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Government abstention on Gaza vote shameful

On the Edge

Irish Government abstention on Gaza vote shameful


Áine Ryan

THE thing I love about our book club is how much we argue, become socially effusive, even verbally violent. Of course, the wine always helps; it is never New World or screw-capped and our glasses are always at least half-full.
Although the last book we read left us feeling rather empty. Indeed, it turned out to be uncomfortable summer reading as the latest twists in the David and Goliath war between a bellicose Israel and the besieged Palestinians of the Gaza Strip unfolded on our airwaves.  
‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ is about three fictional female Israeli soldiers, Yael, Avishag and Lea, who grow up together in a small, dusty village and are conscripted to the army when they are 18.
There was much media hype about 25-year-old Shani Boianju’s debut novel which was long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. The Wall Street Journal said it marked ‘the arrival of a brilliant writer’ while The Washington Post observed that ‘[with] its blend of hilarity and heart-stopping anguish, this is a brilliant debut novel’.
Thankfully, a reviewer in The Guardian concurred more with the conclusions of The Mad Hatters Book Club. We thought the book was disjointed, lacked soul and was written quite badly. Nevertheless, the level and length of our arguments confirmed its deep impact on us.  
Entering the world of these young adults as the 51-day Israeli bombardment of Gaza progressed, brought its brutal realities to a new dimension. Lea serves at a West Bank checkpoint where she is so bored she invents the life story for a Palestinian man who crosses into Israel for work each day. When he slices open the neck of one of her colleagues as he checks his papers through a car window, that fantasy comes to a shocking end. Meanwhile, Yavishag is stationed on the Egyptian-Sinai border, where ‘illegal people’ of all ages take crazy risks to enter Israel while Yael is a weapons instructor who teaches boys how to shoot better.     
Even though the stories are told from an Israeli perspective they left me, as a reader, unsympathetic to this militarised society where even young adults were already infected by an anomie (little moral guidance by one’s society) and a lack of idealism and innocence that should be the preserve of youth.    
In a multimedia world where we are on a 24-seven drip-feed of news and images of horrific happenings, even on the edge of the ‘developed’ continent of Europe, I am not sure how desensitised we have become to State and rebel terrorism. (As I write news is breaking of the beheading by Isis of another American journalist, 31-year-old Steven Sotloff)   
Isn’t it so easy to move on, be outraged about some distant new atrocity? In over seven weeks the bombardment by Israel left more than 2,100 people dead in Gaza. They were mostly civilians, and 500 of them were children. Four of those children were just playing football on a beach when they were shelled by the Israeli navy. Two other casualties were Anas and Sa’ad al-Skafi, 18-year-old twin brothers. Just before they were killed, can you imagine their pride as they received excellent school exam results: Anas got 88 percent and Sa’ad got 91 percent.
There were also 11,000 people injured and more than 17,000 homes destroyed while one-third of the entire population of 1.8 million has been displaced. This is certainly not an apologia for Hamas rockets or its brutal form of terrorism but the reality is that there were just 64 Israeli soldiers killed along with six civilians, including one four-year-old boy. It goes without saying that none of those deaths should have happened either.
So, is there some inherent flaw in our evolution, as a species, that precludes us from negotiating peace in a dignified and rational manner? Why cannot those men (it is mainly men) who are privileged to be in power stand back from corporate greed and religious zealotry? Why is the powerful Fourth Estate, the media, a complicit participant in this axis of collusion? Why didn’t the Irish Government support an important vote to establish an international Commission of Inquiry into violations of human rights in Gaza during an emergency debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council on the conflict. Instead, it cynically abstained. How shameful.