Israeli soldiers patrol Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Photo: Getty
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The left’s insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish is anti-Semitic

Whenever the western left sides instinctively with Palestine my heart says, “Jew-haters” while my mind says, “Shut the f*** up, heart.”

Aside from breaking out in an inexplicable rash, there’s nothing quite as worrying to me as agreeing with Melanie Phillips. In a recent Spectator article, the distinguished gobshite argues that, in deeming Israel’s military response to Gazan rockets attacks “disproportionate”, the Left is essentially complaining that not enough Jews have been killed in the conflict. And, almost against my will, I found myself nodding along to her predictably abrasive words.

As I’m sure is clear by now, every time there’s a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the term “anti-Semitism” is thrown about with about as much precision as Hamas’s rockets. This is neatly illustrated by another offering from the Spectator, this time by Douglas Murray. With as much restraint as a starved goat in Paperchase, Murray and Phillips both brand the Palestinians, and all who support them, anti-Semites. Every time this argument is wheeled out, I try to dismiss it as the reductive nonsense it is, and, every time, I struggle.

As the latest round of peace talks approach, and John Kerry starts using phrases like “steps forward”, we can only hope that the past few weeks of sickening violence – of Israel succeeding in turning Gaza into a living jigsaw puzzle, and Hamas failing to do the same to Israel - are drawing to a close. And, without wanting to make a tragedy that I merely watched on the news about me, I’m hoping that my own ethics crisis will return to its dormant state, once the rockets stop.

I’s a problem shared by many left-leaning Jews like me. Whenever the western Left side, instinctively, with Palestine my heart says, “Jew-haters” while my mind says, “Shut the fuck up, heart.” But my difficulty, I’ve come to realise, isn’t with legitimate critiques of the Israeli government, it’s with the flippant use of the word “Jews”. This is something of which both Left and Right are guilty. In Melanie Phillips’s article, the use of this word, instead of “Israelis”, paints all Jews as Zionist fundamentalists. Phillips seems to have decided (on behalf of all Jewish people) that we are, at heart, Israelis. Likewise, Hamas and their apologists frequently use the word “Jew” instead of “Israeli”. In the past few weeks, anti-Semitism has escalated throughout Europe. And, as usual, those to blame for all of the problems in the Middle East, if not the entire world, are “The Jews”.

In reality, many Jews, myself included, are highly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s contempt for diplomacy. And to be even more accurate, the Left’s gripe shouldn’t be with “The Jews” or “The Israelis”, but with the current Israeli government. Of course, the racism of some Israeli citizens is obvious. And if there were such a thing as a Worst Person Of The Year Award, I’d nominate (collectively) those who are treating the conflict as a spectator sport. But these people are not representative of all Israelis, many of whom deplore their government’s use of violence.

And yet, throughout the most recent bout of violence between Israel and Palestine and all the others before it that I can remember, the problem of anti-Semitism on the Left has been illuminated. While you’d basically have to be a brick wall to fail to sympathise with the Palestinians, the Left (as usual) has gone very quiet when it comes to condemning Hamas. Either that, or they’ve actively condoned their actions. Although Lib Dem MP David Ward has since apologised for tweeting his support for Hamas’s rocket attacks, the fact remains that Hamas are often painted as the good guys. Hamas are not just anti-Israel, they’re anti-Jewish, which, can I just remind everyone, is racist. Their charter, which explicitly calls for the mass killing of Jews, makes this abundantly clear. I hate to break this to you but, if you refuse to condemn Hamas on this point, at least, you’re an anti-Semite. I don’t give a shit how much you love Curb Your Enthusiasm: you’re still an anti-Semite. Or at least an anti-Semite by-proxy.

Last year, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters used an inflatable pig with a Star of David painted on it as a prop at a gig. As far as thinly veiled anti-Semitism goes, his veil was about as thick as budget toilet paper. In fact, the star was red, instead of the Israeli blue - brazenly representing Jews in general, rather than Israelis.

This notion that Jews should be ashamed of themselves over Israel isn’t exclusive to publicity-hungry, aging rock stars. When I was at uni, the student union implemented a campus-wide boycott of Israeli produce, to wit, one slightly manky orange. During the campaign, I remember arguing with one pro-boycott activist who proudly announced that her grandmother, right after the creation of Israel in 1948, had renounced her Judaism out of disgust. It struck me as sad that someone would abandon their identity because of the actions of a select few that share it. This incident, which lodged itself firmly enough in my mind for me to remember it five years later, is a perfect example of the Left’s insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish.

And, for the record, I’m about as willing to apologise for being Jewish as I am to renounce my homosexuality. In case you’re reading my column for the first time, that translates as “not especially willing.” 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Scarred lands: visiting the villages Boko Haram left behind reveals the toxic legacy of terrorism

The progress and challenges of Nigerian communities rebuilding after Boko Haram’s insurgency begins to wane.

“Sometimes it’s when I go to bed that what happened comes back to me.” Two years ago, Boko Haram militants stormed into 23-year-old John Amida’s home late at night in a village in Gwoza, Borno State, northeast Nigeria. Shielding his eyes with his hands from the torchlight saved his life. He shows me the mark in the centre of his forearm where the bullet aimed for his head went instead.

“All my friends were either killed or abducted,” he says. “I don’t try to forget what happened because it’s not possible; it’s with you even when it is not in your mind. The best thing is just to keep on living every day.”

After a broadly effective 18-month military campaign, Boko Haram remains a deadly yet waning force. Many communities once occupied by Boko Haram are now liberated. In Adamawa, just south of Borno, over 630,000 people previously displaced by Boko Haram have returned home.

With them, over 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in camps, or – like John and his family – in host communities. He and his family live in a home vacated and lent to them by a local. All over Adamawa, IDPs live in homes shared with residents or given to them temporarily in exchange for help, crops or token sums of rent.

Adamawa is a serene, largely rural, mountainous state. Even deep into the dry season, driving through the roads that cut between its vast countryside, its land is incredibly scenic. But within local communities, in more rural, isolated villages north of the state’s capital, Yola, the picture is more complicated.

Gombi, a small town a few hours’ drive from Yola, was recaptured from Boko Haram in late 2014. Much of what was destroyed in the insurgency – shops and small businesses – have been rebuilt or replaced. The local government buildings have been largely restored. The impact is still visible but, according to locals, decreasingly so.

But in less urban areas, like in Garaha, a village in Adamawa, rebuilt homes sit next to broken, abandoned houses, churches, mosques and buildings blackened by the fires that damaged them. Local government officials say the damage across Adamawa by the insurgency has set the state’s development back by a decade. Funding for rebuilding the state, which local governments complain is insufficient, is concentrated on urban areas.

According to Chief Suleimanu, a traditional ruler in Garaha, mental health issues are widespread but few are financially able to access support. While some people have been able to move on, others are still dealing with the consequences.

“Many couples and families have separated,” he tells me, detailing how in some couples one partner feels attached to their home while the other can’t face returning, or feel there is little to return to.

“The same with the children, some of the young people have gone to bigger cities like Kano or Abuja because of a lack of opportunities.”

Many returnees, who left camps in Cameroon to come back to Adamawa, are from families who have lived in their villages for generations. Their ancestral roots anchor them to their homes because their farmland is their main source of income. Non-agriculture-based industries provide few jobs. For many people, fleeing their homes meant abandoning their livelihoods.

As of 2015, 52 per cent of people in Nigeria lived in rural areas. Their relative isolation is a blessing and a curse. Larger rural spaces provide them with adequate land to cultivate their crops – but it also leaves them exposed.

During Boko Haram attacks on Garaha through to early 2015, there was minimal protection from security forces who often take hours to arrive.

For many people living in rural Adamawa, life is getting harder and easier at the same time. Armed herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnicity have become a greater threat across Nigeria, partly due to tensions between land ownership and cattle grazing.

According to locals, killings by herdsmen have increased this year. But villages are addressing their vulnerability. Armed vigilantes, some of which formed due to the lack of military protection against Boko Haram, are increasing. The police services are often too far away or too under-resourced to protect them. But some vigilantes now have more weapons and vehicles due to help from state services and locals. It is not an ideal solution but it has made places like Garaha safer.

With this new-found relative safety, villagers have begun farming again. With cash grants and donated tools from charities like Tearfund, it has been easier for thousands of people to begin cultivating land. In many villages there are small, lively recreation centres where young people play snooker and watch sport. Many of their places of worship have been rebuilt.

But the situation is grimmer in communities where such charities are not present.  Without resources, state or non-government help, rebuilding is a real challenge.

Adamawa is a state maxing on its credit of hospitality, relative safety and appreciation of agriculture. A recession in Nigeria and a severe food crisis in the northeast have added pressures on returnees and IDPs. Liberated communities will need more help and attention before they truly feel free.

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.