just used military force to dominate another country and take over. But the Arabs didn’t agree to it, so were unable to claim a specific territory according to the UN. Instead they tried to push all the Jews into the sea, but they lost, losing even more territory in the process.

    However, whenever an Arab State made a genuine peace treaty with Israel they were given land back. To this day, the Palestinians still maintain that they will not live side by side with a Jewish state, and do their best eradicate it. Since the Western media is so keen to appease the militant Islamic forces, they go along with the pretence that it is because of settlements, or any excuse really that the media will readily point without thinking too hard about it, but will succeed in making Israel the villain.

    A good example is the fence/wall that Israel had to build to stop terrorists blowing them up, was used as ‘imprisoning poor Palestinians’ without considering the causes for it. Seem to recall Arafat being offered over 90% of their original UN grant as a start to peace negotiations, but instead Arafat elected to launch an intifada, thus making sure there would be plenty of ‘poor Palestinians.

    As for Gaza, Israel pulled out every Jew, some who had been living there for hundreds of years, to give the Palestinians their own territory to begin to build their future. Even left them operating greenhouses to begin new businesses of their own.

    Instead of launching a business, they used the area to launch mortars and rockets back into Israel, just to prove the quote by Abba Eban – ‘The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’.

    Does this give you a bit more ‘reason and perspective’ Martin?

    • Ilana Walsh

      Again, your history may be reasoned and objective, but again, again, again – you are ignoring that little word “advice”: everyone has their ideas and beliefs about what happened and what went wrong – and many of these ideas and beliefs may be true – but where are the constructive ideas for the future?

      • Teddy123Bear

        Seems to me that it is much easier to know what to do, and how to do it, once aware of what one is dealing with. I was not presenting ‘ideas and beliefs’ as much as certain facts on the ground that created the present situation.

        Considering the events of the past, should pressure be put on Israel, or on the Palestinians to resolve the continued conflict?

        There can be no peace until they are prepared to live side by side with a Jewish state.

        If I use belief, based on other evidence I see going on in the world, I see that their stance is part of an agenda by militant Islamists to dominate the world. Are you aware that there have been nearly 20,000 separate deadly Islamic terrorist attacks in the world since 9/11, most of which have nothing to do with Israel?

        Our society appears to be governed with those who don’t want to have to deal with this menace head-on. They will appease this force, and continue to allow them to grow stronger, gaining further in-roads, under the banner of ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘tolerance’. While I too believe in these qualities, I don’t for a moment think it’s possible to integrate with those who’s stated aim is to dominate.

        So what we see are those prepared to continue to justify the actions and mindset of others who are completely alien to our beliefs and values in order to avoid confrontation with them. So long as this continues the only advice can surely be STOP DOING THIS AND CONFRONT THE REAL SITUATION.

        Seems obvious to me, which is why I didn’t think it needed stating once the facts are properly looked at.

        Militant Palestinians who control their people there should not be regarded by us as ‘Poor Palestinians, but a force that is continuing to cause suffering for beings on BOTH SIDES. How quickly would they have to change their mindset if the world, and our media, stopped giving them sympathy for their woes, but related to it honestly – from OUR VALUES?

        Seems like a good place to start. All I see with what’s been done so far is the problem getting bigger and worse for us to have confront eventually.

    • mightymark

      “Instead they tried to push all the Jews into the sea”
      The idea that the end game is to rid the area of Jews is far from past. I had a look yesterday at the “Press TV” website (Iranian propoganda organ) and a post about Israel and the Arabs was full of “send the Jews back to Germany/Brooklyn etc” remarks. It makes one rub,one eyes (with tears or in wonder) that some seem to think a one state solution is the answer.

  • Augustus

    “Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy, and it honors the sword of freedom.”
    – Senator John F. Kennedy (1960)

    • realzionist

      that was then.

  • Augustus

    “Where can we turn for reasoned and objective and advice on the situation?”

    Why not try Prime Minister Netanyahu himself? “The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when…Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel…”

  • Cogito Ergosum

    There is an apt headline today in The Onion:
    ‘Fighting Continues Over World’s Holiest Bombing Site’

  • Noa

    A fellow being, seeing a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut can empathise with its imminent extinction. To hear the rabbit explain its own empathy with the homicidal intention of the driver is, well, singular.

  • In2minds

    The sane do not read Robert Fisk or Yappy Clown.

    • victor67

      Robert Fisk knows more about the ME than probably any other Western Journalist. He reported on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s and saw the handy work of Sharon and his Christian Phalangist proxys in Sabra and Shatilla. I guess that makes him an anti-semite in your eyes.

  • Judy

    and then I think back to Abu Qatada, whom I interviewed in 1999. Wanted by Jordan for alleged terrorist offences, unwanted by Britain since he came to public attention as a key ideologue of jihad and an inspiration for the 9/11 bombers, it is easy to forget that he too is a Palestinian, his politics forged by his experience as a refugee. He was always courteous, avuncular, learned. But his message was also chilling in its clarity: the crimes of America and Israel’s stooges in the West were so great that the Muslim people had no choice but to resort to violent jihad.

    It says everything about Martin Bright’s loss of moral compass in his efforts to square his anti-Islamist stance which made it impossible for him to stay on at the New Statesman and his current hand-wringing Labour Party diehard efforts at staying on side with Ed Miliband’s Labour Party which is increasingly adopting not just the Palestinian cause but leaning towards the Hamas Islamist terror regime as the spokesmen for it.

    Here is Bright, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who recruited him after he was out of a job after the New Statesman, basically claiming that Abu Qatada’s terrorist Islamism was caused by the Jews of Israel fighting in 1948.

    No, not the product of Arab and Islamist murderous Manichean ideologies which were murderous and Manichean before the state of Israel existed, which led to the attacks on Israel which were intended to crush the newly UN-approved state and throw the Jews (not Israelis) out of the territory of Israel.

    Not the product of years of international Jihad propaganda by the Saudi-financed Al Qaeda, of which a High Court judge labelled him their “ambassador” in the UK.

    Al Qaeda originally ignored the Palestinian cause. It adopted it post 1993, long after Abu Qatada had been at work day after day in the UK spouting Al Qaeda ideology and doing his best to recruit UK Muslims primarily for the work of blowing up innocent people in the UK, India and Pakistan.

    And he wraps that up by merely calling “chilling” Abu Qatada’s parroting of the Al Qaeda message about an apparently totally unified Islamic population worldwide who had “no choice” but resorting to violent jihad.

    The rest of the article is stuffed from beginning to end with spurious moral equivalences between Israeli and Hamas accounts of the conflict, which are falsely represented as competing dead child accounts.

    This post is a disgrace.

  • Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Goldstein

    This just came out.
    What about the bus in Telaviv?
    Jews getting killed isn’t important to you?

    • Robert

      Loss of life, property and belief in freedom is of course tragic but a consequence of conflict on a global level. Call me an idealist, but oh how I long for the day we all wake-up and recognise we all breathe the same air, and bleed the same colour!

      • Susan

        Robert to say what you have just said requires heart and passion and many do not have it. I like what you are dreaming but to make it happen you should be completely awake.
        That day may never come if we keep writing this equation over & over.
        1 Israeli = 1000 Palestinians
        It seems that blood of Palestinians is very dilute.

      • Susan

        Robert, to say what you have just said requires heart and passion and many do not have it. I like what you are dreaming but to make it happen you should be completely awake.
        That day may never come if we keep writing this equation over & over.
        1 Israeli = 1000 Palestinians
        It seems that blood of Palestinians is very dilute.

      • Augustus

        But to paraphrase Golda Meir, that day will not only come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate
        Israel, but rather when they stop loving death, period. But she was certainly on the mark when she said that Israelis might be able one day “to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to
        forgive them for having forced us to kill theirs.”

    • Ilana Walsh

      As an Israeli, I say to you that you are only proving Martin Bright’s point – he says clearly that deaths ON ALL SIDES are tragic, but you have to revert to the competition of who is the bigger victim.
      I reject much of Mr. Bright’s attempt to be even handed – but he is right that this is a dialogue of the deaf. Instead of all this “what about”, what about thinking about ways out of this – and no, I don’t think Israel’s existence or the occupation is the root of the problem, but alongside the undoubted technological wizardry shown by Israel in this conflict, a bit of original and constructive thinking would be welcome.

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