The lessons of Aleppo

lucy-aharish
https://www.facebook.com/reshet.todays.talk/videos/1876992092532433/

I saw this clip on Facebook a couple of days age.  It is from Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Muslim Arab TV presenter, talking about the massacre in Aleppo that is happening this week.  She speaks in English so the World might hear, so please watch it.  What she has to say is powerful and moving, even more so because of her, an Arab speaking on Israeli television, choice of words.

This post isn’t just to get you to hear what Ms Aharish said, although that is worthwhile in itself, it is to try to answer the question a friend posted in response to my re-posting of it on my timeline, “But what can I do?”.

That really made me think.  What can we do to stop these recurring genocides?  How do we stop the vile, senseless killing of people just because they are who they are, because they live where they live, because they want to live in a society where people are free to think, speak, love & worship as they please?

To be honest, I don’t know.  We can, as Ms Aharish suggests, take to the streets to demonstrate; we can write to our elected leaders asking for “something to be done”; we can donate to appeals to help the survivors, the refugees, the victims.  But doing any of these won’t stop the killings happening again and again and again.

The problem is, that it is far too late to do anything now to stop the killing in Aleppo.  The seeds of what is happening now were sown years ago, when the West failed to give the Syrian pro-democracy demonstrators the backing they needed because Assad’s Syria was needed to help in (or at least tacitly agree to) dealing with rebellions in Iraq.  Indeed, it is possible to go back further to the West’s failure to deal with Hafez al-Assad (the father of the present President of Syria) vicious suppression of a revolt in 1982 or to the ill-fated invasions of Iraq in 1991 & 2003 which destabilised Iraq.  Those with a longer time frame will see the results of the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire post World War I (see Sykes-Picot agreement)  which set up the current countries of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon & Palestine/Israel mostly just as lines on a map disregarding the different ethnic groups who lived there, creating tensions & pressures that are still being felt today.

Perhaps the lesson to be learnt is to change our approach to Foreign Policy.  A lot of the problems listed above have been caused by a short-term approach, we need to sell arms to dictators to secure jobs in the UK, we need to back a tyrant as a bailiwick against another power, we must turn a blind eye to human rights abuses because we need the country to support British industry.

In many cases, this has come back to bite us, and bite us hard.  We supplied arms to Argentina’s Junta that the used to fight us in the South Atlantic, we supplied arms to Iraq that Saddam used to invade Kuwait, we now have much of our national infrastructure owned by China.  We can’t stop Saudi Arabia from killing civilians in Yemen because we need them to sell us oil & buy our weapons to keep British people in work.  We have no influence in Turkey because we need them to control the flow of refugees into Europe

Perhaps if we (along with other Western Democracies) had a more ethical Foreign Policy, where we only supported countries that respect Human Rights; where we only sold weapons to our NATO allies or other democracies; where we worked to deal with humanitarian crises not leave them to fester and generate waves of refugees; where we are prepared to use our military force to protect civilian populations threaten by dictators & tyrants

It is too late to help the civilians in Aleppo, it is too late for the Yazidi people in Iraq, it is not quite too late for the people of Yemen (although time is running out) but we must change our approach it dealing with other counties if we are to stop more and more names of peoples being added to the sad litany of the victims of a genocide.  If we don’t, then all the tears and  heartache over what is happening in Aleppo are worthless because similar acts will happen again, again and again.

NOT SIMPLY PRO-ISRAEL OR PRO-PALESTINE, BUT PRO-SOLUTION

Solution Not SidesI have been at a very informative meeting today run by the Solutions not Sides project team, part of  OneVoice Europe.  The meeting outlined their approach to finding a solution to the conflict between Palestine & Israel.

Starting with a quick review of the background to the conflict and highlighting the complex history of the Region.  One of the main points that I took away was that while Israelis see the events of 1948 as their Independence and the end of exile, Palestinians see the same events as a Nakba (Disaster) and the start of their exile.

No history can hope to reconcile theses two views of their shared history but  it was stressed that while religion was linked to the conflict it wasn’t the main driver, that was two competing nationalist movements.

There is no “Zero-Sum” solution to this complex issue where one side wins but the other side loses.  Any solution can only be a success if it is based “win-win” where both sides feel they have a successful outcome.

No one is suggesting this is easy to achieve.  Indeed, in conversations (via Skype) we had with two young people intimately involved in working for a solution, one an Israeli & the other a Palestinian, we had the chance to explore some of the reasons that, even though most Israelis & Palestinians want a peace settlement based on a two state solution (including evacuating the settlements of the occupied West Bank) neither seems willing to trust the other side to implement such a agreement.

It was a very thought provoking event and one I am very glad I took part in.    The message it gave me was that it isn’t enough to be simply pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, we need to be pro-solution.

Note:  If you want a presentation from Solutions not Sides for your school, college or organisationj (and it is aimed at 18 to 35 year olds) then contact the team at team@solutionsnotsides.co.uk or their web page

Has the death of over 2,200 made Israel or Gaza more secure?

Tonight’s news that Israel & Hamas have agreed a long-term ceasefire is welcome and I hope with all my heart that this time it hold and that the people of Gaza and southern Israel can look forward to at least a long term period of calm and peace so that they can begin to start rebuilding their lives after more than 7 week of rockets, bombing & fighting.

Now that the guns are falling silent, perhaps it is time to look to see who has won the most from the fighting and who has lost the most.

Sadly for all those who want see peaceful co-existence between Israel & Palestine, the winners seem to Hamas and the other extremists in Gaza.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of lifting the restrictions on goods going in and out of Gaza and also letting the residents of Gaza travel outside the small sliver of land they have been trapped in.  My problem is that by allowing Hamas to claim victory in achieving this, Israel has legitimised the use of violence from Hamas.  While there will now be a period of calm, I fully expect Hamas to use this period to rearm and regroup.

From what I have read so far, there does not seem to be any independent force put in place to make sure that none of the much needed materials being letting for reconstruction are not diverted into rebuilding the tunnels & other Hamas infrastructure or to make sure that Hamas will not smuggle in more weapons & arms to prepare for their next offensive against Israel.

Israelis now need to ask themselves whether the entirely avoidable fighting this summer has been worth it.  Have Netanyahu, Lieberman & Bennett made Israel more secure & stronger or have they weakened Israel and left its standing in the world at an all-time low?  I wrote in July, at the start of the conflict, that the Israeli Government was wrong to allow itself to be pulled in to another round of fighting in Gaza (Is the Government of Israel insane?), it pains me to see that the outcome I predicted has happened.

As a British Israeli living in the UK, I can see how much the hatred of Israel has grown and that fewer people are willing to defend Israel, not just in its actions in Gaza which few can defend but its right even to exist.  By refusing to engage with President Abbas & the moderates in the Palestinian National Authority at the end of the Kerry Peace Initiative, the current Netanyahu Government have missed an opportunity to isolate and defeat Hamas and has now been forced to accept an agreement that does not give the residents of Southern Israel real long term security.

Because of the ceasefire agreement put in place, I fear that it will not be long there will be yet another round of the conflict will be sparked. Both Israel & Hamas will accuse the other of acting in bad faith.  Israel will be loath to allow some of the developments needed for the reconstruction of Gaza and Hamas will try to use the relaxation on the blockade to smuggle in weapons & military material.  Both will use these as a pretext to either re-impose the blockade or to restart firing rockets and before long we will be back at square 1.

I wish I could be more cheerful and hopeful for the future but until the leaders on both sides start to put the long term benefit of their citizens before their short term political needs, there will be no long term solution to bring peace & security to both the long suffering people of Gaza or the the people of Southern Israel.

A Dark Day

Today has been a dark day in both Palestine and Israel.

In Gaza, Hamas has shown the contempt in which it holds the long-suffering residents of that small strip of land.  It is willing, more than willing, to shed the blood of the women & children of Gaza in trying to peruse its long term aims.  By recommencing, or at best allowing others to do so, the firing of rockets into Israel in pursuit of photo opportunities of Gazans killed and maimed by the retaliatory bombardment from Israel (and it is clear that there is no other reason for the rockets from Gaza)  Hamas has proved once again that it is not a defender of Palestinians but rather an enemy of allowing peaceful co-existence. Hams wants to destroy any possibility of Israel lifting the blockade and allowing the people of Gaza to benefit from trade with the outside world.

However, the reaction by the Israeli Government to a few dozen pinpricks from Hamas has, as it has been for the last 2 months since the original kidnapping & murder of the 3 Israeli teenagers, been out of all proportion to the threat Hamas poses.  I had hoped that for once wiser and more mature counsel would be listened to and Israel wouldn’t return to the behaviour of the school yard.   If the last few weeks have shown anything it is that even overwhelming force will not stop the rockets and only ends with a stronger Hamas, many dead civilians and further worsening of Israel’s standing in the world.  But no, the failed attitudes of the last 10+ years have repeated themselves and once again, Israel has given Hamas exactly what Hamas and it supporters wanted, more deaths on the streets of Gaze, more pictures of children killed or wounded.

At times, the actions of Khaled Mashaal, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mohammed Deif, Naftali Bennett and the other leaders of Hamas & the Israel Government seem to be working together to perpetuate the fighting and not to try to stop it.  On both sides, the leaders are gaining support from their own political constituency for standing up to the enemy.  Those more cynical than me might even think that they are actually co-ordinating their actions.   Neither side seem to be worried about the cost in lives that the fighting takes as long as they keep their hold on power.  Neither side seems to be concerned with actually finding a real solution that will allow the people of Gaza to rebuild, no build for the first time, a life for their family that has a future where the rockets, missiles, bombs &  destruction has no part.

As I said at the beginning, this day, Friday 8th August, has been a dark day.  What has given me hope is the work of those on both sides to bring the people of Palestine & Israel together in peace, the thousands of Israelis that have contributed humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, the thoughtful considered articles on the web that show not all Palestinians & Israelis are consumed hatred of the other side (Taking the peace process into our own hands, SAVIR’S CORNER: The aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, Against the war: the movement that dare not speak its name in Israel and Israel’s fake victory are a few examples). Do not let the darkness of today extinguish the light that these people bring.

Those who cannot accept Israel, do not help Palestine

I have been clear that the actions of the current Government of Israel in Gaza are wrong, the attempts to rid Gaza of Hamas by force was always going to end up with the killing of civilians (something Hamas also knew and was prepared to accept) and likely to be counter-productive.  Nothing can excuse the way Netenyahu & other political and military leaders in Israel have the fighting start & then continue when it became clear it was not working. Israel’s security cannot be built on the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian women & children and whoever claims it will be is no friend of Israel.

Having said that, those who write long, hate-filled diatribes calling Israel’s actions in Gaza genocide & mass murder are just as extreme as any from the other side defending what Israel has done.  Many cannot even bring themselves to mention Israel so much is their hatred.. 

In 1947, Palestine was partitioned by the UN, most of the Jewish population accepted the plan the Arabs rejected it.  On the day in 1948 when the British withdrew from Palestine, the surrounding Arab countries invaded the newly independent state of Israel.  In the ensuing war the Arabs lost & Israel won. 

Yes Israel conquered some of the areas that had been assigned to the Arab state under the partition plan & yes, hundreds of thousands on Arab refugees were expelled/encouraged to leave and many of these ended up, destitute, in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan (who annexed the area now known as the Wet Bank) and in the Gaza Strip (which was occupied by Egypt).   What many of those posting against Israel don’t want to mention is that there were also refugees in the other direction, hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from/encouraged to leave the Arab countries they had lived in for generations.  Many of these Jews also ended up destitute in refugee camps, this time in the new and very poor state of Israel.  The difference between the Palestinian refugees & the Jewish refugees is that one group were left to rot in camps and dependant on charity from UNWRA and the other were absorbed by Israel into society, rehoused within just a few years and now are an Integral part of the country.

I am not going to justify Israel’s existence, there is no need, it does exist and all need to accept it, just as Israelis need to accept Palestine as a nation.  I realise the future of Israel & Palestine are linked, that Israel cannot be secure without  a free Palestine, but neither can Palestine be free without a secure Israel. 

The current round in the conflict in Gaza helps no-one.  Israel must stop and withdraw back to the 1949 armistice lines.  Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel & infiltrating squads of militants into Israel.  Only then can a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza be put in place under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority & guaranteed by the Arab League & the UN.  The blockade of Gaza must be lifted, not only to allow much needed humanitarian aid in, but also to allow Gazan goods to be traded with the rest of the world.  However Hamas must not be allowed to use this to re-arm or to use material for civilian reconstruction to rebuild tunnels.

There are two nations between the Jordan River & the Mediterranean Sea, both exist and are not going to disappear; both have justice on their side; both have the right to a free, secure homeland where children can grow free from the shadow of violent conflict. 

Those who blindly support one side or the other help neither and only help feed the conflict and condemn the area to more bloodshed, more deaths, more grieving parents burying their children.