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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On the poisoning of the wells: the Accompaniment Programme comes to church (part 1)

On Pentecost Sunday the two members of my church who have participated in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel gave a presentation on church (I've already posted my reaction to their written statements). Let's not beat about the bush: I wasn't expecting a balanced account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I didn't get one. Indeed these two idealistic people seem to have convinced themselves that presenting one-sided propaganda is a positive moral imperative for them - but more of that later.

I'll begin by dealing relatively briefly with three fairly predictable manifestations of propaganda, before going on to a more detailed examination of one which took me aback.

1. The security barrier

Photographs of the barrier looking ugly and menacing (though not quite as ugly as the scene of a suicide bombing), maps showing how far it strays from the Green Line, descriptions of the hardships it inflicts on Palestinian farmers. Not a word about its life-saving function from the Israeli perspective. Or only very indirectly: figures for Israeli and Palestinian fatalities in 2006 were compared in order to make the point that Israeli use of force is disproportionate - not, of course, to make the point that the barrier has been remarkably successful in reducing what would otherwise have been a far higher toll of Israeli civilian lives. Lest we forget, the last suicide bomber to make a successful entry into Israel crossed the barrier-free border with Jordan.

Clearly the barrier is not the best thing since sliced bread. I would like nothing better than to see simultaneous commitments by Palestinian militant groups to stop sending suicide bombers into Israel and by the Israeli government to pull down the barrier. What was said about the barrier was not wrong, but it was only half of the story. And to the extent that the half of the story which concerns Israeli civilian lives is considered too unimportant to mention, I feel I am being told something not very attractive about what the self-styled peace movement understands by 'peace'.

2. Whose racism?

We heard about racist Jews in Israel, but not that Hamas is an organization with an overtly anti-Semitic ideology.

It's not as if EAPPI haven't had direct experience of the bigotry of some Palestinians. Last year, when the 'Mohammed cartoons' affair blew up, their Danish volunteers had to be sent home for their own safety, and even now, although there are several Norwegian and Swedish accompaniers, there are no Danes. But the only bigotry we heard about in church was Jewish bigotry.

3. Whose refugees?

We were told about the Palestinians expelled from Israel in 1948, but not about the similar number of Jews ethnically cleansed from the rest of the Middle East. Still less was a significant difference between the two cases pointed out: whereas today there are over a million Arabs living in Israel - those who chose to stay put in 1948 and were not expelled, plus their descendants - the Arab nations are by now virtually judenfrei. A loaded word, that last one, and not to be used lightly, but surely a salutary one for those who feel free to liken the Israelis to the Nazis. And perhaps especially salutary for Germans who feel free to liken the Israelis to the Nazis - to whom I commend this link.

Since so many on the Left acclaim Hezbollah as a resistance movement, it should be recalled that the small Jewish community which hung on in Lebanon until the 1980s was then helped on its way by a spate of kidnappings and murders conducted by that very same Hezbollah.

And what was it that took me by surprise? Find out in Part 2...

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