Saturday 20 March 2010

Blame it on the Occupation

I recently happened to switch on BBC World News, a channel that I don’t usually watch. As I surfed by the channel, my attention was attracted by voice of an Arab speaker when I heard him criticizing Israel. Although this is not an unusual thing to hear, I generally express interest in these types of news clips to try to gain as broad a perspective on the ongoing Middle East conflict as possible. I found myself tuned into the “Doha Debate”. This is a BBC sponsored debate that takes place a number of times a year, and is broadcast from the capital of Qatar. Chaired by BBC broadcaster Tim Sebastian, the debate has covered a variety of Middle Eastern subjects over the years that it has taken place.

The program that I tuned into on this occasion saw two members of Hamas debating against two members of Fatah. The chairman continuously suggested that the conflict between these two rival groups was preventing them from focusing on the real objective at hand i.e. building a Palestinian state. The audience of young students showed their disillusion for both parties by accusing them of not being true leaders to the Palestinian nation, and called for the resignation of both parties.

When boxed into a corner by the line of questioning, both parties repeatedly made sure that the audience understood that the suffering by the Palestinian people is the result of the “occupation”. This is nothing new. It is a phrase that is used frequently, and appears to be a concept which has unanimous consent across the Arab world and beyond. There would be few phrases that create more unity than this. But what is this occupation that they refer to? I wish to examine this in a little more detail.

In 1948, the UN Partition Plan for Palestine was implemented. The Arabs were enraged that a piece, the tiniest piece, of the Middle East would be inhabited by Jews. According to them, the Middle East was (and remains) the exclusive domain of Muslim Arabs, and the Jews have no place here. The War of Independence ensued during which time the Arabs were fortunately unsuccessful in achieving their objective of driving the Jews out of the small piece of land that we were allocated. (One wonders if it would have been regarded as an occupation if they had been successful and taken over the Jewish land).

The source of the occupation, according to Palestinian claims, was the Six Day War in 1967. Up until this time, the Palestinian people did not exist. The West Bank was under Jordanian rule, Sinai and Gaza under Egyptian rule and the Golan Heights under Syrian rule. There was not talk of creating a “Palestinian” state in these territories. The only intention of the Arabs was to expel the Jews from Tel Aviv, Netanya and the remainder of Israel. As most people now know, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike in 1967. The Arab armies, that were preparing to attack Israel, were caught unaware, and were completely destroyed. This afforded Israel to take the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan as its spoils of war. These lands are the source of the so-called “occupation”.

This also created the “Palestinian” people. It was easier for the Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians to hand over the responsibility of resisting the Israelis to Arafat and the newly created Palestinian people. As a result, the “Palestinians” carry the responsibility for expelling the Israelis on behalf of the entire Arab world. Most Arab countries adopt the attitude of being prepared to do whatever is required behind the scenes, but not necessarily to be at the front of the battle. In turn, the Palestinian leaders have kept their people suppressed and downtrodden to ensure that they feel animosity towards the Israelis. This corrupt practice is now becoming much more evident to the ordinary Palestinians as was evident in the Doha Debate that I watched.

Soon after war in 1967, East Jerusalem was formally annexed to Israel. The Golan Heights were similarly annexed in 1981. Instead of being under a military government, these pieces of land were formally joined to the Land of Israel. There was no intention of ever allowing Jerusalem to be split again, and no intention of allowing a situation where Jews have no access to their holiest site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and similarly the Golan Heights. The military administration over the remaining areas continued until the Sinai was returned to Egypt as part of the peace agreement signed in 1979. Parts of the West Bank were handed over in their entirety to the trusteeship of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords of 1993 (so-called Area A). Further parts of the West Bank were placed under joint Palestinian control (Area B) in terms of the same accords. Gaza was evacuated in its entirety during the summer of 2005, and is now under the control of Hamas.

In truth, the bulk of the so-called “occupied” land is no longer occupied. At most, one could argue that Area C of the West Bank is occupied, with Area B partially occupied (if such a term exists). If I was to be exceedingly generous, I could also bring East Jerusalem and the Golan under this definition even though we know that these areas are no longer occupied due to the fact that they have been annexed to Israel. What is clear to all is that the vast majority of the “occupied” territories are no longer occupied.

So why is there an ongoing attempt to seek sympathy from the international community over the occupation? If the Palestinians are serious about wanting to create a nation and a state for themselves, why do they not set about building their state with whatever they have? This was the approach taken by the Israelis in 1948 despite having a very small piece of land to call their own. And now, a short 62 years later, Israel has many achievements to be proud of. Unfortunately, the approach taken by the Palestinians has been to continue to act with aggression, to seek international sympathy and to do everything except build a state. They continue to suppress their people and to ensure that they live miserable lives to ensure that they will also continue to feel animosity towards the Israeli “occupation”.

On the basis of their actions, I am doubtful as to whether the Palestinians really wish to build themselves a state. It feels more to me like they are doing all in their power to grab Israeli land and send the Jews packing. Using the excuse of the “occupation” is a convenient tool to garner international support to expel the Jews from land, no matter how small it may be. Every little bit counts.

A smart person once said that you teach people how to treat you, by what you tolerate from them. I do not wish to teach the Palestinians that we will give up land to them each and every time they lodge a further complaint. I do, however, wish to teach them that the Jews are here to stay. Any agreement with them which is struck on the basis of mutual respect and recognition of each other’s rights to exist as a free and secure nation will be respected and welcome. Anything less will not.

I do not wish to present a situation that all is perfect with the Palestinians and the conditions under which they live. It certainly is not. The problem is that I have not seen the Palestinian leadership or the Palestinian people undertake positive actions to show that all they want is a free country of their own. Until such time as I see the Palestinians really devote themselves to building a nation and a state, I will never trust their actions. Each time they complain about the occupation, this will always signal to me that they are using tactics to gain support for the expulsion of the Jews. It is a tactic that will never allow them to achieve their objective, and will ensure the continuation of the Middle East conflict.

Israelis have seen through these tactics. The recent intifadas and wars have convinced even the most left-leaning Israelis that the Palestinians will stop at nothing except the expulsion of the Jews from Israel. In turn, Israelis will not let this happen. The Jewish army will ensure that the Jews will continue to keep what is rightfully ours. Many of the Palestinians have understood this, but their leaders continue to convince them that resistance (and the associated loss of life) brings them closer to their objective. This, however, will not happen. The sooner they realize this, the better off we will all be. Israel is here to stay.

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