Opinion: Israel has no option but to defend itself against Hamas and Iran

Lib Dem Voice has invited both the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (article published here yesterday) and the Friends of Israel to submit articles looking at the current Middle East crisis. Today we publish this contribution from Matthew Harris, Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.

At the pro-Israeli peace rally on Sunday 11 January, Trafalgar Square echoed to the sound of speaker after speaker calling, as the thousands of placards read, for “peace for the people of Israel and Gaza”. As a Liberal Democrat who believes in human rights and the rule of law, I cannot echo those calls strongly enough.

Israel is fighting in Gaza to stop the firing of rockets at towns and cities well within Israel’s internationally recognised, pre-1967 borders. These rockets are not home-made fireworks; they are sophisticated weapons, which often kill innocent people. They are fired without precision, with the intention of killing as many people as possible; Hamas is not deliberately aiming for the missiles to mostly miss. The average rocket fired from Gaza contains 7-8kg of explosives – substantially more than the 5-7kg detonated by each of the London bombers on 7/7, when they killed 52 people. I have stood in a house in Sderot which had been hit by one of these missiles and it was utterly devastated. It is a matter of simple good fortune that more people have not been killed and maimed, given that 6,053 of these rockets have been fired at Israel since its disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

Pledged unequivocally in its 1988 charter to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, Hamas has no interest in peace and no desire for the two-state solution favoured by Liberal Democrats. As its charter states, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)”.

Israel is therefore faced on its border by a force pledged to its destruction, armed and funded by Iran. Iran’s strategic aim is to foster a confrontation with Israel that would leave Iran as the undisputed power in the Middle East; its tactical aim in Gaza is to make Hamas as militarily powerful there as Hezbollah is in Lebanon. Such an outcome would deal a death blow to long-term hopes of Middle East stability and would be disastrous for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The harsh reality is that Israel has no option but to abort this Iranian-backed war machine (including missiles with an ever-longer range) in Gaza. Israel is targeting Hamas’ rocket-firing capacity and is seeking to limit Palestinian civilian casualties. On 10th January, Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, said:

Despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, a tragically high number of innocent civilians have been killed and wounded. That is the inevitability of Hamas’s way of fighting. Avoiding civilian casualties when fighting among the people is always difficult. When combating an enemy (Hamas) that uses human shields it is impossible.”

The death of any civilians is tragic, so a ceasefire is urgently required, but there is no point in a ceasefire if it is merely an interval between this Gaza war and the next. Israeli and Palestinian children deserve a durable ceasefire that addresses the root causes of this latest conflict.

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40 Comments

  • Jonathan Davies 14th Jan '09 - 12:01am

    Israel attempted to marginalise the terrorists by withdrawing from the entirety of Gaza in 2005. It hoped the Palestinian authority would use the opportunity to develop the Palestinian economy (aided by millions of pounds of EU aid) and provide a model for a future larger Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Instead, within days missiles started being fired from Gaza at Israeli civilian populations in Sederot and nearby towns in Southern Israel, all indisputably within the 1967 borders of Israel (the “Green line”).

  • “Israel attempted to marginalise the terrorists by withdrawing from the entirety of Gaza in 2005.”

    But it has operated a pretty severe blockade of Gaza for at least some of that time. At one point Gaza nearly ran out banknotes as Israel wasn’t allowing such things across the border.

  • I think Mr Harris needs to acquaint himself with some facts:-

    (1) The rockets Hamas is firing into Israel are militarily useless. They have, in three years, killed a tenth of the civilians Israel has killed in three weeks.

    (2) Israel’s attack on Gaza is the latest application of the Old Testament based Dayan doctrine that a 100 Arabs must die for every Jew. In modern parlance, we call this a “disproportionate response”. The term used at Nurnberg was “reprisal” (eg, the attack by the Waffen SS on Oradour).

    (3) Israel has launched numerous disproportionate responses in its 60 year history, but has never secured a permanent peace.

    (4) Mr Harris complains that Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist (though many Hamas leaders are willing to do this). What the author forgets is that for many years Israel refused to acknowledge that such people as “Palestinians” even existed.

    (5) Mr Harris complains that Hamas is backed by Iran. Is he happy that Israel is the puppet of the United States of America, which props up more dictatorships and has started more wars in the region than Iran could ever hope to do? Does Mr Harris believe that Ahmed Ahmedinedjad has more control over Hamas than Dick Cheney has over Israel?

    Now a question for Mr Harris:

    In the days when the Fianna Fail government in Ireland allowed the IRA to use its territory to launch attacks on Northern Ireland, would the United Kingdom have been justified in bombing Dublin?

  • If during the troubles, the government of Ireland had openly allowed the IRA to launch rockets containing 7-8 kg of explosives into Ulster or onto the British mainland from the Republic, would Great Britain have been justified in bombing Dublin? The answer to that would surely be “yes” – because Great Britain and Ireland would have been at war. It never happened because the Fianna Fail government never supported the IRA to that extent. Elements in the government did support the IRA (but never officially). Equally, elements within the Republic (including within the Fianna Fail government) were implacably opposed to terrorism in general and the IRA in particular.

    So let me put a case to you this way – to avoid any further historical inaccuracies.

    There are two territories side-by-side. Both have governments chosen by their peoples (albeit with varying degrees of probity). One is run by a political movement that denies the right of its neighbour to exist. This same movement has an organised element launching missiles into the territory of its neighbour. Does the neighbour have the right to defend itself? Forget about whether you think its method of defending itself will make things better or worse (that’s a decision for the people of the territory itself). Does it have a right to act?

  • A question for Wayne Casey:

    Is Palestine entitled to defend itself against the continued illegal settlement programme, the house demolitions, arbitrary arrests, and sundry varieties of oppression and harassment meted out by Israel (with the active assistance of the United States of America)?

    Or should Palestinians accept their inferior status, walk meekly into the desert and starve to death – which is what Israel and its supporters have been telling them to do for more than half a century?

    The reason why the United Kingdom didn’t bomb Dublin is (1) it would have been illegal under international law, and (2) it would have been exceptionally counterproductive.

    And they are two reasons why Israel shouldn’t be bombing Gaza and Hamas shouldn’t be bombing Israel.

    The monster of Hamas is the inevitable result of US and Israeli policy. If Cheney and his predecessors had imposed a peace on the region back in the 1980s, Hamas would have remained on the margins where it belongs.

  • I’m being anonymised again!

  • Frankly, defending either Israel’s actions or those of Hamas is simply defending the indefensible. If it wasn’t for the effect of the war on innocent people on both sides of the border I’d really be inclined to take a “plague on both your houses” approach and let them get on with it.

    Both sides need to recognise the legitimacy of the land claims of other before any peace deal will work – that’s what happened in NI. Until then there will always be conflict.

    Part of me does think, though, that the best negotiators for this would be Iain Paisley and Martin McGuinness – two polar opposites who came to realise that the only way to maintain peace was to work together.

  • Wayne Casey 14th Jan '09 - 1:56pm

    As I pointed out in my original contribution, the United Kingdom didn’t bomb Dublin during the Troubles because it didn’t have a reason to (the question of legality or efficacy didn’t come into it). Had an Irish government actively and openly aided an arm of its ruling party to bomb any part of the UK then that would have been a declaration of war. A war between the Republic and Great Britain didn’t happen, however, because the Irish government didn’t behave in the way described by Sesenco. The government of the Irish Republic (if not certain highly-placed individuals) behaved in a way you would expect from a democracy – with deference to the rule of law.

    Hamas are the de facto rulers of Gaza. Those most animated by the Palestinian cause never tire of reminding us that Hamas were elected by the people of Gaza. The rockets being launched into Israel are being launched by an arm of the Hamas movement. Hamas have declared war on Israel and Israel has responded. Ireland didn’t declare war on Britain or act in a way that amounted to a declaration of war. Any comparison between the two is redundant.

    Like most Liberal Democrats (but clearly not all) I believe in a two state solution – a secure Israel and a viable and prosperous Palestine. Hamas does not believe in a two state solution. Sorry, but it doesn’t. I wouldn’t argue that if Hamas recognised Israel tomorrow the negotiations over the final shape of the two states wouldn’t be tough. They would be mind-numbingly complex. But negotiations can’t even start until the very top-level aim is agreed between the main parties – and it isn’t. The war, therefore continues. It is not Israel’s fault that when push comes to shove it is better at it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jan '09 - 2:31pm

    KL

    “Part of me does think, though, that the best negotiators for this would be Iain Paisley and Martin McGuinness – two polar opposites who came to realise that the only way to maintain peace was to work together.”

    Hmm, consider the history of these two gentlemen. They start off as extremist fringe figures. They spend two decades or more stirring up hatred and violence, and denouncing and backstabbing anyone more moderate on their side, branding them as “traitors” for even considering any sort of compromise. Then, once they have thereby demolished the mainstream and emerged as top dogs, they settle for what was on the table anyway when they started the job.

  • Matthew Harris 14th Jan '09 - 4:11pm

    Interestingly, with Paisley and McGuinness, there are those who say that Northern Ireland worked when the really hard men started talking, as they didn’t have to look over their shoulders and worry about the reaction from the extremists – they WERE the extremists! With that in mind, I sometimes think that there could be a role for Marwan Barghouti (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marwan_Barghouti).

    No, I am obviously not suggesting that the Palestinians give up the ghost and starve themselves to death in the desert. Great injustices have been done to the Palestinian people. They deserve a state. That is why it is so tragic that Hamas is a rejectionist movement – rejecting the very peace process that, hitherto, has come so frustratingly close to delivering a state of Palestine. See http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5477420.ece for an analysis of that.

    Sesenco asks me a series of questions. Am I happy that Israel is apparently the puppet of the USA, which he says has started lots of wars in the region? Well, my view of the USA is radically different from yours, hence my signing the Euston Manifesto (http://eustonmanifesto.org/the-euston-manifesto/), which I will allow to speak for itself. Re: his comments on the Dayan Doctrine, there is no Old Testament (or New Testament) in Judaism, just the Bible, which is never read in isolation, but always in light of the Talmud, which would never say that 100 people must die for every Jew who dies – not sure where that comes from! I have never heard of the Dayan Doctrine, and the Internet leaves me little wiser on this score. Is this a reference to Moshe Dayan? If so, I assume it means that Dayan presumably believed that Israel could only survive if its enemies realised that an attack on Israel would have such incalculable consequences as to be not worth undertaking. I don’t disagree with Dayan on that, if that’s what’s being discussed. It’s called deterrence.

    Teek asks how many Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets since 2002.The only statistic that I can easily find online is that between 2004 and June 2008, Qassam rockets killed 16 people and wounded hundreds of others, including many children – not all of them Jews, by the way, as other people live in Israel besides Jews. That bald statistic ignores the psychological impact of living in a place in which potentially fatal rocket strikes take place several times a day.

    Geoff, I support most of what the Observer letter says – it supports Israel’s right to defend itself, deplores civilian casualties and urges the world to bring about a lasting ceasefire. I agree. I have discussed it with one of the signatories, a person who is strongly opposed to calls for an embargo on arms sales to Israel. Here is the actual letter: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/11/gaza-israelandthepalestinians Nothing would please me more than if the Liberal Democrats coalesced around the sentiments expressed in this letter.

    “Wit and Wisdom” asks a series of questions, which I shall answer in a separate post, as this one is already long enough.

  • Wayne Casey:

    “Ireland didn’t declare war on Britain”

    So what was the Easter Rising all about, then? And you neglect to mention that throughout the period of the Troubles, the Republic of Ireland purported to have sovereignty over part of the United Kingdom. Moreover, all politicians in the Republic of Ireland during that period (with the exception of Conor Cruise O’Brien and one or two others) maintained that Ulster Protestants did not have a right to self-determination. Unlike Israel, though, neither Fianna Fail nor the IRA ever went as far as to claim that the territory they coveted was given to them by God.

  • Wayne, I would have thought that most Liberal Democrats actually believe in a single state solution with people of all ethnic origins living together in peace. A mite fanciful at the moment perhaps, but a worthwhile aspiration.

  • Since I posted my local party’s “single state solution” (well, almost) in the comments to the Friends of Palestine’s contribution to this debate, I thought it should appear here too – in the interests of balance naturally.

    And the challenge to both Friends groups remains; are you pro-peace enough to boldly and jointly lead the way as “Lib Dem Friends of the Middle East”? ‘Cos if you guys can’t link hands, there ain’t much hope is there?

    Conflict Resolution in the Middle East

    “Conference notes that progress towards a solution in the Palestine/Israel conflict remains deadlocked and that, beyond recent events, a measure of the depth of this deadlock is reflected in the refusal of the Israeli settler movement to return to 1967 borders and the refusal of Palestinian refugees to give up their ‘right of return’.

    Conference believes that:
    a) a just solution to this conflict would result in a major reduction in global tensions;
    b) the European Union potentially has a very important role to play;
    c) new thinking is required.

    Conference therefore calls upon the UK government to explore the feasibility and benefit of Israel and Palestine being jointly invited into membership of the European Union, conditional on the broad political and economic co-operation and compliance such membership requires.”

    If any sympathetic Lib Dem Friends have the ear of FCC members, perhaps they could lobby accordingly!

  • Andrew Duffield 14th Jan '09 - 7:27pm

    Sorry, that was me – not Anon!

  • Matthew Harris 14th Jan '09 - 7:51pm

    In my post at 4:11 pm today (which had some technical problems – it’s up there now), I promised to write another post to address Wit and Wisdom’s questions from his first post.

    First, to address tonyhill’s point about a one-state solution. Were Israel/Palestine to become one state, Israel would cease to be a Jewish-majority state. What would happen in the one state of Israel/Palestine if, in fifty or a hundred years time, the Arab majority became hostile to the Jewish minority (as has happened to Jewish minorities in so very many countries over the centuries) and expelled them, or worse? Israel was created precisely because, with Jews a minority everywhere, there had to be one state in which Jews are not a minority, to provide a haven for Jews persecuted in other countries. In the 1930s, there was no such haven and most Jewish refugees therefore had nowhere to flee to, as most countries would not take many of them in – so they were murdered instead. A one-state solution is a negation of Israel’s whole existence, so the Israelis would never sign up to it. Look what happened when a one-state solution was followed in Yugoslavia and look at the disentegration of once-harmonious Lebanon. And if we must have a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine, why not a one-state solution in India/Pakistan?

    On to Wit and Wisdom’s questions, which are really rhetorical questions, debating points. Incidentally, the headline on this thread is a fair summation of my article, but I did not choose the headline, so I will not get into an argument about the semantics of it (not that I am anti-Semantic). You asked eight questions.

    1. How will Israel achieve a sustainable peace in the long term if it continues to attack and bomb civilian populations?

    Answer: That is a consideration that Israel has to balance against its duty to protect its citizens from lethal rocket attack. It is a very complicated balance.

    2. Do you think the Palestinians in Gaza who are under assault are likely to be more or less supportive of Israel following this assault?

    Answer: If I was a Gazan coming under assault from Israel in this conflict, I’d be furious with Israel, filled with anger – so, to answer your question, less supportive. Again, that is a consideration that would have weighed in the balance when Israel decided whether or not to launch this war, for the strategic reasons discussed in my original post. Do I know that Israel has definitely got it right? Certainly not. I do, however, believe that they were within their rights in launching this action.

    3. Do you think the Palestinians of Gaza are likely to be more or less supportive of Israel following the blockade imposed by Israel on the territory?

    Answer: I think that the Palestinians of Gaza are likely to respond to the “blockade” by asking why Israel is acting in such a way in the first place, meaning that they are likely to pressure Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel, as there would be no “blockade” if there were no rockets. Look, were I the first British Liberal Democrat Prime Minister of Israel, would I adopt exactly the same policies towards Gaza as the Israelis have done over the last year or two? No, of course not. But this is complicated. You mention a “blockade”, but what about Gaza’s border with Egypt? Why is the Arab League not opening that and pouring aid through? Also, why has Hamas bombed the crossings through which aid has come from Israel, prior to this latest conflict? Could it be that a “humanitarian crisis” suits them for propaganda purposes? See http://www.bicom.org.uk/background/research-and-analysis/israeli-palestinian-arena/bicom-briefing–the-gaza-strip—access-and-terrorism for more of Israel’s view on this. The Palestinian director of the UN Development Programme for Gaza said in December 2008 (presumably before the war): “This is not a humanitarian crisis… It’s an economic crisis, a political crisis, but it’s not a humanitarian crisis. People aren’t starving.”

    4. Has the Israel assault on Gaza has helped or hindered the work of moderate Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace with Israel?

    Answer: In the long term, I believe it has helped them, because it could lead to an end to the Hamas rocket attacks and the restoration of a Fatah/Hamas unity government that will have the strength and the will to negotiate with Israel, with international encouragement and leadership from Obama.

    5. Has the policy of continued settlement building in the West Bank helped or hindered the work of moderate Palestinians seeking peace?

    Answer: The settlements are a complete disaster and should never have been built. Israel should be held to its commitments on the settlements. We need a two-state solution that dismantles settlements. Israel would claim that it is not continuing to build settlements, but only allowing development to cater for the “natural growth” of the settlements, which is allowed under various agreements, e.g. the Road Map.

    6. How can Palestinians build a viable state when they live under Israel control, with continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the erection of a wall on Palestinian land dividing many villages from each other and sometimes from their farmland, a ban on Palestinians using new roads built by Israel in Palestinian territory, a restriction on Palestinians using water piped to Israel settlements in the West Bank and continual harrassment by Israeli security forces?

    Answer: They can’t. That is why we urgently need a resumption of the peace process, so that these things will stop happening and be reversed, in many cases. Interestingly, Ed Davey was not pessimistic about the much-maligned Annapolis Peace Process after his 2008 visit to the region, which he wrote about here: http://www.totallyjewish.com/news/special_reports/?content_id=10747 (please note that this was published on 11 December and has obviously since been overtaken by events).

    7. Do you think the Israeli assault on Gaza will generate more Arab opposition to Israel or less?

    Answer: Interestingly, a lot of Arab leaders and people are very anti-Hamas and live in fear of Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran. Some Arab diplomats privately tell Israelis that they strongly support what is happening in Gaza, frankly. Egypt’s Foreign Minister has been adamant in saying to Hamas that Israel warned them of what would happen if Hamas went on firing rockets, but Hamas fired them anyway, so they bear responsibility for what has happened. His words, not mine. There is a new alignment in the Middle East stoked by fear of Iranian hegemony; Israel and many Arab states are essentially on the same side in that alignment. If you don’t like what Israel’s doing in Gaza, imagine what any of the Arab states would do if it had a force like Hamas firing rockets at it – those governments would have responded by simply dropping bombs as heavily as possible on the whole area, without Israel’s targeting of military site or efforts (however flawed in practice) to limit civilian casualties.

    8. Finally, why won’t Israel accept the offer from all Arab states, with the acquiescence of Hamas and Iran, of peace and full recognition in return for the withdrawal by Israel to its pre-1967 borders – which you refer to in your article?

    Answer: Does Israel not accept this Saudi Peace Plan, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and 2007? I thought that Israel had said that it would be willing to accept the Initiative as the basis for negotiations? To which the Arab League responded by saying that it would only negotiate if Israel accepted the Initiative in its entirety before the talks had begun? So near and yet so far when it comes to getting Israel and the Arab League talking, although, in 2007, Egyptian and Jordanian diplomats did visit Israel for talks under Arab League auspices, which was a striking diplomatic development. Obama favours the Initiative, so it will be the building block of his efforts to move thing things forward, along with the Syrian track (there’s a lot of room for optimism when it comes to Israeli/Syrian peace, but that’s another topic). See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7726241.stm for more.

  • It would be nice if people got their facts straight. 1000 innocent Palestinians have not been killed. approximately less than 300 were innocent civilians, while the rest were known Hamas operatives. Israel has every right to defend itself, and it is utterly impossible to avoid civilian casualities. Name one war where the offensive side has helped those shooting at them? Hospitalized, cared for, provided aid for civilians that get hurt.
    In addition, Israel and its people have every right to a homeland, and do not have to “bend over more” as wit and wisdom says. The fact that they are welcoming to any person even those from countries that threw jeews out or hideously murdered them in centuries past is incredible. And even if Israel did give the Palestinians everything they asked for, does anyone truly think that they would still be happy? If so, then why did they overwhelmingly vote in Hamas? a group that has specifically said Israel has no right to exist.

  • Matthew Harris wrote:

    “Were Israel/Palestine to become one state, Israel would cease to be a Jewish-majority state.”

    And what would be wrong with that?

    “Israel was created precisely because, with Jews a minority everywhere, there had to be one state in which Jews are not a minority, to provide a haven for Jews persecuted in other countries.”

    Should a state be created for the European Roma? And if so, who would have to be ethnically cleansed to make way for it?

    Now tell me, how many Jews have been persecuted in the United States of America? Or the United Kingdom? And how much anti-Jewish feeling was there in the Middle East and North Africa before Israel was created?

    Perhaps a more honest and up-to-date rephrasing of your quote would hold that a majority Jewish state is required to prevent apostacy and assimilation; and to further the interests of the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex in the region.

    Persecution of minorities is prevented by fighting for democracy and basic standards of human rights, not by running away from he problem and pursuing policies that actually put those minorities in greater danger.

    Now, what do you say to the Arab minority living in the expressly Jewish State of Israel? Are they not inevitably second-class citizens? And what would be your solution if they ever became a majority? Would you ethnically cleanse enough of them to ensure they remained a minority?

    “Look what happened when a one-state solution was followed in Yugoslavia”

    Yes. Forty years of peace. The fighting only began when the one-state solution was abandoned.

    (BTW, I’m not advocating a one-state solution for Israel-Palestine. It really would be unworkable.)

    “why not a one-state solution in India/Pakistan?”

    A jolly good idea.

    The latest scorecard reads: 13 Israelis, 1,000 Palestianians, according to the BBC News last night (and only 3 of those Israelis were killed by Hamas launched rockets). A textbook application of the Dayan doctrine.

    The question I ask the religious extremists and jingoists cheering Israel on is this: “Does Israel’s actions make Jews everywhere more or less safe?”

    Zionist fanatics like to think they are waging a divinely ordained race war. In reality, they are the unwitting puppets of US foreign policy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '09 - 12:20pm

    Wit and wisdom,

    you might note that the modern boundaries between Greece and Turkey were also very much a division on religious grounds. Orthodox Christians to the left, Muslims to the right, with a great deal of compelled movement on both sides to establish near religious monopoly in both states.

  • Matthew Harris 21st Jan '09 - 8:35pm

    Last week, I wrote another very lengthy post for this thread, and my computer crashed before I could publish it. I think that was nature’s way of telling me to stop trying to have the last word in this extremely complicated debate. The internet does seem to lend itself unpleasantly to “And another thing!” arguments of the lengthiest kind. My near namesake Matthew Parris had a reasonable point in this amusing piece: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5469109.ece

    So, I’m not going to waste my time and yours going through the detail of every little thing that I disagree with in some of the posts above, although I do disagree very strongly with much of what has been written. I shall instead content myself with saying:

    1) Israel was largely created by secular Jews (many of them atheists) and has very little to do with the Judeo-Christian religious belief (based on the Bible) that God supposedly promised Israel to the Jews. All this stuff about Israel’s actions somehow reflecting the “Old Testament morality” of Judaism is irrelevant, offensive guff.

    2) America’s conservative Christian voting bloc includes many millions of people who believe that the ingathering of Jews to Israel will hasten the Second Coming and the End of Days. This Christian apocalyptic has nothing to do with Judaism, especially as many of the Christians concerned believe that Jews will “disappear” at the Second Coming. The Christian bloc is much larger than the American Jewish community. Polling shows that American Jews are overwhelmingly in favour of the peace process and a two-state solution; there are substantive fears that, if there ever was an effective compromise in Israel/Palestine, conservative Christian American voters could block it, while American Jews would support it. The American Jewish community is overwhelmingly Democrat; when Reagan won a Republican landslide in 1984, 59% of Jews voted for his defeated Democrat opponent. In 2008, 78% of Jewish voters are estimated to have voted for Obama – thus supporting his open desire for a two-state solution that involves concessions by Israel and the Palestinians alike. It is nonsense to suggest, therefore, that the need for Jewish votes encourages American politicians to be more hardline in their support of Israel.

    3) My reading of Palestinian history has never brought to my attention the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under British rule in the 1920s and 1930s, as referred to in a post above. Wikipedia’s history of Palestine makes no mention of any such thing, and would surely be amended if it was inaccurate, given that it is open to anyone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine Between 1922 and 1947, the number of Muslim Arabs in British Mandate Palestine roughly doubled from half a million to more than a million – hardly evidence of ethnic cleansing!

    4) The area including today’s Israel/Palestine was split between different administrative districts of the Ottoman Empire prior to the First World War; its Arab inhabitants simply did not have a national identity as Palestinians at that time. There has never been a Palestinian state. When the British and French carved up the Ottoman Empire’s former Arab possessions, the modern national boundaries were arbitrarily invented. Britain was granted a mandate over a territory (newly named Palestine) that had never previously existed as a single entity. Britain decided to award its Hashemite Arab allies by giving them 77% of the new Palestine as semi-independent Transjordan (today’s Kingdom of Jordan) in 1922. The remaining 23% is what we today call Israel/Palestine. The UN voted to partition that territory in the 1940s. The West Bank and Gaza Strip were allocated to the proposed Palestinian state under that partition plan. The Arab world did not accept partition and there was a war in 1948 in which Jordan occupied the West Bank (and East Jerusalem, which the UN had said should be an international zone) and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip. Those places were never governed by the Palestinians; nor was Egypt and Jordan’s occupation of them ever recognised by the international community. Israel gained those territories in 1967 in a war that it would argue was defensive – a war that was effectively started by the Soviet Union (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-Day_War).

    5) The Arab world never recognised Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries, which were drawn up arbitrarily following the 1948 war. The Green Line demarcating the 1948 boundary effectively runs through people’s living rooms. It can be a basis for a two-state solution, based on sensible negotiations and concessions by Israel, but it would be ludicrous to insist on exact adherence to it, when it was created by war, not by negotiation, and was never accepted by Israel in the first place.

    5) One post asks how many Jews have ever been killed in the United Kingdom. Surely the writer knows that England expelled its entire Jewish community in 1290? Given that Jews have been expelled from country after the country all over the world, culminating (within living memory) in the genocidal murder of one in three of the world’s Jewish population, you’ll forgive Jews for trusting the security of a sovereign state more than they trust the benevolence of world opinion. The same writer asks how much hostility there was to Jews in the Muslim world prior to the creation of the State of Israel. The sad answer is “quite a lot”, contrary to the myth that Jews were never persecuted under Muslim rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_under_Muslim_rule

    Hopefully, now that the most recent phase of the current Gaza crisis is over, the election of President Obama can lead to a renewal of the quest for a sensible two-state solution to the problem of two peoples (Israelis and Palestinians)wanting one very small piece of land (the entirety of Israel/Palestine is a tiny fragment of the Middle East: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Facts+About+Israel/Israel+in+Maps/Israel+and+the+Surrounding+Region.htm).

  • Matthew Harris 21st Jan '09 - 8:48pm

    I now have to be so pompous as to respond to my own post, as I made a typing error. A Freudian slip (a Clement Freudian slip?), some will say, as I wrote that the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 border) was “never accepted by Israel in the first place”. I meant to write that it was “never accepted by Israel’s enemies in the first place.”

  • Like the difficulty in finding condemnation of the rocket attacks from the LD Friends of Palestine it’s disappointing not to see any condemnation of the use of White Phosphorous which the IDF has now admitted took place

  • Matthew Harris wrote:

    “One post asks how many Jews have ever been killed in the United Kingdom. Surely the writer knows that England expelled its entire Jewish community in 1290?”

    (1) How many were expelled?

    (2) Are all British people living today to be blamed for this?

    (3) If the answer to (2) is “yes”, how much penance must we do? Another 60 years’ unconditional support for Israel?

    Now, I note that Matthew Harris declines to address my point about the absence of anti-Jewish violence in the United States. Why is this? Is it because there hasn’t been any, and it is inconvenient for him to admit it? Well, that may be one of the reasons. But there’s another. One of the cardinal rules of Zionism is never to utter anything remotely rude about the United States. Matthew won’t do it, will he?

    “Israel was largely created by secular Jews (many of them atheists)”

    Not true. How “secular” was Menachem Begin? Or Yitzak Shamir? True, a number of Zionist leaders (who never actually went to Palestine) were secular, but the people they manipulated with their 19th century romantic nationalist ideology based on religious mythology were anything but.

    It is of course a fact that many Jews who emigrated to Israel did so out of necessity rather than religious fervour. And it is true of many whose emigration from the Middle East and North Africa was engineered and whose identities and culture were stolen (and some of whose children were used in medical experiments because they were regarded as racially inferior).

    “and has very little to do with the Judeo-Christian religious belief (based on the Bible) that God supposedly promised Israel to the Jews.”

    It has EVERYTHING to do with it. The legitimacy of Israel is based on the claim that God gave Palestine to the Jews. Nothing else. This is what Zionists themselves say. And I have heard plenty do it. Matthew is the only one I have heard not do it.

    Matthew, what will your co-religionists make of your description of a central tenet of their belief system as “supposed”?

    Note that the ONLY element of Jewish culture that Israel has preserved is the Jewish religion. Jewish language, music and literature have been suppressed ruthlessly.

    Matthew, defending religious nationalism is a thankless, futile task. Do something more useful.

  • Matthew Harris 4th Feb '09 - 2:18pm

    A lot of points that I have been asked to respond to, so here goes, with the maximum attempt at brevity on my part:

    1) Hywel, I agree, I unreservedly condemn any country (including Israel) which makes illegal use of white phosphorous. Not all uses of white phosphorous are illegal. I agree with Amnesty International, etc, that all war crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel or Hamas must be thoroughly investigated. See http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hodesGxL8KO-Dib-ugYBmPbTyqeAD964MOT00 for more on that.

    2) Sesenco asks how many Jews were expelled from England in 1290 (it was a few thousand, if numbers matter) and whether British people today should be blamed for this. Well, I am descended from English people who were around in 1290, and no, I don’t blame myself for the medieval expulsion of England’s Jews. But I do reflect on England’s history and seek to learn from it; perhaps Sesenco could do the same. My point is that one reading of Jewish history is “expulsion after expulsion culminating in the Holocaust”, and that is the fulcrum of the argument for a sovereign state in which persecuted Jews can seek refuge. I am amused by Sesenco’s reference to the UK’s having given “60 years of unconditional support of Israel”. Considering that the UK has twice imposed a lengthy arms embargo on Israel, I’d hardly accuse Britain of “unconditional support” for the Israelis.

    3)Sesenco accuses me (and Zionists) of being unwilling ever to criticise the United States. I am happy to cricitise any country with which I disagree, including the United States. I love France, but I criticise French nuclear testing. I think American governments often get things wrong, but I am also pro-American. Of course there has been anti-Jewish violence in the USA – Sesenco, have you ever heard of the Ku Klux Klan? To give just one example, an Amercican Jew called Leo Frank was lynched in 1913. More info at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_antisemitism_in_the_United_States

    4) I called Menachem Begin and Yitshak Shamir “secular” meaning “non-religious”. Neither of them was a religious Jew, I believe.

    5) I invite everyone to read the history of Zionism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Zionism#Establishment_of_the_Zionist_movement_1897.E2.80.931917) and then decide for themselves whether it involved “romantic nationalist ideology based on religious mythology”, as Sesenco says.

    6) I would be most interested to hear some evidence for Sesenco’s astonishing, entirely untrue claim that the Israelis regarded North African Middle Eastern Jews as racially inferior and carried out medical experiments on their children. That is grotesquely untrue. I would like to be told where, on the Internet or in any book, there is evidence to support this outrageous accusation.

    7) Sesenco says that I am the only person he’s ever heard give a non-religious justification for Israel’s existence. This surprises me, given that there are so very many secular arguments in favour of a Jewish nation-state in the Jews’ historical homeland (http://www.bicom.org.uk/background/faqs). He asks what my co-religionists would make of my words. As I am an agnostic, I am not sure that I have any co-religionists. However, since my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish according to the laws of the religion and do go to synagogue roughly once a year, so I am very happy to consider myself Jewish, especially since half of my ancestors were Jews. Being Jewish (like being Irish) is about more than religious faith (or the lack thereof). I’m not sure why Sesenco imagines that my “co-religionists” would be unhappy about my reference to God’s having “supposedly promised Israel to the Jews”. Of course it is something that “supposedly” happened (according to the Bible), rather than something that “definitely” happened – any rational religious person (Jewish or Christian) would have no problem with my saying that.

    8) Jewish language, music and literature have been ruthlessly suppressed in Israel, says Sesenco. What is this nonsense? Is Hebrew not a Jewish language? It is true that, in the early days of the State of Israel, a lot of Israelis wanted to forge a new identity and went out of their way to reject what they thought was misplaced nostalgia for diaspora Jewish history and culture, which they saw as the “dead past”. But things have moved on as Israel has matured and there is now a more sophisticated relationship between Israelis and their Jewish past. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Israel if you’re interested. But where is this supposed “ruthless suppression”? Sesenco writes like a pamphleteer for the Socialist Workers’ Party.

  • Matthew Harris 4th Feb '09 - 2:51pm

    For what little it’s worth, I did not deliberately put a smiley face in my previous post. I have never used a smiley face and am not sure what it means! I must have pressed the wrong button on my keyboard.

  • On the Israeli side:
    13 Israelis were killed, including three civilians struck by rockets. The other 10 were soldiers.

    On the Palestinian side:
    1,284 Gazans were killed, including 894 civilians ‘

    This alone tells you that the Goldstone Report provides an inadequate explanation of events. Israel has a history of indiscriminate killing in protection of its people, and INCREASING settlements in spite of the world telling it not to.
    A major power attacking relatively defenceless people should not be condoned. We’re using a similar attack by Gaddafi as an excuse to send fire power to Libya.

    Goldstone can say that Hamas hasn’t investigated enough, and he’s correct, but Israel is dragging its feet on its own investigations.

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