Sunday, January 25, 2009

Israel/Palestine, Arabs/Jews:It's NOT been going on for centuries and is NOT too complex to understand

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a product of the modern era of imperialism, or: It's about 1917 Stupid!

How many times have you heard/seen this happen? Watching a TV or radio program on the Middle East, panelists argue about air strikes and suicide bombers, who has rights to what land, Hamas, West Bank settlers, two-state plans… and then the moderator cuts it off to go to a commercial with the words: “It’s so complex, they’ve been fighting for a) centuries, b) a thousand years c) thousands of years d) since before the big bang.” Everyone then nods in agreement and it’s over." "Too complicated, been going on for ages, therefore it can’t really be understood and don’t expect anything to really change."

For the words “anything to really change” you can substitute “don’t expect Israel to change what it’s doing.” It’s too hard to grasp. Don’t try. Israel just has to keep on bombing and building more settlements. The US government (no matter who is president) just has to keep on funding Israel.

These claims are perhaps the worst and most pernicious part of the avalanche of pro-Israel propaganda that daily rains down on us all. At first glance this may seem to be a neutral “plague on both your houses” position. If they’ve been fighting forever and everything is too tangled up to figure out then both the Palestinians and the Israelis are equally messed up.

But the purpose of this “fighting for centuries, too complicated” line is to cover up the verifiable facts of the matter and propagate a pro-Israeli rewrite of history.

Jews and Arabs and or Palestinians have not been fighting for centuries. They haven’t even been fighting for one century. This conflict is part of the modern era. It is not an ancient struggle and it’s origins are NOT lost in the mists of time.

If you want to talk about thousands of years ago, say, two thousand years ago, Islam did not exist. King Herod was on the throne of Judea and the Roman Empire held sway over a rebellious Jewish territory. There were uprisings and temples destroyed and finally the emperor Hadrian got fed up and declared the Jewish kingdom abolished in 135 AD. He renamed the territory Palestina (after the Philistines who lived on the coastal areas of what is now Israel and Lebanon).

Islam didn’t come into existence until 632 AD. More than a century before that time Christianity had taken over the Roman State and become the historic arch-enemy of all Jews. When the crusades were organized by Christendom to attack Arab rule in Palestine starting about 1000 AD, one of their major tasks besides re-taking the holy land was to kill any Jews they encountered. Jews found protection from the Arab governments and aided them in their war against the Christian crusaders.

Over the last 2000 years Christianity has persecuted the Jews, denying them basic human rights, forced them into ghettos and often killed them in large numbers in riots and organized pogroms. Islamic and Christian nations fought wars from the 7th through the 15th Centuries culminating with the overthrow of the Christian Byzantine Empire and the establishment of the Islamic Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. Jews generally fared better under Ottoman rule than in any Christian land.

The conflict between Jews and Muslims in Palestine was touched off by the Balfour Declaration of 1917. What is that, you may ask? The sultan of the Ottoman Empire made the mistake of throwing in his lot with the Kaiser in WWI. At war’s end the British ended up in control of large swaths of the then collapsed Ottoman Empire. England ended up with a “mandate” to rule Egypt and what is now Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Palestine (the French made off with Syria and Lebanon. This was the result of the Sykes-Picot Treaty in which the Western colonial powers went back on their promise of independence for those Arab peoples who aided the Allies in defeating the Ottoman Empire--Lawrence of Arabia, anyone?)

The Declaration made by Lord Balfour of the British Foreign Office was a statement saying the UK favors the establishment of a “homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

In effect, the still mighty imperialist power of England gave the green light to the Zionist movement to move in and begin constructing the embryo of a new Jewish state in Palestine. A state that was intent on expanding and taking over as much territory as it could.

In 1897 the first World Zionist Congress was convened by Theodore Hertzl (author of “The Jewish State”) in Basel, Switzerland. The Zionist movement was founded on the premise that Jews would never be accepted in the Christian world and could only escape persecution by living in a state that Jews controlled, an exclusively Jewish State. From the beginning they shopped around for a powerful imperialist nation for support. They even approached the Czar of Russia for sponsorship of a state, arguing that Russia could get rid of all of its Jews by working with the Zionist movement. Uganda was considered by the Zionist organization as a possible location (it was voted down).

The Zionist movement finally found a sponsor in the British Empire. The outlook of the movement from the beginning was the same as the world-view of the European colonialist countries. The Zionist leaders saw themselves as representatives of the more civilized European peoples, the carriers of a superior culture that would supplant that of the barbaric natives. In short, the Zionists had a colonialist mentality and saw the land and people of Palestine the same way that European colonizers saw America 400 or so years ago: a land for the taking and not populated by anyone who actually had rights to that land. This was always the premise on which the Jewish state was built, and remains so today (forget what Israeli leaders say, observe what they do and you can easily see that their goals are unchanged from 1917).

“A land without a people for a people without a land” was the popular slogan for the Zionist colonizing project. Forget that Palestine was an organized part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. Never mind that between 135 AD and 1917 AD the area had been continuously populated and scores of generations lived there and farmed, traded, built cities and all the other things settled people do on land where they reside.

Sixteen years before Hitler came to power in Germany the die had been cast in Palestine. Aided by British colonial administrators the nucleus of the future Jewish state consolidated itself during the 1920s and 30s acquiring land through purchases (often buying land from absentee landlords and then expelling the Palestinian tenants) and violence, promulgated an exclusionary policy which centered on business and farms that only hired Jewish labor and did what they could to create an entity that would some day be the only sovereign state in the region and push out the non-Jews.

This, process of being dispossessed in their own land was, of course, noticed by the Palestinians who protested to the British authorities. There were protests and also violent clashes between Zionists and Palestinians.In 1936 a general strike of Palestinian laborers and merchants, which became a national cause, broke out. It lasted until 1939.

The pressures from the British and the Zionist movement proved to be too much for the Palestinians to overcome. After the results of the Nazi genocide became known world-wide and the victory of the allies in WWII in 1945, the triumph of the Zionist movement in Palestine was assured.

The UN sponsored partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities in 1947 led to the establishment of an exclusively (Western-backed and financed) Jewish state that easily routed Arab and Palestinian armed forces. Since then it has continually expanded and now rules over the official State of Israel and the occupied territories. Ex-president Carter said it best when he described the situation as Apartheid. There is “democracy” for Jews and other rules for Palestinians.

Since 1967 the West Bank has been systematically colonized by Israeli settlers and Palestinians have been virtually locked down in place by a network of “Israeli only” roads, settlements and military checkpoints that delay or prevent them from going to work, shopping or getting medical care. The Palestinians in Gaza (which resembles a prison more than a self-governing territory) used to live in the now Israeli populated cities at which Hamas has been firing rockets. They were pushed into refugee camps in Gaza in 1948.

The events and circumstances described above are all a consequence of the 1917 green light given the Zionist state-building project by the British government, which ruled under an internationally sanctioned mandate from 1917 to 1948. It’s only logical that a people who have had their country hijacked for the purpose of creating a state for the exclusive use of a different people would not accept this state of affairs, especially when they have lost their land and livelihood.

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