Digested: The All-Important Context Missing From Israel-Palestine Coverage

palestine israel

The Bemolution tends to leave conventional foreign policy alone. There are enough left-wingers banging on about it already, and we prefer to go after more neglected areas – particularly humanitarian disasters, African and Asian poverty and the like.

Occasionally, though, we get drawn in when there’s an issue we think is important and not being explained clearly enough, leaving people at the mercy of the often rubbish TV news. It was only a matter of time before we got round to Israel-Palestine.

Watch the telly coverage of the situation in Gaza and you’re left with the impression that it’s one of the most bafflingly complex geopolitical conflicts of the modern age. But it can be made blissfully simple to understand without all that much effort.

It’s a situation inextricably tied up with race and ethnicity. You can’t take them out of the equation completely. But you can ignore these subtleties, just for a bit, to get a better, clearer picture of what’s actually going on.

Imagine this situation. There’s a country. And for the past thousand years or so, that country has been inhabited by a group of people. We’ll call them Group A.

A long way away, in another part of the world, lives another group, Group B. Members of Group B have been subject to horrible discrimination for centuries. Some of them, not all, want to establish an independent homeland where they and other Group B-ers can be free from persecution. Given everything they’ve been put through, it’s very understandable.

But unfortunately, the Group B Homelanders (who’ll spend much of the next century claiming to represent the whole of Group B) have decided they want the country where Group A lives – in fact, they don’t just quite fancy it, they subscribe to a belief system that holds they were promised it long ago by a magic man in the sky, and, as such, believe they’re entitled to it.

Then, after a decade of particularly intense scapegoating and abuse in one part of the world, Group B is put through arguably the worst atrocity in human history, and six million of them are systematically killed. It’s incomprehensibly, inexpressibly horrific, and a strong candidate for the worst thing that’s ever happened.

In the aftermath of that mind-mangling crime, international sympathy for Group B is, very understandably, at an all-time high. The Group B Homelanders use this to make their case, and after years of lobbying and chivvying, convince the most powerful countries in the world to give them a significant chunk – the majority, in fact – of the country where Group A live. Group A, funnily enough, isn’t consulted.

But that’s not enough for the Group B Homelanders. They don’t want to share the country with Group A, they want it entirely for themselves. And so, they arm themselves, and violently push out as much of Group A as they possibly can.

The Exodus of '48, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, the 'catastrophe'
The Exodus of ’48, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, which roughly translates as the ‘catastrophe’

The death toll is remarkably low given the brutality of their methods, but it’s ethnic cleansing nonetheless – 700,000 people are forced out. Group B militias travel from town to town, village to village, throwing the inhabitants out at gunpoint and then destroying their homes. Estimates vary, but anywhere between 350 and 500 settlements are utterly obliterated. The Homelanders then declare the country the independent state of B Land.

In the years that follow, the remaining Group A-ers are pushed back and back, crammed into ever smaller portions of the land that was once totally theirs.

Group A’s friends in neighbouring countries aren’t very happy about this situation, and relations deteriorate to the point where a war breaks out between them and the B Landers.

B Land’s friends are stronger though – it’s backed (and armed) by the most powerful nation on earth. Within six days, the B Landers have won the war – but not before invading the last two pockets of the country that belong to Group A. The B Land military never leaves. The Group A-ers inside get used to life in what have essentially became a pair of open-air prisons, freedoms and civil liberties drastically curtailed.

But the magic man in the sky promised Group B the entirety of the country – he hadn’t said anything about having to share any of it, no matter how small and insignificant a chunk, with different people. So having penned in the remaining Group A-ers in, the B Landers proceed to start taking bites out of the pitiful amount of land they have left, sending settlers in to set up their own towns and villages.

This process continues for decades. When the ghettoised Group A-ers meekly shut up and put up with having every aspect of their life controlled by the B Landers, while what little they have left is gradually taken away from them, they can just about scrape through life.

But when they don’t, when they get angry, chuck stones at the B Land police-troops, even arm themselves to fight back, the retaliation is brutal. The B Landers subscribe to the very illegal practice of collective punishment – if a few Group A-ers do something they don’t like, the whole community gets punished.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t endear one side to the other. The B Landers retaliate, and the A-ers retaliate back. So the B Landers retaliate harder, and A-ers retaliate even harder and it goes on and on until violence becomes routine.

The difference is, B Land is one of the most militarised, well-funded, technologically advanced countries on the face of the earth. The A-ers are defenceless prisoners in their own country, impoverished on purpose, cramped, demoralised and living in deplorable conditions.

With the political mainstream proving abjectly useless at getting them out of their predicament, some A-ers turn to more radical groups, tactics and ideas to try and liberate themselves. A small minority get their hands on some rickety, aging weaponry and lash out at their oppressors in desperation.

An Israeli jet bombs Gaza
An Israeli jet bombs Gaza

More often than not, their rockets fly hopelessly wide. Very occasionally, they don’t, and, tragically, some innocent members of Group B are killed. In response, the B Landers slam high-tech weaponry into one of the most crowded places on earth, and thousands are killed.

Which brings us bang up to date. As will be painfully obvious by now, Group A are the Palestinians, Group B are the European Jews, and the country in question is Palestine.

The Group B Homelanders represent Zionism, the movement that sought to kick the Palestinians out of Palestine and turn it into a Jewish homeland. And B Land is the state of Israel – because Israeli elites always act and talk as though Israel is Judaism, and deflect inconvenient criticism as ‘anti-Semitism’, despite hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jewish people around the world deploring the conduct of successive Israeli governments. You can probably work out the rest – the great Palestinian Exodus of ’48, the Six Day War of ’67, and so on.

Defenders of Israel’s actions will always decry accounts like these as overly simplistic. In fact, despite trying to making it as clear as possible to understand, we’ve possibly still left it too complex. Fundamentally, one group of people decided they wanted a bit of land where another group of people happened to live. They forced them out of their homes, took everything from them, oppressed and humiliated them for decades, and now act surprised when they retaliate. That’s it.

Israel is a country that shouldn’t exist, as-is. Of course the Jews displaced by the Holocaust deserved a homeland. But rather than handing them an already-populated country on the basis of some centuries-old religious mumbo jumbo, they could’ve been given a piece of Europe, instead – with the dust settling on the worst conflict in human history, what better time to redraw the map a bit?

Or if, understandably, they wanted to leave a continent that had brutally persecuted them for hundreds of years, they could’ve gone to America or Australia or Canada, all of which could’ve provided ample room, security and resources to build a safe, peaceful society.

Or if they absolutely had to go the Middle East, because the cultural attachment to the area was too profound to get over, they could’ve negotiated a small piece of Palestine. The Palestinians could’ve retained the majority of the land, with Israel existing as a little colony, albeit one far more generously-sized and resourced than the ghettoes in Gaza and the West Bank.

But Israel does exist, and as long as there are still nations, it probably always will. If it’s allowed to, and the current deluded, fanatical ideology that motivates its ruling elite persists, it will continue to crush all dissent in Gaza and the West Bank, holding out for the day it can find an excuse to relocate all Palestinians outside its borders and finally seize the last of their land. And as long as it’s backed by the most powerful nations on earth, there’s not a lot we can do about it.