“What is Palestine? It is just a memory”, wrote leading Palestinian activist and academic Edward W. Said in his introduction to his seminal work “The Palestine Question”.
Unfortunately Said posed a question and then got the answer completely wrong, and on the opposite side Golda Meir in her fascinating autobiography exhibited the most stunning of naivety by declaring; “We (the Jewish people) bought reams of land fair and square under the British Mandate. It belongs to us. We haven’t cheated anyone”.
Oo eck? Where do you even start to find a solution for one of the world’s most troubled regions when the main protagonists are in such a mind-boggling state of denial?
Palestine has never existed at any time in history, and Israel itself hasn’t been an independent Jewish State for over 2,000 years, so claim and counter claim are not based on any form of reality, just the vague and frankly dissembling “promises” made by the Franco British conquerors of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One. The ultimate example of divide and rule as the Balfour Declaration (1917) promised a Jewish Homeland based in Israel, but secretly the British and French had already agreed to carve up the area for themselves via the Sykes Picot Agreement of 1916, but with proviso for an independent Arab State to include Palestine.
Tangled webs and all that. Once again a shameful episode in British history which has produced misery and suffering well into the 21st Century.
Having read Jeremy Bowen’s brilliant narrative of the Six Day War last year, I was pretty keen to get stuck into further reading about this desperate situation, preferably from the points of view of those directly involved.
I began with “My Life by Golda Meir” which, although fascinating as she was undoubtedly an amazing human being, proved ultimately futile as she basically took the view that Israel is here in the Middle East, and the Palestinians should actually be grateful to the Jews for bringing civilisation to the place.
She demonstrates not one ounce of empathy for the plight of the Arabs which surprises me as she has plenty to say about the British heavy handed way of running the Mandate, and the disgraceful manner that the Jews of Europe and Asia were pushed from pillar to post in the 20th Century culminating in the unmitigated barbarism of the Holocaust.
I can fully support the way that the State of Israel was forced to fight for it’s very existence in 1948, 1967 and again in 1973 when all the nations around it were determined to exterminate them, but it seems to me that heroic defence has become posturing, malevolent superiority, and I can’t imagine that this is what Meir, David Ben Gurion and their fellow signatories to the Declaration of Independence for the State of Israel had in mind when, filled with the pioneer spirit and the hope that anything is possible, they took the opportunity offered to them by the UN all those years ago.
The Arab Governments, egged on it has to be said by Ernie Bevin did the Palestinian people no good what so ever when they point blank refused what was on the table; namely a viable and free Palestine if, like the Jews they had been prepared to accept the help on offer and work hard to make a go of it.
But the egos of the rulers of the newly created Arab States ran riot and they assumed destroying Israel would be pushover.
The result ended up being a massive upheaval and dislocation for the Palestinians, exacerbated by Nasser’s psychotic attempts in 1967 and 1973 to push Israel into the sea with Soviet connivance.
But Israel has done itself no favours by electing head bangers such as Begin and Sharon to lead them, although it is interesting that once in Office both men were faced with the prospect of being forced into pragmatic moves regarding peace.
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 provided a depressing ending to a window of progressive moves from a guy who having put men into the field as Israeli Chief of Staff in 1967, was so scarred by that experience that he was prepared to do whatever it took to bring conflict to a conclusion, including ceding the West Bank and Gaza in return for security.
As for Said’s book. Yes we get it about the way Israel acts towards the Occupied Territories, but instead of endless Victim Lit I was looking for some practical answers. He had none, apart from justifying suicide bombing and blaming the Jews for everything.
I read Rabin’s memoirs, and whilst it’s easy to eulogise about bloke that was assassinated JFK style, he appeared like Colin Powell, to be thoroughly anti war due to having been at the sharp end, seeing the reality of death happening to his boys whom he felt responsible for and it begs the big What If question…
Reading these tomes makes me realise what happens when leaders manipulate, and in some cases fantasise about the past as it whips their followers into a frenzy for a future that is simply never going to happen.