Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Owen Jones was wrong about Gaza

Twitter went mental. Finally, here was somebody saying what a lot of people in the country – particularly on the Left – were thinking. Why on earth had William Hague, Barack Obama, and the leaders of other democratic countries been supporting Israel's bombardment of Gaza? I mean, America people could understand. But France? Europe? Britain? Where was the normal condemnation of the Jewish state? Why were Iain Duncan Smith, Yvette Cooper, Charles Kennedy and Deborah Meaden sticking up for Israel? What was going on? Bias, surely. Bias.

Let's face it: Owen Jones's diatribe on Gaza last week was an excellent piece of rhetoric, magnificently delivered, and full of substance. (By evoking the image of a dead Palestinian baby he weakened his argument, to be sure, as it was clearly a disingenuous attempt to tug the heart-strings: what about the Israeli babies, of which there have been many? He also weakened it by citing three statement by Israeli hard-Right nutters, of which there are a few, and none by Hamas hard-Right nutters, of which there are far more.) Nevertheless, compared to much of the rabid fact-warping that we have seen from the pro-Palestinian lobby recently, Jones's performance was decent, factually correct (if selective) and reasonable. As I have argued before, the Middle East conflict is an issue on which good people can disagree. But I – and the leaders of the most influential democracies of the world – think Owen was wrong.
In a nutshell, this is why. All of the "occupied territory" was taken when Israel was attacked, en masse, by an Arab world with genocidal intent. It happened in 1948, immediately after Israel was established. It happened again in 1967. It happened in 1973, when Israel was very nearly obliterated and suffered heavy losses. In each of these three occasions, Israel was attacked by an Arab coalition drunken with hatred; the Jewish state managed, against the odds, to defend itself, gaining territory in the process. Most of that territory – such as the oil-rich Sinai, and Gaza – was returned, often in return for peace. The subsequent wars, some of which Israel instigated in response to various acts of terror, did not result in significant territorial conquest; or if it did, the territory was immediately returned.
Admittedly, there is much of the West Bank that remains under Israeli control. Partially, this is because of legitimate security concerns. If Israel were to withdraw from all the territory it occupied in those early wars, it would have a waist so narrow that a plane could pass overhead, from border to border, in just a few minutes. This would clearly make the country vulnerable; if the Arabs were to attack again, Israel would likely be split in two, which would unquestionably herald its destruction.
But another principle reason that Israel has not withdrawn from areas of the West Bank is because of the ambitions of the right of the political spectrum to establish a "greater Israel". This is a problem; in my view the settlements must first be frozen, and then, following successful negotiation, partially dismantled, as a step towards realising the damned elusive two-state solution.
But the fact remains that when Owen Jones laid the blame for the conflict solely at Israel's doorstep, he was ignoring the fact that Israel's attitude towards its neighbours was forged in the flames of the multiple wars it fought for its survival. This, consolidated by the years of terror attacks on its civilian population, has led to a sense in which the Arab world – or sections of it – has a pathological hatred of the Jewish state, and also, to some extent, the Jews.
Supporters of Israel often state that if the Arab militants were to put down their arms, there would be peace; if Israel were to put down arms, however, there would be a massacre. In my view, this contains a kernel of truth. Before Owen Jones talks so confidently about the Middle East, and argues so adamantly that Israel is to blame for this most recent conflict and all the others, he would do well to consider the fact that Israeli civilians have been attacked again and again over the years by an enemy that is unequivocally committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of everybody in it. These attacks are not motivated out of a mere wish for freedom. They are motivated – as evidenced by the constant rocket attacks, and this picture from Gaza, and this one – by genocidal hatred. This is the threat that Israel faces. And, as we have seen in Afghanistan and on the streets of London, we face it too.

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