Wednesday 14 January 2009

God Cried

In my teenage years there was a guy I knew vaguely who had come from Palestine. He used to enjoy telling what might be termed a joke and it was always a show-stopper, it went something like this:
Jimmy Carter, Leonid Brezhnev and Yasser Arafat found themselves in front of God who offered to answer one question for each of them
Carter asked "When will American culture conquer the world?"
And God said, "In fifty years."
Carter burst into tears, God asked what was wrong and Carter said “I’ll never live to see it.”
Brezhnev was next. "When will the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics rule the world completely?"
And God answered, "In two hundred years."
Brezhnev started to cry, again God asked why, and Brezhnev said “I’ll never live to see it.”
Last to ask was Arafat: "When will the Palestinians have a free and independent sovereign state?"
And God cried.
I’m no more expert on matters in that part of the world than anyone else I know and a lot less expert than some of my friends - like Alyn Smith - and it seems to me to be an issue on which everyone can be wrong at the same time. I watched the debates in Westminster descend into grandstanding and posturing, daft demands from people on each side as they sought to be the headline, and pettiness launched as debating points and interventions - much heat and little light. I also noted the demonstration in Edinburgh which I had some sympathy for until the part of the email that said it would march on the US Consulate and ‘bring spare shoes’ - much as the US has a role that it is playing and you may want to change that direction, that seems infantile. Why not ask to make representations to the Consul and ask her to take them back to her Government? Why not present a petition taken on the march? The throwing of the shoes - that has a specific cultural reference in Arab countries to do with showing the soles of your feet being an insult (I don’t know how widespread it is in Arabic culture or other cultures - I’m no expert) which is why the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein was pelted with sandals and why the journalist threw his shoes at the US President - but it does not have that significance here, why mimic?

People I’ve know who come from either side of the ‘fence’ seem to have one thing in common - an entrenched position (although those I’ve met who actually come from Palestine or Israel seem to be less bellicose) and I’ve had little experience of any semblance of a balanced viewpoint from people discussing Israeli/Palestinian politics. On this subject I offer opinion rather than profundity.

We have seen little of reporting from the Israeli towns and cities which have come under rocket attack for years (some reports suggesting that this may have been around 40 a day at one point) and I have no idea what it is like to live with that constant threat, and it is easy to build an argument for the Israeli offensive that we’ve seen recently. Likewise, it’s difficult for me to appreciate that an organisation like Hamas can operate as a political party of government while viewing the state of Israel as illegitimate, believing that Israel is a state built on occupied land. I can’t understand suicide bombers or the people who direct them, and I can’t understand people who will not seek peace - I can find myself siding with Israel sometimes.

I find some irony in the fact that Hamas grew from an organisation encouraged by Israel and the House of Saud as a peace-loving alternative to the warlike PLO. Hamas, I’m told still holds to its foundations as an organisation dedicated to providing education, health care, food aid and other social services as well as the more militaristic intent it also now carries alongside its governmental objectives - a more complicated organisation than the simple terrorist grouping so often painted for us. I have quite some difficulty in equating the two, I have no difficulty in believing that the juxtaposition exists, but I cannot understand the jointing of the objectives. I can see Israel’s point.

Nor can I understand a country that will send aerial bombardment against an urban area where children live, nor a country which will send troops into these areas. The justification - that Hamas hide weapons and other resources in these buildings - may be true, but does that give the green light to kill children? I know the Israelis say that they give fair warning, but let’s play that out - the warning says “leave your home and your possessions, leave what safety you have because we intend to destroy it”.

Blight a bairn’s life wi bluidy war indeed.

Neither side seems, to me, to have any argument for continuing their actions, nor any moral stand to justify former actions, both seem intent on destruction and sliding towards anomie. It seems that there requires a bit more than Tony Blair bopping about and offering cups of tea to bring some degree of resolution to the conflict. I don’t have the answer, and Blair might actually do it (it would be a good but very strange thing), but I suspect that the truth will be that the conflict resolution will require exceptional people to take exceptional steps to drag their people to peace. Is there an Arafat, a Rabin or a Peres - surely they came closest? Is it too much to hope for truth in the auld saw that reckons that the circumstances mould the person they need? The Egyptian offer of good offices might be the best that is available for these lands at this time, which brings me to ask some questions.

Let’s ask where the axis of goodness was when Israel was being attacked with rockets; let’s ask why there isn’t a force of allies sailing to the defence of the Palestinians when Israel invaded, like the force that was mobilised when Iraq invaded Kuwait; let’s ask why so many would rather sit on their hands - or wring them - when the conflict is here?

Why was the mission so clear an uncomplicated in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq but so opaque in Israel and Palestine? I refuse to believe that the electoral arithmetic of the US stops it acting, but even if it does, where are the Member States of the EU? Are we to hang on the coat-tails of our larger cousins? Perhaps the feeling is that we’ve already done as much damage there as we should be doing for a century or two, but we should lose the right to pontificate as a consequence - our imperial past may have shame attached but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for inaction now.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Palestine, there is a conflict little discussed and far from resolution, there is a pressing need for action. Why is there not a UN-sanctioned peacemaking force in there? It wouldn’t be peacekeeping as envisaged by Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, but nor were the wars we’ve waged in the last decade in the name of peace.

It’s been long enough, let God stop crying.


Anonymous said...

That's certainly the best post I've ever read on here.

Sure it sums up many people's feelings on the subject.

Stuart Winton said...

Good stuff, but I'm not quite sure if you square the circle of sympathising with both Israel and the Palestinians.

How can the Hamas agression be dealt in a way that avoids the current bloodshed?

If the Israelis can't deal with it without a response that looks prima facie disproportionate then how could a UN peacekeeping force do any better?

Hamas doesn't seem amenable to gladhanding.

Calum Cashley said...

An incoming UN force would not be carrying the burden of mutual hatred that both Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force carry.

The Hamas aggression cannot be addressed with escalating aggression on the other side, nor can the Israeli aggression.

I don't have sympathy for the combatants, my sympathies lie with the non-combatants on either side who are caught up in it and with people like the Israeli Arabs.