Monday, August 11, 2014

On and on

And still they keep coming, the photos, videos and speeches. All contain certainties about what has happened, about who did what and who knew what, none of which can be definitively known until long after the conflict is over or even until the archives are opened. The obsession with minutiae at the expense of the obvious, which is the foundation of conspiracy thought, is drafted in to support one side or the other. Politically pre-determined and historically illiterate, they make dismal reading. So the three well-written pieces were sent to me in the last few days that cut through the fog have been a welcome respite. There are things to debate and disagree with in all three, but not their main themes. And all of them call for the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. Though, in this sense, they are pro-Palestinian, they challenge the anti-Israeli activists' consensus.

The first is Hopi Sen's exercise in agonised sanity.
Today, Stop the War have organised a great demonstration calling for an end to the attack on Gaza. 
This is not merely a call for peace; for the end of bloodshed. It cannot be. After all, the cautious truce agreed last week ended not with an attack on Gaza, but an attack on Israel. 
Instead, the demonstration is something more than just a call to an end to violence. It is a call for a particular solution… 
If Hamas remains committed to the destruction of the entire Israeli state, then to propose an unconditional end to restrictions on Gaza … and at the same time demand a boycott of Israel; then you effectively demand, not unconditional peace, but a tilt in the battle to Hamas. To Hamas, note, not to the Palestinian Legislature, or Fatah, or the people of Gaza, all of whom want an immediate ceasefire, then talks and negotiations and a permanent peace with Israel, but to Hamas, who want no such thing.
He generously appreciates that the main motivation of demonstrators was compassion at the death and suffering, but he goes on to ask,
Is being a progressive in foreign policy merely to will peace and loathe destruction, but to shrink from any proposed action for achieving this, fearing it will breach peace and promote destruction?
Yep, and it can be even worse. You could actively oppose action. From the gruesome Stop The War Coalition: "Defeating ISIS and the other terrorist groups is vital, but it is also vital that we oppose US intervention, which will make matters worse." I suppose the US intervention they mean is the very limited air strikes that allowed half the 40,000 people awaiting a real genocide to escape and the plans being made to rescue the rest. Stop the War are more than stupid, they are sick.

Then we have had the cancellation of the Jewish Film Festival – note, not the Israeli Film Festival – by The Tricycle Theatre in London over a row about a piffling £1,400 grant from the Israeli embassy. An Irish poet, Kevin Higgins, came up with a flawed, but witty and wry response.
… but even if it was a possibility Israel's destruction would involve the deaths of, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of people, both Jewish and Arab. 
Try telling that to the group of demonstrators whom I observed marching along University Road on Friday, chanting: "Palestine! From the River to the Sea!" The river being the Jordan, the sea the Mediterranean. Palestine can only ever stretch "from the River to the Sea" if the state of Israel is destroyed. It's a mad thing to be chanting. It is not the position of the P.L.O. leadership, who have long since recognised Israel. It might be an understandable slogan to go down the road shouting if your house has just been blown up by the Israeli Defence Forces. But when you are seperated from such dusty unpleasantness by a couple of thousand miles and the worst thing you're facing is, perhaps, your landlord calling by to enquire why the direct debit set up to pay your rent didn't work last week, it is altogether less understandable. Of course, people often chant things on demos, which they don't really believe will come to pass... 
And his artist's disdain for the administrative class is put to good effect too:
Can't you just see the sweating arse cheeks of the Tricyle Theatre's board members as they sat around on those cheap chairs on which we have all in the arts at some stage placed our buttocks. It's an unedifying picture but an unavoidable one for anyone familiar with the high principles that guide most such boards of directors.
What happened there is that a bunch of arts administrators - a socioeconomic group not generally known for their personal heroism - demanded that the Jewish Film Festival take a political stand, as a festival, one way or the other for or against the state of Israel. It wasn't enough that the festival included films highly critical of the Israeli government.
But both of them underplay something else, the hatred - raw, nasty, violent hatred. It is taking us deeper into a dark place. Howard Jacobson fears it and knows the smell. He gave full vent to his alarm in this piece. Here are some extracts:
I was once in Melbourne when bush fires were raging 20 or 30 miles north of the city. Even from that distance you could smell the burning. Fine fragments of ash, like slivers of charcoal confetti, covered the pavements. The very air was charred. It has been the same here these past couple of months with the fighting in Gaza. Only the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred. And I don’t mean the hatred of the warring parties for each other. I mean the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.
A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue...
But my argument is not with the Palestinians or even with Hamas. People in the thick of it pursue their own agenda as best they can. But what’s our agenda? What do we, in the cosy safety of tolerant old England, think we are doing when we call the Israelis Nazis and liken Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto? Do those who blithely make these comparisons know anything whereof they speak? 
In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don’t mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw. 
Given the number of besieged and battered cities there have been in however many thousands of years of pitiless warfare there is only one explanation for this invocation of Warsaw before any of those – it is to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief. Its aim is a sort of retrospective retribution, cancelling out all debts of guilt and sorrow. It is as though, by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday...
And so it happens. Without one’s being aware of it, it happens. A gradual habituation to the language of loathing. Passed from the culpable to the unwary and back again. And soon, before you know it... 
Not here, though. Not in cosy old lazy old easy-come easy-go England.
And he wrote those words in 2009. It is an old article, five years old. See how fresh they are. I didn't notice at first when someone shared it with me. You see, we have become used to it. Casual and unthinking, the language of loathing is here all around us.

And if you want to see what genocide really looks like, turn your eyes towards Iraq.


George S said...

Excellent piece, Peter. I'll link to it on Twitter and FB if I may.

The Plump said...

Link away George - and thanks!