Tensions have once again flared up in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. Both sides are attacking each other with rockets after the bodies of three abducted Jewish students were found in the West Bank, allegedly killed by Hamas, the governing organisation of Palestine.
Israel is regarded as the west’s ally in the Middle East with support from America. However this conflict is far from one-sided. It is hard to place blame on one side, as the history of both nations is blighted by conflict. A brief glance at this history allows us to analyse the conflict and sheds a different light on things.
Prior to 1947 the British had a mandate to rule Palestine. In return for support during the Second World War, Britain promised to pass control of Palestine to the Arabs. But after the atrocities of the holocaust, the Jewish community, in particular the Zionist movement, wanted the creation of a Jewish state in the lands they felt had been promised to them by God.
This became reality through UN resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947. 33 nations voted in favour, 13 against with 10 abstaining (including Britain). The land of Palestine was partitioned to form the two states of Palestine and Israel with Jerusalem under an international regime. Israel was given 78% of the land with Palestine shrunk down to 22%, the Gaza strip and the West bank.
Like the Israelis, the Arabs of the area see the land of Palestine as promised to them by God – through the birth of Abraham’s first son Ishmael, who was born of an Arab mother. The Jewish faith instead sees the land of Israel as promised to Abraham’s second son, Isaac, who was born to Abraham’s wife, a Jewish woman.
It is tragic to think that the decedents of brothers are killing each other on the basis of religion.
You may have heard Israel referred to as the illegal occupiers of Palestine. This does not refer to the state of Israel but to the military control of Gaza and the West Bank by the Israeli army. Furthermore Israel has continued, against the will of the international community, to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, invading the remaining 22% of land the Palestinians have left. These settlements are like military fortresses with thick parameter walls marked with military defences, yet inside the people live rather modern suburban lives. This occupation has shrunk the Arab land of Palestine down to some 10%.
The occupation has been compared to that of South Africa’s Apartheid with the segregation of Arabs and Jews in their homeland. This is illustrated by the network of ‘Jewish only’ roads linking the Jewish settlements. Should one of these roads cross an Arab road, then Jewish traffic takes priority and the crossing is closed off.
A doctor who was traveling to the hospital where she worked explained that the journey should take 20 minutes, but if the roads are closed for Jewish traffic it can take between four and nine hours.
Israel claims these measures are in place to protect them from Arab attacks. Yet Israel has the fourth largest military in the world and is a nuclear power.
Palestine, on the other hand, has no military and fighting is often done through untrained individuals with slingshots. The difference in security risk is highlighted in simplest terms through the difference in what news correspondents wear in the two nations. Those based in Palestine will be fully geared up in bulletproof kit, yet those based in Israel will be dressed in casual clothing.
Since 1988, Palestine, led by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), has acknowledged the right of Israel to exist as a state, a breakthrough which at the time led to the Oslo talks between both sides for the first time. However the issue rages on through Israeli aggression towards Palestine, the Arabs and their land.
Arabs must carry ID cards at all times, with movement restricted through the Israeli controlled checkpoints. Jobs and access to local amenities such as hospitals are at the discretion of the Israeli soldiers. There are numerous reported cases where women have gone into labour and Israeli soldiers have refused them passage through the checkpoint to access the hospital. These women often go on to give birth at these checkpoints and in several cases the new-born has died, as passage is sometimes still refused, preventing mothers from seeking treatment for their babies.
Whenever tensions flair up , Israel plays the victim, branding the Palestinian authorities as terrorist organisations. I am not saying that elements of this aren’t true. Attacks have been carried out on innocent Jews. However I question the media reporting from the Jewish side.
You can liken the Arabs to caged animals being prodded and humiliated day after day – eventually the animal will strike back. This is the case behind many Palestinian attacks. They are a colonised people, and yet they are branded irrational terrorists rather than desperate and oppressed.
To date (20 July 2014), prior to the Israeli ground offensive, the number of Palestinian deaths was at 227 – 47 of them children. A further 1,685 were injured and 1,660 homes destroyed. These numbers keep rising.
On the Israeli side, there was allegedly one death, no others injured and zero homes destroyed. While figures of Palestinian deaths are widely available, such figures for Israeli deaths aren’t – suggesting, at least, that there may not be many.
I’ve briefly discussed the lack of military on Palestine’s side. Compare this to the sophisticated air missile defence system that Israel has. Israeli citizens can download an app that will tell you when a rocket has been fired and when it was destroyed by the defence system.
How are the Palestinians forewarned? The Israelis will fire a small rocket at a building. This then means you have 60 seconds to evacuate before more rockets are fired in that area. 60 seconds is not enough time to evacuate and evacuate to where? The checkpoints are still in place with movement still restricted.
Israelis have been seen sitting and watching the air strikes in Palestine, cheering and eating popcorn as if they were watching a sporting event, with the Military beating the opponent Palestine.
Since the ground offensive began, the death toll now stands at 425 Palestinians to 18 Israelis. 3,000 Palestinians are now injured (5pm 20 July 2014).
Humiliation, death and destruction are the tactics employed by Israel. Palestinian freedom has been described as a similar freedom to those in a prisoner of war camp. Yet criticise the state of Israel – condemn their occupation of Palestine – and you are branded anti-semitic (let’s bear in mind Arabs are a semitic people too), xenophobic, and against the state of Israel. If you are a Jew criticising Israel you are branded disloyal.
I personally believe in a two-state solution. I find conflict in the name of religion hard to fathom.
If God gave Abraham two sons, did he not intend for them to share this land promised to his descendants? I think the Palestinians have sacrificed plenty to their Jewish brothers and sisters, through lives lost, homes destroyed, and degradation of a race of people.
Peace is attainable but both sides have to acknowledge and accept the rights of each other to exist as independent states and as independent people – an acknowledgement made by Palestine in 1988 yet still lacking from Israel. Though they continually deny a plan to seize the remaining 22% of land, their actions and continued development of settlements in Palestine appear, on the surface at least, to contradict that stance.
We see a case of history repeating itself, but with the oppressed becoming the oppressors, and victims becoming perpetrators.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, ‘Have the people of Israel forgotten their collective punishment, their humiliations, their demolitions of homes so soon?’
How many more innocent people will be made homeless, childless and orphaned in the name of a biblical promise?
Why is Israel not held to account for the atrocities that they are responsible for and why is blame placed on only one side?
It is time for a change in strategy, because if attacking each other hasn’t brought about peace in 67 years, what makes either side think continuing down this path will bring peace?
Check back later this week when we will be presenting the other side of this debate as seen from the side of Israel