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Have you expressed insufficient outrage?
This Green and Surprisingly Pleasant Land - reflections on the war in Israel/Gaza
The BBC, under immense pressure, has decided to cease describing Hamas as being merely a ‘militant’ organisation. What has happened since? Has this reduced the horror of what is happening in Israel and Gaza? Has it contributed to a lowering of the death toll? Obviously not.
Yet for the BBC’s many enemies the unfolding horror in the Middle East is little more than a sideshow. They see it as a stick to beat an institution they hate. Other sticks are at play here and it seems that no tragedy is too large to prevent opportunists from furthering their agendas on the backs of other people’s suffering.
Expressions of outrage about what is happening in the Middle East are hardly without foundation because there is plenty to be outraged about - attacks on unarmed civilians, reports of medieval brutality, using men, women and children as human shields, starving out people, depriving them of water, the list is long.
Yet, how does outrage help? And why is so much of this outage not directed at the perpetrators of these horrors but at people and institutions who are damned for not expressing a sufficient degree of outrage or for falling short in terms of support or condemnation.
Yells of outrage paint complex situations in black and white, a kind of simplicity in inverse relationship to the distance of the yellers from conflict zones.
Underreported overseas, is the intense debate within Israel over the role of the truly dreadful Netanyahu government. Israelis, for example, are asking questions over why, in his typically Machiavellian way, he gave encouragement to Hamas over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in the belief that this was the best way to scupper the creation of a Palestinian state.
This questioning underlines the democratic nature of the Israeli state, the existence of a free media and the prevalence of the rule of law, despite Mr Netanyahu’s avid attempts to destroy the independent judiciary.
In Gaza, under Hamas rule, these freedoms simply do not exist. Opponents of the regime cannot expect any kind of trial, they are more likely to receive a bullet to the back of the head. Hamas has won just one election and has declined to face another. Its leadership rightly fears a free vote revealing how many Palestinians are deeply disillusioned by this thuggish government. Yet, in current circumstances Hamas critics have been silenced and the credibility of the ghastly people who lead the organisation, has been enhanced.
In other words what’s going on in the Middle East is complex and not capable of being understood with broad brush simplification. Not that the complexities of the Middle East are somehow more profound than in other conflict zones.
I know from my experience as a foreign correspondent that even in the most dire of circumstances we, the media, were guilty of highlighting disaster, because drama is what sells newspapers, instead of looking for nuance that tells a bigger story.
We interviewed the leaders and the most vocal on both sides because that’s what you do. Yet what most people really want is to get on with their lives in peace. They do not wish to be objects of pity and have no interest in becoming part of the political football conducted on a playing field way above their heads.
The closer you get to these tragic scenes the more you come to understand the extraordinary levels of human resilience. In the aftermath of a disaster there’s an understandable desire for revenge but this is followed by an understanding that revenge does not bring back the dead nor does it ensure an end to suffering. The nuances on the ground are belied by the loud drum beats from afar.
Abba Eban, the Jewish state’s most formidable foreign minister, was famous for saying that Israel’s most zealous supporters abroad were quite prepared to fight until the last Israeli was left standing. The crowds filing European streets ostentatiously wearing the Palestinian kaffiyeh, similarly, display a great enthusiasm to fight to the last Palestinian.
In lieu of direct involvement, zealots overseas resort to vigorous outage. Their rhetoric is dangerous. In the proxy battles being waged right now school children are being kept away from Jewish schools out of fear of attacks. Muslims, especially girls and women wearing the hijab, have been attacked.
Ultimately this tragedy can only be sorted out by the people directly involved. Another of Mr Eban’s famous maxims was, ‘history teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.’
This is why the bloody conflict in Ireland was ended by the combatants sitting down and talking. It is also why Nelson Mandela knew, as he sat in jail, that the crumbling South African apartheid regime needed to be negotiated out of existence rather than defeated in a bloody civil war.
As matters stand It is very hard to imagine that the Israel Palestine conflict will end up around conference table. But what are the alternatives? They most certainly do not involve the outpouring of outrage from afar.
Idiot of the Week
You would have thought that by now London’s Metropolitan Police would have enough experience of apologising for its unending series of failings. In yet another incident a 13-year old boy playing with his sister, wielding a highly coloured water pistol was rapidly knocked to the ground and arrested. More slowly the police apologised for this gross abuse of power. DCS Conway, the officer in charge of investigations in Hackney said, ‘we know it may cause public concern and we want to help the public understand why we responded in the way we did’.
The boy was arrested while in possession of a black skin. The public, equipped with this vital piece of information, fully understand what went on here.