Wednesday, 11 September 2013

My Middle East Part 6: Should Jewish People Have A Sovereign State Where It Is Located Today?

Near Tel Aviv, April 2013

Should Jewish People Have a Sovereign State Where It Is Located Today? 

I think this is the real question, the driving force behind the years of the Arab - Israeli conflict, up to and including the most recent war [August 2014] between Israel and Hamas - who currently happen to control an area of land known as Gaza. Gaza is not a country, it is currently under the control of the political group known as Hamas, whose stated aim is to destroy Israel. 

I noticed when I began to take an interest in the Middle East that, no matter who is fighting with Israel, the general scenario is that of a whole people, Arabs, at war with a country, Israel. 

At times this has meant as many as five or six Arab countries actively engaged in battle with Israel, and this has been possible because of the location of Israel, and its borders with neighbouring Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt - with Iraq sometimes joining in from a little further afield.

My answer to this Question is: "Definitely Yes!"  And there are two main reasons why I say this. One reason is based on the religious/historical argument. While there are many who place no credence in religious arguments, there is no doubting that such kings as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus the Great, as well as King Herod existed, and that the Roman laid siege to Masada around 70A.D.

Here is my first argument in favour of Jewish people having a sovereign state exactly where it exists today:  Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther, Ruth, John the Baptist, Jesus, to name but a few are all Jewish people, the earliest dating from around 2000 years BC. And for me these amazing and enduring humans are a convincing reason why Jewish people should have a country in the Middle East; why it should be where it is now; and why it should be called Israel, The Holy Land.

All of these world renowned Jewish people were either born in The Holy Land; or, like Abraham, they made it their home (1900BC) or like Moses led the original Israelites back there from Egypt (1300 BC).

If you take the first two of these people mentioned above: Abraham and Moses, you have the main founders of Judaism. From Moses there followed, as often happens in all great societies, a series of leaders, originally Judges and Kings - Joshua ( 1300BC)  David (1000BC) Solomon (970BC) who eventually fail to live up to the original idea, for example King Ahab (circa 870BC).

And what the spiritual giants, mentioned above, do is to remind us of the original aims upon which a culture has been founded, and how it may have slipped.

For 2000 years BC, then, a considerable number of Jewish people living and working in a stretch of land roughly 50 - 100 miles wide, and  150 miles to the north and south of Jerusalem became, and have remained, some of the most inspirational people who have ever walked the earth.

Whilst many a tyrant has sought to overrun and oppress the people of the earth through mundane physical strategies such as brute force, manipulation, or sheer population growth; these Jewish giants along with other inspirational human beings from all corners of the globe, and all eras, have guarded and strengthened the spirits of us ordinary souls.

While places of worship are routinely built on legendary sites, and often usurp them, the remarkable thing is that the attraction of the Jewish Holy Land remains palpable, largely because, for the heroes and heroines mentioned, the land itself was their sphere of operation. Hill, and tree, desert, river, sea and sky. Thus, knowing the stories of these people, to simply walk in the land, to breathe the air is to connect with these people who walked and performed on the same earth.

And naturally, the very existence of so many world famous Jews originating from the land under discussion means that there must have been a supporting cast of millions of ordinary Jewish folk in the area down through the millennia. Jews, that is, lived here for a very long time.

Generally speaking, Christians accept that The Holy Land is first and foremost the home of the Jews. After all, Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, and the Disciples were all Jewish, and they only sought to strengthen or refresh the Jewish religion, much like the prophets before them.

This is one of the best things about Judaism as far as I am concerned: people such as Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus, Jeremiah were all in the position where we might find artists, singers, poets, writers today - they attempted to enlighten us and to strengthen the things that remain. And yet, all of these people were originally seen, depending on the degree of corruption of the times, as anything from rebels to outright criminals. Yet now, Elijah is given pride of place at the Jewish Passover Seder. Jesus, John and many saints are celebrated throughout the year. Why? Because these people possessed as Herman Melville once put it "The great art of telling the truth." And we are ultimately glad of that, if not always at first. It's something like the story of The Rolling Stones, times about a thousand in intensity.

When you consider the number of great Jews who have lived and worked in and around Jerusalem, and The Holy Land in general, the claim of Islam upon Jerusalem as a holy place associated with Mohammed while valid falls into perspective.

That Mohammed ascended to Heaven for a night from Jerusalem is impressive, but it must be remembered that he is in incredible company here. We are also talking about Jews who have gone up to Heaven in a whirlwind from Jordan; have parted the River Jordan with a smite of their mantle; drawn water from rocks, made serpents of staffs, been fed by birds, called fire down from Heaven, walked on water, come back from the dead, raised the dead, and appeared to many saints over the years. King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. There is a City of David beside Mount Zion. Jesus overturned the tables here, made the blind see and the deaf hear. The ratio of miraculous events which occurred in what is now present day Israel would appear to be at least fifty to one in favour of the Jews, over any other peoples of the world.

It is also worthwhile considering that Mohammed revered the people responsible for the deeds mentioned above: Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus. And as we know, Abraham began Judaism, Moses pulled it back together, while the other two sought to remind people of the original intentions. It seems logical then that both Christianity and Islam are actually based upon the original tenets of Judaism. Given the reforming intentions of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed; Jews, Christians, and Muslims would logically all see themselves as adhering to the original Judaism.

And yet, judging by the situation today, it seems that most religions, especially the main three - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are divided within themselves as to the true message of their founders. There are several kinds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam today, and many of them are at war within and without their particular interpretations.  It is significant that the prophet Jeremiah declared, as far back as 650 BC that in the future man's relationship with God would be personal.

To sum up my first point: Proportionately, if we are talking about rights for Israel to exist where it is, on a Religious basis, it seems reasonable that Jews should have at least 99% of the land known as The Holy Land, including 90% of Jerusalem in the custodial sense. Muslims and Christians should also be there as custodians, preserving their specific and communal sites, and welcoming and guiding visitors from all over the world.


Not everyone is a believer. Some people just don't believe that someone like Jesus ever actually lived, for example. Elijah and all the prophets are to them fictional characters. The story about Abraham and the creation of Judaism are myths. Mohammed ascending to Heaven on his horse is pure fantasy. Jesus appearing at the supper at Emmaus is a ridiculous fairy tale!

Everything I have written so far in this article means nothing to them.

But to take just one example: if Jesus or Moses never actually really existed, then whoever wrote those stories, I mean whoever conceived of all these characters, the events, the plots and the themes of the stories, was more than inspirational enough for me to understand that God does exist in some form or another. That Karma is a fact of life. In short, whether Jeremiah existed or not, his story and the words attributed to him certainly ring true to me. That's personal.

However, the Arab - Israeli conflict still exists. If insoluble on religious/historical grounds, here is a more materialistic argument:

In the present era, the Jewish state is located in roughly the same area as the Jews lived up until 70AD. This area is now called Israel, and it includes areas known as Judea and Samaria. It is a 26,000 sq. km. country. Israel exists amid several Arabic Middle Eastern countries, which together total well over one million sq. km of land.

Simple demographic research on Google shows that, at the moment, within the arena known as the Arab - Israeli conflict with which I began my personal investigation, Arab nations have roughly 38 times more land than Israel. I think I have shown that the Jewish people have lived in Israel for many hundreds of years. And in the lands surrounding Jerusalem, the Jews' historical and religious claims outnumber the Arab claims by at least twenty to one.  The core area of the Jewish culture lies exactly where Israel, including Judea and Samaria, is situated today.

As mentioned in earlier articles, the so called 'West Bank' and 'Gaza' are the result of the failure of everyone to be able to sit down and hammer out the truth from all aspects. The situations in both of these places far from deserving to be called 'religious' matters, they hardly deserve to be called even 'political' matters. They are however always human matters. They are currently mean tempered, stubborn, attritional human matters which cannot be solved except by honest discussion.

I know that many do not consider history or religion important, and prefer to pick a moment in history, such as 1948 and begin the discussion there. To me, this seems to be the real crux of the actual Arab - Israeli conflict today. A territorial battle with no route to solving it, and which may or may not be fuelled by some form of religious thought. Certainly, looking at the present situation throughout much of the Middle East, conflicting religious persuasions, or interpretations, do seem to be fuelling several conflicts, quite apart from the Arab-Israeli war.

Whatever fuels the Arab-Israeli conflict, it certainly seems that the main weapons these days are propaganda, emotional fervour, and ignorance. And failing that, violence and death. The desired end is the same: At the least, the aim is that there should be a new Arab state called Palestine, with a lessening of the territory of Israel; and at worst the non-existence of Israel.

In my opinion, given the huge imbalance in territory already existing between the Arabs and the Israelis, apart from it being simply unfair, it would be a very unwise military strategy for Israel to hand over those areas known as Judea, Samaria and Gaza to an Arab people whose leaders often vow to destroy them. Surely they would be inviting their enemies right into their heart? Israel would be a mere ten miles wide at its narrowest point, overlooked by the hills of Samaria. With the best will in the world, and the firmest of promises, giving up almost half of their already tiny country would seem simply foolish from any angle.  For the Arab people of this Arab - Israeli conflict, who already have such a huge proportion of land in the Middle East, to be asking for such a large proportion of Israel seems a cynical request. The actual creation and histories of 'the west bank' and Gaza need to be thoroughly investigated, discussed and made definitively public. My own reading and research is included in previous articles.

In gathering the above simple but significant figures about relative land and population distribution in the middle east, a thought came to me out of the blue which I can only put forward as an unprovable opinion:  If the positions were reversed, and Jewish people inhabited a series of countries totalling around 1.2 million square kilometres, that surrounded a tiny Arab nation of a mere 26,000 square kilometres, can you imagine the outcry there would be in the world if the Jewish people expressed a wish to annex a sizeable proportion of that tiny Arab country, to create yet another Jewish state? Wouldn't everyone be saying, in light of the history of the area "Oh come on! You can't let the Arabs have even 1/38th on the land?! What is wrong with you?"

Meanwhile, Semitic people have lived in what we now call The Middle East for many thousands of years. Jews and Arabs are Semitic people first, but now they have different religions, beliefs, and different cultures. This does not mean that they cannot live happily side by side, if the situation is correctly understood and truthfully expressed.  If you have an opinion, I think you are duty bound to check it out and verify it for yourself.

And that's My Middle East.

And to play us out:

Thursday, 23 May 2013


An important thing I have noticed in my personal interest in the Arab - Israeli conflict, and it has taken about two years to get to it, is that the two sides of the story are kept very separate. It is almost as if neither side is interested in the other side's tale of woe, or victory. [One very obvious example is the way that the British are portrayed as picking on one side, and favouring the other; whereas I have come to the conclusion that the Europeans as a whole were equally fickle, and basically out of their depth, all the way through their involvement in the Middle East. But that has been dealt with elsewhere.]

In My Middle East, the two side sides of the story, which I think can be represented to a considerable extent by the two books pictured above, are needed to get a complete story.

If you confine yourself to one side or the other, then it seems that you will fill yourself with a story of bravery, defiance, and above all, justified violence and killing, no matter which side you choose.

Reading the stories of Leon Uris [Exodus, and The Haj] I have been inspired by the tenacity, resolve, and brilliance of the Jewish men, women, and children often escaping from deadly situations in Europe and Asia, and trying to set up what seems a rightful place to dwell in a land to which, over the centuries, they contributed many of the people who make it today The Holy Land; with all the connotations of great human concerns the term conjures up.

And all the while, in these stories, these Jewish refugees, are returning to the land in which they belong; but they are rejected, harassed, murdered, and defiled by a technologically vulnerable people who claim eternal rights to the same plot of land, and their own ancient way of life.

But reading Ilan Pappe's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, I get the picture of a cold-hearted Jewish invader, dominant in military strength, financial aid, with an instinct for almost gratuitous cruelty. In short, a sadistic and heartless bully who is picking on, and taking gross advantage of, a gentle, welcoming people.

Surely if one were exposed only to one or other of these views, you could not help but, at the very least, feel a certain distaste for one side or the other. And so the virus would perpetuate, from generation to generation.

Reading from both sides however, I am left with what you always get when both sides of a war are exposed - a story of horror, and above all the depths of behaviour to which people on both sides can be driven when they lack the motivation, the opportunity, or the ability to work out the truth of a situation. [There are also individual tales of great bravery, empathy, kindness which emerge from this and most other wars].

At the top of this page are pictures of two books which, when taken together, I think, provide a picture which renders all bias misleading and irrelevant in terms of history; yet they provide huge insight into the Middle East conflict.

Here is an example of what happens when we get one side or the other, and then what happens when we look at both sides together:

In The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe mentions the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, seven times in the index. Besides being the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini was also the leader of the Arab Higher Committee, and head of the Supreme Muslim Council. He was also the proposed leader of the planned Palestinian government. He was probably the most powerful man in Palestine, and he had followers in most villages. In none of these seven times however, does Ilan mention the idea that Haj Amin Al Husseini studied with Hitler and other Nazis, and, having been exiled from Palestine by the British, helped out with the Nazi cause against the Jews in Europe. Below is a picture from Wikipedia, which also contains a history of Haj Amin al Husseini, showing a meeting between Hitler and Husseini.

There are other sites which tell of Husseini, and there are books, and other photos, plus some film on You Tube which also seem to confirm quite strongly that Husseini was friendly with the Nazis. There was a saying at the time - popular but dubious logic:  The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Among these other books is O Jerusalem! pictured above. An impressive thing about O Jerusalem! for me is the very detailed listing of sources used in researching for the book. In more than one chapter, including Chapter 3 on the life of Haj Amin al Husseini, one source is 'the Mufti himself'. The writers interviewed Haj Amin al Husseini on several subjects, and he was pleased to talk with them.

There are many other sources listed throughout O Jerusalem!, including the man who hosted Husseini's last lunch in Berlin. There are many people interviewed who played major roles in the events around and leading up to and beyond 1948, plus references to many books and some government papers, several concerning the actions, philosophy and whereabouts of Haj Amin al Husseini from 1937 onwards. Ilan Pappe mentions that Husseini had been exiled from Palestine by the British, in 1937, and had lived in Cairo since then.

Does this mean that Ilan Pappe's well supported history about Ben Gurion's soldiers evicting Arabs from their villages, and sometimes killing civilians is worthless? No. Although in my own personal understanding of the situation, as I have mentioned previously, I do not see Ben Gurion's perceived need to get all Arabs out of Israel as - the yet (in 1948) to be coined - Ethnic Cleansing; I do see it as an understandable response to the perception of clear and present danger that he was fighting a people, led by a man, who fully backed what had only recently happened in Germany. That is, the Holocaust. The Holocaust, which was about Genocide, is generally regarded as the most inhumane act of one people against another in the history of the world.  And of course this was a catastrophe from which the survivors were still reeling about in a world at large, which seemed bent on rejecting them.

Leading up to the 1948 war, Husseini's cousin Abdul Khader Husseini had proclaimed that he would "strangle Jerusalem", while others promised to 'drive the Jews into the sea'. Both of these ideas carry the threat of what is today called Ethnic Cleansing, and/or Genocide very clearly. Haj Amin is quoted as calling for people to 'kill Jews wherever you find them' in a radio broadcast in Berlin.

Surely, coming so quickly on the heels of the Holocaust, the presence of another man comparable to Hitler, if only in his desire to get rid of Jewish men, women and children, it is understandable that Ben Gurion would be terribly concerned at what the Arab people, led by the Husseini family, might be persuaded to do to Jewish people in Palestine.

If Ilan Pappe had given us a bit more about Husseini in his book, I feel that the claim about Ethnic Cleansing upon which his book rests would seem hollow. Basically, I think the book is just the one side of the story. It seems to me like saying that Muhammad Ali was a vicious bully the way he punched and taunted Sonny Liston, without mentioning that Liston was at the same time trying to annihilate Ali.

The very term Ethnic Cleansing suggests the complete domination of one race over another. If The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine was to represent the sum total of a person's reading and research into the subject of the Arab - Israeli conflict, then, just as reading Exodus or The Haj, I think a person would end up with an incomplete and perhaps dangerous view of the situation. Often, when I read, or hear contemporary views on the subject of  the Arab - Israeli conflict the lack of, and even the desire for, a balanced view is very clear.

Fortunately, alongside The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the book O Jerusalem! exists.

O Jerusalem! when read on its own, the reader will still find out about Jewish people blowing up Arab men, women and children in the middle of Jerusalem; alongside Arabs doing exactly the same thing to Jews. You will hear about Deir Yassin and Kfar Ezion. Heroes and villains on either side. There is also mention about the deal made with Jordan. From this I feel sure that had all the government papers been available to the authors, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, they would have included all that Ilan Pappe has in his book. But the reality is that Ilan Pappe's book is essential in order to debunk lingering myths about Israel fighting a war while being blameless and free of atrocious acts. Paradoxically, Ilan Pappe's book could, if read in isolation, create exactly the same myth about the Arab side of the story. Certainly currently, it seems fashionable to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, depending on the gullibility of the audience and their succesptibility to, or even eagerness for extreme language. I heard this taking place in a youth hostel in Jerusalem last year.

The lesson is not who was the nicer, the more blameless: The horror of war is not only what it can 'make' people do, but also how people might use, or even create war to satisfy a need for violence and cruelty, or gain, in thought or in deed, quite separate from the actual realities of a situation. When both sides of a war are out in the open in all their horror, the need for a determined effort to get at the real truth of a situation, and to achieve fairness, no matter how difficult it might seem to be at the outset becomes the only sane path to follow.

Perhaps because humans seem to be prone to choosing one side or the other in any conflict, the important findings by what are termed "the new historians" such as Ilan Pappe, are widely considered to be a re-writing of history. But to my mind, these new findings are more the completion of the history.

Next time: We must face the only real question that I can see at the bottom of all of all of this: Do the Jewish people actually have a right to live in the area of the earth presently called Israel?

"In war, truth is the first casualty."  Aeschylus. (525 - 456 BC) This is an old saying which gets quoted all the time. But there must be a second half to this saying implied by the first, which would go something like this: Only by finding, acknowledging, and publicising the whole truth can there be Peace. Or as a great citizen of the area once put it, more succinctly : "The Truth will make you free."


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

My Middle East, Part Five: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine?

Haifa 2013

Having read several books and watched video information, as logged in my opening personal take on the subject of the Arab - Israeli conflicts, all of which presented a firm case in favour of Israel's right to exist from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, I knew that in order to attempt a balanced view of the situation I must find some material which put forward the Arab version of the situation. 

I found the well respected historian Ilan Pappe's video "Israel Myths and Propaganda" interesting and useful in my ongoing search for the truth of the Middle East Conflict. Ilan Pappe is a well known university professor, writer, and student of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially the 1948 War of Independence, which he considers to have been portrayed in a way which glamourizes Israel's conduct. He is Israeli, brought up on a "David v Goliath" view of the conflict, and by research he has modified the view he learnt as a child. I have included a link to Ilan Pappe's video below.
In my own understanding, Pappé very clearly makes three main points in this video, and it is the second of them which I would like to comment on - though I think that by doing this I will also throw some light on the first and third points in the ongoing difficult search for the incontrovertible truth of the situation.

Ilan’s second point concerns the Myth that Arab leaders requested Arabs living within the new state of Israel (1948) to leave so that they could invade more easily, and that this is why so many Arabs did leave Israel in 1948. According to his research, it was the Israeli government which actually forcefully expelled Arabs, made them into refugees, and also massacred many in their villages. That is, Israel attempted to ethnically cleanse the Arab civilians out of Israel. His evidence, for example the communications of Ben Gurion to his son and to members of his government, is convincing, and I have had to consider his stance. Doing so had led me to the following conclusion:

In 1948 several Arab countries did attack Israel. Thus, a full State of War existed between Israel and the following countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and to an extent Lebanon. [The exact and disputed nature of Jordan's participation will be examined at a later date.] In the case of War, I think the terms ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, though emotive and useful for propaganda, are somewhat redundant for the following reason: War itself is certainly brutal and cruel enough as it is. Murder and expulsion, or genocide and ethnic cleansing, are everyday occurrences in war. It's pretty much what you do, once it starts. Otherwise peaceful people, are trying to eradicate each other, for whatever reasons. Often misled, whipped up to a frenzy, or under the threat of their own death if they don't comply. Even before the official outbreak of war in May 1948, both the nascent Israeli state, and the Arabs living in the land, were committing 'unofficial' acts of war on a regular basis.  

In many wars, especially in past centuries, the aim was to conquer a land and to keep the 'enemy' alive, and then to enslave them in one form or another, possibly to rape, kill, and pillage as well, and to take over any material advantages of the country conquered...and in some cases the aim was to do this to the whole world, of course.

In passing, I think that one main difference in more recent times may be that ideological concerns have precipitated wars, to stop the spread of communism, or one religion or another, for example.

I think that this may be the case with the Middle East conflict, which when I first became interested in studying it was known mainly as the Arab - Israeli conflict. It struck me then that here we have a war between a 'people' spanning many countries, that is Arabs, and one country, Israel made up of Jewish people. Whatever, or however we want to see the reasons behind the 1948 war, the fact must be acknowledged that both sides, not just the Arabs, did want to possess the new land of Israel, and neither side wanted anyone in that land who would behave in the ways noted above, as their enemy.  If the Arabs won, it was the declared aim that all Jews would be expelled or killed - that is ethnically cleansed, or become the victims of genocide. It is almost a certainty that Arab civilians living in Israel would not have been killed or expelled if the invading Arab countries had been successful. In the context of total war I think it can be taken as likely that the thinking would be that if Israel won, the same fate would apply to the Arabs. So far, I think we have a fairly normal, though always horrendous definition of out and out warfare. Ilan Pappé's video has redressed the balance here, and shown that in the actual fighting of the war, of course Israel would be expected to be as brutal and ferocious as the Arabs countries. That is War. Horrible! 

Indeed Israel must have consciously considered expelling or killing every Arab person living in Israel in 1948., as Ben Gurion's messages confirm. However, with hindsight we can now see that Israel did win that war, and Israel has won several other wars with the neighbouring Arab countries. The point is that over the last 65 years Israel has been the victor in several wars against Arabs. My question is as follows:  If Israel has been bent on the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the land of Israel for 65 years, and if they were (as they are) in control of that land, why would the present population of Israel still be 20% Arabs – well over a million?

It may well then be argued that Arabs do not enjoy the same rights as Jews in Israel. This is a different point, and can be looked at. I do not know the definitive answer to that, but I believe from visiting the land that many Arabs choose to live and work in Israel, and are glad of the opportunity.  In the video it is mentioned that Arab people can and do go to university, for instance. But we are discussing ethnic cleansing here, which at best means expelling from the country all members of any given race, and it frequently means murdering them where they stand, where it becomes genocide. Clearly this is not what is happening in Israel today, and therefore cannot have been the absolute aim of the Israeli government in 1948 outside of a war context, or, having won their independence to a considerable degree, and continued to grow in strength, there would be no Arab people living in towns, cities and villages in Israel today. That is what ethnic cleansing would have ensured.

However, once we accept that David Ben Gurion must have been well aware of the brutal horror that war actually is, and what he was going to have to deal with, then he would likely have been very concerned, that, because a whole people - Arabs - seemed to be preparing to attack his new land from several countries at once, then surely people of the same race living within Israel may very well also join in with the Arab army. And he would have to deal with not only defending his people from attack from outside but also from within. In other words, yes, of course Ben Gurion accepted that there was an enemy called the Arabs which was intent on destroying Israel, and many Arabs lived already within their country. Of course a serious threat was perceived.


A question needs to be asked here: Did any Arabs living within Israel attack Jewish people, towns, and villages? If the answer is 'yes', and I believe that the siege of Jerusalem alone might justify that answer, then horrible a policy as it is for any country to pursue, it is not surprising or particularly heinous in the context of out and out war for Israel to have thought it necessary to expel potentially and actually dangerous Arabs; and in some cases, when fighting for your survival against a whole people, it might have been seen as necessary to attack and kill Arab people within the country of Israel. Again: War, once begun, is a truly desperate and terrible situation. War is genocide, and ethnic cleansing. The moment bullets and bombs, arrows and spears, are employed against civilians all parties are guilty. The ability to engage in these activities would appear to be limited only by the technology available. And in modern warfare when the talk is of levelling cities and rendering countries totally uninhabitable, ethnic cleansing and genocide become the raison d’etre of war. The important point brought out by Ilan Pappé is that, yes, Israel did fight this war to the hilt. This cannot and should not be denied.  


However, another question does arise: In the logistics of war would it not seem to have actually been a sensible and humane plan for surrounding Arab countries to invite Arabic people within Israel to flee to the neighbouring Arab countries, until Israel had been ethnically cleansed of Jewish people for the safe return of the displaced Arab population? This almost certainly would have made it easier for the invading forces to attack, not least because they could do so indiscriminately without fear of hurting their own people.

If the Arab people were left to remain within Israel it seems reasonable within the context of war to suspect that these poor people were to be recruited to fight the Israelis in situ. Certainly, given the proximity of the countries surrounding Israel, the Arab population did not have far to go, and would have been sure of a warm welcome as ethnic refugees in their neighbouring countries, would they not?

As Pappé  points out, historically the option to leave was not offered to the Arab people from the neighbouring countries. So another question would be: Why not? Children and pregnant women were evacuated from London to safer areas in WW2, for example, as Germany tried to bomb England into submission. The failure of the surrounding Arab nations to invite and care for Arab refugees is puzzling, and one of the answers to the puzzle would seem to be that the Arabs living within Israel may have been seen as useful soldiers, or even as cannon fodder, and propaganda material.

Nevertheless, I understand that many Arab people, taking their fate into their own hands, did flee from Israel, and were contained in Arab refugee camps, such as those in Gaza, and Lebanon, and in what has become known by the euphemistic term ‘the west bank’, though in 1948 it was occupied by Jordan.

It is widely suggested that these poor people fled from Israel believing the promise from their leaders that within a very short time the Jews would be killed or expelled from the land, and the refugees could return to their houses. It is said that many of them kept the keys to their houses, so sure were they of victory. Here was a promise of ethnic cleansing and genocide from the Arab point of view, bought into and supported by their people.

Clearly then it must be acknowledged that Israel did indulge in all out war in 1948, and this did involve them in the same horrible acts as is the case with the protagonists in any war. Certainly, any propaganda, such as that Israel has been squeaky clean in their actions over the years, and has somehow managed to fight wars without hurting anyone should be exposed. But the exposure of this rather obvious likelihood is not a valid reason for saying that Israel should not exist. It should rather serve as a warning, if one were required, that Israel will of course defend itself by whatever means, if threatened or attacked in war, just like any government worthy of the name.

As well as Ilan Pappe's video, I have recently been able to view a program on Al Jazeera about the Nakba. This is also useful in gaining a rounded view of the Middle East conflict. In this program there is footage showing the actual Arab people living in the nascent Israel circa 1920 onwards. Seeing film of the Arab people in situ in Israel causes me to imagine the actual problems innocent people have when such a conflict ensues. The sometimes ignorant meddling by Britain (though not so much about France) is discussed, and the clashes between Arabs and the British of the mandate are also reported and shown.

One thing I have noticed is that when one side or the other make their case for maltreatment, or messy meddling by the British, neither the Israeli sources or the Arabic mention each others' problems with the British, or the French, or even the Turks. The Arab stance is that the British oppressed the Arabs in order to get Jewish refugees into Israel. But the Jewish stance is that Britain severely suppressed the Jewish efforts and needs, which led to the imprisonment of Jewish Irgun fighters in the self-same prison as Arab rebels in Akko.

This enables me to form my own view of my middle east, and seems to point to the idea that the rock bottom cause of the conflict is the ownership, or statehood of the land currently known as the State of Israel. This possible root cause also needs understanding, and next time I will be looking the question: Should there actually be a Jewish State in the Middle East?

Haifa   Ilan Pappe on 1948 war.
And To Close:

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Leveson Inquiry/The Public Interest

Another Hard Day At The Office.

I watched almost all of the inquiry, and admire the handling of it. The interviews have also inspired me to think about the problems regularly highlighted; one or two often prompting the response from witnesses to the effect that the perceived problems may be insoluble, in the "horse has bolted" and "genie out of the bottle" sense. And I can understand why people very close to these professions might fail to take the wider view that is needed, and which I think the inquiry has provided.
To use some of today's popular sporting imagery: The existence of the inquiry brings to mind the situation often seen in football matches, where a team must go 0-2 down with 10 minutes to go before they really start giving their best. The setting up of The Leveson Inquiry echoes the desperation of such a situation, and of course means that by having a public, in depth inquiry we are at last now giving it our best shot. We have heard before of the 'last chance saloon' with respect to people who abuse the system, but it seems to me that it is the ineffectiveness of previous 'regulators' that have in fact put all of us into the last chance saloon, as a society, with regard to these issues. In effect, a lack of regulation. Fortunately, the inquiry consistently shows that we do still have a grasp of common sense, and right and wrong.

This is why I think that "The Leveson Inquiry" itself, with all it includes, needs to now become the regulating body it seeks. It's modus operandi should be exactly what they are doing now, plus the ability to penalise, or in some cases recommend further investigations, appropriately. My ideas on suitable penalties derive from ideas already given to the inquiry, but I would like to highlight that in some cases the penalties seem to include a useful potential for rehabilitative effects, which in themselves will gradually lead to a clearer understanding of proper conduct, why it is proper, and therefore an improvement in the situation.
It is the gravitas and seriousness, leavened with wit, that the inquiry brings to the table that is very valuable. And this is entirely appropriate, for the press, politics, and the police are surely some of the most important, influential, and powerful aspects of our society. If they do not function properly, we are in trouble. All The Leveson Inquiry needs in addition is the authority to fit the punishment to the crime.
However the initial inquiry came about, luck seems to have played a part in highlighting what we might now be able to consider behaviour that needs to be investigated, and dealt with fairly. And also behaviour that seems to be much more ideal.
Looking at the draft criteria for a regulatory solution, they provide some useful guidelines. But I think that the fact that all of the inquiry is on the internet and is freely available for members of the public like myself to watch, see, and read is the most important element of the inquiry. Not only is it of natural interest for at least some of the public, but it must also, somehow, have a beneficial reflexive effect on those taking part in the court; to feel that you are quite in touch with the public on this. The transparency, particularly the opportunity for the public to witness proceedings in real time is one example of an ideal situation in all respects. I think you have a receptive and appreciative audience, in the main.
Thus, I would think that any future investigations of this kind, that is, the work of the regulatory body, should also be available on the internet, particularly because a very large issue within the inquiry continues to be "the public interest." Who better to be an audience, and perhaps contribute on this, than the public? By continuing the style of your inquiry as a more permanent regulatory body I think you would ensure that these important issues cannot be forgotten and fade away, which is also a concern I have heard Lord Leveson mention from time to time. And again, who better than him and his team to continue with it? The arena of the courtroom also seems to provide a training area for those who would follow in their footsteps.
By making everything available to the public, I think there is surely an element of 'goal-line technology' or even better Hawkeye involved. Here we have something which by including the eyes of the public "regulates the regulators" and "guards the guardians" at least to an extent. The Leveson Inquiry, when connected to the public, is Hawkeye. The inquiry certainly operates well, by virtue of the research and homework of the staff, in the essential stopping of the action, and slow-motion, looking at the different angles, and this lets us, the public, as well as the 'players' and the regulators/umpires, everyone concerned, see what has actually happened. This gives the best opportunity for fairness, and ensures transparency.
The inquiry is an example of officials being brave, wise, competent, and committed enough to embrace modern technology, and applying it for the benefit of all.
If one of the main issues concerning the press and media is 'the interests of the public' then there is no better way to keep this in mind that to make all investigations available to the interested public. I think that doing so in itself may go a long way towards reducing the number of transgressions. Perhaps within a very short time, a team of researchers linked to the ongoing inquiry would become adept at sifting the applications for investigations, or complaints. They would find many themselves by reading the papers and the internet publications. Some would be much more obvious cases than others. Quite quickly, I think, we could succeed in establishing more effective and agreeable benchmarks as to correct behaviour.
If this greater transparency has a chilling effect on what the press, police, and politicians might do or say, then we should discuss what exactly it is that they might be worried about.
For example: The case presented involving the photographs of the grieving little sister and the intrusion involved, seems to me to be a case which the inquiry, given the authority, might be able to rule on quite quickly and effectively. But, how should this be done?
The best regulatory device I have noted during the inquiry, which I think also has a rehabilitative quality to it, is the printing of apologies in detail on the front pages. That is, admitting wrong doing. Perhaps monetary compensation could also be given to victims according to a fairly simple audit of circulation figures for the day when the offending articles/pictures appeared and made money for the newspaper involved. It seems that financial and popularity concerns rate highly in the world of the press. The printing of apologies, and the forfeiting of revenue gained at the expense of unfortunate people, to the actual victims  might therefore be the most suitable punishment to fit the crime. A newspaper who repeatedly had to print apologies, for example, might well find its popularity and thus circulation and revenue dropping. This would likely be a spur to better behaviour.
Illegal gathering, or giving, of information is by definition already accounted for within the law. And the high profile, which would be maintained by "The Permanent Leveson Inquiry", presented on the internet and on TV should provide a spur to ensuring that justice was done, and constantly reviewed, in the presence of the public. That is, as has also been suggested during the inquiry, the law should be seen to be applied properly. Perhaps this is what reality TV was really invented for, as a welcome alternative to "Big Brother"?
Finally, it has been made clear by several witnesses that, at the moment, the press and politicians see their existences as symbiotic. It has been said more than once during the inquiry, often wryly, that they actually rely upon each other. But what is not acknowledged is that mostly both sides get what they want for nothing - which encourages the idea of swapping favours instead. And yet, political press releases are in effect advertising. What has been discussed in the inquiry is the need for a little more distance, or less cosiness, between press and politicians.
I think that restoring a touch of business can achieve something here. If politicians, or political parties had to pay to have their ideas printed in the press, then this would supply some distance. That is, official statements by the politicians would by definition appear separately from the commentary. It could also be made a rule that all newspapers must publish all paid for political releases, plans, ideas, in the interests of the public. Leaks would become an effort to subvert payment. Leaks should be returned to the relevant party for confirmation, and payment. If a paper still decided to print them, as leaks, they must be printed as if paid for, and responsibility taken by the paper if they are in fact false. Meanwhile, newspapers of course are entitled to their own bias, and by separating political announcements from editorial opinions, the bias would be clear and understood as such. And really, in the interests of free speech there is nothing at all wrong with that.
Finally, I see absolutely no reason why important business should be carried out over dinners and drinks, rather than in the participants' places of work. Perhaps the questions should be asked as to why this seems to have become "the way of the world", and whether or not it should be changed. Most ordinary working people have no such luxury. Even the short-hand writer at the Inquiry only gets brief breaks.
Thinking about these issues has been made possible by the fact that The Leveson Inquiry has been made accessible to me an interested member of the public. I have learned from the inquiry that self-regulation almost by definition cannot work. Censorship is not the answer either. It is the public who need to be the witness, and thereby to fulfil the most common concept of the inquiry: "the public interest."
I thank the inquiry very much for that, because examining these issues in public is certainly a democratic practice.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

"But some women already ARE bastards!"

"But it seems to me," I was saying, as we were having our bacon sandwiches and tea, "that women have chosen the wrong men to be equal too. Do they think that being equal means they have to be bastards?"

"But some women already ARE bastards!" What a surprise it was to hear this from two young ladies that I have a chat with now and then. See, my experience with "Women's Lib" - and wherever it is supposed to be at today - dates from the late sixties.

That is, 'liberated women', as distinct from women who somehow have managed to be themselves all along - notwithstanding the pressures any of us humans living in the world at any given time are under to conform.

And back in the 70's, I remember writing in a lovelorn poem:  "Take your time, do what you want, be a bastard if you have to..."  And in my mind, as I wrote that, was firmly the idea that "Women's Lib" was all about women being equal to men, equal pay, the right to have affairs, and all the other dirty little secrets that men were heir to.

And also, not necessarily attempting to 'be' the women that men perhaps thought they should be. (I was already involved with not being the kind of man the woman I wrote the poem to wanted me to be.)

But, somehow in the context of the times and the perceived idea that women should be liberated, I - a naive kind of a guy - took it as a given that women were nice people. I had no idea they felt repressed, and needed to get free. Not the ones I knew.  And they were definitely not ever Bastards. Bastardism was the realm of men. Particularly business men. Although just what consummate stupid bastards businessmen often were was not half so well known, and accepted, as it is today.

And around the 90's, I guess it was, it became a little clearer, though incurable romantic that I was I still refused to really believe it, that it was in the business world precisely that the 'liberation of women' was being most forcefully played out. Padded shoulders first, and then outright suits, became the costume for this passionless play. Even though 'a suit' was fast becoming not a very cool thing to be. I remember an article somewhere in which it was mentioned a woman manager used to scream in her office that she had a bigger something or other than anyone else in the company. And she was held up as a great example.

And as the new millennium came around, and young girls grew up into a world where it was the law that women had the right to be as stupid, greedy, and ruthless as men if they thought fit, they started taking up positions, and learning the language. They have risen to the very top of their professions. They are hiring and firing, taking those difficult decisions and calling it rationalization, downsizing. Running the Eurozone. Setting up sweat shops and telling the people back home that lower pay is a reality if we want to compete abroad. And so on.

And now, today, these women who like to pore over their calculators and balance sheets, and summon workers to their offices and suggest cut backs, and maybe longer hours for less pay, and try to shave off a thousand pounds here, and a thousand pounds there, and add a thousand pounds to their salaries, and work 70 hours a week, and have a child to prove that they really, still, are, women, and put the child into day care to raise for them, and be back at work next week....

...Wow! And there was me thinking that if women, you know, lovely women, incarnations of the  feminine creative principle, Shakti, got into business, things would ease up, get more sane, be nicer and better, kinder, more positive. But like my two friends told me, straight out, not the blink of an eye: Some women really are bastards. Just like some men are bastards. And I realized, right, they just weren't allowed to be, and now they are.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012


"Negotiations with the Arab leaders beyond Palestine were being carried out by T.E. Lawrence, who informed Churchill on 17 January [1921] that he had concluded an agreement with Hussein's eldest son, Emir Feisal, under which, in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman and Damascus, Feisal  'agreed to abandon all claims of his father on Palestine.'"

In my comments on The seven Pillars of Wisdom, I noted how TE Lawrence felt similarly to Churchill, but most openly with regard to how the betrayal of the Balfour Declaration would adversely affect Arab aspirations for their own sovereign state in Syria. The regretful note upon which he ended his book.
After the end of WW1, T.E. Lawrence, became Churchill's adviser on Arab affairs. It's difficult to say how much Lawrence might have influenced Churchill, but this book is independently important to "My Middle East". I say this because both of these men had a great effect on the times, were friends, and yet it could be said that they were champions of what were fast becoming (but were not yet) opposite sides in a developing war.

How could such a thing be true, unless at the outset there was no conflict, but a common aim? It was simply the case that Lawrence happened to be defending the Arab interests, and Churchill the Jewish, but both under the terms of the Balfour Declaration, and both under threat from subsequent political interests and the deceitful Sykes - Picot agreement. Looking at the lives of the actual protagonists gives me an insight into the human realities of the situation which I find more informative and convincing than that which might be gained from one of many purely 'historical' points of view.

That is to say that, whatever different historians may agree or disagree on, or wish to promote; such things as the existence of the Balfour Declaration; the general agreement at the precise time that the Jewish and Arab people should each have a homeland in Palestine and Syria respectively after helping the allies in WW1; the agreements between Emir Feisal and Dr.Chaim Weizmann, and the personal efforts of T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill to fulfil such promises; these things are a matter of record from many different sources and angles, rather than opinions. And this is why the failure to honour these promises simply bothered the consciences of both of these men. And, having positions of responsibility and influence, and being generally honourable men, they made this situation part of their own lives, and tried to make things right.

Hence:   "Churchill's speech of July 4th. [1922] was a sustained defence of Britain's pledge to Jewish national aspirations. Dealing first with the Balfour Declaration, he pointed out that there had never been 'any serious challenge' in Parliament to that policy.  'Pledges and promises were made during the War, and they were made not only on the merits, though I think the merits are considerable. They were made because it was considered they [the Jewish people] would be of value to us in our struggle to win the war'."

(Churchill And The Jews  pp78-79)

And, although through history there had always been Arabs who were prejudiced against the arrival of Jewish people in the area; when the Arab people were denied Syria which had been promised to them, they began to resent the influx of Jewish people from around the world into Palestine, simply because it was unfair that Jewish people should get the promised recognized state while the Arab tribes united under Prince Feisal should not.

In relation to the possibility of the Arab tribes becoming united under Feisal, it should be noted that it had already been stipulated in the Balfour Declaration that those Arabs who wished to remain tribal, and maintain a more fluid existence would be allowed to do so within the emerging new states. And in this way, all eventualities had been foreseen and allowed for.

It is significant then that in 1922, three years after the initial promises had been discarded, Churchill was influential in creating from a sizeable portion of Palestine - 75% in fact - the Arab state of Trans Jordan, in an attempt to put right the deceit and disappointment felt so keenly by Prince Feisal and his people, regarding Syria, and Damascus.

This left the remaining 25% of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean coast, for the nascent Jewish homeland. Originally, all of what was called Palestine, that is, including what became Trans Jordan, had been earmarked as the new Jewish homeland. However, the Jews decided that this partial fulfilment of the promise was better than nothing. The Arabs did not feel the same about Syria.

Therefore, there is really no doubt, if we pay attention to Churchill's and Lawrence's lives, their efforts, and their feelings about events at the time, that the betrayal of the Balfour Declaration in 1919 is the point at which the present so called Arab - Israeli conflict, or Middle East Crisis really began.

In the ensuing 90 years years, the massive development of propaganda facilities has brought increasing opportunity to shape the world-view of human beings. And on this fertile ground has been cultivated an Illusory Middle East, full of spectres and phantoms, at which a relatively small section of the population continue to hurl bombs, insults, threats and half-baked theories.
(This will become clearer when I begin to review the ideas of, for example, the Israeli historian/commentator Ilan Pappe, and others, in a future episodes.)

If you are interested, the following is the lecture by Ilan Pappe that I am referring to, and you can listen and form your own ideas about it.

Maybe even do your own research!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

MY MIDDLE EAST Part Two: T E Lawrence

T.E. Lawrence speaks about the broken promises around the Balfour Declaration:

"Yet I cannot put down my acquiescence in the Arab fraud to weakness of character or native hypocrisy: though of course I must have had some tendency, some aptitude, for deceit, or I would not have deceived men so well, and persisted two years in bringing to success a deceit which others had framed and set afoot.  I had no concern with the Arab revolt in the beginning.  In the end I was responsible for it being an embarrassment to the inventors. Where exactly in the interim my guilt passed from accessory to principal, upon what headings I should be condemned, were not for me to say. Suffice it that since the march to Akaba I bitterly resented my entanglement in the movement, with a bitterness sufficient to corrode my inactive hours, but insufficient to make me cut myself clear of it. Hence the wobbling of my will, and endless, vapid complainings."

From TE Lawrence's "The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom", Chapter C.

When one is dubious as to which historian to trust, it may be helpful to listen to those who experienced day to day events. TE Lawrence was ideally placed between the Arabs in the middle east, circa 1916 - 1918, and the British government who were glad of the help of the Arabs in overthrowing the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, who occupied such places as Palestine, Syria, and parts of Arabia at the time, and who were allied with Germany in World War 1.

Lawrence knew, and liaised between, the leaders of both the British and the Arab command. And, clearly, from the above extract, he also knew, before the end of the war, that the promise made to the Arabs - that they should get Syria for their trouble in helping England against Turkey - was not going to be fulfilled.

In seeking a satisfactory explanation in my own mind for the generally termed "Arab - Israeli Conflict" I made myself aware, last year, of what seem to be the broad brush strokes - the difficult to refute facts of the matter, such as the actuality - which is not to say the wisdom - of the Balfour Declaration, The Paris Peace Talks, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and Winston Churchill's ultimate decision to try and honour the earlier promises, in 1922. 

It is very clear above that Lawrence was becoming mentally and spiritually scarred by his being caught (Charlie Chaplin - like) in the brutal machinations of the politics of his time. He was caught between a soldiers patriotism and duty to his country; and his admiration for the Arab people he helped to organize into what he thought was a fighting force which would ultimately reward them with their independence. 

The psychological make-up of Lawrence makes the reading of his book very interesting, and was probably a strong factor in David Lean and Robert Bolt's decision to tell the story in film. Initially, "Lawrence of Arabia" does seem to be the study of a complex man against the background of events in the desert. But, after several viewings, I have found ample material within the film to justify the authors' gleeful claim in their retirement that they " away with it!" They in fact told the story of the fraud about which Lawrence speaks above, greatly helped by committed and excellent performances by Alec Guinness, Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, and the rarely acknowledged but very important Claude Rains.

In My Middle East therefore, if the Arab people should have been annoyed with anybody at the time, it should not have been the Jewish people. The Jewish people were grateful that a tract of land had been allotted to them by the strong powers of the world during this rare window of opportunity. While the Arabs "...should keep for their own, the territory they conquered from Turkey in the war. The glad news circulated over Syria." 

Judging by Lawrence's comments, germinated right on the scene, and written up only a few years later, the Arabs should have properly been annoyed with the English and French governments for the fraud Lawrence speaks about.

"Fortunately, I had early betrayed the treaty's [Sykes - Picot] existence to Feisal, and had convinced him that his escape was to help the British so much that after peace they would not be able, for shame, to shoot him down in its fulfilment: while, if the Arabs did as I intended, there would be no one-sided talk of shooting. I begged him to trust not in our promises, like his father, but in his own strong performance."

Another broad brush stroke of history makes it plain that Lawrence's optimism was misplaced, and honour did not prevail. And so -

"When Feisal had gone, I made to Allenby the last (and also I think the first) request I ever made him for myself - leave to go away. For a while he would  not have it; but I reasoned, reminding him of his year-old promise, and pointing out how much easier this New Law would be if my spur were absent from the people. In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry."

A visit to Clouds Hill, Dorset where Lawrence found refuge to write his books, and to try and heal himself, evokes much of this narrative.

Maybe it is ironic that "Lawrence of Arabia" was shot extensively in Jordan, which did not exist as a country until 1922. But it is land over which Lawrence rode and fought for the Arab people.