In 1942 the value of a Jewish life in the Belorussian Village of Domochevo was established at a kilo of sugar or salt. This was the price paid by the Nazis to local people for informing on the whereabouts of Jewish people who had recently hidden from the massacre of 2,900 people in the ghetto.
( Source, the true story depicted in “ The Ticket Collector from Belarus “ by Mike Anderson and Neil Hanson. A truly remarkable book. At first sight , because it deals with the trial of a war criminal, it could be seen as rather dry, but it isn’t. Gripping, haunting, it is also an evocation of the strength of the human spirit. It isn’t however a book of forgiveness or reconciliation. Neither as one of the characters in it makes clear, is it a story of revenge .)
Stalin, I think, said that the death of one person was a tragedy, the death of millions just a statistic. One family’s experience in this book is remarkably painful, but it was a story repeated then so many times in that part of Eastern Europe that it was a statistic and that then becomes something cerebral and less emotive, that is the nature of statistics. From the Jewish perspective it was perhaps the last statistic in a long procession of them stretching out for centuries, indeed millennia that caused some (not all) to conclude that the experiment of being a minority in a country was not successful, and within the psyche of Zionism, this paved the way for the State of Israel where Jewishness would be in the majority.
One cannot really overstate the importance of the collective experience in how both sides of the Israel/Palestine issue currently face up to one another. Both are based on pain and suffering. That is history and while history informs the future it does not frame it, how can it ?
I have heard it argued that having experienced this, the Israeli position should be one of compassion rather than reaction, but turning the other cheek has not given value in their experience, and so it goes on. Perhaps, regardless of who you are, that is the human state? Perhaps the only reason the War of the Worlds has not become a reality is that studied through an alien microscope, as a species, humans, don’t really amount to that much? Possibly they might conclude that the animal kingdom has more rationality and compassion at least when it comes to the ending of life. I am not entirely sure why we might think that one culture would react differently when our human experience shows so much evidence of cruelty and bigotry. But I am not entirely sure that we should despair either .
Understanding why someone does what they do, does not make it right. Both sides have reason, neither are right. Neither has a monopoly on pain.
The Palestinian position is politically and financially unsustainable and their pain, before what is currently happening, is unacceptable. That is absolutely no excuse for what happened on 7th October. What happened on 7th of October is absolutely no excuse for the excesses in what is happening in response through the killing and maiming of unassociated innocent citizens of Palestine, unintended or otherwise. To say this on either side risks the vitriol of those who want revenge.
Jewish peace workers, and there are many of them, and Palestinian peace workers, and there are many of them, find themselves now pushed into a corner. The irony is that both ordinary Israelis and the Palestinians bear some responsibility for where were are. In 2006 Gazan’s gave political credibility to Hamas by voting them into power, Hamas then went on to attack Fatah. Israeli’s have voted increasingly for more extreme right wing Governments in the now clearly shown up belief that power is stronger than rapprochement in guaranteeing security. Until both sides accept that moving further to the extremes of reaction will just cause further extreme reaction, then there can be no peace.
The international community also bears responsibility, especially the USA because it was they who saw “ democracy” as the solution in the Middle East pushing for elections but unfortunately from their perspective, the wrong party won. Gee that is the down side of democracy, it is democratic. Western intelligence fails, yet again .
I’d suggest, gently, that we also bear responsibility when we vocally take up the case of either side. What do we really think we are achieving when we take to the streets for either cause other than to make ourselves feel a little better ? Do we really think that we are persuading either party to come to the table by taking the other’s side? Do we really think we are pressurising Geo -Politics? If anything it hardens positions. It would take a heart of stone not to be affected by what we saw on the 7th of October and the same applies to what we are now seeing in response, but we are not there. There is a process to play out here and there will be a point when both sides realise that they have to stop. We have zero influence.
Others will argue differently, I get that and I support their right to protest, I just happen to believe that they are completely wrong. Why do I believe that ? There are Palestinians who would negotiate, there are Israelis who would, neither is in power right now. Hamas have one clear objective, the total destruction of the State of Israel, Likud and its friends have one objective, the absolute destruction, at any cost, of Hamas. These are not parties who negotiate.
The time will come when others will negotiate. But the pressure for that won’t come from outside, rather from within each people. We need to get out of the way of that process.
How do they get there ?
The UN for all their imperfections proposed a two state solution in1947. It is based upon their understanding that a State of Israel was an inevitability, something the Arab states completely rejected both in 1948 and in 1972. Since then there has been a gradual normalisation of relations between Israel and their neighbours. None of this however has addressed the pain of the Palestinians, who have a very legitimate right to ask, “ what about us ? ” It is a very human conundrum that righting a wrong for Jews has created a wrong for Palestinians. To an extent that wrong can never be entirely put right, unless of course you really believe that with all the pain that has been experienced on both sides that they can live in harmony as one State. I’d venture to suggest that might be naïve .
I was really struck by a statement made by a Palestinian woman whose house had been destroyed by a missile (whose missile was disputed and frankly irrelevant, her house was no longer there and family members had been killed .) She said she blamed the Israelis but she also blamed the Arab nations -“ where are you? Why are you not doing something for us?” She was making a very good point. Egypt’s border is not exactly open to Palestinians. Jordan, whose population is now almost half Palestinian manages to have a relationship with Israel but is probably doing more for Palestinians than any others. I have been there and seen this, it is a relationship of tension but functional.
I was equally struck by a statement of a former Prime Minster of Israel that went along these lines ‘ Israel and the Palestinians are never like to get married but a divorce on mutually agreeable terms is possible.”
There is a strong push right now for a ceasefire. Labour, in our country, as ever choosing to argue amongst itself and seems only able to want to fallout over a definition. But who is pushing for something beyond a ceasefire? What are the Arab states doing ? What is the EU doing, the USA, the UN to offer something that actually might cause people to think a ceasefire is worthwhile?
There seems very little statesmanship and leadership. No-one wants to grab this very thorny bush and try to turn it into an olive branch.
Gaza was only marginally viable before this war, it is not viable now all, Israeli bombs have seen to that. Iran has every incentive to see that continuing. Israel has no incentive to stop until it destroys Hamas, but it cannot destroy the ideology that was behind Hamas. It risks Hamas 2 the sequel as an almost inevitable follow on if something does not change .
In the end, as with every conflict bitterness has to be swallowed and compromises found.
I am really interested to see that only Qatar, and just as an intermediary, is leaning into this. What are the other Arab states considering? They have no interest in seeing Iran succeed in its plotting . But none seems to be putting their hand up and saying“ right we need to invest in this.” There is a lot of silence from the other Arab states, they could be offering leadership but it seems they fear a closer relationship with a problem that they do not see as their’s to own .
I would suggest that if peace comes it will need two things , money and security .
The international community has guaranteed peace in other areas, think of the former Yugoslavia. It seems inconceivable that Israel would settle for a Palestinian armed force in Gaza or the West Bank that could be controlled by a revamped Hamas, and it seems inconceivable that Palestinians would accept security undertaken from Israel. Apart from anything else the Israeli Army is standing aside shamefully as extreme right wing Jewish settlers attack Palestinians in the West Bank. On this Israel is hoist by its own; insouciance, partiality and complacency.
Thus far I have heard nothing about a proposal to put a peace force in there. Israel , under current leadership, will almost certainly say no, but that is not the point . It is not the current leadership that that would be core to this , and the process of getting to peace has to come to a starting point. We need to get to the point on both sides where the voices for peace are the majority.
Money is the other key. Before this war there were huge gaps between the financial prospects of Israelis and Palestinians and with a very young population of the latter the notion of desperately poor young people with a right to resentment will do nothing for peace. There must be massive investment in Palestine, and I’d venture to suggest that some should come from Israel who should also be sharing their technical capabilities . People must have hope and a significant upgrade in their life expectations and financial prospects .
Again I see nothing of an investment plan even though the Middle East is one of the most affluent areas on our planet. There is no point in dangling the carrot of peace unless there is a vision for the future where there is hope.
Perhaps the question needs to be, asked from many perspectives , “ what is the value of a Palestinian life?”
It is worse than ironic that the obscenity of that question should have to be applied to two people’s so opposed to one another but whose suffering has seen so many parallels.