I have been reading articles in the ever-reliable London Review of Books (LRB) that make me feel there should be a nationwide inquiry in the UK into unconscious bias, not just in the LRB but generally. The ideas wrapped up in much of what is said about Israel are revealing of intellectual structures that never have to defend themselves because they are never called to account by those best placed to challenge them—i.e. the very people who harbour them.
Often, what is said is so innocuous as to be invisible. In a blog a few days ago on the LRB website, Amjad Iraqi, an editor and writer at +972 Magazine, based in Haifa, wrote that the “overnight desert rave” that was attacked on Saturday morning was “inexplicably organised in the border region”. “Inexplicably”? Why “inexplicably”? The organisers didn’t hold the rave in “the border region” as a provocation or because they were immune to the pain of the Gazan people; they organised it because it was a cool place to hold a rave.
But that’s not enough for Mr Iraqi because, for many people, everything that Israelis do has malign intent or malign insensitivity—even when they’re ravers: people who could hardly have been further from Israel’s far right. Why do people write like this? Because doctrinal obsessions underlie everything they think and say.
I am especially struck by the almost universal acceptance of Hamas’s demand: “We hate you, we will never adapt to your presence, we wish to eradicate you, now give us our full rights and freedoms so we can do what we are committed to doing.”
I am struck also that it is intrinsic to Hamas’s charter to destroy Israel and “cleanse” the land of Jews (meaning that Jews could not live safely in a future Palestine), just as it was intrinsic to the Nazis’ charter. I am not aware of any parallel Jewish or Israeli document that calls for the erasure of Arabs (or Palestinians, or Muslims).
I absolutely agree that there is now a very nasty language of opposition to Palestinians, and that the treatment of them, whether in Gaza or East Jerusalem or the West Bank, and especially at the border crossings, is beyond egregious, but this is unarguably not the product of an ideological wish to wipe them out; they are, at worst (for the settler community, for example) an impediment, and that is very different.
And yet it is Israel that is accused of apartheid, not the Palestinians. I give this as one example of unconscious bias.
Another is the excusing of Palestinian behaviour. High up in the news information network, the under-reporting of Palestinian offences, and the over-reporting of Israeli offences (supposedly justified by the “oppression” of the former and the “oppressiveness” of the latter), creates a condition in which the Palestinians are never asked to account for themselves because their respective weakness is seen as letting them off, in the way that we let children off—though such an excusing is never acknowledged—but also because the extent of their behaviour is played down.
Since the weekend, for example, news managers in the UK—and probably elsewhere in the West—have chosen not to show exactly what was done by the Gazans who broke through the fence on Saturday morning. We have not been shown footage of beheaded babies, beheaded women raped and dumped, unrecognisable body parts left strewn on the ground. The awfulness of the situation was something that the public in the UK had to be “protected” from knowing on the grounds that such footage was too “sensitive” for us to know: it might upset us.
It might indeed. And so it should, so that we can take stock of it fully. But we have been sheltered from taking stock of it by its being withheld from us. And so we cannot take stock of it. The Gazans’ crime has been whitewashed, in the normally commendable name of public decency.
It was surprising, therefore, to find outspoken disgust at Saturday’s outrage against Israel in pockets of BBC commentary. For example, I invite you to listen to Revd. Angela Tilby’s “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme on Tuesday 10 Oct, at 1:48:12 into the programme, a most unusually sympathetic response from a Church of England academic. No cheap double standards here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001r7wx
Inevitably, however, the force of Israel’s retaliation has reawakened the usual responses: “How dare you criticise the Gazan attack on southern Israel when the Israeli reply has been so much worse. Of course the Gazans will over-react: they have been locked in a prison for 50 years, with no hope of release.”
But no one points out that Hamas has the freedom to walk away from policies that for 17 years have done nothing but injure the very people it claims to act on behalf of. Instead, rather than accept that its own intimidatory presence has inflamed a situation which has always been capable of peaceful negotiation, it stands by while whole neighbourhoods of Gaza are reduced to rubble. Any other government, under the circumstances, would say—even if the words stuck in its throat: “Enough. We give up.”
Two weeks ago, the Armenians gave up control of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, without (as far as I’m aware) a shot being fired. It was a humiliation but it saved lives and property. Hamas has it in its power to do the same, but appears to be so extreme in its thinking that it only sees its options in terms of total violence, whether by it or against it.
Under such circumstance, I find myself thinking—and I’m surprised to hear myself saying this—that Israel is right to be acting now as if the only way to change the paradigm is to wrest control of Gaza away from Hamas and—the logical consequence of this—to run it directly, in the way that the UK now runs Northern Ireland directly from London, in the absence of anyone in Stormont being able to agree terms (and without the world’s condemnation).
The Palestinians need to be freed: not so much from the Israelis but from themselves and the ideological forces among them that have proved incapable of acting in their best interests. I cannot see anyone in the United Nations General Assembly agreeing—openly—but it is now beyond question that the status quo must not continue.
These people need help and only the Israelis have the clear-sightedness to see what kind of help is required and how it can be achieved. Israeli also needs a free hand to do this, because it is absolutely essential that the two people find a way of accommodating each other. For one thing, Palestinian children need a new education system and new textbooks; they—but also we—need to take on board new assumptions not just about Jews and Israelis but about themselves. And so does the world.
Wow. Did I just say that?