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    Here’s what I think: Israel and Palestine

    Of all the things one could possibly write about, this is almost certainly the most difficult. Israel / Palestine is probably the most intensely disputed piece of land on Earth, forming an integral part of the deeply-held religious beliefs, political ideologies, and personal identities of about half the world’s population. The escalation in tensions over the last month naturally caught the world’s eye, and therefore was of course the first thing I had to write about on my return from holiday.

    Here's what I think: Israel and Palestine 1
    Tom Cleaver

    Nuance and context are of paramount importance when it comes to this issue, arguably more than any other. There has been no shortage of absolutist takes in the past few weeks, and people have been lining up to give their opinions. However, as easy as it would be for me to simply rehash an Instagram infographic, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try to write a far less colourful, but hopefully more reasonable assessment of the situation.

    The latest tensions began with Israel cutting the cables used to broadcast the call to prayer from the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. This started a tit-for-tat of escalations and retaliations, which led to rockets being fired, first by “fringe Palestinian groups” and then by Israel, and culminating in shots being fired by the Israeli police at civilians outside the Al Aqsa Mosque. This episode ushered in a new level of escalation, with Israel firing seemingly at will into Gaza (and at civilian targets), and Hamas firing into the “iron dome”, Israel’s missile defence system.

    Israel insists that it must defend itself, and of course Israel has as much of a right to defend itself as any other country. The idea that Israel shouldn’t exist at all at this point simply doesn’t wash with me, and the perpetuation of this idea is unhelpful. However, in this situation one must look at the proportionality (or otherwise) of Israel’s actions. Hamas, or any group of destitute and angry people taking part in a protest, do not pose any threat whatsoever to the integrity of the state of Israel. Israel is far too powerful to be seriously endangered by any such organisation.

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    Furthermore, aiming missiles at journalists, schools, hospitals, and refugee camps does not make Israel more secure. It is simply cruel. The idea that Hamas may be hiding in all these locations is not particularly believable, and it should go without saying that it’s at the very least immoral to bomb children and sick people on the off chance.

    Aiming missiles at journalists, schools, hospitals, and refugee camps is simply cruel

    Israel is highly sensitive to criticism and often reacts badly to it, and given the history of the Jewish people, that is understandable. For far too much of history, and even today, “criticism” of the Jewish people, and later Israel, has been disingenuous, and thinly-veiled racism. However, when criticism is valid, Israel must learn to take it, and Israel’s allies must learn this, too. In a friendship, it is your responsibility to call your friends out on bad behaviour – this doesn’t change from primary school all the way up to international relations. Israel’s allies must make this point to Israel, and must push Israel towards doing better.

    I say this because Israel is in many regards not a rogue state. It has a generally good freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and is far more progressive when it comes to LGBT rights than all of its neighbours. Its treatment of Palestinians, however, is a huge blot on its copybook, and increasingly horrific. For all I wrote about Israel having a right to exist earlier, the Palestinian people also have a right to self-determination. This right is currently being denied to them.

    It is up to the international community to change this. Up against such a juggernaut of political power as Israel, the Palestinians are powerless to do anything about their plight. If Israel is unwilling to give Palestinians the right to self-determination, then the international community should pressure them to change that. Because the current situation is unacceptable, and increasingly so.

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