The following letter from dear old Mary Werther of "Armadale, Vic" in yesterday's Australian is polished and, on the surface, persuasive, just the kind you'd expect from a resident matron of that up-market, leafy Melbourne suburb. And it's sure to have worked a treat on readers who either haven't read the article referred to or are blissfully ignorant, by choice or no, of one simple inconvenient fact... but I'll come to that later. First to Mary's letter:
"Lavinia Moore's letter (29/11) and the article by John Lyons in The Weekend Australian Magazine (Stone cold justice, 26-27/11) both raise the difficult issue of how to treat Palestinian teenage combatants who attack Israeli civilians with rocks thrown at cars, aiming to cause severe injury and murder, such as the recent deaths of an Israeli father and his infant son.
"These children are effectively used as frontline soldiers and brainwashed to extreme hatred and violence by their parents to further their political agenda.
"Should they simply be allowed to kill Israeli civilians without any recourse in the courts?
"In practice, while no one likes arresting under-age youths, least of all the Israelis, they are usually held only briefly as a disincentive to others to emulate their actions.
"Unsubstantied allegations of any mistreatment are usually trumped-up propaganda for Western ears. They may indeed be frightened by their capture and courtroom trial, but is that worse than the pain they inflict?
"In Lyons's article, the mothers are so sympathetically portrayed, weeping in the court-room. Perhaps it is they, and the fathers, who should be held accountable for inciting their teenage sons to conduct murderous attacks."
Mmm... how smooth and plausible is that? Why, it almost comes with a cup of tea and a bagel on a silver platter!
It's as though Mary's writing about teenage toughs come from distant Kensington to rock the good folk of Armadale. You just wouldn't know from her account that, unlike my imagined gang from Kensington, these young Palestinian stonethrowers were born into, and educated by, a decades-long, brutal Israeli occupation which sets the scene for acts of resistance, however futile, by its victims. A comparable scenario might be one where the good folk of Armadale invade, occupy, colonise, patrol and shoot up the residents - or should that be denizens, Mary? - of Kensington and get all shirty when the Kensingtonians start reaching for the rocks. Ah, but pigs will fly before you'll get an acknowledment from Mary of an Israeli occupation engendering a Palestinian resistance. Certainly not when she's just put her hand up for the vice-presidency of the newly-formed Australian Voices for Israel, a fact that the old dear apparently forgot to append to her letter. (See Two new groups get behind Israel, jwire.com.au, 2/9/11).
Now I know she's a busy girl, but what, I wonder, would Mary have made of the opinion piece by Times' journalist Ben MacIntyre, Moral issues give rise to revolution, published in the exact same edition of The Australian that carried her letter? MacIntyre broaches the concept of resistance to oppression in the context of the so-called Arab Spring, beginning:
"You are a Syrian soldier watching, with mounting uncertainty, as the revolution builds. Do you slip away in the night to join the Free Syria Army? Do you follow your commanding officer if he defects to the rebels, or stay put? Do you wait and watch, or take the plunge?"
Now if MacIntyre had been writing instead about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, he could well have begun thus: 'You are a Palestinian teenager watching, with mounting anger, as the occupation takes its toll on your family, your community, your people. Do you pick up a stone and throw it at the Israeli settlers who relentlessly colonise your land or the marauding troops who aid and abett them? Or do you repress your feelings and tuck your tail between your legs. Do you wait and watch, or take the plunge?'
You just know Mary's response to that one, don't you?
MacIntyre goes on to remind his English readers: "In Britain, we are particularly susceptible to the myth that Britons never, never, never shall be slaves. We hear tales of collaboration in Nazi-occupied Europe and believe that the British would have held out, resisted, fought back if the Germans had invaded. But resisting a well-organised despotism, ruthlessly enforced, is astonishingly difficult, demanding a level of courage that few know they possess until tested. 'What would you do?' This remains the central conundrum of every war, revolution or resistance movement."
What would you do? I can just imagine Mary's response: 'About what?'
MacIntyre quotes Anthony Eden's words "when asked whether Britain would have behaved differently from France under Nazi dictatorship: 'It would be impertinent for any country that has not suffered occupation to pass judgment on one that did'."
Or, one might add, for an individual from an up-market, leafy Melbourne suburb to pass judgment on any Palestinians.
Now I indicated earlier that Mary's letter would have gone down well with those who hadn't read Australian Middle East correspondent John Lyons' revealing piece, Stone cold justice. Anyone who had, however, would have noticed just how wondefully artful the old dear's letter is:
While Lyons refers matter-of-factly to children, Mary has them pegged as "combatants" and "frontline soldiers," bent on bloody murder. And while it's clear from Lyon's expose that the targets of the stone throwers are largely marauding Israeli troops, Mary's exclusive focus is "Israeli civilians."
While Lyons writes of near 100% conviction rates, sentences ranging from 2 weeks to 10 months, confessions (in Hebrew!), handcuffing, blindfolding, manhandling, placing boots on necks, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, threats of rape, molestation by dogs, beatings, and solitary confinement, Mary reassures us that "while no one likes arresting under-age youths, least of all the Israelis, they are usually held only briefly as a disincentive to others to emulate their actions," and is adamant that "[u]nsubstantiated allegations of any mistreatment are usually trumped-up propaganda for Western ears."
Least of all the Israelis?!!!
Forget the kids from Kensington - it's the little old ladies from well-to-do, leafy suburbs you've got to watch out for.