Monday, 9 May 2011

Independent thinking

As Yom HaZikaron draws to a close and Yom Hatzmaut begins, I got to thinking ... and surfing. I have had a few contrasting experiences and read a range of opinions on both of these issues over the last few days.

Peace and independence - is it really so hard to have both...?

Firstly was the discussion-turned-confrontation with our old friends the Brighton branch of the 'Boycott Israel' campaign. After a perfectly lovely morning at the Brighton Festival Children's Parade and lunch at Wagamama's, we passed their table-and-flag setup outside Churchill Square. Now I don't always talk to these people: sometimes I get very defensive (moi??) and angry and I don't like to lose my cool. But on Saturday I thought 'bugger it' and started talking to an old guy who was handing out 'Boycott Israel' flyers. I started by asking him whether the group were encouraging people to boycott all represive regimes in the Middle East or just Israel (I like rhetorical questions). Credit where it's due, the old man admitted that many other regimes in the region are pretty dastardly (ya don't say...?) but no, only Israel was the target of this boycott. Interestingly he said that this was because Israel sold more goods to the west than other Middle Eastern states and I argued that this wasn't the case (petrol, dates, petrol oh, and petrol???). I also told him I thought they were only boycotting the Israeli goods that were easy to boycott i.e. the fruit and Dead Sea products on their flyers - I asked him if the group used the Internet (they do) and asked why they weren'y boycotting the Israeli processor technology (no answer) - I'm sure they weren't boycotting Israeli medical treatments either...

Anyhow, we remained in good humour and polite, which was nice, even though his lack of general knowledge and myth-accepted-as-fact was bewildering. He thought that Israel and Jews denied the suffering of the Roma during the Holocaust (I asked him if he'd ever been to Yad Vashem, of course he hadn't) and he seemed to think that "his idea" of a peace and reconciliation-type of commission would benefit the conflict (I informed him such groups - such as Combatants for Peace - already exist). In the end we realised we weren't about to convert the other and agreed to differ, although I hope he learned something from me... ;)

Then it got dirty...

I picked up a longer leaflet entitled 'The Basic Facts' and was surprised to read that in 1948-9 Israel forcibly exiled and massacred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (I am paraphrasing because I don't have a copy of the leaflet with me) Now, I am not denying that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and forbidden to return in the 1948-9 war. But NOWHERE in the leaflet was a war mentioned. In fact to anyone who knew little about the conflict, on reading the 'basic facts' it would seem that there was no war in 1948-9 but instead a series of unprovoked acts of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israeli terrorist forces. So I asked one woman who was distributing the leaflets why they thought it was acceptable to omit the quite important fact that the day after Israel declared independence, 5 Arab states invaded and a war was fought, which Israel subsequently won.

I don't think she understood my question, because she was talking about Jewish terrorists who were active before 1948 (OK, but doesn't answer the question) how the Zionists forced the Balfour Declaration (again, not an answer and also astoundingly inaccurate from a historical perspective). I asked her again and she said something about there 'being no Arab states at this time because they weren't really independent' - again I'm paraphrasing but I can't think where this woman gets her information from... She asked if I had heard of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe (of course, I told her, I have an MA in Israeli Studies from UCL) and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. I repeated that I was not contesting what is in the leaflet, just what has been left out, and that I thought the leaflet was overtly one-sided to the point of warping history to suit a message. At this point, with the woman shouting (not sure why... she was making little sense regardless of her volume, and she really wasn't listening to me) and Mark beginning to shout, and me doing a 'calm down, calm down!' Harry Enfield Scouser-type of thing, we decided to walk away... although I would have liked to continue our  debate to see if she would ever answer my question.........

Indeed, 1948 definitely gets the temperatures rising - you only have to look at the comments on Ha'Aretz's Facebook page to see how quickly all reason flees from people when commenting on this subject. And how quickly vitriol and hatred appears.

Other interesting, even seemingly paradoxical responses to today's and yesterday's commemorations/celebrations include: Gilad Shalit's brother shouting out at the Memorial Ceremony on Har Herzl and being forcibly removed as a result and Motti Fogel's (brother of Udi, murdered with most of his family at Itamar) speech at the Combatants for Peace parallel ceremony.

However, the following blog has made me laugh out loud more than once - Benji Lovitt strikes gold with his 63 things I love about Israel 

Enjoy! and Hag Sameach!



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