Tears tumbled down the flushed peach cheeks. The little boy legs went rigid, and his shining eyes cried out in desperate appeal. He was looking to me to make the fear go away.
The dentist looked at me and asked, “What do you want me to do?”
The tooth didn’t come out…
Seeing my little boy scared, bewildered, wondering why he had to go through this traumatic experience, made me think of the little child whose Israeli mother I’d heard on BBC Radio 4 that morning. I’d been able to end my child’s suffering quickly, instantly. Soon he was swigging a milkshake as if nothing had happened. That simple pleasure made everything right in his little world. How lucky we were.
I thought again of the little Israeli child, fearful, crying perhaps, cowering in the family’s shelter as the sirens blared again. No doubt her mother prayed that her country’s state-of-the-art air defence systems would protect them from the rockets that were raining haphazardly down. The Israeli Defence Force often fire two Tamir missiles from their billion dollar Iron Dome system to counter one of the Hamas rockets.
Tamir missiles cost somewhere between $20,000 and $100,000 each. That’s a big investment to stop one home-made, hundred dollar missile from a metalworking shop in Gaza. But who’s counting the cost? The US has deep pockets. In 2019, America disbursed to Israel $3.8 billion in military aid. And surely $20,000 or $100,000 is a price any of us would pay to stop the little Israeli child being killed or injured. What was her crime? She didn’t cause the half-century of illegal occupation…
No shelters for these children
I thought also of the children in Gaza, similarly cowering, terrified, no doubt, as the IDF’s artillery, naval guns and F-15s pounded them from the land, sea and air. It was impossible in my mind to distinguish between the fear of one child over another, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But there is a contrast, of course. The children in Gaza have no shelters.
There’s no Palestinian air defence system, and nowhere to escape to, because Israel will not let them leave. All those Palestinian children in Occupied Gaza can rely on for their protection is their parents’ fragile bodies, and perhaps God. If you believe in God. Personally, I prefer international law.
Of course, I suspect most of the children in Gaza are unaware of how international law categorises their condition. Even if they were distantly aware through the din of bombs, how much hope would they reasonably invest in international law? What good has it done them so far? Or their parents? Or their grandparents?
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has lasted for over fifty years. Maybe Hamas is right, after all? Maybe they are the only people who will ‘protect’ Palestinians, stand up for their dignity and their pride? That’s what all militias say, of course. Even ones that didn’t muster until twenty years after the occupation began.
Hamas isn’t the cause of this problem, but it certainly is not the solution either. Hamas sends the rockets and brings down the Israeli sledge-hammer upon the heads of ordinary Palestinians. Hamas harms Israeli civilians, and it harms Palestinians too. Far more than it protects the latter. And beyond the cauldron of conflict, it destroys the Palestinian cause abroad.
It provides Israel its fig leaf in the US media and in the UK. As soon as Hamas fired the first rocket during the present conflict, the default dialectic was lazily assembled in the media, and we didn’t have to reset our comfortable assumptions about the history or the context any more.
Uncomfortable questions not asked
Our political leaders didn’t have to answer uncomfortable questions about the hundreds of millions of pounds of British arms sales to Israel, about the British Army’s deepening relationship with the IDF, about political access and influence – what former Conservative MP, Alan Duncan describes in his latest book, The Thick Of It, as “Disgusting interference in our public life”.
No. We don’t need to go there. We’re back to ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and perhaps we have an atavistic affinity for that conception of the world. Because luckily, we in Britain have always ridden with the ‘cowboys’, and the Israelis, I suppose, are an allied posse.
So, should we care about what’s happening in Palestine? If Palestinians want to make a fuss and upset the Israelis, it’s not our problem, is it? Should we count the cost? Should we know the truth from the propaganda? Should we know where our political representatives stand? Well, to answer my own questions, yes, we should. Emphatically, we should.
But let’s set aside pressing moral arguments and the emotional dimensions for a moment. Let’s not think of mere ‘right and wrong’ of underdogs or of the lives of foreigners’ children. Let’s just think about how it might affect us. And our children.
I think the most compelling reason to care about what happens in Palestine is that it directly affects you and me in Britain, in East Sussex. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination directly impacts upon the freedom and liberties that our children will inherit. Israel’s ongoing occupation and its regime of apartheid is shaping our children’s world. Because central to what’s going on in Israel-Palestine is international law and human rights.
And human rights are similar, in a way, to protection from pandemics and global warming, in that we all fail if we have protections in one place and not in another. Until everybody’s protected, nobody’s protected. An attack on human rights anywhere is an attack on human rights everywhere. These aren’t just Palestinian rights, they’re our rights. Our children’s rights. That’s why Palestine matters.
Image Credits: Guy Harris , Guy Harris .