The Island 9 June 2011

In looking at the Middle East in terms of the attitudes and actions of the range of countries that are involved in patronage, assistance and intrigues in the area, there is an element that needs to be addressed seriously, but never will be so long as American politics continues to blend populist democracy with brilliant manipulation of public opinion by well organized interest groups.

This is the issue of Israel, which has contributed so strongly to the bitterness of many Muslims towards the West. This is eminently understandable, because the West has not hesitated to make it clear that its primary allegiance is to Israel, and that the rights and wishes of other countries in the area count for little in comparison.

Quite simply, from the Arab point of view, the creation of Israel was an appalling injustice. We are told of the need in Sri Lanka to ensure that grievances are aired and recompense made to those who have suffered, but the West that preaches to us refuses absolutely to look into the question of the way in which Arabs were deprived of their lands to provide a homeland for immigrants from the rest of the world, predominantly from Europe.

The reason for this myopia has to do with the tremendous sense of guilt felt by many Europeans, rightly so I believe, for the manner in which they treated the Jews. Given such persecution, it was understandable that the Jews wanted a homeland of their own, and preferably somewhere which they could dominate. Fortunately for them, with the change in economic systems arising after the Industrial Revolution, their traditional skills proved of national importance wherever they were, and they were able to build up their influence in many industrialized nations. With the need for extended credit in the First World War, they became indispensable, and they got their reward in the form of the Balfour Declaration and the claims they could advance thenceforth on the newly created British Mandate in Palestine.

Abba Eban (center) with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and US President Harry S. Truman. Eban was the first Israeli Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

So the demography of Palestine changed, the enormous wealth of the West and collective support ensuring that the ownership of land changed apace.  Fortunately for the Zionist cause, a moral dimension to this was introduced by the persecution Jews suffered under Hitler, and not only in Germany.  So, at the end of the Second World War, with Britain exhausted, and a two pronged approach, involving terrorist activity as well as intense lobbying based on the suffering Jews in Europe had undergone, the United Nations created Israel.

Obviously that decision cannot be reversed now, but it is worth remembering the composition of the United Nations in those days, and the fact that Palestine was partitioned by a relatively small group of countries. This was followed by a massive land grab, which is justified on the grounds that other countries in the area attacked the new country. The fact that the Palestinians who were deprived of their lands cannot be held responsible for the threats Israel anticipated is forgotten, and the United Nations did nothing to ensure that the plan it had approved was implemented.

In 1956 Israel, encouraged by Britain and France, attacked Egypt, though on that occasion the United States registered its opposition to such imperialistic activities. The United Nations was therefore able to ensure that Israel withdrew to its previous boundaries. In 1967, when Israel again attacked unilaterally, the approach of the United States had changed, perhaps because it felt on the defensive after the war in Vietnam and thought it had to ensure the allegiance of its old allies. Thus it has continued since then to protect Israel against any moves to ensure withdrawal to earlier boundaries. Indeed, on the contrary, despite occasional remonstrances, it has stood by, or positively encouraged, expansion into even more of the limited areas that had been left to the Palestinians after the 1948 putsch.

What is astonishing is that it has failed to register how seminally this has affected the feelings of not just the Arabs, but of Muslims all over the world. The sufferings of the Palestinians are patent, and the fact that the United Nations has been so complacent about generations growing up as refugees has created strong resentments. Interesting enough, this even led in time to adulation of a victim rather than someone in authority; in the eighties, following upon Nasser and then Gaddafi, it was Yasser Arafat who became the icon of the Muslim world. This happened after Sadat had made peace with Israel, and the manner in which emotional affinity passed from a President to a homeless exile should have made clear just how deep feelings ran.

This sense of resentment, this valorizing of the oppressed, has been accompanied by increasing resentment against the United States. Unfortunately those with the capacity to hone that resentment to  purely destructive ends found support from the United States itself, in the use made of organizations such as Al-Qaeda against the Communist menace. With Communism vanquished however, the organization and its terrorist mechanisms could be applied to a greater enemy. The allegiance to this new cause of so many middle class youngsters, who should have been supporters of the West in its opposition to Marxism, makes clear the intensity of the negative feelings nurtured over the years.

The current outburst of opposition to long established regimes that allowed little democratic space may signal greater attention to domestic issues. But it is inevitable that amongst those in opposition now, not only to regimes that had good relations with the West, but also to others that had asserted some sort of independence, as Gaddafi had done, will be several full of religious fervor. Though Gaddafi himself wore his religion on his sleeve, unlike Saddam Hussein, his Islam was not passionate about conflict based on religion, whereas clearly some of those opposed to him feel otherwise.

How all this will work out, how the forces that achieve domination in the various countries now in flux will balance out, remains to be seen. But it would be sad if the West did not take to heart the fact that unyielding support to Israel, a failure to encourage moderate forces in that country, and a refusal to provide a viable homeland with adequate compensation to those driven away to establish a new country, will only lead to further bitterness, further suffering for all.

The Island 9 June 2011