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By John Daniel Obioma
The Middle-East region has probably suffered more rivalry and conflict than any other part of the world. In like manner, there is hardly any singular race in history that has suffered more colonization, hatred, enslavement, xenophobic victimization and outright genocide than the Jews. Jewish subjugation came to a climax in the 1930s-40s when Adolf Hittler, the Imperial Chancellor of Germany, killed over six million of them in his dreaded gas chambers. It was a holocaust quite unheard of in history.
After the defeat of Germany by the allied powers in 1945, the United Nations Organisation (UNO) decided to give the Jews a sense of belonging. The religious and cultural ties to the land of Israel made Palestine the logical territorial home for the Jews; and was seen as the only viable and permanent solution to the problem of Jewish settlement. This issue was captured in the concept of Zionism, a nationalist movement aimed at self-determination, to achieve physical separation of the Jews from Europe (theatre of the holocaust) and ultimately create a Jewish state. Ironically, however, this move which was intended to give a permanent settlement and rest to the scattered and traumatised Jews only signalled the beginning of an unending state of war between the race and its neighbours, especially the Palestinians and Arabs.
By geneology, the Jews are descendants of Isaac (Isiaka) while the Palestinians are offsprings of Ishmael (Ismail), both children of Abraham (Ibrahim) – the progenitor. Both the Holy Bible and the Koran are agreed that they are indeed blood brothers. Besides blood relationship, the Jews and Palestinians also share cultural similarities as exemplified in names, architecture and even intermarriages. Today, we have Palestinian Jews who are products of intermarriage between the two opposing sides. Perhaps the only area of uniqueness is in their religions – the Palestinians are predominantly Muslims while the Jews practice Judaism and little Christianity. But the bone of contention is not rooted in religion, though it has been exacerbated by it. What then is the cause of the intractable conflict between “brothers” turned sworn enemies?
Background to Conflict
On November 29, 1947, the UNO General Assembly adopted a special Resolution 181 (known as the Partition Resolution) which divided the former Palestinian Mandate under Great Britain into Jewish and Arab States, with effect from May 1948. This was part of post World War II measures designed to forge a lasting peace and co-existence in the world. The Palestinians refused to recognise this arrangement which they regarded as favourable to the Jews and unfair to them. Moreover, the Palestinians, united and supported by the Arabs saw Israel as an interloper and land grabber who enjoyed the lavish support of the Western powers and collaborators. Thus, they launched a pre-emptive attack against Israel in 1947 with the intention of frustrating the Partition Resolution and prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. The Jews responded not only in self-defense but with the hope of establishing control over the territory allotted to them under the Partition Plan. Immediately after Israel formally declared its independence on May 4, 1948, Arab aggression against her intensified. A coalition of five Arab nations: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia invaded Israel. The war spilled over into 1949 in favour of Israel who also went ahead to capture additional territories beyond the partition resolution boundaries.
In May, 1967, during the Six-Day War, President Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the strong man of the Arab League, for no justifiable reason, mobilised troops on the Sinai near Israel’s border, closed the straits of Tiran against Israel’s shipping and expelled the UNO Emergency forces on the Sinai. Israel saw this as a subtle declaration of war and launched a pre-emptive attack which ended in a resounding defeat of Egypt and her allies – Syria and Jordan. Not only that, Israel also gained more territories – Golan Heights, the West Bank and Sinai peninsula – strategic Arab territories which it refused to give up. As a result, in the Pan-Arabic Conference held in Khartoum, August 1967, it was agreed that there would be “no recognition, no negotiation and no peace with Israel.”
Again, in the 1969 War of Attrition, Israel could still not be forced to give-up its acquired territories. The aim of Egypt was to adopt a limited but prolonged war which would exact heavy burden on Israel’s economy, military strength and psychology so much that the latter would capitulate and withdraw from Sinai. But Israel was determined to maintain the territorial, political and military statusquo created by the Six-Day War indefinitely.
In Yom Kippur War of 1973, a well co-ordinated surprise attack against Israel by Egypt and Syria, was equally executed with the same aim of dispossessing Israel of its territorial acquisitions. This took place when all international mediations had failed and a strong Arab coalition emerged which saw itself as capable of dealing a death blow on Israel (their common enemy). The war ended in a military draw between Egypt/Syria and Israel. However, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a little different from the preceding wars. It’s true that Lebanon had no territorial dispute with Israel and was virtually forced to participate in 1948 Arab-Israeli war. But in line with Menahem Begin’s (Likud Party’s) nationalistic ideology of Greater Israel, the invasion was intended to forestall any possibility of attack on Galilee from the PLO forces stationed in Southern Lebanon, which Israel saw as a security threat.
From the foregoing analysis, including the 1991 Gulf War later, Israel has never had any imperial ambition in the Middle East, only to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity from surrounding Arab nations that do not want her to exist. It is also determined to resist any military gang-up or anti-Israeli forces in that region.
The Gaza War
The Israel-Gaza war of July this year, presented the same characteristics as the ones before it. The war cloud began to gather in 2006, following the coming to power of Hamas, an Islamic party in Gaza. Hamas had declared itself an avowed enemy of Israel from the beginning, when according to its mission statement, “it is irrevocably committed to the destruction of the state of Israel.” Israel could not therefore recognise the formation of an enemy government close to its door step.
The theatre of war itself, Gaza, is a strip of land 25km long and 10km wide, lying vertically along Israeli Southern border. Israel largely provides and controls Gaza’s water supply, electricity and communication infrastructure. It equally has exclusive control over Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, a situation most detestable to Gazans and Hamas who frequently stage protests, cross-border raids and armed insurrection against Israel’s Southern settlements. To Israel these are pure acts of terrorism.
The frequency of these attacks prompted the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to mount air/land/sea blockade over Gaza. This grossly limited food and medical supplies to Gaza from 400 trucks to less than 68 per week. Angered, Hamas resorted to rocket attacks against Israel. When that could not work, they kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in cold blood, on June 12. Pushed to the wall, Israel invaded Hamas enclave and arrested nearly all it’s leaders while others died via Israeli air strikes in its “operation Brother’s Keeper”.
Declaring that all Israelis had become legitimate targets, Hamas unleashed volleys of rocket attack on Israel. Full blown war ensued as Israel also began its rain of air strikes initially at Hamas positions and subsequently at schools/mosques/civilian areas, which according to it were used as shield and weapon storage centres for Hamas operations. Furthermore, to effectively destroy Hamas tunnels, shelters and infrastructure of violence, Israel moved its ground troops into Gaza. Code-named “Operation Protective Edge”, the war formally began on July 8, and by July 29 when USA and the UNO brokered a cease fire, it had claimed 1,886 Palestinian lives (1,321 civilians and 565 militants) and 67 Israelis (63 soldiers and 3 civilians). Also, infrastructure damage, on both sides, especially in Gaza, was quite colossal. Israel had estimated the war to cost her about US$2.5 billion. To Hamas, the war budget and cost of reconstruction alone would not be less than $6billion. The leadership of the two belligerents are still alive while their civilian populations and ordinary soldiers have been used as canon-fodder.
In summary, the Israel-Gaza war was part of a long-standing Israel-Palestinian conflict. The cause of these conflicts could be summed-up in land acquisition and territorial control, generational hatred and competition for supremacy. The Palestinians and Arabs who are always the aggressors, want to reverse the occupier-status of Israel and make her to relinquish her acquired Palestinian territories. Israel on the other hand, like an endangered species, is jealously protective of its sovereignty and territorial gains.
As part of the Eastern Question, every Middle Eastern crisis is always internationalised, for strategic reasons. As always, the balance of power is in favour of Israel, while the Palestinian underdogs seem to enjoy world sympathy. The USA, UK, Canada, Germany and other Western countries have expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself and condemned Palestinian rocket attacks against her. On the other hand, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, N/Korea and other Islamic/Arab nations have condemned Israel’s high-handedness in the war. This unending squabble between siblings looks more like a divine curse, and it is only God that knows when and how it would come to an end.
Obioma is an Associate Editor with The Economy magazine