Israel: a wider perspective

Someone sent me a link to the Daily Telegraph blog of a leading Catholic journalist, re the troubles in Israel and Palestine. It was replete with all sorts of Zionist luvvies baying for Palestinian blood. One of them even expressed his thanks to Israel 'for killing all those Muslim terrorists, to save us the trouble' ...

I wonder whether these same people would have been asking for Northern Ireland (at least the Catholic-dominated areas) to be nuked during the troubles. That was never the official policy of the DT in those days, though it came close. It is a paper I like a lot, but not uncritically.

For years, Israel happily confiscated Palestinian land, built new settlements, filled with new arrivals from the USA, with their coffee bars and kosher McDonalds, only allowing the original locals in to clean the toilets, labelled with a little badge saying 'foreign worker'. When water was in short supply, the Palestinians had their water cut off, while Jewish settlers kept the sprinklers going on their lawns. Open sewers conveyed the new settlers' waste through the villages of displaced Palestinians.

In the Lebanon, refugees pushed out of their historics lands in the 1940s, still live in makeshift accommodation, never having received compensation from the State of Israel.

In Jerusalem, Jewish companies buy up ancient Christian homes in christian quarters, using nominee companies with misleading identites. As soon as the sale goes through all the ancient Christian signs are defaced and remaining Christian neighbours are put under pressure to leave. In this same city families who have lived there for 800 years have no right to citizenship, while the new arrivals, providing they claim to be Jewish, can quickly obtain full Israeli rights.

I am not defending Palestinian attacks on Israel. I am simply attempting with these few short observations to draw attention to the incredibly complicated situation that exists in this area, and to the tragedy of the disposessed. Disposessed people always feel bitter; the miracle of modern Palestine is that people do not feel more bitter, and that so many ordinary Palestinians just want peace; but peace with justice. Not peace in a concentration camp.

Some great Jewish figures have publicly borne witness to the humanity and goodness of ordinary people on both sides of the divide. Poignantly, the great musician Daniel Barrenboim quoted the founding declaration of the state of Israel (1948) when he was awarded a medal from the Israeli culture minister a few years ago. His acceptance speech consisted only of these words, from Israel's founding document:

"[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. "

Sixty years on, Israel is in breach of a long list of UN demands and shows no sign of fidelity to its original combination of welcome to homeless and persecuted Jews coupled with respect for the rights of the indigenous Christians, Moslems (and Jews) who had lived in the land for centuries.

All the while, the Israeli politicians (a bunch of crooks, by the standards of most western democracies) denounce the Palestinian politicans as a bunch of terrorists, which is - unfortunately - not far from the truth.

It is in this context that Palestinians, in their prison-like state, in the shadow of a hardened and secularised Israel, have made the mistake of continuing their guerilla attacks, with the horrible consequences that ensue for all. Even if I condemn them, I think I understand what they are feeling.

Twenty-five years ago, I remember talking with cousins in Dublin about the problem of Northern Ireland. They told me how they had been up in Belfast for a party and how they had seen British troops drive through their Catholic area shouting anti-Catholic taunts, for no other reason other than that they could get away with it. Since then, and despite much deep hurt on all sides, relative peace has come to the North, because men on all sides have realised that it is time for the taunts to stop.

I hope that our journalists and their friends will take note.

A good read, from about ten years ago, is William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain. He captures many of the sad nuances of the conflicts and sufferings of the disposessed across the whole unhappy region. I recommend it wholeheartedly: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holy-Mountain-Journey-Shadow-Byzantium/dp/0006547745

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