I’ve thought long and hard before writing this post. I’ve read a whole host of other very learned and much better informed commentary before doing so. It is a great irony of appalling events that they tend to produce some of the most compelling writing and broadcasting. Examples have included Jon Snow’s report for Channel 4 News (http://www.channel4.com/news/the-children-of-gaza-jon-snow-video) and this exchange between Brian Eno and Peter Schwartz that has thrown more light than a lot of what has been written on the issue in the past fortnight (http://davidbyrne.com/gaza-and-the-loss-of-civilization).
The ‘appalling event’, of course, is the Israeli military action against Hamas in Gaza, and the impact of that on non-Hamas residents in that densely populated territory.
I should make clear at the outset that what follows is not prompted by antisemitism or support for the Palestinian Arab cause in Gaza and the West Bank. The history of Palestine, Israel (and indeed the wider Middle East) is long, complex and reflects no credit on Jew or Arab, and still less on the likes of the USA, Russia, the UK and France, who have for far too long treated the whole, extended region as a kind of ideological, theological and military testing zone.
However, what is happening now in Gaza is wrong. Plainly, simply and absolutely. The slaughter of children and civilian adults through indiscriminate aerial bombardment can never be justified. This is even more so when the level of killing, and the deliberate, targeted destruction of all those things that are necessary to civil society (hospitals, schools, water and energy distribution systems), is so wholly disproportionate to the level of threat that is posed to one side by the other. Again, to be clear, Hamas’ campaign of rocket attacks and guerilla action across the border into Israel is equally indefensible. But the level of killing and destruction that is now being rained down onto Gaza by Israel is obscene in comparison. I tend to shy away from absolutism on this blog and in my approach to life generally. It’s probably linked to my non-conformist upbringing in South Wales and the principles that were drilled into me during my undergraduate legal training. I try at all times to see both sides of the story, to take account of the fact that sometimes it really does “all depend”. But there are some things that fall into the category of fundamental principles that have to be preserved if the concept of humanity is to mean anything at all. It must be absolutely wrong for any country to seek to justify the deliberate slaughter of civilians, especially when a disproportionate number of those civilians are themselves children and (by definition) no threat to anybody.
It must also be absolutely wrong for those nations with the greatest influence over those who continue the slaughter not to bring that influence to bear to the fullest extent and in a way that makes clear to the whole world that what is happening cannot continue and must have consequences. This is not a time for quiet diplomacy and political language. This is the time for plain speaking. Cameron, Obama and other leaders of countries allied to Israel must now speak out unequivocally against the continuation of military action in Gaza. To do otherwise makes us accessories after the fact and tarnishes us all with the guilt that is the inevitable, human reaction to what is happening in Gaza now.