Much of the world says: the Jewish people have been historic standard-bearers for civilisation. Does Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in Gaza represent that — or barbarism?
Were the world’s attention not overwhelmingly fixed on the fate of Flight MH17, it would have more to say about that of the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza. Bombed and battered by Israeli air and firepower, they are dying in scores, victims alike of their own leadership and Israeli ruthlessness.
Some of the dead are Hamas fighters. But many others are women, children, the helpless old. Israel is exacting vengeance at its usual tariff for Hamas rocketing, and the murder of three Israeli students by terrorists. For each Israeli killed, the lives of many times that number of Palestinians are forfeit.
Israel says: they started it; we have a right to retribution. But much of the world says: the Jewish people have been historic standard-bearers for civilisation. Does
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in Gaza represent that — or instead barbarism?
Israel’s tragedy is that the only democracy in the Middle East has fallen prey to a succession of Right-wing governments, which derive much of their electoral strength from Russian emigres and extremist religious parties.
A historian friend, himself a Jew and an uncommonly astute observer of the world, said to me a while back: ‘Consciously or unconsciously, Israel has decided that it prefers a state of permanent war to making the concessions to the Palestinians that would be indispensable to any chance of peace.’
Israel has become more inward-looking, less receptive to foreign opinion, than at any time in its history. Its economy is booming. Tel Aviv boasts a thrillingly buzzy café culture. Barack Obama, the only recent U. president to try to persuade Jerusalem to moderate its policies, has been thwarted by Netanyahu and his friends in the US Congress.
Few Israelis seem to show much concern for world discomfort about the bombardment of Gaza, and indeed about their policies towards the Palestinians.
Yet even so, many other Jews are deeply dismayed. Three years ago, a team of Israeli documentary-makers produced a brilliant film about the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank entitled The Gatekeepers. For this, they persuaded five former heads of the Shin Bet, the nation’s security service, to be interviewed on camera.
The outcome was fascinating, and devastating. Each chief in turn described the ruthless policies he had enforced to sustain Israeli dominance. Most agreed that repression had been counter-productive.
Part of the explanation, they said, was that since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish fanatic back in 1995, no Jerusalem government has pursued a serious political strategy for peace.
The security forces have simply been left to impose varying degrees of repression, while Jewish settlers grab ever-larger areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem. In a remarkable moment of frankness, one former Shin Bet chief said: ‘Occupation has made us a cruel people.’