If there is a silver lining in the horrors that the Israelis have visited on the people of Gaza over the past month, it is the hope that at long last this will be enough to persuade the Western world to shift its stance on Israel.
Don’t count on it, particularly in America, where it is an article of faith that Israel Is Right and Can Do No Wrong, and where the mere hint of anything to the contrary is enough to bring a chill over the room and a brief end to conversation while they consider how you managed to crash the party. This is compounded by the near monopoly of the Israeli narrative in the mainstream media, and the well-recognised intimidation of Congress by Israeli lobbies – particularly AIPAC – which have (and use) their power to swing substantial campaign funding to or away from political candidates based solely on their position vis-a-vis Israel.
But on an issue on which people by and large seem to have made up their minds long ago, there are signs that sufficient numbers are still open-minded enough to be shocked at the horrors meted out to the Gazan population while some truly depraved representatives of God’s Chosen People watch and cheer from their armchairs. It certainly wouldn’t do to voice this thought aloud in polite society, but one can’t help wondering if the only lesson the Israelis learned from the horrors of the Nazi period was that next time around, they wanted to be the ones working the ovens.
I’ve often marvelled at the phenomenon in Western democratic societies that elections are generally so finely balanced that it’s not uncommon to hear results described as a landslide when the outcome is decided by a majority of 52%. I used to wonder how it could be that populations seem to be distributed so evenly on issues that one might expect to generate a little more consensus. As the years go by, however, I’ve come to realise that it’s the inevitable consequence of a two party system of government, as the major parties tweak their electoral product by nipping and tucking at their principles in order to capture the middle ground, which is the only place where there are undecided voters with votes up for grabs.
But ponder the fact that in Israel, with its 101 political parties, there is no such fine division on the issue of Gaza. There, they have the most wonderful degree of consensus. Polls indicate that 95% of the people support the continued artillery practice in Gaza, with the other 5% accepting that maybe they’ve done enough for now and perhaps it’s time to start replenishing their stocks of ammunition for next time.
It’s hardly a good advertisement for the concept of democracy when it manages to deliver the sort of mandate that would cause even Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein to salivate. And they manage(d) to do it without all the trouble and expense of elections, too.
How is it possible for any diverse group of people, as Israel certainly is, to line up with virtual unanimity on what one might expect to be a divisive issue, to wit: the wholesale killing and maiming of thousands of defenceless people, in full view of the world, by one of the world’s most modern and powerful armies?
Indeed, how is it even possible to call this a “war” between such manifestly unequal forces? This is truly a fight between David and Goliath, but this time Goliath is Israel. Whatever its supporters might like to say about the country being surrounded by those who would push it into the sea, and however they might like to talk about “existential threats”, Israel is rather less likely to be pushed into the sea or disappear under a hail of rockets than Earth is likely – any time soon – to go spinning wildly out of its orbit and crash into the sun.
After all, one side in this “war” has extensive armaments of the world’s most advanced military technology, including missiles, jet fighters, battle tanks, long range artillery and armed drones – not to mention The Bomb, which everyone knows they have but pretends not to notice. It also has highly trained soldiers and a sophisticated military research and export program. As a major ally of the US, Israel is supported by American foreign aid to the tune of billions every year and qualifies for sharing in virtually all the latest American weapon technology. What they aren’t given freely by the Americans they steal through hacking and espionage, in which Israel is recognised by the CIA as one of the leading threats to America. And what they aren’t given and can’t steal, they build themselves, and they’re good at that too.
That pretty well sums up the position on one side of the “battlefield”.
The other side has sticks and stones, basically. Not that many sticks, but plenty of stones. Over the past month, in fact, since their neighbours stopped by for a visit, they’ve lost a good many apartments, schools and hospitals. But on the plus side, they’ve gained a whole lot of new stones. They also have some Iranian fireworks which the Israeli media calls rockets, but that’s only to make them sound more threatening, because they‘re clearly less dangerous than the things we used to set off on the 4th of July when I was a kid. In 4 weeks they’ve only managed to kill 3 people. Back in the States they do heaps better than that in one night without even trying.
And yet Israel’s supporters continue to talk about Israel’s right to defend itself, in a place they’ve illegally occupied and colonised, and more recently blockaded, so that the economy is in ruins and even so-called “dual use materials” such as steel and concrete are kept out because they could be used to build weapons, as well as new schools and hospitals. They’re even denied the right to fish out to reasonable (and agreed) distances from shore, in case they come back with artillery and battle tanks of their own hidden under the nets on their fishing boats. This is why they’ve been forced to go underground, because it’s only by means of those tunnels that they can bring in what they need to survive.
I’m often surprised to discover how little most people know about what really goes on in the Middle East, and about the background to all this trouble and pain. Wouldn’t you think that the conflict which has continued for so long, and killed so many, and which is at the root of other major conflicts in the region and now around the world – indeed a whole so-called Clash of Civilisations – wouldn’t you think that most people would know by now what it’s all about?
And yet, they don’t. The general population is as ignorant of the background to this conflict as Grandma Moses was of rap music, and believes as The Gospel Truth the Israeli fairy tale that they’re only peace-loving innocents who want nothing but to be left in peace, picking oranges on the kibbutz. If only those nasty Palestinians would stop disturbing the peace with their rockets and loud music.
For so many people, it’s just a local squabble they keep hearing about and, frankly, they’re tired of the whole thing. Change the channel, please.
Mind you, knowing nothing about it has never stopped people from having an opinion on the subject, and typically it’s an opinion that the Israelis should just be allowed to live in peace, so why do those awful Palestinians keep provoking them? When you hear someone express an opinion like that, it’s a safe bet that it’s an opinion rooted in deep ignorance. The very questions they ask confirm this. Why do the Palestinians do these things? Why can’t they all just live and let live? Why does the world have to keep hearing about their problems? They’re only causing more trouble and they get what they deserve.
All too often these opinions are more than just opinions, they’re deeply held and unshakeable convictions that Israel is the innocent party, and that critics of Israel are simply anti-Semitic, which they think – incorrectly – means anti-Jewish. So supporters of Israeli occupation and aggression and oppression and discrimination have only to utter the magic words “anti-Semitism” to make their critics disappear in a puff of smoke. It’s the “abracadabra” of political discourse.
To even suggest that there might be reasonable grounds for criticising Israeli policies without being “Jew haters” risks provoking even more irrational responses, because for many people, support for Israel is a core belief, an article of faith. When you hear someone arguing like this, you may rest assured that they are even more ignorant than the first group, which at least admits to not knowing the facts.
Let me hasten to add that when I speak of ignorance here, I don’t mean that in the sense of impugning their intelligence. I merely mean to say that they are unaware of the pertinent facts, and that usually is not their fault but simply the result of being part of a culture that heavily favours one side or the other, with a media that is also heavily biased on the issue. When you never hear the other side’s point of view on an issue, it’s easy to accept that yours is the only reasonable position to take.
So in parts 1 through 3 of this post I propose to jot down a few facts which will settle the matter once and for all, to the undoubted satisfaction of everyone. By the end of this blog, the issues will be so clearly explained and so thoroughly understood that we can all proceed directly to the UN Security Council for an immediate and unanimous resolution of the matter. The delegations gathered in Egypt to discuss a ceasefire can all pack their bags and go home, because from tomorrow morning, or by the weekend at the latest, the conflict will be over and sweet peace and harmony will once again reign over the Holy Land.