Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shades of Grey

A real problem in Irish (and indeed European) commentary on the Israel-Palestine conflict is that we exist in a world where things are black and white. There is only good and evil, nice things and bad things. We are cocooned from anything nasty and brutish, and so snuggled are we by the welfare state that we do not understand that much of mankind faces the distinct possibility that life will be cut short.

In some ways, this gulf between us and the truly harsh realities of life allow us, the Irish, to be remarkably generous and sympathetic to those in need, or those who are in a weaker position than we are. The most obvious, and clichéd, examples would be the growth of the charity sector in Ireland, particularly with those charities who work in the Developing World; or how Ireland was one of only 3 EU states to open its doors wide to immigrants from the states of Eastern Europe on their accession in 2005. These issues were relatively black and white: starving Darfurians clearly deserve help, and poor immigrants looking for jobs in wealthier nations obviously struck a chord with the Irish.

But our ability to engage with issues on the international stage is degraded when rights and wrongs are less than clear. Witness the vitriol aimed at Israel over this last week; justified, in so far as storming the ship in question was clearly wrong. Yet while many Irish commentators have much to say on the wrongs of Israel's blockade, and the wrongs of Operation Cast Lead last December, they seem to feel that Hamas firing rockets into Israel, or the threats continuously emanting from Tehran, are not worthy of comment.

Clearly, much of what Israel has done recently is wrong, whether judged from a moral, political or security standpoint, but it can only be prevented from committing these wrongs by improving that state's security situation, something that can only be achieved once the rockets stop falling.

Irish desires to castigate the Israelis do nothing for the greater good of the Middle East; it is purely an exercise in judging the region by the standards we expect of Western Europe, where terrorism is rare, and air raids or rocket attacks rarer still.

It is reminiscent of the disgust and distance with which southerners viewed the Troubles in the North; yes, the violence was appalling, but could our moralising, safe in the 26 counties, really do anything to bring peace between Nationalists and Unionists? Did we not recognise that, if circumstances were a little different, we as individuals could be capable of the hatred and violence we witnessed north of the border?

Until all parties were brought to the table, free from recriminations and arguments about, literally, who started it, nothing was achieved in the North. And if we expect that peace in the Middle East can be achieved by putting pressure on Israel alone, it would appear we have already forgotten the lessons of our own recent history.

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