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Israel Isn’t Perfect, But Palestine Certainly Won’t Be Either

flagsThere is a tendency here in Ireland, amongst some though not all, to instantly criticise Israel in favour of Palestine, an automatic reaction borne from what sometimes appears to be a genetic predisposition to display extreme hatred of anything which appears in the guise of imperialism and the coloniser – real or imaginary. Throughout the Islamic world, Israel is often criticised though this outspoken criticism shouldn’t be mistaken for a genuine concern for Palestine’s inhabitants in each and every case; rather it is worryingly often a manifestation of the hatred of the only free state in a veritable sea of totalitarianism, aside from the severe and sometimes under-estimated hatred the Arab world has for Jews simply because they are Jews. Many of us in the West also feel comfortable criticising Israel from behind our newspapers and computers.  But blindly criticising Israel as a heartless coloniser is a gross misunderstanding of the facts; both historically and in the present day.

Persecution of Palestinians is nothing new. Ten thousand were killed in 1970. 1991 saw a mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. The work of Israel undoubtedly. Yet for some reason media attention was not as completely focused on these events. Why? Because those 10,000 killed in 1970 met their deaths in Jordan while the ethnic cleansing took place in Kuwait. Israel wasn’t involved in either incident and so the coverage was nowhere near the media frenzies we’ve seen over the past few years. When, in 2002, the Israeli army invaded the Jenin refugee camp to root out terrorists the uproar across the world’s media was deafening as they rushed to document each and every perceived excess. Oddly when the Lebanon did the exact same thing in 2007, they received worldwide support while media outlets largely ignored the story following the usual run of first reports.

Why is this the case? Why in Western society is the first reaction always one which is in defence of the Palestinians, regardless of the true facts behind the story? For one thing, Palestinians have hit all of the right buttons in garnering support. The belief has spread that these are rebels fighting the evils of modern imperialism (evil in and of itself though unfortunately not as applicable in this case). People will always rally behind this cry, particularly in those smaller nations across the globe whose history has been dominated by imperialism in one form or another. For another thing, they are fighting against the Jews. The hatred for them that currently exists with such open vehemence in large swathes across the Arab world once existed in a similar state across Europe, which bubbled away for centuries culminating in the unforgettable events in the death camps across the Third Reich. Hitler may be dead and Nazi Germany may be gone but old prejudices die very hard.

Also of importance is the fact that Palestine is fighting a war against a democracy. The issue here lies with the press. In a democracy the press gains access to a far greater degree than in a non-democracy. Seeing as how they don’t live in fear of death (other than from incoming Hamas rockets), Israel is far more full of journalists than neighbouring Palestine. And a war against a democracy gains far more attention than one which is waged against a non-democracy. Essentially the world views it as a fight between the uncivilised or the unmodernised, and sees it as something such Luddites are bound to get up to. Thus the democracy begins to be criticised consistently harsher for its small crimes than its opponent will for their most egregious actions – such actions are expected of one yet must be punished in the other. This is obviously the case with Israel and Palestine and when Israel is consistently attacked in the media, the idea that they must be in the wrong, if there are so many stories condemning their actions, begins to imprint on people’s minds. And considering Israel is in fact a democracy they can’t simply act like a totalitarian state and completely dismiss the horror of the rest of the world as they ethnically cleanse themselves of the enemy (something Hamas would have no issue with, were the roles reversed). So the conflict drags on and the longer the coverage and the longer the conflict, the more they are criticised. This manifests itself in some very odd ways. Take, for example, the Labour Party LGBT group here in Ireland, who protested against Israel which is ironically the only country in the Middle East where LGBTs have rights. But not only did they protest but they did so beneath the flag of Hamas, the symbol of an organisation which tortures and executes gay people. A frightening definition of irony or perhaps simple sheer ignorance, and even more frightening when considering that the organisations involved, including some from the media, saw nothing amiss with this.

Now many might say that none of this matters, these arguments are invalid and pointless because Israel is simply in the wrong as a colonising force which is trying to take control of land to which they have no claim, and that is that. Palestine should be in the hands of the Palestinians because they were there first. These people point out that there was peace in the area before the Zionist colonisers came to establish a state, and are also of the view that the Muslims are the colonised while the Israelis are clearly the colonisers. Anyone who attempts to understand the history of this troubled land knows that this view isn’t a historically accurate one, and the history does make for some interesting reading. History tells us a different story, not as far back as 1850 or so, which is roughly the period of time Palestinian sympathisers often like to travel to, but over the course of a thousand years or more. Numerous peoples have populated this land – Canaanites, the Ancient Israelites, Persians and Assyrians, and first joined the Islamic Empire under Muslim colonisers in 636 AD, changing hands several times before being recaptured by the Islamic Muhammad Ali of Egypt from the Turks in the middle part of the 19th century before winding up in the hands of the British. And for those who say that the entire country was simply handed over to the Jews by the British, that simply isn’t the case. As a matter of fact, vast tracts of land were willingly sold to Zionists from the mid half of the 19th century, for which they paid prices which were vastly more than the land was actually worth. The area had been in decline for several decades; Palestine was poorly cultivated and widely neglected in many parts and many thought an influx of wealthy Jews would do wonders for reviving the dry and dusty land. Later complaints from Arabs were found to be exaggerated or false; some of the land in question was found to have been sandy and uncultivated land before it had been purchased, having only been put to use when taken over by its Jewish purchaser. So who has the definitive right to this land? The Jews who became a scattered and persecuted group centuries beforehand or the Muslim conquerors who moved in and took the land by force before selling it to their now hated neighbours while painting themselves as the innocent victims of colonisation today? The fairest solution is the two state one; one Palestinian and one Israeli, an offer which has been proposed several times and consistently reject by an Islamic group whose desire to see a Palestinian state is trumped by that of watching the state of Israel burn. True, the Israeli settlements and plans to build the same in the West Bank aren’t helping matters and can understandably be condemned. But returning to Hamas, are these really the people who garner such worldwide support?

Let’s imagine a different world for a moment – a world in which Israel simply gave in to these demands and sat back and allowed their destruction, the state that is desired in Palestine is established with terrorist group Hamas at the head. Would those who support Palestine’s efforts now really support such a state? Do they even realise what that would entail? Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority has maintained that any Palestinian state will be an Islamic one, which isn’t an issue. The real issue is that a) the state will be under a more than likely extreme form of Sharia law and b) Hamas will be at the head of this. Sharia law has its positives though restrictions on freedom of speech and the rights of women are just two things to take issue with. Women can’t ride motor scooters. Dancing women is a grave offence. 150 ‘witches’ were arrested by Hamas in 2010 while Christians have spoken out against forced conversion to Islam. And freedom of religion certainly won’t be an issue, because there will simply be no freedom. In 2002 the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was desecrated, two years following the destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem. Across the Arab world, synagogues, churches and even mosques are all targets for the fanatical, and Palestine is nothing if not well supplied with the fanatical. Even the Shia Muslims aren’t safe as they face persecution from Hamas in Gaza. And these are the people who essentially have so much support from the Irish people? Evidently the feeling of shame has long departed these shores. In one sense our support of Palestine is understandable, a support born of an ill understanding of many of the facts and an accidental or perhaps forcible misunderstanding of the consequences, fuelled by a history of oppression in our own country and the remnants of a nationalist narrative which railed against the evils of imperialism in any shape or form, which has taken so long to dissipate and which still somewhat resonates through time today.

And then there is the final part of this insane jigsaw puzzle – the fact that Palestinians – ordinary Palestinians and their supporters across the Middle East remain committed to the destruction of Israel. Such a Palestinian state would not be a model of peace and acceptance but hatred and aggression towards anyone outside of Islam but the Jews in particular. If it was truly peace that Palestine wanted then indoctrination of children in schools wouldn’t exist (something which speaks volumes against these people, for whom brainwashing children into believing their cause is right and just is a necessity). In the end it comes down to this – if Hamas ended their campaign of terror, Israel would have no part in Gaza, trade would be free, checkpoints dismantled etc. However if Israel gives up all violence, Hamas’ move would be extermination of all Israelis, with the support of the people behind them, not all by any means, though the number is frighteningly sizeable. And so the conflict will continue, because Israel cannot end the violence, and Hamas won’t.

David Finklestein of The Times wrote “There can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have. Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it…again and again…the Palestinians have been offered a nation-state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state…there cannot be peace until this changes.”

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