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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Messianism and madness: An intimate hell ride through end times in the Holy Land

Messianism and madness: An intimate hell ride through end times in the Holy Land
Illustrative image | People demonstrate during the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 16 March 2023 in Berlin. (Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images) | Israeli troops with a variety of military vehicles. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Hannibal Hanschke) | A Palestinian flag. (Photo: Annice Lyn / Getty Images) | A man draped in an Israeli flag attends a demonstration on 22 October 2023 in Berlin. (Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

It’s a crazy reality to admit, but the ascendant ideologies on both sides of the Israel-Hamas war have become a very literal acting out of the ancient holy texts. And, on both sides, with each attack and counterattack, with each atrocity that takes the lives of children, health workers and civilians, the ascendant ideologies risk becoming the dominant ideologies. The Torah and the Quran, as the zealots on both sides have always hoped, risk fulfilling their deepest prophecies about the war at the End of Days.

City of Peace, July 1992

“Two rows,” the commanding officer ordered.

It was July of 1992, less than a week before my nineteenth birthday, and I was in the olive-green uniform of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), an M16 assault rifle in the grip of my willing hands. The plan, as articulated by the officer, was simple: when he opened the padlock on the steel blue door — an IDF-controlled back entrance to the Muslim Quarter of old Jerusalem — we were to keep pace behind him, maintain our order in the rows, and shout.

What was the reason for this show of force?

To us, the question was moot. Jerusalem, the ancient city of King David and King Solomon, the city of the First Temple and the Second Temple, the city of our prophets and our priests, was the heart that pumped the Jewish blood through our veins. For three thousand years, our ancestors had tended to the dream of this undying heart: through the conquests and slaughters delivered by Babylon, Greece and Rome; through the religious degradations of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Christian Crusades; through the indignities of Mamluk rule, Ottoman rule and the British Mandate. Our collective trauma, as passed down to us through countless generations, had taught us the lesson that every victim of ethnic violence was compelled in the end to learn.

It had taken us a while, we told ourselves, but we had learnt. Because after all those millenniums of exile and defeat, after the post-independence wars of ’48, ’56, ’67 and ’73 — when our enemies, in their own words, wanted nothing less than to drive us into the sea — we were back in our golden capital.

And if you weren’t with us, so the logic went, that was too bad.

Also, the day before, in our olive-green uniforms with our M16s, we had paid a visit to Yad Vashem. For most of us in this international volunteer corps, which offered three months of basic training at the level received by regular conscripts in the tank units, it wasn’t our first visit. The world’s pre-eminent Holocaust museum and memorial centre, perched atop Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance, had long been the focal point of almost every pilgrimage to Israel by schools in the Jewish diaspora. But there was something very different about a visit to Yad Vashem in the uniform of the IDF.

Somehow, magically, as if we were soldiers in the army of King David himself, the images of the Nazi genocide had been cleansed of the element of shame. The smoke from the industrial crematoria of Auschwitz and Treblinka; the mass graves for the 33,000 that were killed in less than two days at Babyn Yar; the mothers and children, shivering and naked before the firing squads in the cold forests — in our uniforms, with our IDF commanders in charge instead of our high school teachers, there was no question that we had emerged victorious from our legacy of humiliation and despair.

So, at the back entrance to the Muslim Quarter of old Jerusalem, when our commanding officer ordered us to run, we held our weapons and we ran.

And while running, we shouted.  

I was at the front of the left row. Which meant, as we ran through the winding alleyways, that I could see and hear the doors of the Palestinian shops, as they were shut like clanging dominoes before our righteous advance. I could also see the eyes of the Palestinian shopkeepers, staring at us through the cracks. They were, of course, the eyes of hatred and fear.

At the time, I didn’t care. At the time, it was too bad for them.

Eight months later, my uncaring would trigger a series of mental health crises that — from the vantage point of hindsight — was the product of my irreconcilable worlds.

I had wanted to enlist in a fighting unit, preferably the paratroopers, which was the entire point of the volunteer corps — to introduce diaspora Jews to the IDF; if they were a good fit, to encourage them to enlist. As it turned out, while I was certainly a good fit, my father had other plans. Perhaps because he sensed I would end up patrolling the occupied territories, an overequipped young idealist up against the rock-throwing kids of the First Intifada, he insisted that I come back home.

For some reason, I listened. In 1993, when South Africa was on the brink of its own civil war, I found myself at Wits University. There, while dustbins were being thrown around campus in a final display of impatience with the apartheid regime, my idealism encountered a new avenue for growth. I became friends with the popular crew in my political science class, young men who ran the ANC Youth League branch for the Naledi district of Soweto.

We smoked cigarettes, we talked politics, we drank crate after crate of Zamalek. I cheered when they threw dustbins. They cheered when I agreed, in a drunken epiphany, that the Palestinian cause was justifiably aligned to the cause of the ANC. But the Jewish trauma, the IDF pride, remained.

I drank more. I moved on to harder stuff. The details of the mental collapse were gory, like a bomb that explodes inside a mind full of incompatible facts. In April of 1994, when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa, it was a rare bright spot in the dark fog of my suicidal ideations. In November of 1995, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a messianic Israeli zealot, I was too far gone to realise that with him had died any hope for lasting peace. 

Cape Town, October 2023  

“Seriously?” the WhatsApp message asked. “Reads like the weather report. Biggest massacre of innocent Jews since WW2. I thought Daily Maverick was better than that.”    

The date was 9 October 2023, two days after the Hamas operation that would reset the terms in the Middle East, and like much of the rest of the world I had been grappling with the horrors that were coming at me non-stop through my phone.   

The message was from an Israeli number, and it took less than a minute to figure out that it was from an old school friend with whom I had not been in contact for more than 20 years. In the late ’90s, I remembered, when I was just starting to find my equilibrium, he had left South Africa for the Promised Land. 

“Long time,” I responded, “I hope you and your family are safe and strong.”

“Thanks,” he wrote back. “Biggest massacre of Jews since WW2. Perhaps that should be your headline.”

My friend’s issue was that Daily Maverick, aware of the flammability of the situation, had chosen to flatly report on the number of the dead. I let it slide, knowing that, like my own close family in Israel, he was on the front lines of this brand-new collective trauma. I returned to the doom scrolling, where the dominant message — from both sides — was one of retaliation and revenge. Then I clicked on the homepage of Haaretz, the newspaper of the Israeli left, where there was an editorial that, to me at least, was remarkable under the circumstances. 

In Haaretz’s view, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to bear the full blame for what had suddenly become the “Israel-Gaza War”. The newspaper, true to its line despite the call for national unity, declared that Netanyahu “completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians”.

I was dumbfounded at the editorial’s bravery but, more than that, I was astounded that my own deepest fears had come to pass.

For most of 2023, with a mixture of fascination and foreboding, I had read everything I could lay my hands on about Ben-Gvir. Just a few years younger than me and born into a secular family, he had become radicalised by the First Intifada, joining the youth branch of the right-wing party Moledet, which advocated the transfer of Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank into other Arab countries. Moledet, however, turned out to be too soft for Ben-Gvir — by 1992, when I was running through the Muslim Quarter with my M16, he had risen to the position of youth coordinator of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach, which stood for the idea that Israel had been divinely staked out for the Jewish people by the Jewish God alone, and that its messianic and redemptive promise excluded any form of co-existence with Arabs.

What scared and fascinated me most about Ben-Gvir, though, was how his trajectory mirrored the general political trajectory of Israel in the years after I had returned to South Africa. In 1995, a few short weeks before Rabin was assassinated by the Jewish zealot Yigal Amir, Ben-Gvir appeared on Israeli television for the first time, brandishing a Cadillac hood ornament that had been ripped off Prime Minister Rabin’s car.

“We got to his car,” Ben-Gvir smiled into the camera, “and we’ll get to him too.” 

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives for a Cabinet meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister in Jerusalem, 27 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Menahem Kahana)

Netanyahu, I’d also discovered, had been as opposed to the Oslo Accords as the young Ben-Gvir himself. In October of 1995, as the head of the opposition Likud Party at a famous anti-peace rally in Jerusalem, he had further incited the volatile crowd by declaring Jerusalem the “eternal capital” of the Jewish people, and pronouncing Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organisation — Rabin’s co-signatory to the accords — a “murderer”. 

The background history to this seminal event had been expertly put together in 2015 by the “Frontline” programme of the US network PBS, with the Jewish editor of The New Yorker magazine, David Remnick, as well as a number of veteran Israeli journalists offering their views on Netanyahu’s penchant for warmongering. According to these respected Jewish commentators, it was obvious at the time — and it had been borne out by history — that Netanyahu’s political success had its genesis in the incitement of the Israeli right.

Because, indisputably, the upshot of Netanyahu’s opposition to a peace deal was his election as Prime Minister of Israel in 1996, a position he has held, with a few minor short-term breaks, for almost 17 of the last 27 years.

In this context, the appointment of Ben-Gvir as Netanyahu’s national security minister, in November of 2022, was all but inevitable. In fact, in 2019, three years before Ben-Gvir would spearhead a violent and unprecedented Jewish settler incursion into the West Bank, the influential Jewish magazine Tablet had run an in-depth piece under the headline, “Kahane Won: How the radical rabbi’s ideas and disciples took over Israeli politics, and why it’s dangerous”. 

So, to get back to the point, all of these facts were running through my head on the morning of 9 October 2023, when my old friend sent a WhatsApp message calling out Daily Maverick for its coverage of the horrendous Hamas massacre.

I couldn’t help myself. “Haaretz appears to have it covered,” I eventually wrote back, with a link to the newspaper’s editorial.

Haaretz makes me vomit too,” he instantly responded.

Somewhere on Planet Earth, 2053

Like a lithograph by the Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, filled with impossible objects and stairways that defy the laws of physics, it was becoming obvious that there was nowhere for the rational mind to go. The political party that Ben-Gvir had risen to lead in Rabbi Kahane’s image, Otzma Yehudit (literally, “Jewish Power”), had returned Netanyahu to the hot seat in a coalition government that was truly biblical in its menace.

At its spiritual core, it appeared, Otzma Yehudit evoked nothing so much as the war against “Gog of the land of Magog” from Chapter 38 of the Book of Ezekiel, where, at the prophesied “End of Days”, invaders from the north would attack the restored land of Israel. The promise, in Chapter 39, was that the God of the Hebrews would ultimately destroy Israel’s enemies, so that the long-awaited Messiah could preside over the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

And so, as articulated in Otzma Yehudit’s manifesto, when it came to the clauses regarding the “enemies of Israel”, there was zero room for manoeuvre:

“War against the enemies of Israel will be total, without negotiations, without concessions and without compromises.”

The question was: How much sway would Ben-Gvir hold over Netanyahu in actual wartime, when the “invaders from the north” could very possibly turn out to be Hezbollah and Iran?

This was something I wanted to discuss with my old friend in Israel, who, on the morning of 12 October 2023 — while a huge Jewish army was amassing on the Gazan border — agreed to a conversation.

It was clear, from the first few seconds of the conversation, that my friend was gripped by an existential dread. His breathing was fast and shallow, and he was doing his best to moderate his tone. The reason for this, I soon discovered, was that his son was a conscript in the paratroopers — the same fighting unit that I had intended to join in 1992— and had seen action the previous weekend, in response to the Hamas attack.

“Three members of his platoon got killed,” my friend told me. “His commander got shot in the face.”

There was nothing to say to that, except to offer my condolences, and my hope that my friend’s son would be okay in the coming weeks and months. But as for the journalistic substance of the conversation, which lasted half an hour, while my friend did not deny that Israel had been let down by its leaders, he implored me to focus on the policies of Hamas.

The dark heart of it all, he insisted, was Hamas’ charter — or, officially, its “covenant”— which he had already sent to me the day before, with references to the relevant “articles”.

In translation from the Arabic by the Yale Law School, the covenant, dated 1988, was indeed a call for genocide against world Jewry. “Article Seven,” as my friend instructed, was where it was all spelt out:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees.”

These words, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, were echoed — with reference to Palestine — in “Article Eleven”:

“The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day.”

And again, in “Article Fifteen”:

“In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.”

To reiterate, an Escher lithograph, with nowhere for the rational mind to go. Still, during our conversation, my friend appealed to my reason, stating that in the face of Hamas’ objectives — which had been brutally actualised on 7 October, with acts of despicable terror that would forever be imprinted on the minds of countless millions — there was no option but to obliterate the organisation.

“It’s not just imperative for us,” he said, “for our right to defend ourselves and to continue to exist as a nation, it would also be good for the Palestinians.”

Here, he had an inarguable point. On 13 October, the day after we spoke, The New Yorker magazine (still under the editorship of Remnick) ran an interview with Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior leader of the Hamas political wing, who claimed to have not been informed by the military wing that the attack was about to occur. This was eminently plausible, given that the secret had also been kept safe from the supposed omniscience of Israeli intelligence. But while the attack may have been a military success, as Abu Marzouk stated, politically it was a failure.

After defending the “bloody assault” by insisting that Israel’s government had become unforgivably right wing, with its expansionist agenda at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the West Bank, he conceded that in the long-term “the new conflict would do little to stop Arab states from continuing to cultivate ties with Israel, the strongest power in the region, leaving the Palestinians even more isolated.”

It was an astonishing admission for someone like Abu Marzouk to make, and it was backed up by another interviewee in the piece, Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist based in Gaza City, who told The New Yorker reporter:

“The Palestinian people in Gaza have a lot to lose. Most Palestinians don’t want to die, and they don’t want to die in this ugly way, under rubble. But an ideological organisation like Hamas believes that to die for a just cause is much better than living this meaningless life.”

So, there it was; Hamas, apparently, had bitten off a lot more than it could chew. And Abu Marzouk, in his frustration at being forced into the admission, had hit back at the reporter with a simple and emotive question:

“What would you do if you were forced to live in a cage?”

It was the same question that my friend had asked me a number of times, when referring to Hamas’s covenant and the tortures, rapes and executions that had been visited on hundreds of Israeli civilians.

“What would you do?”

I didn’t have an answer, and given that I didn’t live in Israel it would have been presumptuous to even try, but what I did know was that if Hamas had to go — and I fully agreed that it did — so too did Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir.

Because, as crazy as it was to even mention, the ascendant ideologies on both sides had become a very literal acting out of the ancient holy texts. And, on both sides, with each attack and counterattack, with each atrocity that took the lives of children, health workers and civilians, the ascendant ideologies risked becoming the dominant ideologies. The Torah and the Quran, as the zealots on both sides had always hoped, risked fulfilling their deepest prophecies about the war at the End of Days. 

Were we really here? That, as I saw it, was the better question.

As I write, the IDF is champing at the bit, eager to expel the trauma and rage by launching a ground invasion.

‘Revenge is not a strategy’ — experts warn of dire consequences if Israel launches ground invasion of Gaza

If that happens, as Iran and Hezbollah have warned, the war will become regional, releasing “Yājūj and Mājūj,” the Islamic counterparts to Gog and Magog. Meanwhile, the US has sent two aircraft carriers, in a game of chicken that’s meant to prevent the war from becoming global. But in the US, as President Joe Biden well knows, is a large voting bloc of Christian evangelicals, who believe literally in the Revelation to John, where Gog and Magog will join the forces of Satan in the battle to end all battles.

Perhaps 30 years from now, in the year 2053, the whole world will know how it all played out. Given what’s happened in the last 30 years, it would probably take that long for true peace to prevail. The worst-case alternative, horrifically, is that there will be nothing left in the Holy Land but rubble, heartbreak and trauma. DM

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  • douglas wade says:

    An interesting account. What Hamas and Netanyahu have achieved so far is to likely lock in mutual hatred that will last 70 years, as it takes three generations for the hurt to die with today’s children. Both sides are cursed with extremists that regard killing the other as legitimate, if not a duty. Unfortunately neither can win a purely military war, and the existing leaderships are the least likely to reach a political solution, even though that seems the only lasting solution.

  • brianr says:

    Clearly the only lasting solution is a successful open secular state that brings prosperity to all in the region and relegates the divisive history and religious primitivism to the margins.

    • Christopher Bedford says:

      “solution is a successful open secular state […] relegates the divisive history and religious primitivism to the margins”…

      Wouldn’t that be nice. But a pipe dream if ever I heard one. The region seems to be home to the most radical adherents of the most passionate, fervent ideologies so good luck with that idea.

      • Steve Davidson says:

        You of course mean the Israelis? I don’t think the others had much to do with creating this stupid situation!

        • Joseph du Hecquet says:

          Of course the others had much to do with this situation. I cant help but compare the Gaza with Singapore. Singapore was born out of the Chinese being expelled from the Muslim countries around them. What did they do? build rockets and missiles and arm themselves to fight the Muslims around them!! Not a chance. They created a winning industrial and financial centre, ignoring the antagonists around them and today are one of the richest, if not the richest country in the world. What an example to set. Maybe the Muslims of Gaza should follow them the rewards would be unbelievable.

          • Paul Van Uytrecht says:

            And how would this be achieved given the Israeli economic blockade of Gaza?

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I was at Wits around the same time as Kevin was there and when, in our International Relations tutorials on the Middle East, I raised the idea of Jerusalem being an open international city, with no other state control, no religious dominance by one group over another, and open tolerance of each of the monotheistic faiths that are founded there, I was shot down in flames from every quarter: there is simply no desire to accommodate on either side in this conflict.

      • Steve Davidson says:

        Well said DB. As with too many bad situations in this benighted world (SA too, if you think about Oom Hendrik and his ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ nonsense that he used to justify apartheid!) come down to some religion or other. Look at the nutty ‘world-was -created -in -only-6000 years’ evangelicals in the States if you want a Western example of how things can go pearshaped. Funnily enough, my personal experiences of muslims, especially down here in the Cape, is that they’re really nice people despite the mullahs, and if as an agnostic I finally decided to take up a religion, it’d probably be Islam (mind you, catholicism ain’t bad – you can screw around for six days and then light a candle and pay a few bucks on Sunday and get another six days of freedom!).

      • Pieter van de Venter says:

        The more I have to do with people, the more I love my dogs.

        In each and every political, religious, cultural, etc division, you will get people that will misuse their position to sow distrust and hate. Remember the Irish, look at our own EFF and then of course, the Muslims and the Jews. The greatest pity is, they are so close to one another that it is easy to confuse them with the other.

        Hamas is just a more effective hate monger than the EFF but if we do not reign Julius in, we might have a similar hate relationship here in SA. Hate, brings in the votes.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      Israel is a “Jewish” state – it cannot be described a secular nor religious. It is the world’s only Jewish state, and because of this fact alone – it cannot be stomached.

      By comparison, of the 46 countries in the world with majority Muslim populations, 23 declare Islam to be the state religion in their constitutions. The rest either proclaim the state to be secular or make no pronouncement concerning an official religion. The 23 countries where Islam is declared the state religion are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Currently 3 states proclaim themselves to be “Islamic Republics” — the Islamic Republics of Iran, Pakistan, and Mauritania.

      Any state “divisive history and religious primitivism” (secular or not) in the Middle East, providing it is not Judaism, is acceptable.

  • Lisa Thompson Smeddle says:

    Brilliant, heartfelt and objective piece about the crisis in the Middle East. Thank you for sharing your courageous and very poignant story. #lovethedailymaverick

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    There’s no end in sight to this mess. Two tribes which claim a God-given right to this land & enabled by their mythological religious beliefs are willing to fight to the death over a small piece of land.

    People whose identity and actions are based on their version of a book of old fairy tales, are bound to end up committing and justifying atrocities. No actions by either side can be justified in this conflict.

    Netanyahu & the settlers are provocateurs who constantly goad the Palestinians & then expect the military to sort things out. Hamas want the complete annihilation of Israel, which is not going to happen despite their acts of barbarism.

    Both sides stoop to the lowest levels of savagery & brutality, all in the name of a God, who, based on current evidence, sits by & watches while these horrific atrocities are being inflicted on innocent people. It’s why I’m not just an atheist, but also an anti-theist.

    • Christopher Bedford says:

      “God who […] sits by & watches while these horrific atrocities are being inflicted on innocent people”

      Indeed. If there is some supreme being / creator behind our existence s/he/it would have to be – at best – a sociopath to (a) inflict random cruel suffering on his subjects (whom, btw, we are assured, he loves) and then (b) demands unconditional fealty and worship from those subjects. Either that or the creator is just not as “personal” as they would have us believe.

      No, the whole mythos was concocted and perpetuated by priests (of all the world’s 5,000+ religions) to keep the people in line and their grip on power. And when they saw their strategy wasn’t working quite so effectively any more they developed radicalisation in league with the political leaders, bringing us to where we are today. It seem to me that on balance the world would have been a far better place without any religion at all. But of course, human nature being what it is, that was never going to happen.

  • Philip Mirkin says:

    This is a classic case of what all anti-religion people hate about religion. Each side remains clinging onto religious and political ideologies, histories and hate that justify their entrenched positions. Neither sees the current reality as the primary reality because they are wearing coloured glasses. And everyone around the world gives justification to this bias by putting on the colour glasses that seem closest to their own. Pathetically not helpful! Shouldn’t we on the outside be using our distance to act in helpful ways rather than inflaming ones? The Israelis and Palestinians would be better off if we could help them to let go of the whole historical trauma, and find ways to really see each other’s challenges and pain. But who is willing and able to ‘be the adult’ and do the work to make this happen?
    The evidence suggests that the UN has been pretty useless in its work in the region. Would they not be better directed to take a therapeutic role and send in trauma counsellors, teachers and ideology negotiators? Could this be the real task for the UN in the modern world? Imagine the UN with the power and authority to send in therapy counsellors, negotiators and teachers to bring sanity and peace to troubled and ‘captured’ minds, and who look at every challenge as an opportunity to grow our humanity.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Superb writing, Kevin – thank you. All extremism, religious, ideological or racial needs to be condemned without fear or favour.

  • Graeme Bird says:

    Great piece, both enlightening and personal. Critical balanced journalism at its best. And for once the comments here (so far) reflect a forward thinking rationale of DM readers that is a welcome relief.

  • John Forbes says:

    Excellent article, highlighting the extremists of both sides are driving the current narrative.

    What rarely seems to be pointed out, is the origins of this “forever war”. A war that followed the establishment of “European” settlements into a then relatively peaceful Middle East occupied by Muslims, Jews and Christians that lived side by side. This was after many centuries of wars involving, among others, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires, the Romans, the Muslims and the Crusaders. During this process the Jews to a large extent left or were expelled from the Holy Land, largely for the European Diaspora, where they despite victimization from the Europeans in the Middle Ages, and later further migration to Eastern Europe, to a large degree assimilated the European culture and they themselves became European – the Ashkenazi Jews.

    Perhaps, it was not surprising, that given the treatment Jews has received for centuries, Theodor Herzl in 1896 founded modern Zionism, a vision to set up a future Jewish state in the Middle East. At first only limited settlement occurred, but after the (Lord) Balfour Declaration in 1917, during the First World War, this became a reality. The promises made to the Arabs, that had assisted the British drive out the Ottomans from, among other, Palestine were largely forgotten. Increased immigration from Europe followed, disturbing the natural demographic equilibrium of the region. (Think of the current European resistance to immigrants from Africa)

    After the Second World War and the Holocaust, the immigration became a flood that the British could not contain. Terrorist groups on both sides arose and eventually the British walked out in 1947 to leave the two antagonists to find their own way forward (Much as the Portuguese did in Angola). The proposed partition plans for Palestine drawn up between Arab and Jew having been found unacceptable by both sides – unsurprising as the Arabs were then well in the overall majority, and further the settlements of Jews and Muslims were then very intermingled.

    The Jews declared independence as the state of Israel in 1948 and with that the surrounding Arabs states declared war. By the conclusion of this process vast communities of Palestinians were expelled from their homes and ended up in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank (then part of Jordan), and Syria. To the Palestinians, this was a total catastrophe or Nakba. Any right to return to their former homes after the cessation of the war was not given. Their former villages were erased or their houses commandeered.

    After the preemptive 1967 6-day war the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai were taken by Israel. Only the latter, was eventually to be returned. The Palestinians have lived under ever more restrictive conditions in the 56 years since. The West Bank has been cantonised by checkpoints.

    To the Israelis, this is not Apartheid. To the Palestinians, this is a harsher form of Apartheid than that ever suffered by Blacks in South Africa.

    Sadly in Israel/Palestine there is no one with the caliber of Nelson Mandela, someone who can forgive the sins of the past and move on. There are only hotheads.

  • Johan Myburgh says:

    Thank you for so eloquently putting into words my own internal struggle. Like it was in South Africa, it will be the innocents on both sides that will continue to pay the ultimate price for the beliefs of immovable men. Until a true leader, like Nelson Mandela, steps forth and is able to looks beyond himself, peace will remain elusive.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Enlightening piece, thank you Kevin. I can’t imagine how peace is going to miraculously break out with people who insist on slavishly recipes for life written in the iron age.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    I have to say that this is THE most outstanding piece of writing. As I watch the unfolding horror in the ‘Holy Land’ and all the commentaries on every news station, YouTube channel – everyone has an opinion, everyone has a side or something or someone to blame. But few have solutions – I see a solution in this piece. Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir must, must, must be ousted. I cannot understand for a second how Netanyahu was voted back into power – how did that even happen? Voter apathy by reasonable people? A lesson for South Africans right there!

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      My gut says that the aims of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran wouldn’t change if an ultra left wing party took power in Israel and changed course from Netanyahu’s completely. They say they want Jews gone and I tend to believe that they mean it.

      • John Smythe says:

        Discourse to a solution cannot start if one’s point of departure is hate and an unwillingness to comprise. Extremists can’t negotiate. And so a solution will never be reached. Ever.

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        Unfortunately Mike – not only is your gut right, but it’s happened before. If you recall that in 2005 Ariel Sharon (who many say was even more Hawkish at that time than Netanyahu is now) withdrew from Gaza and handed it to the Palestinians. The peace that was hoped for was instead replaced by rockets the very next day, and Hamas was voted into power by the innocent Palestinian civilians.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Unfortunately, Kevin, I think you’d better try to convince your friends and family to start making plans to get out of Israel. While it’ll take a while, from what I see, the Haredi are breeding so much – according to the Torah that they apparently have to study each day rather than working, or fighting – that they’ll be the main manne in the country and it will collapse one way or the other.

    Having spent a couple of weeks working in Jordan twelve years ago, I – who had never really bothered about the whole thing – talked to quite a few Palestinian refugees (apparently two million registered there?) and got the picture from their side, which I then have developed bit by bit. Frankly, the Israelis don’t come out of it very well. My best quote to describe what I think about the Levant, but which also applies to many other places (like SA!), is from Paolo Freire:

    “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors”

    • douglas wade says:

      Yes it is a ghastly historical irony that the Settlers are carrying out pogroms against the Palestinians of the West Bank. Perhaps Animal Farm should be compulsory reading for both sides.

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    Excellent article and comments from DM readers. My biggest take away: ideological extremism on both sides are one of the roots cause of this seemingly intractable conflict. Solutions must be possible based on the principles like compassion, empathy, and genuine negotiation.

  • Lew Lipschitz says:

    I cant think of any two regions in the world where there is so much hate between the populations (to the point of slaughtering children) and who literally live a few kilometers from each other. Its a vortex of hate and violence that will take generations to expunge after what has happened since the 7th of October.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    I have always wondered why people of all times have had to create a God or more; why the need to have to believe in something that does not exist? The religions have started more wars than the craving for land. For some, it might only be an excuse and a way to convince the populace to fight and that their God is the one and only. What a sad lack of common sense!

  • Atiyah Bhabha says:

    It’s interesting to see the comments concerning Nelson Mandela, and the need for a Palestinian Nelson Mandela to help them end their Genocide and Apartheid. Just a reminder though, Nelson Mandela was on the US Terror Watchlist until 2008, and he spent 27 years in prison. In the same way, many Palestinian freedom fighters are considered terrorists and are imprisoned, without charge or trial, in inhumane conditions. Maybe the next Nelson Mandela is on the Terrorist List, or in prison right now. The media is possibly the most powerful tool available to the world, and your perspective will always be limited by your understanding.

    • douglas wade says:

      Don’t forget the role of de Klerk in the South African settlement. He was able to convince the right wingers to collaborate, when quite a lot of them were spoiling for a fight, which they imagined they could win. With reportedly something like 65 tons of weapons cached in KZN alone, and political assassinations commonplace, things could have gone very badly wrong.

  • John Smythe says:

    All radicals and extremists use the innocent and defenseless as their “meatshields” in one way or another. Black Sabbath has a song called “War Pigs”. Ironically, it well describes those who provoke and promote war at our expense.

    “Generals gathered in their masses
    Just like witches at black masses
    Evil minds that plot destruction
    Sorcerer of death’s construction
    In the fields, the bodies burning
    As the war machine keeps turning
    Death and hatred to mankind
    Poisoning their brainwashed minds”

  • Richard Martin says:

    Thank you for one of the most thoughtful reflexions on this terrible situation. Thank you, Kevin

  • Stef Naude says:

    What is remarkable about the Israeli government’s response and its imminent invasion of Gaza, is that it doesn’t seems incapable of any strategic thinking, any scenario planning as to what a desired end game could look like. Unless it is so captured by rightwing fervour, as Kevin’s article suggests, that it projects an ideal end-state of perpetual Jewish subjugation of the Others. It apparently views Hamas as a static entity, to be eradicated at root in retribution for its heinous attacks on innocent civilians. Once rooted out, the Palestinian population will be rid of these agents provocateurs who do not act in their interests. What it doesn’t seem to understand, is that the inevitably large-scale collateral deaths that will accompany such an invasion, not to speak of the incredible suffering that Gaza’s inhabitants are already experiencing as a result of the blockades and forced relocation, will create the breeding ground for ever greater radicalisation of the kind that Hamas represents. That Hamas is the extreme manifestation of decades long denial of fundamental rights which must underlie an understanding of how it was possible for such monstrous atrocities to be carried out. That an invasion will simply add fuel to this particular fire.

    • John Forbes says:

      Absolutely on point. A total lack of strategic thinking by the Israeli politicians and it seems their media, with perhaps one exception, and driven solely by the desire for revenge. As others have said before, rinse and repeat! Yet each time the cycle becomes more violent.

  • David Marks says:

    Wow.
    Very interesting and informative

  • Tim Price says:

    Yet another example of how delusional religious thinking leads to chaos and destruction as so eruditely spelled out by other commentators above. Irrational belief systems have no place in our modern world and yet these primitive notions still hold sway and exert their toxic influence over many aspects of society.

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    “If the Arabs put down their guns there would be no more fighting. If the Israelis put down theirs there would be no more Israel.” ~ Golda Meir.

    • Leon Schipper says:

      Golda Meir is correct, but that does not justify continuing the fight. Israel as a Jewish state is an artificial construction of the British through the Balfour Declaration, propped up by the Americans for their own domestic and geopolitical interests. Going back over 2000 years and claiming divine will as motive for ethnically cleaning Palestine since 1917 to make room for the Jews is unjustifiable. Putting over 5 million Palestinians into what are effectively concentration camps in Gaza and the fragmented West Bank and now calling for their utter annihilation is a clear case of the Jews doing unto others as the Nazis did unto them. Copy the earlier quote from Paolo Freire:
      “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors”. The Britsh and Americans rescued (many of) the Jews from the Nazis; who will do the same for the Palestinians?

      • Ron Ron says:

        Au contraire – it absolutely does justify continuing the fight if you’re Israeli. Why on earth would they consent to their own destruction? As long as her words are true, there will be no peace. The Abraham Accords created a path to peace but peace would erase the very profitable raison d’être for the organisations like Hamas… this was calculated to provoke the Israelis and thereby avoid peace. It seems unfortunate that the Israelis are not being more subtle in their reaction – they could claim the moral high ground but seem to prefer to hand Hamas exactly the reaction it sought.

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        It seems to be forgotten that Israel has tried to make peace and settle the land dispute on numerous occasions. Each proposal has been rejected by the Palestinians. Not to even address the so-called “artificial construct” issue (labelling a peaceful agreement as something nefarious, as if going to war and conquering the land is more honourable / preferable), Israel has fought off its neighbours on many occasions (in wars) and won territory on several occasions – and almost immediately returned it, with promises of peace, which never materialised. Do you remember that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 with promises for peace, only for rockets to reign down the next day and for the “innocent Palestinian people” to vote Hamas into power? The rhetoric of Israel being the aggressor and Palestinians being the innocent peace-seeking suppressed is the real “artificial construct”.

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    Religion and Compromise are not bedfellows!

  • Donald Clark says:

    Fascinating insight to an ever-unfolding tragedy, thank you.
    Sadly, as fundamentalism takes a firmer hold over rational thought there’ll never be any compromise; even those of us who have no connection to the chaos are being forced to ‘take sides’…

  • Jennifer Snyman says:

    Brilliant. Thank you Kevin for an account from the ground. Without a complete paradigm shift and a letting go of history, this cannot end well.

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    Congratulations Kevin for an honest appraisal devoid of the blinkers so many of us don. Kudos too, to the vast majority of commenters who have engaged in an intellectual and reasoned discussion. Since we’re quoting music lyrics I think John Lennon wasn’t far off the mark….

    “…nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion, too”

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      In supporting a enormously reflective and nuanced contribution from Kevin, it should be noted that the texts that the two sides in this conflict rely upon for their justification … are metaphorical if not allegorical in most instances … but those who have ‘agendas’ get their ‘followers’ to regard them literally. It should also be noted that further east in India there is an unashamed move afoot to make the country a so-called ‘hindu’ state. Part of a global trend towards some mythical ‘greatness’ (apologies MAGA) … rather than ‘goodness’ .

  • Hilary Morris says:

    What a deeply thoughtful and moving article. And so many meaningful comments. What an adult bunch DM readers are! Especially love the comment from Philip Mirkin about sending in counsellors, trauma specialists etc. When we all get to see the “us” in “them”, the world will be a better place. Pity seems to be we may destroy it all long before we get there.

  • James Harrison says:

    Thanks for this article. Some real perspective, which I needed.

  • Arthur M says:

    Holy Land? There is no such thing. Israel, the covenant people of old, were exiled from the land due to the rejection of the God they calmed to serve. And there they remain until they acknowledge Yehushua haMashiach. All that now remains is a pitiful, anarchic political entity that somehow thinks God owes them something.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      Really Arthur? What actually “now remains” is 7 million Jews with their own country and one of the world’s most powerful armies, another 7 million Jews in the diaspora who call Israel home and a tremendous number of good people in the world with their moral compasses still intact, that don’t subscribe to “the oldest hatred in the world” (including those acknowledging your guy).

  • Fayzal Mahamed says:

    This is a religious war with each side committing barbaric and atrocious acts against civilians. Each side tries to justify their war crimes and crimes against humanity based on their crazy, illogical religious reasons.
    If the United Nations and the ICC are going to show any teeth and neutrality it should immediately declare that it is investigating these war crimes with a view to declare the leaders of Hamas and Netanyahu’s coalition as war criminals – just a they did with Putin

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      That would mean they would have to include ‘investigating’ the USs complicity in providing the Israeli state with the munition it uses to eliminate/erase Palistinian targets ?! There is a good reason both the US and Israel are not signatories to the ICC … they are not accountable to anyone but themselves. They have even refused to ‘co-operate’ with any investigations …let alone findings ! They are as the saying goes … ‘a law unto themselves’ … and its a case of “to hell with ‘international’ law”. Todays outburst by the Israeli ambassador to the UN secretary general to resign, is an indicator of it. AND … they have the idiotic support of so-called ‘western’ nations … their co-conspirators in the original ‘conquest’ of the uncivilised dominions. BUT … as with the few attempts to ‘atone’ for their ‘sins’ with the return of ‘stolen’ museum artifacts recently, some sectors of their community may yet come to a better realisation … in time !

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    The crucial difference between Israel and the Islamic states is that in Israel, as in all so-called Western states, there is an open, plural and liberal social order in which all opinions can be expressed, no matter how one-sided, nonsensical and free of facts they may be. By the way, this also applies to South Africa, as the numerous opposing comments in the DM on this topic in particular show. The plural society is a product of the Enlightenment era, which, in addition to the Western world’s awareness of humanity and human rights, also enabled democracy and a boost in the progress of science and technology. The rulers and religious leaders of the Islamic states fear nothing more than that the ideas of the Enlightenment will spread among their peoples. For them, the real enemy is not the Jewish or Christian religion, it is the spirit of the Enlightenment against which the holy war is directed. I see the fear of the spirit of enlightenment as the real cause of the spiral of violence that recently culminated in the excesses of October 7th.

  • This brilliantly written article provides readers with a uniquely coherent, contextualised, balanced and empathic interpretation of this horrific saga. All and any extremist, bigoted ideology is antithetical to peace.

  • C vS says:

    Well done, Sir!

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