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Paul Vallely: US hugs Israel close while Gaza burns

18 May 2018

Trump cares more about domestic politics than peace, says Paul Vallely


Palestinian protesters use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Gaza border, on Monday

Palestinian protesters use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Gaza border, on Monday

THE White House claimed that the violence that erupted this week along the Gaza border, on the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, was the fault of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The statistics tell their own story: no Israelis were killed in the incidents, whereas 60 Palestinians died, and 2700 more were injured. The television pictures showed why: Israeli soldiers were using live bullets while the Arabs were responding with stones hurled from slings. It was a conflict as unequal as that of David and Goliath, except that, this time, disproportionate military might has prevailed.

Tear gas, water cannons, and other non-lethal measures were not used, it was claimed, because the deaths were a deliberate tactic of Israel which two Israeli academics, Professor Efraim Inbar, and Dr Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, have described as a calculated strategy known in Israeli counter-terrorism circles as “mowing the grass”.

It avows that Hamas’s leadership and military facilities must regularly be hit to keep them weak. Attacks on civilians and infrastructure remind Palestinian leaders that their people will pay a high price for attacking Israel.

“Our greatest hope is for peace,” President Trump declared by video link at the opening ceremony of the United States embassy, as it moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: an initiative that incensed Palestinians and was criticised by other Western governments (News, 15 December 2017). The controversial move broke with decades of US policy of trying to act as an honest broker between Israelis and Arabs. And there was little evidence of his much proclaimed grand Middle East peace plan.

Interestingly, there was a different top line in the press release issued by the White House to US journalists. “President Donald J. Trump keeps his promise,” it declared. The promise was one of his campaign pledges that had won him support among 81 per cent of white Evangelical Christians among the American electorate (News, 11 November 2016).

President Trump gave prominent positions in the official opening of the Jerusalem embassy to the Revd Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor who has denigrated Jews, Mormons, and Muslims; and the Revd John Hagee, a mega-church televangelist who has claimed that Hitler was descended from “half-breed Jews” and was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel.

For Christians, this should be alarming rather than just embarrassing. The move is only part of a pattern of aggressive unilateralism by the Trump administration, which has broken ranks with the international community not just over Jerusalem, but by, for example, pulling out of the nuclear-curtailment agreement with Iran and abrogating the Paris climate-change agreement.

The Israelis, no strangers to their own unilateral actions in creating illegal settlements in the West Bank, have responded by issuing a coin to commemorate the Jerusalem embassy switch. On it, the head of Donald Trump appears alongside that of Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem 2500 years ago. This gross piece of egregious flattery would be comical were it not all so tragically serious.

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