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Gaza: anirresolvable crisis?

Many moons ago I wrote for this column a piece titled “A clash of rights”, discussing a situation in which two unquestionable human rights were in conflict — in that case, the right to freedom of speech, and the right of minority groups to be defended from hate speech. Readers will no doubt be aware of the horrifying violence that has occurred in Israel and Gaza over the last few months. Does this present another example of an irresolvable crisis, one right clashing inexorably with another? I’ll argue not.

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The recent flare-up of violence in the Middle East began with barbaric attacks on Israel by Hamas, who control the territory of Gaza, part of Palestine. Israelis were butchered and taken hostage. Now, Hamas purports to defend the rights of the Palestinian people, who have been deprived of a land to call their own by Israel. But by any criteria, Hamas can best be seen as a terrorist organisation, akin to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other vile mobs. The actions of Hamas have prompted Israel to bombard Gaza, leading to thousands of deaths and the obliteration of housing, hospitals and infrastructure.

Palestinians could — indeed, do — assert their rights through any means other than violence. But Israel doesn’t give a toss. Or at least doesn’t do so under the leadership of the thuggish Binyamin Netanyahu.

This doesn’t mean that all Israelis are guilty of the oppression of the Palestinians. Many Israelis understand the vicious paradox of a persecuted people — the Jews — persecuting others. This is an internationally-based recognition; there is, for example, a fine human rights organisation called the British Jewish Women in Support of Palestine. And when I was in Israel for an academic conference years ago I met numerous enlightened left-wing Israelis — Jews, Arabs, Falasha (Ethiopian Jews) – who saw that the denial of Palestinian statehood was wrong, and who wrote and protested to this effect.

So, where to go? Well, for one thing, an understanding of history is a help. Living in the UK, I am appalled at how many Brits are totally unaware of their country’s colonial history and of the moral responsibility we bear towards many of the world’s endangered people. The state of Israel was a British creation — carved after the Second World War and the Holocaust from the British colony of Palestine, with no regard whatsoever for the rights of non-Jewish people. A similar tragedy befell the Kurdish people, who have no homeland in part because of British colonial policy in Mesopotamia (Iraq). And the British colonial policy is at least in part responsible for the on-going sh*t show we call Nigeria. To say nothing of the carve-up of the Indian sub-continent, in which process millions lost their lives.

Having written these paragraphs, I gave the piece a test-run, showing it to a British friend, Nalini, who is partly of Indian parentage. She made the following comment, which seems to me spot-on: “Although Britain did terrible things to Ireland in the past, its response to the violence of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was at least an attempt to target the perpetrators, who, like in Gaza, often had the support of the people they hid among. We did not bomb Northern Ireland, killing its children and destroying the hospitals and schools. The Israeli government does not see Palestinians as human and does not recognise their right to land.”

I said above that understanding history is a help. But history is not a prison-house. Doors can be broken down. Karl Marx recognised that history repeats itself, but it need not do so indefinitely. For a start there needs to be a universal affirmation of the right of the state of Israel to exist. Second, there needs to be a commitment by the Israeli government to negotiate a settlement with Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank), allowing its people’s statehood. Third, Palestinians need to rebel against Hamas, capturing their leaders and handing them over —perhaps not to Israel but to an appropriate international body. Who will be brave enough, humane enough, to begin?

At church every week we pray for peace, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East. This always seems to me somewhat abstract. Rather, I feel, we should pray for the political initiatives that might lead to peace.

I’ll sign off with a quotation from Will Shoki, editor of the online site Africa is a Country (highly recommended, though I can’t go into its paradoxical title here). Discussing the Gaza crisis he says “May we never give in to despair, and struggle as hard as we can for this madness to end.”

Chris Dunton

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