Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

With Israel, people are ignoring inconvenient truths

palestinians inspect the site of an israeli strike, in rafah, in the southern gaza strip
Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip

Nonsense to suggest Israel is fighting an existential war

By Fahri Zihni

The mediaeval Islamic cleric and wiseman Nasreddin Hodja’s fables and parables, which have evolved over centuries have osmosed into the cultures of millions of people, thousands of miles apart, from the Balkans to the Turkic states and beyond to India and China.

I abridge one of my favourite parables, which is about the Hodja losing his keys while unlocking his front door, witnessed by a friend. “What are you doing? ‘I am looking for my keys.’ Where did you lose them? ‘By the door.’ Then why are you looking for them over here? ‘Because there is moonlight here, where I can see, whereas it’s dark in front of the door, where I can’t see’.” At one level, this is simple foolery, soliciting amusement, ridicule and mockery. But the real moral of the story is that people look for the truth where they would like to find it, rather than where it actually exists.

The recently released film Zone of Interest, won the Academy Award for Best International Feature at the Oscars ceremony this month. It’s a film about dehumanisation of people, cognitive dissonance and people ignoring inconvenient truths, rather like the story above, but within the terrifying context of the Holocaust of the Nazi era.

Jonathan Glazer, the film’s English director, made a short speech at the Oscars where he said “All our choices we made to reflect and confront us in the present, not to say ‘look what they did then’, rather, ‘look what we do now’. Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst. It shaped all of our past and present. Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza – all the victims of this dehumanisation, how do we resist?”

I know nothing of Jonathan Glazer over and above his public biography and his distinguished work to date, but it feels like I know him, so I “declare an interest” for my affinity towards him. I have had very good Jewish friends. I went to a Kibbutz like Glazer. I know the Jewish Free School which he attended, where some years ago I did some educational research work. His liberal sentiments resonate fully with me, which I believe represent the very best of British universal values of humanity, charity and fairness. In my view, he is so right and brave to speak up for all of humanity whatever people’s country, religion or creed, including the Palestinians.

Glazer’s speech was slapped down immediately with no less than 400 Hollywood actors, executives, directors, creators, producers and others. They made a somewhat puerile and sarcastic retort through an altered version of Glazer’s own words: “We refute our Jewishness being hijacked for the purpose of drawing a moral equivalence between a Nazi regime that sought to exterminate a race of people, and an Israeli nation that seeks to avert its own extermination.”

But there are two patently obvious problems with this statement. First, it is not true that Israel’s existence depends on killing 32,000 people, injuring 170,000, actively preventing aid from reaching 2,100,000 close-to-starvation people, demolishing the total fabric of a complete community’s homeland and making 1,500,000 people homeless.

Also, quite evidently, Israel’s security is underwritten by the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, which also offers Israel unlimited military backing and weaponry, including nuclear missiles. This, in turn, makes Israel one of the most powerful military countries itself in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It’s nonsense to suggest Israel is currently fighting an existential war.

Turning to Hamas, I will refer to my previous article  where I describe its behaviour on October 7 as utterly abominable. The fact that it is still holding hostages is morally repugnant. Although public opinion has swayed in favour of the Palestinians since the appalling acts of destruction by Israel, unless Hamas release their hostages, Palestinians will stand to lose valuable international support.

So far, negotiations between Hamas and Israel have stalled, with understandable but unrealistic demands from Hamas of a total cease-fire, return of uprooted Gazans to northern Gaza, and significant prisoner exchanges in return for release of hostages.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme right coalition government is acting like a spoilt child with a gun, with horrific consequences. It does not appear to exercise much concern over the safe return of the hostages, and is hell bent on continuing with the mass destruction of Gaza, ignoring every advice from the UN, and even its patron, the US. It shows no interest in negotiations.

I think we have a moral obligation to put Glazer’s question to our own selves. Are we witnessing a modern-day catastrophe where a huge number of non-combatant men, women and children are being slaughtered before our very eyes? If so, are we happy to devalue, demean and dehumanise the victims and look the other way, or take action? The latest UN resolution 2728 gives a lot of constitutional scope to put a stop to this. Economic, military or sporting sanctions could and should be applied to Israel in the same way that we have done so with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We all need to act to achieve this.

It is also long overdue for the great British Jewish institutions like the Board of Deputies of British Jews to speak up against the Netanyahu government’s outrageous actions. Their silence is deafening. Yet, the board has had a tradition of raising our awareness about the suffering of many other peoples from around the world. It is important that the board listens, not only to people like Glazer, but to their collective conscience and act now.

History will not forgive, or forget, any one of us who do not.

Fahri Zihni is former chair of Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (UK), a former policy advisor at the UK’s Cabinet Office and a former president of the Society of IT Management, UK

 

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