Sunday, 18 November 2012

Swords, ploughshares and letters to the Israeli ambassador

Gaza is burning and my my inbox is full of noise.

Every blogger, every tweeter, every facebooker is sounding off at maximum volume and at increased frequency. Emergency updates are pouring in, irregular newsletters are arriving daily, donations are being requested.

It was all started by Hamas of course. Or was it all deliberately provoked by Israel? I am sent competing timelines for who did what and when.

Israel holds its breath in fear. Gaza life goes on hold.

I've been invited to attend demonstrations in solidarity with Israel at this grave hour. I've been invited to attend demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians, also at this grave hour. Usually they are in the same place and at the same time. However, none of them are being held in Kendal, Cumbria.

I later receive reports about said demonstrations. On one side of the road they shout: "Long live Israel" and sing the British and Israeli national anthems. And on the other side of the road it's: "No Justice, no Peace, Israel out of the Middle East."

I'm hearing firsthand accounts from air-raid shelters in Gaza City and from Tel Aviv.

I'm being told by the professional polemicists that Israel is facing Jew hatred on a genocidal scale with Jihadists armed to the teeth by Iran. I'm also being told that Palestinians are facing another massacre at the hands of the Zionist army, for this is Operation Cast Lead "part 2".

Plenty are saying that this is Netanyahu's re-election campaign. Stoke up fear, side line economic and social issues, put the threat of terror centre stage, the country always rallies around the government at such moments of crisis.

But is such cynical behaviour really credible? I suppose plenty have done just this throughout history.

Others point at how patient the Israelis have been to tolerate missile attacks from Gaza week after week. What country could stand back and let its citizens be attacked like this?

Gaza is burning and my inbox is full of noise.

And what of the assassinated Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas' military wing? Either he was a militant, a leader of terror and the mastermind behind Gilad Shalit's hostage taking, or he was a pragmatist willing to broker cease fires at the very moment he was killed...the victim of Netanyahu's political expediency.

And then there's more...there's always more!

Actually, I am assured, it's all about stopping the Palestinians in their tracks from their bid to win upgraded observer status at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. Or is it just about telling President Obama that his re-election victory (despite being supported by 70% of US Jews) will change nothing when it comes to trying to push Israel into genuine talks on a two state solution.

I have decided that it is possible to be 'over informed'.

In fact I am tempted to switch off the war of words being played out across the screen of my ipad, as I travel back and forth by train from Kendal to Manchester each day. I fear my ethical sensibility is in danger of being caught in the electronic cross-fire.

Gaza is burning and my inbox is full of noise.

But then I touched one more hyper-link and the moral mist began to clear.

A letter of 'support' and 'solidarity' to His Excellency, Daniel Taub, the Israeli Ambassador to the Court of St James, signed jointly by everyone who is anyone in the UK Jewish establishment. You can read the whole thing here and view all of the signatories on the Jewish Leadership Council website. Here's an extract though:

Over the past decade we have rallied together in support of Israel under the banner of ‘Yes to Peace, No to Terror and No to Hamas’. The current Operation Pillar of Defence is an entirely understandable response to the intolerable assault upon the citizens of Southern Israel and the continued provocations of Hamas – an antisemitic terrorist organisation.
We take pride in the commitment of Israel’s political and military leadership to leave no stone unturned in seeking to avoid civilian casualties and remain true to the Jewish ethical ethos that underpins the doctrine of the IDF.

No nuance. No subtlety. No history. No context.

One side (ours) is totally innocent. The other side (theirs) are nothing more than anti-Semitic terrorists whose only motivation is pathological hatred. Our response is 'entirelly understanable' while their behaviour is totally incomprehensible.

Nothing conflicted in their inbox, that's for sure.

So where exactly is the reconciliation strategy? Where is the pursuit of justice? Where are the negotiation skills? Where is the greater vision?

And where, dear God, are the universal Jewish ethics I was taught by these very same Jewish institutions?

Why is there such a catastrophic mismatch between Jewish teaching and Jewish behaviour when it comes to actions by the State of Israel?

This is the same IDF that allowed 318 children to be killed in three weeks of bombardment of Gaza in 2008/9. This is the same Israel that has blockaded air, land and sea around Gaza since 2005 destroying any chance of a normal economy developing and undermining any remaining social cohesion. This is the same Israel that condemns 'unilateral action' by Palestinians at the United Nations while unilaterally announcing expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the same month.

Gaza is in conflict with a powerful neighbour which is armed with the most sophisticated military hardware on the planet and a highly trained army and airforce. However, the slightest use of force against the Israelis plays into their hands allowing the narrative of illegitimate terror verses legitimate defence to continue to be played out. But I cannot accept that Gaza's force is always immoral while Israel's is always just.

The UK Jewish establishment is once again failing itself, the Jews it claims to represent and indeed the best interests of Israelis. They have once again climbed to a giddy height of denial about the role Israel has played, and is playing, in the decades long oppression of the Palestinian people.

By 'circling the wagons' and refusing to express the slightest independence from Jerusalem's hard line, our 'leadership' is ripping to shreds three thousand years of Jewish ethical tradition because all that matters is to demonstrate 'solidarity' and 'support'.

As I've said many times on this blog, if there had been less 'solidarity' and less 'support' coming from the Jewish diaspora over the last forty years, I doubt Israel would be the pariah state it has become in the eyes of most of the world.

So, rather than writing letters such as this to the Israeli Ambassador, I would recommend that our leadership learns to become more conflicted and more confused. It's a much healthier state of mind. And I strongly suspect it would reflect the thinking of far more UK Jews than they would ever care to admit.

Gaza is burning and my inbox is full of noise. And thank God for that noise.

In the meantime, can we all remember that narrow Jewish nationalism is not the core message from  Judaism's heritage. The prophetic vision we should be hanging onto is this:

"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah 2:4


  1. Nice piece, Robert.

    So much information, so many rival stories. You have to stick to basic principles to understand anything.

    If Israel's problem is that Gazans hate it, the solution seems designed to make things worse.

  2. Beautiful writing and beautiful sentiments; thank you.

    But I think that very, very soon you're going to find yourself less edgy and more mainstream -- though without, of course, you yourself having changed your position. I have a strong intuition that many more people in this country are now following you through you paradigm shift, and I look forward to the rendez-vous on the other side.

  3. Lovely post, thank you. As a Christian who has read what I believe amounts to the Jewish scriptures (what I call the Old Testament) I am often struck by the contrast between the compassion for "the stranger in your land" that is required under the law and the actions of the State of Israel. At the moment both Israel and Hammas see each other as 'other' which enables them to demonise them and stir up hatred against them and the current conflict prolongs this state of affairs. Until the sides sit down together and see each other as human beings who share a common ancestry in Abraham (be it literal or spiritual) peace will never be reached. For so long it looked as if a similar situation in Northern Ireland could never be resloved but progress has been made so I still look forward to the time when Arab and Jew will greet each other with the one word, Shalom.

    1. We do indeed look forward to this time of peaceful greeting, but I regret I find little indication in this post that you understand the situation.

      The violence is not rooted some mutual inability to recognize the humanity of the other; this, if it exists at all, is a mere by-product. As Micahsparadigmshift is entirely clear, the root is the occupation, apartheid, and industrial-scale oppression.

      Listen to the audio from Gaza: the constant sound of circling drones, and periodic bombardment. It is a terrifying sound, and moreover a *new* sound in human history. A new incarnation of inhuman warfare -- literally inhuman, since the drones are artificially intelligent -- waged against a defenseless population. Listen to the role call of the names and ages of the dead; the deaths of babies, pregnant women, the elderly.

      With this sounding in my ear, your passive warm wishes ring false. By effacing the overweening military superiority of Israel, you side with the oppressor. You are right, though, that the actions of the state of Israel belie the ethical and religious code upon which it is supposed to be based.

    2. Anonymous, In a short comment on a post I couldn't include all of the little that I know about the situation in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. All I was doing was making 2 simple points: 1) about the failure of Israel to live according to its own religious law and 2) how the 2 sides have no level of interaction which enables them to demonise the other.

      I do agree with you 100% about the horror of drone attacks (which reduce war and killing to a computer game) and the terrible situation in Gaza; if you read anything else into my comment I apologise - it wasn't meant to read like that. The majority of those killed or injured appear, from this distance, to be civilians who have taken no part in the firing of rockets into Israel and this, in my opinion, amounts to a war crime.

      However Israel points out that Hamas fire rockets into Israel that are intended to kill and maim their population which could also be regarded as a war crime. You rightly point out Israel has an overwhelming military advantage over Hamas which it is abusing but if the situation was reversed would it lead to less loss of innocent life? I don't know the answer and I pray that it would but fear that it wouldn't.

      As a matter of principle my wife and I don't buy any products that come from Israel and do, when possible, buy products that come from the occupied territories so although we are not in a position to stop the fighting we do a tiny bit to support the Palestinian people.

  4. Great post. I like 'catastrophic mismatch' as an explanation of my own increasing dissonance with official Jewish positions. I did hesitate over your initial contrived symmetry, when you mentioned air raid shelters in Gaza. I don't believe there are any.