Reading back over my last five mini-posts, it occurred to me that I have mentioned the words “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” way too often. And in a defensive way, as in “Israel sure as hell isn’t perfect, but it is clearly not doing these particular things”.
Which, now that I’ve noticed it, is upsetting me far more than it rationally should, at a very deep, almost foundational level. I think for two reasons.
The first is that my grandmother, who I mentioned in my first mini-post, was a survivor of the Holocaust. That was a documented, unquestionable case of genocide, and I know what she went through not from reading a text book or watching a film, but because she told me all about it, directly and in her own words.
Meaning I can tell you, from the position of being a first-hand recipient of a Shoah survivor’s testimony, that the things I see happening in Gaza right now, horrible and tragic as they may be, are categorically not the same as “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide”.
That won’t stop uneducated people adopting these terms at protests and on social media. But responsible people should know better than to feed the beast. Intelligent people should be aware that the constant use of these highly-charged words, even when in “context”, gives them an air of legitimacy. It is plain old wrong, and I wish it would stop.
Leading to the second reason why use of these words to describe Israel bothers me so much, which is this: in my daily life I mix with many who, despite never having been to Israel or Palestine, have a strong opinion on “the conflict”. People who are worldly and smart, and who know me well, and therefore would never have the gall to say to my face: “I just don’t like Jews”, or “I think you are a sympathizer to, and enabler of, a modern-day genocide”.
Rather, what will be said to me is more “nuanced” and pseudo-intellectual, like: “you’re a Jew, and I’ve no problem with Jews, and of course I know you, and I know you aren’t a bad guy. I also know you’re half-Israeli, but likewise I have no beef with the people of Israel. My real issue is with the root-cause ‘criminal’, which is the institutional apparatus of the State of Israel / the colonialist nature of the State of Israel / Zionism as an ideology [take your pick]”.
But as justifications go, this doesn’t help at all, because no matter which of these things is offered up as being the “real problem”, what’s still actually being referred to is my family, my friends, my community, my people, and ME.
You see (and I can’t believe I even have to say this) whilst I am a Jew, a Zionist, a supporter of the Israeli State, and an Israeli citizen, I am not a criminal. I am a moral and decent person, not a genocidal hater of Muslims or Arabs. And I have no desire to see Palestinians or anyone else suffer, harmed or erased from the planet.
I can also tell you that whilst about 80% of my family, friends and community are likewise Jews, proud Zionists, and often citizens of Israel, they too are decent, moral people, wanting to live quietly and in peace, and most certainly not interested in perpetrating war crimes or genocide on anyone.
“Ah yes, but you’re just individuals, what about the institutionalized Israeli/Zionist colonialist regime?”, will be the inevitably sage response. To which I have no response other than to call “bullshit”. Because the “Israeli State” and the “Zionist regime” are not abstract concepts or vague organizations. Rather, these are the lived experiences and collective ideals of people who I have met, who I have interacted with, and who I know, respect and love.
And by this, I mean actually, first-hand, real-time KNOW. Like several good friends and family members who work in various branches of Government in Israel. Or like a serving elected member of the Israeli Parliament, who dated my younger brother for several years and is a friend and someone I have enormous respect and admiration for. Or like various other members of the Israeli Parliament, past and present, who I know or have met personally. Or like several of my best friends, who have served in various elite Israeli commando units. Or like another friend who basically ran the IDF signals intelligence division for many years. Or like some of my lifelong school friends in Australia and the USA who now hold senior leadership roles in overtly Zionist Jewish community organizations.
Or like one of the founders of the State of Israel, the now deceased Nobel laureate Shimon Peres, or like the current Israeli Prime-Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, supposed mastermind of all Israeli wrongdoing. Both of whom I previously had the opportunity to meet, one-on-one, in their offices in Jerusalem.
Or like my father, who fought alongside his brothers and cousins for our family’s very survival in the Six Day War, in 1967. Or like my late mother, who dreamed her whole life of being able to live as a Jew, in her own country of Israel, and who is now buried there.
If these people – flesh and blood humans who are variously my family, my friends, my community, my acquaintances and members of the global Jewish / Zionist / Israeli leadership – do not represent “the Jews”, the “Israeli State” and the “Zionist regime”, then who does?
And something I can tell you, without hesitation, about every single one of these representatives of the Israeli state and the Zionist regime, is this: not one of them is evil.
This is not to say that I like all of these people, I don’t. Some I agree with, some I don’t. Some I think are smart, some I think are buffoons. Some have political views and social sensibilities wildly different to my own; some share my views almost exactly. But whatever the differences, a common thread I can point to, without any doubt whatsoever, is that no-one is stone-cold evil.
So, even though I know I’ll be accused of shamelessly cheering for my home team, I’d like to make what I think are five pretty self-evident statements.
One: there may be things being done by Israel and the IDF right now that that you don’t like, or that you think are wrong. But I am pretty sure you haven’t seen squads of Israeli soldiers rushing into a Gazan festival and murdering hundreds of dancing teenagers in cold-blood. Just like no-one has produced a video of Israeli soldiers using a shovel to cut the head off a live Palestinian man lying on the floor, or a picture of a young woman, naked, in a pool of blood, lying in the place where she was quite literally raped to death. Only truly evil people could do that.
Two: you may abhor the tragic suffering of civilians in Gaza, and you quite rightly should mourn the mounting death toll there. But I bet you’ve not seen Israelis setting off fireworks and dancing in the streets at the news of dead Palestinians. I bet you’ve never heard reports of mass rapes being ordered as part of an Israeli military operation, or of Israeli soldiers gathering up groups of people, parents with their children, binding them together, and setting them on fire. Only truly evil people could justify and then celebrate such acts.
Three: You may take a cynical view of why the IDF drops leaflets to warn Gazan civilians of impending bombings, yet even Hamas doesn’t deny these leaflet drops at least happen. Whereas there has never once been an advance warning from Hamas of any rocket attack on Israel, much less advance warning to Israeli civilians of the attack on 7th October. And, I can say with 100% certainty that you have never heard the accusation made by anyone that Israeli soldiers use Israeli civilians as human shields. Only truly evil people would do this to their own.
Four: Israel may be imprisoning – rightly or wrongly – many Palestinians who it considers to have committed crimes. Yet at least Israel does so under some structure of law and reason (even if you don’t agree with or trust that structure). But I am confident you have never seen or heard of Israeli troops summarily carting away Gazan mothers and toddlers, or Palestinian grandmothers in wheelchairs, to hold as hostage in underground tunnels in Tel Aviv.
And five: this is a long, simmering political and military conflict, which means there have inevitably been cases of Israeli wrongdoing, past and present. However, those accusing Israel of systematic “war crimes” usually need to delve into complex debate about international law to support their claims. But there is absolutely no debate – legal or moral – as to the crimes witnessed (and celebrated) in Hamas’ recent attack on Israel – kidnapping, hostage taking, open attacks on civilians, video-taped torture, beheadings, summary executions, organized gang rapes, burning people alive. These are indisputably evil things, done by indisputably evil people.
Let’s call a spade a spade: there is no moral equivalence here. To say otherwise is self-evidently absurd. Yet bafflingly, so many people in our Western world – especially those who are neither Israeli nor Palestinian and thus have no personal skin in this game – keep insisting on it. In the interest of “balance” and “fairness” they will ignore what is a Grand Canyon wide gap in the conduct of the two sides. They will instead try to justify the unjustifiable, and they will doggedly avoid “taking sides” when moral clarity should be really easy right now.
So, yes, I am outraged.
An whilst I can’t believe I even have to type this, I will do so anyway to make my outrage abundantly clear: there is no-one I know, whether in my family, in my immediate circle, in my Jewish community or in Israel, who is on a quest to commit war crimes. No matter our different political or religious leanings, there is no-one I know in my family, in my immediate circle, in my Jewish community, or in Israel, who wakes up in the morning and thinks “how can I kill Palestinians today?”.
And no-one I know or have ever met – from ordinary Jews and Israelis right through to the upper echelons of organized world Jewry and the Israeli government – seeks, as a matter of dogma or faith, to rid the region or the world of a whole people.
Which is self-evidently more than can be said for the Hamas barbarians who invaded southern Israel three weeks ago.