‘Neighbourhood Bully’ is the title of a song on Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1983 album, Infidels.
Released shortly after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it was intended as an ironic response to the growing international condemnation of Israel for its tendency to retaliate with brutal and disproportionate force against attacks on its citizens and frequent Palestinian raids into its territory.
The central message was that despite how things appeared through the global press, Israel’s fundamental right to exist, and to defend itself when attacked, should not be denied:
“Neighbourhood Bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land…
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in”
Today, given the absolutely horrific situation in Gaza, the title seems less ironic. However, the song itself still serves a reminder that there are two sides to most stories and that we ought to be careful not to allow our judgement to be influenced by state sponsored media.
However, even if you were to take the message of ‘Neighbourhood Bully’ seriously in the 1980’s and find a way of justifying Israel’s heavy handed behaviour at that time – and I think you would need to have been extremely charitable to do so – the utter devastation and unforgiveable loss of innocent life caused by Israel’s current campaign would now make this impossible.
Without question, the situation in Gaza is utterly shameful and the Israeli attacks need to be stopped with immediate effect. Hamas militants also need to stop. Beyond that, however, it is difficult to imagine what a permanent solution would look like that would be agreeable to all parties.
In order to understand the enduring nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, it is worth taking a quick look at both sides of the argument, however weak or strong they may be. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. When you start to dig beneath the surface, it becomes very difficult to unravel the various strands that form this very complex and highly volatile relationship.
Whilst the majority of us may never fully understand the subtleties of each side’s position, either because there are deeply cultural and religious matters at stake that outsiders will always struggle to penetrate, or simply because global politics often obscures local truths, it is nonetheless clear, and worth repeating a hundred times over, that there can be no justification whatsoever for the mass murder of innocent children and families.
Israel might argue that it is justified in its campaign against Gaza on the grounds that the security of its citizens is under threat due to the intricate network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to gain access to Israel and because of the incessant rocket fire into Israeli territory.
Hamas might argue that these tunnels are necessary to secure access to vital supplies that have been denied to Gaza by the continued blockade of its borders. If Israel states that it wants to neutralise the effect of these tunnels, Hamas states that it simply wants the blockade to be lifted. This is too simple and we are obviously talking about short term objectives.
Scratching beneath the surface, Israel’s bigger concern would appear to be that lifting the blockade would allow Hamas to build up its military capabilities in order to achieve its longer term aim of destroying Israel – “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it” – because, as a radical Islamist political party with a militant wing, Hamas refuses to recognise the legitimacy of Israel and considers it a religious duty to struggle against Zionism and its expansionist philosophy.
Hamas’ concern is therefore that Israel wants to achieve a Jewish majority across the entire area within a single and unified state, reaching from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. This only hardens the resolve to put right the wrongs of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their ancestral homes and forced to flee consecrated lands, which the Islamic Resistance Movement describes in its Covenant as the Jewish “usurpation of Palestine”. It is most unlikely that they will ever be able to return to their home land, despite the Jewish diaspora being welcome with open arms.
It is all very complicated and there is no obvious solution to the problems here. There is too much distrust on either side to reach a peaceful solution within the existing framework. A radical rethink is required. A new overarching philosophy is needed, which would divorce nationalism from religion on the one hand – which seems impossible in this context, given that they are intrinsically connected in the Covenant – and which would embrace a different understanding of sovereignty and statehood on the other, allowing a complete reorganisation of the political communities in this part of the world – again this seems impossible in this context.
In the meantime, the ‘single state’ and ‘two state’ solutions will be proposed and rejected over and over again, Hamas will continue to attack Israel and Israel will continue to retaliate disproportionately. The rest of the world will continue to look on in horror as Israel continues to hem displaced Palestinians into a tiny strip of densely populated and blockaded land, destroying its economy and infrastructure, and murdering innocent children and families just trying to go about their daily lives.
Bob Dylan’s 1983 album Infidels contains another very powerful song, ‘Union Sundown’, a stinging condemnation of the political and economic practices of capitalist societies and their consequences for ordinary people and their families.
Dylan goes deep to the heart of this particular issue to remind us that those who hold the real power in this world do so, not because they have observed proper democratic process, but because they have the frightening capacity to control, bribe, manipulate or destroy whoever, or whatever, happens to be an impediment to the world being organised in exactly the way that suits their own despicable ends:
“Democracy don’t rule the world
You’d better get that in your head
This world is ruled by violence
But I guess that’s better left unsaid”
It is worth thinking about this: perhaps there are other significant political communities in other parts of the world which, for a long time, have been content to allow the situation between Israel and Palestine to continue as it is, for whatever reason, and despite what they would have us believe when called to comment.
As long as the ‘world is ruled by violence’, the prospect of a permanent and peaceful solution will never be on the cards, and that is regrettable, shameful and unforgiveable.
I am delighted that the Scottish Government has offered to welcome refugees from Gaza and has also given £500,000 funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to provide water, food, shelter and medical assistance to the people of Gaza.
The Scottish Government has also urged the United Kingdom Government and the international community to do more to achieve a permanent ceasefire and have the blockade lifted…