by Mark Nicholson
The thirteenth of October 2023 was international day at our younger daughters’ school in Nairobi. On that day, the whole world was prepared to wager that very soon the Israeli Defence Force would launch… a what? An invasion, an incursion, a punitive expedition or a Специальная военная операция into Gaza. Well, Putin might call it a “special military operation” but the rest of us would call it a war. The rest, as we say, is history.
There are over one hundred nationalities among the school’s parents and roughly 45 languages. Overwhelmingly, the children are Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and/or ‘mixed’, mainly because Kenya is home to many international organizations. TCKs are children born or brought up in a third country or culture with parents often having different nationalities. “Mixed” is the children’s term for mixed race but, as our children ask, “How can there be races within the human race?” My girls also pointed out the absurdity of the fuss created recently over the South African pop singer, Tyla. Richard Pooley wrote about this in his last article - Coloured? "We are a culture, not a race." (only-connect.co.uk). She described herself in an interview in the USA as “Coloured", which upset many Americans. It was the official name in South Africa for persons of mixed heritage during the apartheid regime. In the USA, the term ‘colored’ is apparently as derogatory as the names used to describe black (or Black?) people over half a century ago. Tyla is in fact of Indian-Irish-Zulu-Mauritian descent.
Cultural Day at school is always a very special day. The flags, traditional dress, the (amazing) food and drink (booze not allowed), and the different cultures were all on show. Each tent comprised cuisines of three or four nationalities. The whole school community comes together and celebrates what we are collectively: a group of highly diverse humans. Neither children nor parents took any notice of the differences in origins, dialect, skin colour, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
The Russian tent
Groups of parents from one nationality got together and laid out their national cuisine in tents. There were Russians and Ukrainians, Serbians and Kosovans, Jews and Muslims all wandering around sampling each other’s fare. My wife and her Ethiopian team prepared njera (traditional pancake), doro wat (chicken stew in chilli sauce) and numerous vegetarian dishes. I tried Laotian, Russian and Puerto Rican food but my favourites (excluding the Ethiopian food before I get a frying pan on my head) were the Indian and the Italian.
West African Muslims at the Saudi tent
So what had Cultural Day at our children’s school to do with the situation in the Middle East? Well, a few days later I arrived in Glasgow and was wheeling my suitcase along the main pedestrian precinct (Buchanan Street) on a cloudless autumnal day while waiting for a train. Crowds were everywhere and so were police. There were five temporary tents manned by pro-Gaza groups and one run by a pro-Israel group. I had time to look in at each. On arrival at the Israeli tent, police officers quickly surrounded me, suspecting that I was dragging a suitcase bomb. Clearly, they did not think pro-Palestinian groups were likely targets. But what I did learn from my visit to the pro-Israel kiosk was the numbers of Jews who had left or been thrown out of their native countries in North Africa and the league of Arab States.
In 1980 I was working in North Yemen, now amalgamated with Aden into Yemen. There were still Jews living peaceably among Muslims. One day, the Minister of Agriculture announced he was paying a visit to my office. There was a map of the Middle East on the wall, on which I had blacked out Israel with a felt pen. The Minister glanced at the map and said “Kindly take that map down”. “Yes, Sir, but why? I have erased Israel”. His reply was swift: “How can you erase a country that does not exist?”. The map below suggests that Yemen has lost its 62,900 Jews.
Too many of my friends and acquaintances are taking sides over the ghastly conflict. You just have to listen to journalist and author, Douglas Murray, argufying (sic) with tv presenter, politician and professional controversialist, Cenk Uygur, and realize that invective and vituperation gets nowhere. Israel will never get rid of Hamas, which is a movement or an ideology, not a people. Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will never get rid of Israel. ¡Jamás!
I have met many Israelis in Africa and many Palestinians in Jordan and elsewhere, mostly delightful, mostly well-educated, but I have yet to come across an overt member of Isis, Hamas or Al Q’aeda.
The curious fact about the current Israel-Hamas conflict is that there is no relationship between death toll and international media coverage. The table below is a list of some of the conflicts over my adult life. The sources vary as much as the estimates but you can start with Wikipedia
At least 25,000 Palestinians and almost 2000 Israelis have been killed in the present conflict and every day the death toll increases and is widely reported. Horrific as it is, that figure is actually insignificant in relation to the major (mostly civil) conflicts over the last 50 years or so.
Country & date
Estimated numbers killed
Media coverage (1 low; 5 high)
Higher UK coverage (ex-Colony)
Inclu. Civil war, Eritrea & Tigray
Inclu Amin, bush wars, Acholi,
Death toll on 10 Jan 2023
There must be a reason for this variation in international coverage. I am perhaps cynical so I proffer a few reasons: Israel is supposed to be a democracy and democracies should not behave like that; perhaps there is more vestigial anti-Semitism in the West than we like to believe; Cyprus (the EU) is 300 km from Haifa; Ukraine is close to (or part of ?) Western Europe and Europeans don’t like wars on their doorstep; Africa and SE Asia are a long way away for most people in the West. I could go on.
Israel’s attack on Hamas is widely called genocide, which is defined as the intentional destruction of a people in whole or in part. In 1948, the United Nations Genocide Convention defined genocide as any of five acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Isn’t all war genocide? Wasn’t Hitler’s invasion of Russia, which killed 27 million Russians, genocide? The Hamas Covenant states; “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”. That sounds fairly genocidal to me. The sad irony is that Sephardim Jews are genetically extremely close to Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.
If I ruled the world, I would do five things. First, I would create a Palestinian state that was not split into two, on condition that Palestine and its allies recognized Israel in perpetuity. Secondly, I would make it mandatory for every Israeli and Palestinian child to learn to speak and write Hebrew and Arabic fluently. Thirdly, I would ban all and any religious indoctrination and cultural brainwashing for anybody under 18, after which they could make up their own minds. Fourthly, I would make Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews do non-combative service in the military for their country. Finally, I would give Israeli-Argentine conductor, Daniel Barenboim, the Nobel Peace Prize for creating (along with the Jerusalem-born, Palestinian-American academic, Edward Said) the West-Eastern Divan orchestra of exactly 50 percent Jews and 50 percent Muslims, thereby showing that they can get on joyfully and without discrimination. Sadly, I doubt if any of the first four will happen in my lifetime.
Children at our school appear not to be prejudiced by the standards of my generation. They are multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-coloured and I am glad the world belongs to them because they will have more existential threats facing them than religious differences or petty nationalism.