Paul Fletcher, the Liberal federal member for Bradfield, NSW, recently visited Israel as a guest of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) (See my 6/2/12 post Here We Go Again!). His account of his journey, titled Visiting Israel is an education, appeared in The Australian Jewish News of 17 February.
For aficianados of the steady stream of Australian politicians, journalists and other sophisticates who self-sacrificingly leave the Balinese or Thai bodyrub to the hedonistic hoi polloi in favour of the more cerebral Israeli brainwash (a process I refer to as rambamming*), Paul's account will be of consuming interest:
To begin with the perils of Pauline have nothing on those of Paul. When he's not dodging Arab rockets on his El Al flight to Eilat, or Hamas rockets in Sderot-Stalingrad, or Hezbollah rockets from southern Lebanon, he's observing the excruciating pain of security screenings "in cities and towns throughout Israel" or listening, awestruck, as grief-stricken Israeli parents relate "grim accounts" in "deep, quiet anger" of terrorists who, although having master-minded the deaths of Israeli children, receive heroes' welcomes in Jordan when released from Israeli jails.
But then, following all this sturm und drang, comes this curious, perfunctory paragraph:
"On a visit to the West Bank, we saw the controversial security fence. Spending time with Palestinian officials, we were shown new Israeli settlements visible from Bethlehem; checkpoints which are randomly shut by the Israeli army; and a West Bank refugee camp."
A towering 8m wall is just a fence. And it's controversial, not illegal. Israeli settlements monster Bethlehem on every side, but Paul is mum. Checkpoints make a Palestinian's day, every day, but it's strictly no comment from Paul. And there's a refugee camp - but what that's all about elicits not a word from him. No, Paul only has words for Israel:
"The security challenges Israel faces naturally leave a profound impression on a visitor to Israel. But what struck me most forcefully was the determination and willpower that run through the story of modern Israel. Even establishing the country required heroic effort; then immediately upon declaring its statehood in 1948, Israel was attacked by surrounding Arab states; and Israel has of course fought multiple wars since that time."
And that's as close as you'll get to the riddle of the refugee camp. After all, it's heroic effort, not ethnic cleansing or refugees, that the punters want to hear about.
"Quite apart from the security threat, the country was tiny, much of the land it did have was inhospitable desert, water was scarce, and there were few natural resources. To have moulded a modern, prosperous nation of nearly 8 million people (20% of them not Jewish), and to have successfully absorbed several massive waves of immigration along the way, is an extraordinary feat."
Yes, just bare rock and sand dunes, stretching as far as the eye could see, with your odd Arab listlessly littering the place, stirring from his eternal somnolence only to stab in the back our heroic Jewish pioneers busy watering the desert with little more than the sweat of their brows but somehow, miraculously making it bloom.
"What lessons do I draw from my visit? Three stand out. First, a narrative which portrays Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as victims is hopelessly simplistic."
God forbid that we call ethnic cleansers and occupiers oppressors, or refugees and occupied victims. Hopelessly simplistic! No, you need a much more sophisticated narrative than that. Once you understand that it was really the so-called Palestinians who were occupying Jewish land which they should have had the good grace or common sense to vacate as soon as the real owners came back after thousands of years, then and only then have we got ourselves a serious narrative. Seriously.
"This is so for several reasons, but one is that as a democratic state with a free press, Israel examines its own failings - including during war - much more publicly than its enemies do."
I mean we all know that public displays of humility, soul-searching and self-criticism are everywhere to be seen in Israel; that acknowledgments of guilt, expressions of regret and apologies all round are commonplace; that truth and reconciliation sessions are practically an artform; and that sackcloth and ashes is the latest fashion, right? Right.
"Secondly, the scale of what modern Israel has achieved, in just over 60 years, is truly impressive. The country's natural resources may be limited, but the determination, courage and hard work of its people have taken Israel a long way in a short time."
Absolutely! It's gone from practically zero land in Palestine in 1917, to around 6% in 1947, to 78% in 1948-49, and finally to 100% in 1967, with chunks of Syria and Egypt thrown in for good measure! Yes, it's amazing what determination, courage, hard work, brute force, dispossession, daylight robbery, and the good old Yankee dollar can do.
"Thirdly, it is instructive to compare what has been achieved in Israel with the message that the Greens like to give us in Australia: our land is at (or over) its carrying capacity and we must immediately cease population growth or we risk catastrophic collapse. Israel supports 7.5 million people on around 20,000 square kilometres; Australia's 3 times larger population occupies a landmass around 380 times as big as Israel."
Yeah, you can truly work wonders once you've driven out the undesirables, stolen their lands, homes, businesses and assets, and kept their millions of descendents on ice for over 60 years.
[*See my 30/3/09 post I've been to Israel too.]