The occupation is a danger to Britain’s Jewish community

British Jews are often compelled to stand with Israel in times of crisis – but how well is this unflinching, unequivocal support serving us?

This past week, we have seen devastating Hamas attacks met with a torrent of disproportionate Israeli aggression. The massacre of over 1,400 Israelis has precipitated the loss of 2,670 Palestinian lives, the majority of which being women and children. Under these kinds of circumstances, fear amongst the British Jewish community is always heightened. And the resulting anxiety that has come to satirise the modern Jew makes the allure of a state that promises sanctuary from two thousand years of persecution hard to resist. But it is this allure that kills us. It is this allure that has built a state willing to carry out unimaginable suffering against millions of people. It is this allure that has produced a government willing to cut off vital food, water and electricity from an already desperate population, ultimately to the detriment of their own citizenry and Jews in Britain. It has become almost cliché amongst the post-9/11 left to point out the structural conditions that enable terrorism to flourish. It is also cliché to note that time and again these arguments are dismissed as “terrorist sympathising”. As Mark Fisher wrote on his blog k-punk in the days following the 7/7 bombings in London:

“Much of the media here has insisted… that the bombings be treated as… the act of a transcendent evil that cannot and furthermore must not be explained… just about any attempt to offer economic, political or sociological for [sic] al Qaeda’s emergence is [according to British media] tantamount to an expression of sympathy.”

And as long as we lazily designate terrorism as “a transcendent evil”, we lack the tools to prevent such attacks from happening again. Critical analysis is needed at this juncture for our community to find healing and safety. In 1996, following a series of suicide bombings by Hamas – the group that carried out attacks in Southern Israel earlier the month – Israel tightened its closure on both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, prompting a dramatic rise in unemployment levels in the regions. In Gaza, unemployment rose 50 percent to 74 percent in the months that followed as workers were restricted from moving in and out of the territories. At the time, each worker supported an average of seven people, meaning at least 600,000 Gazans - out of a population of one million - were in urgent need of income. Israel, as an occupying force, had an obligation under international law to ensure the food and medical supplies of the people in Gaza, but, by 2002, 31 percent of Gazan children aged six to 59 months were either acutely or chronically malnourished. By 2003, 71.8 percent relied on food assistance from humanitarian organisations. 

Hamas was, and is, able to take advantage of these conditions with their blend of welfare support and violence. One such example of these activities is the group providing financial support to the families of suicide bombers. It is not shocking that a Palestinian with an acute need for welfare support and a desperation to resist occupying forces would see Hamas as a viable option. This is not an argument in favour of Hamas, but rather an explanation as to why they gained popularity and the role Israel had to play in this. Palestinians did not vote for Hamas in 2006 because they were evil, they voted for them because they were desperate. The circumstances leading to Hamas’ rise may be difficult for us, as Jews, to confront. It might force us to ask whether the country that purports to represent our interests had a hand in the events that led up to the massacre of over a thousand of its citizens, including some we went to school with, some we sat with in Shul, even our own family members.

Photo: EPA

And what does this mean for the Jewish diaspora? Firstly, Bibi (Benjamin Netenyahu) is not hesitant to cosy up to openly antisemitic European leaders like Victor Orban. He is evidently willing to forgo the security of the diaspora if it means bolstering his own despotic values abroad. But the problem is not just Bibi, nor the party he leads. The problem is decades of an uncritical global response to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. An occupation that can only increase the terror threat, endangering our communities both in Israel and at home. Disproportionate Israeli aggression—often cynically described as a “response” or “self defence”—means intimidation, harassment and even violence for Britain’s Jews. 

At this critical juncture, the UK Government will listen to a hundred Jewish voices over a thousand Palestinian voices. Regardless of the sincerity of their concerns, it is clear that both the Tories and the Labour party are keen to get us on side. If we can, in the immediate term, make vocal our opposition to Israel’s siege, then the Conservative and Labour support for it becomes ideologically untenable. In the long term, however, we must start to dismantle the brutal, genocidal occupation that has caused unimaginable suffering to millions. The correlation between fighting in Gaza and antisemitism at home demonstrates our safety depends on it. 

Finally, it is important to note that Jews in Britain should not be held responsible for Israeli state war crimes. The majority of us abhor the current Israeli administration and are aware the situation in Palestine is untenable. British Jews should not be made to feel in danger simply because of an assumed affiliation with a country they do not live in. The call to action amongst British Jews must come from inside our community, and non-Jews must approach from a place of understanding, not antagonism. 

Article by Lionel Levi


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