06 August 2006

An Eye for an Eye?

Common Sense
John Maxwell

I never got as far as Tacitus; Virgil's Aeneid was the rock on which my Latin foundered, which tells you how long ago I was last in school.

Apart from everything else, Hector was my hero, not Ulysses, and I must confess that when Ulysses ran into the Cyclops, I had a sneaking hope that he would end up as dinner for Polyphemus and friends.

Alas, that was not to be, and it was the noble and endlessly patient Penelope who got him in the end. I mention Tacitus because he is the author of two of my favourite quotations; the first:

"A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all." Which I believe pretty well summarises the fate of the Palestinian people, at least, according to the story so far. The second quotation will appear in its own time.

The British, having been mandated by the League of Nations to safeguard the interests of Palestine and its people, both Palestinians and Jews, threw in the towel in 1948 when people whom the British officially described as 'terrorists' and 'criminals', forced the Empire out of Palestine and declared the state of Israel, the legitimacy of which was recognised almost immediately by the "Great Powers" bequeathing the world a problem which more than half-a-century later has only become more intractable.

Part of the reason lies in what seems to be essential qualifications for First World statesmen: an infinite capacity to delude themselves.

So we hear people like Tony Blair, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice proclaiming vapidly, that the present crisis will be solved when the Israelis - or whoever - succeed in disarming Hezbollah in Lebanon. The problem is that this disarming of Hezbollah is likely to take a very long time and cost oceans of blood on all sides. Innocent Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese and others will be slaughtered before the statesmen's appetite for blood is sated.

The Israelis are not irrational when they say that they dread the proclamations of President Ahmadinejab of Iran, Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah and the Hamas leaders in Palestine. And those leaders are in turn, not being irrational when they call for the extinction of Israel.

As they all see it, there is an inexorable logic to their fears. And part of this logic is inherent in the behaviour of the western powers who, paralysed by guilt, have found it impossible to deny Israel anything. And Israel, having lost six million of its kith and kin to European lunacy, holds, quite rationally, that nobody is going to do anything like that to it again.

In pursuit of this entirely legitimate sense of self-preservation Israel has armed itself to the teeth, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the United States, Britain and France and even Apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately for all of us, the motives behind the Europeans's defence of Israel had nothing to do with morality or justice, or even of Israel's best interests. It has mainly to do with oil.

In pursuit of their interests, the West saw Israel as an essential factor in the destabilisation of the Arab world to the greater profit of the oil companies. These companies used to be called the Seven Sisters but are more like four, these days, and getting immeasurably richer. More powerful and unaccountable by the minute.

The Palestinians had been scattered after Israel's War of Independence and the few remaining in Palestine were, it was thought, a fairly negligible factor. Israel carved Palestine into a collection of settlements most aptly described as Bantustans, in a Palestine in which the Palestinians were powerless share-croppers on what used to be their own land.

As Israel has grown mightier, so Palestine has become more abridged. Walls are even now being built in Jerusalem, enforcing a new apartheid. The 1949 walls in Jerusalem were torn down by the Israelis after the Six Day War.

On Thursday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman derided Sheikh Nasrullah for saying that Tel Aviv was the capital of Israel and that if the Israelis bombed Beirut, the Lebanesee capital, Hezbollah would bomb Tel Aviv, the Israeli capital. Mark Regev, the Israeli spokesman, said Nasrallah should read his history books. Jerusalem was Israel's capital, not Tel Aviv.

The Palestine problem is not only about establishing a viable Palestinian state, it is also about the fate of Jerusalem, the holiest city of the Jews and the Christians and after Mecca and Medinah, the third holiest city of Islam and the official capital of Palestine. No one except Israel, Costa Rica and El Salvador regards Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In resolution 478 the UN declared that Israel's purported annexation of East Jerusalem was contrary to international Law. In 1997, the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights report entitled "The Status Of Jerusalem" confirmed the UN plan to declare all Jerusalem an international city.

It is ironic that during the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem from the year 638, Christians and Jews living in the city were granted autonomy. And while the Byzantine Christian authorities had not tolerated the presence of Jews within the walls of the city, the Muslim rulers allowed the re-establishment of a Jewish community.

Since the establishment of Israel, as the Arabs have become more fragmented and comparatively weaker, Israel has become stronger and its appetite has grown sharper. As more and more Jews have migrated to Israel from Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States, the pressure has grown to settle the Palestinian problem on Israeli terms - preferably by relocation to some other Arab country.

The Palestinians regard Jaffa oranges as theirs, and the olive groves and other productive areas of Israel were productive before there was Israel. The Palestinians have not only patriotic claims to Palestine, but property rights claims as well. It drives them into insensate fury then, to be constantly told that they are to be driven from the land they and their ancestors have occupied, loved and nurtured for millennia.

Effectively, Israel has converted Palestine into a concentration camp and the Palestinians effectively into prisoners. Although the world through the United Nations has recognised the Palestinian right to independent statehood, the Israelis have refused to allow this development on the ground that they cannot trust the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, who have held, as an article of faith for 60 years, that Israel is an illegitimate foreign intrusion into Arab territory.

This belief, expressed most offensively by the Iranian president, has until now largely been the only Arab compensation available to a nationalism which has proved inferior in force to Israel. It is, however, as Sadat proved, more of an empty shibboleth than a serious proposition. It seems fairly clear that if Yasser Arafat and Fatah could come as they did, to accept the legitimacy of Israel, almost any Palestinian could.

The sticking point has always been that Israel continues to change its basic demands, and it is now in the peculiar position of saying it wants peace but is unwilling to trade land for peace. The problem here is the Palestinians are insisting on the right of return to their ancestral holdings as well as to Palestine, but, with the enormous oil wealth of the Arab nations and the unspoken reparations owed by Europe to the Jews, there is no doubt that a way could be found to satisfy both the Israelis' demand for living space and the Palestinians'.

Unfortunately for all of us, the current American administration is even more beholden (some might say hog-tied) to the Israeli lobby in the United States than any of its predecessors. American Jews vote, and American politicians feel that they cannot afford to offend them in any way, even so far as telling them the truth.

The result is that Israel has a lock on American politics and that translates, among other things, into an American subsidy of more than US$6 billion annually, almost one-third of the American aid programme to its allies. Another crucial factor is an automatic US veto of any United Nations consensus which does not favour Israel. And, of course, a steady flow of sophisticated weapons of destruction.

As Kissinger said, the United States has no friends, only interests; Israel is by far the most important of all those interests. It has not hurt Israel that two of the most recent US secretaries of state have been Jewish, either by religion or background (Kissinger and Albright), or that two others have important connections to defence industries and oil - Schultz and Baker - not to mention Vice-President Dick Cheney and his connections.

And then, there is of course, the neo-con brains-trust which, in its Project for a New American Century and other publications, sees the United States as a client of Israel, rather than the other way round. Israel for them is the cutting edge of a more fundamentalist American crusade against all pretenders to world power and the guarantor of American hegemony in the arena of Middle Eastern politics and oil.

It was clear - as I said last week, that the latest offensive was long planned, just waiting for a convenient and credible casus belli. By christening any resistance to Israeli hegemony as 'terrorist', Israel could also get into the 'War on Terror' and clean up the inconvenient and pestiferous Hezbollah in Lebanon. After that, Hamas.

When Mr Bush and the Israeli government speak of spreading democracy, the word has a very special meaning. Hamas, which is a social movement, albeit one armed to the teeth, is seen as nothing but a bunch of terrorists.

They occupy in Palestine something of the same space occupied in France during World War II by the French resistance - the maquis. But resistance to Nazi Germans in France cannot, obviously, be compared to resistance to Israel and the United States. These are civilised states. Germany - although producing Beethoven and Karl Marx, was obviously not. To outsiders the difference is difficult to discern.

So, back to Tacitus, who famously declared (and pardon my ignorance of whom he spoke) "They make a wilderness and call it peace". He must have been speaking of Israel's plans for Lebanon. A wilderness right now seems the only possible result of the present conflict.

The brutal destruction of Lebanon in pursuit of 'terrorists' is clearly not going to extinguish 'terrorism'. What has already happened, as I predicted last week, is that the Lebanese people have been radicalised by Israel's blitzkrieg and that radicalisation is spreading like a California wildfire. Hezbollah, which is Shia, has managed to impress al-Qaeda, which is Sunni and normally hates the guts of the Shia. The war on terror appears most spectacularly in Lebanon, to have ignited a Pan Arab nationalism which transcends religious sectarianism.

The possibility of catastrophe in this should be obvious. If the Shia and the Sunni in Iraq begin to see a common enemy because of what happens in Lebanon, the American attempt to tame Iraq is even more surely doomed. The shift by the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and most spectacularly of all, Saudi Arabia, suggests that the neo-cons and their satellites have disastrously overplayed their hand.

According to all reports, Nasrallah is now more popular in Egypt than Mubarak, more popular in Jordan than King Abdullah, more popular in Syria than Assad. The idea of a real, and infinitely more dangerous Muslim Brotherhood becomes every day more possible.

Fundamentalist Americans - the Christian Taliban - are right now joyously urging Bush to push Israel even further, hoping literally to precipitate Armageddon, and accelerate the return of their Messiah and the ascent of the faithful to Heaven - naked and shriven of sin and impurity.

The problem is that the Anti-Christ they fear, being a devious fellow, may be closer to home than they might imagine. And the Bible, whatever its virtues, is not a grammar of modern politics.

Tacitus may be more useful: he warned against the dangers of unaccountable power, against power untempered by principle, and against popular apathy and corruption, engendered by the wealth of the empire which allows such evils to flourish.

In Britain and the United States, the major casualty of the war on terror has been the civil liberties of the citizen. The terrorists, on the other hand, seem to be having a whale of a time. Sadly, some of us, in the days after 9/11, forecast just such a possibility.


Post a Comment