As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?


Palestinians in Gaza City survey the rubble of a house targeted in an Israeli air strike

Reports have cumulated overnight suggesting that at least 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 injured as Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza strip.

The death toll – primarily made up of civilians – has continued to rise as Israel amasses troops on the border readying for a potential ground invasion. Militants within Gaza continue to fire rockets into Israel with at least 140 launched on Tuesday alone but thankfully, so far, with no casualties.

This violence in the south and west of Israel and in the occupied Gaza strip has also resulted in an upsurge of violence in the Occupied West Bank with reports coming in of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Force.

Amidst this escalating violence many, myself included, look on with a growing desperation for any positive development to hold onto. It is perhaps because of this that I have seen this photo, and the accompanying story, posted on my social media feeds almost as much as the photos of the devastation occurring in the Gaza strip.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offers his condolences to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son Mohammed was murdered last week by Jewish extremists.

This story of mutual loss and grief holds resonance with so many because not only does it deal with death – something which connects us all – but also because it shows the shared humanity in a conflict that too often removes any sense of such commonality.

It is an important story that I hope more people read**.

This said, it also made me reflect how people (once again, myself included) use the Israel/Palestine conflict to project their own values. I want Israelis and Palestinians to focus on their shared humanity more than everything that divides them. I want this so much that perhaps at times I convince myself that this view is shared amongst Israelis and Palestinians more than it perhaps is.

How often do you hear commentators use a variation of the phrase ‘the vast majority just want peace’ with nothing to back this claim up?

Obviously in the broad sense of the word ‘peace’, I am sure this is true, but how many people want a realistic collection of the characteristics that are needed to establish peace? I am not sure to be honest. Probably not as many as I would like.

To counter this I grasp onto the minority who conform to my pre-existing perspective in hope that it validates my own views and my own vision for potential peace in the region. I suspect this is one compelling reason why the above photo has gone viral with many left-wing friends – it supports a world view that validates their own.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that I face then is the task of facing up to the fact that lots of people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories don’t think like I do. Lots of Palestinians don’t want to accept a neighbouring state of Israel, a lot of Israelis don’t want to share Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state etc etc…*

While I am entitled to my views, as you are yours, I also have to accept the fact that we probably won’t be the ones who ultimately bring about peace. This has to come from within Israeli and Palestinian society (although I think we outsiders can help lay the foundations).

I was acutely aware of this during my time in the West Bank and Israel in 2012 and tried as much as possible to report the words of the people I met and to only offer a human rights framework for their words to help readers contextualise what they were saying. Inevitably though I at times failed and led interviews into the direction I wanted them to go rather than really listening 100% to what they wanted to say.

Equally I noticed on a number of occasions that some Palestinians I was interviewing would self-conform, either out of a sub-conscious desire to please or through strategy, and use peace/human rights language that sat comfortably in my articles but did not necessarily reflect the militaristic rhetoric that I heard in the coffee shops and in the fields when I wasn’t conducting formal interviews.

Since moving away from both Israel and the occupied territories it has become harder for me to put the emphasis on listening to what Palestinians and Israelis have to say on the subject rather than just projecting my own thoughts purely because I am not having daily interactions with them. This is one of the reasons I have been writing much less on the conflict in the last year or so.

All of this said I still think it is important that the international community (that includes you and me) keeps highlighting what is happening and calling for justice and accountability. I also believe that we have a role to play. The most powerful things I think we can do is to highlight the grass-roots efforts to bring about a non-violent end to the occupation. This in my mind includes the powerful story of the Fraenkel and Khdeir mourning families coming together to offer each other support.

The challenge though is how we do this without losing sight of the reality of normal people’s opinions that might sit less comfortably with our own (my own) liberal human rights dominated perspective whilst we cherry pick the few good news stories that make ourselves feel better?


*I am not saying these are the characteristics needed for peace, but they are examples of characteristics many feel are needed for peace and that many people in Israel/Palestine oppose. 

** UPDATE Since publishing this article it has emerged that the photo and the recent story I linked to on Huffington Post are not the same. The photo is from 2013. More here. The story however in the Huffington Post, to the best of my knowledge, is true though.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Social comment

11 responses to “As Gaza is bombed why do I keep looking for the odd good news story?

  1. Wadha

    Hello, I am the cousin of Mohammad Abu Khdeir and I’m only commenting on this post to let you know that the picture above supposedly of my khalo (uncle) Hussein being hugged by a jewish man, is NOT in fact my uncle…I don’t know who either man can easily find a picture of my uncle by googling his name and you’ll see this man does not resemble him at all..Please replace it..thank you. Wadha.


  2. Can’t help wondering, given his past statements, if Levi is referring to me and Harry’s Place here, given that I certainly retweeted this.

    I was chided for doing so by someone on ‘my side’ (if we must think and talk in the language of football supporters).

    Steve always strikes me as truthful, and willing to engage with the problems on his own ‘side’ – e.g. in his post about antisemitism in pro-Palestinian networks. How does it help if these things are brushed aside – or indeed the fact that Israeli flags adorn the margins of a good many counter-jihadist websites?

    Facing up to the fact that not all Palestinians have views he welcomes makes no difference to what Steve says about the occupation etc, and strengthens his credibility when he does simply want to criticise something Israel has done.

    You would have thought that the main reason people spend so much time blogging and commenting on I/P might be in the hope of shifting readers’ views, but too many on both sides seem more interested in grandstanding and strengthening the (virtual) separation barrier which arbitrarily divides people into two opposed camps.


    • Sarah, I’m glad you’ve got the self-awareness to see yourself in “this or that lying racist from this or that racist website”.

      When you say that Steve strikes you as being truthful I think you must mean you like what he says. He is not always truthful and you must know that. On the question of antisemitism and opposition to Israel’s continued existence as a state specially for Jews he has resorted to evasions and straight up falsehood; in fairness, mostly evasions.

      What I think happens with some of these human rights activists in Palestine is they don’t realise at first quite how much Israel means to some powerful interests and when they do come to realise they either capitulate to racism even if it means lying and smearing various people, they avoid the cause altogether or they redouble their efforts to expose the whole gamut of zionist rule and its essentially racist and on-going war criminal underpinnings. Steve has chosen the first of these at the expense of the last and at the expense of his integrity.

      It wouldn’t be fair to make too much of an issue out of Steve being called truthful by a Harry’s Place blogger and a co-blogger of Ben Gidley and David Hirsh, but that alone should at least hav him asking questions of himself.


      • I think that is an attempted smear by association, a very loose association at that


        • See what I mean? Your latest response is both evasive and dishonest. You refuse to address specific points I have made and you make out I am simply objecting to your associating with racists. I’m not and you know I’m not. I said in a comment to an earlier post of yours that your degeneracy is complete and it is.


          • This is getting tiresome to be honest. But for the last time I will attempt to answer your two points that you say I am being evasive about (1, my ‘support’ for Israel and 2, accusations of anti-Semitism in relation to attacks on Israel).

            So 1) I cannot and would not support a state that understands itself as only for one group of people. It is in this sense that (I think) we are in agreement in condemning Israel’s discriminatory laws. Where (I think) we differ is that I see no reason why Israel cannot reform from within through democratic processes to be a modern functioning democracy free from any discriminatory principle – although I will admit we are a long way off from this at the moment. I think Israel has a ‘right to exist’ in the same sense that every other nation does – with obligations. I also see no reason why Israel cannot celebrate its Jewish identity whilst also functioning as an inclusive democracy. More broadly, with the possible exception of sporting events, I don’t inherently support any nation. I support ideas and actions. I feel it is important to condemn Israel when the government acts against my values and support it when it acts in accordance with my own values.

            2) I think a small number of people attack Israel due to anti-Semitic values. Israel’s obvious and self-proclaimed ‘Jewish identity’ makes it a target for such anti-Semitic attacks. As with all forms of discrimination I feel that it is important to be on guard against this whilst also balancing this with defending those who have been wrongly smeared as being anti-Semitic (when all they have done is legitimately condemned Israel for something) by those who wish to defend Israel whatever the cost.


  3. I don’t know if the whole HuffPo report is true or not any more than you do but I do know, as you should, that Nir Barkat is one of the prime movers behind the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Jerusalem.

    The answer to your question as to why, when Israel is slaughtering innocents in Gaza, you look for a good news story is probably bound up with your leaving the Palestinian cause behind your vehicle as it hurtles on to pastures greener. Maybe you want to salve your own conscience at the same time as winning praise from this or that lying racist from this or that racist website. I really don’t know but since you claim not to know either why don’t you focus on squaring the circle of your professed “liberal human rights dominated” values with your support for a state specially made and maintained for one ethno-religious community only?

    Address that and you could kill two birds with one stone. If you admit that Jewish supremacy can only be maintained by way of on-going human rights abuses you can ditch either your professed support for human rights or your support for Israel. That’s one. The other would be your treating these silly stories, lauding the efforts of a leading ethnic cleanser like Barkat, with the contempt they deserve.

    My guess is that you prefer the occasional pat on the back that stories like this will earn you from racists but I’d truly love to be wrong.


  4. richardarmbach

    Pass the sick bag Alice


  5. Ailidh

    Steve, you are human and looking for signs of shared humanity is just part human nature, whether concieved as naive or not 🙂 Thanks for an interesting read.


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