With unrest continuing between Israelites and Palestinians, Nathan Young looks at what is being fought for.
The most recent bout of headline-grabbing “clashes” between the Israeli Defence Forces and the Palestinians, featured sniper fire aimed at unarmed protesters including teenage children, and one journalist whose flak jacket was labelled “Press.” Following on from this incident, it might be time to remind ourselves of the history of the conflict, what is at stake, and what we can do.
Anti-Semitism has been a staple of European life for centuries
The modern movement for a Jewish state began with Theodor Herzl’s “Der Judenstaat.” There are two central arguments for this, both of which remain influential in modern political discourse. The first is that the reclaiming of Palestine is God’s wish, as he gave that land to the Israelites. The second, and more secular one, is that the Jewish people need a state to defend themselves against the oppression they face in other lands. Anti-Semitism has been a staple of European life for centuries, with pogroms and expulsions from Spain to Russia, and denunciations of the Jews for decades from the pulpits of nearly every Christian church. Incidentally, anti-semitism was only condemned by the Church of Rome in 1962.
The majority of ethnically Jewish people in modern Israel are the descendants of people who were persuaded by one or both of the above arguments. Palestine was chosen largely because of the historical and religious links to the land, although British support for Jewish resettlement in Palestine helped. British Jews had previously considered an offer that the British Empire provide large parts of what is now Kenya to European Jews trying to escape persecution in 1905. The difficulty with this choice, of course, was that while Palestine had a historic connection to Judaism and a large Jewish population, the majority of people living in Kenya were non-jews. By the end of WWII only a third of people living in Palestine were Jewish. The founding of Israel was a violent affair, beginning in 1947 with the Civil war between Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine, and directly leading into the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Between these 3,000 to 13,000 Arabs died, and Israel emerged as a victorious and established nation.
The differences between Israel and Palestine are stark. Israel has a GDP of $332.5 billion, whereas Palestine has a mere $11.94 billion
The differences between Israel and Palestine are stark. Israel has a GDP of $332.5 billion, whereas Palestine has a mere $11.94 billion. Israel is a recognised member of the UN and supported by the USA. Palestine is merely an observer state in the UN, and its international support is a ragtag mix of much poorer Arab states, human rights organisations, Islamists, and left wing activists. One difference often claimed by supporters of Israel is that it is the only true pluralist and democratic society in the middle east, whereas Palestine culturally and politically is tribal and theocratic. Whilst Israel may not have an official state religion, it is defined as “Jewish and Democratic,” and is seen by many religious jews as a fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses. This, combined with the “Law of Return,” a law whereby Jews may “return” to Israel and claim citizenship, makes Israel at least partially ethnically and religiously Jewish by definition.
From a cursory glance at the headlines or television coverage one would assume that this is not the case. The international mainstream and establishment press and discourse continue to refer to the conflict in terms of “both sides.” In other words, as if there are two equal and legitimate causes. An example of this is in the Associated Press Tweet from April 6th which broke the news that Israeli troops had begun to “fire back” at Palestinian protesters who were burning tyres. To phrase it this way is to imply that the smoke from burning tyres is somehow equal to sniper fire from one of the world’s most powerful militaries.
Palestine is merely an observer state in the UN, and its international support is a ragtag mix of much poorer Arab states, human rights organisations, Islamists, and left wing activists
It is in this climate that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) exists. Its stated aim is to boycott Israeli products until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The BDS protects the full equality of Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and supports the right of return of the Palestinian Diaspora. In other words, it complies with the UN resolutions on the issue. The primary method of the campaign is boycott. Officially aimed at companies with links to Israeli settlements or the IDF, many participants of the boycott refuse to purchase any Israeli goods. At the end of last month Trinity’s Students’ Union voted to support this campaign, and with boycotting being the specialty of UCD activists, perhaps it is time for us to consider similar action.