There was considerable comment from a number of Israeli sources yesterday, explaining the reason why Israeli troops killed 55 Palestinians and wounded thousands of others. The explanation that went straight into my brain and stayed there was the claim that “We acted as any state would do in the circumstances”. Among all the Israeli statements, this one had a ring of authenticity: they did what any state would do.
That’s not to say that the claim is completely true. There are many states, I would like to think, which wouldn’t have reacted the way the Israelis did. But we all know of at least one state which has acted in a similar fashion.
Cast your mind back to 30 January 1972. There was a civil rights demonstration in Derry which had been declared illegal by the state.Despite this fact, thousands came out. After a short period there was rioting, with stone-throwing and the use of petrol bombs, and tear gas by the British troops. Then the British paratroopers turned to using live ammunition to kill or mortally wound fourteen people, with many more injured.
So the Israeli spokesman had a point: in the past, Britain has responded similarly to demonstrators, some of whom attacked them with stones and petrol bombs, by firing and killing a considerable number.
There are of course differences between what happened in Gaza yesterday and what happened on Bloody Sunday. There were fewer fatalities in Derry. On the other hand, the British claimed that all of those shot had been carrying weapons, and that they – the British soldiers – had not fired until fired on. This lie they continued in the official Widgery Report, claiming that many of those shot had been handling firearms shortly before their death. The Israelis don’t claim that those killed were carrying firearms. For them it was sufficient that the demonstrators had stones and petrol bombs, and that their approaching the fence between them made the soldiers fear for their lives. Which is obviously claptrap of the highest order.
If the whole affair had been consciously choreographed, it couldn’t have been more appalling: Trump’s daughter and son-in-law smiling and pulling back curtains to applause in the American Embassy in Jerusalem; while countless young men with stones, petrol bombs and tyres, take on armed soldiers in Gaza.
Israel, of course, hopes that yesterday will teach the Palestinians a lesson. In that they’re right – It will. It will teach them .that the Israeli state considers them a lesser form of life and blames the victims for being there, rather than their soldiers for killing them.
Today is the 70th anniversary of ‘The Great Catastrophe’, when the state of Israel was founded and thousands of Palestinians had to flee from their land. Most of us living in this North-Eastern Nest know that much of our present Troubles can be traced down the centuries to another catastrophe – the plantation of Ulster.
Why is Israel acting so brutally and then attempting to justify it? Because they are afraid. A state which perceives its very existence as being threatened will lash out in the cruelest manner. Which doesn’t justify their actions but shows the source: fear.
No wonder Israeli flags fly in unionist areas and Palestinian flags in republican areas.