Sunday 19 January 2020

State of denial is a cancer at the very heart of Israel

Smoke, dust and debris rise over Gaza City after an Israeli strike
Smoke, dust and debris rise over Gaza City after an Israeli strike

THOSE of us of a certain vintage, in our younger and perhaps more innocent days, were unabashed supporters of Israel. We saw it as a tiny fledgling democracy, perpetually fighting its neighbours, defending its very existence.

And, of course, the threatened extermination of the Jewish race during World War Two provided a haunting background to its very foundation.

So many Holocaust survivors sought a safe homeland in those ancient Biblical lands. For many of us, this provided moral justification for some of the bloody deeds carried out in setting up the new state.

During the intervening decades - in a strictly military sense - Israel has triumphed. With the fourth most powerful army in the world it has no problem keeping its neighbours, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, in their place. The array of sophisticated fighter aircraft, tanks, battleships and all kinds of other military hardware at its disposal, has seen to that.

So should not this realisation of the old Zionist dream of returning to the "Promised Land'', after 2,000 years in exile, herald much joy and happiness?

But as all the blood spilled during the conflict in Gaza has shown, things have not turned out quite as planned. The problem is there remains a cancer eating at the very heart of the Israeli soul. It is essentially a refusal to acknowledge that this "Promised Land'' does not exclusively belong to the Jews.

The reality is that the people known to the world as "Palestinians'' have also lived in ancient places such as Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, for centuries. Israel is also their ancestral home. The biggest problem of all for those who do not want to share the land is that there are so many Palestinians living in it. They and their descendants are going to remain there - if for no other reason most of them have nowhere else to go.

The Israelis will not allow them become citizens of the country they have created because they are not Jews. Many members of the current government are fiercely opposed to sharing the land in any kind of meaningful way, which would allow the Palestinians set up a state of their own. The result is that nearly around four million people languish in a netherworld, ensnared in a second class stateless existence.

It's a lot of human beings for the Israelis to try and control on a never-ending basis, given that history shows the quest for human dignity, and the desire for human fulfilment, ever remain an unstoppable force.

All the carnage, death, and suffering, spawned by the Gaza conflict over the past few weeks has put such a dilemma into sharp contrast. Basically, it torpedoed the core strategy of Benjamin Netanyahu, and his government, who say all they want is "quiet for quiet''. Such a scenario allows them to drag out talks about a Palestinian state, on the basis these discussions should never lead anywhere. Meanwhile, Jewish settlement of the West Bank accelerates, to ensure such an option will be impossible to implement in the future.

This current conflict over Gaza, is but the latest in the blood-soaked history between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as they fight for their share of the same territory. It will run its course - but whatever truce is arrived at will unravel in time - in the absence of a real peace-making deal.

It is unfortunate for the Palestinians that their plight is all too often enmeshed in the myriad of other political and religious conflicts, which regularly erupt in the Middle East. A classic case in point is the current blood lust in Iraq, where the crazed sectarian policies of groups like Isis, can result only in genocide.

President Barak Obama is absolutely correct to confront these hate-filled extremists with air power to protect deeply vulnerable minorities, such as the beleaguered Iraqi Christians.

But this should not deflect attention from the core issues surrounding the Israeli and Palestinian relationship. Regardless of what happens, both sides will still have to continue living together in an area of land much smaller than the island of Ireland.

There is no alternative.

Over years it has suited "not-an -inch" Israelis to deliberately confuse the Palestinian issue with other even more intractable problems in the region.

The British military historian and author, Max Hastings, some time ago wrote a seminal article entitled "How I fell out of love with Israel". He too found the idealism of his younger years usurped by the uncaring use of the country's military power. He suggests the prejudices of recent Jewish emigrants from Russia, coupled with the power of extremist religious political parties, has fuelled a hardline intolerance in the nation's psyche.

And he quotes one senior Israeli official who admitted: "Occupation has made us a cruel people.''

Former Israeli Premier Golda Meir once famously remarked in a piece of classic national self-delusion: "There is no such thing as the Palestinians. They did not exist.'' But the reality is that four million of them still live in the much fought-over "Promised Land''. She was in denial back then - far too many Israelis are still in denial now.

Irish Independent

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