The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict : Introduction: The Legacies of Fear

“Begin lost his parents and brother in the Holocaust...As a result he saw the world as profoundly anti-semitic, extremely hostile and highly dangerous environment. He percieved Arab hostility as an extension of the antisemitism that had resulted in [the Holocaust]....The experience of the Holocaust intensified his mistrust of all non-Jews, including the Arabs. It seemed to prove that the Gentiles [non-Jews] were out to destroy the Jewish people and that only Jewish military power could protect [them] against this danger.” Avi Shlaim on Menachim Begin, Israeli Prime Minister 1977-1983 (1)

“Many people, many nations can find themselves holding, more or less wittingly, that ‘every stranger is an enemy.’ For the most part this conviction lies deep down like some latent infection...but...when the unspoken dogma becomes the major premiss in a syllogism, then at the end of the chain, there is the concentration camp.” Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust Survivor (2)

“At first we did not use the word massacre... If the smell of the dead in Sidon was nauseating, the stench in Chatila made us wretch. Through the thickest of handkerchiefs, we smelled them...we began to smell of the dead...They were everywhere, in the road, in Laneways, in backyards and broken rooms...and across..garbage tips. The murderers, the Christian militiamen whom Israel had let into the camps to 'flush out the terrorists' - had only just left. When we had seen a hundred bodies we stopped counting. Down every alleyway, there were corpses - women, young men, babies and grandparents - lying together in lazy and terrible profusion where they had been knifed or machine-gunned...Everywhere we found signs of hastily dug mass graves. Perhaps a thousand people were butchered; probably half that number again” Journalist Robert Fisk on the 1982 massacre of Palestinians at Chatila refugee camp in Lebanon by the Phalange Lebanese Christian militia with the collusion of the Israeli military and Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon. (A second massacre took place at Sabra) (3)

The First Legacy of Fear : Pogroms and the Horror of the Holocaust

One root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply fear of non-Jews (“gentiles” or more disparagingly “goyim”) among many Jews, Israelis and Zionists.

This fear is based on very real past events: the many pogroms (massacres) of Jewish men, women and children by European Christians (and sometimes also middle eastern Muslims) from medieval times to the nineteenth century (4), (5), (6).

By the late 19th century European Jews including pogrom survivors became Zionists who believed that the only way for the Jewish people to survive and become safe from such massacres was to found their own state. The Jewish Kingdom of Israel described in the Old Testament and the Talmud was chosen by the majority as a state they could lay a (very distant) historical claim to. The Jewish name for the city of Jerusalem was Zion; so these believers in a Jewish state became known as Zionists.

The pogroms returned to Europe under the Nazis in Germany with Kristallnacht in the 1930s followed by the Holocaust of the 1940s in which an estimated six million Jews were killed. Afterwards many survivors could never feel safe in Europe again and emigrated to join the Zionists and found the state of Israel in the war of independence of 1948 (7).

The Holocaust was more terrible than any preceding Pogrom and was one of the most terrible genocides in history first because of its scale. Some six million Jews were killed in it. It was horrific for another reason though. For months or years Jewish people in the concentration camps were treated as sub-human and put through immense suffering so that their murderers could send them to be killed in the gas chambers without feeling guilty about murdering other humans. Jewish prisoners were stripped of every possession and families separated from one another. They were then made to work without sufficient clothing and in wooden shoes which blistered their feet in the coldest weather, rain and snow. They were frequently beaten by guards and by ‘kapos’ , usually German non-Jewish criminals used as camp guards by the Nazis. They were given pitiful amounts of thin soup and bread to eat each day. As soon as any of them became too ill or exhausted to work they were “selected” to be sent to the Gas chambers where they were killed by poison gas. Their teeth, hair and skin were used to make lamps, pillows and soap and the gold from their tooth fillings collected. Between 98 and 99% of all the Jews sent to German concentration camps in Poland and Germany died or were murdered (8), (9).

In the opinion of some Holocaust survivors, like Szymon Datner, (interviewed by Robert Fisk in the early 1980s) “Israel is the first and last line of defence of the Jewish People” and so they became unwilling to criticise anything done by any Israeli government (10). Others like Primo Levi considered actions like those carried out in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to be wrong (11).

How the First Legacy of Fear partly created the Second :

The Nakba and the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians - 1947 to 2007

However the British Mandate of Palestine, despite some settlers’ myths, was already populated by Palestinian Arabs who were cultivating much of the available land (12).

In order to make the Mandate of Palestine into an Jewish state in which Jews would be a majority the only options were to buy the land a little at a time and make the Arabs a minority or subject race (the method used by Zionists up until the 1930s), to accept a partition of Palestine into Palestinian and Israeli states (a solution rejected by both Zionists and Palestinians) or to expell most of the Arab population by force or by making life so hard for them that they would leave. The last option, often including ethnic cleansing by massacres and military force (especially in 1948-1949) was the method chosen by Zionist militias and later by the Israeli government (13), (14).

So due to their fear of being massacred and driven out of their homes as refugees Israelis have too often become those who carry out the massacres and who drive Palestinian Arabs out of their homes. They have partly become what they sought to defend against. The Israeli War of Independence of 1948 was for the Palestinians the Nakba – “the disaster” in which thousands of Palestinians , including many civilians and even children, were massacred by the Zionist militias which would later become the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) or army. Many more fled due to fear or threats of massacres. Around 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were made refugees (15), (16).

This involved planned, ordered and deliberate massacres of Palestinian Arabs, including women and childrenby Jewish forces, - and ethnic cleansing. True, there were also Palestinian massacres of Jews, but , as the weaker and defeated side, on a much smaller scale.(for more details see this page)

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that anti-Semitism does exist among many Arabs and Palestinians. Many members of Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party – the largest secular nationalist party in the PLO – have been anti-Semitic in the past – and a minority still are. In the religious parties - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - the open hatred of all Jews is far more prevalent.

This, like Israeli prejudice against Arabs, has its roots in very real events: in this case crimes against and massacres of Palestinians and other Arabs (and Muslims) - the massacres of the Nakba and many more killings of civilians in war crimes on a smaller scale since. The massacres of Sabra and Chatila are especially notorious. During Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, after all the armed Palestinians had left Beirut, Israel's government and military under Menachim Begin and Ariel Sharon broke a peace agreement by allowing Lebanese Phalangist militias to enter Sabra and Chatila refugee camps and murder thousands of Palestinian civilians including children. Begin notoriously attempted to deny responsibility by saying "the Goyim [non-Jews] are killing the Goyim". The Phalange are a Christian nationalist militia formed by Pierre Gemayel and inspired by him seeing the Nazi brownshirts march at the Munich Olympics of 1936. They hate Muslims , Socialists and Communists just as the Nazis hated Jews, Socialists and Communists (17),(18),(19).

More recently there are for instance the war crimes committed by Israeli governments and forces in Jenin and Nablus in 2002 and in the offensives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. True these were in the first case responses to Palestinian terrorist attacks which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians over several months and in the second to the killing of several Israel soldiers and the kidnapping of one. To see the full truth we also have to see though that two wrongs cannot make a right, that punishing and killing the innocent along with the guilty is a crime and that Israeli forces and governments have deliberately killed , impoverished and made homeless many thousands of Palestinians over decades as part of an attempt to get them to leave the West Bank(20), (21), (22), (23).

There is all too much risk of more terrorist killings of Israeli civilians now. However there is just as much risk of continuing killing of Palestinian civilians on a much larger scale and of many more Palestinians being made refugees in their own occupied lands or in other countries. The deaths being caused today by Israeli and international sanctions on Gaza are one major example.

How Some on Both 'sides' Became Like An Enemy Defeated Long Ago

When Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir said “The supreme morality is the survival of the Jewish people” she had adopted an element of the way of thinking of Adolf Hitler who justified the invasion of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as “pre-emptive self defence” and the killing of the “Slav” people of these countries as necessary to provide liebensraum (“living room”) and security to the German or Aryan people (24), (25). She had adopted an element of it but not all of it. Israel’s government has never attempted a Holocaust against Palestinians. Israeli governments’ aim have never been to exterminate all Arabs in the territory they coveted as Hitler had sought to exterminate all Jews. The aim of too many Israeli governments though has been to make all Palestinians refugees in other countries though – and killing many of them was one way to try to make the others give up and leave – another was to deny them social services, clean water, electricity, good jobs and university places – and these tactics continue to be applied by the current government of Ehud Olmert against both Palestinians in the occupied territories and “Israeli Arabs” (Palestinians who live inside Israel’s borders , who in theory are citizens equal to Jewish citizens but in practice face discrimination and in a few cases even death at the hands of Israeli police and military forces under Barak in 2002 (see following chapters).

The terrible similarity is that like the Nazis and like some of Hamas and Islamic Jihad many Israelis have, as a result of personal suffering or the historical memory of it passed down through generations, come to see those not of their religion as not fully human, not as human beings who can be understood and negotiated with, but only as barbarians who can only be fought and killed wherever possible.

Israel’s and Palestine's rights to Exist in Peace

Israel undoubtedly has a right to exist and to defend its population against attack. Every country in the world was created at some point by military force, by occupations and by the repression of minorities at one point or another – native Indians in the United States; Irish , Welsh and Scottish rebels and natives in Britain or the United Kingdom. So Israel is not unique. Generations of Jews have lived and been born in Israel and it has the same right to exist as any other state. To try to turn the clock back by expelling all Israeli Jews would be as disastrous and wrong as to expell all Protestants from Northern Ireland now because of the injustices of the past.

However this does not make ethnic cleansing, colonialism, military occupation, the killing and torture of civilians, bombarding entire towns and refugee camps or an Apartheid system today right or justifiable. This is true whether practised by Israel in its own territory and the occupied territories, by Chinese forces in Tibet, by Russian forces in Chechnya or by British and American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel is by far the stronger party in both the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and in the Middle East as a whole. So Israel must make concessions for peace. This does not mean that attacks on Israeli civilians can ever be justified as a blow against "oppression" any more than Israeli forces can claim to kill Arab civilians in "self-defence" though. The targeting of civilians and the failure to do everything possible to avoid killing them is wrong, full stop, as is the attempt by either side to resolve disputes by force .

For the same reasons Zionism at its minimum - the belief that the state of Israel has a right to exist - is not wrong in itself, but cannot be used to justify actions that are wrong, nor as a justification for denying Palestinians a state of their own with full sovereignty.

Some Palestinians carry out terrorist attacks to try and end the Israeli occupation and get their own state. However this cannot be given as a reason why Palestinians cannot be granted their own state since Zionists also carried out terrorist attacks against Arabs and British soldiers and civilians during the existence of the British Mandate of Palestine. Also as the following chapters detail, Israeli governments and forces continue to committ war crimes against Palestinian civilians which are no less wrong than terrorism, as they have over decades.

Don't blame all for the actions of some

It is completely wrong however to blame all Jews or all Israelis or all Palestinians or all Arabs for the actions of some ; just as wrong and irrational as to hate all Arabs or Muslims for the actions of some ; and it is just as wrong to kill innocent Israeli civilians as it is to kill innocent Palestinians.

The solution to both legacies of fear and the conflict they have created is simpler and less difficult to achieve than most people fear it to be, and since this introduction is already to long, is covered in the conclusion (titled "The Solution).

(1) = ‘The Iron Wall’ ,Chapter 9, page 353 (2) = 'The Drowned and the Saved' preface