Sunday, January 04, 2009

villa in the jungle

Independent | And while its disproportionate response does provoke calls for restraint from many international bodies, the Israeli establishment continues to paint itself as the passive underdog under threat. Ehud Barak has described Israel as "a villa in the middle of a jungle"– a place of civilisation surrounded by savage hordes.

I've met many Israelis who see themselves as just that, convinced that the rest of the world does not understand their plight and that the only important issue is to stop the Hamas rockets. This week's OCHA report may state that Israel's blockade means that food, medical supplies, fresh water and fuel are so severely limited that Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, but Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, denies any such problem. She promotes a widely held view that the suffering of the people in Gaza is their own fault for tolerating Hamas leadership.

Is this intransigence so surprising? We have had 60 years during which the modern state of Israel has never been taken to task for ignoring international criticism. It has ignored, with impunity, countless UN resolutions on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, on ending its occupation of the West Bank and encouraging its civilians to settle in the Occupied Territories, among others.

And why are they not brought to task? The simple fact is that Israel has the most powerful psychological influence to count on – the world's collective guilt over the Holocaust. This means that although the world may sporadically slap Israel's wrists, no one dare go too far, perhaps out of fear of being accused of anti-Semitism or in any way attacking a people who have historically suffered so much. The tragedy is, though, that it is now another people, the Palestinians, who are suffering because of the world's hesitation to offend Israel.

Pro-Israeli sentiment is reinforced by many in the international arena who, privately perhaps, approve Barak's "villa in the jungle" metaphor. To some, Israel represents a foothold of Western values on the edge of the Arab world, which, with the rise of fundamentalist Islam, is perceived as a growing threat. And there is, to me, the very frightening growth of fundamentalist Christian belief – especially in the United States – that, given that the existence of the Israeli state is part of God's plan, it is above criticism.