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Leader comment: Israel-Gaza: an appeal to common humanity

08 December 2023

IN THE past month, we have reported on three rallies in London. The first called for a cessation of the attacks in Gaza, interpreted by many as a pro-Palestinian march; the second opposed anti-Semitism, interpreted by many as being pro-Israel; and a third, the Together for Humanity vigil. This last, the smaller of the three, was, none the less, the most important, since it represented almost certainly the majority view: that sympathy and concern must be extended to all Israelis touched by the Hamas atrocities on 7 October — and to all who have been injured, bereaved, or made homeless in Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli response. Typical of the speakers on Sunday — who included Jews, Muslims, and Christians, as well as people of all political persuasions — was the Liberal MP Layla Moran, who told the crowd that she had just heard the news that one of her family, sheltering in a church in Gaza, had died without medical treatment. Yet, she said, the answer was “not to blame, not to hate. It’s to dig deep into compassion, and it’s to find our common humanity, and to not play politics, and to rise above it, and say: ‘We don’t stand for this any more.’”

The temptation of binary thinking has bedevilled Middle Eastern politics for decades, especially because both sides can tap into the fear-driven status of a beleaguered minority: the Palestinians threatened by the powerful and well-funded Israeli military, the Israelis surrounded by hostile Arab nations. And thus attempts to compromise, to negotiate, to accommodate have been repeatedly undone by politicians and extremists (and extremist politicians) who cite the examples of untrustworthiness provided so liberally by the other side. Such relentless hostility long ago sabotaged the most viable, one-state solution, where Palestinian and Jewish leaders would have acknowledged how their political, economic, and social interests so obviously combined, and is currently pushing the two-state solution further into the unimaginable future.

The message of Sunday’s vigil is that any attempt to depict sympathy, or even activism, for one side as disloyalty to, or betrayal of, the other should be resisted. Both the Israeli and Palestinian communities are suffering, besides watching their representatives cause suffering. It is perfectly reasonable to condemn utterly the Hamas attacks and, at the same time, criticise the Israeli government’s policy of making large tracts of Gaza uninhabitable and the lives of the Gazans insupportable. As for people outside the region, it is incumbent on them to be informed of all aspects of the situation before offering an opinion. But any solution to a political problem that involves killing innocent people should be resisted more vigorously than it has been. If Ms Moran is right to talk of “our common humanity”, those currently engaged in the conflict ought to take more heed of voices that seek to remind them of this humanity.

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