It’s always precarious living as a Jew in England at the time of a middle-eastern crisis (if one doesn’t count the whole region as in a perpetual crisis). I, like many others, see it as some sort of responsibility of mine to defend, or in some circumstances apologize for, Israel’s behaviour, like I was residing in Beit Aghion. The abnormality of this however, was never really apparent to me until after an inspiring Genesis Leadership talk a few days ago. The intrinsic notion of the speech given by an IDF sergeant has remained ringing in my ears like ‘Blurred Lines’ after a Thursday night trip to Broad Street. Why are we so apologetic for the actions of Israel? Why can we not ground our claim to Israel in theological debate as Palestinians can? Why should I get laughed at in my International Relations seminar should I cite my forefather Abraham’s covenant with God as why Israel belongs to Jews? After all, no one laughs when Palestinian refugees proudly claim that ‘Buraq’ (the heavenly beast) carried Mohammed to Israel in Jerusalem. The question that follows is: why do such double standards exist?
And after racking my brain, there’s no legitimate reason I can come up with as to why. If I can’t find one, Mr IDF soldier can’t, and my International Relations seminar tutor can’t, does that make it legitimate (or at least just as legitimate as the Palestinian theological claim) for me to say that the Jews deserve the land of Israel because God promised it to us.
This, however, is not the line taken by Israeli government, by allies such as the US, or by international opinion spurred on by the media. If it was, Israel’s claim would be irrefutable- as I’ve already said- such double standards wouldn’t be allowed to exist so plainly. Israel, instead, opt for arguments much weaker in nature: ‘the only stable democratic region in the middle east’ argument, as well as ‘reparations for genocide’. As the aforementioned soldier explained, is that the reason millions of eighteen and nineteen year olds risk unprecedented levels of danger every day to secure the borders of a small country without material wealth? No. The claim is grounded much deeper than that, the struggle more complex.
What all this means is that when the media next report about crisis in Israel- and it will happen sooner rather than later- you, the reader, the viewer, the neutral, should take just a second to empathise with the roots of the struggle, not the politics. Taking into account these roots, next envisage yourself in the IDF, with your sniper sights on a Palestinian terrorist, suicide vest on, clutching an infant as a human shield; media ready for a field day, reporting how an IDF soldier shot an unarmed Palestinian child. Or envisage yourself living in a refugee camp: your father’s father was removed from his home- this has been your family’s home ever since.
The message I’m really trying to convey here is that we see this whole issue in just a single dimension: Israel is wrong killing Palestinians, or Israel is right to protect itself. The mainstream media are to blame for these misperceptions. The situation is much more fluid, much tenser; more is at stake than just a ‘Game of Homes’. For Israelis it is the ability to sleep at night knowing that they won’t have to hear an alarm at 4am, warning them they have fifteen seconds to get to their bomb shelter. It is the right to a land which they can call home, feel safe in: not having to hide their Kippah on the way to Synagogue as some in England feel they have to do. For Palestinians, it is a perpetual struggle against foreign oppressors; so deep goes this struggle that suicide in the name of the cause is an honour. They could become citizens of Jordan or Lebanon, who would accept them with open arms, allowing for an escape from poverty in refugee camps- but would rather avenge the losses of their father’s fathers.
The conclusion I’ve reached in myself, is that I will no longer apologize for Israel’s actions. I haven’t walked a meter in an Israeli citizen’s shoes, let alone a mile. I haven’t seen my best friend blown up in Jerusalem cafe; I haven’t seen my paratrooper comrades shot out of the sky. Why should I apologize when the people themselves fighting this unremitting war feel they have nothing to apologize for? I believe that the media too should not make these judgements until they fully understand through empathy the true ordeal of living in the most contested piece of land in history. Just as I will not apologize for what Israel does, the media, the uninformed, uninvested reader should not point fingers. They can’t understand; and until they do understand they can’t constructively contribute to potential political debate. So next time you read a biased report online, or see a yellow headline across your T.V screen blaming one side, step back, try to empathise, scour the internet for the truth in the matter; because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from media reporting in the middle east, matters are seldom as they seem. And this issue is too important for debates to be only half informed.
By Adam Isaacs