War is war: Why I stand with Israel

There are serious concerns to be raised about Israel's policies, but when Hamas declares war, it must be able to defend itself

Israeli soldiers ride atop a tank outside the southern Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldiers ride atop a tank outside the southern Gaza Strip.

As a liberal Zionist, certain statements are expected from me at times like this, so let's get it out of the way:

1. The kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers was an abominable crime.

2. So was the kidnap and murder of a Palestinian teenager.

3. Palestinians have a right to a state of their own, secure in its own borders,

4. But so does Israel.

5. Hamas is a wholly malevolent organization who would be recognized as neo-Nazis if they happened to be white Christians.

6. The Israeli government, whatever my disagreements with it, is still a liberal democracy doing its best under highly adverse circumstances.

7. This doesn't mean that every innocent Palestinian killed isn't a tragedy, but...

8. War is war.

Are we done now? Can we not have this printed and bound in pamphlet form, to be distributed by the well-wrung hands of liberal writers each time events in the Holy Land take another apocalyptic turn? Because I'm a bit exhausted, to be honest. The kind of existential, moral exhaustion that might also be called despair.

This is how I feel, as a coddled third-hand observer a happy ocean or two away, so what Israelis and Palestinians feel must be beyond the power of words to describe. In 2017, Israel will have held the Palestinian territories for half a century, and the solution keeps on receding into the distance.

As my list above implies, I can't pretend to be entirely neutral: I stand with Israel, as the hashtag has it. Even if I didn't find the Zionist claim to a state in the historical Jewish homeland compelling, I'd still feel inclined towards Israel for reasons of solidarity.

What I mean by this was expressed beautifully by Howard Jacobson in 2009. So little has changed since then that, after I read it for the first time recently, I assumed it had been written this week. You should take the time to read the whole thing, but the nub is this: there is legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy, and then there is the international anti-Zionist movement, and the two bear scant relation to one another.

As Jacobson writes of the latter, it is "a discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here [...] But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, 'criticism' of Israel, pure and simple."

A simple illustration: in the Hobbesian nightmare that is Bashar al-Assad's Syria, about 9,000 children have been killed since the civil war began in 2011. Nine thousand. That's the equivalent of a large British secondary school reduced to ashes every six months.

Forgive me if I'm merely being unobservant, but where is the international campaign against the Syrian regime? Is it hiding? Did campuses all over the world hold a “Syrian Genocide Week”, and I just wasn't paying attention?

I think not, somehow. This is not “criticism”, this is obsession.

A part of me is tempted to voice my very real concerns about where Israeli society is headed, but after a week or two of arguing with people who will do anything but recognize terrorist aggression has dissuaded me.

I still have those concerns, but somehow, I just can't bring myself to talk about them. Not while my Israeli comrades are rushing to their bomb shelters and being blamed for it at the same time.

I stand with Israel.

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