This Green and Surprisingly Pleasant Land - Israel and Palestine
Should those of us who do not live in the region just shut up? Let the Israelis and Palestinians deal with this appalling situation without the airways being cluttered up by our noise.
While the residents of Gaza sit in the dark, punctuated by deadly explosions and then scramble among the rubble searching for the dead and dying, what can be said that might even be vaguely useful?
Israelis are still burying the dead, wretched with grief over the fate of the hostages and trying to come to terms with what happened on 7th October when more people were killed on a single day than on any other in the state’s history.
Samah Salaime, a feminist Palestinian activist and writer, sitting in the middle of this disaster, recently reflected on her despair, ‘I am surrounded by … thoughts about this cursed and complex place we were born into, and about the wretched leadership on both sides that is leading us — a human fabric so rich, so sad and so vital at the same time — to nowhere. My heart and mind declared a complete stop, a standstill… I just need silence.’
Universal silence seems unlikely to descend not least because many people outside the region have skin in the game. The Jewish school children in London kept way from school because the Star of David is emblazoned on their uniforms fearing that this might provoke an attack. And what about the hijab wearing girls and women who have been attacked on streets of cities which had once seemed to be safe.
Most of us face no real danger, certainly not in proportion to the carnage in Gaza and the real fear of rocket attack on Israelis.
Anyone overseas who pretends to be sharing this trauma should be ashamed of themselves not just for their grandstanding but also because it shows disrespect towards the people on the ground.
So, a period of silence from abroad might well be appropriate. But both Israelis and Palestinians have specifically called on their overseas allies to make their voices heard.
Israel, very troublingly, is evoking the spectre of the Nazi Holocaust to muster support. Troubling, because Jews have consistently insisted that its memory should not be tarnished by comparisons that demean the enormity of this unique disaster.
On the Palestinian side are wild calls for Jihad or holy war resonating from parts of the Muslim community which believes that the plight of the Palestinians reflects a more general attack on their faith.
The proxy wars are endless and provide an enormous bandwagon for opportunists. Self righteous petition signers are virtue signalling like mad as they scramble to see their names in print supporting Israel, supporting Palestine, calling for a ceasefire or whatever.
It’s not as if the international dimension to this conflict doesn’t matter, of course it does. The decisive players such as the United States are a presence that no one dares ignore. Nor can anyone ignore Iran, the largest non-Arab player in the Middle East, which has helped make Hamas the power it is today. In between there are largely ineffectual squeaks from every corner of the globe, including from China which sanctimoniously proclaims neutrality, while revelling in the discomfort of democracies that are supporting Israel.
In between this barrage of noise and posturing are people of goodwill who genuinely want to help, maybe by sending humanitarian aid and a lot more. This is useful but never, for one moment, think that the Israeli and Palestinians should be an object of pity. The self appointed saviours from afar should know that they are dealing with two entities that, left to their own devices, are capable of great things despite their wretched history.
This war will end. In its wake, given the dismal track record of how wars end in the Middle East, there will be much talk of injustice, a desire for revenge and much dwelling on history. It therefore seems almost impossibly naïve to start talking about alternatives that could break an unending cycle of violence.
Yet nothing less is required. The long touted two state solution is now too unpopular among both Israelis and Palestinians is probably no longer viable. There is an alternative that seems remote but could become viable as all other options are exhausted.
The alternative is a democratic Israeli Palestinian state. Among the more articulate advocates of this solution is Avi Shlaim, the Israeli born historian and formidable chronicler of the Middle East. He wrote: ‘The best hope for resolving the century-old conflict between Jews and Palestinians lies not in the partition of Palestine but in building one democratic state from the river to the sea with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity.’
This may look like hopeless idealism but then again the Jewish state was built on an idealistic vision widely dismissed as fantasy in the early 1900s when a small band of Zionists called for the establishment of a Jewish state, a call widely mocked in the Jewish community. Addressing his critics Theodore Herzl, the father of the movement, famously said, ‘If you will it, it is no dream’.
For the time being dreaming seems to be futile but hope should be derived from the extraordinary humanity shown by those at the heart of the conflict, like the 85 year old Israeli hostage Yocheved Lifshitz. As she was being released from detention in Gaza, she gripped the hand of one of her masked Hamas captors and said ‘Shalom’ as a parting message.
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Idiot of the week
Dmitry Peskov, Russia’s presidential spokesperson has considerable experience defending the indefensible. He recently said: ‘the continuation of such a round of violence is, of course, fraught with further escalation and expansion of the conflict. This is a great danger for the region, so we are extremely concerned’. Apparently he was not talking about the war in Ukraine stemming from the Russian invasion but the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians