As the rhetoric rises at demonstrations in Swedish cities, it's time to rethink and cast a critical eye over much that is written and said about the conflict in Gaza.
Published in The Local: http://www.thelocal.se/20140724/gaza-conflict-needs-impartial-unaligned-help-not-empty-rhetoric
As usual it didn’t take long for events in Gaza and Israel to reach Swedish public attention. For the benefit of those who witnessed the demonstrations in Stockholm last week, read the statements made by Swedish politicians and followed the coverage in the Swedish media, here are a few recommendations and warnings about the way Swedes may see the conflict, and how they can do something about it.
First, don't believe the demonstrators who tell you that Hamas is a legitimate liberation movement. Hamas is a fundamentalist, racist, death-worshipping organization which uses terror and violence against both Palestinians and Israelis. It's in total control of Gaza which is not occupied by Israel; it has never agreed to the two state solution ; it doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist; it invests millions of dollars received from abroad in warfare instead of infrastructure, healthcare and education and it intentionally targets Israeli civilians. Hamas' aim is the total destruction of the Jewish state, not a compromise with it. Swedish Green Party MP Mehmet Kaplan's words last week were particularly revealing. "We shall free Jerusalem" he shouted at a demonstration in Medborgareplatsen. Yes, that's right, Jerusalem, not Gaza. But beyond the politics of borders and security arrangements ,if there's an hierarchy of evil-doers in this crises, Hamas, which uses intentional killing of children as a political tool justified by religious ideology, is no doubt on the top of it.
But don’t believe the official Israeli spokesmen quoted in the Swedish media either .Even if they're extremely well spoken, even if they have American accents and great catch phrases, don’t believe them when they paint a picture of a military operation which is defensive by nature, targeting only armed militants. Israel isn't out for Palestinian blood, but its overwhelming advantages in military technology and fire power make a bloodbath inevitable. Palestinians are being killed by the hundreds and there is a built-in asymmetry in the death toll. Israel's military operation in Gaza is causing a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world's poorest and most densely populated areas. Because of this and because of Israel's modern defense systems, if there's an hierarchy of suffering, the Palestinians with their dead children, their thousands of displaced refugees, their bombed hospitals and demolished quarters are no doubt on the top of it.
But don’t believe the Palestinian story of a bloodthirsty Israeli government operating an army of professional killers either. The main reason Palestinian civilian targets are being hit is because Hamas militants choose to place their weapons and hide their troops behind, under and besides apartments, schools, hospitals and mosques. This has been proven time and again and Hamas leaders have even been seen publicly justifying the practice of using civilians as human shields in the name of the holy war against the infidels. Most Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza so far are young men in their late teens or early twenties, just out of high-school, put in a terrible situation wanting to protect their parents, girlfriends and siblings from missiles aimed at their homes. They are not bloodthirsty mercenaries.
But don't believe Israel's advocates who tell you that Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle-East, is a western, almost European society, promoting humanism, gay rights and religious freedom while it's attacked by its barbarian neighbors. Sadly, the plague of racism and extreme nationalism has entered mainstream Israeli society as well as its national media and corridors of power .Israel could have been, indeed it should have been, a force for progress, democracy and welfare in the Middle-East, instead it's becoming more and more adapted to the ugliest sides of the region with its growing fundamentalist religious movements and brutal xenophobic mobs, all in the service of international forces using the local population as clients for weapon manufactures and sellers of energy sources.
But don’t believe the Palestinians who tell you the conflict is between Jews and Arabs. It's not. This conflict is part of a wider political complex. Israel is now -at least temporarily – in a strategic partnership with Egypt which is why it agreed to an Egyptian ceasefire plan designed to counter an initiative by Qatar and Turkey. While the Arab world is in flames fuelled by tension between Sunnis and the Shiites, rivalries between Saudi-Arabia and Iran, and the falling apart of Syria and Iraq, radical Muslim organizations such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollahare are just as eager to kill rival Muslims as they are to kill Jews.
But don't blindly accept the Israeli narrative describing the Arabs as pathological rejecters of peace. Since the Oslo agreements in the early nineties Israel has rejected many peace initiatives both local and international, preferring Jewish settlement building in the West-Bank and a one-sided disengagement in Gaza. Meantime it has made the daily life of the Palestinians in both regions impossible and has weakened the moderate Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.
But most of all – don't believe those who tell you that you don't get it, that you're ignorant, that you don't understand the complexity of the situation and that there's nothing you can do to change it. You can. But diplomatic statements, angry talkbacks and one-sided demonstrations in the streets of Stockholm won't do it.
There's nothing wrong with talkbacks and demonstrations. Showing solidarity with the victims of war and expressing popular support or outrage are worthy causes. But importing the Middle-East's violence, shallow cliché banners and ignorant hysterical screams won't help anyone. Neither will boycotts, sanctions and biased resolutions.
Swedes, however, can give a great deal to the people of Tel-Aviv, Gaza city, Sderot and Beit-Hanoun. They can teach them the inspiring pragmatism of the Swedish welfare state and its ability to invest in universal healthcare, education, an uncorrupted governing system and an open society. Forget about carefully crafted diplomatic lingo; forget about vocal, uncompromising support to one side only. Swedes can contribute the moral and political legacy of the likes of Raul Wallenberg and Olof Palme, they can shake off the ugly baggage of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism still haunting them, and contribute their historical heritage of peacemaking and activism which takes a stand and saves lives wherever and whenever needed.
'What impressed me", wrote George Orwell about the Spanish Civil-War, "is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side". It seems many Israelis and many Palestinians have reached this point of apathy, distrust and despair. If anything, this should be what Swedish demonstrators, reporters and politicians together with their European allies, should contribute to this escalating crisis – impartial and unaligned help – not empty rhetoric of criticizing this and supporting that, rather humanitarian assistance and international funding and assurances for a lasting, stable and fair ceasefire.