The Oxford Dictionary defines a “tragedy” as a play “concerning the downfall of the main character”. This main character is often referred to as the “tragic hero.” “Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall.”
Literature is littered with tragic heroes — beginning with Lucifer of Judeo-Christian mythology, later Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Camus’ Clamence, and more recently Walter White of the TV series Breaking Bad. And so is real life: US President Richard Nixon, actor Bill Cosby, and cyclist Lance Armstrong. All people who gained support, success, fame, admiration, and power — only to lose it all because of the abuse of that power. Sometimes the tragic hero can be a nation.
The eyes of the world have watched the unfolding story of Israel over the past 75 years. What many saw as an inspirational tale in its early years has slowly turned into a tragedy — and the hero into a bully.
How Israel turned into the villain
After the Holocaust and the end of World War II, Jews had the sympathy and the goodwill of the entire world. They were the “ultimate victims.” And so Israel was “created” to give them a safe space. But seeing how Israel has treated the Palestinians, the earlier inhabitants of that land, much of the goodwill has been lost. The opinion of the world is turning.
After over 70 years of occupation of another’s land, 5.9 million Palestinians made refugees, and a further 1.9 million displaced since early October, Israel has opened our eyes. We are now seeing Israel not for the admirable idea it was — i.e., “a land without a people for a people without a land” — but for the unjust execution of that idea: the occupation of a land with a people and the slow disenfranchisement and death of that people. We see Israel for what it has unfortunately become; ruler and oppressor, and most recently annihilator, of those already living on the land.
Unsurprisingly, the oppressed have tried to fight back, both in public forums and on the streets, largely exchanging rocks for missiles. Over the years, the death rate has been 20 Palestinians to each Israeli — and this ratio continues to be reflected in the aftermath of October 7.
Let’s state several things up front. Jews have indeed been repeatedly persecuted over the millennia, mostly by Christians. Six million Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. Jews — like all humanity — need a safe space they can call their own. And the Hamas attack of October 7 was terrible and needs to be condemned.
But that does not justify Zionists’ laying claim to land their ancestors — along with several other neighboring tribes, like Edomites, Philistines and Phoenicians — lived on thousands of years ago. It does not justify pushing out the people who now live on those lands. It does not justify ruling over them and stripping them of their dignity. It does not justify destroying their schools, hospitals, places of worship and homes. It does not justify corralling them into a tiny space, and slaughtering them; the phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” springs to mind.
Morally, it is unacceptable. Over the past four months, people around the world have been protesting. Several Latin American, Middle Eastern and African countries have cut diplomatic ties with Israel.
Legally, it is criminal. And so South Africa — a country showing remarkable courage in the face of international opposition from heavy hitters like USA and the UK, a country with moral authority because of its own long fight against apartheid — has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with the charge of genocide. Given the death of over 25,700 Palestinians — at least 10,000 of whom are children — since early October, it is not surprising that South Africa has the backing of some 65 countries.
Zionists are now lashing out at any one — big and small — who will not give them unconditional support, who asks them to be accountable or who demands that they behave in a humanitarian way. Israel called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he said that the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. Harvard and Columbia University students signing pro-Palestinian statements were publicly exposed and blacklisted, their job offers rescinded. Students and staff at academic institutions in the UK face reprimands and suspensions for supporting the Palestinian cause. The Israel Foreign Ministry lashed out at Bolivia for cutting diplomatic ties. And they called South Africa “the legal arm of Hamas” for bringing the case of genocide to the ICJ.
Israel is also continuing with its targeted killings — also called assassinations — that their intelligence agency Mossad has become known for. To their already impressively long list, they most recently added the killing of senior Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut and four military advisors in Damascus
The UK and US need to stop backing the bully
Israel is the protégé of the UK and the US. The UK was instrumental in the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and the US has unconditionally supported Israel over the decades with arms, money, military and diplomatic cover, and indeed protection against criticism of any sort. Tellingly, the leader of the Israeli legal team at the ICJ now is British.
Because of their own historical guilt, UK and US have created and nurtured a spoiled child who is highly self-centered, will not share, will not play nicely with the neighborhood kids, and will not listen to its parents. A child who is not accountable to anyone, any country or even any international institution. Repeated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and allowing in of humanitarian aid by 153 countries, key UN agencies, as well as many international NGOs (e.g., Oxfam, Amnesty International, MSF) have been ignored. The US and UK are now defending the indefensible — Israel’s continuing massacre of Palestinians — calling into question their own sense of morality and humanity.
Nobody disputes the right of Jews to have a safe homeland. What is under dispute is where that homeland should be. Taking away a country from one people and giving it to another people is preposterous. Instead, the Jews could have been allocated land in Germany because, after all, the Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust. England expelled its Jewish population in 1290; perhaps the UK could have given them land. And there was plenty of land in the United States, the land of opportunity, for the Jews. (The US, too, has its own sins against Jews to atone for.) Besides, given the US and UK’s assumed parental relationship with the Jewish people, they might reasonably be construed as having a duty to do so. To expect, rather, the people of a fourth country to share their land is unreasonable and unfair. To expect them to give up their freedom and dignity is enraging. To expect them to give up their lives is genocide.
Regardless of the decision of the ICJ in the coming weeks, the world is seeing and calling out Israel for what it has become — a fallen hero, a bully. And the world will no longer support a bully.
But the story and the arc of the character need not end here. The bully, with new-found awareness of what he has become and with the wisdom and power to change, can pull himself back from the abyss, learn to share with his brother, and make amends that would lead to an equitable and sustainable solution. This would also do much to soothe the entire region. However, this would also require similar awareness, wisdom, encouragement and discipline from the “parents.” Otherwise, the future looks dim.
In the Godfather trilogy, Michael Corleone begins as a respected war hero. But over the course of the story, he falls. He assumes charge of the family mafia business. He gets rid of his competitors. He murders his brother. And he loses beloved family members along the way. Despite trying, Michael never regains legitimacy or a respected place in society, and ultimately he dies a lonely death. It’s a tragedy with a tragic hero. It’s a telling tale.
[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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