Many tens of thousands more are likely to be killed when the ground offensive gathers team
By Tom Arms
The story of Israel is possibly the world’s oldest and saddest. It stretches back Millennia to God’s land deal with Abraham and encompasses wars, slavery, a long and bitter diaspora, pogroms, and the Holocaust.
And that is just the Jewish side. On the Palestinian side (or if you prefer, Arab), there is colonialism, wars, displacement, refugee camps, unemployment, and their own diaspora.
But let’s start with the Jews and relatively modern history. In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration which set aside the British mandate of Palestine (as it was then known) as a homeland for the Jews. But there was a proviso, Jewish rights were not to be realized at the expense of the resident Arabs.
This obvious contradiction led to the Israelis fighting against the British and Palestinian Arabs for the right to create their own state. In 1948 they succeeded and emerged as underdog heroes; rising from centuries of discrimination and the horrors of the Holocaust. However, the tactics they used to achieve their political success was terrorism.
When the infant Jewish state defeated the Arab armies in 1948, 1967, 1956 and 1973 its leaders morphed from terrorists to soldiers. Now they were heroes carving a modern successful nation out of an arid wilderness.
But there are two sides to every story. If the Jews are the most oppressed people in 3,500 years of history then the Palestinian Arabs are the most oppressed in modern history.
Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and engineered the establishment of diplomatic relations between key Arab states and the Israeli government. Joe Biden continued this policy
It is true that in 1947 they were offered a separate Palestinian state in an UN-partitioned Palestine. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight they should have accepted the deal. But at the time they saw no reason to give up the land that their families had lived on for centuries. The Jews said their God had given them the land. But the Jewish God was not their God.
In fact, it was not the Palestinians themselves who fought in 1948. It was mainly the Arab states with the help of poorly equipped and ill-trained Palestinians. The Arab states were more interested in an anti-colonial war to stop the establishment of a Western outpost in the Middle East than they were in upholding Palestinian rights.
In three successive wars between 1948 and 1967, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were displaced by Jewish expansion. Many of them fled the fighting voluntarily expecting to return when the dust had settled. But many were—quite literally—forced off their property at gunpoint.
Regardless, of how they left, none—or at least very few—returned and their homes were taken by Israeli Jews. Most of them became long-term residents in refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. They all dream of someday returning to the homes they left just as Jews dreamt for centuries of returning to Israel.
Up until the mid-1970s the major threat to Israel came not from the Palestinians but from the Arab states. Fatah and the PLO were not founded until 1964. It took about a decade for the PLO to organize itself into an effective fighting force, but when it did it employed the same tactics that Jewish leaders such as Menachem Begin used against the British and Palestinians during the British Mandate.
Terror begat terror with the result that the Israelis resorted to some of the same tactics employed by PLO against them. One of the best examples was the 1982 attack on the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in which 3,500 Palestinians were killed.
The attacks back and forth across the Lebanon and Syrian borders continued through the 1980s with both sides claiming the right to all of the land of what the Jews called Israel and the Arabs Palestine. Then in 1992 came the Oslo Accords which were followed in 1995 with Oslo Accords II.
These were an agreement between PLO leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to create a Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank which would become the incubator for a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. This was a revival of the two-state solution which the Palestinians had rejected in1947. It was hailed as a breakthrough. And then it failed.
2.2 million People are trapped in Gaza. Their exits are blocked. Israel allows only limited humanitarian supplies into the area. The water and electricity has been cut off.
There were lots of reasons for the collapse of the Oslo Accords. One was the intransigence of Arafat. Another was the rise of Hamas which totally rejected the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution and reverted to the former PLO position of the extinction of the Jewish state. Third was any real enthusiasm for the project from either the rest of the Arab world or the US.
Then there was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an ultra-Orthodox Jew opposed to the Oslo Accords. Finally, there was the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu and the growing commitment to the Jewish claim to all of Biblical Israel which includes the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
In the face of increasing intransigence from Netanyahu’s successive Likud government, the world moved away from the two-state solution and turned a half-blind eye to illegal West Bank Jewish settlements. It was just too difficult. And besides, the Palestinians themselves were now fighting amongst themselves, and the Israelis seemed to have a lid on the security situation with their divide and rule tactics.
Donald Trump was so impressed with Netanyahu that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and engineered the establishment of diplomatic relations between key Arab states and the Israeli government (the Abraham Accords). Joe Biden continued this policy. The Palestinians were rapidly sliding into the category of “forgotten people”, and, as such, were also becoming increasingly desperate people.
This is the backdrop to the Hamas attack which killed 1,400 people. Israel claims that it has every right to defend itself against such an attack. But is their defense as much of an offense as that of Hamas? 2.2 million People are trapped in Gaza. Their exits are blocked. Israel allows only limited humanitarian supplies into the area. The water and electricity has been cut off. Some food and medical supplies are now entering Gaza, but not nearly enough. People are literally starving to death.
At the same time, Israeli air strikes have killed an estimated 10,000 people. Many tens of thousands more are likely to be killed when the ground offensive gathers team. Is this a reasonable and proportionate response? Or, has the Jewish state, once a refuge for the oppressed, become the oppressor?
Anti –Semitism is rocketing worldwide. In London, the Metropolitan Police, reported that that incidents of anti-Semitism increased 1,350 percent since October 7. Similar figures are emerging from the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands….
This is because the Israeli government has become a symbol violent oppression and far-right intolerance based on religion.
And the sad fact is, too many people conflate Judaism with Israel. They fail to recognize that there are a sizeable number of Jews in Israel who do not support Netanyahu and there is an even larger number of Jews outside Israel who do not support his Likud-led coalition.
However, a large number of people instead wrongly believe that the actions of the Netanyahu government are a mirror reflection of the views of worldwide Jewry. This is partly because Israel was created as a homeland for Jews and all Jews have the right to citizenship in Israel.
In a way the global wave of anti-Semitism is in the interests of Netanyahu. It reinforces the view of Jews as victims and allows him to claim that he is fighting for all Jews. Otherwise, why would people be attacking innocent Jews outside Israel?
It is complicated and sad. For many years–while successive Israeli governments struggled to establish the Jewish state against the odds—the link between Israel and Judaism worked in favor of world Jewry. Now that Israel is seen by many as oppressive and undemocratic it works against then.
Spare a thought for the West Bank. In fact, focus on it, because if you fail to do so, it may well erupt into an even more violent conflagration then what we are seeing in Gaza.
The West Bank, unlike Gaza, is not under the control of Hamas. It is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority which in turn is controlled by the remnants of the PLO. In reality, however, security on the West Bank is in the hands of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) which means Israel controls the West Bank.
Eighty-two percent of the West Bank’s residents are Palestinians. The remainder are Jews. They are illegal because since 1967 the international community has refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory and branded most of the Jewish settlements as illegal.
There are an estimated 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Many Most of them are Orthodox Jews who claim the land as part of God’s contract with the Jews.
As the number of Illegal settlers have increased so have demands that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria of the Old Testament) be formally annexed. To help matters along, some settlers have taken to attacking Palestinian settlements, driving them out of their homes and, in some cases, murdering them.
Some members of the current Israeli cabinet are, in fact, illegal West Bank settlers. One of them, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is responsible for security issues. He has been seen in recent weeks handing out guns to settlers on the West Bank.
Since 7 October the settlers have increased their attacks on West Bank Palestinians partly because they see an opportunity and partly to pre-empt retribution by West Bank Palestinians in support for their countrymen trapped in Gaza. According to the UN, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in settler attacks since 7 October. The UN adds that the Israeli army has done nothing to stop the attacks.
There is little that West Bank Palestinians can do in response. There have been demonstrations in Ramallah, Hebron or Nablus, but security is tightly controlled by the Palestinian Authority working in conjunction with the Israeli military. For the moment they have a lid on the security situation. But then, they thought they had a lid on Gaza.
Insanity, Albert Einstein allegedly said, “is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting the same results.”
Well, if Einstein was correct, than America’s Republican Party is more than halfway to the looney bin and their ideological colleagues in Britain’s Conservative Party are not far behind.
An abortion ban has become the cause celebre for America’s ideological right. But the general voting public support abortion. In elections this week its ban was overwhelmingly rejected in the reasonably conservative states of Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Kansas and Vermont.
At the same time, Republicans lost key positions in several states and their stand on abortion is said to be one of the major reasons.
But this has not deterred diehard Conservative Republicans. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. He remains committed to a federal ban as do many Republican congressmen in the South and mid-West. They appear to be taking the line that if voters do not vote for us, it is because we are not right-wing enough.
Britain’s Conservative Party appears to be heading in the same direction. The new standard bearer of the party’s far-right is Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Her policies and statements include: sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, labelling cross-channel immigration an “invasion”, threatening to fine charities for distributing tents to the homeless; calling the pro-Palestinian demonstrations “hate marches” and accusing the police of “bias.”
Almost all the political pundits believe that Ms. Braverman’s increasingly provocative statements are part of a bid for leadership of the Conservative Party.
The Tories will almost certainly lose next year’s general election and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be expected to take the blame and fall on his sword. Conservatives will then have to elect a new leader. If the Tories follow the example of their American cousins– and Einstein’s definition– then Ms. Braverman will be in pole position.
Good news on the Sino-American front. Beijing and Washington have reached an agreement on climate change issues and President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping are to meet on17 November.
American and Chinese diplomats have been working hard on finding common ground on climate change. Not so much because climate change is an important issue (which it is), but more because it is low-hanging diplomatic fruit.
When faced with an impasse, diplomats try to find basic areas of agreement. Both sides love their children. Both sides enjoy music. Both sides want to save the planet.
Once they have established that it is possible to find areas of common interest they can move onto more problematic issues such as war in Ukraine, war in the Middle East, North Korea and maybe even Taiwan.
Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain”. He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff https://open.spotify.com/show/3ntjretAKNLZNFpA5ZEGDG