Below the letter for your MP, we have put Brian Beeley’s though-provoking ideas on this latest violence in Israel/Palestine.
Dear [Name of your MP]
Once again the Holy Land is in flames. Once again the United Nations is prevented by the United Sates from offering anything but platitudes. Meanwhile the British government confines itself to repeating worn-out mantras about the need for Israelis and Palestinians to agree a two-state solution.
Israel-Palestine is now effectively a single political entity with a population of two approximately equal halves – one consisting of Israeli Jews and the other of Muslim and Christian Arabs. But the two halves are far from equal in their power and control over their own destinies, and in the numbers being killed and wounded in the fighting. Israel has an advanced economy and an impressive military capability, with access to support and resource from the US. The other half – Palestine – is weak and divided by cease-fire lines and discrimination, with those in the Occupied Territories variously facing restriction, blockade and dispossession, the latest being the attempt by Israel to install Jewish settlers in some Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem, claiming their right to return to properties their families had owned before 1949, without recognising any rights of Palestinians to return to Jewish-occupied properties their families had owned pre-1949 in what is now Israel.
The UK carries considerable responsibility for the terrible situation, through its government’s ambiguous Balfour Declaration of 1917, which raised unrealistic hopes for a Jewish homeland without addressing the rights and needs of those who already lived there. Please urge Her Majesty’s Government to live up to its vision of ’Global Britain’ and declare its support for an urgent and realistic settlement in the Holy Land to achieve both peace and justice. It is urgent, once and for all, both to bring an end to periodic headline-grabbing ‘wars’ and also to extend to all the communities in Israel-Palestine the benefits of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
[Your name and full postal address]
Unholy Holy Land, May, 2021 update 1.6.21
The latest round of violence between Israel and what is left of Palestine has turned to ceasefire and we see again most of the elements of previous asymmetric ‘wars’ between a rich nuclear power and a dispossessed, divided and brutalised stateless people. Some of the CONSTANTS are:
(1) The conflict is between a state with some seven million Jewish citizens (in a world population of about twice that number) and a similar number of Palestinian Muslims and (a dwindling number of) Christians. Two million of the Palestinians are Israeli citizens within the 1949 cease-fire lines and the rest inhabit the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Together, Israel and the OPT make up pre-1949 Palestine – the Holy Land. Jordan is home to another several million Palestinians (where they constitute the majority) and there are more in the Palestinian diaspora across the Middle East and the world.
(2) Israel has been protected by the US from any meaningful action from the UN (except humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees). US support is, until now, largely uncritical. Many millions of American Evangelical Christians vote to ‘support’ Israel but with a view to the Second Coming rather than sympathy for Jews. The US contributes much physical aid to Israel – not least some $3.8bn annually for the military. Support for the Palestinians is vociferous across much of the world – especially among Muslims – but physical help consists of money donations and rockets and other military hardware and supplies from (currently) Iran to HAMAS in Gaza (the militant wing of the Palestinian resistance). Israel now has diplomatic relations with a number of Arab countries, including Morocco, the UAE, and others which signed up to President Trump’s recent ‘deals’. But in such cases, as with earlier treaties with Arab governments, there is usually little support from ordinary people.
(3) The Israel-Palestine conflict continues to be ‘international’ in that there is an ongoing struggle notably between the Jewish state and Iran. Israel bombs Iranian targets in Syria, shipping, and nuclear plants within Iran with impunity. The Holy Land struggle is a ‘recruiting sergeant’ for militant groups such as ISIS and stimulates hatred towards the West for its perceived responsibility for the crisis. Some extremists kill Westerners for the Palestinian cause.
(4) Israel continues to plant settlements in the Occupied Territories and build infrastructure cementing those areas into its control. Gaza remains the exception: it is a blockaded enclosure for two million Palestinians vacated by Israel to reduce Muslim numbers under Israeli rule. But Israel retains the ability to re-enter or attack the territory. The degree of Israeli control across the Holy Land makes the prospect of two viable separate states there unfeasible, leaving some sort of one-entity future inevitable – unless there is a major war to cover further full-scale removal of non-Jews, as happened in 1948-49 and 1967.
(5) Within Israeli society, the divide between secular and orthodox views on the nature of the state grows and becomes increasingly divisive. The early left-wing Israel of kibbutzim and talk of equality of status for all is now a memory as the majority in the country moves ideologically to the right. Legislation in 2018 requiring non-Jewish Israelis to accept their country as a Jewish State is part of the developing definition.
(6) The sparks which ignited the most recent violence involved an attempt to justify the removal of some Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem by ‘legal’ means and Israel’s subsequent attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque. The official Israeli argument is that some houses were occupied by Jews in pre-Israel Jerusalem but were taken over by Palestinians when those Jews were expelled or fled in 1948-49. The same legality does not apply to the properties now within Israel from which far greater numbers of Palestinians were ejected or fled in that same war. Were the legislation to apply both ways, Israel as now constituted could be swamped by millions of descendants of refugees. Meanwhile evictions from East Jerusalem end any prospect of that part of the Holy City becoming the capital of a Palestinian state.
(7) A very important development in the recent round of fighting has been the violence between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens in several towns across the country. This is seen as very serious by the Israeli establishment. It affects the tendency for most Israeli Jews to regard the ‘Palestinian Question’ as somewhat remote – it has not been a major concern in recent elections. But the matter becomes more serious still in the longer term because much of the inter-communal conflict has been initiated by ultra-orthodox Jews as well as by Palestinians. This assertive orthodox behaviour could ultimately develop into physical conflict between orthodox and secular Jews – alongside the current Jews vs Palestinians violence. Implications for the cohesion of the state can be imagined, given the prospect of two internal conflicts.
(8) This round of conflict may differ from its predecessors in that there will not be a full return to the cold peace of the past within which Israel could proceed with its gradual take-over of more of the Holy Land without critical international news headlines. Apart from splits developing within Israeli society and increasing discord between the two main parts of the Palestinian resistance (Hamas and Fatah), contest between outside powers is likely to grow. Iran will continue to help Hamas. Hizbollah in Lebanon will build its significant armed power ahead of the next major conflict with Israel. Countries are dividing sharply in their postures. Turkey is now vociferously anti-Israel; Egypt and Jordan are accommodationist (since Camp David in 1979); the UAE, Morocco and others have recently been ‘bought off’; while Russia (now established in Syria) will play a bigger part, and so on…
(9) The most important change may be in the US posture. The American Embassy is unlikely to return to Tel Aviv and Israel will remain the main recipient of US aid in the world but Americans have witnessed, for the first time, a female Palestinian-American member of the House of Representatives deliver a powerful statement of the Palestinian plight, as did Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in the British House of Lords. Already influential American Democrats are questioning the US’ view that Israel may ‘defend’ itself – without the same right for Palestinians. Some have noted that US military hardware should not be used against civilians (under US rules). Others have questioned the lack of direct contact between the US and Hamas because it is considered a ‘terrorist’ entity. The Realpolitik of the situation is that, for better or worse, Hamas is the power-front of the Palestinian cause, while President Abbas heads its recognised leadership with a policy (arguably forced upon it by weakness) of accommodation with Israel – which, at least, keeps the water coming through the pipes and the lights on in the areas still unoccupied by settlers in the West Bank.
(10) A key element in the changing attitude to Israel within the US may be the role of the Evangelical Christians who tend to vote Republican. Their attitude to the conflict in the Holly Land is likely to reflect their own Evangelical religious agenda, with its focus on the Second Coming.
(11) A major change after this latest outburst of destruction is the growth of active concern about the Holy Land crisis among younger people in many countries. In the US, for example, the Palestinian cause has been taken up by Black Lives Matter proponents, with Palestinians seen as fellow victims of injustice and inequality. Recent protest demonstrations by Arab-Americans have also come as a surprise, while criticism of Israel’s policies by Jews is more in evidence. Much of this change is stimulated by the huge rise in the importance of social media in spreading news and making links between people.
(12) A possibly significant development this time is that the UN is to investigate the root causes of the Israel-Palestine dilemma, rather than simply bringing to an end yet another outbreak of large-scale violence. The French foreign minister has spoken about apartheid in the Holy Land, while the government of Ireland condemns de facto annexation. Most importantly, small numbers of Israeli Jews now argue that the status quo is not in Israel’s long-term interests. A leader in the field of questioning the way things are is B’Tselem, the most prominent Israeli human rights organisation.
(13) The struggle between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, which began before there was a UN, will this time, one hopes, finally receive attention even when there is no major fighting. Simply to return to the status quo ante which was broken by Israel’s actions in Jerusalem and Hamas’ rocket response would add further tragedy to this most enduring of human conflicts. So far President Biden’s reaction has been hesitant. He has indeed restored US recognition to Palestinians with the reappearance of a Consulate in East Jerusalem and some token amounts of money for reconstruction have been authorised. But there is no sign yet of serious negotiation, dormant since 2014, while the US administration deals with problems involving, China, Russia, climate, and violence within its own domain.
Brian Beeley, 1st June 2021
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