Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

We know more than most that dialogue is the solution

Belfast Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann can suggest no peaceful way forward for either Palestinians or Israelis, says Malcolm Jaffa

When, in 1948, the state of Israel was established, following a resolution by the UN General Assembly, it was attacked by armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Of course, this tiny country - nine miles wide at its narrowest point - had to defend itself.

One of the consequences of that war was a terrible redistribution of population. Eamonn McCann, in his recent column 'How the destruction of Gaza was planned over six decades ago', mentions 700,000 Palestinians who were displaced.

But he fails to mention the 700,000 Jews who were forced out from surrounding Arab countries in the aftermath of the war.

My relatives lived in Iraq as Jews for more than 2,000 years. By the 1950s, they were living as refugees in Israel.

In 1948, there were more than a quarter-of-a-million Jews in Iraq. Today, there are fewer than 10 individuals.

There is a similar story of ethnic-cleansing of Jewish communities from across North Africa and the Middle East.

The Jewish refugees from Arab lands are forgotten refugees. Eamonn should be interested in justice for all people who have been displaced - Jews as well as Palestinians. Eamonn is wrong to say that Israel desires Gaza's destruction. What Israel objects to is thousands of rockets falling on its citizens.

As in 1948, Israel was forced into conducting a defensive war to protect its civilians.

More than 600 missiles were launched from Gaza this year before Israel began its operation to bring such attacks to an end.

And Hamas missiles are not all homemade. Many are Iranian-manufactured, medium-range missiles, packed with explosives and shrapnel. In the eight days from November 14 to the ceasefire, more than 1,500 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel - each one intended to kill, or maim, Israeli civilians.

How would Eamonn react if similar numbers of rockets were raining down on Derry and Strabane? How long would Northern Ireland's peace process hold if one community was forcing the other into bomb-shelters on a daily basis?

Israel is a tiny country. It is about the size of Wales. Rockets with a range of 40 miles from Gaza endanger more than a million Israelis in the south of the country.

More than 50,000 missiles in the hands of Hezbolla on the Lebanese border threaten the entire north of the country. Tel Aviv is under threat now from both directions.

Chemical weapons held by a despotic regime in Syria might fall into the hands of Hezbolla as a result of the civil war there, which has killed more than 40,000.

Iran is an aspiring nuclear power, whose president regards Israel as a cancer which must be removed from the region. In case Eamonn hasn't noticed, it's a rough neighbourhood.

Among casualties in the incessant rocket attacks on Israel are many Israeli Arabs. All religions enjoy freedom of worship in Israel. Far from being a country for Jews alone, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is increasing.

Eamonn's column is, therefore, inaccurate and misleading. But what disturbs me most is that it gives zero indication of a way forward.

He offers no solution, other than the boycott, isolation and elimination of Israel - because Israel is "the problem".

Here is a suggestion: let's consider the lessons of our own recent history in Northern Ireland. Peace did not come from one side eliminating the other.

It came out of the recognition that a better future for our children required political compromise.

If Northern Ireland has any contribution to make towards peace in the Middle East, I believe it will come through encouraging dialogue.

I challenge Eamonn McCann to become part of this process.

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