Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The grievance that keeps on giving

(First published in the Manawatu Standard, the Nelson Mail and, July 11.)

Israel recently celebrated its 70th birthday – no mean feat when nearly everyone around you wants to wipe you off the map.

From the very start, Israel’s existence has been threatened by the hostile Arab states that surrounded it. But somehow this tiny country, less than half the size of Canterbury, has survived.

Along the way Israel has negotiated peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan – proof that ancient enmities can be overcome where there’s a will. But its relations with other Arab states have, if anything, become more bitter over time.

And it’s no longer just the Arab world that Israel is up against. At the United Nations, Israel is routinely treated as a pariah state. Blatant anti-Semitism is condoned and even encouraged by some Western political leaders.

To our shame, New Zealand has fallen into line with the anti-Israel bloc. Last year, we supported 16 of the 19 UN resolutions that condemned the Jewish state.

This is perplexing, because according to the international Democracy Index compiled by the British magazine The Economist, Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East.

The same UN is often strangely silent when it comes to atrocities perpetrated by Arabs, but that’s international diplomacy for you. Diplomats, including our own, do whatever political self-interest dictates.

Admittedly, Israel hasn’t always made it easy to be its friend. The provocative habit of building Jewish settlements in occupied territories claimed by Palestinians has been a consistent impediment in efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

And Israel has done some terrible things – probably never more so than when its army turned a blind eye to the Sabra and Shatila massacres carried out by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies after the Israeli Army invaded southern Lebanon in 1982.

Then there’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. He’s not an easy man to like.  Yet Netanyahu, for all his flaws, is arguably a man for his times, because he’s tough and uncompromising. And presumably, Israeli voters have decided that tough and uncompromising are the qualities they need in an unremittingly hostile world. You can see why.

Therein lies the tragedy of Israel and Palestine. Too often, the agenda is dictated by hard-liners. Whenever there’s a glimmer of hope for peace, it seems to be extinguished by the actions of intransigent extremists with no interest in compromise.

Some of these are on the Israeli side. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish nationalist who opposed the Oslo peace accord that Rabin had signed. The year before, another Jewish extremist massacred 29 Palestinians.

But these were isolated incidents. Any dispassionate assessment of the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations shows that it’s most often the Palestinians who seem determined to sabotage attempts at reconciliation.

Take the most recent flare-up. We’re told it was Arab anger at Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital that triggered Palestinian protests, resulting in the deaths of 60 people.

But just this once, Trump may have got it right. Jerusalem is central to Jewish history and culture. It’s mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible and the Torah, but not once in the Quran.

You can safely assume, then, that much of the Arab outrage over Trump’s action was confected. Any excuse to nurture a fresh grievance and stir up international sympathy.

That’s something the terrorist organisations Hamas and Hezbollah are very good at. There’s always a receptive audience of Western apologists for Arab terrorism, ready to demand punitive action against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself.

Western observers wrung their hands over the recent suffering in Gaza, but it could have been halted in the blink of an eye. All it took was for the Hamas fanatics to stop firing rockets and mortar bombs across the border, or digging tunnels underneath it, with the intention of killing Israeli citizens.

All it took was for Palestinian parents to say no, we will not allow our children to do Hamas’s dirty work by being used as human shields and placing themselves in danger by hurling missiles at Israeli border guards. Simple, really.

But the tragic truth is that it suits the wider Arab world to have Palestinians confined in their wretched Gaza ghetto and locked into their victim mindset. It’s the grievance that keeps on giving. They seem determined to remain prisoners of their history.

Western politicians bang on about the two-state solution, but there can be no such solution as a long as key player like Hamas vows never to recognise Israel.

And all this because a few million people, having survived unimaginable horror in Europe, sought to create a sanctuary in their ancestral desert homeland. For all the Israelis’ faults, I have no trouble deciding whose side I’m on.


David said...

It's often not realised that Israel is a legal country created by the United Nations in 1947 in the division of the former British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish- and Arab-majority states. Mandated Palestine itself was established in 1920 by the victors of WWI on land that had been part of the Ottoman Empire since the early 1500s.

The Arab states surrounding the new state of Israel refused to accept the UN vote and attacked immediately, but the Israelis somehow defeated them. Israel largely accepted the 1947 UN boundaries but seized such places as Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan and Sinai in the 1967 war.

Sinai was later returned to Egypt after a peace agreement with Israel, and Gaza was returned to Palestinian rule not many years ago, but is now (legally) blockaded (by Israel and Egypt) because of Hamas using it as a terrorist base. Golan has remained in Israeli hands to stop its heights being used to shell Israel from there, which Syria used to do. And the West Bank is a desperately sad area with a Palestinian civil administration but increasingly harsh Israeli control. Under international law Israel is the Occupying Power in the West Bank but its settlements are blatantly illegal.

People also tend to forget Israel used to be a "good" country, because it was ruled in its early decades by a Labour Party and many Labour folk including our Sonja Davies went there and raved about it. The Israelis were the brave guys and gals (their army has always had women in the front line) who stood up to the terrorists, who rescued hostages from hijacked planes as far away as Entebbe, who were murdered by terrorists at the Olympics, and who included the survivors of the Holocaust. Israel was an is the only democracy in the region. Its Arab citizens have the same rights as its Jewish ones, something else not widely known.

Labour rule in Israel is long gone, replaced by hardliners not as prepared to negotiate peace as the Labour-led administrations were. Ironically, the Palestinian leaderships were not much interested in peace in Labour days, but became so inclined when the Israeli administrations became hard-line.

While the memory of the Holocaust remains, there is no way Israel is going to roll over and be raped, let alone allow itself to be destroyed. And yet, many on the Left in many many countries now including NZ believe Israel is the sole aggressor and appear happy at the thought that it be destroyed and its people slaughtered.

What a mess.

hilary531 said...

Quite. Thank you David. I recall seeing 'Exodus' at the Cinerama in Courtenay Place back in the 70s...made a huge impression on me..and not just for Paul Newman's bright blues. So..obviously I am of that generation you describe in para 4, who is stunned by the political positions some of the activist young take on Israel now. I think they're lacking in any kind of historical nuance or balance..& plain hysterical in their antipathy to Israel.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Karl

I was in Israel for 10 days recently. Nothing like being there to get a sense of what's happening on the ground. In any event, I thought you might like this first hand report of what life is like for Jews in Israel, especially those who live on the border with Gaza.