Jul 2009 Journal

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Letter from Israel

The item headed ‘Britain: Unorganised boycott of Israel’ was tucked away inside my Hebrew newspaper. The body of the article described the response of a researcher in the UK to a proposal by an Israeli colleague to conduct a joint cancer research project. ‘Don’t take this personally’, her email stated, ‘But I don’t feel able to co-operate with you at a time when Israel’s government is killing innocent people, many of them children, and bombing UN schools and food supply depots. When these atrocities end, peace reigns and compensation is paid, I’ll be ready to think about it’ (my translation).

Her Israeli counterpart replied that British and US forces were responsible for worse atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan and that they, unlike the IDF, did not warn civilians before they launched attacks.

Be that as it may, the sad truth remains that public opinion in England and elsewhere is decidedly unsympathetic to Israel. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to the way certain countries are expected to behave. Iran’s Holocaust-denying president can rant and rave about Israel’s very existence being an abomination, and only a few eyelids are batted. Hamas leaders in Gaza and Hezbollah spokesmen in Lebanon can announce that their sole objective is to put an end to Israel’s existence, and all one hears are sympathetic noises about the suffering of the Palestinians.

When rockets were being fired from Gaza on civilian targets in Israel, there was no outcry or condemnation from the great British public. The people firing those rockets would have been only too happy if they had landed on a school or kindergarten in Israel. This didn’t happen, mainly because Israel had built shelters and an alert system that enabled civilians to take cover when rockets were launched. Nonetheless, some people were killed and wounded, though not in the quantities that the perpetrators would have liked and not enough to arouse worldwide sympathy. The fact that the lives of thousands of people were constantly disrupted did not seem to bother anyone.

What happened in the ‘Cast Lead’ campaign was that, after several years of daily disruptions and occasional casualties, Israel made a concerted effort to put a stop to them. This had some success, but no one in Israel deludes themselves that this is a permanent solution. When Israel governed the Gaza Strip and came under constant attack, withdrawal seemed to be the best solution. Once Israel had pulled out, rocket attacks were launched on towns and villages in Israel proper. That is hardly any encouragement for Israel to repeat the exercise elsewhere.

The question is: What would any other government do if its citizens were being constantly attacked by a neighbouring country? Some people seem to take Israel’s very existence to be untenable, and deny it the right to defend itself. Or allow that it may do so provided no civilians are hurt. But that’s easier said than done when rockets are fired from the heart of civilian areas. Putting an end to Israel’s existence will not really solve anything either. Even now, the Palestinians cannot agree to form a united government. Nor will finding an alternative solution for Israel’s population be simple. Or is the world ready to face the moral and physical consequences of another Holocaust?

All one can say to the protestors, the boycotters, the poor, misguided souls who support such organisations as ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ and those who think that whatever Israel does is wrong is: Life ain’t so simple! The post-WWII world is not the same as it was before the war. Nor are post-WWII Jews.


Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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