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Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Friday, July 21, 2006


This is obviously no time for someone blogging on the Middle East to take a break, but nevertheless I'm doing just that. Back on or after 31 August. Prayers for peace can and should continue meanwhile.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Don't mention the H-word

Of course it gets a lot worse than Rowan Williams. Like the World Alliance of Reformed Churches issuing a statement on Lebanon which doesn't mention Hezbollah at all.

The man who gives them their missiles

'We don't want to confirm or deny the Holocaust. We oppose every type of crime against any people. But we want to know whether this crime actually took place or not. If it did, then those who bear the responsibility for it have to be punished, and not the Palestinians. Why isn't research into a deed that occurred 60 years ago permitted? After all, other historical occurrences, some of which lie several thousand years in the past, are open to research, and even the governments support this.'

Whilst in a doctor's waiting room Mrs Cyrus came across President Ahmadinejad's interview with the Spiegel. It's a little hard to work out who is interviewing whom.

The Archbishop speaks

In writing my last post I didn't particularly have the Archbishop of Canterbury in mind, but the statement he issued yesterday turns out to be a good example of what I was complaining about: the cheap occupation of the moral high ground without confronting the moral issues.

The fact that the conflict began with an unprovoked attack by one side on the other is apparently of no significance to the Archbishop at all. The basic moral questions are dodged. Does Israel have the right to defend itself? Is that right circumscribed by the imperative never to risk killing civilians? If so, does it meaningfully exist at all?

Critics of a different persuasion would doubtless object that he has dodged the issue of proportionality, and I think they would have a point too. If he would first say clearly that the Hezbollah attack was indefensible and that Israel has right on its side in seeking to remove a serious threat to its security (and ultimately its existence), he would then be fully entitled to express concern about the way the exercise of that right is working out in practice. But nothing rises above the easy platitude of 'six of one, half a dozen of the other'.

There's one passage in the Archbishop's meassage that particularly bothers me:-

'I offer you every support in your efforts to bring it to an end and allow Lebanon to be, once again, a living message of co-existence and solidarity between different religious communities.'

A living message of what? This about a society in which an organization committed to wiping out the Jewish state not only has seats in the government but is permitted to maintain a private army, equipped with missiles to fire at Israel courtesy of a state headed by a Holocaust denier.

And what about the place of Lebanese Jews in that 'living message'? Lebanon had an estimated 20,000 Jews in 1948. Now there are a handful of old ladies. One of the final nails in the coffin of the Jewish community was the kidnapping and murder of prominent Jews in the 1980s by... Hezbollah. (source here)

Of course Lebanon has suffered an appalling setback in the past few days, but the Archbishop's view of what came before is absurdly rose-tinted. To have earned his encomium, the country would need to have summoned up the will to confront Hezbollah. To offer it regardless to a nation in which anti-Semitic violence is institutionalized is insensitive, to say the least.

The pattern has become familiar to me. On Holocaust Memorial Day Dr Williams says all the right things. But then he turns to his big project of Christian-Muslim dialogue, and they seem to get forgotten. On the one hand he is happy to help the project on its way by liberal application of the airbrush to Islamic realities. And on the other hand Jews become invisible except when they are tiresomely getting in the way. I just wish Dr Williams would spend a bit more time trying to put himself in Jewish shoes.

PS There's some good sense on the ethical issues here. And a good fisk of some nonsense from someone who should know better here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The right of Israel to self-defence

'No socialist group in Britain is saying what needs to be said today about the crisis in the Middle East. All the groups on the organised Left are busy denouncing Israel for its "aggression" against Gaza and Lebanon. Many are expressing their solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples. None are saying that Israel needs and deserves the support of the Left.'

Substitute 'liberal Christian' and 'Church' for 'socialist' and 'Left', and Eric Lee's post becomes one which I would be very happy to have written myself (see also his follow-up response to critics).

This is the point that can't be made to often:-

'Now image what happens if Hamas and Hizbollah win. They over-run the Jewish state, slaughtering and expelling its several million Jewish inhabitants. They create a reactionary theocratic dictatorship along the lines of their benefactor, Iran. No one benefits -- not the Jews, not the Arabs. This a result that only fascists could applaud.

'Some socialists are pacifists and oppose all wars. But most of us understand that sometimes a country has to fight. And sometimes two peoples go to war against each other, and we have to take sides. We look at the reasons behind the fighting and more important -- we look at the consequences of victory for one side or the other.'

The Israeli state is responsible for the security of its citizens. To deny this is to deny its legitimacy - which even Christian Aid officially do not do. Its exercise of this responsibility involves confronting organizations which do indeed deny its legitimacy and consider themselves justified in attacking it at any time in pursuit of its ultimate destruction. The issue is not just the kidnapping of a few soldiers, it is the attitudes and goals which motivate such actions. There is no basis for compromise with somebody who denies your right to exist. Whilst all states bear the same responsibility for their citizens, very few, if any, have to exercise it in anything like the same circumstances.

In these uniquely difficult circumstances, an important component of the Israeli government's responsibility is the need for wisdom in determining when restraint is called for, precisely because it best furthers the Israeli people's security. As Eric Lee notes, and many prefer to ignore, a great deal of restraint has indeed been exercised, but perhaps it has not been enough. It is vital that there is a debate both inside and outside Israel as to whether the Olmert administration has in fact acted wisely.

However, there should be no place in this debate for attitudes which blur or invert the moral responsibility for civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon. In achieving clarity on this, the first step is to acknowledge that Israel really, truly has suffered aggression. Once we have accepted that, three basic views on what Israel is or should be doing about it are available to us:-

1. Israel can and therefore should defend itself in ways that carry no risk of inflicting civilian casualties.

2. Israel has the right to defend itself even at the risk of inflicting civilian casualties.

3. Israel has no right to defend itself.

There is no fourth option. An illusion of a fourth position can, however, readily be created by not quite committing yourself to one of the three. Position 2 implies that you are prepared, in principle, to endorse the military actions which Israel is carrying out as I write - not very comfortable. Position 3 means you accept everything that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, al Qaida and co. would do to a defenceless Israel - only comfortable for those incapable of imagining something they haven't seen on TV. Given the threat to Israel from armed organizations operating out of civilian population centres, the empirical plausibility of position 1 is not obvious. But if you decide that, because it would be nice if it were true, you will behave as if you believed it, you have given yourself the luxury of permanently occupying the moral high ground without ever having to dirty your hands with the choice between positions 2 and 3. This is a stance which seems irresistible to a certain kind of Christian. But, to make the point absolutely clear, it is morally dishonest.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Comrade Steele again

The massacre of 40 Sunnis in Baghdad is of course an appalling crime. But it's funny (and I don't mean ha ha) how this immediately 'revives fears of civil war' and sets Comrade Steele fretting about 'sectarian pogroms', whereas the massacre of 66 Shias last weekend passed - like scores of similar incidents - without any comment from him. Well, the Sunnis were killed by a 'rampage', which is presumably much. much worse than merely being blown up by a bomb - and in any case Comrade S. was far too busy last week talking the Israeli offensive in Gaza up into a terrorist outrage (so far the only deliberately murdered non-combattant has been an Israeli teenager) to spare a thought for victims of the legitimate resistance struggle in Iraq.

In the post I linked to on Friday, Eve Garrard writes 'It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr Steele's opinions about how to respond to political violence (and indeed about how to describe it) are entirely dependent on whether the violence in question is being practised by the side he supports.'

And it keeps getting harder.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Fisk of the day

OK, taking al-Grauniad's Jonathan Steele apart is perhaps not the most intellectually demanding of tasks, but Eve Garrard does it in style.

(update: I've been debating with someone who is less impressed than I am by EG's piece here)

Livingstone's Syndrome

Today's case of Livingstone's Syndrome (a close relation of Tourette's Syndrome, in which the sufferer experiences an overwhelming compulsion to tell Jews they are Nazis): hard on the heels of Lidice comes the Warsaw Ghetto:

'But destroying the only power source for a trapped and defenseless civilian population is an unprecedented step toward barbarity. It reeks, ironically, of the Warsaw Ghetto. As we flutter our hands about tectonic political change, we must take pause: in the eyes of history, what is happening in Gaza may come to eclipse them all.'

So tell us all about Israel's secret plans to ship the entire population of Gaza off to extermination camps, why don't you? Or maybe this alone is sufficient to substantiate the charge of Nazi-style inhumanity:

'And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops...'

This garbage emanated from Counterpunch, which is where it should stay. Where it doesn't belong is on Independent Catholic News, which has seen fit to quote an extract. To be fair they've left out the Warsaw Ghetto bit; I'd like to to think this was attributable to a sense of decency, but their track record makes this somewhat doubtful. If not Livingstone's Syndrome, then at least an acute case of Christian Aiditis...

Scrolling through ICN's headlines, I counted 14 features on the Holy Land between 1 June and 6 July. Apart from two neutral statements from the Vatican, all have an anti-Israel spin, presenting the Palestinians alone as innocent victims of the conflict. None focuses on terrorism, indeed the nearest any of them come to an explicit acknowledgment that it is an issue at all is this:-

'Israel froze VAT and customs taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas, which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and other countries, was elected to power and continued to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas will also not lay down its weapons in what it says is an armed struggle for liberation of its still-occupied territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.' (from)

So, terrorism or liberation struggle: take your pick as to how you want to 'label' the targetted killing of hundreds of civilians. Let's not be prescriptive here.

In the same period ICN carried one feature on Darfur.

As Christian Attitudes notes, a 2002 piece by the anti-Semite who goes under the pseudonym Israel Shamir is still in the ICN archive. The coverage of the alleged massacre at Jenin in the same year is also revealing. This appeared on 15 April 2002:

'Christian Aid [who else?] has received reports of Palestinian bodies being dumped in mass graves by Israeli soldiers, outside Jenin refugee camp, in the West Bank.'

The UN report published on 1 August finally placed it beyond doubt that these 'reports' were quite simply lies. You might think that, having given credence to this latter-day blood libel, ICN would have felt they had a duty to set the record straight. But you'd be wrong.

I'm pretty sure that the Pope is not much more impressed by this kind of thing than I am. There are times when one could wish he had as much authority over his flock as some of his predecessors.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What happened on Gaza Beach?

I pass no judgment on the conclusions (merely noting that certain newspapers seem to me to have gone rather quiet on the subject), but this is an impressive compilation of evidence on the Gaza Beach tragedy. (via Simply Jews)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Go to Harry's Place

There's a couple of great posts at Harry's Place today (both from Gene, and would that the new HP recruits were up to the standard of the originals - better fewer but better, to quote Lenin). A fascinating piece on the Entebbe hijack drama 30 years ago, and its sobering impact on sections of the German left. And a sample of Egyptian TV (watch the clips if you can) which is so scary that you just have to laugh.

Imagining massacres

'One might have thought Israel would have learned enough from history to know collective punishment is rarely effective. That was the lesson of the Second World War, when German attempts to cow the Czechs by the mass execution of the inhabitants of Lidice, for example, had the opposite effect.'

So begins a leader in today's Independent. If you fancy paying a quid to read the whole of it, the best of British to you.

Israeli forces have, as I write, killed five 'militants' and attacked infrastructure, the latter causing considerable hardship to Palestinian civilians, among whom are children and adults who do not condone terrorist murders of Israeli civilians. The wisdom and humanity of these actions is open to question, however sorely provoked Israel has been.

But since there has been nothing remotely resembling a mass execution, what purpose does the Lidice reference serve, other than to subliminally reinforce the 'Israelis are Nazis' equation?

Or maybe to express the unconscious wish that Israel should present its critics with a really juicy massacre. I've not forgotten how uncritically the Independent relayed reports of a massacre of (at least) Lidice proportions at Jenin, or how grudgingly it conceded that it had been feeding its readers propagandist lies. The incident was one of the key experiences that eventually led me to create this blog. [The BBC was no better: the day after the UN confirmed that the '500 killed' claim was fantasy, it quoted a Palestinian gunman who repeated the claim, without feeling it necessary to contest it.]

Actually, the Middle East did experience a mass execution over the weekend. Where are the indignant editorials in the Indie and the Grauniad, where are the tear-jerking accounts of shattered families from the BBC? Nowhere, of course. Wrong kind of massacre.