The “Middle East” has become shorthand for sand and blood, guns and bombs, death and vengeance.
Most of us take this for granted. We have never experienced a peaceful Middle East with which to contrast the regular reporting of death and destruction.
The past two weeks have seen another spike in the conflict. An Israeli soldier was taken prisoner by armed Palestinians after a gun battle. Israel’s response has been to destroy a power station, cutting power to thousands of Palestinian homes; blow up bridges; fire on the offices of the democratically elected Palestinian administration; abduct a third of the cabinet and use low-flying aircraft to create sonic booms over Palestinian communities to keep families awake and on edge.
There has been no international outcry. Most of us see the “Middle-East conflict” as intractable and it’s not surprising that most blame “Palestinian militants” for the trouble. Numerous studies have shown the appalling bias in reporting which reduces Palestinians to “militants and extremists” while Israel is “fighting terrorism”.
Any yet given its central importance to a stable world we must understand much more of this conflict if we are to play any positive role in helping resolve it.
Underscoring the violence is the simple proposition that there can be no peace without justice. The “Middle-East” has plenty of injustice and therefore no peace.
The gravest injustice of all is the dispossession of the Palestinian people of their land, their sovereignty, their freedom and their dignity.
Since 1948 the Palestinians have lost 78% of what was once Palestine through the creation of the state of Israel. In the process hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes and villages and fled as Israeli militias cleansed the land they wanted for a Jewish state. These Palestinian victims are now living as refugees in their own country as well as having been dispersed outside their borders. Israel refuses to allow them to return.
The United Nations originally proposed a so-called “two-state solution” (Israel and Palestine existing side by side) despite the fact that in Palestine itself neither Jews nor Arabs were asked their opinion. Driving the UN support was the embarrassment and shame of many countries that so little was done to stop the Nazi holocaust against Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.
Even today those that criticise Israeli government policies are often accused of being anti-semitic. This is of course ludicrous.
58 years on and not only has a Palestinian state not been established but Palestinians are fighting a war against an overwhelming military force of occupation.
It is a one-sided war. A state which possesses nuclear weapons is up against stones, home-made rockets, the bravado of youth and the ultimate in powerlessness, the suicide bomber. It is a great credit to their spirit that Palestinians have never given up the fight despite the odds being stacked so highly against them.
Israel claims the Palestinian fight-back against military occupation is terrorism. This was the same charge levelled at the French Resistance who fought German occupation of their country in the Second World War and is just as phony a charge now as it was then.
Today the “two-state” solution is all but dead. For its part Israel has ensured that a Palestinian state is not viable politically, economically or socially. There is simply no economy for the Palestinians to run. In fact so often they must try to commute to jobs in what is now Israel.
The best land, water, port facilities and essential infrastructure are in Israeli hands while what is proposed to be “Palestine” consists of several small, discreet areas of land enclosed by Israel which controls movement at all points.
In recent times the closest parallel would be the attempts by South Africa to establish self-governing “Bantustans” within it’s borders for different black groups during the apartheid era. By erecting its massive separation wall – referred to by the locals as the “apartheid wall” – Israel adds credibility to the analogy.
New Zealand claims its position on Israel/Palestine is even-handed. It is not.
Our Foreign Minister Winston Peters recently welcomed the strengthening of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Israel after the passport scandal when Israeli secret agents tried to obtain a false New Zealand passport. Peters said New Zealand and Israel shared democratic traditions (sic) – a remarkably similar comment to Muldoon’s statements on the close relations between white South Africa and New Zealand during the apartheid era.
New Zealand has also refused to back Palestinian calls for an international peace-keeping force to be sent to Palestine and yet this is possibly the single most important step we could take.
We in New Zealand like to think we have a tradition of standing alongside the underdog. Not this time. We are standing with the bullies.