Friday, January 22, 2010

Stop bashing Israel for helping Haitians, not Gazans

Some people, it seems, cannot let Israel do anything good and just leave it at that. Any good deed by Israel must be turned into ammunition against it – used to condemn Israel for not being absolutely perfect.I am referring, of course, to Israel’s selfless aid to the devastated people of Haiti, and the rash of op-eds which have cropped up asking why Israel has not extended similar aid to the people of Gaza. Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner explains, for example, how proud he is of Israel’s actions in Haiti, and then asks:

When will this big-hearted nation stop being heartless to the people in Gaza?

Seth Freedman, over at the Guardian, self-righteously opines that,

It is a damning indictment of Israel that it is prepared only to come to the aid of those who fit certain political criteria, rather than that of every victim crying out for intervention.

And Akiva Eldar at Haaretz, who kicked off this trend, believes that

Even the images of our excellent doctors in Haiti cannot blur our ugly face in the Strip.

So, a few points.

1. Israel – like every other country – does not have an obligation to help any other nation. It has only an obligation to defend and protect the lives, and interests, of its own citizens. Any aid it does extend (and in fact, Israel has offered humanitarian aid to 140 countries since 1958, some of which do not even have diplomatic relations with Israel and some of which would not even accept any goods with any Israeli markings on them) is a bonus, and does not make it responsible for “every victim crying out for intervention”.

2. Some might argue that Israel is, in fact, responsible for the suffering in Gaza and as such does owe it special help. They are wrong. The people responsible for the suffering in Gaza are their own leaders, who could lay down their weapons, free Gilad Shalit, stop educating their Gaza people to hate Jews – and gain open borders, a state and a thriving economy immediately. Israel’s Operation Cast Lead and its decision to close its border with Gaza were correct and just. Again, Israel’s first obligation is to look after its own citizens and residents – not the Palestinian ones (though – to its eternal credit - it went out of its way, during the war, to minimise harm to innocents).

3. There are, in fact, very good reasons why the Palestinians in Gaza should be the last people on earth to whom Israel offers aid. The fact is that the Hamas government has effectively declared war on Israel, a war which – according to its own charter – it does not intend to abandon until Israel is destroyed completely. This is not theoretical: it has launched thousands of missiles at Israel and is building up an enormous arsenal for future use. Asking Israel to extend aid to the people of this regime comes from Christian places – it is asking Israel to turn the other cheek. Is there another country that would be condemned for not helping the people of a state that attacks it? Has anyone, incidentally, asked the Americans to extend aid deep in Taliban country? Perhaps they should build homes for the children of bin Laden’s entourage – after all, they are innocent children living in caves?

4. All that said, I firmly believe that the majority of Israelis harbour no deep-seated hatred of Palestinians and that if the Palestinians did agree to end the conflict, Israel and Israelis would show the same generosity to them that they have shown to the Haitians - just as they immediately returned to doing business with, and visiting, Palestinian areas in the West Bank between the two intifadas. Indeed, the fact is that Israel has already extended plenty of aid to the people of Gaza. Many Gazans have been treated, for example, in Israeli hospitals. Even during the last war with Gaza, Israel opened a field hospital on the border to treat Gazans. To me, this is the ultimate proof of Israel’s good character. It had no obligation to these people, with whom it was at war, and yet it treated them nonetheless. To me this is not just good, it is angelic. Israel, I’m proud of you.

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