Bibi was to blame

Andrew Donaldson on Israeli anger over the brutal culmination of the Israeli PM's Hamas policy


I’d just finished a draft of this column when the news came on Tuesday evening of the horrific explosion at the Christian-run al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. First reports put the death toll at around 200. This was almost immediately expanded to 500 by an official in the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. A civil defence chief, meanwhile, told journalists that the blast had claimed about 350 lives.

In Gaza, they blamed Israel for what has been described as an attack that killed mostly displaced people who sought refuge at the hospital. Israel’s military, in turn, denied responsibility for the bombing, and said their intelligence suggested the hospital had been hit by a failed rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. 

At the time, a steady barrage of missiles had been launched into Israel from Gaza and it’s claimed that one of these had been faulty and had fallen short of its intended target and instead hit the hospital. 

I was now on the road, driving through London en route to pick up sound and lighting equipment after a concert in Hackney, and heard an Israeli military spokesman tell a radio talk show host that “terrorist rockets” were not as sophisticated as their Israeli counterparts and, as a result of their technological inferiority, were prone to such mishaps. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Most callers to the show were dismissive of the wonky missile theory. They wanted blood. Israeli blood. The talk show host was berated by an enraged woman for describing dead children as “collateral damage”. He’d actually used the term with reluctance, saying that he found it distasteful, but this didn’t wash and there came a heated exchange of words. This furious episode only ended when it was pointed out to the caller that she was now also describing the children who had been murdered in the Hamas pogrom the week before as “collateral damage”.

So it goes. A bit of tit-for-tat that has somehow come to characterise the dreadful whataboutery that passes for discussion on this horrific conflict. Earlier in the evening, for instance, and before the suggestion of a faulty missile was aired, the BBC’s Christian Fraser had his hands full with a similarly deranged guest on his The Context programme. He’d asked about the rockets that were being fired into Israel; were they perhaps launched from near the hospital? Who would do such a thing, his guest responded. Hamas, Fraser replied. There is no Hamas, came the response. “They [the IDF] are chasing ghosts.”

More rational voices are however prevailing — and there is growing consensus among Israeli commentators that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame not just for the military and intelligence failures that allowed the attack but for “propping up” Hamas in the first place. Recent polling, the Daily Telegraph has reported, reveals that a “significant majority of Israelis” share this view.

Last week, the Times of Israel columnist Tal Schneider wrote, “For years, the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — bringing Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group. The idea was to prevent Abbas — or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government — from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Haaretz’s Dmitry Shumsky took a similar line, arguing that Netanyahu had pursued a policy of “diplomatic paralysis” in order to avoid negotiations with the Palestinians over a two-state solution — a solution despised by Israel’s extreme right-wingers. This approach, Shumsky said, had turned Hamas from “a minor terrorist group into an efficient, lethal army with bloodthirsty killers who mercilessly slaughtered innocent Israeli civilians”.

There will no doubt be a public inquiry into the Hamas attack. According to Danny Yatom, former head of Israeli spy agency Mossad, this was not so much a failure of intelligence but a failure to correctly interpret intelligence and to act on it. In an interview with the Spectator, Yatom claimed that Hamas militants had been monitored carrying out attack exercises on a mock Israeli settlement they’d built in Gaza. The Israeli army had even reported that Hamas forces were gathering near the border. But all this was ignored in the belief that Hamas want to lie low in order to get aid money from Qatar. 

Yatom also claimed the attacks happened because Netanyahu wanted to make sure there would never be a Palestinian state, to stop any possibility of negotiations, to annex land west of the river Jordan. He allowed money for Hamas to be sent to Gaza and he allowed supplies for aid projects that “everyone knew” was going to build the infrastructure of Hamas. “He wanted to buy silence along the Gaza border… He wanted to buy silence from Hamas.”

All this, however, would be dealt with at a later date. The mission now, Yatom said, was to “harm Hamas very badly… They slaughtered hundreds of innocent Israelis: women, children, the elderly, babies. No one will be able to forgive these terrorists. It should be painful. It should be severe. So Hamas will not be able to rehabilitate for many, many, many years to come. Every option is on the table.”

Hit of the season

Out of the unfolding pain and tragedy … a fashion story

Yes, the keffiyeh, the traditional chequered farmer’s scarf that became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism in the 1970s, is making a comeback. These tea towels are now trending like, uh, trendy things, and there has been quite a run on them in recent days. It is only a matter of time before VogueElle and all the other glossy magazines feature spreads of lissome underfed models shawled in these scarves, perhaps showing a bit of exposed ankle to hint at the earthly delights that await the martyr in paradise.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reportedly wearing a keffiyeh last week when he appeared on state television to deny involvement in the Hamas attack. This is not to suggest, however, that the world’s top weirdie beardie condemns the raids. Far from it. As he put it: “We kiss the foreheads and arms of the resourceful and intelligent designers [of the raids]. Those who say that the recent saga is the work of non-Palestinians have miscalculated.” 

He also warned of “consequences” should Israel continue their pursuit of Hamas militants. As he put it: “The heads and decision makers of the usurping Zionist regime and its supporters should know that the massacre and mass killing of the people of Gaza will bring a greater calamity on them.”

Perhaps following the example of the leader of one of the new Brics members, the ANC’s national executive committee all turned out in brand new scarves on Saturday to publicly declare its support for Palestine. Speaking on the sidelines of the party’s national executive committee meeting in Boksburg, Cyril Ramaphosa said there were similarities in the histories of Palestine and the ANC:

“We have a full understanding of how the people of Palestine have taken up this issue because they are people who have been under occupation for almost 75 years. They have been waiting and waging a war against a government that has been dubbed an apartheid state. As people and an organisation that has struggled against an oppressive regime of apartheid, we pledge solidarity with the Palestinian people. As the ANC, we have always pledged our solidarity, and have always insisted that the only solution, especially with the issues of Palestine, is a two-state solution.”

Which is all very well, but the thing about the keffiyeh, the style mavens will tell you, is that it’s traditionally worn wrapped around the head. Squirrel and company sported theirs draped around the shoulders, rather like the tippets of senior Anglican clergymen. In fact, that’s what they resembled; a gang of Ugandan vicars making their way to the exorcism of a homosexual.

The one exception here was Fikile Mbalula, the ruling party’s small but shouty secretary-general. Wrapped in his oversized scarf, he resembled a Basotho mountain man who’d lost his pony. Either that or a gogo in a Pep store pashmina.

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), we don’t imagine Mbaks would be physically able to kiss the foreheads of resourceful and intelligent terrorists. Not unless, of course, he stands on a box. If he jumped high enough, though, he may be able to get at their arms. I wonder, however, if that sort of thing, the licking of elbows, is deemed haram in that part of the world.

Meanwhile, authorities in Berlin have given the keffiyeh a massive jolt of street cred by banning the scarf in schools. The Daily Sabah reports that it’s feared the wearing of this item could pose a threat to peace. It quoted from a letter to schools by education senator Katharina Guenther-Wuensch: 

“Any demonstrative behaviour or expression of opinion that can be understood as advocating or approving the attacks against Israel or supporting the terrorist organisations that carry them out, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, represents a threat to school peace in the current situation and is prohibited.”

“Free Palestine” stickers and posters and depictions of the map of Israel in Palestinian colours are also outlawed. 

But we digress. In addition to his brand new, super-starched keffiyeh, we also note that Squirrel has wasted no time in offering to help broker peace in the Middle East. “South Africa,” he has declared, “stands ready to work with the international community and to share our experience in mediation and conflict resolution as we have done on the continent and around the world.”

Lamentably, that “experience in mediation and conflict resolution” includes attempts to sort out Russia’s war in Ukraine through grovelling and the massed kissing of Kremlin backside, and just how did that work out for everyone? 

Barney Mthombothi hit the nail on the head in his Sunday Times column. Admittedly, he was writing about that other hopeless duffer, Pravin Gordhan, but as an aside, Mthombothi had this to say of Squirrel’s mediation offer: 

“Surely he can’t be serious! He’s head of a government that can hardly run a tap or keep the lights on, and yet he thinks that somehow that qualifies him to bring peace in such a conflagration. He seems to be suffering from some sort of cognitive bias, overestimating his abilities.”

But Squirrel is serious. Hapless and clumsy, too. And without wishing to state the bleeding obvious, surely even he and his miserable party should know that a foundational principle in mediation is lack of bias? Failing which, the pretence of impartiality?

But no, apparently not. This from party spokeswoman Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri: “According to a report by Human Rights Watch, ‘the laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power and land has long guided government policy’.”

To this end, she continued, Israeli authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated and subjugated Palestinians to varying degrees of intensity. “It can no longer be disputed apartheid South Africa’s history is occupied Palestine’s reality. As a result, the decision by Palestinians to respond to the brutality of the settler Israeli apartheid regime is unsurprising.”

What is surprising, shocking even, is the lack of empathy that has been on display here. Whatever we may think of the state of Israel, or more specifically, Netanyahu’s policies, it takes a special sort of person to not only excuse, but revel in the slaughter of innocents. No matter who they are.