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Israel/Palestine and why the conflict needs less ideological posturing

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.


  1. Mike Phipps says:

    This is a shameful post, obfuscating the fact that there is, very simply, a right and a wrong side in this conflict, with Britain and the US lined up behind a belligerent power determined to deny the most basic rights to the Palestinian people. Castigating “laptop humanitarians” for saying nothing about Syria – what Bloodworth presumably wants them to do is support western intervention in that country – is cynical stuff, but predictable from one who once called the 1.5 million marchers against the Iraq war “unwitting” supporters of Saddam Hussein, here

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Mike: I think you are absolutely wrong to describe this as a “shameful post”. I agree that, in 2012, there is “a right and a wrong side” in the Israel/Palestine conflict – and I think James Bloodworth makes it pretty clear in the first half of his piece where his sympathies lie too. Israel has clearly been “the wrong side” since the early days of the 1967 occupation, was absolutely wrong to begin to develop nuclear weapons before that, and to side with the imperialist Anglo-British escapade in Suez in 1956. But the further back you go, without the benefit of hindsight, the greyer and murkier it gets and it is far from simple.

      However you want to characterize Zionism, the UN partition plan was no act of imperialism. It was supported by both the Soviet Union (Stalin actually had three votes since Ukraine and Byelorussia were separately affiliated to the UN) and the US (who had just one), and happened above all in response to the problem of Holocaust refugees.

      Most large waves of Jewish immigrants to Israel – Germans in the ‘30s, Holocaust refugees in the 40s, from the Middle East and North Africa in the late 1940s/early 50s, the (actual and former) Soviet Union in the 70s & 90s – came not as Zionists (though their migration may have been facilitated by Zionist organisations) but as refugees (or perhaps economic migrants).

      Both sides have a narrative which the other side will have to listen to and begin to understand before there can be peace, because there cannot be peace without justice and compromise. Having recently returned from a delegation to the West Bank, I think Fatah absolutely get that – I am not so sure that Hamas do (not all of it anyway) and far more doubtful about more radical elements in Gaza. But peace must surely be our primary objective.

      In all conflicts and all wars, even just ones, innocent people suffer and die. And all too often, atrocities, big and small, are committed by both sides, by winners and losers and by liberators as well as oppressors. Our judgements and our analysis should surely reflect this.

      Your representation of James’s views on the 1.5 million Stop the War marchers (which I had not previously read) is unfair too. He does not accuse them of being “‘unwitting’ supporters of Saddam Hussein” but of “unwittingly calling for” an action which we now know would have prolonged Hussein’s rule.

      He says this not because he was making a case in favour of that war, but because was in favour of intervention in Bosnia sooner that it happened, arguing, as he is here, that western intervention is not necessarily always wrong. You may disagree with that position on Bosnia (which I did too at the time though I am much less sure now) but that is no excuse for misrepresenting what he said about Iraq. Or for presuming he favours intervention in Syria – he may or may not, he doesn’t say.

      I have, at the time, opposed almost every British military intervention abroad in my adult life – Libya was the exception and, ironically, I came to regret that decision and what followed lead me to oppose intervention in Syria. However, on every occasion, it is incumbent on us to consider the alternative and I certainly believe that military intervention by Britain (or even NATO) can in some circumstances be justified.

      The most obvious example of such a just war was Britain’s involvement in World War II. I can respect the pacifist views of the ILPers. I can understand the initial demurring of the Communists (though I have more respect for those who chose to ignore their party line). I’ve got no bloody time at all for those at the March 1944 founding conference of the British Revolutionary Communist Party who believed that “a victory for Anglo-American imperialism” would be just as disastrous for the working class “and colonial peoples” as a victory for Germany and Japan. They declared:

      The war of the British ruling class is not an ideological war fought in the interests of democracy against fascism…. The British ruling class is waging the war to maintain its colonial plunder, its sources of raw material and cheap labour, its spheres of influence and markets, and to extend wherever possible, its domination over wider territories. It is the duty of revolutionary socialists to patiently explain the imperialistic policy of the ruling class and expose its false and lying slogans of the “War against Fascism” and the “War for Democracy.”

  2. Mellie Agon says:

    This article is shocking. Bloodworth writes: “Any reasonable person will concede that Israel has a right to defend its citizens from attack by Hamas.”

    Israel has illegally attacked and occupied Palestine, and continues to oppress them under a horrendous regime of illegal siege and violence. The Palestinians have a right under international law to fight back against occupation. It is a basic question of human rights.

    Opposition to Israel is routinely described as “anti-semitic” because it is an effective way for the Zionists and their supporters to smear people they don’t like. I personally oppose Israel’s racism and illegal violence but also completely oppose anti-semitism. There is no contradiction there. Anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are different things. Again, you are confused on a very basic question.

  3. “The Palestinians have a right under international law to fight back against occupation. It is a basic question of human rights.”

    They don’t have a right to murder Jewish civilians.

    “Opposition to Israel is routinely described as “anti-semitic” because it is an effective way for the Zionists and their supporters to smear people they don’t like.”

    The Hamas charter makes no apology for its anti-Semitism: “Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them).” Israel is a vital link in what the charter calls “the chain of Jihad.” Hamas cleric Yunis Al-Astal elaborated in a 2008 sermon:

    “Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital … this capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe.”

    This is the backdrop against which Hamas launches its missiles; not “anti-Zionism”. If you are oblivious to that fact it is because you choose to be oblivious to it.

    “Anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are different things. Again, you are confused on a very basic question.”

    The first half of my article was a critique of Zionism, so no, I’m not.

  4. Mike Phipps says:

    “Unwittingly calling for the prolongation of one of the worst dictatorships in the Middle East” is how Bloodworth describes those opposed to western military intervention in Iraq in 2003. I do not think I’ve misrepresented his views in my paraphrasing.

    On Israel-Palestine, I’ve no wish to take sides between Fatah and Hamas, but activists who work in the region all tell me that there are material reasons as to why Hamas displaced Fatah in Gaza as the more popular leadership, not least because of the very real welfare and social services provision organised by Hamas. I’m not a supporter of civilian attacks by either side, nor do I agree with Hamas’s view of Israel, but this view is reflected widely in Gaza and is above all a product of the criminally inhumane treatment of Gaza by Israel. To imply some kind of equality in this conflict between peoples who suffer from bad leaderships is a pernicious misinterpretation of the reality.

    I for one did call for action to defend the Bosnian people against war crimes by the Bosnian Serb army at the time. But let’s be clear: the reason why the then Tory government isn’t the main guilty party in that conflict is because the massacre was carried out by the Bosnian Serb army a- they are primarily responsible. The reason why Blair is held responsible for what happened in Iraq is because it was western troops that went in and committed multiple war crimes. By the way, it was the same anti-war activists, whom Bloodworth thinks are dupes, led by Jeremy Corbyn who first raised Saddam’s crimes in Parliament, at a time when Blair and other future warmongers did not care to know.

    I can’t comment on whether all military action is always wrong but I would say that you have to have a very good reason for using it – especially nowadays when the average intervention leads to nine civilian casualties for every military one – the ratio was the inverse a century ago.

    And if we are all agreed that military intervention in Syria would be wrong, why does Bloodworth raise it and sneer at “laptop humanitarians”, echoing Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian and Nick Cohen’s recent attacks on anti-war activists? One thing that Libya, Iraq and most other recent western interventions show us is that the aerial bombardment of civilians is NATO’s preferred method of engagement. Why should the fact that I oppose this disallow me from expressing an internationalism – fanatical or not – at the murder of what he dismissively calls “a handful of Palestinians”? Yes, it is shameful!

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