Knowing who your real friends are

In a surprise statement today, Israeli police expressed their concern for the safety of those wanting to protest against the so-called “war” in Gaza.

Citing security concerns over continued rocket fire, Israeli police banned an antiwar protest in Tel Aviv, saying regulations prohibited large gatherings in areas at risk of attack.

It’s not often that we hear such concern expressed by the Israeli authorities, or by the population at large either, which supports the idea of bombing the Palestinians into dust and stains even more enthusiastically than Americans support the idea of Christmas.

I wonder if these regulations extend as far as Gaza, where there are even larger gatherings in areas at even greater risk of attack?

A cynic might think that the police were really more concerned with the idea getting out in public that mass murder is wrong no matter where it happens.

But that could hardly be true, because Israel has a strong tradition of supporting dissenting views on Palestine. Just ask the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, who is well acquainted with the Israeli spirit of tolerance for his views opposing the continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

In the article “Against the war: the movement that dare not speak its name in Israel”, he speaks of being weary of all the adulation he gets from his adoring public – or something of the sort.

Not only is he spat on and ostracised, but he can’t go about in public now without bodyguards to protect him. And even they don’t like him much, so if I were Levy I’d be thinking about loading their handguns with blanks instead of real bullets, because you can never be too sure who your friends are until they express their true feelings in a way that allows no room for discussion.

But beyond that, it has now been suggested that – for the crime of expressing an unpopular view in the region’s “only true democracy” – he be put on trial for treason, which carries the death penalty. And this call comes not from some isolated deranged radical crank, which exist in every society, but from Yariv Levin, who was the chairman of the recently-dissolved Likud-Beytenu partnership, which was the dominant faction in the Knesset. So maybe it was a deranged radical crank, but certainly not an isolated one.

Those trying to follow the vagaries of Israeli politics will know that Likud has been the dominant political party there ever since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and that’s saying a lot in a country which has more political parties than a stray dog has fleas.

In a classic case of understatement, the Wikipedia article describing Israeli politics says that:

Compared to other countries, the number of parties contesting the Israeli general elections is relatively high considering the population size.

That’s a pretty fair statement, considering that the number of parties there is roughly equal to the size of the population plus 1.

Anyway, the point is that, as chairman of the parliamentary partnership which brought together in government the extreme right-wing PM Netanyahu and the even more extreme right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, it is fair to say that Yariv Lenin is anything but a fringe lunatic. He’s more a mainstream lunatic, and when you have someone like that baying for your blood, it’s hard to know where Gideon Levy should look for protection. He’d probably be safer in a UN shelter in Gaza, and that’s not saying a lot.



This will settle the matter once and for all – part 3

OK, I keep promising to put the whole matter to rest and be done with it once and for all, so let’s begin, for there’s no time to waste.

First, let’s consider the question of why the Palestinians don’t just leave the Israelis alone to live in peace, for clearly, without continued provocations from the Palestinians there would be no need for Israel to expend so much of its precious munitions to suppress them, and thereby get such a bad press.

Mind you, if I had taken over another man’s house and land and successfully retained large parts of it for 70 or 80 years, that’s exactly the position I would take on the issue, too: let’s just stop all the arguing and live together in peace.

Of course the Israelis want to maintain the status quo! They’ve grabbed their piece of land and want to hang on to it, and as it turns out, to another and another.

Of course the Palestinians are making trouble! So would you if someone had pushed his way into your neighbourhood and then by stealth and thuggery taken over part of your home and then another, pushing you finally into a corner of your backyard and resisting all attempts to enforce the law because his Pappy happened to be the big man in town.

Perhaps a potted history of the situation is in order here, just to get us started. I’ll try to keep it brief, because we have a lot to cover in this session.

A long, long time ago, the Palestinians and the Jews lived happily side-by-side in the Middle East and, generally speaking, everything was hunky dory. (As I start out, let’s first agree on some terminology, lest I be thought a bigot. Rather than calling them the Jews, which can be an emotive term, let me refer to them less controversially as “the Jewish People”, because while the Jewish People can refer to themselves as Jews, it can be dangerous for others to do so, just as a black person can refer to himself and his friends as “niggas”, while a white man doing so – no matter how affectionately – had better have his Nikes on and tied up tight.)

Among all this hunky-doryness, first the Babylonians and then the Romans came along and, to cut a long story short, they both sent the Jewish People packing, which is how they came to be living in squalid ghettos in Warsaw and London a millennium or so later. Then along came the late 1800s, in correct chronological order, and some of the Jewish People thought it would be nice to go home again, and started talking about it among themselves and even around the neighbourhood a bit. Fair enough, too. After a while along comes World War 1, right on schedule, and the Goodies are stuck in a mud wrestle with the Baddies. They can’t get at them from the front and they can’t get around them, because the Baddies have their backs covered by some other guys wearing tassled hats and slippers down in some nice beach country in the Eastern Med. Problem is, how do they shift those hookah-smokers out of the way so the Goodies can sneak in the back door? Well, they send this short white guy down there with his smooth-talking ways and socks full of cash and a whole lot of what he called tulips, but I don’t think they were flowers, and they promise the Arabs that if they cause a bit of a ruckus in the neighbourhood, they’ll get to keep the place all for themselves after the war. Good deal, hey? So that’s what happens – the first part, that is. The Arabs keep their end of the deal, but ……

Now, cut back to London, where some of the Jewish People have by now done very nicely for themselves in the banking business, thank you, and have a bit of spare cash lying around. So those dastardly, two-faced Brits in the FO make a deal with them on the side, saying if you help us out with the readies, we’ll push over to your side of the table that bit of real estate you’ve had your eye on. So another deal is cut, and once again the other party keeps its end of the bargain and starts packing their sun hats and beach towels. They’ve just struck the deal of a lifetime.

Well, you’ve probably guessed what happens next. Sure enough, the Brits win the war with a bit of help from a few late comers who arrive just in time to share the glory without actually having to do much in the way of real fighting. And when they all get together to divvie up the spoils by drawing red and blue lines on the map, who should show up but both the bankers’ boys and the camel drivers, bearing their IOUs. This leaves the Brits in rather a tight spot. The Froggies have helped themselves to Syria and Lebanon, where nothing much is scheduled to happen for another 60 years or so, while the Brits are left holding Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. This is where things start to get interesting, because the bankers’ boys start slipping more and more of their cousins into beachside villas, and the camel drivers start wondering where all this is heading. So there’s periodic squabbles, as you’d expect if both gangs are hanging out around the same ice cream parlour. Things start to get a bit heated, and the occasional unpleasantness occurs. It’s not all one-sided, by any means, but suffice it to say that the bankers’ boys are clever little rascals, and soon they’re patrolling the neighbourhood with a couple of private armies (whom I will call the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People).

By now, the International squad from the newly-formed UN is taking an interest in all this, and whaddya know, before you can say Bombs Away!, the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People have blown up a hotel with people inside it, and when the internationals try to settle things by sending into town a mediator (who, by the way, had negotiated the freedom of more than 30,000 prisoners from German concentration camps during the war), the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People showed their gratitude and respect by letting some light into him through a few holes that weren’t there in the morning.

Now of course, the Brits are never ones for any overt displays of emotion one way or the other, and would much prefer that everyone just try to get along with each other and not make a fuss. So, as you might imagine, they’re beginning to feel a tad awkward over all this, what with their house guests (as they see them) starting to get on each other’s nerves a bit, and presently they start thinking that it really would be jolly nice to be home playing cricket this time of year, wouldn’t it, dear?, and they announce to management their intention to vacate the premises and head home. But no sooner do they do this than the bankers’ boys – with the generous assistance of the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People – decide to take over the place for themselves, before anyone else makes a booking. Now, this reminds me that I forgot to mention that the internationals, desperately trying to find a way to accommodate all the new arrivals from the land of tasty sausages, had by now decided to give half the place to the bankers’ boys and half to the camel drivers, much like a latter day King Solomon offering to cut the baby in two so as to leave both parties happy with the compromise.

Oh, I also forgot to mention that in the Second Late Unpleasantness, the Baddies (OK, let’s be honest and call them the Krauts) had again been up to no good, and most regrettably (but without meaning to do any harm, and without anyone even knowing about it, really) had evidently caused the rolls of the bankers’ boys to be reduced more than somewhat, which caused a good deal of ill feeling toward the Krauts and also earned the bankers’ boys some measure of sympathy, to the extent that those people across the water, who once again had come into the fight when the best part was over, started to think what a grand idea it would be to give the bankers’ boys a place of their own to call home, and where better to do it than New Mexico. No, just kidding. Of course they wouldn’t give away part of their own back yard, so they scratched their heads and pondered until finally someone in the back row says “I’ve got an idea! Let’s give them a place that no one else wants.” And everyone said yes, yes, what a wonderful idea, that will solve everything.

OK, so now we’re all sort of caught up with the story up to 1948, and by now there are a good few future prime ministers of Israel who have already earned their Boy Scout badges for Murder and Mayhem, or are getting ready to do so. Now, that terrible scourge Terrorism hadn’t been invented yet – at least the word hadn’t – and so naturally it wasn’t called terrorism then, but freedom fighting, and the bankers’ boys were clever enough to do all theirs before electronic media came on the scene to transmit the realities of it in full technicolour to homes around the world. By the time the camel drivers thought of doing some freedom fighting of their own, it had a new name. But, as any marketing exec will tell you, timing is everything in establishing a successful brand, and the bankers’ boys had the deal all stitched up before the camel drivers got a look in.

So that sort of sets the scene, give or take a few wars between then and now, and any of you out there who would like to earn some extra credit can continue your research outside the classroom. Just make sure you use DuckDuckGo for your searches and not Google, because if Google gets wind of you reading up on the facts, you may be getting a night time visit from Seal Team 6.

Whew! Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground there in a short time, and I’m all out of breath, so let’s go to the little boy’s room for a break and on the way back stop by the fridge and pop a can…..

This will settle the matter once and for all – part 2

In my previous post I suggested that there has always been a considerable amount of ignorance on the background to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that this has done little to help an informed discussion of the relative rights and wrongs of both sides. As a consequence, there is often an unquestioned acceptance in the West – particularly in the US and Britain – of the Israeli position on the issue. This is hardly surprising, given the media’s stance, which all too often is biased heavily in favour of the Israeli narrative.

In my own case, growing up in America in the 1950s and 60s, and attending a school with a large proportion of Jewish kids, I was entirely unaware that there even was a Palestinian population, or a “Palestinian issue”. American media at the time – and to some extent still – spoke only of plucky little Israel standing firm against the combined might of its many Arab neighbours who were intent on “pushing it into the sea”. It wasn’t until I first travelled to the area in 1971 and met these Palestinians that my eyes were opened to another whole new narrative, and it has given me a perspective which ever since has put me at odds with mainstream thought on the issue.

Public awareness of the Palestinian plight has improved dramatically since that time, and there is now widespread support for providing the Palestinians at long last with some measure of justice. It’s vital to understand that this awareness has developed only as the Palestinians have offered determined resistance to Israeli occupation and encroachment, which has provoked the most extreme kinds of Israeli retribution and oppression, such as what we’re witnessing once again in Gaza.

Despite the understandable condemnation of violence on either side, it is only because of the Palestinians’ determination to resist that the world knows anything at all about them and of the injustices they have suffered over the past century. If they had, as is so often suggested, foregone resistance and left the Israelis to pursue their own agenda, there would be peace in the area now. But would there be justice?

It’s only because of their continued resistance that the world knows anything at all about the Palestinian people. Without it they would have disappeared from the scene altogether, and for all intents and purposes ceased to exist as a people. This, of course, is exactly what Israeli would like.

So what is this other narrative that so many of us are unaware of?

For that, please proceed to part 3.

This will settle the matter once and for all – part 1

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.






Playing politics

How utterly predictable that David Cameron would accuse Ed Miliband of ”playing politics” over the British Government’s failure to condemn Israel’s brutal assault on an innocent, captive population.
 “Playing politics” is that curiously dismissive term used by politicians which is generally reserved:
  • FOR those who have taken a position on principle which is generally recognised as the right thing to do
  • BY those who wish they could take the same position but are prevented from doing so by overriding political priorities.

In this case, the term is used by someone who is at the very centre of UK politics, but who pretends to disdain base political considerations. Yet, it is quite clear that Cameron does so out of fear of provoking the Israeli lobby and losing the votes and campaign donations it wields.

So who’s really playing politics here? Miliband and Clegg, who risk the loss of Jewish votes and contributions in order to speak out against a moral obscenity committed by a nation which regards itself as above international law? Or Cameron, who somehow dares to claim the high moral ground by avoiding a stand on principle in order to protect his votes and campaign chest?

Even the US – Israel’s major sponsor and perennial apologist – has now gone further than ever before in condemning Israeli for its “appalling” and “indefensible” conduct. But still Cameron refuses to be critical of Israel, pretending that by avoiding criticism it may somehow be possible to secure a ceasefire, despite the failure of diplomacy to make any progress in the conflict after decades of treading “softly, softly” with Israel.

Appalling double standards

At long, long last the US finally summons up the moral courage to condemn the outrageous criminal behaviour by Israel in Gaza.

Mind you, it’s only spokesmen for the White House and State Department who dare go so far. Where is the President himself?

As soon as there’s the slightest opportunity to shift criticism away from Israel, he has no trouble making himself available to condemn the reported capture of an Israeli soldier as “barbaric”, and demand his immediate release. (Never mind the fact that the last Israeli captive, Gilad Shalit, acknowledged upon his release that he was treated well by Hamas.)

So where is the President now that Israel has attacked a UN shelter yet again, after similar attacks on schools, hospitals and ambulances? He’s nowhere to be seen. His nameless, faceless functionaries emerge to acknowledge what is obvious to every fair-minded person in the world – which is that Israel is an outlaw state which has learned that there are no limits to the moral outrages it can commit upon a captive population without any fear of being held to account.

And why is this? Because for 70 years it has been sheltered by the US from any penalties for its behaviour. And like so many spoiled brats who are indulged by their parents and shielded from criticism, it soon becomes the bully and then the outright criminal.

Let’s at last see some meaningful action taken to bring Israel’s political and military leaders to the International Criminal Court to face the music for this disgusting moral outrage, as suggested by Geoffrey Robertson this week.

The US rules the world, but Israel rules the US

Spare a moment to sympathise with the US, which since the end of the Cold War has held an unchallenged position as the world’s sole superpower. Now it is being lectured on how to behave by its own client state Israel, whose PM Netanyahu warns them “never to second guess me again”.

How galling, for the folks who make it all possible (through subsidies, intelligence and military assistance) to be told where to get off! It’s bad enough that Israel owns the US Congress and the mainstream media, so as to control the flow of both money and information. But now the Americans aren’t even to be permitted to squeak without prior approval from Netanyahu.

This was after daring to hint at the obvious: that Israel’s brutal onslaught on a captive and innocent population – including targeted attacks on UN shelters – was “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible”. To go this far in rebuking the Israelis was a first for America, although it did nothing to follow up with any meaningful action, despite having the means to do so. On the contrary, it has now re-supplied the Israeli war machine, lest the guns fall silent for want of ammunition. It is also giving extra funding for its Iron Dome system, a marginally successful defence against the barely operative Hamas rockets, which so far have killed just 3 civilians – a figure which has remained static for weeks now.

No doubt grateful for an opportunity to shift attention away from the Israelis, Obama described as “barbaric” the reported capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier (which turned out to be false). This, despite the fact that Gilad Shalit (the Israeli soldier held from 2006-2011) was given shelter, food and medical care during his captivity, and acknowledged upon release that he had been treated well by Hamas.

How does that “barbarity” compare with the one visited on the helpless population of Gaza day after day, week after week, by one of the most powerful armies on the planet?