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Israel, Palestine & the Big Lie of Moral Relativism

By David Warren

Earlier this week, our press briefly dwelled on the Israeli refusal to allow the elected Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, to enter Gaza, with a reported $30 million of foreign donations for his terror movement. Shocking behaviour on the part of Israel! An outrageous overreaction to the modest toll of Israeli citizens, mangled by the daily bombardment of rockets fired from the Gaza territory. (Alert to over-literal readers: I am employing the rhetorical figure of "sarcasm", and may again.)

Mr Haniya, supposedly now without the money, was admitted instead across the Egyptian frontier. Fatah-appointed border police then opened fire on his entourage. One of his bodyguards was killed, but the great man himself escaped injury.

"We did not join this movement to become ministers but rather to become martyrs," Mr Haniya said later to a mass gathering of his followers in Gaza, celebrating the 19th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, with its charter promising Israel's annihilation. Perhaps he should show some gratitude when an Israeli helicopter manages to pick off one of his colleagues, instead of a rival Palestinian gang. For the aspiring martyr would surely prefer a more plausible appearance of martyrdom. That he had to cut short his first foreign trip, to wade into the escalating fratricidal violence back home, would have been almost embarrassing. Except, Mr Haniya doesn't embarrass easily.

Three sons of Fatah's security chief were murdered on Monday, to set the tone for a fairly violent week. Later, in Ramallah on the West Bank, Fatah "police" took out their frustrations on a pro-Hamas mob, sending a few dozen to hospital. And back in Gaza City, a gunfight between uniformed, Palestinian Authority operatives, and less formal, masked Hamas gunmen, spoiled an otherwise quiet afternoon.

This is democracy, Palestine-style. Hamas won the election last January, but Fatah retained their guns. Hamas has its own organized soldiery, called "militants" by the Western media. Fatah has several militias. You can tell the various groups apart by their headgear. Fatah continues to own the presidency, in the person of Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas dominates the cabinet. It has become unclear, even to sophisticated Europeans, which one is our "peace partner". Mr Abbas promises (or threatens, depending on the intra-Palestinian point-of-view) to call new elections in the hope of reversing the people's last verdict.

But even should they think again, about electing the more radical and candid terrorist faction, the guns will remain on both sides, and will still be used to determine social precedence. Many Palestinians may despair about this; many are trying to emigrate. But the very idea that Palestinians should face down, and disarm, "unofficial" militias, as Israel had to do in the course of her formation, exists only in the tissue-paper fantasies of Western "roadmaps to peace".

To the Western, "liberal" mindset, Israel must be responsible for this, just as President Bush is responsible for the teething problems of democracy in Iraq. For the West is always responsible for everything. If, as President Ahmadinejad of Iran has argued, both Israel and America were wiped from the face of this earth -- as he promises both soon will be -- then our problems are over, and we'll be one big happy Muslim family (presumably Shia, if Ahmadinejad prevails).

Distorted in the official Iranian view, and scarcely hidden beneath the "liberal" one -- as I discovered repeatedly when I was myself among the media in Israel and the West Bank -- is the profound racism of diminished expectation. They do not hold Palestinians to the same standards, to which Israelis are held without further thought. Specifically, they will not hold Palestinians responsible for behaviour that would be spontaneously condemned, with unconcealed outrage, only a few miles away across the Green Line.

This is systematic, and goes beyond condemnations of violence. No Jew is allowed to live in territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority; nor could a Jew expect to live out the day were he left unguarded there. Well over a million Muslims enjoy full citizenship in Israel, and the robust protection of law, even as they grow more radical. Yet Israel is uniquely condemned for denying the Palestinian "right of return", to Israeli territory.

I could go on almost indefinitely juxtaposing such things -- none of the points being subtle; each as obvious as the couple I have made.

But it's not that people don't know. It's that they will not acknowledge what they know, lest the rest of their worldview come tumbling down with the big lie, of moral relativism.

What, pray, is the big truth corresponding? That all men are held to the same moral standards. That nothing excuses hatred and murder. That what is bad in a Christian is bad in a Jew and bad in a Muslim. One heavenly size fits all.

© Ottawa Citizen

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