“Israel is the first line of defence against terror. In the long term, its neighbours must learn to live in peace with it” (Israel’s Neighbours Must Learn To Live In Peace With It, Tan Kia Lee).
As well-intentioned as his letter might be (TODAY, Jan. 14), Mr. Tan’s blinkered thesis – that “Israel’s neighbours must learn to live in peace with it – ignores realities surrounding the tensions which have persisted for decades, perhaps even centuries.
According to Mr. Tan Israel’s neighbours have launched terrorist attacks on its territory, yet in the same vein there is no mention of Israel’s wanton acts of aggression, and the many human rights transgressions it could be guilty of. Moreover without international consensus on what constitutes terrorism Zionist paramilitary groups such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang which fought for the independence of the country in the 1940s – involved in bombings and assassinations – were in fact considered to be terrorist organisations, including Britain.
In his anxiety to pin blame on Israel’s neighbours, Mr. Tan forgets the country’s own complicity in the cycle of violence. What about the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? What about the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, and claims of Israeli authoritarianism through seizures, checkpoints, and separation fences? What do we make of the cycle of violence?
The security of Israelis is no less important, but attempts at overtures – if at all possible – should not be about approportioning blame, finding fault with the parties, or asserting who has to learn to live in peace with who.
And above all Mr. Tan underestimates the complexity of geopolitical dynamics. The United Nations – representative of diverse voices but dominated in its Security Council by superpowers with vested interests – is, more often than not, hapless. To date there are disagreements over the Palestinian refugees and their right to return, security and demilitarisation, defining the territories, borders, and the status of Jerusalem, as well as the political pressure and international support. The conclusion that “Israel is the first line of defence against terror” can be a tad disingenuous.
There is some hypocrisy as I pen this response from my armchair, though I do not profess to offer a panacea. At a comfortable distance – away from the socio-economic hardships or the threats of rocket fire in the Middle East – our opinions on these affairs are cheap. So the least we can probably do is to be fair in our assessments, and to not jump into conclusions so carelessly.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.