The issue of Palestine has, once again, made the headlines during the past week. More specifically, in response to Hamas, the ruling order in the Gaza Strip, firing its rockets into Israel and the consequent loss of lives, the Israelis have not only fired their own rockets into the congested urban area of Gaza City but also mobilised their military forces in readiness for a threatened invasion of the non-Israeli occupied Gaza Strip.
There are those who believe that the Israeli response to the actions of Hamas, with the considerable loss of lives in Gaza City, is disproportionate to the original provocation. The Israelis reply that the stated position of Hamas, that the State of Israel has no right to exist, is a legitimate warrant for protecting its citizens and ensuring the continuance of the very existence of the nation through whatever military action is required.
As previously, the international cry goes out for the cessation of hostilities and the settlement of the long-running dispute through peaceful negotiations. Such cries have been heard in the past but, regrettably, without the required peace and political negotiations taking place or realising any significantly successful outcome. The focus seems to be on the immediate, as if the present circumstances hold the key to the solution of this problem, one that has ramifications far wider than the territorial boundaries of Palestine.
This writer would argue that, no matter what else is required, there is the need to understand history and the story of what has happened over time in this part of the world.
The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, following decades of activity by the Zionist Movement and, following World War II, an international move to seek reparations for the Holocaust and provide a homeland for Jewish people, ensuring that the words associated with the Jewish memorial at the former Nazi death camp of Sobibor, “NEVER AGAIN“, became a reality. This was an understandable and desirable action.
What is perhaps not so well known is that the foundation of the State of Israel was accompanied by terrorist activity carried out by proponents of a separate State of Israel in Palestine, popularly presented in the Leon Uris novel “Exodus“. There have been many atrocities worse than the destruction of the British-owned St. David’s Hotel in Jerusalem, but in its day it was far from being an insignificant terrorist activity.
From a traditional Jewish/Israeli viewpoint, the Jewish people are the rightful occupants, if not owners, of the land of Palestine – a position argued from the perspective of the religious history of Judaism and the Jewish belief that Yahweh, the God of Israel (and, in Jewish religious belief, the only true god), had promised this land to his ‘chosen people’ in perpetuity.
(Interestingly, a similar line of argument would later be reflected in the development of another Semitic religion, Islam, as it presented itself as the one, true, universal way of religious belief and practice and, with the accompanying use of violence, sought to project and protect itself and its lands from the political, cultural and religious incursions of the Christianized and democratized nations states of the western world.)
The implications of major aspects of Jewish belief are significant. These include the devotion to an ancient tribal god, a god who rewarded conquest, including wholesale slaughter of non-military personnel, in his name and whose promises were supposedly given to the priests and prophets, scribes and monarchs of the people who lived in obedience to the unchanging laws (the ‘Torah’) of this god.
The religious beliefs and rituals associated with this exclusive god, for whom the use of the male gender is apposite, were then inscribed in this religion’s sacred literature and demanded to be followed in perpetuity and, by implication, without acknowledgement of any other religious order or authority. Judaism became the first religion to make exclusivist claims. It would not be the last.
It is relevant to this discussion to note that this religious history became the basis upon which Christianity was later founded and developed.
The Christian faith was loosely based on the reformist teachings of a Jewish rabbi, Jesus (who lived and taught in pre-Christian times), redacted and institutionalized by an evangelising Jewish Pharisee with a knowledge of Greek mythology and philosophy, Paul (who was also a Roman citizen), and adopted as a more or less fully-formed institution for social and political reasons in the period of the late Roman Empire under the Emperor Constantine.
These links with Judaism, and especially the sharing of a distinctive portion of each faith’s sacred literature, could well be an explanation as to why, generally speaking, the Christianized countries of the western world are sympathetic to, if not overtly supportive of, the Israeli position.
Moreover, when the chosen people of the religion of the promised and, by implication and popular acclaim, holy land of Israel came into the contemporary possession of their supposedly god-prescribed territory, a possession eloquently defended with the words of their religious tradition and bravely and resolutely protected in a series of protracted territorial wars with their neighbours, they were not content to limit their existence and movements to their circumscribed territory – a major proportion of the land of Palestine. They began a systematic aggrandisement of the territory of the non-Jewish section of the population, that in which the Palestinian people lived.
So began the Jewish settlement movement and this process continues and expands to this day. The situation has become a major thorn in Palestinian flesh and, very likely, a major reason for the position of Hamas and its belligerence with respect to the existence of the State of Israel.
It is recognised that there are Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian origin and that the State of Israel has a mixed ethnic and religious population. So too, it is a fact that there are dissident voices being raised in Israel with respect to its government’s policies, including the voice of left-wing intellectuals and the national newspaper Haaretz.
The issues being raised by the these sources include, for example, the expansion of the settlements into Palestinian territory and the removal of farming land from Palestinian hands; the building of territorial walls that divide and disconcert; the limitation of travel for indigenous Palestinians within their own recognised borders through a system of road checkpoints; sanctions against the residents of the Gaza Strip and the use of disproportionate violence in retaliatory military action to settle disputes.
It seems the case, nevertheless, that the further development of Israel as a territorial, social, cultural, political and religious entity is being driven by those who are persuaded by the religious interpretation of its history, and especially its ancient roots.
The rockets of Israel are no different in effect from those of Hamas – the launching of these instruments of war, no matter how ‘targeted’, results in indiscriminate death and destruction – euphemistically known as ‘collateral damage’. Cessation of this activity is right for its own sake.
However, the solution to what has been called the “Palestinian Problem” will not be found simply in the cessation of mutually violent activities. History needs to be re-visited and re-examined, attitudes and practices must change, national and religious history cross-examined and critiqued, beliefs opened to the scrutiny of rationality and common sense, similarities given equality with differences, and genuine respect afforded to what it means to be human.
The solution to the “Palestinian Problem” may be found in the establishment of a single nation state – unlikely but not impossible; it may be found in the creation of two nation states – likely but not, it would seem, in the foreseeable future and not without the above-mentioned changes occurring over a substantial period of time.
The solution, however, will not be found in a continuation of the presently unstable and highly dangerous situation, something that friend and foe together need to realise or re-discover.
History has a habit of moving on and waiting for no one, even if there are those who prefer to linger with or live in its past.