There are few issues I have witnessed on BBC’s Question time more emotionally polarizing than the most recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Even the normally robust chairmanship of Jonathan Dimbleby was briefly unequal to the flurry of rising hackles and bad-tempered heckles from the studio audience.
I can understand a contrary position if you are a fundamentalist Christian and therefore have a vested interest in watching biblical prophecy unfold (“have you not read your bible” was the retort of one Question Time audience member last week).
But that, and the blind holocaust sympathy vote aside, the readiness of decent, honest British citizens to proffer justifications for clearly disproportionate, and in some cases illegal, acts of warfare against civilians which in any other context would be condemned, quite baffles me.
It is a bafflement that only deepens in the context of Israel’s behaviour since it’s inception in 1948 and the religiously-sourced, supremacist ideology on which the state is built.
Defensive action taken by a nation to protect territorial integrity and the safety of its people is a legal right that few would dispute, but as the decades of defiance towards the UN, illegal settlements, and piecemeal annexation proceed, it becomes ever clearer that Israel seeks more than just the security of it’s internationally agreed borders. The raison d’etre of the Israeli state is predicated on a claimed historic entitlement to all of Palestine and it is this, not such feeble attempts at resistance that the Qassam Rockets of Hamas fighters represent which drives that country’s military agenda.
The overwhelming fact that demands to be acknowledged and which is frequently, knowingly, and therefore quite scandalously buried amid all the finger pointing and trading of blame for outbursts of violence is that Israel is an occupying power which remains in contravention of International Law.
While the world’s diplomats endlessly manoeuvre, and the initiatives come and go. While otherwise respectable politicians excuse the inexcusable and the aid agencies continue to plug what gaps they can, more West Bank settlements are built and become consolidated, and the slow strangulation of the region’s Arabs goes on.
Until the truth of Israel’s larger project is given proper focus, the agony of Palestinians will continue, it’s angriest people will persist in acting out what futile forms of resistant it can muster, and the propaganda-fuelled polarisation of public opinion will continue to rage.
The support Israel receives from the US and Britain may well perhaps reflect a deeper, darker instinct for solidarity with a supremacist agenda. It is this which has, after all, shaped the growth and prosperity of both these nations. But at least the conversation on such an intractable problem should take place against a background of knowledge not ignorance, of widespread familiarity with the reality and not the fog of deceptions and propaganda.
The US clearly stand as the biggest obstacle to such clarity and it is the sheer weight of it’s Israeli lobby, and it’s pervasive influence in those heady places of money and power that most determines America’s acquiescence in the behaviour of what is essentially a rogue state. A state which, as recent events show, can more or less act as it chooses, with impunity.
Such influence may yet lead to the future annexation of Palestine and an expanded American-backed militarization of adjacent Arab states, but there is some reason to hope, after Obama’s inaugural speech invoking ideals and principles as well as military might, that the core issue of the middle east will be properly acknowledged, its facts elucidated to the public at large, and an aggressive Israel dealt with for what it really is.