It could not have been me. Coming from Sparta, I can tell you that those Athenians were an imperialist lot, enjoying a good democratic debate among themselves but relying on slaves for most mundane chores, exploiting their junior “allies” among other city states, and occasionally exterminating entire communities if they did not do things to their liking (see the case of Milos/Melos, 416 BCE).
Fast-forward to today, and we see Israel, an undisputable democracy, attacking the Gaza Strip in a self-righteous expression of calculated rage. Yes, there have been missiles launches from Gaza to Ashkelon and other Southern Israel cities, aiming at civilians, and that is indefensible. Yes, people have the right to live in peace and security with their families in the north, centre and south of Israel. But no, this cannot be limited to Israel’s citizens and voters alone. Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace, and in dignity. And no nation should attempt to humiliate another nation time and again, and keep it subjugated indefinitely because that will backfire, literally.
The Israeli decision to eliminate, without recourse to justice, the top military commander of Hamas sparked off this new Gaza War. And the victims are again mostly civilian, on both sides. Israel saw the Hamas commander as a criminal and terrorist. Use of such terms may satisfy the Israeli public and subdue any objections in Israel and the US to the lack of judicial process for the death sentence imposed on this man. But for many Palestinians in Gaza – and many other Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims around the world – he was a freedom fighter and a defender of their homeland against the powerful oppressor. Who is right? Or are they both right, or both wrong?
Both right and both wrong is the answer I would give, with consternation. I will not go into the details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its root causes, etc. I will just say that the two-state solution, an independent Palestine living peacefully side-by-side with Israel is the broadly accepted solution that needs to finally be implemented, possibly with an element of coercive implementation, towards both sides. And I would like to express here my deep disappointment with the role that the Quartet has been playing, or rather not playing, in recent years. The UN, the US, the EU and Russia, if they really wanted to and worked together, could have brought about at least some progress towards the two-state solution. But they have done hardly anything for several years now, and their Envoy, Mr. Tony Blair, is really a pitiful figure when he appears to make inconsequential statements when crises erupt.
A broader concern that Israel causes with its actions is the doubt it casts on the proposition that democracies are inclined to be peaceful and that the world as a whole would be peaceful if the (Western) democratic model prevailed throughout. What we see in this case is a democracy that is intolerant, self-centred and self-righteous. A democracy that is disrespectful of the rights, individual and collective, of an entire other people, which it keeps locked-up in two divided enclaves, to a large extent controlling the movement of people and goods, continuously encroaching on Palestinian territory with more settlements and separation walls, and intervening with an iron fist at any indication of resistance.
The Israeli justifications of the new attack against Gaza use as a key argument the democratic nature and decision-making in Israel, which is a sovereign state. It is very clear that the Israeli authorities would never allow, if it were in their hands alone, the Palestinians to get their own state, because that would deprive them of at least half of that argument. And of course they would dispute the nature of any democracy that would be or is actually being built by Palestinians. For a large part of the people of Gaza, Hamas is a democratically elected authority. They actually won the democratic elections throughout the occupied Palestinian territory some years ago.* But no, we (i.e. the Israelis, the West) want the others to be democratic in our image, and compliant for that. This sounds more like imposing ideology than promoting democracy, and it is self-serving rather than respectful of everybody’s rights, or of justice, which cannot be subjugated to the temporary voting games of electioneering leaders.
This piece has been written in exasperation at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is only getting worse, its broader repercussions that can be severe for the Middle East and the whole world, the negative effects that it will inevitably have on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians in the short-, medium- and long-term. It is also written out of disappointment and concern with the decay of the Western democratic model, as it is being used to justify oppression, which can only lead to disillusionment. All this plays in the hands of extremists, which are many on all sides. And those extremists can eventually be democratically elected, if they are not already, and then it is your democracy against mine, and let the world go up in flames again. Hopefully we will not get to that, and human wisdom will prevail, in a way that goes beyond electoral cycles and the interests of individual constituencies, and encompasses instead humanity as a whole, and the rights of each and all individuals, and their survival and well-being. Amen…
*[I did not want to start talking here about the divisions among the Palestinians, which are doing major disservice to their own cause. Just a quote from a poem by Dionysios Solomos that became the Greek national anthem, referring to the uprising against the Ottoman Empire and similar divisions prevalent among Greeks at the time: “…if they hate each other, they do not deserve freedom”.]
Ixelles, 17 November 2012