Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

What if British had treated Northern Irish like Israel treats Palestine?

As a child growing up in Israel, I saw how Palestinians became increasingly dehumanised. Fifty years later, we are now witnessing the result.

Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israel launched a large-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip Thursday, escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas' weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory's border with Israel. It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israel launched a large-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip Thursday, escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas' weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory's border with Israel. It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Mohammed Al Awaj, 4, cries while doctors treat him for his injuries following an Israeli air strike on a vehicle, as he lies on the bed at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Hundreds of Palestinian families, their children crying, fled Wednesday, as Israel intensified airstrikes on Hamas targets, including homes of the movement's leaders, following failed Egyptian cease-fire efforts. Before the renewed bombardment, Israel had told tens of thousands of residents of border areas to evacuate their neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Palestinian health officials say that in total, over 200 Palestinians have been killed. On the Israeli side, one man has been killed since July 8. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A woman cries as Palestinians flee their homes in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, after Israel had airdropped leaflets warning people to leave the area, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. A Hamas website says Israel has fired missiles at the homes of four of its senior leaders as it resumed bombardment of Gaza, following a failed Egyptian cease-fire effort. Health officials say the Palestinian death toll in nine days of fighting has reached 204.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Israeli war planes and naval vessels intensified attacks across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, targeting senior Hamas leaders and bombarding a coastal area, where four Palestinian boys were killed. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

“People of Belfast! We, the British, have had enough of the deadly antics of the IRA who live among you and attack us using you as human shields.

“We hereby warn you to vacate your homes and leave your city, as we intend, without further notice, to bomb you back to the stone age, as our media is demanding. To that end we will also cut off your electricity so that your dialysis patients will discover whose blood is redder, on the advice of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.

“Although there is no place for you to go, we will, of course, blame you for this, as you and your toddlers and hospital patients are very scary and lack all concern for civilians.”

The Gaza strip, which actually received such a notice on Sunday and again on Tuesday, is a fraction the size of Northern Ireland but with a similar population. Its narrow, shambolic streets crammed full with desperate people trying to make ends meet.

Over the past decade we have had “Operation Cast Lead” (2008/9) in which illegal white phosphorus was employed, 1,400 Gazan civilians were killed including one family whose children bled to death on the roof because Israeli aircraft prevented their evacuation. The Israelis lost 11 soldiers. In “Operation Pillar of Smoke”, (2012) hundreds more died, all Palestinian.

As far as Israel is concerned, the only change since then (apart from people like the woman who today tweeted that killing Arabs “gives me orgasms”) has been that between each attack Hamas’s rockets have increased their range.

They are still little more than toys compared with Israel’s smart bombs and heavy artillery and – yes! – nukes, not to mention the sophisticated anti-rocket devices, sirens and shelters which help protect the Israeli population. But they allow Israel to remain – in its own eyes and those of its blinkered backers – always the victim.

Why do Israelis feel like this about people they have only ever overpowered? Growing up in Jerusalem in the 1950s and 60s, I was vaguely aware that we lived in close proximity to “The Arabs” (the word Palestinians didn’t come into the vocabulary until after the 1967 war), but they might as well have been on another planet.

Instead of teaching Arabic as a second language in all schools, to enable us to communicate with our near neighbours, we were taught English, French and even Latin. The only demand for Arabic came from blokes who were looking for a career in military intelligence.

Importantly, back then there were virtually no rockets, no bus explosions, no suicide bombers. But also no respect. The Arabs were not like us, refined Western Jews who went to philharmonic concerts and competed in the Eurovision.

They were dirty, smelly, incomprehensible, mildly dangerous, not to be associated with whatsoever. The ones living in Israel were to shunned. Others would sneak over the border and try to do mischief (the word “terrorism” in its current meaning was only defined by the UN as recently as 2004) and were summarily dealt with by the army.

It is a short step from that attitude to the de-humanisation of the Palestinians, which is now ubiquitous. And if they’re not quite human, then... well, just look at the news.

I don’t think this happened in Northern Ireland even in the darkest days of The Troubles. Which is why I don’t expect any Good Fridays in the Middle East any time soon.

 

Further reading:

Israel intensifies assault on Gaza 

Gerry Adams urges Dail stand-up for Gaza

Israel launches Gaza ground offensive as four more Palestinian children are killed including a five-month-old baby 

Response to Gaza 'lily-livered' 

Gaza crisis: Israeli government insists it does not target civilians – the day after four children are killed by shelling

Israel actions 'disproportionate' 

The Gaza crisis body count isn't everything 

Gaza children killed as they played football on the beach 

The deep-lying racism fuelling the Israeli onslaught  

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