As our bloody history shows, and as its legacy never allows us forget, our capacity to inflict atrocity after atrocity on each other is almost boundless.
As relatively recent European history shows, this inhumanity can reach satanic levels when whole societies dedicate themselves to the destruction of another.
When this evil is fuelled by either blind nationalism or religious fundamentalism, perfectly ordinary, kind people, loving fathers and brothers, can become savage, callous ogres. The spiral of atrocity generates it own integrity; division and hatred all but become genetic. Radicalism prevails and the possibility of moderation and compromise — tolerance and decency — becomes ever more remote. In this country, that life-squandering cycle lasted seven centuries. In Europe, it led to the Second World War and, among many acts of genocide, the Holocaust. Today, it is active in Gaza and many other places around the world.
Israel’s latest siege of Gaza has led to almost 1,000 Palestinian deaths (fewer than 50 Israelis have died). The carnage is so one-way, so disproportionate, that it is impossible to pretend it is balanced or has any moral authority. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has suggested it may some weeks before the terror campaign might end. Many, many more deaths can be expected. The atrocities, and it is not unfair to describe them as war crimes or genocide, will continue.
The situation has become so inflamed that it is impossible to criticise Israel without being accused of being a supporter of Hamas terror or, most offensively, of being anti-Semitic. Rational thought and behaviour have been replaced by opportunism and less-than-honourable political and geopolitical objectives. Just as Margaret Thatcher’s intransigence prolonged the Troubles for years, Israel is grooming another generation of Palestinian terrorists, and it is not hard to imagine that this is intentional, as it ultimately justifies the colonisation — theft — of Arab lands that it calls settlements. It also radicalises many of its own citizens through an obligation to serve in its army.
No-one, least of all a society where terrorist-inflicted wounds are barely healed, expects Israel to turn the other cheek in the face of a missile barrage, but a more sophisticated response, one that might work, is not too much to ask from a society that, in so many other ways, shows every sign of being civilised. Israel may feel unloved, but it is its behaviour rather than its existence that provokes this response. But it can share the blame. It is provoked by terror group Hamas, but there is a far more powerful puppet-master at work.
Just as Vladimir Putin endorses terrorists in Ukraine, America, almost blindly, supports Israeli militarism — one estimate suggests by $8.5m a day. It is more than ironic that, as Barack Obama’s presidency, one secured by engendering optimism and possibility, enters its autumn, he feels unable to force Israel to change its appalling behaviour, behaviour that led to yesterday’s massacre when Israeli tank forces shelled a UN-run school killing another 15 of the 140,000 Palestinian refugees in northern Gaza. What a shame that is for a country whose Declaration of Independence is one of the great documents of Western civilisation, a country that played a vital role, through Bill Clinton and George Mitchell, in saving this island from bigotry and hatred.
What a shame that America supports these evils in Gaza through its proxies — Israel’s unfettered army. And how those who hate the West and the liberalism and tolerance we cherish must rejoice as they look on.
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