All of us should be students of history so that mistakes are not repeated: but we don’t. History warns that, long term, dire consequences flow from treating one race as inferior to another. Perhaps the most awful event, of modern history, an event remaining in the memory of the most elderly amongst us, is the holocaust. Millions of European civilians, mainly but not exclusively Jews, went to the gas chamber. It is an event so horrendous that it should never be forgotten.
An event as horrendous as this affects the individual and corporate psyche of those who remain. For those who survive and their descendants there is good reason not to trust others, least of all for security; but to work tirelessly for absolute control so that one’s own life and its safety does not depend upon the decisions of others. Getting a nuclear bomb as Israel has long since done and North Korea is currently attempting to achieve, is one tactic along this path.
All of this is understandable. It is background to the philosophy and ideology of modern day Israel. But the consequence of walling oneself into a cocoon in which the morality of one’s action is self-justifying and closed to the critique of others is dangerous, and worse, could be calamitous.
It is dangerous for those who are now treated as those in Germany and Poland were once treated, inferior and expendable, and ultimately it is very dangerous for the perpetrator - Israel. (I am not in any way inferring the holocaust is happening again, but I am saying that a culture of superiority and entitlement has developed which in turn imposes expendability on others). A victim does not remain a victim in perpetuity, a line is crossed when the victim, in choosing to remain a victim, becomes the abuser and the cycle of violence, like a sling-shot, makes other victims in another generation and place.
Such is the situation in which modern day Israel under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu has now placed itself.
The situation is brilliantly and movingly portrayed in John Lyons, Balcony over Jerusalem, a diary of his posting as a journalist to the Middle East. This is a must read for any who would genuinely seek to understand the Israel/Palestine crisis and particularly for those who have the responsibility of forming Australian policy in relation to this crisis.
Reading the book one encounters the reality which is Israel/Palestine in 2017 through the eyes of one who lived and worked there as a professional journalist, one who sought to be balanced and not biased, but who was deeply shocked by what he saw. Even for those who visit the West Bank for a few days it is a shock to discover the appalling day by day treatment of the Palestinian people through increasingly discriminatory legislation enacted by the Israeli government; through humiliation and at times outright cruelty meted out by the Israeli occupying army; and by the brutality and hatred of the ideologically driven illegal settlers. For those of us from the West who have lived with a narrative that Israel is really a western country that shares western values it is indeed quite shocking.
However, equally shocking is to discover that to speak of this situation, particularly to speak outside Israel, is to court aggressive denial and abuse from supporters of Israel. Such is the aggression, Lyons asserts, that the majority of journalists from anywhere in the world self censor rather than convey the full naked truth. Such is the influence of Israeli supporters within western power structures, governmental and beyond, that the cost of telling the truth is too high.
At a personal level Lyons testifies to the various attempts made against him both through senior management at his employer, the Australian and through other influential Australian figures. The pro-Israel lobby is highly professional, well resourced and adept at targeting those who it believes will do its narrative harm by telling the truth. In Australia the pro-Israel lobby is proportionately amongst the most aggressive in the world, sometimes even exceeding the narrative of the Israeli government itself. To the Lobby, no action however wrong and distorting of truth it might be appears to be ruled out if it can present a picture of Israel as the only free, democratic and morally acceptable regime in the Middle East: would that this were true. Sadly it is so far from the truth.
Israel is a legitimate nation; it needs and deserves secure borders. It needs its legitimacy to be acknowledged and recognised by friend and foe alike. Unfortunately Israel undermines its legitimacy through its greed and refusal to live within its own borders. The ambitious policy of ‘greater Israel’ is now pretty well transparent. Under Netanyahu there is a clear ambition to annex the whole of the West Bank. The settlement programme (which Israel insists is not the main stumbling block to peace) has already made a contiguous Palestinian State virtually impossible – as was clearly always the aim. Where does this leave Palestinians? Every attempt is being made to make life so horrendous for them that they will disappear, migrate to Jordan or some other place. But they are not going anywhere – nor should they. The future looks like a collection of disconnected Bantustans and a permanent state of apartheid. This is what the Israeli government is forcing not simply on Palestinians but also on its own people. As history shows apartheid in which a minority control and subjugate a majority, is a very dangerous place, with violence as an almost inevitable outcome. This is the legacy Netanyahu is bequeathing his people.
It is little wonder that in increasing numbers moderate Jews are migrating out of Israel, leaving behind an increasingly hardline constituency, often recent migrants from Russia and the US. The migration policy into Israel is hardly keeping pace with the emigration out of Israel.
The current situation in Israel/Palestine appears close to a point of no return. If the two-state solution is now beyond delivering, a truth that seems very hard to argue against, then Israel has to choose between democracy and a Jewish State. (That the Arab population is and will exceed the Jewish population seems an incontestable fact). As Lyons says, this is an awful choice with consequences that are far reaching not simply for others, but for Israel itself. Many retired members of the Israeli armed forces and it security arm now warn Israel of the dangerous path it is treading. It appears deaf to this warning.
This leaves Palestinians with no choice, human subsistence is intolerable and diabolically dangerous for Israel; humans cannot and should not tolerate existence without freedom.