I was struck by a report, I think in The Guardian, that only 2% of school students are taught about the Middle East. Apparently, it’s too contentious and too hard, perhaps because of the pernicious roles played by many British Governments! Speaks volumes about the education system.
For many, it’s a war which focuses on perceived victimhood and to a very large extent that depends on the start date you choose.
For some the conflict started on October 7 when Hamas launched its assault on Israel and the resultant savagery. But as the UN has pointed out, this did not happen in a vacuum. For at least a decade, in Israel, and indeed the West, the idea of finding a just solution in Gaza and the West Bank, has been increasingly fading from thoughts.
The latest Cabinet in Israel is without doubt the most right wing, perhaps fascist, in the country’s history and all because Prime Minister Netanyahu is focused more on the criminal cases he faces than anything else. Hence the proposed changes to the roles of the courts which was prompting massive anti-government demonstrations every week for months. Additionally, the actions of the “settler movement” are wrong legally and wrong morally but Netanyahu accepts this as the price of staying out of prison. On Oct 7 Israel was the victim, since then the inhabitants of Gaza have been the victims.
For others the start date is the end of World War 1 when the League of Nations assigned to Britain a mandate to govern Palestine and Transjordan. (See 1 below.) Part of this was a responsibility to give Jews a National Homeland. Britain ruled in the usual cackhanded manner until 1948. When the Mandate ended on 15 May, Israel declared Independence and was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbours. Many Arabs left their homes when Arab leaders promised them a swift victory and immediate return, others were forced out by Israel and still more simply fled because war is hell! All victims. Many Israelis died in that War of Independence. All victims. Many British servicemen died during the run up to 1948 as the Jews fought for the right to have a homeland. All victims. Many of the inhabitants of Gaza are descendants of those who left Israel in 1948 and it’s not hard to empathise with them but it’s also not hard to point the finger at those Arab Nations who have kept them as second class citizens in their adopted countries. More victims.
Still others point to the wars of 1967 or 1973 when yet again Israel had to fight for its very existence. The boundaries which existed before and after the wars have real meaning and consequences for those whose homes were occupied and incorporatedinto the new boundaries of Israel and out of Arab countries. Particularly in the case of 1967 where the Golan Heights and the West Bank of the River Jordan were occupied by Israel. Another starting point is the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995(see 2 below) which set the aim of a “Two State Solution” in train. It’s perhaps this which caused the most serious rift in the Palestinian cause between those who could live with a Jewish state and those like Hamas who wanted to wipe out the Jewish state and control all of Palestine “from the river to the sea”. (see 3 section 2) For some the end of the intifada in 2005 which led to the inauguration of the Palestinian Authority under the Fatah movement or two years later when Hamas won the election (in which it promised to recognise the right of Israel to exist) and ousted them. Sometimes literally throwing Fatah people out of windows etc as they established control. It’s also worth noting that the victory of Hamas was built, not only on Islamic fundamentalism but also on a real social and educational network which arguably was doing more for the ordinary people that the Palestinian Authority. Either way, Israel was no longer occupying Gaza and the West Bank, controlling access, yes but no occupying.
Some would argue that the starting point is very recent, in the talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalise relations. For the fundamentalists in Iran and their proxies of Hamas and Hezbollah this is heresy and the thing they fear most. Hamas cannot be “destroyed” because it is not just a military organisation it’s also a dream of the Palestinian people having their own homeland just as Zionism was for the Jews especially after the Second World War and the Holocaust. There are good people in both Israel and Palestine who recognise that there must be a way to allow both to live together and I would recommend the interview with Baroness Warsi (see 4 below) as a good listen. Everyone is a victim whether they see their neighbour as a victim as well is another matter but they’re all victims.
For still others the starting point goes back to biblical days and to paraphrase Billy Connolly “never trust anyone who only reads one book”.