The Irish Times, Otober 18, 2023
Looking on from the safety of Ireland, I feel frightened and disempowered. But I still believe in the possibility of a lasting and just peace based on a two-state solution.
As the Middle East seems to teeter on the edge of catastrophe, it is difficult not to feel like a frightened and disempowered spectator, looking on from the sanctuary of Ireland. A number of friends have contacted me, some I have not heard from in years, simply to express their horror. They hear about the four-fold rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the UK and, presumably, the pro-Palestinian rallies over the weekend in Dublin where I certainly would not have announced my Jewish identity.
The outburst of anti-Jewish vitriol is, of course, wholly predictable and has always blossomed when fertilised by Israeli military action against the Palestinians. That the majority of those slaughtered by Hamas in kibbutzim and at the music festival were left-wing peaceniks is too nuanced for the baying mob. For Hamas, they were Jews; and for People before Profit and others, their brutal murder, torture and kidnap could not be unequivocally and unconditionally condemned; the same party would not stand and applaud Zelenskiy when he addressed the Dail. It took Sinn Féin two days to conjure a form of words it could live with.
To accuse Israel of committing genocide, as Richard Boyd Barrett ventilates, creating more heat than light, is truly wicked. He knows that the Jews were victims of genocide during the Holocaust and that the specific term was coined by Rafael Lemkin to describe, legally, the crime that had been committed against them. So he takes the most sensitive time in history for European Jews and attempts to dispossess them not just of their grief but the very value of their grief. The Israelis are not committing genocide, and they are not Nazis. For some, the pain of the individual is not acknowledged if it belongs to a Jew.
The cycle of violence can end now, but it requires the political courage of a lion – or a pride of them.
To witness the resentment of the protesters is bewildering, as singling out Israel has a chilling resonance to those, like me, who have a Holocaust legacy. I never see them protesting outside other embassies, nor do I see them attend Holocaust memorial events. But marching with protesters who carry the flags of brigades that have sent suicide bombers to kill Jews is as depressing as it is unforgivable. The conflation of Islamic fundamentalist sadism towards Jews and legitimate Palestinian self-determination does not further the Palestinian cause.
The Israelis are not committing genocide and they are not Nazis. For some, the pain of the individual is not acknowledged if it belongs to a Jew.
The original sin of Israel is no different from any country that experiences an influx of a population that takes control of the land and subjugates the inhabitants. However hard you try to rewrite the history, the legacy of that sin will not abate until those in power acknowledge the sin, apologise and restore agency and full rights to those it has dispossessed and oppressed. Jews lived on the land they inhabit for 3,000 years. However, 700,000 Palestinians had also lived there for seven centuries.
When mass Jewish immigration arrived just after the war, some land was purchased and much land was stolen. The continuing theft of Palestinian land, the brutal treatment of Palestinians under occupation by Jewish settlers, the IDF and rabid ultra-nationalist politicians (some whom make up Netanyahu’s cabinet), the violation of international law and UN resolutions is unconscionable. It is also immoral and unsustainable, and will not bring Israelis peace.
The paradox for Israeli Arabs is that, as citizens, they enjoy more individual rights than anywhere else in the Arab world.
Israelis (and other nationalities), their lives shattered at the hands of Hamas’s psychotic killers, are devastated by the loss of loved ones and the loss of their belief system: the omnipotence of the IDF and the solemn vow of their political leaders, sworn to protect them. This is the price of identity politics in extremis, mirrored in Gaza by the theocracy of Hamas, born of the Muslim Brotherhood whose slide into extremism allows little room for women’s rights. As for Jews, homosexuals and other political opponents, those identities literally fall into their crosshairs.
Such two-sided political betrayal and failure belies the reality within Israel’s borders of an Israeli-Arab population of 1.8 million that lives at peace with its Jewish neighbours. Like all neighbours, they quarrel but they also co-operate and contribute together to a shared society. The paradox for Israeli Arabs is that, as citizens, they enjoy more individual rights than anywhere else in the Arab world.
If Israel insists on going to war with Hamas, it will cost countless lives and will not provide the security it requires.
To end the immediate crisis, the Israelis should agree to a prisoner swap to release the hostages. Maximum pressure should be applied to Iran via America and China to stop funding Hamas. Aid needs to reach Gaza immediately and unconditionally. A new blueprint for a two-state solution should be constructed with the greatest urgency.
Peace was almost secured a generation ago between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000. It will require a change of leadership in both entities but, since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, normalising relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain and with Saudi Arabia on the brink, the environment to broker a lasting and just peace based on a two-state solution could be the real prize that is pulled from this human wreckage.
If Israel insists on going to war with Hamas, it will cost countless lives and will not provide the security it requires. The cycle of violence can end now, but it requires the political courage of a lion – or a pride of them.
In August, I participated in the Encounter in Berlin, a group established in 1992 that brings together the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors with those of Nazi perpetrators. Four days, eight hours a day, sitting in a circle with no agenda and no facilitator. I cannot betray any confidences, but every emotion imaginable was expressed, accepted and honoured.
At the end of the last day, a German from a solid SS family came to me and said: “I was so honoured to hear your story, and humbled that you heard mine.” We embraced.
I am an optimist. The Palestinians and the Israelis will reach a point where they understand that making peace with each other is their only option. Then they will need decades of their own Encounters to repair their trust in the human condition.
Oliver Sears is a London-born, Dublin-based art dealer and gallery owner. He is the son of a Holocaust survivor and founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland.