Gaza and Israel - A history of violence failing
It's time. For better or for worse, I am going to dip a toe into the conflict in Gaza that threatens to widen into a conflict that will devour the Middle East and have repercussions around the world. In terms of religious conflict, it's the gift that keeps on giving for geopolitical chess-players and arms industries at a terrible human cost. Lets' have a (carefully) unreasonable debate...
I have been thinking about writing this blog post for weeks - I've also had a bit of a tension headache for weeks, but I think that is due to being massively busy at work, and not the thought of writing the internet equivalent of covering my naked body in sugar on a sunny day and lying between dozens of exceedingly active ant colonies. See how tricky this is?? I feel I need to immediately clarify that I am not classifying anyone involved in a derogatory manner as ants - I assure you, I hold no humans other than my family in such high regard.
Before proceeding any further, I need to make my position clear as a human with Caucasian heritage from various areas around this confused area called 'Europe' - I hate war. I despise the killing of other humans. As soon as a bullet has been fired, a rocket launched, a bomb detonated, a machete swung or a person tortured the argument has been lost and the only way forward is ceasefire, hard discussions and reconciliation. With a family history somewhat shaped by conflict and having grown up watching news reports on Northern Ireland, IRA bombings, the Lockerbie Disaster, The Falklands War, both Iraq wars, Syria, Afghanistan and the disintegration of Yugoslavia (to name but a few), my views have changed over time depending on proximity and maturity. But my anti-war beliefs have always been my base belief. Where I live does not have an organised Jewish community, as far as I know - it was a faith I learned a bit about at school but have had no real-life experience of. The closest I am to the Jewish faith is entertainment and the excellent David Baddiel book, 'Jews Don't Count'.
Regular readers of my mutterings will know I have no time for organised religion influencing how a state is run, but recognise the right of people to seek solace in mythical being worship as long is it does no harm to others. Living in Scotland in the UK, I have the dubious honour of being ruled, in part, by the only State, along with Iran, that gives power to clerics without any democratic vote being involved. It is archaic, an anachronism and a baffling concept to cling onto as a modern state with no apparent will to enact change; it baffles me. It's probably unsurprising then that the United Kingdom has a part to play in the current conflict - ah the joys of a crumbling Empire - but that's just one aspect of the roots of this conflict, as far as I understand it. It's particularly testing to my persnal outlook when discussing states that exist, like Israel, based entirely on religion.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and long-standing dispute with roots dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but that in turn is rooted in the Old Testament, and many Jews view the historical and biblical connection to the land of Israel, which includes modern-day Palestine, as a central part of their identity. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) contains numerous references to the Promised Land, and it is considered the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, going back thousands of years. This is where it gets a bit tricky for a lot of people, and may be the source of the rise in anti-Semitic attacks reported since the Hamas invasion of Israel on 7 October, 2023. Not all Jews support the actions of the state of Israel and not all residents of Israel are Jewish - it would be like throwing a brick through the window of an Irish pub in New York when the IRA were involved in an atrocity in the UK or Northern Ireland. Just because someone is Irish, they are not automatically Catholic and supporters of armed conflict from birth. That makes no sense.
There are similar parallels between the creation of the Irish Free State and Israel in that their re-emergence both progressed from smouldering ember to veracious fire during the instability created by global conflict, and both had their modern roots in the late nineteenth century. The sense of Irish nationalism and a coalescence of Irish identity around a shared, ancient past (Newgrange, round-towers, the harp and Catholicism) had a fire lit under it by Word War One. Similarly, Zionism emerged to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and then to promote its expansion around the same time. The Western Wall in Jerusalem, part of the ruins of the Second Temple, is a major religious site for religious Jews and holds deep religious significance. There has been a Jewish presence in Palestine for centuries, even during periods of dispersion and exile, both under Islamic rule and, in later centuries, under the Ottoman Empire. But look out! Here comes Britain to mix it up a bit for you!
During World War One, Britain defeated the Ottoman Empire in Palestine. The Ottoman Empire had been a large, stubborn, Islamic presence that stretched, at its peak, from the Middle-East to Hungary, sticking its toes into southern Europe. With the explosion of European Empire building, particularly during the 17th to 19th centuries, the presence of an Islamic empire that declared support for Germany whilst still being mostly agricultural in an industrial age was a strange choice and an ultimately costly error by the Sultan. The Victorian British love of categories, lists and controlling large parts of the global population could be argued to still be ingrained in the state psyche at the start of the 20th century. Along with their allies they set about creating countries like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Turkey to simplify the map in their vision, lumping ethnic groups together that had been previously distinct. The Soviet Union emerged, Finland was no longer part of Russia and Britain issued, in 1917, The Balfour Declaration backing the Zionist desire to establish a homeland in Palestine. Although time has moved on since this key moment in the history of Israel, one part of the founding principle of the stat's creation reads as follows:
"...it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Whatever your stance on the rights of a foreign power to unilaterally decide one element of an indigenous population has the right to welcome in religious adherents of their religion from all over the globe, at the expense of others, based on a book from two thousand years ago, this sentence is key to Israel's formation and the ongoing conflicts ever since. It appears to be diametrically opposed to the aims of Zionism in establishing and expanding Israel. It could be argued it was included by the British government to appease both the Zionist movement and the Arab leaders during World War I and was never intended to be a legally binding commitment but rather a political statement to gain support for the British war effort. The absence of any specific wording around the protection of these asserted rights appears to back this conclusion, along with Britain's inconsistent approach to the Balfour Agreement after its creation, often backing settlement expansion at the expense of the Arab population. Eventually Israel, like Ireland, came into existence in 1948 though both had problematic partition baked into that process. Britain... they just can't walk away. The only post-Brexit blessing so far is that Britain has dwindling global clout to continue making any meaningful mischief other than clinging to the coat-tails of the US.
Geopolitical interference from other world powers for ideological and commercial reasons is an unwelcome, constant, feature of this and many other conflicts. Before writing this article, I did a search for blog posts on the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the conflict, and it became quickly apparent that it was hard to find voices of either side without the inclusion of some other outside interest. There is the Israel Forever Foundation based in Washington, USA, with its letter from an American serving in the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) which paints a picture of the soldier's experiences guarding the border of Israel and Gaza before entering the Palestinian territory. It's hard to tell if it is a confected story for propaganda and fundraising or the genuine experiences of an IDF soldier. When war erupts, the battle is not just on the ground but also for 'hearts and minds' as well as the shaky, crumbly hill that is the moral high ground. The picture used in this article was used in Tablet Magazine in 2012 and this article is itself from the conflict in 2017, but in a sad demonstration of history repeating as it could easily read for today though you wonder if the sentiments expressed of the IDF being the most 'morale army in the world' would hold up to modern inspection, fueled by rage at the sudden murders carried out by Hamas. War based on religion is always sure of its morals, damn what anyone else thinks. The same IDF soldier image is being used for articles now.
The American published Palestine Chronicle emerged after the attacks of 9-11 and like the Israel Forever Foundation claims to be a-political and gives voice to the Palestinian side in the conflict. One of the more recent articles carries the English translation of a statement from Abu Obeida, leader of the military arm of Hamas leaving you in no doubt, if you had any, that Hamas view the murder of Israelis as somehow justified in the name of their religion. He speaks with confidence to the people of Gaza with a surety that everyone supports their actions that I find hard to quantify - as in most conflicts, discerning the will of the innocent civilians caught in the conflict beyond survival is hard to determine, but those justifying their actions will happily assume their opinions for them.
Finding an authentic voice from Gaza is difficult, for obvious reasons and again, sources documenting Palestinian struggles contain outside influence. This article from the Quakers of Britain and Ireland highlights the tensions and conflict that Zionist principles are causing in the Palestinian city of Hebron, and certainly feel more genuine than the anonymous IDF soldier story. However, any articles I have read quote B'Tselem, the Israel based Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and have clearly taken a side in their quest for peace. They publish balanced, factual articles... from a certain point of view. Checking the top Palestinian blog on Feedly brings up the Electronic Infitada but on inspection, it has American-Palestinian and Dutch founders. Fearing it was just a 'worthy liberal' publication, I was pleased (sounds like the wrong desciptor given the topic and content, but I hope you know what I mean) to see it carried articles from Gaza residents, relating their experiences of the conflict so far - I've added it to the list of reads. Admittedly, I have not delved into Threads and Instagram for unfiltered posts and the anguish they will contain - I'm not sure I have the strength for that. I certainly will not be going anywhere near the hellsite that shall not be named.
These articles and the history of the creation of Israel point to another huge problem in finding a resolution - vested interests. The UK has reportedly provided hundreds of millions in arms sales to Israel since 2016 as well as supplying parts for the F-35 jet fighter. This is dwarfed by the arms sales of the US to Israel - between 1998 and 2005 they supplied $9.1 Billion in military equipment. It is not one sided with Hamas being supplied weapons by Iran and manufacturing its own versions of the AK-47 with the blessing of Russia and using expertise gathered from idealogically sympathetic states. Israel itself, profiting like many others from the war in Ukraine, reported arms sales to the tune of $12.5 billion in 2022. The technological standing of the two sides draws no comparison but, as many nations have discovered in conflicts such as Afghanistan, technology does not guarantee victory. In the densely populated and impoverished Gaza, Israel may find their technological advantage wanes in the face of the desperate and demoralised population they have created. Or they may achieve their goal of decimating Hamas at considerable human cost but fundamentalist terrorists are rarely extinguished by invasions and Israel's leaders now find themselves facing "what is the end game" questions with no clear solution. Talk of occupying Gaza 'to maintain security' has caused European allies to recoil but Israel will only truly pay attention to America - who knows what the sums are for them in their middle-east arithmetic.
The bombing of north Gaza and forcing of the population from an already overcrowded area into the overcrowded south with little food, water, fuel or medicines feels like collective punishment for the abhorrent actions of Hamas. Every time news reports carry pieces about bombing to degrade tunnel networks, I feel a gnawing disquiet and anger that, in order to hit underground targets, you have no care for whoever is living above them. The conflict is complex, both sides diametrically opposed and other nations are struggling to find a way to stop it escalating. As I write, the director of the human rights office of the UN in New York has resigned accusing the US, UK and much of Europe as being complicit in the assault on the civilians of Gaza. His resignation letter did not mention the Hamas assault and in effect is calling for a non-secular state for all to be created in Palestine and, effectively, the dissolution of Israel. His opinion is contentious and denying the existence of Israel cannot be the way forward.
I would argue that the failure to pursue a meaningful two-state solution for Palestine and Israel by those directly affected or the wider global community is the fuel of ten wars Israel has been involved in since its creation. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed to a plan to establish a two-state solution in 1993 under the Oslo Accords but religious dissenters on both sides fought to disrupt progress. They succeeded. Cooperation ceased, Hamas and Israeli settler violence has become the drumbeat of news for the region ever since. A sad, distressing tune which no-one in their right mind would wish to amplify.
It's hard to write a conclusion to this piece, esprecially after procrastinating on its completion. This morning I watched the Israeli Prsident, Isaac Herzog, fail to answer the question on how peace is achieved while brandishing an Arabic translation of Mein Kampf, which he claims was found on the body of a Hamas soldier, and was indicitive of the education system in Gaza. Peace has never felt farther away. I hope thispiece has been somewhat informative without me apportioning blame in this complex web of religious, global power, commercial and ideological interests. As with any conflict, the majority of victims have everything to lose and little power over the outcomes. Whether it be Israeli citizens murdered in cold blood, Palestinians killed by Israeli artillery or the Jewish and Palestinian diaspora blamed and persecuted on the back of disinformation and other vested interests. Let's hope the the killing stops and the talking starts before the fire in region becomes unquenchable.