Almost a hundred years ago, as the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was staring out of the windows of the London Foreign Office on a hot summer’s day, he remarked “the lamps are going out all over Europe, we may not see them lit again in our lifetime.” The occasion was of course the eve of the First World War – Grey’s worrying prediction was to be proven unnervingly accurate.
Today there is no need for such terrible prophecies. In the maelstrom that is the modern Middle East, the lamps have already gone out. Spring has skipped two seasons and beckoned a dark and cold Winter that has lasted three years. Aggressive Iranian designs have left the beleaguered people of Lebanon and Syria stricken by bloodshed and continued strife, leading to one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. Radical Sunni extremists have poured into the deserts of Syria and Iraq to take advantage of the vacuum left by weak and discredited governments. ISIS’s declaration of a ‘Caliphate’ in Iraq has been celebrated with mass summary public executions. ISIS also poses the single greatest threat to the heroic Kurdish people who have long deserved an independent sovereign territory of their own. As Douglas Murray of the Spectator has put it, it is as if the collective Islamic world has declared a ’30 Years War’ on itself.
Against this backdrop of chaos, the tiny territories controlled by Israel have seemed insignificant – a sorry hangover of a bygone era, kept in an unstable limbo by a lack of political will on both sides. It was as if no one noticed the collapse of the peace talks brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry – that is, until the brutal murder of three Israeli students and one Palestinian boy unleashed a cycle of familial violence that would shame Monatgues and Capulets alike.
But where is the real moral outrage against the unprovoked rocket attacks by Hamas in Gaza against Israeli cities, 130 on one day alone? In some places, Israelis have as little as 15 seconds to run for cover while IDF spokespeople have indicated that as many as 40% of their country’s population find themselves in the shadow of incoming rocket barrages. Concerned Israeli friends have already confirmed to me that they have heard the sirens as seemingly “far away” from Gaza as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. All decent, civilised people have a duty to protest this outrage, or, as one Times of Israel blogger (and personal friend) has remarked, “speak now, or forever hold your peace.”
Despite all of this, few in the West display real solidarity with Israelis threatened by aggressive rocket attacks. Who cares about the lives of people in a thriving democracy protected by a highly sophisticated army? For journalists like Owen Jones, it suffices to base their morality on body counts alone. This is outrageous. Can they discern no moral difference between a society that builds bunkers (and Iron Dome defence systems) to protect innocent civilians, and a terrorist group that builds bunkers to hide rockets with the aim of targeting innocent civilians – all the while placing schools and hospitals for their own citizens over them. Between a leader who regards every Israeli civilian as a ‘legitimate target’ and an air force which drops leaflets and makes phone calls to let individuals know they are targeting terrorists in their area; practices which have led one retired British Army Officer to call the IDF “the most moral army in the world.” Between a government that poisons children’s minds by teaching them that they should “love death more than the Jews love life” and a government that sanctifies the life of all its citizens, regardless of whether they are a Jew or an Arab.
Such indifference or outright hostility to Israel is of course now the norm in morally twisted popular discourse in Europe. They are staples of much of the mainstream Liberal Left, and no longer just Islamic extremists or the Radical Right. These lies should be sources of continual shame for those who are responsible for peddling them, especially as so many seem to disregard the charitable efforts Israel made to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 even at the expense of its own security interests. Individuals are now so desperate to defame Israel and the IDF that they have even resorted to inventing crimes supposedly committed by Israel through attributing to them photos taken from other conflicts in the Middle East. In their macabre determination to prove the Jews’ Old Testament-inspired bloodlust (as one Independent cartoon seems to suggest), online activists have been feeding a shameful propaganda effort that seems to hate Israel more than it actually cares for the Palestinians, whom they patronisingly caricature as blameless victims incapable of autonomy or independent action.
This is not merely an issue of a sovereign country defending itself from a terrorist group sworn to its destruction. This is the difference between a society that sanctifies life and one that worships death.