I have been struggling to write a post on the current (ongoing) hostilities between Israel and Palestine, but to no avail. Roger, ever the historian and a savvy one at that, came to my rescue with a post that traces the conflict as we are seeing it today … how did they get here, and where might it go from here? Thank you so much, dear Roger!
When Waves Crash Not Even Rocks Endure
I do not make apologies for the length of this post. No more than anyone would about the time spent sorting out a departed relative’s house full of years’ accumulations. History is filled with objects all cluttered up by careless storage. Unless you are prepared to tidy it you will never gain perspective. You will see references here, please feel free to research them, I will not choose the sites; that will be up to you.
There is this portion of land which can be identified in simplistic terms as Israel and Palestine. This statement is purely for swift identification on a current map of the world. Any other definitions are mired in politics, history and social opinions. It was one of the earliest places of civilisation. The Canaanites being the first identifiable grouping about 3,000 BC. The area in common with most of the civilised habitable world was then fought over by varying groups. Its geography and resources being the cause. They came, they went, they rose, they fell. There was communal violence. When the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed, we arrive at the ‘modern age’. And when this series of Hard Truths from previous centuries’ profligacy came calling. And it is no use anyone complaining about having to recognise History’s part in today’s events, History always plays a part.
Three unavoidable factors are to be taken into account:
- Firstly, the geopolitical situation of the 19th In the Middle East: sensing the weakness of the Ottoman Empire three European Empires were set on having ‘Interests’. The gallic mix of Secular and Religious. France was ‘claiming’ care of the Catholic populations; Russia, the eternal enigma the Orthodox peoples, which left the then ‘Triumphant’ British without lever. This was solved by ‘discovering’ the Jewish Zionist movement which had been growing after centuries of Anti-Semitic atrocities and lesser prejudices and thus would lead to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which in turn would be at odds with The Macmahon-Hussein Correspondence and the equally contentious Sykes-Picot agreement; the former being someone’s promise to Arabs, the second France and Britain drawing straight lines without thought for the populations.
- The Second Factor would be ignoring the aspirations of the local populations as European aspirations were being realised and the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. As stated above the empires saw fit to draw lines and assume their wishes were paramount while the natives would have to put up with it and seeing that Europeans in general had a very low opinion of ‘natives’ of any sort that did not bode well. It would only be natural that the peoples would turn to their religion as their own foundation; the later experiment with the secularist option failing.
- The Third Factor is a repeat. One thousand years of persecution or discrimination of the Jews by Europeans and their colonists wherever they settled. Add to this the recent attempt to exterminate the entire race and it should not be beyond the bounds of perception to realise that Europeans created a problem. In fact, if Israel were an individual with a background of being bullied and brutalised a good defence lawyer could cite a case for leniency at any trial. I could start off a firestorm by asking why some other peoples’ violent excesses are given a free pass in liberal or socialist circles but that would detract.
In the turbulences of the later 19th Century and the whole of the 20th Century which saw old orders demolished, there came the rise of Nationalism and its attendant flaws and there was the Communist Experiment which had its day. And there was war waged on a global and industrial scale, only the pitch and intensity differing. The USA and the USSR invented a system whereby they could be reasonably safe and use other nations. This was The Cold War unless you lived or fought in those nations. By chance and some choice, The USSR sided with The Arab nations and The USA sided with Israel and would grant first political then military largess. Naturally both sides used these with enthusiasm. At first because of a combination of the mindsets of the Cold War and the Guilt of World War II The West sided with Israel, viewing the Arab nations as Communist or proto-communist threats. This ‘generosity’ of spirit continued into the mid-1970s. At this stage in the wake of the Vietnam wars the USA’s reputation was fashionably sullied (but not the USSR’s) and so was anyone associated with them. Thus, the Palestinians became the Good Guys and Israel the Villains, this was not helped by the rise of its own fundamentalist Right which wrote the playbook for its fellow travellers in the USA; ironically, Fundamentalist Christians, normally the first to turn on Jews.
By now The Arab nations in groups or singularly buoyed up by the Oil Weapon had begun to learn how the play The Big Game, and the Palestinian groupings had calculated how to garner world opinion and use alleged radical western politicians and activists. Israel was seen as part of the American Agenda, both nations locked into symbiosis. For a brief interlude there was The Camp David Accord, ever fragile and prey to opportunities and the aftershocks of events in Iran, Lebanon and of course The Cold War.
The die was cast. Trouble was they were loaded.
Battle lines are drawn, folk tales are merged with historical facts and religious works are poured over for selectively picked passages. It’s all old story which only halts when one side suffers a monumental catastrophe, and for the other side, the victory does not seem to give the Golden Promise, just a price to pay. Then in a while there will be another conflict between the victors.
Since the start of the conflict the casualty ledger has been by far greater for the Palestinians, mostly by Israel but with some assistance by Syria, Lebanese militias and Jordan. Israel is demonstrating the classic and ineffective strategy of massive force; it may claim it is being selective, but it does not seem that way. It has an efficient, well-oiled and motivated military. It has a population who in the majority are quite willing to see this as a fight for survival. Quite frankly the more the fashionable wings of the Liberal and Socialist groupings in Europe beat their chests and thump tables in self-righteous knee-jerk indignation, the more the Israeli Government and point to this and say to its population ‘See. It’s the old game again. Blame The Jews,’. As with the Right in its own blind venom against Islam, they are the best recruiting sergeants ever. If anyone in The West, really, genuinely cared they would be contacting those groups within Israel who work against the conflict and the Reactionary Right-wing regime, ask how they can help and make known those groups known in The West. But, oh no ‘Let’s Blame The Jews’; it’s easier (but don’t suggest they are saying ‘Jews’; they get very touchy about that). By the way the same folk were quiet while the Syrian government slaughtered its own folk. They didn’t say a lot when Russia ‘solved’ the problem in Chechnya. Uyghurs? Well, that’s for the Chinese to sort out, and anyway they shouldn’t be religious in a secular state (I’ve seen that argument). Myanmar? Where’s that…Oh Burma…Yeah shame ‘bout that. Selective much?
The Palestinians lost lands they had held for centuries. In the pre-World War II era they protested and there was communal violence. Because they did not have the good fortune to be allowed by all the World Community to have formalised official state with all the acceptable infrastructures, they started out with a disadvantage. Thus whereas Israel has an army and Intelligence Service which carry out ‘surgical’ operations, Palestine has ‘terrorist groups’ and ‘militias’ and patchy recognition. Palestine and Palestinians are proving as resilient, resourceful and dogged as many a people down the centuries. You would have thought the Israelis would have recognised that and decided to look at the long view. Actually, Palestine is playing the long game and Israel is crisis managing. Maybe a different political game, but in geo-military terms the recent lessons are there in Vietnam and Afghanistan for all to see, just a longer and bloodier process.
Thus both sides are locked in. Unless Folk in The West and the Islamic world support those minority or nascent grouping within Israel who are against this war and nurture them, it is set to continue in the short term. History plays that Long Game. There is always a Long Game. And consequences.
Unless folk just work to separate the two and not cheer on their chosen side, or squabble amongst themselves using this war as an excuse, the outlook is bleak.
Israel relies on a rock bed support from the USA now mired in its own politics. If that politics continues to fracture the USA, then it is conceivable the USA as it is now will not be there for Israel.
Though the Fashionable Folk in the West would not like to admit it, there are soft, murky and tacit understandings between Russia and Israel. These currently suit Russia’s purpose. Religiously based forces at odds with Russia’s policies and on her borders on spheres of influence are not to be countenanced. Israel knows Russia’s rules. Those rules could change, Russia does as Russia is. If open hostility to Israel suits, so be it.
The Israel- Palestine war is second in area and recently body count to that between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran. As long as this continues Israel has another layer of security. However as cited above politics shift. Shi’ite Iran was quite content to send ‘volunteers’ to aid President al-Assad from an Alawite family who are by Shi’ite doctrine heretics- so Realpolitik is alive and well. If the tides change Israel would face the two largest, well-armed, trained and battle experienced armies in the region who would be able to call on larger numbers of volunteers. Then in Israel’s last roll of those die will come the nuclear option; tactical of course, which in turn would give rise to a fearsome Jihad, at which stage no one is secure anymore. Then for the ‘good’ of the World Israel as a state becomes disposable; a replay of the Siege of Jerusalem AD70 with another diaspora for the survivors; all of whom irrespective of age or circumstance will be blamed.
And all because we in the rest of The World chose sides, or stood aside, and did not try and work with those would wish for a peace and reconciliation.
You may call it a Regional Conflict; Israeli Brutality; A Biblical Prophecy Coming To Be Seen; A Fight of Palestinian Independence; A Jihad; Something Else.
I call in Another Chapter in Human Folly.
Be offended if you like. In the Court of History I can produce at least 4,000 years’ worth of evidence.
We all have that Blood on our Hands.