“The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.”
Report to Theodor Herzl about the Promised Land
”No people was ever liberated from colonialism because it managed to outclass the suppressor in strength, but because it created those conditions that made the cost of occupation larger than its profits”
Fuad al-Bitar – Head of the Diplomatic Agency of PLO in Athens
There are certain issues so emotionally charged that make us abandon reason and react passionately. One of them is the Palestinian issue, which, from the moment the State of Israel was founded, preoccupies the international community, which observes a drama in the making, with thousands of victims on both sides. In Greece, where the European anti-Americanism stands strong, and “the Palestinian” can refer to either the conflict or an emblematic scarf and the phrase “our brothers the Palestinians” has become a common motto among leftists, anarchists and pacifists, whoever dares to criticize the Palestinian people is automatically characterized as a fascist and an apologist for imperialism. On the other hand, if someone speaks of Israel’s crimes, he might be accused of anti-Semitism or even of being a neo-Nazi.
Far from such extreme allegations, and now that it’s relatively calm in the region after the ceasefire of the bloody summer of 2014, we might look on the subject more dispassionately. Below, the roles of the Palestinians, the Jews, the Western countries and religious fanaticism play in the conflict will be examined.
The Palestinian writer Edward Said writes that Hamas is a “violent and primitive form of resistance” that tries “to regulate personal conduct with simpler and simpler reductive ideas”. Hamas is not a fringe group that was imposed on the Palestinian people. It is a party/terrorist organization which was elected by the Palestinians in 2006 with a big majority; in free, fair elections (no elections have taken place since). In its charter it preaches the elimination of Israel and quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a proven and obviously invented text, to uncover the supposed Jewish plans to conquer one country after the other in order to achieve world domination. It is a charter that prophesizes (and longs for) the day when even nature will oppose the Jews, when the trees will call on Muslims “O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him”. All this, when in the Muslim world not only is there a denial of the Holocaust (in great percentages), but also the wish that the Holocaust should have taken place; and, if given the chance, will take place. UNESCO had to withdraw its subsidy for a magazine for children sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, which celebrated Hitler for murdering Jews. If we want to learn from history, we should rather pay attention when someone speaks of genocidal wishes, as it is most probably that they will be made true, if the opportunity arises. So, could the leadership of Israel cooperate with these counterparts?
A year before the elections, in 2005, Israel decided to withdraw its military forces from the Gaza Strip and to evacuate its colonial settlements from that region, and even forced the Israeli citizens who did not want to comply. This was a very important development that could be the start of a road to peace, but Hamas cancelled it with its stated desire of Israel’s destruction, with the conversion of Gaza into a military warehouse and the inevitable chain reaction that led to new hostilities.
During the incidents of the summer of 2014, it became a daily experience to watch images of civilian victims in Palestine. The Israelis were described as “monsters”, and raging citizens around the West went on marches to show support for the Palestinians. There was never an attempt to reply reasonably to the question “Why would Israel want to kill innocent civilians?” There is, of course, no reasonable answer because, quite simply, Israel does not want to kill innocent civilians. What would be the gain of that? If Israel decided to target civilians, there would be no Palestinian standing the next day. Israel has the weaponry, the opportunity and many pretenses. But it doesn’t decide so. And there is no need to suppose that Israelis are moral geniuses; that the reasons they don’t kill civilians are strictly humanitarian. It may very well be that the only reason for Israel not doing this massacre is the fear of the international community’s reaction entailing the withdrawal of the, necessary for them, support from America. In any case, it doesn’t.
At the same time, Hamas has this exact goal: to kill innocent Jewish civilians. They don’t throw their rockets on military bases, on soldiers or on any other targets of strategic importance, but on inhabited areas. The only reason there is such an uneven correspondence of innocent victims between the Palestinians and the (very few) Israelis is that Israel has the power to protect its citizens better. It has the ‘Iron Dome’ for protection against Hamas’ rockets and the shelters where citizens hide during an attack.
Hamas too has built shelters, but it is not allowed for civilians to enter them. These shelters are built exclusively for Hamas members and their weaponry. Hamas has dedicated all its resources to armament, setting up attacking strategies and to the construction of tunnels joining Palestinian and Israeli territories to use for kidnapping Jews and carry out terrorist activities. And not just that, but they have repeatedly used children, women and elders as shields against Israeli attacks. It’s no accident that they launch their rockets from schools and hospitals, since they know that Israel will be criticized for destroying such targets, let alone for the deaths of the civilians inside them. Before every Israeli missile attack, the Israelis warn the Palestinians to leave the targeted areas, exactly for the reason of avoiding causing civilian deaths. They do this by telephone calls, leaflets delivered from the sky or by SMS. And if the civilians choose to flea, Hamas urges them to stay (or return) to confront the attack or tries to convince them that the warnings are fake and aiming to create a panic. Hamas finds this a successful strategy, as its spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri has publicly admitted. The corpses of Palestinian innocents only help Hamas, as they can now say on top of them “All Israelis have now become legitimate targets” (as they have publicly stated). Another motto repeatedly used by Hamas toward the Jews is “Hamas loves death more than you love life”.
If we have not yet been convinced on which of the two has the moral high ground on the issue of the treatment of their own civilians, let’s consider this. When Hamas uses human shields they actually admit that Israel does not wish for innocents to die. Otherwise, how would it expect for the presence of children to deter an Israeli attack? (And, remember, Hamas admits this tactic works). Let’s also make a hypothesis: If Israelis did the same, using their children as shields to counter a rocket attack from the Palestinians like Hamas does, would it work? Would this deter a Hamas attack? Of course not. In such an opportunity, first it would be the Jewish children who would die, and then the rest.
In the end, Israel tries (and succeeds) to protect its civilians who are targeted by rockets, while Hamas urges civilians to stand in front of missiles that are not aimed at them.
And way before Hamas, Arafat’s leadership of the PLO didn’t have positive results for the conflict solution. Edward Said speaks of the “catastrophic pointless judgments and failures” of Arafat, from “the unfortunate Palestinian involvement in the affairs of Lebanon that ended in the 1982 disasters” to “the unreasonable tactics of the PLO leadership during the Gulf crisis”, where Arafat supported Saddam in his efforts to annex Kuwait, alienating Israel, the USA and the whole Western and Middle-Eastern world, a stance for which the Palestinian leader apologized in 2004.
All these don’t mean that Israel has the moral advantage always or on every occasion. For decades it performs acts that are characterized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as crimes of war. It built a wall separating the country and dichotomizing Jerusalem with the pretense of wanting to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks (and the truth is that these attacks have indeed been decreased) but it built the wall beyond its legal borders with Palestinian regions, therefore stealing land. The settlements Israel builds from ’67 ‘til today are condemned by the UN and Israel’s ally, America, among other countries. In the French language, these ‘settlements’ are called as what they are, meaning ‘colonies’ (“colonie”).
The existence of checkpoints (and the roads that connect them) oppress the basic human right of free passage for the Palestinian people, since in a daily basis a “citizen” doesn’t know if he’ll reach his destination in 30 minutes or 4 hours, in the event he has to pass through these checkpoints to use the roads of his own country. It suffices to imagine a Palestinian working a few kilometers away from home to take a glimpse of how much harder his life gets due to these lasting delays. On not-too-rare occasions, ambulances have been denied passage or delayed resulting in women dying giving birth along with their newborns or wounded people succumbing to their injuries before they reach the hospital. Noam Chomsky puts it simply: “Are we racists or are we not? If we are not racists, then the indigenous population has the same rights of self-determination as the settlers that replaced them”. The aforementioned obstructions of freedoms, however –as many other illustrations of disdain against Palestinians by the State of Israel- humiliate the Palestinians and weigh on their dignity, deeming them second class citizens, and surely don’t help towards a peaceful coexistence of the two peoples. In 1975, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 identified Zionism with “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. At the same time, Israel’s Minister of Defense calls the country’s army (IDF) “the most moral army in the world”.
Israel seems to treat the Palestinians as the Americans treated the Indians. The analogies between Americans/Israelis and Indians/Palestinians are quite illuminating and, as Norman Finkelstein says, perhaps this is the reason a large percentage of Americans feels identified with the side of the Israeli settlers. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, tried in 1969 to justify the Jews’ right to be present in the region…existentially: “There was no such thing as Palestinians… It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
Israel also finds support in an unexpected ally within America, the “Christian Zionism” movement, which propagandizes the founding of Israel as the fulfillment of the Biblical Prophecy, and actually considers that Israel should expand and cover the whole region from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, so that the Apocalypse can follow. Also noted is the influence of the Israel lobby on American foreign policy, although it is often exaggerated. Chomsky observes how the ISA and Israel demand of Hamas to condemn violence and accept the international agreements, while Israel itself has neither condemned violence nor complies with international agreements.
Israel was founded after the growth of Zionism in Europe during the early 20th century, when one of the most used mottos was “A land without people, for a people with no land”. But that land had a people, the Palestinian, which was forced to relocate from a region they considered a home and inhabited for centuries. Their removal was violent, without them being asked and without taking note of their objections, making Golda Meir’s observations at least unreasonable. What if there was no state called “Palestine” in those days? It has also been said that the locals didn’t even call themselves “Palestinians” but rather “Arabs” or “Ottomans” or “Turks”. But they existed, and they were there.
Culpable for this were the politicians of the UN and the British. Someone has said that “the only thing worse than having the British as your enemies, is to have them as allies” and it applies here, since the general area of Palestine had been under British command (British Mandate) after World War 1. The British promised the land to both the Jews and the Arabs, leading them to conflict and bloodied riots. When they saw they lost control of the situation they passed the ball to the UN, giving them the right to draw new borders. The Palestinian people seem to have become the victim of conflicting western powers who, playing their own game, altered their fate, without them participating in the negotiations and the agreements.
But, other than hostage to history, the two peoples of the region, Jews and Muslims, are hostages to their religious dogmas as well. It is accepted and understood that Jews were the victims of continuous segregation, persecution and atrocities since 70 AD when they were thrown out of their country. As Hitchens notes, anti-Semitism was not born in one decade of fiery speeches by Hitler, but was a result of 2,000 years of Christian and Muslim intolerance, and was propagated from the pulpits of churches and verses of the Quran and the Hadith. Jews, Hitchens continues, are the only people who recognized in the face of both Jesus and Mohamed a fraud. Would you think Christians and Muslims might forgive them for it? Probably not. It was in the early ‘60s that the Catholic Church withdrew the collective accusation of deicide against the Jews (the Greek Orthodox Church still hasn’t, as far as I know). It is, therefore, understood that the Jews have historically been victims of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. It is understandable that Europe, after the Holocaust, felt guilt for the Jewish issue and wanted to redeem itself. It is also understandable that the Zionists wanted a country of their own in order to feel safe. But why should the Palestinians pay for Germany’s (or Europe’s, or Christianity’s…) crimes? And why would the Jews choose precisely that region? There were, for example, other specific proposals to settle in Argentina or Uganda. The answer is simple: Because the Palestinian land had been promised to them, in their holy texts, by god himself. If the Jews did not consider their god to play the part of the realtor we wouldn’t even be speaking of a “Palestinian issue”. Perhaps we would talk about an “Argentinean issue”, perhaps not. But it is at least ironic that the Jews founded a country to feel safe, choosing a settling area surrounded by Muslims, given the Muslim anti-Semitic feelings and that they had specifically stated they did not want them. But they say that irony befits Jews.
- Ali A. Rizvi – 7 Things to consider before choosing sides in the Middle East conflicy (Huffington Post, 2014)
- Sam Harris – Why don’t I criticize Israel? (2014)
- Hamas Charter (avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp)
- Nidal al-Mughrabi – Thousands of Gaza civilians flee, ignoring Hamas advice to stay (Sydney Morning Herald, 2014)
- Roi Kais – Hamas calls on evacuated Gazans to ‘return immediately’ (ynetnews.com)
- Khaled Abu Toameh – Hamas: All Israelis now targets for missile attacks (Jerusalem Post, 2014)
- Elhanan Miller – Fear, fatalism or support: Why isn’t Gaza revolting against Hamas? (The Times of Israel, 2014)
- Dalit Halevy – Angry Palestinians attack Hamas official over Gaza destruction (IsraelNationNews.com, 2014)
- Noam Chomsky – Israel, the Holocaust, and Anti-Semitism (excerpt from Chronicles of Dissent, 1992)
- Ismat Sabri – Cartographic analysis of the Jewish Settlements in Palestine – The case of West Bank of the Jordan River (diploma thesis for the National Technical University of Athens, 2009)
- Rita Gabai-Shimantov – Israel, The rebirth of a state (Dioni, 1998)
- Yves Marc Ajchenbaum – ΙIsrael-Palestine: One land, two nations 1948-2002 (Melani, 2004)
- Chalazias Christos – Palestine, the drama of a people (Vasdekis, 1982)
- Ahmat Shahin – The Israel colonialism and the Intifada (Diplomatic Agency of PLO in Athens, 1988)