The Palestine–Israel question

development+globalizationBy Yash Tandon

On 27 December 2008, Israel launched a lethal attack on Gaza and continued the bombing for 22 days. In the end, it withdrew its forces. Israel, however, continues to retain a siege over Gaza, a narrow strip of land containing a million and half Palestinians, half of them in refugee camps living a precarious existence. Many observers are of the view that Israel’s action amounted to genocide. Almost 60 years ago, before the state of Israel was created, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: ‘My sympathies are all with the Jews … But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me … Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.’

In the longer piece on the subject, I argue that the Jewish problem, historically a European problem, was dumped on Palestine in 1948 by the force of arms and a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations when it was dominated by the North. The legitimacy of that resolution and the question of whether the British truly fulfilled their mandate to the people of Palestine must be posed again. The article argues that while the Jews have a legitimate grievance against their historical persecution, in its present predicament, the Euro-American alliance exploits the Jews in Israel, and in turn, Israel super-exploits and oppresses the Palestinians. The ‘two-states solution’ is primarily to serve Euro-American broader interests in the Gulf area. And one of the casualties of the war in Gaza may well be the two-state solution. What, then, is to be done? That is the question that is addressed in the essay.

Pambazuka Press is pleased to announce the release of Yash Tandon’s new book ‘Development and Globalisation: Daring to Think Differently’. The book is available for only £7.95 from the Pambazuka Press website until Thursday 19 November, a saving of 20% on the recommended retail price of £9.95. The following article comprises an editorial from 16 January 2009 and was written while Tandon was the executive director of South Centre.

THE PALESTINE–ISRAEL QUESTION (16 JANUARY 2009)

History will not absolve those world leaders who watch with cynicism the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza. Silence and inaction are only a step removed from complicity. The Kafkaesque contrast between Kosovo and Treblinka where the West intervened self-righteously and brought individuals to trial before the international human rights tribunals and their visible, audible connivance at the carnage now afoot in Gaza will not be lost to history. It is, surely, only a matter of time before the individuals responsible for these crimes are brought to court. Even the people of Israel, maybe the next generation, will eventually see from hindsight the ironical and cruel similarity between the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau, in which many of their forefathers perished, and the ‘final solution’ inflicted on the ghettoized population of Gaza. Cardinal Renato Martino echoed the sentiment of Pope Benedict XVI when he compared Gaza to a Nazi camp.[1]

One casualty of the war will, surely, be the devaluation of the Jewish Holocaust. If the former victims of European persecution can do the same to the ordinary innocent women and children of another race whom they burn alive in their houses with their aerial bombing, then the lessons of the original Holocaust will be lost to history, and the Jews must tear down the temples and museums dedicated to the Holocaust. The Jewish Museum in New York and the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam now have no value.

This editorial is published in a special issue of the South Bulletin[2] which focuses on the present crisis humanity faces in the holocaust now being perpetrated by the Jews of Israel on the people of Palestine. In his article in that issue, ‘Holocaust Denied’, John Pilger quotes the Soviet poet Yevtushenko: ‘When the truth is replaced by silence,’ the poet said, ‘the silence is a lie.’ Yevtushenko was asking why those who knew what was happening are silent. In relation to the war in Gaza, Pilger says, ‘Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia … (t)hey know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, ‘Israel’s right to exist.’ They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine’s right to exist was cancelled 61 years ago and the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel.’

Also reproduced in that issue of the South Bulletin is what Mahatma Gandhi said on the subject in 1938 and 1946. ’My sympathies are all with the Jews,’ he wrote, ‘…But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. …. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?…If I were a Jew and were born in Germany,…I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example.’[3]

Gandhi goes on to say, ‘Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct…Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home… And now a word to the Jews in Palestine…if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun…’[4]

Indeed, it was the British gun that created the state of Israel. In my own op-ed in the special issue, I show how the British violated the mandate on Palestine given to them by the League of Nations. On three occasions Britain promised the Arabs the setting up of a legislative body in Palestine and the cessation of Jewish immigration. All the promises were broken. Arab rebellions were ruthlessly crushed including, according to British records, the murder of 3,073 Arabs and punitive demolition of more than 2,000 houses through aerial bombardment. During the Second World War, nearly 30,000 Jewish men were trained by the British, and formed the core of the Haganah, later the Israel Defence Forces, which defeated the Arabs in 1948. It is clear that the British violated that trust. The General Assembly of the UN should set up a Commission of Inquiry to undertake the long-delayed evaluation of the British mandate in Palestine. Did the British fulfil their mandate and their trust?

The Jewish problem was always, historically, a European problem. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (c.1598), the central and most despised character is the Jewish moneylender Shylock. Though Shylock is a tormented character, he is also a tormentor. In his Othello, the Moor of Venice (c. 1603), Othello, the black man, kills his wife, Desdemona, and yet Shakespeare presents him as a character that deserves sympathy and compassion. Throughout the centuries, a Jew in Europe was looked down upon more than a black man. It is with colonialism and the Jewish Holocaust in Europe that a reversal took place, with the black man despised and the Jews becoming an object of pity and guilt. To expiate their guilt Europe and America, instead of giving Jews their rights in their own countries, dumped them onto the colonised South.

Gandhi’s advice to the Jews now holds good for the Arabs. They must fight for their rights where they are born, even if they are shot and cast into the dungeon, and even if Israel holds 12,000 of them prisoners in their dungeons. Israel, with all its military hardware and American technology designed to flush out the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, will not defeat Hamas. Hamas is not just a few individuals. It is an idea, the idea of liberation from merciless exploitation and oppression. Israel cannot win. The fact is that the two-states solution primarily serves Euro-American broader interests in the Gulf area. The Euro-American alliance exploits the Jews in Israel, and in turn, Israel super-exploits and oppresses the Palestinians.

One casualty of the war in Gaza is the two-states solution. The question then is: What does the international community do with a state called Israel. There is a forgotten piece of history. When the British mandate over Palestine was created, the US Department of State, in supporting UN Resolution 181, had recommended the creation of separate Jewish and Arab provinces, not states. Now that the two-states solution has failed, the Palestinians should have their democratic right to create their one state, as should have happened if the British had been faithful to their mandate. As for the Jews, I have a practical proposal. The only way the Americans and the Europeans can expiate their guilt over centuries of persecution of the Jews is to ‘welcome them back home’. They can create a province called Israel somewhere between Utah and California. It would cost US$2.5 million over a period of ten years. It can be done. ‘We can do it’, Obama!

* ‘Development and Globalisation: Daring to Think Differently’ (ISBN: 978-1-906387-51-8) is available for only £7.95 from pambazukapress.org.
* Yash Tandon is the former executive director of the South Centre.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

NOTES
[1] See the Independent (2009) 9 January.
[2] South Bulletin: Reflections and Foresights (2009) 16 January, www.southcentre.org
[3] Mohandas K. Gandhi (1938) ‘A non-violent look at conflict & violence’, Harijan, 26 November, http://www.kamat.com/mmgandhi/mideast.htm
[4] Gandhi (1938).

Posted at Pambazuka News where comments may be posted.

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