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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Saint and Martyr

The Guardian again. On Friday we got the ‘George Bush takes orders from God’ story, which turns out to be two years old as well being based on distinctly questionable evidence.

Risible though the paper may find the notion of a world leader seeking to know and do the will of God, martyrology is right up its street. On Saturday the relics presented for veneration were those of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist killed bv an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003. The circumstances of her death remain controversial (here is one view). So who better to give us a balanced and objective assessment than… her parents?

I won’t attempt to adjudicate between the accounts of her death. What I do know is that she was acting under the aegis of an organization which claims the mantle of Gandhi and Martin Luther King whilst endorsing Palestinian terrorism. Its activists seek to obstruct the Israeli army’s anti-terrorism operations. They don’t try to make any difficulties for the terrorists.

A stock in trade of war propaganda is the portrayal of the enemy as brutally destructive of the domestic and the familial. I’ve noted this in Christian Aid material (e.g. the Child of Bethlehem Christmas appeal, or the photo spread juxtaposing an armed Israeli soldier with Palestinian mothers holding their babies), and here it turns up as an insistent theme in the Guardian. Soldiers invading a family home and defiling it with their waste products (see the last posting). The brave young activist trying to save another home from demolition. And the grieving parents.

Did that policeman killed by Hamas have a home and a family? Has the Guardian paid a visit?

My opening salvo against Christian Aid was a letter I sent them early in 2003. I also circulated this to some of my friends, one of whom replied disagreeing strongly with my criticisms. It may be pertinent that she works for another major aid agency. Not long afterwards Rachel Corrie died, and extracts from her letters home were published in the Guardian, prompting my friend to send me an emotional e-mail asking what I thought Jesus would say. I sent her a reply, but in retrospect I prefer this more strongly-worded version which I drafted but never sent:-

‘Dear ***

‘Please re-read my letter to Christian Aid if it has left you with the impression that I condone Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank. I honestly don't. As for Jesus, I think he gives us more questions than answers, and I certainly have no hotline to his opinions. But he did say "love your enemy", and it's the hardest of hard sayings.

‘For the Israelis it means understanding (as Rachel Corrie did) how the conditions she describes can lead people to feel justified in blowing teenagers up in restaurants and buses. For the Palestinians it means understanding how the Jews' experience has led them to be uncompromising in defending the security of their state. Did Rachel understand this too? I'm reluctant to speak ill of the dead, but you have asked my opinion about her e-mails. They make manifest her courage and sincerity; they also reveal the type of mind in which there was room for only one evil. That is an entirely understandable failing in an idealistic 23-year-old. When such an outlook grips an entire region and a global faith community, I think that in the name of reason and tolerance it should be challenged.

‘She says that her experiences were causing her to revise her belief in the goodness of human nature. Did she learn nothing about the Holocaust at school? Did she not inform herself about Saddam Hussein's record before setting out for the Middle East?

‘The whole Middle East question has clearly exposed raw nerves in you and me and countless other people. What touched on one of mine in Rachel Corrie's e-mails was the section where she suggests that the repression of the Palestinians should be called genocide. I'm strongly reminded of Howard Jacobson's in my opinion brilliant pieces in the Independent, where one of his themes is the importance of maintaining distinctions.

‘The word 'genocide' was coined in response to what must surely be the most profoundly and unequivocally evil crime in human history. It is properly applied to a relatively small number of comparable crimes. There is a reasonable case for applying it to the 5000 unarmed civilians killed at Halabja (and yes, to our shame we were arming Saddam at the time). It is not reasonably applied to the 2000-plus Palestinians killed in the course of a conflict in which terrorism has been used without restraint against Israeli civilians.

‘To paraphrase Jacobson's argument, bad things are bad but worse things are still worse, and they are not the same. Bulldozing houses is awful and gassing their occupants is worse.

‘If we're looking for evidence of western double standards we could perhaps ask what is being done about the civil war in the Sudan, in which two million people are thought to have died. But of course that's not a question much asked by the people demonstrating in Cairo or Sana.’

1 comment:

Neal said...

Cyrus,

While I would not endorse every word you have written, I think you have, over all, written a brilliant comment. Bravo!