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.
“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.