What does it mean to be a friend of Israel?
By BRIAN COONEY
The massive Nazi genocide of European Jews was the ultimate horror in a long history of discrimination and persecution of Jews in Europe and America. In light of this grim history of anti-Semitism, any good-willed person can sympathize with the cause of a secure and thriving Jewish homeland. However, recent events in Gaza and Jerusalem have again raised a painful question for Jews and non-Jews alike: to what extent does support for a Jewish homeland require defending the behavior of the Israeli government? Must a friend be an enabler?
The split-screen TV image on May 14 was bizarre and horrific. On one side, Palestinian flags flying against black clouds from burning tires, and tens of thousands of unarmed protesters, including women and children. Many were falling down dead or wounded from high-velocity live ammunition fired by Israeli snipers lined up along the border with Gaza. Fifty-eight were killed and upwards of 1,350 were wounded by gunfire. There were no Israeli casualties.
On the other half of the screen: the opening ceremony of the relocated U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. This ghoulish scene included Jared and Ivanka Kushner making nice with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Outside the embassy, according to Middle East Eye, “dozens of unarmed Palestinians [were] beaten and arrested by Israeli security forces … eliciting cheers from Israeli demonstrators who came out to support the embassy’s opening. ‘Burn them,’ ‘shoot them,’ ‘kill them,’ the Israelis chanted.”
The Palestinian multitude at the border fence between Gaza and Israel had two demands. The first was freedom from the world’s largest open-air prison. Since 2007, when the militant Islamist party Hamas came to power, Israel has imposed an air, sea and land blockade on the narrow strip of shoreline that is Gaza. Its 1.9 million residents are rarely permitted to leave. The World Health Organization reports that “54 Palestinians died last year waiting for Israeli visas to allow them to leave Gaza for medical treatment.” According to the European Council on Foreign Relations, “Palestinians in Gaza receive as little as four hours of electricity per day, a reality that makes the operation of vital machinery, be they life-saving medical equipment or sewage treatment plants, a luxury. Medicine supplies are running dangerously low and food continues to be managed by Israeli “civil administrators” to allow a minimum amount in while averting starvation.”
The unemployment rate is nearly 44 percent. Almost all of Gaza’s drinking water is contaminated by sewage and salt. In 2012, the UN Country Team for Palestine predicted that Gaza will become “unliveable” by 2020.
The demonstrators’ second demand was recognition of the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees — descendants of the 700,000 Arabs forced out of their towns and homes in Israel during the violence accompanying the proclamation of the Israeli state on May 14, 1948. Palestinians call this event the Nakba (the “catastrophe”). It’s as if the Trump administration wanted to maximize the insult to Palestinians by opening the American embassy in Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of their “catastrophe.” There are 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and millions of others in refugee camps in the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
A bit of history will help explain the moral calamity that is Gaza. Since the fourth century C.E., Jews were a minority in Palestine (the area including present-day Israel, the Gaza strip and the West Bank). In 1878, according to the Ottoman Empire census, Palestine was 86-percent Muslim, 9-percent Christian and 3-percent Jewish. With financial support from the world Zionist movement in the late 19th century, Jewish immigration to Israel steadily increased in response to rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
As persecution of Jews intensified in the Nazi era, Jewish immigration into Palestine greatly accelerated. From 1932 to 1939, the Jewish population there went from 175,000 to 445,000 (from 17 percent to 30 percent of the total population of Palestine) with the encouragement of the British Mandate authorities. By 1948, when the Jewish state was proclaimed, the total population of Palestine had risen to 1.9 million, of whom 67 percent were Arabs, and 33 percent Jews.
With the end of the British Mandate, the United Nations on Nov. 29, 1947, adopted a partition plan for Palestine. The Jews accepted the plan, while the Arabs rejected it, and war broke out between them. Jewish forces managed to secure their assigned area and successfully repelled invading armies of nearby Arab states.
These Arab states rejected the UN partition as one more example of European colonialism. In their 1944 Alexandria Protocol, they recognized the terrible wrongs inflicted on European Jews, but they argued that “there can be no greater injustice and aggression than solving the problem of the Jews of Europe by another injustice, i.e., by inflicting injustice on the Arabs of Palestine.” Perhaps they remembered the promise of Theodor Herzl, the first president of the Zionist Organization, that the future Jewish state would be “a part of the wall of European civilization against Asiatic barbarism.”
In the 1949 armistice, the Gaza strip came under Egyptian administration, while the West Bank and East Jerusalem were incorporated into Jordan. In the Six Days War of 1967, Israel captured these territories. It annexed East Jerusalem and started introducing Israeli “settlements” into occupied Gaza and the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1949 Security Council Resolution 242. In 2005, Israel dismantled its settlements in the Gaza strip and converted it into its present concentration camp status.
The current Israeli government seems to have no plan other than to let Gaza rot while swamping the West Bank with Israeli settlers. It doesn’t try to hide its contempt and hatred of Palestinians. Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu’s “Justice” Minister since 2015, published on her Facebook page this genocidal rant: “Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people … including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”
Netanyahu’s policies will perpetuate Israeli insecurity and injustice to the Palestinians. We must stop enabling him.
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