Interesting. Tracking some of the responses to Channel 4 News’ interview with Mark Regev and some of Jon Snow’s blogging about the situation in Gaza – as well as some of the reactions to the Beeb’s increasingly publicised stance on the DEC Gaza appeal – there are more than a few typed voices singling out issues of bias against Israel and blindness towards Hamas. Some outright slamming of C4 for living in a ‘left wing bubble’.
Interesting too is watching that C4N interview again. Mark Regev was for much of it more controlled in his manner than I remember, and I can see how someone rooting for his point of view would read bias into Jon’s energy and line of questions.
My point here is point of view. We bring our own filter to everything always.
Even trying to be objective, far away, I came away from Thursday’s piece feeling angry – piecing together the scenes of utter destruction with an apparent arrogance of tone from the representative of those who wrought this particular round of destruction. Did I leap a little further than the facts alone, in front of me on the TV, should have taken me?
If I’m doing it, living miles from the conflict with no direct involvement, how much is everyone on the ground filling in perception and fueling passions with their prejudices?
Jonathan Miller’s report on the misuse of certain weapons in ‘civilian’ areas had been discussed in that interview with Mr Regev, being cited by the Israeli spokesman as a case of naiivety.
“Of course the people your respected reporter spoke to couldn’t say what they really thought – Hamas is an intimidating military regime.” He said. “Do you deny that Hamas is an intimidating military regime?”
“So you’re saying their injuries, which they told us were from Israeli weapons, were actually from Hamas fighters using intimidation?” Jon replied. “Are you saying Hamas used the white phosphorus and flechette weapons?”
“No, I’m not saying that, you’re putting words into my mouth, sir. I’m saying Hamas uses intimidation and you therefore cannot be sure what people tell you in Gaza.” Mark Regev replied.
The order and precision of the dialogue I’ve put here isn’t accurate, but this is some of what was exchanged. And in a subsequent report on Friday night’s programme, Jonathan Miller spoke to some Gazans who said that Hamas had indeed intimidated their way into some people’s homes in order to launch rockets from them – even shooting one witness’ son in the leg when he begged them not to turn his family home into a military target.
But here’s the thing.
My view of either of these people doesn’t change their humanity. Doesn’t alter it one jot – in the outside world. To the reportable truth. But it does in my head.
In the head of the Gazan Hamas freedom fighter, the Israeli occupiers are genocidal aggressors to be resisted in all possible forms. It is a glory to die in the pursuit of that freedom, all civilian infrastructure can be apportioned for the struggle however it’s needed, and anyone from the bitter rival party, Fatah, could well be a collaborator and might well need to be shot in the name of security and the ultimate good for Palestinians.
In the head of the Israeli defender, the Hamas terrorist is an indiscriminate killer, in power by military coup, using civilian areas as weapons caches and human shielding, who will never accept the democratic right of Israel to live in peace and who will never stop mindless murder unless stopped once and for all. However bad the death of children sounds, the Palestinian people either voted for these self-proclaimed extremists or refused to organise themselves a better democratic alternative, and so brought a measure of this on themselves.
So are we stuck forever?
Surely not. The key is still responsibility. Proportionality.
Both sides have inculcated some ugly normalities in their views of the other. Enough to hide the humanity and common sense going on, on either side of the wall.
Ultimately, both party leaders appear care little, in tactical terms at least, about the death of children in the struggle – a dreadful thing to say, unhelpfully loaded, but observationally true to the outside world. Yet we can never solve a crisis of passions without asking why each side feels those passions. Why these ugly cultural normalities took root. Why is the word. And that word is only a link word to actual dialogue – because it must be followed by listening.
Democracy and nuclear capability each bestow on Israel an expectation of a high moral standard. But not an empty piety. To an Israeli official spokesperson I would say that if Israel thinks Hamas is beneath speaking to, she should ironically have the superior confidence to talk to them. What would there be to fear? If Israel knows what it’s doing, it will know that the superior strategy is dialogue. Winning over your opponent.
Instead it has always chosen military strategy. More than that – and this is, I believe, Isreal’s core cultural problem – it has always defined itself by military strategy. Best form of defense is offense.
Occupied land, blast walls, initiated wars, check point choking, daily humiliations. All of it sounds strategically legitimate if you believe you are at war. If you define yourself by the fight. By the enemy. As might suicide bombing, to someone’s particularly ugly normality. Hamas’ very creed is to destroy Israel – it couldn’t exist at all without its enemy. It sends its sons and daughters to blow themselves to pieces fighting its enemy. So we’re back to a stalemate of definition. If those understandings of each side are the only truth of them. Back to an ugly balance of pain and blame.
All these political tactics and cultural outlooks do is breed fighters. Angry killers, defending their right to exist at any cost.
Dialogue, on the other hand, means having the guts to see your opponent as human. If you once do that, rather than villifying them into hateable cartoons, the military conviction to kill them begins to break down. If you define your identity by hating them, there’s no way you can talk to them. Because you won’t know who you are any more.
And you’ll be admitting you’ll have to live with people who see the world differently to you.
If, despite the stalemate of cultural outlooks, both parties really do want to see something other than total annihilation of the other happen, in the game of who goes first, Israel has always held the controlling power. By far.
If I were talking to the UK’s democratic partner in the Middle East, I would say to her that Israel needs to depower Hamas by gradually showing its violent methods to be void. Defunct. Out of time.
By opening the flow of movement, by aiding in the rebuilding of Gaza, by ultimately opening talks with Hamas leaders – who are the elected representatives of Palestinians in Gaza right now – Israel will begin to take the heat out of the rockets.
By using its great power to humanise the empoverished Palestinians in its own mind, Israel will begin to build peace. By treating them not as victims or villains but partners in the region, it might start to build real security. By giving back some of the land that is blatently contentious, by trying to build dignity into its dealings with its neighbours, by coming ever closer to being able to say sorry for certain things, Israel will begin to silence its critics around the world.
By defining itself by the fight, by always claiming moral high ground but refusing to dismantle its own war machine – the machinery of intimidation and humiliation and provocation – Israel fuels the militant opposition. And then blames it.
Who shoots a human shield to get at the terrorist hiding behind it? Someone who sees the military victory as more important than the human concerned.
If leaders can one day be found in the Kenesset who will begin to voice a whole new lexicon of dialogue with the situation – rather than voting for spectacularly disproportionate death tolls – less and less people outside the situation will be able to say: ‘what is Israel really up to?’ Because it will be obvious. Israel will be actually doing something about the situation.
But, back on planet Earth, where big dreams begin, the human reality is that tone of voice is as vital as choice of words in communicating. My job tells me this every day. If I were in charge of Israel’s security, I might be be keeping Mark Regev away from cameras and microphones.
What matters the label, Left Wing, Israeli, Palestinian, to humanity? Nothing. Not a bloody thing.
Of course the BBC should broadcast the DEC’s appeal. It’s the DEC, for God’s sake. It’s children, for God’s sake. The decision not to broadcast it has sounded like one of the most partisan, unbalanced things I’ve ever heard.