January 17, 2009
THERE’S a memorable scene in the Stephen Spielberg film ‘Munich’. After the 1972 Munich Olympic Games killings of Israeli athletes, prime
minister Golda Meir tells confidants she wants to show the plotters that killing Jews “is expensive”. She then organises for the assassination
of each of the plotters.
Today, it is Israel itself that has become expensive. Most directly, it is very expensive to the US, which subsidises and arms it.
But Israel’s utter inability to transform the Palestinians from enemies into friends has imposed big costs on us all. We have paid for Israel’s
failure with bombs on London public transport, bombs in bars in Bali, and even the loss of the World Trade Centre towers in New York.
It is not true that these outrages have occurred because certain Islamic fundamentalists don’t like Western lifestyles and so plant bombs in
response. Rather, it is Israel — or more correctly the treatment of the Palestinians — that is at the nub of these events.
The world’s Muslims have no head: no overarching caliph or pope equivalent exists — no single power source with whom to negotiate.
Instead, Islam is remarkably decentralised. So, how extraordinary that Israel and the West have managed to unite this headless, diverse,
dispersed grouping without any institutional framework, around just one issue — anger at the treatment of the Palestinians.
Otherwise dispersed groups of Muslims do seem to feel for one another in a way that Christians and others do not.
In this respect, the international Islamic community is like a body: kick it in the leg and the rest of the body feels it. Kick it hard enough and
the entire body will be energised to defend itself. Pictures of distraught Gazan mothers beside the mutilated bodies of their children are
circulating right now among Muslim communities worldwide. It is pictures like these that make them want to do something.
Consider Malaysia. Every citizen of this outpost of Islam has printed in his or her passport that the passport is not valid for Israel. And given
that Malaysians are not allowed to hold dual citizenship, this essentially means that every Malaysian citizen, including the 40% who are not
Muslims, are banned from visiting Israel.
“When will Malaysia recognise Israel?” I once asked the then finance minister. “Once Israel treats the Palestinians better,” was his reply.
How would he determine that? “When the Palestinians tell us,” he said. It is not Israel’s right to exist that is at issue.
The enmity many Muslims now feel for Israel has nothing to do with religion. The historical persecutors of the Jews have been Christians —
their punishment for the death of Jesus. Jews and Muslims have lived in peace for hundreds of years in many parts of the Islamic world.
When Catholic Spain and Portugal expelled its Jews, the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul invited them in. It is the Palestinian issue that has
ruined all this.
Of course, today Israel must defend itself. If the residents of Bendigo started firing rockets into Melbourne you would expect Melbourne to
retaliate. But what must Melbourne have done to Bendigo to make them do such a thing? Constantly slapping an opponent in the face,
kicking it down to its knees, and watching it struggle in the dirt will not teach the opponent to love or respect you. It teaches only hatred.
Persecuting people does not weaken them. Israel should know that. The Jews have been persecuted for centuries. It didn’t destroy them
but gave them the impetus to survive.
One characteristic that is common among persecuted groups is a strong investment in education — when people’s physical wealth is in
danger of destruction from war and persecution one store of wealth that stays with individuals even when they must flee as refugees is
education. It explains why such groups often insist on their own schools — education is too important to be entrusted to others.
Hamas did not enjoy the support of all the people of Gaza. It does now. Why does Israel keep getting it wrong?
Trekking in Nepal is fashionable among young Israelis. So much so that many shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara have signs in Hebrew. But
once you get on the trekking circuit and speak with local Nepalese guides and guesthouse operators you soon discover how disliked the
Israelis are. Many guesthouses in this poor country will even tell Israeli trekking groups that they are full rather than accept them. This has
nothing to do with religion or politics: Nepalese people are some of the warmest, most hospitable in the world. Rather, they say that the
young Israelis are rude, arrogant, and argue over trifling amounts of money even though they clearly have means.
Israel needs to change. The Parsees of India might provide a model. The Parsees are a very tiny, very rich ethnic and religious minority.
They own perhaps most of the land in central Mumbai as well as the country’s largest conglomerate. And yet ordinary Indians admire and
respect them. Violence against them is unthinkable.
How have they achieved this? They are not flashy or arrogant. Their overriding characteristic is a deep interest in the welfare of others.
They have established hospitals, libraries, schools, museums and many other institutions and, most importantly, not for the Parsee
community exclusively but for everyone. So the Parsees have peace and the Israelis do not.
been circulated by e-mail in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent
weeks, accompanied by text in Malay which translates in part as: “I
cry because I’m a muslim, and my brothers are being killed!” And
so Muslims worldwide are being energised and drawn into a conflict
which otherwise has no direct bearing on them.