Image via WikipediaMany years ago I used to manage the Middle East PR account of a certain very large software company. I went to Paris for a conferency thing with them and there I met, over dinner, the general manager of their Israeli operation. It was an odd moment. Coming from very different sides of the fence (or, if you prefer, security wall), we had both spent a great deal of time managing reactions to each other’s operations in our respective markets. Initially somewhat wary of each other, we got on fine, as it turned out.
In over 20 years of working in and travelling around the Middle East, I have always tried as hard as I could to remain objective about Israel and the actions of its government. It’s been difficult at times, I have to admit. But I’m also conscious of how easy it would be to slip into an unthinkingly anti-Israeli stance when your friends and colleagues have been so caught up in the conflict and wickedness that has burned so long on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
My friend Jacks came back from a trip to Qana with UNIFIL carrying photographs of the burned children in the smoke-blackened remains. It’ll be a long time before I forget those. She was a nervous wreck at the time, having spent weeks travelling around Southern Lebanon. I have stood in Beirut as the Israeli jets overfly the city on one of their window smashing trips, breaking the sound barrier purposefully so that everyone underneath gets the message. I have watched colleagues reduced to tears as they try to telephone their families under bombardment. I watched in horror last year, thanks to Palestinian news agency Ramattan’s rooftop camera, as Israel pointlessly smashed its way through the ghetto of Gaza with massive military force, blotting hundreds innocents out of existence as they went.
When I wrote Olives, the second book wot I writed, I tried desperately hard to retain a sense of balance. The book’s about a journalist who gets caught up in a series of bombings in Jordan and Israel. It’s necessarily told from an Arab perspective because our man is living in Amman and falls in love with a nice local girl, but despite that I wanted to make sure that it didn’t demonise or dehumanise the people over the border. I hope I was successful in that.
I completely lost any sense of objectivity last night. Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech had me raging. An exercise in indefensible, calculated wickedness, I believe it demonstrated how incredibly out of touch Israel’s government is. There cannot be room in the world for people like that – people who will so willingly and glibly consign others to poverty and disease, despair and degradation. Netanyanhu trotted out the same awful Zionist claptrap, the same distortions that gave us ‘A land without a people for a people without a land.’ But for some reason, this time it made me angry. I think perhaps because his words are so completely out of step with any sense of justice or fairness, so totally out of touch with the mood and spirit of the time.
It’s become so entrenched in Israeli policy, this idea that you have to go to the negotiating table hard, that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Benji’s just setting the stage for a tough tussle with Barack’s boys. By resetting the border lines with the wall (so that it encompasses extensive water resources on the Israeli side), by creeping into the post-1967 areas with settlements, Israel’s continued, inexorable progress across the map of Palestine has left only a tiny area of the least viable land for any Palestinian state to occupy. And yet even now Netanyahu’s government will continue to build settlements, will continue to use their own people as tools in the Great Game, the vicious land grab that has become core to Israeli policy. Is he just squaring up for that great, final negotiation or is he genuinely so arrogant that he believes that Israel will be allowed to continue on this course? Bill Clinton’s reaction on meeting Netanyahu possibly gives us the answer to that one.
The great difference of course is that now these words are being heard by a world that has had a chance to see quite how evilly the Israeli government is willing to behave towards the people whose farms and land were appropriated in the country’s founding. The flow of information means that people around the world are more informed, have access to the other side of the story – the side that has been so marginalised for so long.
Obama’s overture to the Arab World was a major signal that the US administration understands what George Bush’s dumb hick neo-con monkeys failed to grasp. Settle the Palestinian issue and you will not only bring the prospect of wealth and hope back to the Middle East but you will defuse the extremism that has torn the region apart for so long.
Benji’s failed to grasp that one, too.
What surprises me is why Israeli students aren’t on the streets trying to get rid of their evil old men, too.