Thursday, May 8, 2008

israel's 60th birthday

A grand and feisty lady is coming up for her 60th birthday - Israel declared its statehood on May 14, 1948.

There's a bit of a mix-up about it's modern coming into being, that it was founded on the sand of guilt rather than the rock of international law. This finds its way into The Sum of all Fears, when Tom Clancy has his serial hero Jack Ryan say:

"Before either of us was born, America and other countries stood by and did very little to prevent the extermination of six million Jews. The guilt attending that infamy lies heavy on my country."

Bernard Wasserstein pulls the curtain back a couple of generations in his Britain and the Jews of Europe 1939-1945:

"The first expressions of interest by the British Government in some form of territorial solution to the Jewish problem [of social and political tensions caused by immigration of Eastern European Jews] were made in 1902 and 1903 when there was serious consideration of proposals of Jewish settlement in El Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, or in part of East divert the flow of Jewish refugees away from Britain."

This came to nothing, but in November 1917 the Balfour declaration promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine in an effort to mobilise Jewish opinion in Russia and the USA in Britain's favour as the First World War raged (although the German government had already put paid to any religious influence in Russia with the contents of their sealed train). The Balfour declaration was incorporated into the mandate given to Britain by the League of Nations to govern Palestine - but note that over half of the Mandate covered Transjordania, a largely Muslim entity that, after the British Mandate ended in 1946, became modern Jordan.

Historian Efraim Karsh lays out how Zionists and Muslims collaborated to plan a society that would be equitable to both Jews and Palestinians, but moderates on both sides were frustrated by hardline pan-Arabist efforts to create a conflict where none (yet) existed. In 1947, he states:

"Tiberias’ 6,000-strong Arab community had been similarly forced out by its own leaders, against local Jewish wishes. In Jaffa, Palestine’s largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC [Arab Higher Committee] ordered the transfer of women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several neighborhoods."

This isn't the accepted history that we're used to - but perhaps we should consider that we have been fed a history that's been the subject of the sort of revisionism that caused Karl Marx to exclaim "I am not a Marxist"!

The flames of hatred that Israel's neighbours felt towards it were fanned by the Brits when we evaporated from Palestine even more quickly than the Belgians did from the Congo. The rest is history (look it up!)...but anybody who thinks they agree with Henry Ford's 1921 interview with the New York Times in which he said "history is bunk" should chew on his actual words: "education is learning how to read and write and then working out ideas, mixing with people, getting experience".

It's not for me to minimise the distress of Palestinian Christians and Muslims on the wrong side of the wall. But I'm struck that, in Cantabrigia, wherever there is a protest of any sort whatsoever there seems to be at least one stall, usually uninvited, manned by people who protest at the Palestinians' lot in Israel. This might be fair comment if the stalls were manned by Palestinian emigrés, but they are mostly tended by Socialist Workers with dodgy moustaches, or Americans who appear to have had a tad too much therapy. If these folk took Mr Ford's advice and engaged with Palestinians long enough to invite their trust, they would indeed hear tales of grievance against Israel, for such is war; but I suspect they would find that the reason for Palestinians' emigration, ultimately, lies with other Palestinians in the rogue state that Israel tolerates within its borders for the sake of what vested interests protest constitutes peace.

Both Jordan and Egypt have attempted to claim land from Israel, but are ambivalent about the status of Palestinian refugees in their countries. President Sadat of Egypt and King Abdulla of Jordan explored the possibility of peace with Israel, and paid with their lives. I wonder if the aforementioned stall-holders have it in them to make this ultimate sacrifice for peace, or if they expect others to do it for them.

Israel is by no means the apostrophe it appears as in the atlas: in 2007, it mounted an attack against a nuclear facility in Syria which left that country facing a lot of questions from the international community as to its relationship with North Korea.

It's a long time since the Balfour Declaration. A lot of terrible things have happened, and a lot of terrible things have been prevented. All I can do is address British people who think they are pro-Palestinian - go live there. Then cross the wall, and live there. You will find that both locations are under attack, but only one location's attacks are reported.

Happy birthday, Israel. I thank God that you're there. And that I'm not.

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