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Peace postponed between Israelis and Palestinians

21 May 2021

IT IS a common charge by Jews in the UK that there is an anti-Semitic root to the interest that people in the UK show in events in Israel. Where is the equivalent concern, they ask, about conflict in Syria, or Ukraine, or any number of African countries? Each, in their turn, has attracted the public’s attention, but any imbalance of interest could just as probably be caused by a racist expectation that conflict is a natural aspect of life in those other parts of the world. The fact that conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not seen as their natural state — despite the weight of evidence — is the result of several elements, not least the ability of Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin to live side by side with Jewish neighbours, although this is currently under threat. This present conflict shares with its precursors many demonstrations of solidarity between right-thinking Jews and Arabs, seldom reported.

Israel’s democracy, too, creates an expectation that change for the better is just an election away. Unfortunately, this is a misreading of the present state of Israeli politics. Although the elections come thick and fast, each is followed by a desperate scramble to form a governing coalition, in which minority right-wing parties end up exerting an unhealthy influence. Their hegemonic settlement programme, winked at by the Trump administration, weakly condemned by other nations, is a contributory factor in this latest conflict — as aggressive, in its way, as the missiles targeted on Gaza. There is little wonder that the Palestinian leadership no longer looks to the United States and Western governments for support in its bid for statehood.

The unwillingness to agree a ceasefire — at the time of writing — is, on the face of it, shocking in the light of the senseless casualties of this latest outburst of violence. Those deaths, however, make a ceasefire more difficult: with no clear military objectives to gain or concede, the indiscriminate attacks on each other’s populations become a reason for retaliatory action. The UN fact-finding mission after a previous round of violence in 2009 concluded that the rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups into Israel constituted “a deliberate attack against the civilian population”, and therefore a war crime. Similarly: “The Israeli operations were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”

The final reason for the supposedly undue interest in this region is that it is, of course, holy land to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. God’s love for humanity knows no geographical limits; but the history of this land, and the stories attached to it, mean that people of the three Abrahamic faiths cannot avoid being connected to it. It is a tragedy that this common bond of faith, which ought to be the strongest motivation for them all, should be so easily broken.

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