At its core – and Hamas’ ill-advised use of jihadist jargon notwithstanding – the Palestinian conflict is not about religions, civilizations and worldviews. It is about land and human dignity.
(Daily Times, 21 November 2012)
An opinion piece titled “Romney, Obama and the elephants in the room” has appeared in the Washington Post of 15 November 2012. Its author, Dr Jerry Pattengale, is executive director of Green Scholars Initiative and assistant provost for public engagement at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Lest readers think that the Green Scholars Initiative has anything to do with the environment or, God forbid, Islam (for green is usually associated with the environment or Islam), I must clarify that this project is devoted to the “collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts”. A biblical scholar with a Ph.D in ancient history, Jerry is a prolific writer, award-winning teacher, a fine human being and also a personal friend of mine for more than two decades.
There are many things that bind me and Jerry but, on this issue, I beg to differ. The article sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the prism of the well-known postulation of Samuel P. Huntington and the lesser known Vishal Magiwaldi. Where they see a clash of civilizations, I only see occupation, domination and aggression, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, various kinds of attempts, some misguided and self-defeating, some violent and others peaceful, to overcome occupation and achieve liberation.
The article by Jerry Pattengale is typical of the Israeli-Jewish narrative which now dominates the Western media. It refers to a Middle East which “hasn’t changed much through the centuries” and where “cultures clash”. Leaning heavily on quotes from Israelis from across the spectrum including, almost inevitably, a rabbi, it refers to mutually antagonistic “Arabic (sic) or Israeli worldviews”.
Conspicuously absent from this narrative (and Dr Pattengale’s article) are the words “occupation,” “land”, “forced eviction”, “refugees”, “Jewish settlers”, “separation wall”, “security cordons” and such. We are asked to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the result of a “clash of civilizations” and “worldviews”!
Take Gaza. It is a strip of land 41 km long and 6 to 12 km wide. Living here are about 1.7 million Palestinians, which gives it a population density of 4,657 persons per square km. This is four times that of the world’s most densely populated country, Bangladesh, which has a population density of 1,142 per sq km.
Israeli security and border controls ensure that only under very exceptional circumstances can an inhabitant of Gaza go anywhere, that is, if he can afford to, which most cannot. In other words, Gaza is a virtual prison for its people, far larger than an average prison, but a prison nonetheless. Israeli stranglehold on Gaza’s borders means that most necessities are in short supply. Goods are smuggled from Egypt through a network of illegal tunnels, running the gauntlet of Israel’s drones and F-16s.
I imagine that, for the residents of Gaza, the frustration and humiliation of living under such conditions must be exacerbated by the knowledge that they, their parents or their grandparents lived in their ancestral homes, in relative comfort and dignity, not far from their current prison-like quarters, in what are now the Israeli cities of Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, etc.
Until, that is, they were evicted from their homes when the state of Israel was foisted on the Middle East by the European powers with US support, to compensate for their own collective crimes against Jews. And now it is precisely these powers which enable Israel to bully, beat and bomb them!
It is mind-boggling how Israeli spokespersons and mainstream Western press are now able to portray the Israelis, the vast majority of whom are first or second generation immigrants from other countries (some from as far as Russia), as the victims, and the Palestinians who have been evicted from the land where they lived for generations, as the aggressors.
Another line of argument juxtaposes Israeli democracy against the lack of it in Arab countries, as if that justifies or somehow explains the Israeli occupation or the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
And if that is not fantastic enough, we are told that “Christianity’s triumph in the West aligned nations not only around religion, but rational thought and humanitarian notions… . Complementing rational thought, the Biblical suppositions of human dignity and the sanctity of life remain significant forces in a more civil West”.
Well, well, Dr Pattengale, the holocaust was not the work of Muslims or atheists and the two world wars were not the result of Muslim or Arab aggression against the West. These events, blots on mankind as they are, were the handiwork of the “more civil” Europeans (Christians). Not in the “dark ages” or some distant past, but within living memory.
“Rational thought and humanitarian notions” grew out of Renaissance and Enlightenment, not from the womb of Christianity, and they led to the secularization of European countries, not their “alignment around religion”. I am sure that even the Pope will protest at the suggestion that rationalism was a relative, let alone a child, of Christianity. I tread on theological issues with great trepidation, but I seriously doubt that on matters of “human dignity and the sanctity of life”, the Bible stands on a higher pedestal than the Quran.
Hamas’ so-called “terror” arsenal of rockets and missiles has so far killed a total of 25 Israelis since the attacks began just over ten years ago. By contrast, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in 2008 alone killed 1,400 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, including many women and children. According to the Guardian, “314 Palestinians had been killed since 2009, as against 20 Israelis”, before the latest round of fighting, in which nearly 150 Palestinians have been killed already, against five Israelis.
Israeli leaders know that another full-scale military offensive will not destroy Hamas or its “arsenal”. But perpetuating the conflict will allow Israel to maintain its occupation and hegemony at America’s expense. Israel maintains its illegal occupation and formidable war-machine at little or no cost to itself. It is Uncle Sam who pays, with American tax-payers money and international goodwill, though running short of both!
Be that as it may, at its core – and Hamas’ ill-advised use of jihadist jargon notwithstanding – the Palestinian conflict is not about religions, civilizations and worldviews. It is about land and human dignity.
By Razi Azmi