DESTRUCTION AND LOSS: THE STORY OF TWO SIDES THAT ARE FAILING TO ACHIEVE PEACE.
66 YEARS ON, THE BLOODSHED CONTINUES.
Palestine. A small country bordering Syria, Jordan and Egypt – its fight for freedom and justice has spanned over 6 decades.
Their story begins early on with the birth of the Zionist ideology in the late 19th Century by the Hungarian Jew, Theodore Herzel who is the ‘father’ of the Zionist movement and is considered to be the founder of the State of Israel. Zionism believes in the creation of an ethnically Jewish state, advocating Jews being a majority in their own nation thus ensuring they are no longer subject to anti-Semitic discrimination.
In the 19th Century in Central and Eastern Europe, the Zionist movement called for a homeland to be established in Palestine after the increase of anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire and rising anti-Semitism. Zionists argue that after two millennia of existence, and without a national state, they must return to their homeland which they were expelled and forced out of. However, the one place in the entire world where Jews were neither discriminated against or subject to pogrom was the Muslim world. When the Muslims left Spain after Christianity came back to power, the Jews left with them because they feared Christian anti-Semitism in the wake of the departure of the Islamic Empire in the West.
Anti-Semitism is described as being the hatred, discrimination and prejudice of Jews as an ethno-religious group; its people being unified by a common religious background. Throughout history, Jews have been persecuted in various parts of the world spanning from the 9th Century in 1096 where the ‘Rhineland massacres’ in Germany wiped out Jewish communities, to the more recent events in the 20th Century when Hitler attacked Jews in an attempt to ethnically cleanse them.
Many would argue that the creation of the state of Israel was necessary – persecution against Jews was not going to go away, they had been subject to it for centuries, with attitudes not seeming to change. Events of the Holocaust appeared to be the last straw, and many Jews saw Israel as being a beacon of hope which would allow them to finally live at peace.
But this ‘liberation’ of Jews, if you want to call it that, has led to the dispossession of millions of Palestinians and thousands dead in a bitter conflict in which Palestinians continue to resist the occupation of their land and uprise against the impositions and restrictions it has been placed under. Their story is one of oppression, loss and ethnic cleansing. As Albert Einstein famously said “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinians much of what Nazis did to Jews”.
Previously, Jews had been living alongside Muslims and Christians for centuries without any conflict or violence. Many would argue that it was the Palestinians that had to pay for Christian anti-Semitism in Europe, not the Christian countries.
HOW DID THE STATE OF ISRAEL COME ABOUT?
From around 1895, Theodore Herzl encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine, and in his book “Jewish State”, he outlined many reasons why they should leave Europe, most significantly emphasising the notion that Jews could only be free from Anti-Semitic attitudes if they were to possess their own nation. His book attracted international attention and many were drawn to the idea of being self –governed as a people and an end to being treated as ‘inferiors’.
In 1903, Zionist leaders refused an offer by the British to establish a state in Uganda, and it was only in 1917 that the British Government’s Balfour Declaration of 1917 endorsed the idea of a homeland in Palestine.
In a letter addressed to Lord Rothchild by the Foreign Secretary, the Balfour Declaration insisted that nothing should be done which “may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” and also makes no reference of the creation of a “state”, only a “national home”.
By 1948, Israel was now a legitimate state. The 1948 Palestinian Exodus which many refer to as the ‘Nakba’ (Arabic for catastrophe or disaster), saw 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs expelled and forced to flee from their homes due to the 1948 Arab Israeli War.
Since then, Palestinian land has been drastically reduced, and countless lives have been lost on both sides after several wars and Intifadas (Arabic word for uprising) which saw ongoing resistance from the Palestinian people against a regime they saw as illegitimate and oppressive against the indigenous Palestinian people who had done nothing to deserve the situation they now faced; refugees and with nowhere to go.
THE MEDIAS MISREPRESENTATION OF THE CRISIS – IT IS NOT WAR
The state of Israel has been continuously criticised and attacked for its systematic oppression of the Palestinian people since its creation.
Amnesty International has stated that “Human rights abuses are rife in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, in which both sides have committed injustices.
Noam Chomsky, a political commentator and activist makes an interesting point when he argues that Israel’s claim that they are acting in self -defence when bombing Gaza and Palestine is absurd to say the least, how are you defending yourself when you are the occupier of someone else’s land?
The media are constantly portraying Israel as the victim; its attacks, which they claim are intended for Hamas, are used as justification for air strikes and bombings which result in the death of innocent Palestinians. After the recent tragic deaths of the Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the Palestinian teenager who was burned to death in Shufat by ILLEGAL Jewish settlers in what was thought to be a ‘revenge attack’, the conflict has escalated.
To date, Israel has broken 65 International laws; one being the creation of the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank which Amnesty International has argued is a ‘violation and discrimination of Palestinian human rights’.
The image on the left is a clear example of how Palestinian land has been illegally encroached upon over the years, leaving them with next to no land, compared to what they had in 1946.
The Fourth Geneva Convention also states that ‘the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies’. Where are the super powers condemning this violation of international law? Iraq only had to break two before Bush and Blair saw it fit to go to war.Just on Friday, the UN Human Rights office said Israel could be violating laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza after 8 members of the Al Kaware family were killed after attempting to prevent an air strike on their home by standing on the roof, only to be targeted anyway. What kind of threat did this family pose to the Israeli regime?
It is estimated that the United States give Israel $3 Billion dollars a year annually, Obama openly pronouncing his agreement that Israel has the ‘right to defend itself’ as ‘What country on Earth would tolerate rockets being fired at them’. Hold on a minute. What people would tolerate a brutal occupation spanning decades, a siege which denies them basic supplies and the deaths of hundreds? When an Israeli Interior Minster calls for ‘Gaza to be sent back to the Middle Ages’ and the son of Ariel Sharon writing in the Jerusalem post that ‘Nagasaki and Hiroshima were possible solutions to be inflicted’, a secure peace seems highly unlikely.
Although the US administration can be heavily criticised for its staunch support of Israel in the face of what the world calls ‘war crimes’ on Palestine, in November 2012, Obama overrode his Congress in sending $192 Million dollars to the Palestinian Authority. Many are quick to jump on the bandwagon, proclaiming that Obama is guilty of backing a terrorist state, however he faces a Congress which is highly unsympathetic to the Palestinian cause and with a strong Jewish lobby, is very restricted in what he can do. In a visit to Israel in May 2013 he gave a speech in which he advocated that “The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must be recognized”. He urged people to think about the conflict from the Palestinian perspective and expresses that the lives of Palestinians are very different to those living in Israel – “Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day.”
Israel CAN defend itself but Palestine can’t. The media has been clever enough to make it seem that this is a war between two equal sides in which Palestinians are wholly unjustified in staging counter attacks. We are talking about a heavily funded western backed Israeli army with a navy and air force versus Palestinian youth with stones and homemade rockets. Not to mention zero funding or aid from any superpower like the US. This is not an equal playing field. When unarmed innocent civilians, entire families and young children are being killed daily by Israeli air strikes on Gaza, with no form of defence, how can this be described as war? Attacks into Israel hardly compare. Since 2009, Israeli forces have been responsible for over 600 deaths in Gaza and the occupied West Banks, whereas Israelis killed by Palestinians is just over 40. Unlike Israel, Gaza has no sirens to warn of any imminent air strikes or any bomb shelters which people can run to. Israel on the other hand has the advantage of possessing an iron dome missile defence system to intercept incoming attacks.
Who are Hamas? A terrorist Islamist militant group, right? But have the media actually told us what they REALLY want? They ask for Israel to end its raids in the West Bank, release Palestinian prisoners whom were rearrested after being freed in a previous prisoner deal and ultimately an end to the siege on Gaza. So why don’t Israel leave the occupied territories and dismantle their illegal settlements if they really want peace? Palestinians are simply asking for basic human rights which any citizen should be entitled to.
According to journalist Rania Khalek – “Hamas is the political party that was democratically elected in 2006 to govern the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Hamas’ control means that almost everyone and everything can be considered a Hamas affiliate.” She claims that this loose definition has allowed Israel to ‘widen the definition of legitimate targets to include civilians’. In the past few days, Israel has launched 39 air strikes targeting house and open areas and according to Gaza based Human Rights Group ‘Al-Mizan’, around 900 homes have been destroyed so far. The home of Gaza’s chief police was just bombed killing 18 members of the family, an act of Netanyahu’s “responsible defence”.
I am not condoning the attacks and actions of Hamas, a group which has repeatedly stated it refuses to recognise the state of Israel, just as I do not condone the actions of Israel. However, one must realise that a large scale illegal occupation of the West Bank and several violations of international laws which world powers refuse to do anything about, is enough for any occupied citizen to become angry with.
Many would believe that the latest violence between Israelis and Palestinians is after the recent murders of the three Israelis on June 12th. But what haven’t the media told us? Before these teenagers were killed, 5 Palestinian children had been killed by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) in 2014 – however their deaths did not generate international condemnation or a global campaign, only increasing the anger of the Palestinians against Israeli occupation.
Do they call the brutal beating of Tariq Abu Khdeir, a US citizen on holiday from Florida visiting family, an act of defence? Three IDF soldiers beat and brutally attacked the young teenager who was simply watching protests following the death of his cousin, who was burnt alive a few days earlier by Jewish settlers. We only know about this case because Tariq is an American citizen, cases like these are not rare in the occupied territories and it is unlikely much will be done to bring the accused to justice.
Between 2000 and 2013, 1,518 Palestinians have died due to Israeli attacks, equating to 1 Palestinian every three days. Yet when three Israeli teenagers go missing, albeit tragic, it is headline news on international newspapers and politicians rush to express their sympathy and sadness at such atrocious attacks. Where were they when those Palestinians died? Do we even know their names? Were their parents interviewed and promised justice? Weren’t their deaths an act of terrorism by the Israeli government? A clear example of double standards.
Recent fighting between Israel and Palestine has seen the death toll reach over 181 with around 1200 injured (According to the International Middle East media centre) just after a few days of bombing. It is estimated that 23 of those dead are children. (Figures correct at time of writing). Israel’s recent bombing campaign against Gaza named ‘Operation Protective Edge’ has seen IDF forces bomb a mosque it claims was hiding rockets, as well as a Disabled Centre on Saturday killing twelve people. According to Gazan doctors and Health Ministers, Israel has been using weapons in their offensives which are banned under international law. These weapons known as dense inert metal explosives (DIME) are designed to cause minimal structural damage but severe wounds. Back in 2009 in Israel’s siege on Gaza named ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Norwegian doctor Eric Fosse stated that “I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before”. If such reports are true it would not be the first time Israel can be accused of using banned weaponry, previously using white phosphorus.
Israel continuously claims it is largely at threat and needs to defend itself. At present, they have suffered no casualties from the ‘deadly’ Hamas rockets which they use as justification to fight back.
The violence is likely to continue, many are angry that as tax payers in Britain, we are funding a war against a people who are facing massive injustices. It is estimated that Britain gives Israel around £6 billion a year, more than the combined amount of aid given to any other country. The UK government are quick to condemn the attacks on Israeli soil, yet are nowhere to be reached when Israel launch a program of collective punishment on Gaza and its people.
IS THERE JEWISH OPPOSITION TO ISRAEL?
A group of people which are rarely seen on news channels or interview panels debating the crisis are Orthodox Jews.
Why? Well, unlike most Jews, they vehemently oppose the state of Israel and proclaim their solidarity for the Palestinian people as they believe it goes against the teachings of the Torah.
Those who proclaim their support for Palestinians and anger at the Israeli state, can make the mistake of generalising Jews as a whole as the perpetrators of crime, don’t ever do that.
Neuturei Karta is an international organisation of around 5,000 Orthodox Jews dedicated to the ‘propagation and clarification of Torah Judaism’ and the peaceful dismantling of Israel. Their religious beliefs in Judaism argue they cannot have their own state until the coming of the Messiah, until which they must live as part of the wider community across the world.
Their core beliefs maintain that due to sins of the Jews, they were sent in exile from the Land of Israel and that any recapture of the land is against the divine will of God.
They stress the idea that Zionism is not a part of Judaism, as it advocates the restoration of the Land of Israel to Jews through self- determination, which they call a a presumptuous affront against God.
One of the members of the Neturei Karta organisation was Moshe Hirsch, who was in Yasser Arafat’s cabinet and advised him on Jewish affairs. There is a picture painted that Jews and Arabs are enemies, yet do we ever see the unity between the Orthodox Jews, a peaceful group who simply want justice to be served, and the Arabs.
They can be regularly seen at Palestinian protests; educating the people there that Judaism does not support the Zionist State. This is NOT a religious conflict, but one in which Israel seeks to gain as much territory as it can, which subsequently is having damaging effects on the Palestinian people.
They are given little media coverage, and so few know about their existence and cause. Despite being a minority amongst the Jewish population, they go a long way to highlighting the fact that the idea of Zionism does not unite all Jews in bringing them back to their homeland, as it set out to.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians are another organisation that go a long way to promoting the rights of Palestinians. A network of Jews, they oppose the Israeli policies that “undermine the livelihoods, human, civil and political rights of the Palestinian people”. They believe that taking action to stop the oppression of the Palestinians is important to counter Anti-Semitism and the very idea that opposing Israeli policies is Anti-Semitic in itself.
There has also been increasing opposition to the actions of Israel by British Jews who call for an end to the violence in Israel and Gaza. On Tuesday 15th July, Hundreds of British Jews planned to fast as part of a public effort to unite against the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East.
Just on Friday the 11th July, it is estimated that around 10,000 protestors took to the Israeli embassy in uproar at the attacks on Gaza. One rabbi stood at the top of a double decker bus with a banner reading “Judaism rejects the Zionist state and condemns its criminal siege and occupation”.
Hannah Weisfeld, director of the pro-Israel, pro peace group Yachad stated that “Through the fast, British Jews want to loudly and clearly call for de-escalation, return of calm, return to the negotiating table and the creation of two states for two peoples, the only way that can guarantee stability and security in the long run”.
It is clear that the conflict in the Middle East is a source of upset for many, whether you are an Israeli Jew or a Palestinian Arab. People of all backgrounds and faith are beginning to voice their discontent loud and clear that the killings have to stop.
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION: CAN WE ACHIEVE PEACE?
Only time will tell. The occupation has been in existence since 1948. Some would argue that it is inevitably going to continue until one side simply ceases to exist due to the continuous attacks that both sides inflict on each other.
Palestinians just want to be recognised, to have their own state and live without fear of arrest or attack. In 2000–2009, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested by the Israeli authorities and up to August of 2013, according to the Economist, nearly all 193 minors who were imprisoned were ‘brought to court in leg shackles and handcuffs’.
The idea that all Arabs hate Jews and all Jews hate Arabs is the stereotype which needs to be challenged. Yes there is hostility towards the other, but this was all as a result of the harsh and cruel oppression that the Israeli regime has inflicted on the Palestinian people.
The media are quick to label Hamas a terrorist group who pose a threat to Israel, yet the actions of the Irgun and the Haganah, terrorist Jewish groups active in the lead up to the creation of Israel, are simply brushed under the carpet.
People across the world WANT justice. The politicians we vote for to run our country need to start making the morally right decisions instead of the politically convenient one. Only then are we on the way to creating a fairer world in which race or religion plays no part in distinguishing what value of life someone deserves.
Peace is achievable; we just have to want it enough.