Yesterday, in amongst all the other crap that appears every day on my Facebook page, I received (as a forward) the following map:
At that time, there had been getting on for 150 “Likes” – which mystifies me more than a little. What are we supposed to “Like” exactly? The quality and accuracy of the map? The fact that the Palestinians have clearly lost over 95% of their territory – their homeland – in less than 60 years? That, arguably, they are the continuing victims of the worst case of genocide since the Second World War (of which more shortly)? Frankly, I “Dislike”, fervently, all of these points.
There had been over 100 comments, too – most of which were of course hidden for reasons of space, but the following was there, and I quote it in full by the wonders of Cut and Paste:
Bottem line they need to rid themselves of hamas.They are dangerous and until they do there will always be problems.They are radical and dangerous to anyone whom is not muslim.If Israel laid down there swords they would be all killed.They are protecting themselves.It is Palestines fault for allowing them to stay and at times hiding them out .
Leaving aside the poor spelling, punctuation and grammar (the poster possibly does not use English as a first language – although the name and photo suggest otherwise), the Comment in itself is rubbish, and I posted as much in a somewhat lengthy comment of my own.
What follows is an expansion of those views.
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In a nutshell, I pointed out that Hamas, whilst dangerous, was not solely to blame for the land loss – as the poster seemed to suggest – and used a perhaps stretched analogy between Hamas and various WW2 resistance groups. I’ll expand on that in a moment. I also stated that much (indeed perhaps the bulk) of the problems in the region could be laid at the door of the state of Israel and its seemingly powerless Western supporters. Again, more in a minute.
Let me be very clear here. I do not for one second support the Hamas tactic of launching unguided missiles across the border into Israel – I condemn it without hesitation. However, I equally condemn without hesitation the consistently disproportionate response from the Israelis, tactics that in my opinion are nothing more than state sponsored terrorism.
For a typical example, let’s look at the events of the past couple of weeks. Tensions have been rumbling along between to the two sides for months without any publicity. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Israel launches an airstrike – which they can do secure in the knowledge that the Palestinian people do not have the weaponry or strength to prevent it – that kills the Hamas armed forces commander. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether or not the man deserved to die: I don’t know enough about him to pass a judgement on that. Hamas’ response, predictably, was to lob a few rockets in the general direction of Tel Aviv, along the coast from the blockaded Gaza Strip. The action, and others like it the following day, was reported to be fully supported by the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians, whether Hamas supporters or otherwise, and killed a handful (literally: 5 fatalities) of Israelis. Israel’s response was to launch a five day bombardment by air power and artillery of Gaza City and its environs, and the mobilization of 75,000 army reservists, mostly manning the tank regiments that were lined up along Gaza’s borders ready to roll as soon as Netanyahu gave the word. Seventy five thousand reservists……that is around 25% of the population of Gaza City, and a high proportion of the City’s residents are of course women, children, the elderly and the infirm. Throw in the weight of the Israeli regular army (plus navy and air force blockading the country), and it’s clear that Israel would easily win any conflict. In any case, their bombardment, despite statements from various government spokesmen that it was “aimed at specific military targets”, succeeded in destroying entire neighbourhoods, including hospitals, and killed over 150 people, including large numbers of perfectly innocent women and children.
Now, can someone please explain to me how a massacre like that can be an acceptable response?
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Now let’s look at the wider picture for a minute, and with apologies take in a bit of history.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948, courtesy of the Allies who had won the Second World War, to give a homeland to the Jewish people in Europe (mostly) who had been the main victims of the Nazi Genocide (and the lesser known but bigger genocide carried out by Stalin, in his own closed country). No-one could seriously disagree that some recompense was due, after the way the Allies had ignored the stories (and evidence) that came out of Occupied countries (notably Poland) about the slaughter going on there. The land chosen for this homeland was British administered Palestine, in the Middle East – the historic homeland of Jew and Arab alike. It made a sort of sense, and had it been organized in a reasonable manner, and the wishes of the Arab population properly considered, much of the bloodshed on both sides probably avoided – or at least significantly reduced. What actually happened – the forcible removal of Palestinians from lands they had lived in and farmed for centuries, sometimes at gunpoint, to make room for an influx of Jews from across the world - cannot be considered in any way a glowing example of British diplomacy. Essentially, once the Israelis (as they now called themselves) were in place, and the Palestinians in their new territories – not only much reduced but also much less naturally productive – the British withdrew at a rate of knots and left them all to sink or swim.
Given that the new Israeli state was supported financially and otherwise by, in particular, the US (with its own large and powerful Jewish population), whilst the Palestinians were largely left to their own devices, the resentment and mutual dislike was allowed to fester – and that situation continues to this day. Successive Israeli governments have launched offensives and land grabs, as the maps above clearly show, and still do. There are Israeli settlements thrown up all over land that, according to the UN Resolution that defined the limits of the respective Israeli and Palestinian territories, lie clearly and hence illegally on Palestinian land. There have been a number of Resolutions passed confirming the illegality of these settlements and demanding Israeli withdrawal from them. Every single one has been ignored by successive Israeli governments. In contrast – and again the maps show this clearly – Israel has forcibly moved the Palestinians from more and more land until they are largely confined to the narrow and barren Gaza strip, along the Mediterranean coast bordering Lebanon, and parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Not content with that, they have blockaded Gaza by land, sea and air, so that only supplies they consider essential (certain foods, medicines and fuel, all in strictly limited amounts) are allowed through – meaning that the lives and dignities of ordinary Palestinian Arabs have been constantly eroded. They are prisoners in their own lands. The blockade is not all, however: at great expense, they have constructed (and continue to construct) the euphemistically named Peace Barrier. Essentially this is a twenty foot high concrete wall stretching for miles along the border, aimed solely to ensure that Palestinians cannot have freedom of movement. Again, the UN has declared the barrier illegal and demanded it be dismantled. Again, the Israeli government has flipped the finger and ignored the Resolution. And again, the US and its Western allies (that’s you, Britain and the EU) have allowed them to do so.
So by any sense of reason and fair play, the Palestinians have genuine and legitimate grounds for complaint.
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Now let’s get back to Hamas, and to my Facebook analogy
Clearly, much of what legally constitutes Palestinian land has been occupied and annexed by Israel, in clear contempt of international law and UN governance. Equally clearly, the major Western Powers have allowed this situation to continue for many years. Equally clearly, if you read your history books, the peaceful means that initially Palestinian politicians carried out in attempting to resolve the situation and reclaim their ancestral lands has failed. This has led directly to Hamas. Hamas is not, and never has been, a terrorist group: it is a legally and democratically constituted political party that took power in Gaza through a properly contested democratic election in which it defeated the more militant Fatah party of the late (and not particularly lamented) Yasser Arafat. As such, it has every right to fight for the independence of Gaza and a fully recognized Palestinian state with full UN membership.
It has its military wing, and it is this body (or elements associated with it) that is responsible for the rocket strikes and other, less well publicised, armed actions against Israel. It could be argued that in Israel too – and indeed any other country – the government in power has its military wing: in the UK it’s called the Army, Navy and Air Force. Their responsibility is to defend the country when under attack, or in war to attack the enemy and defeat it to maintain its sovereignty. This is what happened during World Wars 1 and 2, the Korean War and indeed any other recognised “war” – yes, even the one in Iraq that got rid of Saddam.
But in this conflict, things are little different. In this case, Gaza (or greater Palestine is probably more accurate, since Gaza is only a part of it, though the most visible) is the “occupied territory” – the defender if you will; whilst the State of Israel is the aggressor. Again, look at the maps. Now consider what happened when Nazi Germany overran much of Europe in the late 30's. It essentially did exactly what Israel has been doing to the Palestinian state for the past 40 odd years. The difference, it seems to me, is that the “democracies” – in particular Britain - stood up to Hitler and his cohorts in a way that no-one seems prepared to stand up to Netanyahu (or whoever has been leading Israel in the past).
Despite that, to continue the analogy, many governments initially fell as Germany conquered pretty much all of Continental Europe. In many of those lands, notably France, Poland, and the Netherlands, active resistance movements sprang up, all of whom wanted to get rid of the Nazis and take their own land back. They took armed action to do so: they blew up railway lines to disrupt the free movement of equipment and troops, provided intelligence to Allied forces, and, when the opportunity arose, killed Nazis. To do this, they used arms and equipment either stolen or provided by the Allies. When they were caught, the reprisals were swift, bloody and disproportionate – there are many documented cases where the death of one Nazi soldier in Warsaw for instance was repaid by the execution of 100 men, women and children. Entire villages were wiped out in this way across the occupied lands. Come the Allied victory and the end of the war, the surviving Resistance operatives were rightly lauded as heroes and freedom fighters, and the surviving Nazis tried, and in many cases convicted and executed, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
So now we have a situation where by all definitions of the word, huge swathes of Palestinian lands have been “occupied” illegally by Israel (as huge swathes of Europe were occupied illegally by the Nazis), and the remaining Palestinians holed up in a small bit of territory that is not much more than a glorified concentration camp. Indeed, by the constant bombardments they are being exposed to in Gaza and elsewhere, with consequent loss of innocent lives, death camp may be a more accurate phrase to use. But, and it’s a big but, all this is going on in the public gaze, thanks to 21st century telecommunications. And this time, the aggressor – Israel, not Palestine – is the one with the tacit support of the major powers, by the failure of the UN, US, EU and so on, to do anything at all to rein in the Israeli action. Indeed, the only support they have is from other Arab states like Egypt, Syria and, notably, Iran - all of whom are struggling right now with their own internal problems, and in any case are nowhere near as powerful as the US, never mind the likes of the EU and possibly even Britain.
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So what choice do the Palestinians – or if you prefer Hamas – have but to fight back in some way before they are totally exterminated (which I have to say seems to be what Israel really wants)? Talking, diplomacy, peaceful means, are clearly having no effect: all the rhetoric coming from the Israeli and US governments, the UN, the British government and so forth, is having no obvious effect – the slaughter continues. Israel complains that its citizens close to the border with Gaza go to bed at night “frightened” that they may be targeted, and understandably so. I would think that the ordinary citizens of Gaza live in a constant fear of the same thing – with the difference that they have neither adequate shelters to hide in (as the Israelis have in abundance) nor anyone prepared to step in and help them afterwards – anyone who tries to do so is turned back, arrested or killed by the Israeli blockade. It seems to me that in this terrible war of attrition that has been going on for so many years, and will probably continue for many more, that Hamas are doing no more than resistance groups throughout history – namely, trying to rid themselves of an aggressive occupying force and reclaim their lands – as did the French Resistance, the Polish Home Army and many others previously. Only they are doing it alone, and being vilified as terrorists for doing so.
That is the tragedy and the scandal of the Middle East right now. It seems to me that if Tony Blair and George Bush should be tried at The Hague for war crimes arising from the Second Iraq War then there must be an equal case to try Netanyahu and indeed every Israeli Prime Minister of the past 40 years for the war crimes they have committed (and continue to commit on a daily basis) against the Palestinian Arabs. It will never, happen of course. Neither Bush nor Blair, nor any Israeli politician will ever face the International Court – they are too big fish to fry. But should there be an end to the Israel – Palestine Conflict, I would lay money that within months Hamas leaders, should they survive, would be indicted.
Sometimes the world is not a fair place at all.