OH, the contradictions, the ignorance, the prejudice, the fog of war that distorts reality. This is probably more true of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians than any other recent war.
The disputes and debates on social and mainstream media between supporters of Israel and the Palestinians rage fiercely around the world. It's mostly black and white, with little grey in between.
And in the meantime, almost 3,000 people have died in six days.
Perhaps the horror in Gaza and Israel will help humanity better understand the age-old conflict in ancient Palestine. Perhaps it's good that ordinary people think more deeply about good and evil, human rights and international law.
Here are some of my thoughts and observations.
First, if you can't start any conversation about the conflict by saying that Hamas's cold-blooded murders and abductions of civilian Israelis are morally reprehensible, I wonder about your humanity.
At the same time, if you can't acknowledge that Israel has displaced the Palestinians from their homeland for generations and still subjects them to daily humiliation, oppression and harsh treatment, you are either incredibly uninformed or condone a regime that treats a certain group of people as inferior. Like apartheid.
The leaders of Hamas and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu have one thing in common: they are driven by hatred.
The Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, declared two days ago that Gaza should not receive water, electricity or food because “we are fighting against human animals".
The national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, recently defended a politician accused of murdering a Palestinian by saying: “A Jew who defends himself against the murder of Palestinians is not a murder suspect but a hero who will receive my full support."
And then there's the Hamas covenant from 1988, which calls for the “complete obliteration of Israel as a prerequisite for the liberation of Palestine" through unlimited jihad and the creation of a Sharia state.
Should we call Hamas (and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah) terrorists, full stop? Their actions on Saturday morning were unquestionably terrorist, but does that make them simply terrorists?
The definition of terrorism determines that it should be applied only to groups that are not states. But what do you do when you are denied the right to be a state?
When I think about this, I remember the story of Menachem Begin: a great national hero in Israel and prime minister from 1977 to 1983.
Begin was the leader of a group that qualifies for the terrorist label on every level: Irgun, which broke away from the larger Jewish paramilitary organisation Haganah in the years before the 1948 declaration of the state of Israel.
In 1944, Begin declared an armed uprising against the British mandatory government. Twelve days later, Irgun bombed the offices of the British immigration department in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
On July 22, 1946, Begin and Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where the British administrators had offices. Ninety-one people died.
In April 1948, Irgun and its sister organisation Lehi killed 107 Palestinians and Arabs in Deir Yassin.
In 1982, the Israeli military, under Begin's orders, invaded Lebanon to eradicate the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This led to the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres, which a UN independent panel found to be a form of genocide.
Terrorist or freedom fighter?
The same man, Menachem Begin, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, with Egypt's Anwar Sadat.
When Britain took over Palestine from the Ottoman Empire in 1917 and announced in the Balfour Declaration that it would become a Jewish homeland, Jews made up less than 10% of the population.
Over the years, especially after the official establishment of Israel in 1948, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Palestinian territory has dramatically shrunk and millions of Palestinians have been displaced, as the graph indicates.
The land grabs continue. I had a conversation this week with Dr Marthie Momberg, a theologian/educationist from Stellenbosch who has conducted research in the Palestinian territories and published academic articles on the subject, as well as a recent book, 21 Voices from Israel and South Africa. She says people shouldn't think of the Israeli “settlements" in Palestinian territories, which are officially in violation of international law, as just villages or hamlets. These are places with universities, schools and shopping centres.
Momberg describes the Gaza Strip as the world's largest open-air prison, with 2.3 million people trapped in a small area. The vast majority are refugees from areas that Israel now claims as its own.
It's in this small strip that the Israeli military has killed more than 1,600 people in the past week, with a few exceptions civilians, using missiles and bombs.
This raises a moral question. Who is worse, the man who shoots a civilian with a rifle or the man sitting in a fighter jet pressing a button to drop bombs on hundreds of civilians?
Momberg also points out that the West recognises Ukraine's right to defend itself and resist invaders with force, but when Palestinians do the same they are labelled as terrorists.
Since the weekend, Israel has been bombing Gaza day and night, and large parts of the strip resemble Mariupol in Ukraine after Russian bombing.
America and the West endorse Israel's attack on and total siege of Gaza, but when Russia destroys buildings and infrastructure from a distance with missiles, they call it terrorism, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen does.
Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 19, 2022
Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming - these are acts of pure terror.
And we have to call it as such. https://t.co/3WY743k1iH
Objectively speaking, the US, Britain and Europe are applying clear double standards.
The value of a Palestinian life is clearly seen as less than that of a Jew in this kind of thinking. This has a long history.
Here's a quote from Winston Churchill in 1937: “I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that a great wrong is being done against the Red Indians of America or the black peoples of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been committed to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, has come to take their place.” (The quote is from this podcast: Origins of the Israel-Palestine Conflict - Empire)
Momberg says labelling the Israeli government as an apartheid regime is not an opinion; there is legal proof for it. Especially after Israel officially declared itself a Jewish state in 2018, only Jewish citizens have full civil rights. In East Jerusalem, Palestinians are evicted from their homes, Bedouins are randomly relocated and, worse than apartheid in South Africa, they aren't even offered homes elsewhere.
Nathan Thrall, author of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama and, until recently, the director of the Arab-Israeli project at the International Crisis Group, resides in Jerusalem. Here's what he told The New Yorker yesterday: “I do not see how any definition of democracy can include a situation in which one in 10 Israeli Jews lives in the occupied territories and has full rights — voting rights, civil rights — and, when they go to and from their workplaces and their homes, they do not cross an international border.
“When the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics publishes the number of Jews and Arabs in the country, it lists the Jews living in the settlements. It doesn’t say that they’re living abroad. When the people vote in the settlements, they do not cast absentee ballots; in every sense, these people live inside the state of Israel alongside millions of people of a different ethnic group who are deprived of basic civil rights. That has existed for decades.”
Momberg doesn't believe there was ever a chance for a two-state solution to work. “I think Israel has long been preparing for a one-state solution, but one where the Palestinians will have no rights."
I wonder if the horrendous violence of the past week won't convince the majority of Israelis that their land grabs and mistreatment of Palestinians are exacting too high a price from them.
♦ VWB ♦
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