Friday 23 January 2009

Palestine- A South African Answer, not an Irish One

I've avoided writing about the Israel/Gaza/Hamas situation till now.

The reasons why are numerous.
Firstly, I think my opinions on the question of who has moral right on their side are generally well known and why.
But the more I think about it, the more I realise that I'm not sure it matters. Answering this question in terms of some kind of ethnic/historical story of who's right and who's wrong doesn't help.

I was initially going to write a post outlining yet again the history of the whole thing and the points at issue, but really, none of that helps, because it's the wrong question anyway. It's not a useful question and it doesn't have a useful answer.
But perhaps, to demonstrate that, it might actually be useful to pursue the question according to traditional thinking to demonstrate why the question and the way we view it is not helpful.

Honest truth? The British government had absolutely no right to participate in the Zionist experiment in 1917. By any rational standard, it was racism. It was deliberate expropriation of a non-European people to provide a 'homeland' for a culturally European people who in many ways looked like any other European people, because the history of that people within European society had been hard. It was a half-baked idea and it had no moral justification. A minority within an existing state has a right to self determination. A geographically dispersed minority has no right to ask for land in someone else's country to make it their home and then gain self-determination in it. The vast majority of Israelis are second or third generation colonists. Israel is a colony.

Some people point out that Hamas are unreasonable because their ultimate aim is the total removal of Israel from the map. All of it.
Well- yes, because actually Palestine is- all of Israel. Not just the West Bank. There is one thing Israel and Palestine have in common. They are the same place. The Greater Israel of the Zionist, is exactly the same as the Palestine that existed before 1947. It's the same place. It's not the same type of problem as the Northern Ireland problem, because ultimately, it's not that the two sides see the same territory as actually being part of a different country, it's that to each side the other side's country is an imaginary one.

And the answer to the question 'Who's country has more right to be considered real', if you have to choose and only one can exist, the answer is Palestine.

But this doesn't help us very much. Which of course, is the problem. I would imagine a lot of people catch their breath at such a stark statement, because then what happens to the Israeli population?

Well- aren't we missing the point here?

It's a South Africa type problem. And the answer isn't partition. When apartheid collapsed, some extreme Afrikaaners wanted to be able to set up an all white homeland, a kind of inversion of the old bantustans, where they could have a whites only state. Quite rightly, the idea was quashed.

Partition doesn't work. Didn't work in Ireland, doesn't really work in India. It's a short term fix that staunches the bleeding a while from long term problems.

Think about. Palestine and Israel, in the extreme versions on either side, are the same place. And yes, the Zionist state is an abomination. In a sense, it should be dismantled. Note I say IN A SENSE.
The point is, what's actually being argued over?

If it's the same land, what is the difference between the Zionist Israel and the Arab Palestine?

Now do you get the point? The history doesn't matter as such. It's the difference between the presents being offered. The name difference reflects what is done ON the land. In Israel the forces of state, will be entirely in the hands of Jews and most Palestinians will be refugees living outside their homeland (about eighty percent of Jordanians are refugees, or descendants of refugees from Palestine). If the name of the state is Palestine, all the refugees come home, and the Jews get expropriated. But where do they go? Doesn't matter much where their grandparents came from. That's hardly the fault of the living.

Surely the real problem is this. Each side wants race or religion to determine who is top dog. Each side believes that the state that exists in that area should be one where a particular race or religion is in control and will attempt to maintain racial or religious superiority.

As I say, the answer long term has to be a South Africa answer. If all the Palestinian refugees returned, then the whole of Israel/Palestine would indeed be an Arab majority state. But if South Africa can make majoritarian democracy work, so can Israel. White South Africans- against the dire predictions- have got fully behind the new South Africa and blacks and whites are working together there, so it can be done.

Why can't we have a Palestine like that? If Israelis want to live in what they see as their homeland, then that should be ok. Most of them were born there, why should they leave? But why should the Palestinians? Why does the national identity of the state that exists between Syria and Egypt have to define itself as a 'Jewish state' or a 'Muslim state'. Was South Africa a 'White' country and has it now become 'Black'?
No, of course not.

So surely it's possible for a democratic country called Palestine to exist with a narrow Muslim majority living side by side with a peaceful Jewish minority, both living together in the land they see as home, a country practising freedom of religion and freedom of speech?
And the country wouldn't be either Arab OR Jewish.

So yes, the solution actually, is to give in to Hamas- in a way.

Say yes, Israel will be dismantled.
Say yes, all the Arab refugees must be allowed to return.
No state of Israel will exist anymore.

BUT. No Israeli people are to be displaced and free and fair elections must happen in the new Palestine.

You say it's impossible?
Who would ever thought the old National Party would finally disappear by MERGING into the African National Congress?
It's hard to imagine a South African cabinet without a black majority, because the majority of the people are black, but likewise, it's hard to imagine one without white members either.
And that's the Palestine that should exist.

The government of this uneasy new SECULAR Palestine would be a radical shock at first- A Hamas cabinet with Likud members, but one day it would be accepted as the norm. That the country had two main religions, Islam and Judaism, but both were Palestinians and both considered their land a holy one. And in time perhaps, Likud would merge into Hamas. And it would be normal for all cabinets to have Muslim and Jewish members.

So actually, the point is this.

To the Israelis- Are you prepared to allow every refugee to come back to their homeland and then allow free and fair elections across the whole of the territory, an election in which more Arabs will be voting than Jews? And allow the democratic majority to define the name of that unit?

To the Palestinians- are you prepared to allow your definition of the identity of Palestinian- once your Palestine includes the whole of Israel, which it would do if the Israelis agreed to the above- to include a minority population almost as great as the majority population, who descend from colonists, practice a different religion, but see this as their homeland too? Can you unite together out of love for the same country? Can you make your definition of Palestine into one that isn't dependent on ethnicity and religion?
Will you show the majority of ordinary Jewish people that they have nothing to fear from the dismantling of the Zionist state?

Can you together forge between you a Palestinian national identity that isn't based on ethnicity or religion, where neither of you want to be the jack boot and the other the underdog in what is the same country?

Because until one side shows commitment to that concept, then neither side can claim the moral highground.

You both live there. The logical boundaries of the country are those that existed under the British Mandate. Live there- both of you- elect the government of that territory democratically, elect it using proportional representation, with everyone treated equally regardless of whether they think that the religion of Moses or the religion of Abraham is the purest. And then live with that government.

Not a Zionist state. Not a Muslim state.
A democratic, multicultural state. Where the main faiths are Islam and Judaism.

It's a sorry situation indeed when nobody actually WANTS this.

But people have to start wanting it.
The answer is a South African one, not an Irish one.


Anonymous said...

I must say I do agree with your analysis. Ironic to think that the British Government is responsible for this dilemma.

This region has for the majority of it's history belonged to the Arab nation and I feel the Palestians have had rather a raw deal of it all.

I doubt if they will ever come to a comprise though, there is an innate hatred between the two "sides" that I don't see being resolved.

Anonymous said...

There's always a problem with choosing which history to go with. You say that it's palestine from a historical point. But every place has pretty much been invaded at some point, and the people living there now aren't the people who were there originally. How far back in history do you go? At which point do you decide that "This" group has the historical claim?

Anonymous said...

You're right, of course. Unfortunately the possibility of creating a secular state in that part of the world is very slim. One other thing, in terms of the last few weeks, the question of right and wrong morally is quite clear. The Israelis were dropping white phosphorous on a civilian population. Killing children is wrong.

Anonymous said...

sue/Crushed, I don't think it is really accurate, or fair, to simply blame a former UK government for the situation.

Like a lot of ideas Zionism, the idea of creating a Jewish state/homeland in what is now Israel, first took off in 19th century Europe.

Because of this Jews began to make their way there and by 1920 they formed a significant minority, around a 10th of the population.

During WWI the Brits made two agreements.

Part of this mix was something known as the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, an Arab/Jewish accord that declared the compatibility of joint Jewish and Arab nationalist hopes plans and aspirations.

There was an agreement accepting the idea of Arab state and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to simultaneously "favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" (the idea was also to protect the rights of the various non-Jewish communities).These were in exchange for or to help stir up a revolt against the enemy of the allies in the area, the Turks.

After the WWI, around 1920 the Brits were given a mandate to run the area. They established an Arab state honouring their promise. Jewish immigration to Palestine ramped up even more, with a rise in Zionism/Jewish nationalism at that time.

Here is where I figure it all really started to go bad in the modern sense.

The Mufti of Jerusalem at the time was an anti-Jewish racist and instigated race riots and an attempted uprising to cut off the influx of Jewish immigrants. This is against the rise of fascism, who knows if it was also influenced by it.

It then ramps up some more and in response the jews formed various militia/terrorist groups to combat both British rule and the Arabs.

Order was restored just in time for WWII and cost many lives on all sides. Hatreds had been born on both sides.

During WWII the Nazis were doing their best to foment trouble and promote their ideology, helping keep it all bubbling nicely.

The situation really seemed to get a life of it's own after WWII. The Brits, finding them selves stretched after the was and acceding to US lobbying, handed to area to UN administration. This was all against the background of the newly discovered Holocaust and the horror of it in Allied eyes.

Jordan was established as an Arab kingdom and there was a plan to partition the rest between Arabs and Jews.

The Arab side would not go with this and things went to pieces rapidly, as a result the Jews declared the state of Israel by force, like it or not and the Arab states went to war against it, in the first Arab/Israeli war.

More hatred stoked and new ones created with every death and loss of home and property.

Now Islamism is also added to the horrible mix...

Anonymous said...

Sue- Well, Britain basically tried to offer two incompatible things. Lawrence had promised the Arabs all Palestine would be theirs.
But the Balfour declaration went against that.

It has been a majority Muslim country since 641 AD. The crusades prove that. The people of the area remained overwhelmingly Muslim.

Yes, it does have things in common with the six counties, as in common sense will never prevail. The hatred lies too deep.

Charles- Well, that's kind of my argument. The Israelis claim is that once it was Jewish- as in centuries ago.
I mean, in a sense we should kind of be moving away from a link between land and ethnicity, it's kind of a daft concept in todays world, but we still seem to base a lot of political conceptions on it.

Gingatao- Oh God, I'd have to agree, I think it's clear who the war crminals are in this instance.
Though I doubt anything will be done to stop it.

I can see the whole Middle Eastern situation ending up in a full scale war. And there are many reasons why I think that. A real war. Not a miltary operation, war.

Moggs- It's interesting that other places were mooted from time to time as a homeland.
After all, one must remember back in 1890 Palestine was about as Jewish as Iraq. And very definitely part of the Ottoman Empire.
The British government offered what is now Kenya as a homeland at one point, on the grounds it was suitable for European settlement and vague traditions associated it as having part of Solomon's Empire. The Zionists turned it down. But it's interesting to speculate an alternate history of such a state in the late twentieth century. Kind of like South Africa under Apartheid, but Zionists not Afrikaneers running the show.

Interestingly, I don't know if you ever used to read Tintin, but one of the books, Land of Black Gold, was heavily rewritten when it was published here in the 70s. The orginal version was set in pre WWII Palestine and has Irgun Terrorists in it.

The original partition plan proposed a Jewish state much smaller than that which emerged in the end.

I think one has to accept that Zionism is an ideology and Israel is a state created by ideology. Utah is kind of a prallel, but no one lived in Utah at the time.

I can't really think of any good parallels, there are none. It was a colony by a European minority group, who used a book of Scripture to justify their claim.

What is odd is how it has come to be accepted unquestionigly as mainstream politics, when last century it must surely have seemed about as bizarre as a campaign by the Welsh to driive all the English back to Germany.

Anonymous said...

My main point is you can't go all mea culpa over it on behalf of the UK.

The UK had a hand in it briefly with the Nazis trying to destabilise their efforts. To some extent the UK was trying to square the circle for both sides.

In the end it created an Arab state.

Israel created it's self whilst under UN jurisdiction.

Oh and your comment about Moslem majority since... Don't forget it got to be a Moslem majority by ethnic cleansing in the first place.

The situation there now is a terrible negative feed back that goes into escalation every now and then.

I guess it will take more 'men of good will' to fix it now than are available right now.

Trouble seems to be there is always some b* probably deliberately sets it off again when it looks like things might have a chance of settling down.