By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
21 September 2011
Recently, I’ve been asked about my views on Palestine and the future prospects for peace in the Middle-East. This Friday, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is expected to officially submit a request to recognise Palestinian statehood. What then are the future prospects for a peaceful and secure Palestinian state?
Before I discuss this any further, I think it’s important to reflect a little on the history of Palestine and Israel. The state of Israel was founded on 14 May 1948 by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, this was the same day the British mandate over Palestine came to an end. On the following day, Israel was invaded by troops from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
As a consequence of this war, Israel had captured much of the land originally allocated for a Palestinian state, while the West Bank was left under Jordanian control and Gaza under Egyptian control. To all intents and purposes, the only sovereign state remaining within the borders of the Palestinian mandate, was Israel. This is what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or the catastrophe. In the decades since, there have been other wars between Israel and her neighbours, which I’m not going to discuss here, as one could quite easily write a whole book about them.
Before 1948, the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan was administered by Great Britain, under the terms of the Palestinian Mandate. This had been the situation since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Before that, the territory had been part of the Ottoman Empire for around 400 years, as was true for much of the wider region.
I believe it’s important to remember these historical facts, the consequences of which mean that as far as the Middle-East is concerned, all the lines on the map have only been drawn in relatively recent times. Under the Ottomans, many of these borders didn’t exist at all, and those there were, far more permeable than today. Why are these facts not more readily highlighted? Is it because this represents an uncomfortable reality for not only Israelis and Palestinians, but for other people living in the region? Ultimately, all national borders are man-made and not natural occurrences, unless they actually follow the course of a river, mountain range or sea.
Many people today do not really understand their origins, the history of their own nations or how in reality all people are far more interrelated and connected, than many are prepared to admit. Herein lies the real root of troubles and enmity between different groups of people and this is as true of the situation in the Middle-East as anywhere else. Even people who think they know their history, oftentimes only know a version of it coloured by their own nation’s bias. Some Lithuanians for instance, believe the real borders of their country extend from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Somehow, I think the Poles, Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, may hold to a rather different reading of eastern European history…
Two sovereign states clearly can’t exist on the same piece of land, no matter how one looks at it! This means where border disputes exist, people need to compromise. Surely peace and security are more valuable than constant feuds, which result in suffering and untimely deaths of large numbers of our brothers and sisters in our human family, the destruction of nations, cultures and heritage, while wasting the very resources that if used more wisely, would ensure the peace and prosperity of all the peoples involved in these conflicts.
Rather than money, fear and hatred are more often than not, the root of many evils. When people feel scared, they will do anything they believe will ensure their security and self-preservation. Fear and hatred are the biggest problems in Israel and Palestine; the consequence of people on both sides misunderstanding the other, this compounded by tensions being allowed to fester for more than 60 years.
Many Palestinians do not understand why Jews want to live in Israel, have their own state or why so many Jewish people migrated to this area over the past 6 decades. Rather shockingly, the Holocaust is believed by many to have been a Zionist-Freemasonic-Illuminati hoax, to allow Jews to steal their land. Many do not realise that there are Jewish people, who have legitimately bought and paid for much of the land they now own in Israel. Rather than promoting a more wholesome understanding of what has really transpired, Palestinian leaders and activists often promote this rendering of the situation, as they believe it serves their interest of establishing an independent Palestinian state.
We cannot deny there have been many injustices committed against Palestinians by Israelis, and there is the ongoing problem of settlements in the Palestinian territories. However, the Palestinian cause is itself not free from dodgy propaganda and doesn’t give due acknowledgement to the fact that many of these human rights abuses, have been highlighted by Israeli human rights activists. This in spite of the fact that many Palestinians foment hatred against all Israelis, not only those responsible for crimes against Palestinians.
Many Israelis on the other hand, live in Israel as a consequence of themselves, their parents or grandparents suffering persecution elsewhere in the world. Jews moved to Israel from Germany and eastern Europe during and after the Second World War, as a consequence of the Nazi Holocaust, a racist, hate filled genocide against their entire people and religion. After 1948, Jews had to leave many predominantly Muslim countries in fear of their lives, where their families had previously lived for centuries, often losing all of their assets in the process. Is it any wonder many of these people feel the need to build walls today, when this is their historical, in some cases still a personal memory?
Obviously one group of people’s suffering, doesn’t give them the right to inflict suffering upon another group of people. But time and again, we see this has happened throughout history. Anyone who has some insights into human psychology would understand why. Unless we understand what is really going on in the Middle-East, how can we genuinely work towards a peaceful solution.
Such is the level of tensions between the two groups of people, if a Palestinian leader strives for a peaceful solution, he’ll be seen as a sell-out. Similar is true of Israeli politicians, they would be committing electoral suicide! The only way out of this situation as I see it, is work needs to be done at the grassroots level in both Israeli and Palestinian communities. A way must be facilitated for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to get to know one another, to understand the situation of people in the other community, why they are living in Israel/Palestine, their history and culture. If we want a genuine Middle-East peace process, this is the way forward.
Compromised politicians and UN votes may perhaps achieve an increased level of autonomy for the Palestinian Authority, but this alone will never create peace, unless it is part of a more comprehensive strategy to tackle fear, racism and hatred; engendering peace, security and understanding in their stead.