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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

My Minute of Rage for Gaza and Israel

Israel's opponents regularly proclaim a Day of Rage against Israel. I am on the Tube to work and (even allowing for possible delays on the Northern Line), I therefore don't have day today to devote to rage. I only have a minute.

So, with even The Guardian (hardly a pro-Israeli newspaper) having reported yesterday (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/19/israel-launches-air-strikes-gaza-ceasefire) that: "The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was in jeopardy on Tuesday after rockets were fired from Gaza, triggering a swift military and political response from Israel", that clear, and simple reality (that, in the middle of a ceasefire - in the middle, indeed of actual peace talks - Hamas had started firing missiles at people living in Israel, prompting Israel to respond by firing back, as what country wouldn't) had been lost by yesterday evening (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28857012) and even further lost by this morning (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28862595).

We are now, already, back to "as hostilities resumed, both sides blamed the other", with parts of the media sounding like a parent saying to two children: "I don't care who started it. Just both stop it at once. And Israel, even if Hamas DID hit you, there was no need for you to hit him back so hard, especially as you're his big brother and you know you're stronger than him."

This idea that it doesn't matter who started a conflict and that doubtless both sides are to blame, with a lot of right and wrong on both sides, is well-intentioned but can be nonsense. I posted a piece by someone else saying Don't Take Sides a few weeks ago and an eminent Lib Dem colleague, one with great experience of conflict-resolution, gently pointed out that, sometimes, it actually is necessary to take sides in a conflict, on occasions when one side is clearly in the right and the other is clearly in the wrong. He was right. It is when people on each side genuinely seek peace from the perspective of their side that both sides can actually make peace.

There are three approaches that don't help. One is to say: "You're both right." Another is to say: "You're both wrong." A third is to say to one side: "You are completely wrong and the other is completely right and I condemn you."

Surely the better approach is to say to the two sides: "You have competing claims. You each accuse the other of perpetrating injustices, and some of those accusations are justified. It is possible that one of you has a bigger grievance than the other, and commentators disagree as to which of you that is. One side might claim that its arguments do not get a fair hearing and that the world is biased against it. The only way for you to resolve your competing claims is for you to find some way to negotiate an agreement based each side getting some of the things that matter most to it, with painful compromises from both sides."
That is not the same as refusing to take sides and the politics of "I don't care who started it - just both stop." I DO care who started it. The venting of anger about who started it is part of the process of encouraging the parties to make peace. So, returning to my Minute of Rage, why - why - did Hamas end the ceasefire by firing missiles at Israel? Given that Hamas knew what the Israeli response to be, why did they do it? Was it because they see a continuation of the war as being likely to bring them greater prizes than were available under the terms of the deal that was being agreed at the talks? Having started this new phase of the conflict by firing missiles at people living in Israel, Hamas bears responsibility for the deaths of anyone killed in the consequent Israeli response.

In firing its missiles, Hamas is aiming to kill as many people in Israel as possible; the fact that the missiles rarely hurt or kill anyone (partly because of good missile-defence and air-raid shelters) is beside the point. In firing its missiles and so inviting a defensive response from Israel, Hamas knows that it is prompting the deaths of so many Palestinian civilians, and that is an absolute tragedy - and it is a tragedy that, in my Minute of Rage, I lay at the door of Hamas.

I rage also at the fact that thousands if not millions of people living in Israel (including members of my own family) are now again hearing sirens and running for shelter. I've been receiving emails from people in Israel who cannot stray far from the house when out walking for fear of not being close to an air-raid shelter when a Hamas bomb falls. Thousands, if not millions, of people are living through this in Israel. Try sparing them a thought when you see pictures of the Palestinian people killed and wounded in Israel's response to the missiles fired by Hamas. And yes of course I call for Israel to continue to do what it can to minimise civilian casualties - Israel, unlike Hamas, is not deliberately aiming to kill civilians when it fires.

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