By now you may have heard of The Irish Times’ Frank McDonald and his depressingly predictable comments about Ariel Sharon. Sharon was a brilliant military strategist who fought to protect Israel from neighbours who wished to annihilate them but McDonald sees Sharon as just another butcher. The conflict might be a dense thicket of complexity, but not for supporters of Palestine for whom it can be reduced to Manichean simplicity. Black, white, right, wrong, butcher, freedom fighter. To McDonald and others like him the prime minister of a sovereign democratic state is accorded no greater stature than a tribal warlord.
In response to a tweet of mine questioning McDonald’s knowledge of the region’s history he asked me if I had been to Gaza. (I haven’t). ‘Have you been there? I have’, he told me. As it turns out he has been there not once but twice. A real expert.
I don’t need to be told the appeal of going to the Middle East. I have visited Jordan, Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates and found them all to be pleasant places. But as I’ve pointed out before, Gaza is a place where the democratically elected Hamas arrest women for the crime of witchcraft. It’s not exactly Marbella, so it is safe to assume that the only reason he goes is to highlight conditions in the world’s most famous ‘open air prison’ (his words).
McDonald’s boast made me realise that I’ve been hearing about Irish people going to the Palestinian Territories for years. It is de rigueur among Irish supporters of Palestine to pay a visit to the region, do some token community work, and then have photographs taken with Hamas members, preferably holding weapons. No doubt McDonald wanted to legitimise his activism by going to a ‘war zone’.
With the way the world treats the Israel-Palestine conflict you might think that it is particularly bloody, but it is not. Despite a barrage of rocket attacks against Israel last year a mere (I use the word hesitatingly) 31 people died. Many of those victims were Israeli.
It is hard to believe that the disproportionate focus on Israel has nothing to do with its Jewishness. If it is human rights McDonald cares about then why do people like him not visit other sites of supposed injustice more regularly? It is safe to assume that he has never been to visit the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, who have been forced to live in the desert behind a wall, exiled from their homeland by the Moroccan government since the 1970s. I would bet most pro-Palestinian activists, so concerned with human suffering, have never been there either, nor called for any boycotts of Morocco.
In 2013 more Kurds were killed in Iran than in Israel and Palestine, 39 to 31. There were more victims of a communist insurgency in the Philippines than in Israel and Palestine. Scores died in the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. Hundreds of Muslims were again slaughtered in Myanmar. There are two separate conflicts in India that saw almost six hundred people killed between them, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency and the war in the North-Eastern states. These are some of the world’s ‘small’ conflicts – those with fewer than 1,000 casualties per year. There are at least 33 of them.
Next come the really serious wars. There are eight of these, including the present conflict in Syria. That one is really nasty; the death toll for the Syrian conflict which started in 2011 is thought to be as high as 130,000. Cumulative fatalities in the Israel-Palestine conflict – since it began in 1948 – are estimated at 21,500. There have been no freedom flotillas to Syria, no buses travelling overland across Europe and through Turkey to the Syrian border filled with university students and obscure Irish politicians hoping to make a change and bring freedom to Syrians. There are no ships full of supplies and activists sailing to Congo where half a million have been killed. No, we send soldiers to help there.
And that’s the thing: McDonald has been to Gaza because it’s safe. Because it’s safe and it’s hip. Most intelligent people know claims of genocide made against Israel are totally false. The Gazan population has grown considerably in recent years. Nor are they starving as some have pointed out. Indeed obesity, not malnutrition, is the great challenge Palestinians have to overcome moving into the 21st century. Gaza, so often described as densely populated to the point of being cruel, is not. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are both more dense. Just take a look at any photographs you can find of Gaza. The ethnically cleansed, Jew-free Strip is, aside from bikini-clad women and a beer culture, just like any other Mediterranean city.
Six million Jews were murdered by Europeans in the last century. So when I look at our blood-soaked planet and I see all this attention given to the world’s 33rd deadliest conflict by death toll, I put two and two together and wonder if the liberation of Auschwitz was really the end of Europe’s vile and twisted obsession with the Jews.