Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dogma is dogma is dogma

(By Ed.)
Today I defended Israelis; I never thought I would find myself in this position. It seems that for some of those in the pro-Palestinian camp (a camp in which I have long stood), in their eagerness to defend the rights of a victimised people living under an illegal occupation, they have lost sight of their most basic humanity, and adopted a terrifyingly dogmatic line in relation to all Israelis. Recently I came across a book of photography that did nothing to change my mind about the occupation, but forced me to confront the human suffering of some individual Israelis. The book called Testimony ( is the fruit of a four-year photographic project in Israel and Palestine by photographer, Gillian Laub. The image on the cover that attracted my attention was of a woman soldier; I immediately recognised the Israeli uniform and picked up the book, my lips curled in disgust.

Then for the next half an hour I stood rooted to the spot staring at the portraits of individuals, their young bodies maimed and scorched, a teenage girl reclining on her bed next to two erect prosthetic legs, a man with an adolescent mustache sitting in his wheelchair on a terrace. The former was an Israeli girl caught in a bomb blast in a cafe or bus - I don't remember, the latter a Palestinian who had lost his two brothers, and his legs, when taking a shortcut to bypass a closed checkpoint, the three of them stumbled into an unmarked minefield.

Yes, that is right, they and many other young Arabs and Jews are in the same book, and this is what so incensed my friend this evening: to equate the suffering of an Israeli with a Palestinian; one is a rightful victim, the other is not wholly innocent. This is where I have a problem: for the unequivocal victimhood of one does not necessarily make the other a villain. Yet, for my friend, in order she believes to mount the best defense for the Palestinian victim of a cruel occupation she must prove that all in the state of Israel are guilty, including the children. By her reasoning the child who lost her legs is not wholly innocent for she too is an occupier, although of course it is her parents who are responsible for her suffering by stubbornly remaining on Palestinian land and for not pulling out of Israel and taking their child back where she belongs, wherever the hell that is.

To convince me of what a great defender of international human rights she is, she suggested that were an Iraqi to come to London now and kill her child, she would of course be upset, but she could hardly blame him as she was as an American guilty for being an occupying force in Iraq and her son would only sadly be paying for the sins of his mother. In fact it was not enough to evoke that scenario, within minutes the topic had switched to Iraq, whereby she drew a brilliant parallel between the Israeli victims of suicide bombs and American soldiers who are wounded in roadside bombs - in other words, they all had it coming to them. My head started to spin. How could I counter such a perverse vengefulness that cannot and will not countenance any talk of the suffering of the 'enemy'? She then evoked the film, Downfall, on Hitler and said if we were going to talk about feeling sorry for a bad person, then we should beware of how easy a trap that is, as even she became a little teary at the demise of the leader of the Third Reich. So now the Israeli girl of approximately 15 years old is equated with Hitler or an American soldier on voluntary service in Iraq.

So much for human rights. I should have heard the warning bells earlier on in the evening, when we briefly discussed Iran and she posited that as things had been much worse - indeed three times worse - under the vile shah, the people must be happy under the Islamic Republic or they would have risen up and revolted as they did in 1979. Having just finished reading both Shirin Ebadi's autobiography and Hamid Dabashi's book on Iran, I felt incredulous at her statement. Must one's righteous disgust with one's own country's indefensible foreign policies cloud one's judgement to the extent that one starts championing the 'democratic' nature of the Islamic republic of Iran?

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