Last week I accused the UNHRC of double-standards for not calling for an enquiry into Gadaffi’s attack on his own citizens.
Today, at last, they have listened to me.
See the UN News centre report here.
The United Nations Human Rights Council today strongly condemned the recent violence in Libya and ordered an international inquiry into alleged abuses, while also recommending that the country’s membership in the UN’s top human rights body be suspended.
I’m sure Judge Richard Goldstone is packing his bags for Tripoli as I write. He can be joined by Hosni Mubarak who needs the work.
The question here is not why Libya has been suspended from the UNHRC but why it was ever elected.
The UNHRC seems to have been embarrassed into this as 2000 people at least have been killed and the vast majority of these are civilians. If Israel is condemned for disproportionate behaviour when1300 are killed, mostly combatants, then the UNHRC has to act to protect its ability to continue with its obsession with Israel in the future by showing it can still spot a despot when it sees one – eventually.
Gadaffi is so bad that even other despots in the region have disowned him.
You could say that Gadaffi is giving despots, tyrants and dictators a bad name. Some achievement.
McEwan took the opportunity to both praise and also criticise Israel.
He had been put under intense pressure by anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups to turn down the prize.
Adam Levick of CiF Watch (the website dedicated mainly to alerting us about the egregious Israel bashing in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free web forum) was critical of McEwan. In an article headed “The moral confusion of Ian McEwan” Levick berates McEwan for not condemning those groups who agitated for his rejection of the prize and also for what Levick sees as McEwan’s moral equivalence in his views of Israel and Hamas:
If we lived in a just world, where people didn’t stand idly by in the face of the continuing assault on Israel’s moral legitimacy, author Ian McEwan would have reacted with outrage at demands by Palestinian groups that he participate in a boycott of Israel by refusing to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.
In such a world, McEwan would have passionately denounced the letter to the Guardian from a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine, which urged him to decline the award which they characterized as “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state” and which went on to denounce the Jerusalem Municipality as complicit in the “illegal colonisation of East Jerusalem.”
McEwan, in such a scenario, would have responded by noting that Israel, whatever its imperfections, remains a small bastion of freedom in a region plagued by despots and tyranny, and is in fact the last nation in the Middle East deserving of such opprobrium and sanctions.
In short, he would [have] turned the charge around and expressed to his Palestinian interlocutors how appalled he was at the mere suggestion that Israel, the nation where freedom of political and artistic expression is most arduously protected, should be isolated by the artistic community.
I think Adam Levick expects too much of McEwan given his liberal credentials. I also believe that he underplays the good things McEwan said about Israel. He fails to mention how important it is that those who share McEwan’s views on settlements and Jerusalem do not take part in any boycott, and have the moral fibre to go to Israel. Once there they can demonstrate that, unlike in the despotisms and tyrannies of which Levick writes, they are free to criticise the state.
Is it not better that he should go and criticise rather than succumb to the bullying tactics of the Israel-haters? Compare to the craven Mike Leigh who I wrote about here and several artists who have cancelled concerts because of pro-Palestinian or left-wing pressure groups.
McEwan has also spoken out strongly against Islamic fundamentalism and antisemitic rhetoric. It should also be noted that he spent much of his youth in pre-Gaddafi Libya.
However, the issue of moral equivalence is valid.
Here are the salient points of McEwan’s acceptance speech which you can currently find on his website:
After showing humility at being the recipient of a prize previously given to such luminaries as “…Isaiah Berlin, Jorge Luis Borges, or Simone de Beauvoir”, McEwan recounted the pressure he had been put under NOT to come and accept the prize:
Since accepting the invitation to Jerusalem, my time has not been peaceful. Many groups and individuals, in different terms, with varying degrees of civility, have urged me not to accept this prize. One organisation wrote to a national newspaper saying that whatever I believed about literature, its nobility and reach, I couldn’t escape the politics of my decision. Reluctantly, sadly, I must concede that this is the case.
And the reason for this: “ I would say as a general principle that when politics enters every corner of existence, then something has gone profoundly wrong.”
But hold on. Why is the Israel-Palestine situation so uniquely part of everyone’s existence?
If he were in the United States accepting the Pullitzer Prize, would he drone on about freedom and Guantanamo Bay or extraordinary rendition?
If he were accepting the Booker Prize, again, would he berate the British government for its actions in Afghanistan or Iraq? Would he have mentioned the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland a few years ago? I don’t recall he ever did these things in accepting the Booker Prize.
Would he go on about Chechnya or Georgia if he were to receive a prize from Russia?
Would he berate the Turks for the Armenian genocide and the occupation of Cyprus?
Would he lay down the law to the Japanese about whaling or the Chinese about the lack of freedom in that country?
Would he protest Saudi treatment of women and their medieval legal system?
Why does everyone feel that they have the right to comment, whatever the occasion, however unrelated, about the policies of Israel? McEwan claims this right because he feels he is speaking at the heart of the most politicised conflict in the world.
This is a conflict about which almost everyone has an opinion but very few have the true facts or understand the history.
“… no one can pretend here that all is well when the freedom of the individual, that is to say, of all individuals, sits so awkwardly with the current situation in Jerusalem”
A first shot across the Israeli bows. He is in Jerusalem, the epicentre of the 100 year conflict. His justification for speaking out:
once you’ve instituted a prize for philosophers and creative writers, you have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse, and I take the continued existence of the Jerusalem Prize as a tribute to the precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel
A plus point for Israel. At least he acknowledges Israel’s democracy and freedom and claims his right, therefore, to free speech in Israel.
Is it not a fact that many in Israel are far more critical than McEwan is about to become? But I ask myself ,’ does he have a right?’ He feels he is morally obliged to speak. He is a man of conviction and a strong moral sense; a belief in human freedom. How can he remain silent?
McEwan goes on to demonstrate his knowledge and appreciation of Israeli writers and their politics:
There are so many writers one could mention, but let me single out three senior figures who have earned the respect and love of readers around the world — Amoz Oz, Abrahim Yehoshua and David Grossman. Very different writers, with overlapping but far from identical politics, writers who love their country, have made sacrifices for it — and have been troubled by the directions it has taken, and whose work never fails with that magic dust of respect, the bestowing of the freedom of the individual on Arab as well as Jew. In their long careers they have opposed the settlements. They and Israel’s younger literary community are the country’s conscience, memory and above all hope. But I think I could say of these three writers that in recent years they have felt the times turning against their hopes.
I’m getting a very slight sense of a patronizing tone. It’s not intended, but it’s along the lines of little Israel and its wonderful Jewish heritage, its people’s embracing of centuries of philosophy and yearning for freedom, its suffering. So you should know better than to oppress Palestinians.
We now come to the part of the speech about which Adam Levick was so disappointed. This is where McEwan compares, and so equates, the actions of Israel with the actions of its enemies, and in doing so expresss that narrative of moral equivalence which slips so easily from the tongues of the liberal West.
Taking this line, he is not being ‘evenhanded’ or ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’, he is falling into the same trap that statesmen and writers and commentators often fall into. And they fall into it precisely because they do not want to take sides, and by not doing so, they commit the sin of moral equivalence.
This is not to say that Israel is never wrong or that it never acts immorally. No nation can say that. What is almost always omitted is the utter lack of of morality of those seeking Israel’s destruction under the cover of a land dispute.
Oh yes, McEwan acknowledges the ‘extinctionist policy’ of Hamas in his speech, but his theme of nihilism then leads to this:
I’d like to say something about nihilism. Hamas whose founding charter incorporates the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy towards Israel. But (to take just one example) it was also nihilism that fired a rocket at the undefended Gazan home of the Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, in 2008, killing his three daughters and his niece. It is nihilism to make a long term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories. When the distinguished judges of this prize commend me for my ‘love of people and concern for their right to self-realisation’, they seem to be demanding that I mention, and I must oblige, the continued evictions and demolitions, and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs.
Wow. Let’s see what he is saying. He takes an example, an infamous one, of the tragic events around the killing of the Abuelaish family. Yes, it was tragic, yes, any decent person would be shocked and horrified, even ashamed that this could happen. The IDF gave a detailed explanation of the events leading to this tragedy. Whatever you may conclude about the IDF’s tactics in Gaza, this was not ‘nihilism’, this was a mistake, a bad one, a terrible one, but it was not a deliberate act.
Suicide bombs, rockets fired at civilians, using human shields, using children as cover for terrorism or military operations, using ambulances to carry weapons, teaching children to hate, preaching genocide, denying the historical ties and uninterrupted Jewish connection with the Land, Islamising Jewish holy places, are ALL deliberate nihilistic acts.
Of cause, building settlements is also a deliberate act, but it is an act that can be supported by international law and treaties despite what the world wants to believe. Whether it was ever wise or moral to build settlements is another question.
The ‘Gaza Prison Camp’ accusation is a familair one, not least to followers of David Cameron. Leaving aside the fact that ‘prison camp’ conjures images that are totally inaccurate of life in most of Gaza, in terms of the Gazan’s lacking the freedom to leave Gaza, it is largely accurate, apart from the thousands that do leave illegally through the tunnel into Egypt or via crossing points to receive hospital treatment in Israel.The fact that Egypt sealed its border with Gaza not to keep in ordinary Gazans, but to keep out Hamas, is almost always ignored.
The cold facts are that Hamas has launched an aggressive war against Israel with whom it remains in an official state of belligerence. Whereas Israel would much rather not fence in Gazans and blockade their ports and would prefer the peace they expected when they withdrew from Gaza, instead Hamas chose to attack Israel with a tsunami (to use McEwan’s word) of poorly directed missiles whose sole purpose was, and remains, to terrorise.
The aforementioned ‘tsunami of concrete’ is another bloated rhetorical trick; hyperbole in McEwan’s literary circles.
McEwan appears to be referring to the separation barrier. The barrier is concrete for only part of its length, although this is most obvious in Jerusalem itself.
Does McEwan think it ‘nihilism’ to prevent the nihilsitic suicide bombers, and other terrorists, free access to Israel as they did before the barrier was built? Terrorist attacks have been reduced to a trickle, lives have been saved on both sides. This is not nihilism, it is the desperation and exasperation of a country that has been, and continues to be, under attack from its neighbours for more than 60 years.
McEwan is also troubled by evictions, demolitions and property acquisition in what is termed ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem. Without wishing to mount a complex and detailed defence of Israel’s policy in Jerusalem, not all of which I agree with, I would point out that there is a lot of misinformation and propaganda when it comes to these issues. There is much discussion and controversy in Israel itself.
After her recent visit here, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza constitutes a war crime. She also notes that that the annexation of East Jerusalem contravenes international law and that East Jerusalem is steadily being drained of its Palestinian inhabitants.
One of the givens of the Middle East peace process is that Palestinians are eager to be free of rule by Israel and to live in a state of their own. That’s why a new poll of the Arabs of East Jerusalem is striking: It shows that more of those people actually would prefer to be citizens of Israel than of a Palestinian state.
The poll, conducted in November, may be something of an embarrassment to Palestinian political leaders, who lately have been insisting that Israel should stop expanding settlements in the eastern half of Jerusalem — in effect giving up any claim to it — as a precondition for the resumption of peace negotiations.
The awkward fact is that the 270,000 Arabs who live in East Jerusalem may not be very enthusiastic about joining Palestine. The survey, which was designed and supervised by former State Department Middle East researcher David Pollock, found that only 30 percent said they would prefer to be citizens of Palestine in a two-state solution, while 35 percent said they would choose Israeli citizenship. (The rest said they didn’t know or refused to answer.) Forty percent said they would consider moving to another neighborhood in order to become a citizen of Israel rather than Palestine, and 54 percent said that if their neighborhood were assigned to Israel, they would not move to Palestine.
The claim by the UN Commissioner that East Jerusalem is being drained of Arabs is utter nonsense. In fact, the opposite is true. Since 1967 when Israel took control of all of Jerusalem (from the Jordanians, please note) the Arab population has grown by more than 250 percent. Hardly the ethnic cleansing that the Commissioner appears to be coyly hinting at. Under Jordanian occupation for 19 years the Arab population did not increase at all.
McEwan also mentions “the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs”. Here he is at his most naive. There is no right of return guaranteed for Arabs and certainly not 4th and 5th generation refugees. The author has really swallowed the Palestinian agitprop like so many well-meaning and even more less well-meaning detractors of Israel. Indeed, if we are to believe the recent PaliLeaks documents from Al Jazeera, the Palestinian Authority was ready to concede that Israel could not reasonably be allowed to absorb millions of Palestinians.
So, in conclusion, I’d rather defend McEwan than attack him. He came to collect his prize and then donated it to a charitable cause: “Ian McEwan is donating ten thousand dollars to ‘Combatants for Peace’, an organisation that brings together Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters. These ex-combatants go about in pairs, talking in public to make the case that there can be no military solution to the conflict.” his website tells us.
I clearly don’t agree with a lot of McEwan’s views on Israeli policy. I do understand why he might have these views because thousands of Israelis and Jews around the world share them. At least he feels free to express his views and even go to Sheik Jarrah to join in the left-wing protests against evictions where he was joined by fellow author and Israeli activist, David Grossman. I wonder how many demos McEwan has seen fit to take part in in the UK where he is not known as being politically active.
I applaud him for going to Israel. I believe he has a right to say what he believes. I do agree with Adam Levick that the moral equivalence that tries to force Israel’s re-actions into the same mould as its enemies’ actions is a form of moral imbalance induced by both a lack of knowledge and a predisposition to see the world, and this conflict in particular, as a story of two ‘rights’ which conflict rather than a story of decades long Palestinian and Arab rejectionism which still persists and is the main obstacle to peace.
Celebrated Italian writer Umberto Eco on Wednesday said boycotting scholars for their governments’ policies is “a form of racism” and “absolutely crazy.”
But he said he faced no pressure from colleagues to boycott a book fair in Jerusalem to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.…He told reporters Wednesday he enjoys Israeli novels and his books’ themes are influenced by Jewish culture.
According to the latest reports there was what has been characterised as a ‘massacre’ by the BBC in Benghazi. At least 200 protesters have been killed.
But not just killed but executed by snipers with deliberately lethal shots to the head and heart.
As we know, the UN was very keen to demand a rapid enquiry into Israel’s interception of a so-called humanitarian flotilla intent on breaking Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine ‘activists’ were killed, eight of whom were associated with the IHH, an Islamist organisation with close links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In this incident Israeli commandos boarded the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, where they were subject to a prepared attack by a mob wielding iron bars, knives, and, apparently, at least one firearm. In an act of self-defence the Israelis shot and killed 9 activists at close quarters. Several were reported to have been shot in the head.
The world was up in arms that such ‘unarmed’ humanitarians were ‘attacked’ by Israeli soldiers.
I have already written about this incident and a recent report by the Israeli Turkel commission exonerated the IDF. A Turkish report was also produced which came to a completely opposite conclusion that the deaths were deliberate; an absurdity quite happily accepted by the Muslim world.
Israel faced worldwide condemnation, and pressure was brought to ease the embargo of goods entering Gaza.
Let’s remind ourselves that even if you take the worst view of this incident, Israel killed 9 activists protesting against Israel’s policy in Gaza.
Yet, in Libya, we already have at least 300 casualties, killed for protesting about the policies of their own government, killed deliberately, not in a physical struggle, but at distance by snipers. Killed by their own government for having the audacity to want freedom and democracy.
How much worse is the action of the Libyans in Benghazi and elsewhere than the actions of Israel even interpreted at its worst?
By any system of logic and fairness or consistency the UN must require that Libya immediately investigate these killings. And while they are at it, maybe they can ask the Egyptians to investigate more than 300 deaths or the Bahrainis to investigate the live ammunition used against its citizens, killing several.
The test of a UN that is not biased and is not obsessed with demonising Israel, initiating resolutions and investigations into every state action, would be for there to be equal treatment of the egregious actions of Arab governments.
The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, but what actions will they actually take?
In the UK and elsewhere, will academics break of contact with their counterparts in Arab countries whose governments suppress their people with such ruthlessness?
Will Trades Unions vote to divest from these same countries and to cut off co-operation with their fellow unionists?
Those who tell us Israel is not treated differently from other countries and is not held to higher standards, now have their chance to prove it.
UPDATE The speed of events in Libya may well mean that there is nothing left of the Gadaffi regime before too long. (22.00 20 Feb 11)
Children’s author Michael Morpurgo published a book called ‘The Kites are Flying’ two years ago, apparently an uplifting story of how children across the divide between Israel and the Palestinians find friendship in the common pursuit of kite-flying across the Separation Barrier.
It’s an extraordinarily political thing to do to write about an ongoing conflict and present it to children who probably understand little of the origins of that conflict.
Putting that thought aside, a few days ago, Morpurgo appeared on BBC2′s Newsnight where he presented a short documentary film he had made in Israel and Gaza and discovered the the real world either side of the divide.
The film and visit were sponsored by the NGO Save the Children.
The documentary showed Morpurgo to be a humane man, desperate for children in this conflict to give us hope that they can live in peace in the future. It was optimistic and idealistic with a smattering of realism. There were also one or two problems with it which I want to discuss.
The documentary was followed by a discussion chaired by Jeremy Paxman with Morpurgo and Louise Ellman (MP Lab Liverpool Riverside) who is a passionate advocate of Israel in Parliament.
I shall come to that discussion too. But first the short documentary, which is still on BBC iPlayer as I write (it does not appear to be on YouTube yet).
Morpurgo begins by telling us about the book he wrote even though he had never been to Israel or the Palestinian Territories. Strange, I thought, that he could write about a subject of which he had had no personal experience and then sell it to kids. But everyone thinks they understand the conflict because they see it on the news channels and read about it in the papers.
We discover he ‘was sent’ by Save the Children to Israel and Gaza as an ambassador for that organisation.
His expressed aim was to try to find out whether children on both sides see a chance for peace or ‘whether my book was sentimental nonsense’.
We see Morpurgo asking questions at a school in Neve Shalom. This school is the first in Israel that is bilingual and ‘bi-national’ as he puts it.
I am already having problems. ‘Bi-national’? Does he not realise that all these children are Israelis? Let’s accept his shorthand for ‘bi-ethnic’ or ‘bi-cultural’ but surely the point is that it is decidedly not ‘bi-national’.
The kids are bright, eager, they speak English. They are typically Israeli. They are happy and smiling, well-balanced kids as far as we can see. Only those who know Israel would be able to spot who is a Jew and who is an Arab.
He now asks them what they feel about the other community. But this is rather ignorant. These are not Israelis and Palestinians from either side of the Barrier. They are not Israelis and Gazans learning together. They all live in the same country, have the same rights, are free to go where they wish, worship where they will, say what they think, write what they believe.
I sense a false analogy creeping up. Morpurgo’s voice and delivery is full of gravitas, empathy, almost like a Church of England vicar.
He asks a Jewish kid if it is easy to play with ‘Arabic’ kids. The boy says ‘yes, but it takes time’. The boy tells us that the word ‘Arab’ is used as a ‘curse’ – he means it’s a defamatory name to call a friend, like ‘Jew’ is to an Arab, no doubt. Clearly this kid has not been primed by the hasbara police.
Another boy, an Arab (I think!) tells us that on the news we only see the bad things not the good. No-one has asked the Arab children what they think of the Jews. Maybe they don’t speak English as well as the Jews.
Morpurgo and the kids make kites, like in his story. He believes that the more schools like this, the more chance of reconciliation. But again he does not understand. Yes, there are tensions within Israel; yes, the Arabs are discriminated against and their opportunities are fewer. The point he misses is that this school is no different to, say, a school in the USA where black kids are integrated with white.
It’s about making a single society, it’s about achieving the true objectives of Zionism and the ideals of the founders of the State; equality not just in law but in fact. Arabs need to feel more part of the state and less as suspicious aliens in their own country. They need equal opportunity and they need freedom from prejudice and suspicion.
What Morpurgo misses is that the school he thinks this one in Neve Shalom is, would, in reality, be a school where Palestinians from the Territories go to school with Jews from Israel. That’s where the reconciliation is needed far more than in Israel. That’s the true test of children becoming the future peacemakers.
Instead, children in the Territories are taught not reconciliation and understanding but hate and murder, genocide and martyrdom. Why did we not see this in the film? Why did Save the Children not take Morpurgo to a typical school in the West Bank? Why did they not show him he kids TV programmes which deny the existence of Israel and promote the killing of Jews? It’s these children who need saving more than Israeli Arabs, surely.
The kids happily fly their kites with whoops of joy. Children playing together. At the age of 12, we are told, they move on to secondary school and separation.
We are now taken to Sderot, the town in Israel which has been under constant bombardment from Gaza since Israel withdrew from Gaza completely in 2005. It was Sderot which was one of the main reasons for Israel’s attack on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. Sderot is just a few kilometres from the border.
Now a rarity. Morpurgo explains to us with newsreel footage, that Sderot is under constant threat of attack.
Soon we are are taken to Operation Cast Lead and told that despite this, the attacks continue. Sderot and its problems are soon left behid, This was the ‘balance’ part of the program. Now for the ‘horrors’ of Gaza.
Morpurgo mistakenly tells us that the Gaza strip is surrounded by a great wall. This is not true. Most of it is a fence.
He tells us about the blockade to prevent weapons entering. ‘To me, it looks like a siege’, he says blithely. I wonder how many sieges he has seen.
At this point, of course, Morpurgo does not realise that what he sees and where he goes is strictly controlled by the Hamas propaganda machine and he is falling for it straightway.
Clearly, there is a huge difference between what he sees in Gaza and what he just saw in Israel. He is shown the worst of Gaza but the hotels and pools, the shops full of food and white goods are nowhere to be seen.
Morpurgo is not an investigative journalist, he is a writer. He should also read more. Does he realise, for example, that this ‘siege’ is supported by hundreds of trucks bringing food and other necessities from Israel every day? Does he realise that Israel provides electricity and fuel, treats hundred in its own hospitals free of charge?
I always place a caveat when describing Gaza. Life there is no picnic. They are are in a cage caused by geography and history. Gaza is an enclave cut off from the rest of the Palestinian Territories. It is easy to characterise this as a siege or a ‘prison camp’.
Morpurgo tells us that levels of poverty and malnutrition are appalling. The doctors at the hospital he visits report on these levels of malnutrition. It is a hospital to specifically treat this problem.
Why is this? Does he know that Hamas take foreign aid given freely and sell it in their own shops?
Does he not wonder why Hamas seem to be able to get hold of weapons but are unable to provide food for their people?
If so, he doesn’t tell us.
He does not tell us that if Hamas were not in a state of belligerence with Israel their economy would be as good as that of the West Bank where there is no malnutrition and where attacks on Israel have considerably reduced.
Why does he not question the fact that the shops are full of food, so why do children go hungry?
We are now taken to the Tamar school in Gaza City which looks like any other city in the Middle East. The kids here are not like the Arabs of Neve Shalom. They are ‘angry’, they have seen their family members dead in the street. We do not know, however, what these family members were up to at the time.
No doubt they are traumatised. No doubt they are brain-washed with hatred. Morpurgo is not focused on this. He wants to discover seeds of reconciliation in their hearts. As in Neve Shalom, the Gazan children (who do not look emaciated at all, quite normal and healthy) are making kites.
He asks the children what they think of Israeli children. A young girl says that the blockade is made by the Israelis. They want their children to have rights, but not Palestinian children.
Morpurgo asks if they could talk to Israeli children were they to be there at that moment. The reply is that one day that child might be a government minister and lift the blockade.
So we see that the children of Gaza believe the blockade is some sort of punishment for them and is not prompted by anything perpetrated by Hamas. So why no blockade on the West Bank? The word ‘blockade’ should rightly refer to the maritime blockade. There is no land blockade, but there is an embargo of certain items such as building materials which could be used for terrorists purposes.
The embargo and blockade are not pretty, but can you name any historical situation where a country supplied anything to another country or political entity which threatened it daily and whose purpose was the total destruction of that country?
A young boy says that there are people who want to take what they have by force and they must try as hard as they can to get back their land by blood. Nice. This is the point, of course. Israel left Gaza completely. The boy means Israel when we speaks about getting back his land. This is what he is taught, he knows no other reality.
The same boy tells horrendous stories of how his family members were killed by Israelis during the conflict.
Despite this, Morpurgo says ‘I sense a willingness not to condemn Israeli children’. I do not know where he got this sense from, it is not evident in the film. In any case, children grow up and become martyrs or fighters. The boy in the film may be 12 years old. He may already have been on ‘operations’. Who knows.
More kite-flying and more wishful thinking from Morpurgo. I don’t blame him for his optimism, but he needs to be a student of the conflict to understand the realities and the death cult and antisemitism aimed at children daily. He does not report on this form of child abuse, of course, because Hamas would never allow him to see it.
Morpurgo is clearly moved by his experiences in Gaza. ‘Leaving Gaza, I feel like a deserter, turning my back on all the suffering and despair’.
He is now subjected to a Pallywood moment and falls for it. I may be being cynical here but the Palestinians are past masters at staging atrocities when foreign film crews happen to be passing through.
We are told and see film of young boys collecting rubble near the border which they can sell in Gaza. Morpurgo does not question why young boys of about 12-14 should be near a a known danger at the border.
Then Morpurgo tells us that whilst he is waiting to cross he hears gunshots. A young boy has been shot and has been put on a cart pulled by a donkey to get him to hospital.
How convenient. I do not want to sound insensitive but I really don’t buy this. We see the cart coming straight at the camera with ‘ a young kid lying bleeding in the back of it’. Morpurgo says he has never seen anyone shot before. I think he still hasn’t.
The Israelis use remote controlled guns to shoot at anyone who comes near the fence. Even Morpurgo says it’s difficult for him to ‘confirm this has happened here’. But he said he saw a bleeding boy? Who does he think may have shot the kid? Or is he suggesting that he was not shot at all. If so, why does he not say so.
Morpurgo is upset that a commander has to give an order for these remote guns to be fired, but he still does not question why these young boys are allowed near the fence by the Hamas police or their parents. He does not know that this is sanctioned because it gives cover to those who would lay explosives to kill Israelis. If the Israelis fire they might kill a young kid being used as a human shield. Another martyr and another black mark against Israel.
But Morpurgo just sees them as kids scavenging to make a living. He even says they do it near the border to ‘cock a snook’ at the Israelis. He does not appear to be confused by the fact that no-one has run away from the scene of the ‘shooting’ and life carries on. He does not realise he has been the latest victim of Pallywood.
Morpurgo’s conclusion comes more from his own sense of hope and his love of children. He believes the seeds of hope are there on both sides. He sees this as a morally equal battle. He does not appear to take sides – at least not yet. He accuses no-one, at least not yet.
He believes that peace will come as it did in Europe, South Africa and Ireland.
I don’t like analogies. None of these are analogous to each other or the Israeli-Arab conflict. Let’s hope he is right, but not in my lifetime, I fear.
Back to Paxman in the studio who tells us with that voice of his that expresses cynicism that the IDF told the BBC that remote guns are used to stop terrorist attacks near the fence. Last month young boys tried to place a cart full of explosives at the border. His expression seems to say ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’.
The studio discussion is most interesting mainly for the ineffective performance of Louise Ellman – she really must up her game. She comes over as an apologist who has few answers and expresses those she has as if they were platitudes that no-one will believe.
Morpurgo strongly believes that despite the situation, if Gazan children came to Israel and Israeli children to Gaza a dialogue could start and sow seeds of reconciliation for the future.
Of course, many, many friendships existed and still do between Israelis and Gazans. They do business, they call each other. Many Gazans worked for Israelis and bonds were formed. We don’t hear this.
Ellman tries hard to tell Paxman that Hamas is at the heart of the problem using the children as human shields and gives them explosives or forces them to carry them.
Paxman asks her to comment on the ‘siege’. Like an idiot she uses his word and therefore implies she believes that it is a ‘siege’ when answering his question! She says the siege is about preventing weapons getting into Gaza to be used to blow up Israeli children. She does not distinguish the blockade from the embargo, and so her argument is not convincing.
Paxman, to his credit, says to Morpurgo that he been ‘had’, but only because he didn’t go to Sderot to see what was happening there. Morpurgo insists he does know about it.
But now Morpurgo moves into Guardian anti-Zionist narrative by saying ‘You cannot wage war on children’ and telling us more than 300 children died during Cast Lead. But all wars are fought against children in that they get in the way. And in Gaza, Hamas puts them in harm’s way and some of these children were actually combatants.
Paxman pulls him up on this, again to his credit, and says Israelis are not going in to kill children and Morpurgo says ‘but it happens’. Of course it does. That’s what happens in a war. Should Israel allow its children to be targeted in their schools and do nothing in case Gazan children are killed in their attempt to stop it? Is he serious? It’s Hamas who are targeting children; their own by abusing them to become militarised at a young age and the Israeli children because Hamas send their rockets at times when they know children are going to school or coming home. So who is it that is targeting children? Ellman says nothing.
Morpurgo speaks of a cycle of hatred caused by Israeli actions. There is no cycle of hatred because Israelis do not hate Gazans, they hate Hamas. They are the haters, not the Israelis.
Morpurgo quotes a figure of 26 children shot by Israelis, targeted, he says again, in 2010. But again, what is a child? 16 is not a child in Gaza terms. 14 is not. Why are these ‘children’ at the fence? What are they doing? It is Hamas who use them cynically. If they succeed, Israeli soldiers are killed or maimed, if they fail, Israel is killing children.
How many children died in Iraq in 2010 as a result of terrorism, or in Pakistan? No-one seems to care about these children, only Gazan children who are very often on some military operation.
The discussion comes to an end with Paxman dismissing claims that it’s all one side’s fault or another and that Morpurgo’s idea is a good one but how can you do it with a wall in the way. Ellman tells us that that the wall / barrier is there because Hamas kids go into Israel with suicide belts. Not very convincing.
That’s not why there is a barrier. Morpurgo then smiles and says he hasn’t seen kids with suicide belts and there is a lot of talk about this and implies it’s all rubbish. Ellman here has really lost the plot by banging on about kids with suicide belts. The vast majority are adults and her argument is not helped by a failure to explain the purpose of the barrier.
She redresses the balance by telling us about Gazan children treated in Israeli hospitals, but it’s all delivered in monotone. Israel needs a better advocate than this. Sorry Louise, you are just not forthright enough. If I can say I would have done better, then you know it was not a great performance.
Paxman says that we saw some very malnourished children ‘as a consequence of the Israeli “siege”‘. How does he know that this is the reason for their malnourishment? Gaza actually has an obesity problem, apparently. They are 8th most obese (England 11th) for men and 3rd, yes 3rd for women.
Ellman again fails to make use of statistics and blames Hamas, therefore accepting Paxman’s premise even though we do not know the malnutrition rate, its causes, and how widespread it is. It’s all surmise and speculation, no hard facts. In other words, Hamas’s propaganda machine wins again. How many starving kids did Morpurgo see outside the hospital?
Morpurgo ends by telling us that Neve Shalom is a beacon of hope where both groups can rub along; Paxman clarifies that these kids are Israelis, but Morpurgo persists in his incorrect claim that these are Israeli kids and Arab kids – he is wrong; they are Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. He does not appear to understand the difference. When it comes to this conflict, ignorance is not bliss but a dangerous misreading and misinterpretation which viewers who don’t know any better take as the truth.
Ellman not once pulls him up on this. It was a poor performance by her.
Morpurgo’s final word: ‘we are all friends of Israel here, but it does them no good to target children’. Ah, that old blood libel. Morpurgo should know better.
Michael Morpurgo is a very well-meaning man and I truly believe he is neutral and wants peace, although there was a hint of one-stateism in his report and discussion. However, he needs to get his facts right and the Israeli case needs to be better represented on these occasions. Ellman does her best, but I was not impressed.
In the Dimbleby Lecture which Michael gave on the day after this programme he repeated the story of the boy that was shot near the border fence. Even though he said he could not be sure what happened, he stresses that it does happen regularly.
I concede that it may well be true that the boy, or teenager, was shot and maybe operating in an exclusion zone is meant to provoke such actions. However, can you say in one breath that such young men have been guilty of planting explosive devices intended to kill Israelis on the other side of the fence, and in the next breath condemn the Israelis for trying to prevent it.
As I asked above, why do the Palestinians allow youngsters to operate in such a dangerous zone? In the BBC film we could clearly see Palestinian police watching but not intervening.
Morpurgo has failed to identify the fact that Hamas are completely comfortable with sending children on ‘operations’ and do not have his qualms or share his morality.
The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora affairs in Israel today published its new-improved Hasbara initiative called Faces of Israel.
The plan involves a disparate group of young people representing a cross-section of Israeli society who will travel yo the USA and Canada initially and present a different image of Israel from the usual political, diplomatic and high-prestige personalities who are the norm.
Here is what is proposed:
A special Israeli youth delegation, including Druze, Arabs, Jews, Ethiopian immigrants and representatives of the gay community, plans to leave next week on a unique public diplomacy campaign at leading US and Canadian universities. The delegation, entitled “Faces of Israel”, was formed at the initiative of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, with the assistance of the Foreign Ministry, and is designed to have Israelis present Israel. All members of the delegation volunteered to put aside their daily routines in order to undergo special training to present and represent abroad the true faces of Israeli society.
They will deal with a complex public diplomacy mission opposite young students like themselves and other organizations which, on campus, are promoting activities to incite against, and defame, Israel and are portraying it as an apartheid state, in the framework of a week of highlighted to be held next month.
Yuli Edelstein explains:
“… The delegation will divide into groups that will be sent to the various universities and participate in various forums, including open panels and direct meetings on campuses.
This is a new strategy that seeks to promote the human face of Israel not just by means of ministers and diplomats in suits but directly, face to face, by means of regular people who go out into the field.” US and Canadian campuses, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs held various training workshops, as well as personal training, for them in recent weeks, for approximately 40 hours.”
The specially chosen and culturally diverse delegation will present Israel, a variegated society that maintains values of equality and human rights. In order to prepare delegation members in the best way possible ahead of what awaits them on US and Canadian campuses, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs held various training workshops, as well as personal training, for them in recent weeks, for approximately 40 hours.
I think they are in for a tough time as the anti-Zionists will be out in force trying to disrupt and using every opportunity to spread hate and lies about Israel. But that’s why this initiative is so important. It will be a visible demonstration of the diversity of Israeli society which will pain a picture very different from the one being pedalled by Israel’s enemies.
At least, that’s what the intention is. How it plays out is another matter.
I’ve been thinking (dangerous), musing, reading and self-questioning. In other words, a normal day.
What is at the forefront of our minds and our TV screens at the moment is the unfolding drama of Egypt.
I have been struck, somewhat unexpectedly, by a sort of epiphany; a moment when I can see politicians and diplomacy for what they are.
I have been infuriated by the utter hypocrisy of Egypt’s western allies, the vaunted western democracies and the news media.
First Obama, who like his predecessors, has supported Mubarak and his awful regime. He believed that stability in the region required Egypt to work with the US, (who payed billions to maintain the regime and prop up its military) as a bulwark against Islamism. He believed that this long-held strategy would prevent a regional implosion and, ultimately preserve the peace between Israel and Egypt. Well, it worked, didn’t it? For more than 30 years.
Obama was not alone, of course; like everyone else he did not believe that democracy could be born from an Arab womb without a strong US midwife (Iraq, Afghanistan) and a sturdy pair of forceps.
Governments have to work with regimes they might not approve of, but the West has long supported or at least tolerated dictators only to turn against them at the slightest sniff of the outbreak of democracy, or more often when their own interests have changed.
This was not so much a sniff but a full-blown bout of influenza. Obama turned against Mubarak and declared he wanted to see a smooth transition of power according to the will of the Egyptian people; a will he had not believed existed and which now he applauded.
Where was his support and that of the western democracies for the will of the Egyptian people before? What did he or any other western democracy ever do to encourage democracy in countries suffering under dictators? All the US ever did was invade and militarily intervene to impose their national will and their idea of democracy on Iraq, Afghanistan and before this Vietnam. One could also mention Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada.
OK. I don’t want to bash the US, but as the leaders of the free world their foreign policy was often guided by fear; it used to be Communism, now it’s Islamism. In this Internet era, maybe a tweet or a leak is as powerful as an ICBM or an armoured division.
Outside of the Monroe Doctrine area, Europe has always gone along with their ally. Perhaps only in Yugoslavia where the battle was about preventing genocide and stabilising Europe did the West get it right, despite many mistakes.
Perhaps events like those in Egypt show us that international politics is really about self-interest and is governed by a hefty dose of Realpolitk; if the dictator is on your side, prop him up, if he is against you, undermine, attack, invade. There is no true morality in international politics, only the pretence of it.
The problem with this approach is most apparent when your client, or unsavoury dictator friend, falls from grace, and this is particularly embarrassing when your guy is replaced by a democracy; just the sort of government you should have been supporting all along.
Governments like the UK and the USA then have to come up with some platitudes and become imperiously statesmanlike and request, guide, coerce their former ally to fall on his sword so they can greet with fanfare the new government, the one they always really wanted, a government of the people, a true democracy which they now support and expect to continue with relations as normal.
So, when this new democracy comes into being it is not surprising that those governments who supported its predecessor are not exactly flavour of the month.
Well, we don’t have a democracy in Egypt yet, but if we do, then the US and its allies will have some explaining to do, which it has already decided to do by offering a few billion dollars in aid.
Am I being too cynical?
Such is political life. Hypocrisy is sort-of built-in.
And, of course, nowhere is Israel held up as the only democracy in the Middle East; in fact, today, I heard someone on a news programme looking forward to Egypt being the FIRST democracy in the region.
What region is that? North Africa?
Well, I’ve been back for more than a week, but reading Martin Gilbert’s latest tour de force, ‘In Ishmael’s House’ (published by Yale) whilst I was in Israel and watching the outbreak of the Egyptian popular uprising, which also occurred whilst I was there, has given me much food for thought.
So I thought I’d take the liberty of extending my Israel diary from the comfort of my home in England.
Firstly, for anyone who is interested in the experiences of Jews in Muslim lands from the beginnings of Islam in the 7th century right up to the present day must read this seminal book.
I must admit that I was pretty much ignorant of the history of Jews in Muslim lands with only a vague notion that there were good times and there were bad times.
This book confirmed that was the case. But it also confirmed that whatever the circumstances, however benign the Muslim ruler or government was, troubled times were never far away. Indeed, there are many similarities with the Jewish experience in Christian lands.
I was amazed that even comparatively recently, and certainly within the last 100 years, Jews have led comfortable, successful and influential lives in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Morocco and even Libya.
Jews have had positions of power and have been patriotic citizens of many Arab states across the Middle East.
Despite these sometimes protracted periods of affluence where Jews achieved a level of social standing, integration and honour far in excess of that experienced by their co-religionists in Europe, there was always an undercurrent of uncertainty and even fear.
This fear came from the dark corners of Islam where Jews were always the target of politicians and demagogues wanting a scapegoat or a common enemy to unite the people.
This undercurrent of Jew-hatred is ever-present in Islamic states as it has been in Christian ones. For decades, even centuries, it is suppressed and even legislated against, but the day always comes when Jews were murdered, dispossessed, dhimmified, oppressed, subject to medieval forms of treatment and humiliation, taxed, ghettoised, their civil liberties denied.
Reading the book has many moments of wonderful co-operation, mutual respect, neighbourliness, fraternity, friendship and decency. Such were the circumstances in much of the Arab world before 1947 on the eve of the declaration of the State of Israel.
But as soon as Israel came into being it released a backlash against the Jewish citizens of Arab countries which is rarely documented in the West and has been all but airbrushed out of Middle East history. Jews were expelled and their property and possessions taken from them or they chose to leave because of intolerable danger and random or orchestrated attacks. And when they left, it was usually with nothing or they had to sell off for a pittance.
This narrative is almost wholly absent from any discussion on Middle East history. When Jewish Arabs, as they often considered themselves, and many still do, arrived in Israel, where hundreds of thousands settled, they were absorbed, they did not remain refugees and never had that status for very long. They have never been compensated for their losses. After all, the vast majority never chose to leave their comfortable lives in Cairo or Damascus, Fez or Tripoli, Baghdad or Kabul.
It was Arab nationalism and Islamic self-assertion and atavistic hatreds and prejudices which drove out the Jews. The Arab world has been made judenrein to a far greater extent than even Europe was during the Nazi period without, thankfully, the genocide.
A sad and little-known or acknowledged aspect of the modern form of Arab Islamic Jew-hatred has direct connections and dubious inspiration from the Nazi Jew-hatred. The role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in raising a Muslim SS Division, persuading Hitler not to allow Jews to escape to Palestine and even a suggestion from Gilbert that it was Husseini who may have given the idea of the Final Solution to Hitler, are all explored in this book.
How often do we hear that Palestinian dispossession as a result of a European problem with the Jews was an unjust solution to that problem, but we never hear how Islamic support of the Nazis in North Africa and Mesopotamia as well as Palestine was part of that Solution and actually assisted in driving Jews to the very land from which their Muslim opponents wanted them to leave.
Nevertheless, the Jewish civilisation and culture with all its glories and millennia-old history was swept away and all but obliterated within a few decades because the Jews dared to assert their independence and carve out a few thousand square kilometres in their ancient homeland.
The lesson from history is this: unless the Muslim states can, once and for all, disengage their religious narrative from hating or despising and certainly mistrusting Jews qua Jews, then peace and co-operation will never be possible.
It is this echo of the Nazi past that finds its modern extreme form in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizbullah as well as Al Qaeda and Iranian anti-Zionism. In its less overt forms it can be found on the Arab street and literature and the all too frequent presence of translations of Mein Kampf and the fraudulent and defamatory Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
There is an important linkage to all of this with regard to the current popular uprising in Egypt. Commentators are keen to point out the lack of anti-Western and anti-Israeli sloganising and banners in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. They do not show, however, an underlying anti-Zionist narrative that can spill over to bigotry and worse.
Many pro-Zionist websites are keen to find images of anti-Zionism and antisemitism from this uprising to support their fears of an Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood takeover. They tell us about interviews with elements in the crowd who tell us Mubarak was little more than a Zionist stooge, that it was the Jews who, in pr0pping up the dictator, were responsible for the Egyptians repression. These same websites tell us of those who want to attack Israel and destroy it, who want to ‘restore’ Palestine to the Palestinians, who still harbour a grudge because the Israelis/Jews defeated them in every war the Egyptians waged against them, occupied their country and humiliated their army.
It is hardly surprising that such views are held by so many in Egypt when, despite the ‘cold peace’ with Egypt for more than 30 years, despite co-operation in suppressing fundamentalists, border security, intelligence sharing, the Egyptian clergy, press and media have continued to pour out antisemitic vitriol poisoning the minds of the people whose Islamic culture has always allowed a space for Jew-hatred and suspicion. How often did we hear UK reporters say that all foreign press were suspected of being ‘Zionist’ agents.
Today came the welcome and stabilising news that the Egyptian army would respect existing treaties including the one with Israel.
History tells us we need more from this revolution. We must see a modern secular state that rejects Islamist narratives. We must see a proudly Muslim people with one of the greatest histories and cultures in the world realise that the democracy they crave already exists, however imperfectly, in Israel and that if they want true peace and prosperity they must continue to work with and improve relations with Israel, drop the antisemitic narrative and play an important role in spreading democracy to the entire region.
This will have a far greater impact on peace and the prospects for Palestinians than cleaving to Islamist, undemocratic paradigms. The danger is not just the Muslim Brotherhood but a democratic state that, nevertheless, still hates Jews and Zionists and is prepared to do something about it.
We can only wait and hope.
I had to laugh at BBC Middle East reporter Jeremy Bowen’s take on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on the BBC News website:
Unlike the jihadis, it does not believe it is at war with the West. It is conservative, relatively moderate and non-violent. But it is highly critical of Western policy in the Middle East.
Bowen completely ignores the fact that Mubarak has been suppressing any whiff of Islamism, fearing just the sort of uprising from the extremists that the pro-democracy activists are now engaged in. He misses the point that the Brotherhood is patient and lies low, even now, to later pounce and develop a new highly dangerous, anti-Western, anti=Israel and anti-Christian policy when it can wield power and influence over the people.
The contrast between Bowen’s apparent laid back attitude to the threat of the Brotherhood and his views on the Netanyahu government in Israel as ‘right-leaning’ is marked.
Bowen ignores the effect on Israel of a Hizbullah/Iranian proxy in Lebanon, Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza, Al Qaeda linked Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, no doubt, a terrified King Abdullah in Jordan who, at least, can flee to Britain should the worse come to the worse.
Will the Palestinians in the West Bank then be emboldened to raise a third intifada and oust Palestinian Authority President Mohmoud Abbas, replace him with Hamas and bring more international outrage on Israel’s head for defending itself?
Meanwhile, in Damascus, President Assad lies waiting for his big chance to seize back the Golan.
Bowen seems somewhat sanguine about the Domesday scenario since he ignores it completely.
Maybe he is easily fooled by the term ‘Brotherhood’,
One thing is almost for certain; the Muslim Brotherhood will have some place in the Egyptian government.
Will the Brotherhood be to the new Egyptian government as the Nazis were to Weimar Repuplic in the 1930′s?