OPINION: The Gaza conflict and how it makes us hate

OPINION: The Gaza conflict and how it makes us hate

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Jewish News Foreign Editor, Stephen Oryszczuk
Jewish News Foreign Editor, Stephen Oryszczuk

By Stephen Oryszczuk

When the Gaza conflict ends, when commanders count their dead, armchair critics will ask themselves what this battle was about, what it achieved, where it sits in the history books and what it made them think.

Jewish News Foreign Editor, Stephen Oryszczuk
Jewish News Foreign Editor, Stephen Oryszczuk

One of the things they may realise and admit is that it made them think the worst of ‘the other,’ so fired up was the media battle this time.

The instant effect of social media and video-sharing websites has had, in 2014, a far more polarising impact on many who take an interest in the Middle East, and an incendiary effect on those whose interest goes beyond casual curiosity.

Tech-savvy members of an energised and passionate Jewish community have fought a media war they had no chance of winning (given the vast numbers on the other side) but may well have shifted emotionally to the right in doing so.

In this charged atmosphere, they may have thought the worst of those they hold responsible and said so online and in the media. They may even have made comments of the nature they would no doubt scorn their enemy for.

Online, hatred has grown on both sides, and is a phenomenon that does not sit comfortable with a Jewish community whose every instinct, whose every value, rooted in thousands of years of learning, urge the opposite.

But hatred it no doubt is. In the early stages, after the three boys were found murdered, 37,000 people ‘liked’ an online groups demanding “revenge” against Palestinians, with subsequent calls for one Palestinian be killed every hour.

To many, this conflict has exposed some rarely-felt feelings, possibly because they were themselves exposed to hateful messages and images online. The web is a worthy host of words, but its nature allows a quick slip into raw emotion.

For many, what they saw and read showed what this was really about, and the icing on the cake came from the tweeting hand of David Ward (I’ll omit the initials he puts after his name until he’s earned them).

Israel rally
Stephen Oryszczuk: Supporters of both sides “have moved emotionally to the right”

They were not only predictable, they were vile. They showed what lurks below the surface, dressed up as statistics, and confirmed what many long suspected about this particular politician: that for him, it’s about Jews, not Israel.

But it’s bigger than David Ward. It’s about establishment politics, and the way in which his supposedly electable party was so quick to accept his excuses, as if he’d said something everyone thought anyway.

It was the way they were rushed to bury bad news and get on with the election. It was the way, in short, they were so utterly, inexcusably reluctant to put principals ahead of pride.

Perhaps they just know their audience. New figures out this week show a huge lean within the Lib Dems (I’ll use their full name when they’ve earned it) towards a point-of-view more aligned to that of Hamas than Israel over Gaza.

That it was about ethnicity, not nationality, for Mr Ward was further reinforced by his choice of defender, a former MEP, whose name doesn’t warrant mention but who called the Board of Deputies “disputatious Jews” and a Jewish newspaper editor a “prat”.

Message of hate: a protesters makes his feeling known at the pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday.
Message of hate: a protesters makes his feeling known at the pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday.

His example is part of a bigger picture. Conflict inflames emotion. It always has done. It’s hard-wired into us. People will also always put ‘Jews’ and ‘Israel’ together, associating the ill-will they feel toward the latter onto the former, whether that’s fair or not.

As a non-Jew, living outside the bubble, I understand how easy it is. My mild-mannered, non-Jewish neighbour virtually spat me out of his house last week because he knew where I worked and had seen the horrific images coming out of Gaza, of bombed hospitals and morgues, of dead children, of kids trying to outrun a tank on a beach.

People support the Palestinians in this fight. They see Hamas as the little kid who picked a fight with the big kid and who threw a few punches before the big kid got angry. Now they have to watch the small kid get a kicking every night on TV, beyond the point whereby they feel – if this were the playground – the big kid should have stopped.

Likewise, for Israel’s supporters, image capture had also galvanised opinion. It is difficult not to feel physically sick when IDF footage shows Hamas militants throwing civilians back into houses earmarked for bombing.

So what will be this battle’s lasting effect on the the way we feel?

Might it signal, for some at least, the point of no return, the point at which they say all hope of peace is now lost. In short, can the damage done from the poisonous ill-will typed, drawn, voiced and aimed at ‘the other’ over the past few weeks ever be reversed?

Personally, I doubt it, but then Mrs O says I’m a pessimist, so perhaps I’m wrong.

I hope I am. If I’m not, the idea of Israel living in peace in the Middle East will remain just an idea. And for that I’d hate Hamas even more.

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