Almost all of those with an overtly ideological take on the conflict in Israel/Palestine come across as slightly deranged. The justification offered by supporters of each side is that it is their faction that is in the right, their faction that is acting in self-defence, and that it is the other side which is motivated by little more than cynicism, bigotry and malevolence.
Behind each side’s unwillingness to understand the other side is an element of truth of course; but covering this is plastered layer upon layer of dishonest rationalisation – rationalisation which is in many instances deployed to justify the murder of wholly innocent civilians.
For much of the past 40 years, the Likudniks of the Israeli government, and their supporters in Britain and the US, have zealously put out the lie that the only way the Israelis can be made safer is by building settlements on stolen land. It was a Christian Restorationist who first espoused the demagogic idea that a land without a people needs a people without a land.
Not only has this idea subsequently been used to justify the violent eviction of Arab farmers who have worked the same land as their great-grandfathers, but the Israeli religious Right, many of whom are open backers of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, are throwing them off this land in order to bring about the fulfilment of insane religious prophesies; and they fully expect the Palestinian Arabs to accept this expropriation, as apparently do many of their supporters.
Unfortunately, for those of us who want to live in the here and now and don’t long for the apocalypse, the fanatics may yet get their wish; for as founder of Israel David Ben-Gurion warned, Israel can be a Jewish state, it can be a democratic state, and it can be a state occupying the whole of historical Israel; it cannot be all three.
“Peace” appears not to be what the Israeli leadership is primarily interested in – at least not peace for the Palestinians – if its support for the settlers, as well as the recent statements of its ministers, are anything to go by. Over the weekend, Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai described the goal of the current Israeli operation as to “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages“.
“Only then will Israel be calm for forty years,” he added.
The genocidal rhetoric has been matched by deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai, who said that Palestinians firing rockets from Gaza would be punished with a “bigger holocaust” from the Israeli armed forces.
Would it be so far-fetched to suggest that statements like this contribute to a cheapening of Palestinian life?
You needn’t to be an apologist for the occupation, however, to note that the state of Israel has been elevated to such demonic proportions on the Left as to make many such as myself, who have an instinctive sympathy with the Palestinians, recoil in horror. The calibre of much “support” for the Palestinian cause comes perilously close to asserting that if Israel didn’t commit a crime, no crime has been committed. In other words – and yet again – it is the hand of the Jews that is behind all that is wrong in the world. Confused? Then witness the laptop humanitarians, who had very little to say about the estimated 30,000 deaths caused by the conflict in Syria, spring into a fanatical internationalism at the precise moment a handful (by comparison) of Palestinians are killed by Israeli rockets.
Call me a cynic, but the value of human life among many of my comrades appears to be dictated by power politics – if you are killed by an enemy of the United States, then I’m dreadfully sorry, but your life is worth less than if you’ve been killed by an ally of the United States.
Some fringe supporters of the Palestinian cause already sail perilously close to the wind in terms of anti-Semitism, with the actions of Israel being compared with those of the Nazis. Inherent in such comparisons is a sinister attempt to downplay the Holocaust. As the late French philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch put it:
What if the Jews themselves were Nazis? That would be great. We would no longer have to feel sorry for them; they would have deserved what they got.”
Any reasonable person will concede that Israel has a right to defend its citizens from attack by Hamas. And it’s facetious to assert that Hamas’s anti-Semitism is in some sense a by-product of the Israeli occupation. On his first day in Auschwitz, reaching out the window of the hut in which he was imprisoned to grab hold of a large icicle with which to quench his thirst, camp survivor Primo Levi had the icicle snatched from his hand by one of the German guards; when he asked the guard why he had done this, Levi was met with a revealing line: “there is no why here“.
There are extremely important lessons in such seemingly innocuous utterances: Anti-Semitism is pathological; there is no why.
During times of war, it is often suggested – and I’ve already heard it applied to this latest round of bombing – that we should “pray” for one or both sides in the conflict. I would suggest that prayer is the last thing this (or probably any) conflict needs. And not only do the Israelis and Palestinians need less prayer, but the conflict between the two nations would almost certainly benefit from less teleological ideology in general; for if both sides, including their supporters, dropped the incendiary preaching, zealotry and double standards, we might have a straightforward and solvable land dispute on our hands.