Friends, today is an important day. It is Tisha B’Av, which is simply the Hebrew for the ninth day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. This is an annual fast day which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel in the year 70 CE, 1944 years ago. It also commemorates other tragedies that occurred on the same date, including the Roman massacre of over 100,000 Jews at Betar in 132 CE.
The reason for sharing the significance of this day with you, is that unfortunately history has a pattern of repeating itself when it comes to the fortunes of the Jewish people, who right now face the same existential threats that they have faced since the days of David’s battle with Goliath.
Civilizations and political movements who’ve attempted to commit genocide upon the Jewish people have come and gone, whilst the Jewish people remain alive. Mark Twain describes it more insightfully than I ever could in his famous essay ‘Concerning the Jews’, when he writes that proportionally there are so few Jews in the world that “it suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone.”
Friends, the conflict between Israel and Hamas is often portrayed in the mass media as being a battle of David versus Goliath. Biblically of course, David was a Hebrew, a slingshot wielding man of diminutive stature. Goliath was a giant Philistine warrior, towering over his enemies. Many modern day commentators argue that the Jewish people have gone from underdog to oppressor, an overpowering army using indiscriminate and disproportionate force against a helpless group of citizens throwing stones. It is an easy narrative to portray visually, as our media is full of horrendous images of dead Palestinian children lying motionless on Gaza’s rubble, alongside photographs of Israeli tanks, bulldozers and F16 aircraft. To the naked eye, Israel certainly is the big bad oppressor (Goliath) and the Palestinians are the helpless, weaker party (David). This narrative, however, becomes less compelling the further we ‘zoom out’ from Gaza.
Today, as you read this, Israel is facing an enemy in Hamas who are the latest in a long line to aspire to commit genocide upon the Jewish people. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have implemented a 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire as of 08:00 this morning, in the minutes preceding it Hamas fired 17 rockets at Israel, a flourish designed to kill as many Jews as possible, the incredible Iron Dome intercepted 6 of them. If we take history as our precedent, it is very probable that the rockets will continue to be launched in the next 72 hours, but the Western media won’t report it, as it doesn’t make for a powerful front page image, or due to Israel’s investment in bomb shelters, it won’t provide an emotive story of a bereaved mother. It has been said many times: Israel use their ammunition to protect their people whilst Hamas use their people to protect their ammunition. Frighteningly, the Hamas Charter explicitly states: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realised.” Just to clarify this for readers attempting to engage in the politics of this unique region for the first time – these are not a few words that somebody once uttered off the record, this is the official Charter of the Government of Gaza.
Hamas want Israel dead, and Hamas want the Jews dead. Hamas want me dead. In a recent exchange with a British Muslim, a fastidious advocate of the establishment of a Palestinian State and a steadfast critic of Israeli policy, I asked him the following question: Suppose a Palestinian State is established on what is known as the 1967 border, Israel becomes only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Hamas frequently talk of “pushing the Jews into the sea”, not as a theoretical ambition or a metaphor, but a literal plan of action. I’d be concerned that Hamas, or whichever other fanatical group is most prevalent at that time, would simply continue to attack Israel from the sovereign Palestinian State, especially at this narrowest point. Do you honestly believe that, even when the State of Palestine exists, Hamas will cease to fire rockets or cease to continue their attempted destruction of Israel? His answer was telling. “In my heart of hearts I don’t believe they will stop, even after the creation of Palestine. If Israel retaliated, the world would of course turn on Israel again.” Friends, this means that Israel has an enemy forever in Hamas, whatever Israel does, short of ceasing to exist, will not be enough.
Israeli author and peace activist Amos Oz, said in an interview on Sunday with Deutsche Welle, “I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: ‘Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.’
Hamas is not a members’ club, it is an ideology, a will to establish an Islamic Kalifah across the world, whilst annihilating Israel and Jews as a first step to achieving international Sharia. Mosab Hassan Yousef grew up in the West Bank and is the son of Hamas Founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef. He recently admitted in a television interview… “The destruction of the State of Israel is not Hamas’ final destination. Hamas’ final destination is building the Islamic Khilafah, which means an Islamic State on the rubble of EVERY other civilisation.” As we’ve heard, the Hamas Charter calls their Arabic brothers-in-arms to help wipe Israel off the map. Israel are facing threats of anihilation and have done ever since 1948, but they are fighting two battles. They’re fighting the battle for their own survival which is intricately interwoven with containing the spread of extremism and fanatical militant Islamism, on behalf of decent societies with freedom of speech all over our planet. Countries in the rest of the world are too busy condemning Israel, too busy looking good compared to Israel, that they haven’t even noticed they could be next. Israel is fighting for all of us, and we should all be fighting for Israel. This is not to say we should mindlessly agree with every action Netanyahu’s Government take, this is not to say we should close our eyes to real human suffering that many everyday Palestinians are facing, and this is not to say that we should banish compassion for the sake of self-preservation.
Let’s be clear, there are 22 Arabic countries surrounding Israel, with a total population of around 370 million people. Only two of those countries have signed a peace deal with Israel. Israel’s enemies include such unscrupulous collectives as Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Iran, Qatar, Syria and Lebanon. There is one Jewish State with a population of 8 million, 1.5 million of whom are Arabs living with full rights – Arabs who can be Members of the Knesset, empowered women or openly gay men. To consider the difference, there are 365 million more Arabs living in the Middle East than there are Jews. I invite you to consider who is David and who is Goliath.
Today, on Tisha B’Av, the holy day of mourning for the Jewish people, a day upon which we remember numerous other attempts to prematurely end our existence, Israel is surrounded by hostile enemies, many of whom would wipe this sovereign state off the map if given half a chance. Jewish people around the world are facing marches throughout their supposedly enlightened Western cities where protestors carry placards with slogans such as ‘Hitler Was Right’ or ‘We Are All Hamas’. A café in Belgium has refused entry to Jewish customers, a home in north London daubed with a Swastika, and we could write an entire thesis on the horrendous treatment faced by the Jews of France in the past decade. My own great-grandmother’s tombstone has been desecrated in Manchester. Facebook groups named ‘Death to Israel and the Jews’ pop up most days, and Jewish people around the world are being collectively punished by their fellow citizens every time the Israeli Government is perceived to act disproportionately. Rabbi Lord Sacks, a man who I’ve been privileged enough to spend time with at his home, addressing the British House of Lords this week, said “My Lords forgive me, if I say that I did not expect 120 years after the Dreyfus Case and 70 year after the Holocaust, that the cry of ‘Death to the Jews’ would be heard again in the streets of France and Germany.”
With regards to Israel’s existential threats, American author Dennis Prager simplifies things for us, but do not for one second believe that this simplicity renders his commentary anything but totally accurate. He asks: “If tomorrow Israel laid down its arms and announced, “We will fight no more!” What would happen? If the Arab countries around Israel laid down their arms and announced “We will fight no more!” What would happen? In the first case there would be an immediate destruction of the State of Israel, and mass-murder of its Jewish population. In the second case, there would be peace the next day.“
Friends, no government is perfect, and in this regard, the Israeli Government is exactly the same as every other government in the entire world – it is imperfect. The current situation in Gaza is tragic and complex, we have seen too much bloodshed as the Palestinian people are cruelly sandwiched between Hamas with their underground tunnels and rocket stores below ground, and Israeli F16s above their heads. Every time I see these graphic images in our newspapers, my heart goes out to the families of the deceased and I cannot help but rue the day Hamas came to power in Gaza, with their contemptible disregard for the actual wellbeing of the Palestinian people. Israel go to lengths never seen before in warfare to minimise Palestinian civilian casualties, which is made all the more difficult when the enemy goes to great lengths to maximise them. For Israel though, the safety of its own citizens is the top priority and so it should be.
Even after thousands of years, and despite the short-sighted narrative espoused by most media outlets, I believe that Israel remains David, with his back to the wall against the mammoth and hostile Arab world, which remains Goliath. If Israel did not stand up tall and face the enemies committed to destroying it, if Israel did not act pro-actively in attempting to dismantle Hamas’ genocidal capabilities, the very few Jewish people remaining on our planet would have another atrocity to mourn the next time their calendar reaches Tisha B’Av… the death of the State of Israel and all it’s Jewish citizens. Friends, shockingly some things never change.