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Israel must be accountable

Last update - Thursday, January 29, 2009, 18:00 By Ronit Lentin

On 19 January I attended the Holocaust lecture in Trinity College. The lecturer, Dr Nicholas Stargardt of Oxford University, spoke about Jewish children hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust. I happened to sit next to a stalwart member of the Dublin Jewish community. When I greeted her, she looked through me. I asked if she is not talking to me and she said: “I am disgusted by you.” She was referring to my opposition to the war in Gaza, and she could clearly make no connection between the death of children in the Holocaust and in Gaza.

Taking an oppositionist stand against Israel's devastating invasion of Gaza has been fraught – many members of Ireland's Jewish community were wholly supportive of Israel's action, buying the argument that it was Hamas, not Israel, who was the aggressor.
I do not want to get into that whole argument here. Let me just say emphatically that opposing Israeli militarist policies and Zionist ideologies – a position I share with tens of thousands of Israelis in Israel and abroad, and many Jews throughout the world – makes me neither anti-semitic nor a 'self hating Jew'. I am a proud Jew and declare my Judaism on every occasion, and have written extensively about anti-semitism.
I do not want to labour the point, nor do I want to focus on police attacks against Israelis who continue to hold vigils and demonstrate in Israel; several thousand of whom (including many Israeli Palestinian citizens) are still in jail. That’s because the focus of the struggle is still freedom for Palestinians and Palestine.
In the aftermath of this horrific war – which saw 1,300 and 1,400 Palestinians killed (including than 400 children) with 5,000 injured, compared to the deaths of 13 Israelis, three of whom were civilians – we must focus on the issues clearly and politically.
Both Israel and Hamas declared victory. So be it. But it is clear that without dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian elected leadership (which currently is Hamas) and without addressing the return of Palestinian refugees, there will be no peace.
I keep thinking about the children left for four days beside the body of their murdered mother. Will they grow up to thank Israel for its 'intervention', or will they be the first to join the armed struggle?
Irish people have been wonderful in their support for the Palestinians – so much so that Israel has targeted its propaganda machine at changing political Ireland's view. Immediately after the ceasefire, Israeli Minister for Education Yuli Tamir, a politics professor and founder of the 'Peace Now' movement, visited Ireland to speak with the Government and the media, and attempt to justify the atrocities.
It is important to name what happened as what it was – a war crime – and take Israel to account. It might not be easy – the Israeli army has prohibited the publication of names of officers who served in Gaza, fearing they will be charged with war crimes.
Israel also knows that the world will not remain silent in relation to its use of white phosphorus bombs, and is proposing to 'investigate' their use. The fact that the use of white phosphorus (not strictly illegal, but not permitted for use directly against a civilian population) causes people with even minor burns to die suffices.
It is not sufficient for Israel to merely investigate – the world must hold Israel accountable.

Dr Ronit Lentin is head of the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies at the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears fortnightly in Metro Éireann

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