Whent­woandt­wodon’taddup

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Colin Shindler

THE LOW at­ten­dance at last Sun­day’s rally for Is­rael in part re­flects the un­ease and dilem­mas of many Bri­tish Jews. While the se­cu­rity of Is­rael’s ci­ti­zens is para­mount, it co-ex­ists with a con­cern for the sanc­tity of hu­man life in gen­eral. Such nag­ging doubts un­der­line the un­spo­ken ques­tion whether this con­flict was avoid­able.

Its ge­n­e­sis was the ex­e­cu­tion of the three boys on June 14. Their mur­der­ers were cat­e­gorised as if they were tak­ing di­rect or­ders from Ha­mas in Gaza. Ha­mas had cer­tainly ini­ti­ated a gen­eral cam­paign to kid­nap Is­raelis in order to con­duct a Gi­lad Shalit-type deal for a pris­oner ex­change, but why then kill the young­sters?

The noted Is­raeli jour­nal­ist, Shlomi El­dar, wrote that Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces be­lieved that the ab­duc­tion was the work of the Qawas­meh clan, trou­ble­mak­ers who had a long his­tory of bru­tal­ity to­wards Jews. The mo­ti­va­tion, he ar­gued, may well have been to wreck the Fatah-Ha­mas agree­ment to form a coali­tion govern­ment. Did the killers be­lieve that Ha­mas had come to terms with the re­al­ity of Is­rael’s ex­is­tence? Ne­tanyahu, on the other hand, be­lieved that Ha­mas’s en­try in govern­ment was no more than a Tro­jan horse de­signed to bring mis­siles into the West Bank. The emo­tional frenzy sur­round­ing the killings pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to send in the IDF to dis­man­tle the Ha­mas in­fra­struc­ture on the West Bank.

Un­for­tu­nately, there are prece­dents. In 1982, fol­low­ing the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of the Is­raeli am­bas­sador at the Dorch­ester Ho­tel by the anti-PLO Abu Ni­dal group, Ariel Sharon in­stead blamed the PLO and in­vaded Le­banon in order to strike at Is­rael’s cen­tral en­emy. Bri­tish Jews even­tu­ally un­der­stood that they had been mis­led — as did the then Is­raeli pre­mier, Me­nachem Be­gin.

In 1989, in an at­tempt to thwart a US-PLO dia­logue, Ne­tanyahu con­ducted a cam­paign to con­vince the White House that Arafat’s Fatah had vi­o­lated a pledge to cease cross­bor­der raids from Le­banon, whereas it had been the re­jec­tion­ist Pop­u­lar Front and Demo­cratic Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine which was re­spon­si­ble. Amer­i­can Jews were en­listed for that cam­paign. Since then, more Bri­tish Jews have asked ques­tions when two and two do not make four.

It is the mis­sile threat to Is­raelis that is up­per­most in the minds of Bri­tish Jews. The con­stant dis­rup­tion to daily life make it a ne­ces­sity to si­lence the mis­siles. Ne­tanyahu be­lieves that Ha­mas’s his­tory of re­jec­tion

The mis­sile threat to Is­raelis most con­cerns Bri­tish Jews

leaves only the mil­i­tary op­tion. Tar­ring the Pales­tinian Authority with the Ha­mas brush al­lows him to prop­a­gate the be­lief that there is no one to talk to, and to prac­tise the pol­i­tics of po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion. There is no need to place on the ta­ble an Is­raeli peace plan — and es­pe­cially when he is un­der con­stant scru­tiny from cab­i­net col­leagues fur­ther to the right.

The blur­ring of dif­fer­ent Is­lamist or­gan­i­sa­tions in the pub­lic mind has been en­cour­aged, es­pe­cially since Ha­mas has been un­will­ing or has found it dif­fi­cult to con­trol more rad­i­cal groups in Gaza. It may well have been these groups that pro­voked Is­rael by fir­ing mis­siles to draw in a ret­i­cent Ha­mas into the mael­strom. Yet by weak­en­ing Ha­mas, does Is­rael not em­power Is­lamic Ji­had and the Pop­u­lar Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tees?

Ha­mas is en­gaged in a game of smoke and mir­rors. Sun­day’s at­tack on the She­jaiya district brought heavy Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties. Yet Ha­mas does not pub­lish fig­ures for the deaths of its com­bat­ants or al­low their bod­ies to be shown on tele­vi­sion. The hu­man in­ter­est story of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties at­tracts me­dia at­ten­tion far more than Is­rael’s com­plex rea­sons for be­ing there.

On the moral level, the whole­sale killing of civil­ians is ter­ri­ble but it is also a po­lit­i­cal weapon that Ha­mas de­ploys. This is Is­rael’s Achilles heel, that will even­tu­ally bring about a cease­fire with a Ha­mas de­graded in ca­pa­bil­ity, but or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally still in­tact, ready for the next time. Colin Shindler is an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at SOAS, Univer­sity of Lon­don.

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