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An open letter to a friend in Israel

This open letter was written before the latest ceasefire, in response to a Israeli friends’ and relatives’ reactions to Hamas’s rockets. I never got around to publishing it then, but do so now because I think the issues it discusses are still pertinent.It’s not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the conflict, or a full exposition of anti-occupation politics, or even an attempt to meaningfully get to grips with why so many Israelis support their government and its wars. It was written to respond to sentiments Jewdas readers are probably more than familiar with in a way that I thought those expressing them might be able to engage with. I hope some people might find it useful.

The Ruby Kid, 2014


I have never had to run to a bomb shelter. I hope I will never have to. That you have to, that you have to wake up your family and run with your little children to a bomb shelter, is a tragedy. I cannot know, but I imagine that the knowledge that there are people nearby who want to kill you, and who are actively trying to do it, elbows out much rational thought.

But I don’t believe you are an irrational person. I believe in your rationality, and your humanity, and I believe they can endure even the sirens and the dash to the bomb shelter, and it is to your rationality and your humanity that I want to appeal.

I have heard and read the question, over and over again, on the television, on the radio, in the newspapers, in your Facebook statuses: “What would you do if someone was firing thousands of rockets at you?” It’s a difficult question to answer. It challenges us to say, “nothing”. Who amongst us could, if we really faced that question down, say “nothing?” Not me.

But the question misses out key parts of the picture.

Hamas’s rockets are ineffective. They are poorly aimed, technically inferior, and most are intercepted by Israel’s advanced defence system. Unlike, perhaps, some of my fellow socialists in Britain, I do not wish it were otherwise. I do not wish Hamas’s rockets were more effective. I am glad so few of them find their mark. But while they cause fear, stress, anxiety, panic – Hamas’s rockets do not (cannot, thankfully) rain down widespread death and destruction on Israeli civilians.

But that is what the IDF has done to Gaza in response.

Can your rationality and humanity reconcile that? Can you really make sense of the destruction of schools and hospitals, the killing of children, by filing it away in a drawer marked “self-defence”? “Defence” from what? Are you and your family better defended because hundreds of children have died? Are you safer now?

We hear lots of conflicting reports here about Hamas’s strategies in Gaza: Israel claims that it uses “human shields”, and that it deliberately stores military hardware in civilian institutions. Let’s accept for a moment that, perhaps, it does. Let’s say it stores a cache of rockets in a school. The IDF officer, deciding whether to bomb the school, knows that the rockets are ineffective, and that Iron Dome will intercept them. The officer also knows that to bomb the school will succeed only in destroying one weapons cache, but at the price of untold civilian deaths, including many children, which will add to the generations-old cycle of hatred and resentment. The IDF officer decides to bomb the school anyway. Any instincts of rationality and humanity are overridden. Children die. The war continues. Are you safer now?

The war Israel is fighting, the war you think “your” army is fighting for your safety, and your family’s safety, can never be won! Hamas cannot be defeated militarily. It cannot even be defeated by Israel. It will only be finally, ultimately defeated when Palestinians develop democratic, progressive organisations strong enough to compete with it for political hegemony. And the space for those organisations to develop healthily can never properly exist under conditions of occupation.

My friend, I want you to be safe. It is because I want you to be safe that I have demonstrated against Israel’s assault on Gaza, not as part of the politically-undifferentiated anti-Semitic clamour I know you think the Palestine solidarity movement in this country represents, but on the basis of some political demands that I think, if you allow your rationality and humanity to rule you, you would agree with: an end to the occupation, the establishment of a genuinely independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory alongside Israel, the dismantlement of the settlements, civil rights for minorities within Israel itself. It’s true, not everyone who attends Palestine solidarity marches agrees with those demands, but wouldn’t you rather those of us who do raised them as loudly as we can?

Only draining the poison of occupation can bring you peace and security. It’s true that Hamas is not simply a “reaction” to Israel – it has its own politics, its own aims, and its own programme for Palestine (and in the first instance, its victims are not Israelis but other Palestinians, who fall foul of its violently authoritarian, theocratic politics). But genuinely democratic politics will always be threatened under conditions of occupation and national oppression. While Israel brutalises the Palestinians, while it systematically dispossesses them, while it discriminates against Arabs and other minorities within its own borders, it creates the conditions in which the political forces who want to kill you can grow.

Look at what the war and the occupation is doing to your own society. Look at the growth of the far-right, poisoning Israeli society with rabid anti-migrant rhetoric, attacking anti-war demonstrations, whipping up racial hatred against Africans in working-class communities. Looks at the continuing growth of militarist nationalism, the denunciations of the anti-war movement and the left as “traitors”. Don’t you despise such politics as much as I do? Don’t you want to see them opposed, marginalised, rooted out? Don’t you want Israel to be a healthy democracy? But don’t you think those politics will always fester until Palestinian Arabs and Israeli-Jews can relate to each other not as occupied and occupier, but as two neighbouring peoples, respectful of mutual rights and aspiring towards a common future?

I think you want that future. But can’t you see how every bomb dropped on Gaza, every settlement built, every checkpoint maintained, every day-to-day act of brutalisation and dehumanisation, makes it more distant?

Do Hamas’s rockets justify it? Do Hamas’s rockets mean that the Palestinians “deserve” the occupation? Do Hamas’s rockets mean there is no other possible course?

I have never had to run to a bomb shelter. I hope I will never have to. I want you not to have to, either, and I do not want any more innocent people in Gaza to die. I believe that you don’t, either, and I believe your rationality and humanity can speak louder than the sirens.

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