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Time to Stop the Mideast Comparisons
Posted on Jan 10, 2009
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.
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Here’s how it goes. I was in Toronto when I opened the right-wing National Post and found Lorne Gunter trying to explain to readers what it felt like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. “Suppose you lived in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills,” writes Gunter, “and people from the suburb of Scarborough—about 10 kilometres away—were firing as many as 100 rockets a day into your yard, your kid’s school, the strip mall down the street and your dentist’s office…”
Getting the message? It just so happens, of course, that the people of Scarborough are underprivileged, often new immigrants—many from Afghanistan—while the people of Don Mills are largely middle class with a fair number of Muslims. Nothing like digging a knife into Canada’s multicultural society to show how Israel is all too justified in smashing back at the Palestinians.
Now a trip down Montreal way and a glance at the French-language newspaper La Presse two days later. And sure enough, there’s an article signed by 16 pro-Israeli writers, economists and academics who are trying to explain what it feels like to come under Palestinian rocket attack. “Imagine for a moment that the children of Longueuil live day and night in terror, that businesses, shops, hospitals, schools are the targets of terrorists located in Brossard.” Longueuil, it should be added, is a community of blacks and Muslim immigrants, Afghans, Iranians. But who are the “terrorists” in Brossard?
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In Ireland, my favourite journalistic justification for this bloodbath came from my old mate Kevin Myers. “The death toll from Gaza is, of course, shocking, dreadful, unspeakable,” he mourned. “Though it does not compare with the death toll amongst Israelis if Hamas had its way.” Get it? The massacre in Gaza is justified because Hamas would have done the same if they could, even though they didn’t do it because they couldn’t. It took Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times’s resident philosopher-in-chief, to speak the unspeakable. “When does the mandate of victimhood expire?” he asked. “At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of international law and of common humanity?”
I had an interesting time giving the Tip O’Neill peace lecture in Derry when one of the audience asked, as did a member of the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society a day later, whether the Northern Ireland Good Friday peace agreement—or, indeed, any aspect of the recent Irish conflict—contained lessons for the Middle East. I suggested that local peace agreements didn’t travel well and that the idea advanced by John Hume (my host in Derry)—that it was all about compromise—didn’t work since the Israeli seizure of Arab land in the West Bank had more in common with the 17th-century Irish Catholic dispossession than sectarianism in Belfast.
What I do suspect, however, is that the split and near civil war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has a lot in common with the division between the Irish Free State and anti-treaty forces that led to the 1922-3 Irish civil war; that Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel—and the enemies of Michael Collins who refused to recognise the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the border with Northern Ireland—are tragedies that have a lot in common, Israel now playing the role of Britain, urging the pro-treaty men (Mahmoud Abbas) to destroy the anti-treaty men (Hamas).
I ended the week in one of those BBC World Service discussions in which a guy from The Jerusalem Post, a man from al-Jazeera, a British academic and Fisk danced the usual steps around the catastrophe in Gaza. The moment I mentioned that 600 Palestinian dead for 20 Israeli dead around Gaza in 10 years was grotesque, pro-Israeli listeners condemned me for suggesting (which I did not) that only 20 Israelis had been killed in all of Israel in 10 years. Of course, hundreds of Israelis outside Gaza have died in that time—but so have thousands of Palestinians.
My favourite moment came when I pointed out that journalists should be on the side of those who suffer. If we were reporting the 18th-century slave trade, I said, we wouldn’t give equal time to the slave ship captain in our dispatches. If we were reporting the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, we wouldn’t give equal time to the SS spokesman. At which point a journalist from the Jewish Telegraph in Prague responded that “the IDF are not Hitler”. Of course not. But who said they were?
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