Blood On the Sands

  On Wednesday, a barrage of rockets was fired by Gaza-based Palestinian militants into the southern part of Israel. Later that day, the Israeli government launched retaliatory airstrikes on twenty-nine sites in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to destroy the culprits. For a wonder, no-one was killed – this time.

  But since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 countless people – soldiers and civilians; citizens of Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, the Lebanon and other countries further afield – have perished in the conflict which has been a central feature of the Middle Eastern political landscape for long, painful decades. Approximately 16,000 people have lost their lives. And for what?

  The roots of the conflict stretch back into ancient history. The expulsion of the Jewish people from their homeland of Judea after the Jewish-Roman War of 132-135 led this people to spread across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, facing much persecution for many centuries. After the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews during the Holocaust, the victorious Allies – particularly the UK and the USA – felt it was their responsibility to bring an end to the persecution of the Jewish people. They decided that the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Eretz Israel, as long called for by the World Zionist Organisation, was the best way to ensure this.

  But there was one slight problem: Eretz Israel was part of the British Mandate of Palestine and home to 1.76 million people, over a million of them Palestinian Arabs with a history of conflict with the Jewish nationalists in the area dating back at least twenty years. Nonetheless, the State of Israel was created and achieved independence on the 15th of May 1948. A separate Palestinian state was also intended to be created, the two countries almost overlapping one another (see map).

  The next day, however, the fledgling nation was invaded by thousands of troops from neighbouring Arab  states, beginning the first in a series of intermittent wars which would tear the region periodically apart throughout the mid-twentieth century. During these conflicts, the land designated as Palestinian would be seized by Israel, along with other Arab territories (see above).

  Fast-forward to the modern day, and the divisions remain as deep as ever. There is religious conflict – many of the holy sites of both Islam and Judaism are the same and extremists on both sides demand that they be denied to the opposition; this on top of a deeper inter-faith conflict which has existed in the area for centuries and also includes Christian groups. There is ethnic hatred – anti-Semitism as a phrase cannot be used here, as both Jews and Arabs are Semitic peoples, but there is a definite and ingrained racial and nationalistic prejudice on the part of each group for the other. There is good old-fashioned economic self-interest – the richer Israelis make a good living out of exploiting the poor Palestinians. And there is severe political pressure on the leaders of both sides to continue the conflict – after all, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War led to the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat for daring to conclude peace talks with the enemy.

  And all the while, the conflict escalates. Israel builds illegal settlements on Palestinian soil, destroys shipments of humanitarian aid and launches airstrikes at civilian targets in the hope of picking off a few Hamas fighters. Even as I write this, the Israeli Parliament has passed a law to extend military conscription. The Palestinians respond with missile launches, bombs and other terrorist tactics. And understandably so.

  Let me make this clear – I do not support the terrorism of Hamas. But I do understand it. Whilst there has been in the past clearly fault on both sides, the fact remains that the land Israel occupies is fundamentally not theirs. No Jewish state existed in Canaan for over 1,800 years. That is far too long a time to maintain any kind of legitimate hold over a territory. By that argument, a quarter of the world’s surface is sovereign territory of the UK, most of Asia belongs to Mongolia and the coastline of the Mediterranean should be in Italian hands. This kind of reasoning is frankly preposterous. Added to this is the hugely heavy-handed tactics of the Israeli military in response to a relatively minor Palestinian threat – airstrikes in response to the launching of a couple of rockets is the kind of over-exaggerated response that no principle of self-defence can possibly condone. In recent years, casualties in the conflict have overwhelmingly been Palestinian fighters and – tragically – Palestinian civilians, even children.

  The fighting must end.

  Clearly it is no longer practical to remove the State of Israel from the region. The Jewish population is too entrenched and would be persecuted terribly in an Arab-dominated state. But, equally, the terrible racial, religious and socio-economic apartheid of the Israeli state must end. We have to, therefore, push for a two-state solution – one in which both sides have sovereign territory to call their own, so that both Israelis and Palestinians have the security to establish their homes and raise their families in peace. What is more, the Palestinian people must be compensated for the land that has been progressively stolen from them – involving, if not a return to the original 1947 UN plan, then at least a significant redrawing of the status quo.

  If this goal cannot be achieved, the conflict will rage on. More young men will lose their lives in pointless fighting. The lands considered holy by three major world religions will continue to be a battlefield for those same faiths to clash in fruitless war. There will forever more be blood on the sands of Canaan.

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