David Calling

“The Night the General Danced”

One way or another, events in Gaza must bring about some new stage in the perpetual wrestling match between Israelis and Palestinians. Best would be a clear-cut Israeli victory, one that puts a complete end to the firing of rockets from Gaza, and so frees the Palestinians from the Islamists of Hamas who are leading them to total perdition. This would further inform the Arab and Muslim world that hurt to Israel only carries a far greater cost to itself.
We have often been in this position when Israel wins militarily but is deprived of the political consequences by the interference of the outside world in favour of the Arabs and Muslims responsible for the fighting — for instance, after the Six Day War in 1967, again in 1973, and after the 1982 war in Lebanon, and the latest repeat was in 2006 with Hizbollah. The thwarting of victory invariably means a repeat of violence on the part of the defeated, for they find themselves relieved of what ought to be the finality of defeat. 
Failure to understand this fundamental reality leads French President Nicolas Sarkozy to call now for an unconditional truce, or Prime Minister Gordon Brown to say that cease-fire in Gaza is vital. Interventions of the kind are only attempts by rather secondary politicians to lay claim to an undeserved status, but more dangerously they ensure the perpetuation and repeat of violence. If Europeans are going to rescue Hamas, why should it change its conduct?
These events brought to mind a short story entitled “The Night the General Danced,” by George Macdonald Fraser, the author of the wonderful novels recording the successes and failures of his hero Flashman, a British soldier in the days of the Empire. This story is set in the Gaza of 1947 when a British airborne division was still in occupation. A General orders his Scottish regiment to celebrate by dancing Scottish reels. As they do so, Jews and Arabs start shooting at each other out in the Gaza night. Worked up by dancing, the General and his Scotsmen go out after them. The firing stops because the Jews and Arabs run away, realising that there are men fiercer and more determined than themselves. And that is what the likes of Sarkozy and Brown ought to realise in turn: Either send in the troops or shut up and let others get on with it. Why, they and their likes can’t even set anyone dancing.
By chance, I happened to notice that George Macdonald Fraser died exactly a year ago today — January 2. He was a splendid writer, a sane and realistic man in war and peace, and he deserves a salute.       


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