A testimony from Gaza; looking ahead

Abed Rabu’s case is being investigated at the highest levels. From TIME:

“Abed Rabu says he herded his wife, mother and three young daughters, Amal, 2, Samar, 4, and Suwad to the door, giving the children a white flag to wave. “Two Israeli soldiers were beside their tank, eating chocolate and potato chips,” he recounts, waving empty wrappers bearing Hebrew writing that he found later in the rubble. “It was like a picnic for them.”

Then, according to Abed Rabu — whose account is backed up by his wife Kauthar and two neighbors — a third Israeli soldier popped out of the tank with an M-16 rifle and fired. “I didn’t understand what happened,” says Abed Rabu. “I thought he was firing in the air, and then I looked down and saw my 2-year-old daughter lying there with her insides spilling out.”

“I started screaming ‘Why are you doing this?’ he says. “And then the soldier shot my two other girls. My wife fainted. And when my mother tried to drag Suwad inside the house, the soldier shot my mother in the chest, her shoulder and her leg.”

It makes your blood boil. No efforts should be spared to find out what happened here and for other similar reports, to prosecute culprits, and to (attempt to) compensate the victims. Questions should be asked about the culture within the Israeli army. Israel is responsible for the conduct of its soldiers and to some extent rightly characterised by the conduct of its soldiers.

In Britain, this characterisation has gone too far. The brutal, Nazi, fascist state by which Israel’s most childish and vindictive enemies refer to Israel is completely unsubstantiated. Witness the anti-war demonstrations, the free operation of its artists, dissenters, media, human rights groups.  It is wilful to link the behaviour of some rogue soldiers, as yet unprosecuted, with the intentions of the Israeli government or the Israeli people.

And it is also true that reports of atrocities need to be questioned. One example is Jenin; Mohammed Al Dura, the iconic dead Palestinian boy and focal point of hatred,  is another. Israel accepted the blame for Al Dura’s death even though its own investigators advised that Israeli fire could not have killed the boy. Despite the outpouring of hatred (Bin Laden cited Al Dura as a reason for attacking the World Trade Centre, Daniel Pearl’s murderers used him as a reason) the Israeli government felt its credibility was too low to protest its innocence and it took a French activist and a number of libel trials to find that Israeli soldiers were framed. In the case of the Ghalia family, many of whom died in an explosion on a beach in Gaza, Israel later admitted that the its own investigation, which had exonerated the IDF, had been flawed. The reason it is important to raise these examples is not to seek to portray the Israeli army in as blameless, or to create seeds of doubt that there were any atrocities in Gaza – it is to emphasise the importance of investigations.

Israeli government and Israeli Defence Forces do what they feel they must do in defence. Part of the reason Israel has to defend itself is that so many Jews live there and there is a growing culture of Jew-hatred among religious Muslims in that part of the world. No, you can’t blame Jew-hatred it on Israel. That would be siding with the racists. The very sad thing is that the parents and grandparents of those Jews made the decision that they’d be better off in Israel. There is no good reason to rubbish this supposition, although you might disagree with it.

So Israel will investigate, and other inter-governmental and international non-governmental organisations will investigate.  I think Israel will find that some of its soldiers hate Palestinians enough to kill them for being Palestinian, and that these soldiers also support the occupation. We might be understanding, as we are about Hamas, and say that they have been radicalised by the conflict (can you see – this radicalisation cuts both ways). Or we might be uncompromising (this is my personal position) and demand that those who are convicted serve prison sentences and that the Israeli Defence Forces initiate activities to erradicate hatred of Palestinians.

What investigators or prosecutors should concentrate on is whether there was a directive to target civilians (nobody is claiming that there was), whether a blind eye was turned by those in command to the deliberate killing of civilians or needless neglect of the wounded, and whether there was a climate of tolerance to hatred of Palestinians in the IDF which could reasonably be implicated in any gratuitous killing, abuse or neglect of civilians. They will also have to examine the conduct of Hamas, who have needlessly sacrificed so many of their own people in their successful attempt to draw Israel into war. Hamas is not just a force of nature – it has always had agency and it has always had choices.

It would be a very bad idea to submit to bias in favour of Hamas as a way of showing solidarity with Gazans.  If Hamas ceases – and stops other Palestinians – from trying to kill Israeli civilians and political opponents, the door to a political solution will open.  If Israel acts to halt and roll back the settlements, this will be a vast help – a vast obstacle if not.

Elections are coming up. Of course, as a concerned international you may have your own political axe to grind and you may hope to import the conflict to your own country in order to advance this agenda. This may be why you are so quiet about Darfur, Sri Lanka, Congo and Zimbabwe – you can’t really see the relevance of those thousands and millions of people dying and displaced in those countries.

Israelis and Palestinians can do better without you. They can only win the battle with their own haters and expansionist single-staters if ordinary people can envision the alternative – peaceful coexistence – as a real possibility.  Any responsible concerned international will realise this and act accordingly. Help the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement work towards this – give them some money and listen – not just selectively – to what they have to say. Another Israel is not my favourite organisation.  Some of the organisations it supports are deaf and blind to the concerns of British Jews (unsurprising – it’s concerned with Israel – British Jews, my primary concern, must fend for themselves) and uses rhetoric which looks like simple self-criticism if you are (as Israeli Jews are) part of the majority, or if you are (as Arab Israelis are) part of a neglected and excluded minority who wants to protest religious or racial discrimination, but is very threatening when appropriated by the anti-Israel British Left and used in argument against British Jews in a burgeoning climate of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.  However, the threat of Hamas and the Israeli right should sharpen up our priorities – go have a look (scroll down for the list).

Lastly, news of the new US special envoy for Arab Israeli affairs, George Mitchell.  A New York Times interview which problematises his prospects. Also a Guardian piece containing some principles of managing negotiations referring back to his time in Northern Ireland, and an op-ed from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency which also considers the I-P conflict in the light of the Northern Ireland conflict.

One thought on “A testimony from Gaza; looking ahead

  1. Raphael

    A very good post, especially the first two thirds; I think that the end starting with “Israelis and Palestinians can do better without you. ” will be hard to follow for someone less involved in the debates around antisemitism. Have you seen the exhibition the link you posted refer too? If it’s good, maybe we should try to get it to a GP conference?


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