Monday, 23 August 2010

COEXISTing in Gaza

“History is a myth agreed upon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte.

The land variously called Israel and Palestine is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza is a small parcel of land about 21 miles long and 6 miles wide. It holds 1.5 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees from the 1949 Palestinian exodus.

During its long history, its area, population and ownership varied greatly. History, and different perceptions of history, are perhaps the most important factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The archaeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Canaanite peoples and invading tribes. Over time, Christianity spread to most of Palestine and by about 638 AD the population consisted of Jewish converts to Christianity and paganism, peoples imported by the Romans, and the original inhabitants.

The Crusaders captured Jaffa and Jerusalem in 1099, slaughtered many Jewish and Muslim defenders and forbade Jews to live in Jerusalem. In the mid-1200’s, Arab-speaking Muslims made up most of the population. Beginning in the late 1300’s, Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean lands settled in Jerusalem and its surroundings. In 1517, Palestine became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan invited Jews fleeing the Catholic inquisition to settle in the Turkish Empire, including several cities in Palestine. By 1880, about 24,000 Jews were living in Palestine, out of a population of about 400,000. The Muslim rulers allowed Christians and Jews to keep their religions. However, most of the local population gradually accepted Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture of their rulers.

At that time the Jewish connection with the land was mostly abstract and connected with dreams of messianic redemption. The advent of Zionism in around 1897 had no concern for the Arab population, it was vaguely imagined that they would agree to voluntarily transfer to other Arab countries. By 1914, the total population of Palestine stood at about 700,000. About 615,000 were Arabs, and 85,000 were Jews.

The more modern history of Palestine then degenerates to a sorry affair of backstabbing, double dealing and deceit which continues to this day. Britain, Syria, France, Lebanon, Egypt and America all played their ignominious part.

In November 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration which was a letter addressed to Lord Rothschild, based on a request by the Zionist organization in Great Britain. It stated Britain’s support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. The mandate between all the various parties proved impossible to implement and as a result no institutions were created. Ormsby-Gore, undersecretary of state for the colonies concluded, “Palestine is largely inhabited by unreasonable people.”

The rise of Hitler in Germany started a tide of immigration. In 1936 widespread rioting, financed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, known as the Arab Revolt, broke out. The Peel commission of 1937 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab one, and included voluntary transfer of Arabs and Jews to separate areas.

Reports of Nazi atrocities became increasingly frequent and vivid and there was a desperate need to find a haven for refugees. The Zionist leadership declared that it supported the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish Commonwealth and determined that the British were in principle, an enemy to be fought, rather than an ally. The Jews who suffered the Holocaust had been trapped in Europe because virtually no country would give them shelter. They were now desperate to bring the remaining Jews of Europe to Palestine.

In the summer of 1945, Great Britain reneged on their promise to create a Jewish state in Palestine. Rival Zionist underground dissident groups united and used terrorist force to drive the British out of Palestine. In Britain, newspapers and politicians began to demand that the government settle the conflict and stop endangering the lives of British troops.

An Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended allowing 100,000 Jews to immigrate immediately to Palestine. The Arabs brought pressure on the British to block such immigration. The British found Palestine to be ungovernable and returned the mandate to the United Nations who recommended that Palestine be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state with open borders and economic union, with Jerusalem to be put under international administration, a plan which was adopted on Nov 29th 1947. Many factors contributed to the decision to support partition, including domestic politics and intense Zionist lobbying. Truman wrote in his diary “I think the proper thing to do, and the thing I have been doing, is to do what I think is right and let them all go to hell.”  

The Jews accepted the UN decision, but the Arabs rejected it. Clashes between Israelis and Arabs began almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. Arab Palestinians began leaving their towns and villages to escape the fighting, most of the Arab population of Haifa left in March and April of 1948 despite pleas by both Jewish and British officials to stay.

On May 14, 1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel, and the British withdrew gratefully from Palestine.

From that point onwards hostilities increased. Both sides were fed weapons from their ‘allies’. Ex terrorists turned political leaders such as Moshe Dayan insisted that Israel should wage preventative war, and Israeli reprisals became ever more severe and disproportionate, ideology and dogma became more polarised and a poisoned wound lain open for 50 years continued to fester unabated.

When Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic Organisation with a socio political wing (not unlike the IRA) won the majority of democratically elected seats in the Palestinian Parliament in January 2006, Israel refused to do business with them. Mistrust and clashing ideology ensured that suicide bombers would enter Israel with malicious intent and rockets would be fired from the Gaza Strip onto Israeli land. History ensured that Israel would always retaliate in a massive and disproportionate way. Homes were bulldozed, whole streets demolished, rockets were indiscriminately fired at civilians, thousands killed, and finally, in 1994 the inglorious apartheid wall was built between the two warring tribes. Soldiers were given new rules of engagement, which, according to Ha’aretz, allow soldiers to fire at anyone seen there at night. .

On July 9 2004, the International Court of Justice delivered its advisory opinion on the Israeli security barrier. The court ruled that the barrier violates human rights and that Israel must dismantle it. Israel announced that it would not abide by the court decision.

The Goldstone report on the Gaza War of 2008–2009 cited war crimes carried out by Palestinian militants and the Israeli army, but most of its criticism was directed at Israel, which killed roughly 1,400 people during the war. The Report called on international governments to take action to bring those responsible to justice. Nothing happened.

Israel began the infamous Blockade on Gaza in 2007. This blockade prevents Gaza from exporting any goods, putting a crippling squeeze on the local economy, and restricts imports to a limited amount of basic humanitarian aid.

The UN estimates that of the 1.5 million people living within the boundaries 60 per cent are short of food, with seven out of ten living on less than $1 a day and six in ten having no daily supply of water. A man was arrested in August 2010 for stealing a bucket of Israeli water.

Today, Israel continues to blockade the tiny state on all fronts. By sea, by land and by air nothing is allowed in unless the Israeli government says so. The Palestinians – the original inhabitants of this land – are kept only slightly above malnutrition level. This is a collective punishment and a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation. As such it is seen by the UN as a war crime.

On April 21, 2008, former US President Jimmy Carter met with Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal and reached an agreement that Hamas would respect the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory seized by Israel in 1967, provided this be ratified by the Palestinian people in a referendum. Kaled Meshal thereafter complicated the offer, and Israel promptly declined it.

The situation for people living in the Gaza strip is insupportable. Indefensible is the international response to it.

The generational impasse of the Palestinian ‘problem’ represents a dismal, pathetic failure of men and women on every side to agree on just about anything at all. None of them are right. It is only by recognising every political entity as a part of the negotiation process that progressive opportunities can be explored.

Humanity in the region is on the edge of ruin. Should we ‘let them all go to hell’? The powers behind states have no conscience. It is for the hearts of people to find that conscience. Thus, COEXIST members are heading off on the overland Viva Palestina Convoy 5 Leaving London on September 18 2010. It is expected that we will be joined by more than 500 vehicles at the gates to Rafah.

Please help us with donations for humanitarian aid at

For an overview of Palestinian and Israeli history:

For more about the Viva Palestina convoy:


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