Yeah But The Other Side Started It

Terrible, terrible scenes on the border between Gaza and Israel. The IDF have massacred 52 protesters.

Meanwhile, social media is full of people seeking to justify and excuse this violence. The main line being parroted seems to be that Hamas provoked the attacks, because dead Palestinians are politically useful.

There may be some within the Hamas leadership who think like that, but that does not excuse or mitigate the violence by Israel, a country that is supposed to be a democracy, that is supposed to respect human rights.

What we need to remember in these situations is that blame is not zero sum. It can be possible for Hamas to have malign motives in staging the protest and putting people in danger. That does not remove moral culpability from the Israeli soldiers who pulled the trigger; nor the Israeli politicians who endorse their actions; nor the American politicians who in turn protect those Israeli politicians from accountability.

This situation is one where I appear to have pre-written blog posts ready to go – comments on previous asymmetric conflicts between the State of Israel and political groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

In July 2006, while working on an Edinburgh Festival show, I noted that these conflicts play out like a Greek tragedy. Even if all the death and conflict was not started by the protagonist, one wishes that they could have made different choices. In chess as in politics and war, sometimes you have to admit that the decisive move was made by your opponent a long time ago, and failing to admit as much leads you to morally dark places.

In January 2009, when Israel bombed the Gaza strip, I linked back to these earlier posts and pointed out that Israel, despite its superior fire-power, had again been outmanoeuvred:

If you’re faced with a situation where bombing civilians seems to be the only course of action left open to you, then you’ve already been outmanoeuvred, you have already lost, and the only thing you are playing for is your own soul, your own humanity.

I think the same reasoning holds true here. If your situation is such where a political opponent can easily and predictably provoke you into committing human rights atrocities, then you’re doing something wrong.

This, by the way, is why traditional diplomacy often feel so incremental and frustrating. True statesman can look several moves ahead, and predict possible responses by  other actors. They then act, or refrain from acting, so that no-one is forced into doing something they would rather not.

That sort of calculus does not happen under the reign of Donald Trump, for two reasons. The first is a simple lack of understanding of the consequences of bold PR moves that score quick culture-war wins.

And second, it is clear that he and his advisers do not really care about the consequences.

As with my posts on similar situations in 2006, 2009 and 2012, I will end by suggesting that the way out of the morass must be counter-intuitive, surprising, transcendental thinking. Its such a shame that religion plays such a crucial, dismal role in this particular conflict, because otherwise I would suggest we look there for answers.

There are examples in politics where surprising reconciliation can come when opposing sides build trust through faith. And cycles of recrimination and violence are cauterised by a surprising act of forgiveness.

Update

In the first version of this post, I illustrated the “Hamas provoked this” point with this Tweet from Frank Humphreys, Editor of World and Media.

But Frank points out that misses a crucial point he made in later Tweets, which is that Israel is responsible for its own actions.

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