The questions won’t stop

Why won’t Israelis let themselves be killed? This is a variation of a question I’ve been asking myself, and others, for years, one I have yet to receive an answer to. The conversation almost always immediately goes down the land-grabbing route which points to the majority of the people I talk to being anti-Israel or pro-Palestine. If you’re anti-Israel does that automatically make you pro-Palestine? mmmm.

When I ask what can be expected of me if someone is trying to wipe me off the face of the earth, has it as their raison d’etre, the eyebrows go up a little, the volume, too. I’m left feeling that I’ve done something bad. That they’re disappointed in me. That I’m not as intelligent as they thought I was. If it’s the first time we’ve had the conversation, there’s an element of surprise. A double-take. Can they really be hearing this? Could she possibly be anti-Palestine or what appears worse, pro-Israel?

This reaction has at times both fascinated me and upset me. I find it difficult to have a conversation about the situation with anyone without temperatures rising and incredulity raising its head.

I wrote some years ago about why I find it so hard to be as definitive as much of the rest of the world on this issue. In reply, one friend told me it was time to get off the fence and support one or the other. Another accused me of being a propagandist for the Jews. A third said it took guts to write it. That was in 2014. In 2020, I reposted a piece by Maajid Nawaz explaining the so-called Israeli occupation of Palestine. He ends like this:

The “state of Palestine” has never existed. What has happened is that a land dispute over a colonial partition has dragged on. It is also very clear that too much media focus is placed on Israel’s behaviour, and hardly any on the surrounding Arab dictatorships or absolute monarchies who have failed Palestinian-Arabs over and again. Nor is much of a media focus placed on the Palestinian Authority, which has consistently rejected every formal peace offer made, to a point where they no longer have anything to play for, nothing to negotiate and have become such an embarrassment that even Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have urged them to consider President Trump’s latest proposal (which by historic standards is far less than what the 1947 UN partition plan offered, which Arabs rejected).
Only those who reject the right of Israel to exist, and view her as an “occupying” power, would so consistently overplay their hand in this way. This is what I believe Arabs and Muslims have been doing. And this is why I believe it is so important to reframe this entire debate. Finally, before the usual voices respond with rage, I too used to completely boycott Israel. Until, that is, that I chose to look into this complicated issue with an open mind and open heart, and allowed the facts and not emotion to guide me. The result to date, is my above view.

The maps he uses are worth looking at, the logic worth a read. But even more than the maps and the logic is Nawaz’s choice to look at this complicated issue with an ‘open mind and an open heart’.

Why won’t Israelis let themselves be killed is the title of Brendan O’Neill’s latest editorial in Spiked. In it, O’Neill asks questions, too:

Why do they [anti-Israeli campaigners] treat Israel so differently to every other nation on Earth? Why is it child-killing bloodlust when Israel takes military action but not when Turkey or India do? Why must we rush to the streets to set light to the Israel flag but never the Saudi flag, despite Saudi Arabia’s unconscionable war on Yemen? Why is it only ‘wrong’ or at worst ‘horrific’ when Britain or America drop bombs in the Middle East but Nazism when Israel fires missiles into Gaza? Why do you merely oppose the military action of some states but you hate Israel, viscerally, publicly, loudly?

I read it through. I read it a second time. I read it a third time. And then I went to repost. Other people should read this, too. I thought. Maybe it hasn’t popped up on their FB feed as it did on mine. As my finger hovered over the share button, I began to waiver. Words from yet another friend came into my head. Why put yourself out there? Why invite condescension? Why bother?

Having recently been caught out when I reposted a video of a trio that were supposed to be sons of the Three Tenors but turned out to be an unrelated boy band, I thought I’d do some checking.

MediaBias rates Spiked as a right-biased for stories and editorial positions and mixed for factual reporting. AllSides says it leans right, or is moderately conservative. I read with growing horror that Spiked has opposed bans on child pornography and gun control, that it has come out in favour of fracking and global warming, and that it has promoted people I can’t abide. There’s no way I could repost the article.

Then I checked the author, Brendan O’Neill. He’s been published in The Guardian. The New Statesman, and The Big Issue, so could he be that bad? I can’t say I found much to agree with him in what I read. Some. But not much. Unfair of me perhaps, having never met the man. That said, Natasha Marsh did an interesting piece on him a few years back for the Catholic Weekly, which seems to cast him in the role of provocateur.

Still, I dithered. I’ve had enough raised eyebrows. I decided to sleep on it.

In the meantime, I asked a Hungarian friend in Israel what was going on. They said they didn’t fully understand. I asked them to direct me to some sources they trusted. They sent me a link to a site that is chronicling what’s happening there right now. It’s frightening, the back and forth. It’s scary to see what’s happening, what both sides are doing. Or all three, if you count the infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. My heart goes out to every innocent caught up in this conflict and to those Arabs and Jews who have been living relatively peacefully together in cities like Lod and now find themselves on opposing sides. I also read up on the evictions that seem to have started this recent escalation but even that I’m not sure about.

According to the BBC, while I was sleeping,

Israel has intensified its assault on Gaza, as Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel on the fifth day of hostilities. […] Jewish and Israeli-Arab mobs have also been fighting within Israel, prompting its president to warn of civil war.

I went back to O’Neill’s editorial for a fourth read and got stuck on this paragraph:

The judgement and treatment of Israel by a double standard is one of the most disturbing facets of global politics in the 21st century. That double standard has been glaringly evident over the past few days. Israel is now the only country on Earth that is expected to allow itself to be attacked. To sit back and do nothing as its citizens are pelted with rocks or rockets. How else do we explain so many people’s unwillingness to place the current events in any kind of context, including the context of an avowedly anti-Semitic Islamist movement – Hamas – firing hundreds of missiles into civilian areas in Israel? In this context, to rage solely against Israel, to curse its people and burn its flag because it has sent missiles to destroy Hamas’s firing positions in Gaza, is essentially to say: ‘Why won’t Israelis let themselves be killed?’

I decided not to share the link directly, but to give it some context because seven years on, I’m still asking questions. I doubt I’ll ever understand.






5 Responses

  1. Even daring to write about one of the world’s most agonising and intractable problems brings the risk of censure. Thanks for the balance and useful, researched viewpoints. I’m not ‘Pro’ or ‘Anti’ either side, although the asymmetry is always shocking. The ‘great powers’ truly fouled up the creation of Israel. And as we know in Hungary, ‘giving away’ tracts of land carries huge cultural weight, and starts a pain which continues down generations.

    1. It’s easy to say that the great powers truly fouled up the creation of Israel. If you regard the creation of a Jewish state as a priori desirable at the time, where would you rather have put it? And remember that the great powers were in a position to dispose of the territory of a beaten enemy – the Ottoman Empire – as was the way of the time. The same process resulted in the production of other new states in the region which are troublesome today, e.g. Libya and Iraq to name but two.

  2. Good for you for posting the above……….the history of the state of Israel isn’t very old, yet I find it very odd how people only seem to want to remember selected pieces. The BBC reporting during this past week has been appallingly one sided. I’m not asking for them to tell me lies just give me both sides of the argument so that I can make my own mind up………and like you my heart goes out to every innocent caught up in this conflict.

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