It’s not a play­ground spat

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Jonathan Freed­land

ONE OF the joys of be­ing the fa­ther of a teenage son is get­ting to glimpse, thanks to him, videos that have gone vi­ral. The lat­est was made in 2012 but it’s spread anew among Jewish teens. It’s a South Park­style cartoon that, with­out words, de­picts the back­ground to the hos­til­i­ties be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas.

It shows a sweet boy, mind­ing his own busi­ness in school, re­peat­edly struck by an­other boy — darker and wear­ing the green ban­dana of Ha­mas — who bom­bards him with pel­lets and paper planes.

The first child does his best to res­train him­self, but the mis­siles keep com­ing. He moves to hit back, but stops when he sees that his as­sailant is hid­ing be­hind two cute and even younger kids. Still, the pel­lets keep com­ing. Even­tu­ally, the first boy has enough. He gets his re­venge by giv­ing the boy in the ban­dana a flick on the nose. That mi­nor blow is suf­fi­cient to pro­duce floods of tears from his vic­tim, who promptly gets the sym­pa­thy of his teach­ers and the world’s press — though he started it.

It is a be­guil­ingly sim­ple story, told with sat­is­fy­ing clar­ity. There is no mis­tak­ing who is right and who is wrong. It makes, in its own fash­ion, all the key points de­fend­ers of Is­rael — whether dur­ing this month’s Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge or 2012’s Oper­a­tion Pil­lar of De­fence — want to make. That any coun­try whose civil­ians faced per­sis­tent hos­tile rocket fire would have to do what Is­rael has done and hit back; that one rea­son Pales­tinian civil­ian ca­su­al­ties are high is the cyn­i­cal use by Ha­mas of Gaza’s young and vul­ner­a­ble as hu­man shields.

And yet the video is hor­ri­bly mis­lead­ing. Take those an­i­mated tears from the child avatar of Ha­mas. The cartoon sug­gests they’re fake, a nod to “Pal­ly­wood”, the well-worn claim that there is a cot­tage in­dus­try gen­er­at­ing bo­gus film cov­er­age of Pales­tinian suf­fer­ing. But, much as Is­rael’s ad­vo­cates may wish it were other­wise, the suf­fer­ing of Gaza is real. As I write, the Pales­tinian death toll stands over 200, with 80 per cent of those civil­ians and 21 per cent chil­dren. The tears of their moth­ers and fa­thers were not faked for the cam­eras. They are real and it is a mat­ter of ba­sic hu­man­ity to ad­mit as much.

Is­rael is not a well-be­haved child picked on by a class bully

Much more trou­bling, though, is the as­sump­tion that Is­rael was mind­ing its own busi­ness, do­ing noth­ing that could harm any­one, when Ha­mas struck out of a clear blue sky.

One doesn’t have to get into the pre­cise se­quence of events of the last few weeks to see the flaw in that. For any de­pic­tion of Is­rael as a well-be­haved child, picked on in an un­pro­voked at­tack by the class­room bully, omits the un­com­fort­able fact that Is­rael is not only the stronger party in the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans — but the oc­cu­pier for 47 years of Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory. The set­tle­ments may be gone from Gaza, but Is­rael re­tains con­trol of the Strip’s airspace and wa­ters, and, along with Egypt, its borders and, of course, still com­mands the West Bank.

The sig­nif­i­cance of this goes far be­yond one small video. Too many imag­ine this con­flict as some kind of play­ground spat, sol­u­ble by a firm dis­play of force. But there can be no last­ing mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to this prob­lem, a truth demon­strated by the fact that these erup­tions of vi­o­lence now oc­cur with in­creas­ing fre­quency.

Ul­ti­mately, the only so­lu­tion will be po­lit­i­cal, through ne­go­ti­a­tion and com­pro­mise, in­clud­ing shar­ing the land that both sides claim. That is the re­al­ity, even if it does not lend it­self to a neat and colourful lit­tle film. Jonathan Freed­land is Ex­ec­u­tive Edi­tor, Opin­ion, of the Guardian

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