Palestine and Israel: A Modest Suggestion for Peace (Part 1)
Wed 28th Nov 2012
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis has been so riddled with misinformation, propaganda and lies, on both sides, that it is now almost impossible to separate truth from fiction.
I, as a Palestinian, am very tired of walking through the secret garden of myths and truths so inextricably intermeshed together. I have walked through this garden hacking at its weeds and its internecine growths and I have been scratched and cut mercilessly and can no longer maintain this unequal fight.
I can not fight the Israeli claim believed by millions of Western Christians that God promised the land of Canaan to the Jews as recounted in Genesis (28:13). I am tired of reminding everyone that God also promised Abraham that his son Ishmael's nation will also be a great nation, that He would make kings of him and that his descendants will be all right (Genesis, 17:20). I am tired of reminding those selective Christians that I, too, am a descendant of Abraham and, yet, I have lost my homeland.
It seems that God was a trifle selective in fulfilling two contradictory promises. Or is it just the case that Zionists and their Judeo Christian allies are themselves rather selective in their choice of the bits that fit their aspirations from The Old Testament whilst ignoring what does not fit in or that which contradicts their rather aggressive and somewhat unjust notions.
Rather like God, the British, who, through Balfour, promised the Jewish people a national homeland in Palestine, also created a delightful contradiction over their Austrian hot chocolate, in the case of Herzl, and over their Brandy, in the case of Balfour.
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." This promise was conditional on "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." The sheer arrogance of promising somebody else's country to a complete outsider is in itself breath taking. Worse than that was the fact that this promise was made barely two years after the McMahon-Hussein Agreement of 1915 guaranteed Arabs - including the Palestinians - self rule once the Ottomans were thrown out. At this time Palestine's population included 8% Jews owning 2.5% of the land. Of course, the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 ignored all of that and carved the Arab World between Britain and France regardless of "civil and religious rights of the existing" Arab populations. But then Imperialist racism was nothing new and continues today under different guises.
So both God and the British made contradictory and clearly unrealisable promises to two separate peoples.
I am exhausted as a result of having to remind the Western world that I have here certified copies (the originals are in a secure bank vault) of a series of land deeds testifying to me owning land in Palestine which is now occupied by European, Arab, American and Russian Jews who immigrated into my homeland and threw my father and his family out at gunpoint. That I have a home, still standing, lived in by a European Israeli who, when I last visited, kept telling me how sorry he was because of what happened!
I wonder if anyone living in the safety and security of Britain or the United States could even remotely imagine what it is like to stand outside your own house watching somebody else living in it and be utterly helpless in gaining entry into it. It is debatable if anyone fully understands what it is like to walk the streets of your homeland and hear its new occupiers speak in a foreign tongue.
It would be interesting to see the response of a woman from Norfolk being told to pack her bags and start walking towards France where, as a fellow European, she will be looked after by her fellow Europeans. Meanwhile, a group of visitors will lay claim on her house in Norwich because some two thousand years ago, somebody from where they came, say Norway, actually lived there for a short while. What a topsy turvy world everyone would think it to be.
Yet, that is exactly what has happened in Palestine. And the only explanation that Christian Evangelical and Israeli friends of mine can give me is that God promised it to the Jews. As if He had set up as an Estate Agent in some Marxist land where He was redistributing property according to need by taking away from those according to their ability. As if it could be remotely argued that the very God who gave the Sermon on the Mount could happily have four and a half million of His people live in the misery of a Palestinian Diaspora as part of His grand Christian scheme. It is a terrifying concept - but devoutly believed in by a huge number of people who have the power to arm, feed, enrich and protect Israel as a colonial settler State on someone else's land.
I am standing before you as a tired, battered and old Palestinian who has wondered this earth in search of a home. Syria, Lebanon, Switzerland, France and then, finally, Britain. Love it as I do, Dorset is not my home. Palestine is my home. Now my dream. My Diaspora has made me and I have to make do with what I have. I have to make the best that I can make of it. And because Britain is a green and pleasant land, because the British are inherently a decent people, because Britain has a great literature that I love so, I have made do very well indeed. But Palestine is still my dream. And I want to go back before I die. The irony is that, given Israel's behaviour over the last sixty two years, if I did go back, I probably would die as "an infiltrator" - on to my own homeland!
Can anyone imagine what it feels like for me as a Palestinian to stand in Ben Gurion airport awaiting a visa to be granted to me so that I could visit my own homeland? Does anyone know what it feels like to be told "Welcome to Israel, sir" as I step onto my own land? Is it possible for any of you to conceive what it feels like to stand on my father's land and be asked what I was doing there? And when I explained, to be told how sorry the current occupier was and be offered a cup of coffee? I wondered if the cups came out of my mother's kitchen. If the coffee were left in the cupboard as my family escaped the murderous Stern Gang and Haganah terrorist movements. If the cupboard that I kept staring at still contained my brother's wooden horse with black spots on it. Or my sister's favourite doll with its pretty Palestinian dress. Or my father's library of agricultural books with a smattering of French and British classics that he speaks of in his diaries of the time.
These are human stories. And they apply to both sides. The blood that flows in my veins is no different to the blood that flows in the vein of every other human being. Yet, I have been selected to live in a Diaspora whilst others have a homeland. Often, they have a homeland that is also stolen from those whom they have defeated by armed force.
And there are millions now living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries. They carry a yellow card to indicate their stateless status. The fact that the card is yellow is a terrifying irony. They have no personal rights. In Lebanon they are not allowed to work in any profession without a permit which is very hard to come by. They are trapped in grinding poverty and utterly reliant on United Nations handouts and have been for the last sixty-five years. In Syria, they live under a rigid and cruel regime. In Jordan they live under an autocratic regime where their presence is at best tolerated by a benign monarch. In the Gulf states, they are given relatively well paid jobs but regarded as pariahs. When I was in Dubai, I was horrified by the common attitude to Palestinians as parasites, scroungers and less than human creatures. The parallels with Jews in Central Europe for hundreds of years was terrifying. History's lessons have not been learnt. And, for the unfortunate many, poverty, persecution and deprivation of human rights were exacerbated by endless periodic massacres committed by Israel and by citizens of the so-called host countries.
There are also millions of Palestinians living in Israel proper (of which more anon) or living in the occupied territories so quaintly called the West Bank and Gaza in order to deny them their Palestinian national character. And as for the expression 'Israel proper', it is most misleading. Let us concede that the United Nations had the right to divide somebody else's land in any way that it wanted in 1947, a right which it did not have under any international law. But let us say that it did have that right, the share given to Israel was a lot smaller than the one that Israel occupied by force in 1949 thus ending up with some 78% of historical Palestine. The other 22% Israel took by force in 1967.
Since then Israel has been busy creating facts on the ground through the establishment of Jewish Settlements in occupied Palestine (and I refuse to call it the West Bank, Gaza or the Occupied Territories), by building a separation wall that marginalises Palestinians into little Bantustan like enclaves that can not possibly be viable - either politically or economically. Basically, the situation is no different from the early American settlers slowly moving, exterminating or throwing into reservations the Native Americans in order to take over their lands.
There are many issues in what I have said above. One of the biggest is the terrifying double standards that operate in the United States as it supports Israel unconditionally. The American Judeo Christian tradition in the United States represented by extreme right evangelical Christians, who do not evince an ounce of Christian charity, genuinely believes in the nonsense that God promised Palestine to the Jewish people. They genuinely believe in story that the Jews need to get back to Palestine in order that they may rebuild the Temple so that the Messiah may come back again to separate the goats from the sheep. Well if that is the case, then leading the team of goats would be a huge number of so-called Christians, Muslims and Jews who have been proactive in murdering innocent Palestinians in order to dispossess them of their homes.
I believe that this Judeo Christian philosophy is but a fantasy and does not remotely link to any genuine Christian belief in mercy, charity, love and forgiveness since it is entirely predicated on dispossessing a whole people and rendering their lives a living hell in the name of some vindictive God that appears to act on whims rather than any justice or real jurisprudence.
Evangelical friends tell me that this God is a just God and that we should not question His ways. So, I, as a Palestinian, should lie down and take all the misery of dispossession thrown at me because some nefarious God allegedly willed it in a rather whimsical way!
There are endless examples of this sort of mentality that distorts the essence and decency of faith. I refer you to a group calling themselves The Bereans whose leader, a Mr. David Hunt, writes the kind of prose that drips with venomous hatred of the kind reminiscent of Hitler's Mein Kempf. He is called a Christian Zionist (what a bizarre oxymoron).
He would have us believe in the uniqueness of his faith to the exclusion of all else in the world. He tells us that Palestinians do not exist. He calls them 'The Palestinian Myth'. I am pleased to know that I have been raised to the dizzy heights of being called a myth. He tells us that Palestine was occupied by force by nasty Muslims in 638, in other words some 1372 years ago. This invasion makes Palestine occupied land and Palestinians a myth. However, the United States of America to which he belongs is all right. Never mind that it was not even there as a country less than three hundred years ago or that there were no white men or women in it barely five hundred years ago when Columbus told a surprised Arawak Indian family having a quiet picnic on the beach that they had just been discovered - lucky people. But that is different because these rules of ownership do not apply to the Americans or the Israelis - only to those nasty Palestinians who dared live on their land for some fourteen hundred years before Herzl decided that theirs would make a better homeland for the Jews than parts of South America or Uganda. God Bless America.
Well, just to cover ourselves, let us agree that any area of the world that has people in it who have not been there over 1372 years should be emptied instantly and handed over to whoever was there at the time. So, start packing. Most of you are off to France or Norway or Germany or lots of other more exciting places!!
Mr. Hunt and his followers would have us believe that Israel is ordained by God, so never mind the suffering of millions of Palestinians of any faith. He would have us believe that Islam is an evil faith and that every Muslim is deluded - all one billion plus of them. He would have us believe that Israel gave up Gaza out of the kindness of its own heart. He would have us believe that he was in Switzerland in 1967 and that he suddenly went down on his knees and saw the truth that was Israel and God's real intent. On a slightly different note, he also reminisces in the same piece of how he and his family were visiting Tyre in Lebanon in 1967, and how they barely escaped on time just as the Six Day War was unleashed by Israel's massive blitzkrieg against its Arab foes. A likely story. Fortuitously, I happen to have been in Tyre at the same time in 1967 and nothing was happening. Lebanon was not even involved in that infamous War.
Reading his works, literally broiling with hatred and unChristian venom, I feel that we Palestinians do not have a snowflake's chance in hell with infinitely more of his ilk in the powerful Western World.
The sad thing is that there are innumerable people who believe in these venomous and hateful statements made by a man professing to be a Christian. It is beyond belief. He symbolises what we Palestinians have had to put up with over the last sixty four years. It is also emblematic of the force of Western so-called Christian hypocrisy in utterly defeating us and denuding us of our national identity. Almost. Because I am still here. As are four and a half million like me. We are not going away.
I repeat to those cruel people: I stand here before you as a Palestinian. My father was a Palestinian before me. And his father before him. Ad infinitum.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a fact on the ground. I have a legal claim to my father's land enriched with the sweat of their hard working brows over hundreds of years. That land is mine and will always be mine. Whatever double standards the West, Israel and reactionary Arab regimes wish to use to make a counter claim.
Look at this from any ordinary Arab's point of view. Here are some interesting double standards: It is wrong for Iran to have nuclear weapons but all right for Israel to have 250 nuclear war heads. It is wrong for that awful man Saddam Hussein to have weapons of mass destruction but it is all right for Israel to have them. It is wrong for some Arab nations to have a Muslim State but it is all right for Israel to have a Jewish State. It was wrong of Hussein to occupy Kuwait but it was all right for Israel to occupy Palestine, bits of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. It is wrong for the proposed new Palestinian State to have an army but it is all right for Israel to have the fourth strongest Army in the world. It is wrong for Arab countries to seek to buy arms from the United States and Britain but it is all right for Israel to be fully armed by both countries - especially the United States. It is wrong for a Lebanese citizen to take up arms against the occupying Israeli forces but it is all right for Israel to bomb Gaza into the Stone Age as self-defence against crude home made rockets. It is a great romantic heroism for a French person to fight the occupying Nazi forces on his land but it is wrong for an Iraqi person to fight the occupying United States forces on his land. The list is endless and quite terrifying. It leads to the kind of deep and oppressive frustration leading to the horrors that we witness today on both sides of the divides. And no one seems to have the vision to put an end to the injustice done to us Palestinians.
Let us get one thing straight. War is wrong. Whatever side you are standing on: war is wrong. All that can be done to avoid war should be done. And for those calling themselves Christian, Jewish or Muslim - your faith forbids violence and demands mercy, forgiveness and decency in treating each other.
And can something be done in the Middle East?
Yes. Yes. Yes.