There are few things more horrible than sitting at home watching a massacre take place on your TV screen. Except, of course, being caught up in the cold, hard reality.
No one deserves to be shot for attending a music festival. Anyone who tries to justify such slaughter on the grounds that someone from the race of the murdered people committed crimes has lost touch with their morality. An entire people, on whichever side, should never be demonised or treated as if their lives can be wiped out as part of some political calculation about who is to blame.
Which is why it is wrong to cut off supplies of water, medicine and food to over two million people and to order them to leave their homes, on pain of death. Dropping bombs on children doesn’t bring back to life a single victim of a terrorist atrocity. But it does help to recruit future terrorists.
We should beware giving Hamas exactly what they planned
Those who organised the vicious attacks on people living in Israel weren’t just aiming to take lives. They were making a cynical political calculation. Their aim was to provoke a reaction that would isolate Israel and draw nations that sympathise with the cause of Palestinian people into the conflict.
Anyone who supports the ‘cleansing’ of Gaza is at risk of backing a war that will kill thousands of innocent people and hundreds of young Israeli conscripts. They are also unwittingly at risk of providing Hamas with exactly the outcome it wanted.
When a terrorist incident takes place, it is entirely understandable that people want to see action and to fight back. However, it is rare for anything good to result from this kind of reaction.
Lessons should be learned from Afghanistan
After 9/11, it seemed to many to make sense to launch an attack on Afghanistan, to find those responsible and to pacify the country that was the source of the training camps. Looking back on the outcome, can anyone plausibly claim that the loss of life that resulted was worth it? The situation in that country is now every bit as bad, and arguably much worse, than it was before all those British and other soldiers died. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Afghan people also died without the sign of one single positive achievement. Terrorism is now deep-seated than it was before the invasion and the countries that tried to wipe it out by force of arms are now weaker.
Any decent person is feeling enormous sympathy with those who have lost their lives in Israel and with their friends and relatives. But there is a real risk of that sympathy being weakened – and even forgotten – as the pictures of dying Palestinian children start to mount up.
The people of Israel have the right to live in peace and freedom, secure in their lives and property. The people of Palestine have exactly the same right. Too many people outside of the conflict are finding it very easy to line up behind one side or the other and deny the rights of an entire people because of crimes committed by someone who belongs to the same race.
Sympathy needs to be with ordinary people on both sides
It is only a few short weeks since brave young Israeli citizens came out on the streets to protest about the dangerous lurch to the right of the government of their country. Many of those who were murdered at the Re’im music festival were amongst those same protestors wanting a more enlightened society.
Instead, Netanyahu has been made more secure in his ultra-nationalist stance by the actions of Hamas. The Hamas leaders have made a deliberate calculation that it is in their long-term best interests to escalate conflict by launching a massive act of terrorism. They are expecting the pictures of Israel’s response to force governments of primarily Arab communities to be drawn into the conflict. Every time the Israeli government breaks international law, it provides Hamas with exactly the reaction that it wanted.
In such circumstances, nothing positive is achieved by lining up behind one side or the other and waving flags. It is easy to understand the anger of Palestinian people as they see their land gradually being eaten away and the population of Gaza crowded onto a small stretch of land that resembles an open prison. Those of us who support their rights need to take great care we do not line up behind religious bigots who would happily wipe out the entire population of Israel.
Similarly, it is natural to understand the hurt and anger of ordinary Israeli people after this latest massacre. But those of us who wish to support them need to take great care that we do not line up behind factions who would happily ethnically cleanse Gaza.
Palestinians who want to wipe out the existence of the state of Israel are putting at risk the lives of Palestinian people. Israelis who think the solution is to expel the population of Gaza at gunpoint aren’t making their country safer. Both views risk exposing each side to escalating rounds of even more horrible attacks and neighbouring states being dragged into war.
We need to support all innocent civilians
There are people on both sides who retain some understanding that morality cuts both ways. Those of us who are watching a horrible situation rapidly spiralling into an even worse one should be seeking to strengthen their hands. It is neither realistic nor morally justifiable for anyone to try to secure peace by eliminating the other side.
In such circumstances, pressure to put forward serious peace proposals that leave all sides in the conflict safer and more secure is helpful. You might also consider donating to an aid organisation such as the British Red Cross that is helping victims, regardless of nationality. Treating the conflict as some kind of spectator sport in which you want one side to emerge victorious helps no one.