Christina Patterson: Israel needs its friends more than ever

Everyone in the West knows suicide bombs are a bad idea, but quite a lot of people in the West think that stealing land isn't

Share
Related Topics

When Channel 4 decided to commission a TV drama set in the Middle East, to run in the gloomy winter months when people dream, and pray, and pay, for a tiny glimpse of sun, it can't have known how timely it would be. The Promise, which isn't written by Andrew Davies, and doesn't seem too concerned by relations between aristocrats and scullery maids, isn't quite the story of how a young man who wasn't allowed to sell vegetables sparked a revolution that ripped through the Middle East. But it is the story, or part of the story, of the country that fuels some of its deepest resentments.

Peter Kosminsky's drama moves between Palestine in the 1940s and a present-day Israel where rich Jews lie by swimming pools and poor Arabs struggle to buy bread. Drawing on the (fictional) diary of a British soldier, discovered by a granddaughter who's spending a chunk of her gap year with her best friend's family in Tel Aviv, it tells the largely untold tale of soldiers whose job it was to be the "meat in the sandwich" between Jews and Arabs. They did this by making sure that Jewish émigrés from Europe didn't escape from detention camps – and so exceed the immigration cap that the British had set – and then had to watch their comrades being blown apart by those who thought that people who'd been in concentration camps deserved something a little bit better.

It also tells the tale of the young woman learning about this, and going to the West Bank and Hebron, and seeing Jewish children throwing stones at Palestinian children, and Jewish "settlers" taunting the people whose homes they have stolen, and Palestinians being held and humiliated for the hell of it, and going to a café which, moments later, is blown up.

The series, clearly, is about "the promise" of a land for a people whose terrible suffering was not just on an industrial scale, but actually industrialised, and the consequences for the people who were in that land before. It's finely crafted, beautifully shot and extremely well written. It's also extremely balanced.

When you see the real footage of the living skeletons that British soldiers found behind barbed wire in Germany and Poland, and of the ones which didn't make it being shovelled into mass graves, which Kosminsky includes because you can't tell this story without those images, you can see why those who survived, and relatives of those who survived, and also anyone who was human, would think that there must be one place in the world where this could never happen again.

But when you see the lives of the people who were in that place before, who don't have jobs, or enough food for their children, or anything you could really call freedom, you can see why their sympathy for their newish neighbours might have worn a bit thin.

You can see why, when much of the Arab world was uniting, and igniting, in anger against oppression, you might want to have your own "day of rage", and particularly when an American President with a Muslim middle name, who came into office declaring that he would seek "a new way forward" with the Muslim world, started doing things which seemed very much like the old way. When, for example, he made sure that the US was the only country to veto a UN Security Council resolution saying that illegal building on other people's land was, in fact, illegal. You can see why you might think that wasn't very helpful, and particularly since this was the only country in the world whose opinion your neighbour, who was doing the illegal building, cared about.

You can also see why, if an American spokesperson said afterwards that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity", you might be a bit confused. And why you might wonder why, if you didn't support what you called "settlement activity", you didn't just bloody well say so. But perhaps you'd realise that when Western leaders said they wanted to help you, what they really meant was that they wanted to look as if they wanted to help you. So when, for example, a British Prime Minister went to Cairo to congratulate a new government on overthrowing an old one (an old one he always said was his friend) and to tell them that they must behave themselves, you'd realise that what he really wanted was to sell them, and their neighbours, tanks.

You can see, in fact, why feelings on both sides might be running quite high. You can see why the country that was doing the illegal building, and taking over land that international law said didn't belong to it, because it knew that the people whose land it was taking couldn't do anything about it, might be very scared. It might be scared because one of the strongest Arab countries in the world, which is on its doorstep, and which had signed an agreement saying that you could oppress anyone you liked as long as you left the strong Arab country alone, had just ousted the man who had signed the agreement.

And because, although the new military government had said that it would stick to the agreement, you never knew with military governments, or what would happen if they had the elections they'd promised. And because a lot of the Arab world had never liked your country in the first place, and we were beginning to see what happened when Arabs got angry.

So when a British writer won a prize in Israel this week, and was given it at a ceremony attended by the Mayor of Jerusalem, who thinks that stealing other people's homes is a sensible thing to do, you can see why the writer might think it was a good idea to say something other than "thank you". He did say "thank you", because Ian McEwan is a polite man, and writers always think it's nice if they get noticed, but he also told the audience, which included Israel's President, Shimon Peres, that there was, "hanging in the air", a "great and self-evident injustice". He said the opposite of creativity was "nihilism" and that this was a place where there was lots of nihilism. It was, he said, there in the suicide bombers, and the "rockets fired blindly" into Israeli towns, and in the "extinctionist policy" towards Israel of Hamas. But it was also there in the "continued eviction and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes".

Everyone, or perhaps I mean everyone in the West, knows that the suicide bombs, and the rockets, and the "extinctionist policy", are a very bad idea, but quite a lot of people in the West, and particularly people in America, seem to think stealing other people's land and houses isn't. They seem to think you can do that, and still claim to be interested in negotiating some kind of peace agreement with the people whose land and houses you're stealing. They seem to think you can talk to their leaders (not the leaders with the "extinctionist" policies, who you won't talk to, but the ones who've made so many concessions that when the concessions are leaked on a website the leaders feel very embarrassed) even while you're knocking down their homes.

You can't. And if you want your country, which is, after all, a democracy, not to be threatened by its neighbours, and particularly those neighbours who may be in the process of also becoming democracies, and may end up with governments a bit like Hamas, then you should probably listen to the very few people who are prepared to tell you what Arabs around the world are reminding us: that there comes a time when bullying backfires.



c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing