And so we come to the most ghastly of all fateful events last week: the simultaneous bloodbath in Gaza and the glorious opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
“It’s a great day for peace,” Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced. When I heard that, I wondered if my hearing was defective. Did he actually say those words? Alas, he did. At times like this, it is an immense relief to find that journals like the Israeli daily Haaretz maintain their sense of honour. And the most remarkable piece of reportage came in The New York Times where Michelle Goldberg caught perfectly the horror of both Gaza and the embassy opening in Jerusalem.
The latter, she wrote, was “grotesque… a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.” Goldberg pointed out that Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor, gave the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony.
And Jeffress it was who once claimed that religions like “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in hell”. The closing benediction came from John Hagee, an end-times preacher who, Goldberg recalled, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland.
Of Gaza, she added: “even if you completely dismiss the Palestinian right of return – which I find harder to do now that Israel has all but abandoned the possibility of a Palestinian state – it hardly excuses the Israeli military’s disproportionate violence.” I’m not so sure, though, that Democrats have become more emboldened to discuss Israeli occupation, as she thinks. But I think she’s right when she says that as long as Trump is president, “it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity”.
Rarely in modern times have we come across an entire people – the Palestinians – treated as a non-people. Amid the trash and rats of the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon – oh fateful names they remain – there is a hut-museum of items brought into Lebanon from Galilee by those first refugees of the late 1940s: coffee pots and front door keys to houses long destroyed. They locked up their houses, many of them, planning to return in a few days.
But they are dying fast, that generation, like the dead of the Second World War. Even in the oral archives of the Palestinian expulsion (at least 800 survivors are recorded) organised in the American University of Beirut, they are finding that many whose voices were recorded in the late 1990s have since died.
So will they go home? Will they “return”? That, I suspect, is Israel’s greatest fear, not because there are homes to “return” to, but because there are millions of Palestinians who claim their right – under UN resolutions – and who might turn up in their tens of thousands at the border fence in Gaza next time.
How many snipers will Israel need then? And of course, there are the pitiful ironies. For there are families in Gaza whose grandfathers and grandmothers were driven from their homes less than a mile from Gaza itself, from two villages which existed precisely where stands today the Israeli town of Sderot, so often rocketed by Hamas. They can still see their lands. And when you can see your land, you want to go home.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?’