Column for JN May 10 2019
Here we are, in a parallel universe. It’s 2012 and the Olympics are being staged in London — an event that you might imagine attracts global media attention.
All is going swimmingly, until the Faroe Islanders, in a fit of pique, start aiming weaponry at Caithness and Shetland. Well, I say fit of pique, but there are historic reasons behind their attack. It’s not the first time, but the government is at a loss to know how to respond, not least because one of the Faroe rockets has killed the Muckle Flugga lighthouse keeper, who was minding his own business and had no personal quarrel with the Faroese.
Eventually, of course, the government sends RAF Tornados up to the north of the country to sort things out. It does not go well. Several dozen Faroe Islanders die as a result. Demonstrations take place at the Olympic Stadium and countries that have not yet sent athletes are debating whether or not to do so. There is much talk of boycotts. Leading cultural figures write denouncing editorials in The New York Times. Controversial cartoons are published and Whitehall goes mad, to no effect.
The UN gets involved: much to Britain’s dismay, there is major condemnation of the UK’s “disproportionate” response.
Well, you get the general picture. It’s not the Olympics and my fictional version of the otherwise blameless Faroese, but rather the real-life scenario of Eurovision, which begins in Tel Aviv next week, and the nasty, dirty, untidy little war being conducted on Israel’s doorstep by Hamas.
In the Middle East, timing is everything, and there are a number of factors, including Eurovision, which may well lie behind Hamas’ decision to re-escalate the flickering conflict with Israel. Nearly 700 rockets in total were sent from Gaza to Israel, resulting in four Israeli civilian fatalities.
In Gaza itself, a pregnant woman and a 14-month-old baby died, a tragedy immediately blamed on Israel by Hamas. But then something really odd appeared on social media from the Gaza News Agency, hardly a fan of Israel. Whoever runs that account wrote: “We cry for your children as you must cry for ours.
Pregnant mother and baby were killed by Hamas rocket – not Zionist. The hate and bullets must end. “Do not be angry with Gazans, we are held hostage by Hamas and Iran We want our land in Palestine shared with Jew [sic] in peace”.
This was followed by another message from the same source: “We don’t need to lie in our war against Zionists. Fourteen-month-old Saba Abu Erar was killed by Hamas rocket – not Israeli F16. When you lie – you hurt our cause, you destroy our credibility. Talk of Israeli snipers killing our boys – but do not lie”.
There was an immediate rush, naturally, to discredit the Gaza News Agency post, not least because the IDF itself insisted that the deaths had indeed been due to a Hamas rocket which had fallen short, but also because – not unnaturally – supporters of Israel very much want that to be true.
Personally, I hope it is true, which doesn’t make the deaths any less terrible, on both sides.
But I do also wonder, in all conscience, how half of Israel can stage an international music party in Tel Aviv, while its own citizens are running to air raid shelters in the south of the country. It’s not the death tolls we’re talking about here. It’s the difference between those under fire, and those not, between those listening in terror to the sirens, and those grooving to Madonna on stage. In my parallel universe, the Olympics are cancelled.