The saying goes that the first casualty of war is truth – but when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians it seems that it’s sanity that goes out of the window as the firing begins. This conflict is the political equivalent of LSD – distorting the senses of all those who come into contact with it, and sending them crazy.
For the first time in decades I find myself neither living the conflict nor working on matters concerned with it. But despite the five thousand miles between Washington and the Middle East, it is still able to exert a grip upon my attention and emotions, distracting me from work every few minutes to check online, on the latest developments. To paraphrase – you can take the boy out of Israel but you can’t take Israel out of the boy.
As I study the latest pictures on the internet, I try to identify where the missiles have struck in Israel, the location of the Iron Dome batteries, and the areas that have been hit in Gaza. My upbringing and experience of more than ten years living in Israel mean that I am not, and will never be, an impartial observer to the conflict or anything concerning the country and its neighbours. I feel guilty about not being there with friends and family, while at the same time harboring relief that Lysette and the girls aren’t enduring the fear of missiles falling from the sky.
But what I continue to find fascinating (and not in a good way) is how that this conflict manages to elicit such strong emotions and opinions even among people who are far removed from it by background, experience or location. And also how each new outburst of violence seems to be accompanied by increasingly stronger reactions. This stands in contrast to other parts of the world where the longer the conflict the greater the disinterest. While tens of thousands of civilians have died as a consequence of war in Syria, South Sudan and elsewhere, and while countless millions live under brutal oppression in North Korea and Iran, it is this diminutive triangle of real estate at the far end of the Mediterranean that rules the air-waves and the op-ed pages. Where people have failed to come out and demonstrate at the injustices being wrought in Aleppo, Pyongyang, Juba and Tehran, crowds have gathered in recent days to give vent to their anger, outrage and hatred (overwhelmingly directed at Israel).
When I was a journalist I concocted a theory to explain the disproportionate attention and passion afforded to Israel and the Palestinians. It is simply the Bible and Koran brought to life 24/7 on-line, on TV, Radio, and in print. Billions of people around the world, overwhelmingly Christians, Moslems, and Jews, know of the ‘Holy Land’ from their holy texts. They have imbibed the ‘notion’ of this place as an idea or representation of faith and identity, and have it as frame of reference. It may not bear any relationship to current realities, but it acts as a license for people to feel strongly about the here and now. Add to that, millennia of bloody history between the monotheistic faiths, as well as among them, post-colonial carve-ups, post-colonial guilt, anti-Semitism, philo-Semitism, Arab nationalism, Zionism, oil, water, demography, geography, Islamism, Islamophobia, secularism, fundamentalism, global power plays, local disputes, and much, much more – and you have the perfect cocktail for hallucinogenic properties of the this conflict.
And like an ageing hippy whose brain cells are addled from too many drugs, so every new outburst of conflict brings less coherence and makes the possibility of any reasonable discussion ever more impossible. Seemingly obvious and innocuous points such as the fate of civilians caught in conflict, the importance of intent in carrying out actions in war, the inexcusability of racism and more, are all lost in the foam-filled ranting of the impassioned. Nuanced views (such as in this recent piece in the Independent) are few and far between, and only seem to open up their proponents to abuse.
When conversations are reduced to screaming matches it is better to remain silent. I have been to Gaza more times than I can count, spent half a year living in Asheklon, spoken to Hamas’s leaders as well as much of Israel’s current leadership. But all this stands for nothing in the midst of the psychosis that has gripped people in the Middle East and far beyond, regarding this latest spasm of violence.
By way of conclusion, I remind myself that I was never interested in hallucinogens, and don’t intend to start ingesting them now.
Let me know why you think this conflict gathers such attention and if anything can be done to make any discussion of it more measured and less hysterical.