A letter to my Israeli and Arab friends, during the War in Gaza, August 2014
by Professor Jörg Imberger: Winthrop Professor of Environmental Engineering, Director of the Centre for Water Research and Vice Chancellor Distinguished Fellow, University of Western Australia.
Every evening my wife and I sit down for dinner and watch the news. We’re bombarded by reports of death and destruction in Gaza and the pompous rhetoric of reporters who invariably proclaim: “Why is Israel inflicting such heavy casualties on the civilian population”. Never do I hear a neutral analysis of the situation, nor an explanation of what is happening. Yet, in the same news programme, there is, quite rightly, outrage when Australians die in an airplane shot down over the Ukraine.
I wonder how a US, UK, French, Australian or other European citizen would react, if every day of the week, every minute of the day, there is a possibility of a stray rocket hitting their neighbourhood or a suicide bomber exploding a device in a supermarket. How do mothers feel when they send their kids to school, turning to say goodbye and thinking: “Will they be safe?” I travel a lot and I can tell you what the reaction would be in these countries. There would an immediate call to arms! Yet these same people expect Israelis to shelter the civilian population in Gaza, when there is clear evidence that Hamas is using these same civilian neighbourhoods as military staging posts, rocket launch pads and military tunnels.
My family originally came from the British mandate of Palestine as part of the German “Templer” colonies, a religious movement to “create God’s Kingdom on Earth” and lived there from 1868 to 1941, at which time they were deported to Australia by the British and interned in Tatura, Victoria for 6 years because of their German heritage.
The first time my wife and I went to Israel was June 14 1967, three days after the end of the six day war, to explore my roots. The visit made an incredible impression on me. Where ever we went people were proactively friendly, so much so that on one occasion in Jerusalem, when we got on the wrong bus, the bus driver asked the passengers whether they would mind going on a small detour to take us to our destination, everyone shouted in the affirmative. People with numbers tattooed on their arms, were genuinely friendly even after learning of our German backgrounds. I was amazed how they could forgive the hardship that Germans had inflicted on them.
I must contrast this with the experience at a party in California that we had attended shortly before the trip to Israel, at the house of a Palestinian friend who had immigrated to the US a few years before to study in the US. I talked to the children of the parents and not knowing what to say I asked: “What are you going to do when you grow up?” The reply from the oldest (~6 year old boy) was “I am going to kill as many Jews as I can”. I was shocked and will never forget the glow in the boy’s eyes. Clearly, the child did not know what he had said, but it does give insight into the home culture.
Obviously, there is an incompatibility in cultures.
On the one hand we have the Jewish people who have been the victim of genocide and who the British and French allowed to settle back into their historical home. They went about establishing a safe haven, a place which they can call home, be safe and be part of the world community, with about 50% in Israel and the rest global citizens. Understandably, the experiences of the world’s aggression towards then had taught them to be careful and thus you now see a nation that is commercially successful, has the means to defend itself and is part of an intellectual global network. In many ways Israel is at the forefront in globalisation that is sweeping the world.
Given half a chance Israel could lead the Middle East in the age of globalisation, benefiting not only itself, but all the surrounding countries. Jordan is trying, but the militant elements are preventing the nations of Syria, Lebanon and Egypt from even just opening their eyes to the obvious possibilities. This is strange, because even a cursory look at Germany before and after the war, clearly shows that the Jewish culture provided the intellectual leadership in Germany, so the same could obviously be achieved in the Middle East.
The Palestinian people have also been dealt great injustices. But rather than seeing the glass half full, they see the glass half empty. What makes the situation even worse, is the reluctance of their fellow Arab neighbours not to lift a finger to help their situation.
Clearly the only long term solution, given the present psychological state of the Palestinians and the Israelis, is for Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria to assimilate the approximately 2 million Palestinians in Gaza with generous financial help from the nations that precipitated the problem in the first place, the UK, France, US and Germany. If the normal citizen of Gaza was given the choice of the host country, ownership of a new house, a decent job and the full rights of a citizen, then surely common sense would prevail and the Palestinians could look forward to a decent, secure way of life and the Israelis, security of their borders. Such a relocation could usher forward a new Renaissance in the area. Speaking from experience, having moved home numerous times, the geographic location of one’s home is not important, it is the security, the prospects of a meaningful existence in one’s society and a like minded circle of friends that are the important ingredients of a successful “home”. Unfortunately, the male ego, whether on a religious crusade, rectifying a perceived injustice or simply having the need to dominate, is what prevents logical solutions.
To my many Israeli and Arab friends, I wish you the strength to work towards suppressing the hatred of the fundamentalists, render them impotent, as they are not motivated by a just cause, in fact they are not motivated by anything other than hatred fuelled by their male egos. To the militants who may read this, you are imposing immeasurable hardship on your children and their children, simply to appear tough to your co-conspirators in crime. God will judge you harshly.