In this conflict, context is everything

Oct 27, 2023
Pro-Palestine rally near Sydney Town Hall in Central Business District of Sydney Date 21 October 2023.

The truth of the matter is that Western Governments bear the primary responsibility for both the carnage in Israel and the genocide in Gaza.

A historical appraisal of events over the last 100 years shows western governments, responsible for the monstrous inhumanities currently affecting Palestinians and Israelis. Without such an appraisal, it is easy and dangerous to rush to judgement on the basis of stereotypes – Israel the victim, Palestinians the terrorists. In this conflict, context is everything.

The following precis aims to educate. Personal reactions should also be acknowledged, in my case a perspective which says, if we are not outraged by injustice, we lose touch with our own humanity.

What prompted public interest in the longstanding conflict?

The October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Israeli bombing and the life destroying siege of Gaza have resulted in horrendous loss of life. One thousand four hundred Israelis were slaughtered in the Hamas attack, over 200 taken hostage. By October 22, 4,700 Gazans had been killed by Israeli bombing. The Israeli Defence Minister’s threats to ‘eliminate Gaza’ sound like incitement to commit genocide. On the West Bank, murder is the order of the day. Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 70 Palestinians, injured 1300, carried out 77 attacks on health care facilities.

What contributed to these events?

These fatalities were preceded by 75 years of ethnic cleansing, persecution, retribution, loss of life, fear and unimaginable misery. Perhaps unaware of the details of those 75 years, Australian citizens may be motivated to take ill-informed partisan stands, hence the need to reflect on the massive loss of life of Palestinian children over decades. No western government became outraged by such killings. Awareness of such indifference and inhumanities might affect reactions to the awful slaughter of Israelis, women and children, on October 7.

What are the sources of conflict?

In 1917 the British Balfour Declaration promised a homeland for Jews but not at the expense of the Indigenous people of Palestine. Yet in published correspondence, Balfour discounted the rights and wishes of Palestinians. In 1947, UN Resolution 181 called for the partition of Palestine into 56% for a Jewish state which Palestinians rejected on grounds that they owned 94% of historic Palestine and comprised about 70% of the population. In 1948, the Israeli War of Independence resulted in ‘The Nakba’: 15,000 Palestinians were killed, 750,000 driven from their homes, and within two years 500 Palestinian villages towns and cities were completely destroyed.

Wars and the creation of a Jewish State

Between 1948 and 2006, six wars were fought between Israel and Arab states. The significant 1967 Yom Kippur war left Israel in control of territory four times its previous size. Military occupation of Palestinian lands began. The Israeli Knesset built a Jewish only state: the 1950 Law of Return established that Jews who were not born in Israel could return ‘to the land of their birth.’ By contrast, Palestinians who retained keys to their homes and papers confirming ownership are not allowed to return. August 2018 the Jewish Nation State Law said, ‘the actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people’ despite 20% of Israeli citizens being Palestinian. These policies are supported by billions of dollars of arms from the US which wants to maintain military influence in the Middle East.

The Palestinian resistance

In the first Intifada, for six years from 1987, Palestinians protested military occupation which included beatings, shootings, killings, house demolitions, extended imprisonments & detention without trial. Israel deployed 80,000 troops. An estimated 1,200 Palestinians and 60 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Second Intifada uprising, from September 2000, sparked by Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount, was much more violent: 6,371 Palestinians killed including 1,317 children. Following suicide attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad & Fatah, 1083 Israelis were killed of whom 741 were civilians. From March 2018, Gazans’ peaceful protest ‘The Great March of Return,’ included calls to lift the blockade of Gaza. Data from the UN Commission of Inquiry and the Israeli Yesh Din Association of Civil Rights records that during these marches, 214 Palestinians have been killed including 46 children, mostly from live ammunition. Over 36,000 Palestinians including 8,800 children were injured. These figures say nothing of the trauma which follows life shattering events. One example illustrates cruelty leading to human tragedy. Razan a-Najjar, a 21 year-old para medic, visible in a medical personnel white coat was shot dead by an Israeli sniper as she made her way to tend wounded by the Gaza fence.

The loss of life in invasions of Gaza prior to 2023

Invasions of Gaza have been called wars, but ’war’ presupposes relatively equal resources between combatants. It does not mean a slaughter of one side by the massive military strength of another. Casualties from only a couple of Israeli operations show deaths and the destruction of crucial resources. In the 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead, 1,400 Palestinians were killed, incl. 400 children. Three Israeli civilians & 10 Israeli soldiers were killed. In the 2014 Operation Protective Edge 2,251 Palestinians were killed including 551 children. Six Israeli civilians and 67 Israeli soldiers were killed. Destruction in these operations included the loss of thousands of Gazan homes, schools, health care facilities, sewage, power and water supply facilities, at which point the UN predicted that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020.

Defining and demystifying Hamas

The destruction of Palestine and Palestinians has been underway for 75 years. The Islamist fundamentalist government of Gaza, Hamas, came to power following the election of 2006, their influence bolstered by the hypocrisy of the US and Israel supported by compliant western governments. In 2006, the United States insisted that democracy was the world’s panacea, hence their support for a scrupulously fair Palestinian election for which they invested financial resources to ensure the election of the secular Fatah not the religious Hamas. Hamas won the election with 76 seats and Fatah 43. The West supported democracy but not if it resulted in outcomes not to their liking. Hamas was boycotted. Collective punishment via the siege of Gaza began. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair now admits that he and other world leaders were wrong to yield to Israeli pressure to impose an immediate boycott of Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been supporting the rule of Hamas and weakening the Palestinian Authority. He has funded Hamas apparently in order to hurt Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and prevent the division of Israel into two states.

You reap what you sow?

Peace process and illegal settlers

A stereotype view might claim that Israel’s olive branches for peace have been rejected by Palestinian authorities. A more accurate evaluation shows that in talks about peace, the Palestinians were badly represented, the Israelis not really interested and biased Americans were never honest brokers. The Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO in Washington in 1993 gave hope. The PLO recognised the state of Israel which allowed Palestinians a limited form of self- governance but the benefits of Oslo were short lived. After 1993, Palestinian residents of the West Bank identified 500 more military checkpoints. The extremist Israeli settlement movement grew despite rules of international law forbidding the population of invaded lands. In December 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334: ‘Israeli settlements have no legal validity and constitute flagrant violation of international law.’ Israel took no notice. The international community, largely the US and EU, supported by successive Australian governments, never bothered to hold Israel to account. Israeli forces have acted with impunity since 1948. Since that time, Palestinian lands have been occupied by 750,000 Israeli settlers protected by Israeli police and army. When there are no consequences, the crimes of perpetrators continue.

Defining apartheid, holding Western governments’ accountable

In 2021, distinguished international organisations, the Israeli Human Rights Centre B’tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, ruled Israel to be an apartheid state, namely a regime that uses laws, practices and organised violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another. Some may allege that this assessment was in some way influenced by ‘anti-Semitism’. But there is no ethnic prejudice involved in criticising the policies of a government.

A more important conclusion emerges from analysis of the events of the past 100 years, including the Hamas carnage of October 7 and the unimaginable destruction of Gaza and its people by Israeli forces. These tragedies are the responsibility of western governments, in particular the US, which on 43 occasions has vetoed Security Council resolutions condemning Israel, the latest on October 22 when the US, in deference to Israel’s desire to keep bombing Gaza vetoed a resolution calling for a ceasefire. The US and its allies have mouthed respect for international law but ignored such principles if they affected Palestinians’ Geneva based rights to self- determination.

Instead, might was right. Terrible consequences followed.

You reap what you sow.

Towards a consensus for a common humanity?

All mainstream media have been fascinated by violence, by views that Palestinian extremism is entirely to blame for all inhumane events. From 1917, Western politicians and their media acolytes have fed the fatalism that Jews, Muslims, Christians, believers and non-believers will never agree.

Yet protesters world-wide show the potential for co-existence. They remind that violence begets violence, that a common humanity is at stake.

In New York on Saturday Oct 21, American Jews pleaded, ‘End the Zionist government of Israel, stop the genocide in Gaza, respect the sovereignty of the Palestinian people, end the occupation, no more killing and stealing in our name.’

On the same day, in cities around the world, including 15,000 demonstrators in Sydney, and similar numbers in other cities, the same cries: ‘End the Occupation, Free, Free Palestine.’

We live in hope.

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