For at least two thousand years, if not longer, people have been calling that particular area of the Middle East “Palestine”.
You only have to look at an animated map of Europe for the past two thousand years to understand that names of countries and national boundaries are constantly changing.
In 1709, there was no country called Israel in the Southern Levant, but you’d have found Palestine on the maps. The modern Zionist movement began less than two centuries ago: even by the 1880s, numerically Muslims were the majority faith, Christians second, and Jews third. The modern Zionist movement from the 1880s onward was a movement of European and American colonisation of Palestine.
The idea that Jews around the world have some mystical religious “right” to live in the Southern Levant because there have been Jews living there for several thousand years or because God gave that land to them is absurd. I am an atheist, and historical claims from past millennia are not made valid by religious faith.
Many years ago, at James Gillespies High School, we were reading The Thirty-Nine Steps and the teacher paused before he came to a section where Scudder is explaining to the hero the background to this rather foggy international conspiracy, and told us that we were about to hear a lot of ideas that some people believed in back then, but that weren’t true then, and weren’t true now: about how “the Jew was behind Capital” and “if you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake.”
He didn’t go into any further detail, or try to lead the class into a discussion of early 20th-century anti-Semitism: he just wanted to clarify to us (and did) that John Buchan was wrong, and why he was wrong. We went on reading The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Anti-semitism is as real now as it was then, as it was when John Buchan was writing this or Georgette Heyer writing The Grand Sophy or Dorothy L. Sayers writing Whose Body? or Dickens writing Fagin. When the Nazis chose their initial victims, the people they victimised were groups they could feel sure the powerful in other nations would not really care about: Jews, gypsies, disabled people, prostitutes, gay men and lesbians, transgendered people.
But the existence of anti-Semitism, of horrific violence against Jews as a racial identity and a religion, does not justify Israel’s removal of human rights from the people who lived in Palestine before 1948 and then systematic discrimination and violence against the people who live in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, who are not Jewish nor Israeli citizens. Nothing would justify that.
It would be wrong to suppose even that most Israeli citizens – regardless of their religion – want to live in a discriminatory state.
Israel exists as a nation not because it has some religious right to do so, but because of colonisation, terrorism, immigration and wars of conquest: Israel has engaged in multiple wars of conquest since 1948, each of which have ended with Israel acquiring more land than it had before.
In Aaron Sorkin’s rather terrible response to 9/11, the prequel to the West Wing‘s third season, there is an exchange of dialogue which is overheard by Toby Ziegler and several other people who ought to know better:
GIRL 1: You know a lot about terrorism?
SAM: I dabble.
GIRL 1: What are you struck by most?
SAM: It’s 100% failure rate.
GIRL 1: Really?
SAM: Not only do terrorists always fail at what they’re after, they pretty much always succeed in
strengthening whatever it is they’re against. Isaac and Ishmael
I do not know what makes a man a traitor. No man considers himself a traitor: this makes it hard to find out. – Left Hand of Darkness
Just as no one defines themselves as a traitor, no winner ever describes themselves as a terrorist. Terrorist organisations like Lehi and the Irgun, active in the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1940s, were successful in their objectives: to create a majority-Jewish state in what had been Palestine.
But although the Zionist colonisation of Israel began as a movement from Europe and the US, between 1948 and the early 1970s there was an exodus of Jews from neighbouring countries into Israel: whatever the founding origins of Israel, in terrorism and colonialism, the nation that has now existed for over sixty years is a Middle Eastern state, albeit the only one where citizenship and immigration rights are absolutely dependent on religion/ethnic identity.
The two-state solution has been proposed for as long as I can remember as a solution to the “problem” of Israel and Palestine. But it’s not really a solution at all: Israel has built settlements and settler-only roads all over the West Bank: the Gaza Strip is effectively the world’s largest concentration camp, a place so populous that wherever Israel’s missiles strike, they kill people.
Every ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been broken by Israel. More Palestinian children have been killed by Israel Defence Forces than the whole number of Israeli citizens killed in the conflict since 1987. Both sides in the conflict have done terrible things to each other: but one side, more powerful and more deadly than the other, has inflicted far more hurt and been more willing to turn to violence in conflict.
2004 population statistics for Israel (from the CIA World Factbook) suggest that 5.8 million of the 7.6 million people who live in Israel are Jewish (of whom about 498k actually live in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem). In the West Bank, out of 2.6 people, about 1.96 million are Muslim, about 446 thousand Jewish, and about 210 thousand “Christian and other”. In the Gaza Strip, out of 1.7 million people, all but about 12,000 Christians are Muslim.
Israel conquered the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip forty-five years ago, when it had only existed as a nation for 19 years. If the walls came down, if everyone inside the boundaries of what is effectively Israel-by-conquest became an Israeli citizen, with the same right to vote for the Knesset, Israel would then become a state that was roughly half Jewish and half Muslim with a small proportion of Christians, mostly Druze.
That nation might have as good a chance of peace as Ireland, or South Africa. The current situation has no chance in the world.