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Back in 2014, as the Pillar of Defence war slips into its 3rd or 4th ceasefire I returned to London to touch base with family and friends and restock valuable supplies of marmite and teabags. I managed to catch up with an old business school friend who at the time was a producer for Sky News.
We picked through a business lunch at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush and chatted casually about life and the usual post-graduate gossip. We managed to go a full two hours avoiding the whopping great elephant in the room, actually – as Basil Fawlty put it ‘I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it alright’.
It wasn’t like us, I’d been a very vocal Hasbara and they— well let’s just say they’d been uncharacteristically quiet on their social media accounts. I decided I wouldn’t bring up the war again, after all I knew we were at an uncomfortable stale-mate. The week before I’d been sitting in our bomb shelter at 5am clutching a peeved-off cat, and they were sitting in their old news room pushing a narrative that wasn’t only unbalanced, but aggressive.
I was trying to be diplomatic. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d lost a friend to my affiliation with the Jewish state, in 2012 a very close friend cut me out of their life after reading my facebook status against UN sanctions. They themselves worked at the UN.
As we waited for the waitress to return with a card machine, the question was sprung at me.
“So, what’s really going on in Israel?”
Given the fact we were about to go our separate ways—I question whether they really wanted to know; but in fairness they politely heard me out whilst we buttoned our coats. Not for a second did I believe that my experiences would be relayed back to the Sky News studio but it did confirm what I’d already deducted; they don’t know what’s really going on in Israel.
Does anyone? Bringing up the legitimacy of the controversial holy land will divide a room like the red sea. Strong opinions married with casual ignorance and the re-emergence of old fashioned anti-Semitism has made Europe a very scary place for not just Jews, but anyone who has spotted the reoccurring patterns from history.
The media takes much of the blame for this causal ignorance. For example: BBC Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen claimed he never witnessed Hamas using human shields whilst reporting from Gaza in 2014, despite video evidence and Hamas openly calling for human shields on Al-Aqsa TV. He may not have witnessed human shields just as I didn’t witness the fall of the Berlin wall; it’s a tactic used by journalists to plant seeds of thought into our minds leading us the conclusion they want us to reach; and because we’ve drawn the conclusion in essence, ourselves— we are more inclined to believe them and even defend them. Bowen isn’t making off-the-cuff observations; he’s leading the public to a lie.
Celebrities have also waded into the murky waters of this conflict on social media and they’re all too keen to spread unverified propaganda. Gary Lineker retweeted a video of Israeli soldiers capturing Palestinian teenagers and locking them up in a cage. Gary called the clip ‘sickening’ but what the clip was lacking wasn’t compassion it was context. The teenagers had been apprehended for throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers and the cage was actually a corridor at a checkpoint. The corridor led to an office where the teens would be processed before being released, and the reason it was cage-like was to protect soldiers from being attacked as they walked through.
Gary follows up the tweet with “I stress I’m not taking sides, but locking a bunch of youngsters in a cage is wrong.”
The trouble is Gary was given context. Jerusalem-based political analyst, Emanuel Miller made a video at this exact checkpoint showing the stuffy cage Mr Lineker referred to as actually the soldiers’ access passageway. Even now, he refuses to concede making a basic error.
Crimes against Palestinians in Jordan, Egypt and even by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas rarely get reported by the left leaning press. They won’t get retweeted by Gary Lineker and there will be no marches in London to show solidarity. Being gay in Gaza is an executable offence, anyone accused of being an Israeli spy is executed in the street without trial and honour killings are not uncommon. In the West Bank Children are coerced into violent clashes with Israeli soldiers and in 2012 Hamas officials admitted 160 children had been killed digging ‘terror tunnels’ into Israel.
Why aren’t we talking about this? If we really cared about the human rights of the Palestinians why isn’t the UN doing more to dislodge Hamas’s destructive hold on Gaza, or challenging the motives of Mahmoud Abbas as he enters the 13th year of his 4 year term?
We’re not really talking about Israel. We’re just attacking it.
Israel came under global scrutiny again when Trump followed through on a campaign promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. A promise made by Clinton, Bush and Obama during their election campaigns. Foreign leaders warned Donald Trump that his plans to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would escalate tensions in the region and undermine efforts to broker peace. Pope Francis also expressed his deep concerns which left me wondering what version of the bible he’s been reading. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital long before Rome was Italy’s.
Perhaps this is where we, in the west, having been getting things wrong. Peace won’t come from down-playing the rights of the Jewish state. Peace can only be achieved by recognising its right to exist. Disproportionately criticizing Israel hasn’t helped the Palestinians, in fact, quite the opposite. We’ve been shining a light on one side of this conflict and only holding one side accountable whilst the other plays cowboy politics and violates the human rights of its own people.
We need to start talking, not delicately but honesty and candidly about all sides to this conflict, because until we do— peace will be unattainable.