I’m afraid this post is virtually linkless. Which is a shortcoming since it touches on the need for evidence in punditry. Been mostly talking and thinking about Gaza all day, for weeks. And for weeks, pictures of the dead, the grieving and the bomb-wracked streets. A photo journalist posted on Frames of Reality a picture of children peeking from behind washing hung out to dry on railings in Gaza. Some of them were smiling. She has always taken pictures of children. Recently the children have been dead. And why shouldn’t she? She sticks up for Hamas these days. (I know that’s an anecdote.)
Any thoughts on Gaza should be framed by who is dead and who is at risk. I think that it’s clear now if it wasn’t before – in a head to head at this time between Israel and Hamas, Gazans are most vulnerable. I’m not surprised that people are horrified by the humanitarian situation and side with the weak and vulnerable against the side with the power. And I’m not surprised that this taking of sides is played out on campuses, trade unions, political groupings all over the world. Gazans need people fighting their political corner. At the same time, those people need to think critically about the situation, and in order to do that they require more than simple compassion. I deplore the thinness of the arguments, the poverty of knowledge among the far left supporters of Palestine, and the poverty of judgement which follows. But then, they are told that Israel has no possible defence, that our response should be manifest already to anybody with a conscience. And so the protest is fuelled by huge amounts of vitriol, and this is what is so strange about these Jekyll and Hyde British activists – they are so very cautious about the ongoing conflicts in Sri Lanka, Darfur, Congo, and so frothing-at-the-mouth livid when it comes to Israel. I can understand it in Islamists, because it’s a central tenet to hate Israel. But British Socialists? Spare me the orgies of post-colonial guilt.
But don’t just look over there. Look also at Gaza. Face what is going on, and understand the difference between what they have there and a dignified, secure existence. This means something in itself, and it means something in the pragmatic terms of Israel’s security.
That is practically all I know. I’ve had a bit of an identity crisis – not my own identity but that of my Gaza pundits. When you – as somebody trying to make sense of what is going on – are confronted with analyses which are not only disagreeing on interpretation but so contradictory on basic facts as to be mutually exclusive, then the usual measures for checking the reliability of a piece let you down and you have to go on gut feeling. Basically, you believe what you want to believe.
Of course this is utterly perilous, considering the looming antisemitism not just in Britain but all over the world these last few weeks. In so many minds Jew-is-Israel-is-Zionist. So, worried about believing simply what you want to believe, you evaluate your pundits in terms of what you think they want, themselves, against what you want (or think you ought to want). It becomes about being a fan or an anti-fan. I don’t like that. Only the other day I, defending pseudonymity at an event about identity on the Web, stridently declared to about 30 people that on the Web only ideas had to matter. How could I have forgotten about the contradictions which are submitted on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and how life is too short to fact-check?
Peace and security for all, based on a multilateral accommodation, is what I want. We should read more John Strawson, for example. Like all lawyers, he has a commitment to evidence-based opinion – something I really like in my pundits. And he seems like such a kind man too. I would be so interested to read his answer to a question I saw asked on a discussion forum – does he think that international humanitarian law is good law, in its detail? I like what Marwan Muasher says too. He has been party to so much negotiation. I have his book The Arab Centre. You can hear a podcast of him at the RSA. His voice is stunning (he sounds like he looks like King Abdullah, but in actual fact he’s more Rowan Atkinson). He is watching the Arab moderates buckle under the pressure from the extremists, because they put so much of their effort into the peace process with Israel and so little into Arab civil society that when the peace process came to nothing they had little to hold up to the Arab people and say “Look what we have achieved”. They are weakened. But seems to me that they are Israel’s biggest ally. Israel should try to look after them – give them something. If Israel could have allowed Mahmoud Abbas to take credit for the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, for example.
Also I commend those at Engage and Harry’s Place and Z-Word for insisting that when we protest on behalf of Gazans, we do so with the well-being of Jews in mind. Bad news from Israel and Jews catch it – in not dissimilar ways from how Muslims caught it over 9/11 – except the Left defended them. If you don’t understand what this political responsibility means, go read those blogs. One on Harry’s Place – Five Comments. One from Engage responding to Naomi Klein.
The news tonight got very strange. Tonight on BBC Radio 4’s 10 o’ clock news included an astonishing interview with a kind of Egyptian Lloyd Grossman explaining why Egypt was maintaining the blockade of Gaza. I think that to ask this is long overdue. His response was various, including worries about the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s intermediary status and ending with the observation, basically, that Egypt wanted Palestinian facts on the ground in Gaza and speculating that if they opened the border Gazans would disperse into Egypt and Israel would move in. Astonishing. Dershowitz was on Newsnight and on the attack, in apposite ways. Scobie, on the international legal case against Israel, was sober and a good advocate. But Dershowitz is right. Britain went to oust the Taliban and Baathists, and escaped the ICC with far more children dead. Less of the orgiastic about reporting Gaza tonight. Perhaps, in the manner of all assaults on Gaza, it’s going stale for everybody except Gazans, Israelis – and Stop The War who are fantasising about the rebirth of the mass movement and new opportunities to preach Stalinism at larger groups of people. If that lot ever get into power I’ll strangle myself like an unwanted kitten.