Home / Analysis / The Fires of the Past: Israel

The Fires of the Past: Israel

There is a sardonic humour amidst the tragedy of the new Arab-Israeli conflict. Across all the programs reporting and commenting on the war, representatives from both sides scramble for the moral high ground, usurped over and over again by Israel and her supporters. The most impious was perhaps Condoleezza Rice’s statement that cast Israel as the moral advocate and the injured party.

Her implication that whatever solution is brokered would have to be enduring is in and of itself a clearing of Israel from blame in the present state of affairs. Moreover, the insistence of other commentators – echoing Rice – that one cannot tolerate a return to the ‘status quo anti’ where a militant group could at anytime launch rockets into Israel, again skews the origins of the conflict. The origin debate however is a pedantic wrangling over details, which at present are too clouded to deliver any decisive result, while any result that does come forward would merely add to a climate of point scoring. In fact, the debate over the origin of this conflict is a politico-ideological distraction. This war must not be seen in isolation but as part of a broader history. The Middle East has presented the world with the most volatile of subsystem in international politics, plunging the region – and often the world – into war with devastating effect. In fact the only other region that has had such sustained and recurring disputes over land has been that of the subcontinent, and in both cases there is a seminal link: colonialism. What we are witnessing today finds it genesis in the history of colonial misadventure, and the present episode further underlines the devastating repercussions of Western imperialism. Sadly, as one empire declined in the mid twentieth century another soon arose in its place, so that while the sun finally set on Pax Britannica, what replaced it was what Avi Shlaim has called, Pax Americana. But the story involves yet another empire, a less recognised player in the historic narrative of the Middle East: the Ottomans.

For more than five hundred years the Ottoman Turks had ruled the Middle East. The political state had been dynastic, Islamic, and multiethnic. Historians like Andrew Wheatcroft recognise that within its borders ethnic groups remained largely autonomous, maintaining their laws, customs, and conventions, which was all afforded to them by the rulers. The Ottoman Caliphate had evolved over a long period of time and produced its own vibrant culture and forms of power relations[1]. The history of that part of the world which the Ottomans came to rule, is one typified by invasion and inner conflict. But the turmoil was always dealt with within the fabric of its own societies so that even the most devastating event in the region’s history – the Mongol invasion – did not stultify progress, rather the invaders were absorbed into the already existing framework, albeit one that had been brought to the brink of destruction. What history presents us then is not a utopia by any means but a region that stood the test of time, and continually fused old and new ways of organising and managing the various societies in that area who saw the rise and fall of different empires. Between the 13th and 18th century it happened to be the Ottomans who provided a cog of cohesion to this region, which with their downfall opened a Pandora’s box, one of the contents of which was Israel.

With the German-Ottoman defeat in the First World War, the European victors carved out the territories that we recognise today. In fact, the British had made a pact with France that in return for their support against the Ottomans the two would divide the Ottoman territories into two spheres of influence. In what is known as the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 (See Appendix), the two powers set out the manner by which division and administration of the Ottoman territories would be conducted. The date incidentally betrays Britain’s promise to the Arabs whom they were enlisting for support during World War One against the Ottomans. Independence was further betrayed by another promise made in 1917 with the Jews for a national homeland in Palestine.

In a curious strategy of enlisting support, Britain criss-crossed its commitments and promises with several different players. In the end it was Balfour himself who had signed the recommendation petitioned to him by Lord Rothschild (a leading British Zionist) in 1917, who in retrospect said, ‘In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate’. Curious though it seems, Britain was following a shrewd Imperial logic and this was of effectively fragmenting that area which historically had posed such a threat. Having promised Sharif Hussayn, the chief of Mecca, an independent Arab state comprising of all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, in exchange for his assistance against the Caliph, Britain would have been entirely out of step with Colonial operandi if it had carried through its promise so straightforwardly. The criss-crossing of pledges was to keep the area divided with internal discord and to minimise the strength of the Muslims who had historically posed a great threat in that area through which of course runs the route to India[2].

Colonial attitude toward the natives of lands to which their expeditions led them can also be seen in practice in the case of Palestine. But the Imperial mindset was not restricted to the British, in fact the founding father of Zionism, Theodore Herssel, wrote in his book The Jewish State (1896):

We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.

When we hear of Israel described in the media today as a bastion of democracy amidst a belligerent and totalitarian bloc of states, the terms of reference may be different but the outlook remains the same. In fact one can sense a degree of historic injustice simply because the two parties – the Palestinians and the Jews – were unequal in their ability to vie for influence and self-determination. Lord Rothschild, from the mere fact of his title, was a figure that no doubt had a degree of influence over those in the echelons of power, while the Palestinians were without a voice. To this day such imbalance is overlooked so that when we hear news reports of a conflict between Israel and Palestinians, it is presented in the form of two warring rivals not as ‘an oppression of an illegal occupier and the resistance of the oppressed’[3]. The Israeli regime continues, as Pilger points out, to set the international news agenda; ‘Israelis are “murdered by terrorists”, while Palestinians are “left dead” after a “clash with security forces”’[4].

Palestinians were a silent, almost non-existent party in the eyes of the major (and rich) players. Rashid Khalidi, Director of The Centre for International Studies at the University of Chicago[5], makes this point in a film produced by MPI Studios in 2001[6]:

Britain had already decided in 1917 that it was going to support Jewish Nationalism/ Zionism…and it made sure that the terms of the mandate for Palestine were written so as to give the Balfour declaration pride of place…in fact the terms of the Balfour declaration are repeated in the mandate for Palestine; so there is the idea of a Jewish national home; the idea of Jews having national rights; the idea that the British are supposed to set up a Jewish agency which is supposed to be an international body that would represent this population: all these things are set out in the terms of the mandate, but the Arabs and Palestinians – the word “Arab” the word “Palestinian” is never mentioned in the mandate. So they do not exist; they are there but they are not entitled to anything…only [being] mentioned as the non-Jewish population. So, basically, the Arabs were [essentially] eliminated from the very terms of reference in the mandate.

For the Zionist forefathers of Israel, Palestine was seen ‘as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom; such inhabitants as it had were supposed to be inconsequential nomads possessing no real claim on the land and therefore no cultural or national reality’[7]. The colonial echoes in this are not incidental; the Zionist movement was one that had begun amongst the wealthy Jews of Europe. Herssel had interpreted the hard history of the Jewish people as resulting from their lack of statehood and so wove into his argument modes of colonial thought. Indeed at the time of the Balfour declaration the Jewish presence in Palestine was merely ten percent and yet, to legitimise their claim, the Zionists of Europe resorted to narrativising their right sometimes in terms of theology – that the land was the historic land of Jews as found in the bible – and often as being an outpost of civilisation in that area.

In a trip to Palestine in 1922, Muhammad Asad (the then Leopold Weiss) notes in his autobiography that while the native Jews seemed to blend seamlessly with their surroundings, the Jews who had arrived from Europe were distinctly at odds in their chosen environment. He says at one point that ‘although the European Jews were obviously out of all harmony with the picture that surrounded them, it was they who set the tone of Jewish life and politics and thus seemed to be responsible for the almost visible friction between Jews and Arabs.’[8] Part of this friction lay in the fact that since 1917 the British authorities were allowing and assisting Zionist settlers to purchase land that had been communal farming space amongst the Arabs for centuries. These settlers were also sponsored emigrants as part of a policy to balance the number of Jews to Arabs. Asad had a revealing conversation in his 1922 visit to Palestine with Chaim Weizmann, one of the leading British Zionists who also happened to be visiting the area. When asked about the Arabs ‘who, after all, were in the majority in this country?’ Weizmann replied: ‘We expect they won’t be in the majority after a few years’[9]. Indeed the intention was only thinly veiled, because there was only one possibility in the minds of the Zionists at the time as revealed by Joseph Whites, Director of the Jewish Land Fund in the 1930s, who in his dairy wrote,

It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country; if the Arabs leave the country it will be broad and wide open for us [the Jews] and if the Arabs stay the country will remain narrow and miserable, and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries…we must leave not a single village and not a single tribe. There is no other way.”

Israel then is not only born of colonialism but operates with a colonial mindset. One has only to look at the plight of the Palestinians who are within Israel’s borders and who at least by that fact alone are considered Israelis, to realise that there is in fact a policy similar to that administered by a colonial power over its colonial subjects.The wrongs of the present therefore must be corrected by correcting the wrongs of the past. We have in Israel and in America’s support of it a clear example of Imperialism by all but name, and so we must apply a postcolonial reading to the situation that we are being fed by the media. The aggressor cannot be cast as the aggrieved, what is happening in the Middle East is but the convulsions of history.

Soon after its birth in 1948[10], Israel had its first – inevitable – war with its neighbours, but the Arab states were poorly equipped and were not unified, failing even to coordinate their battlefield strategies[11]. Meanwhile, Zionists had been amassing a large number of arsenal since the 1936 Arab revolt, during which incidentally much of Palestinian leadership was exiled by the British. The Zionist also received ammunition bought and smuggled out of Europe[12].

The 1948 victory for Israel left a deep impression on Zionist psychology. Their conviction, ‘as natural to the hawks as it was unpalatable to the doves, [was] that a state created by the sword will have to live by the sword.’[13] The American-Zionist leader, Nahum Goldmann, notes this in his autobiography when he says that the 1948 war ‘seemed to show the advantages of direct action over negotiations and diplomacy’:

The victory offered such glorious contrast to the centuries of persecution and humiliation, of adaptation and compromise, that it seemed to indicate the only direction that could possibly be taken from then on. To brook nothing, to tolerate no attack, cut through Gordian knots, and shape history by creating facts seemed so simple, so compelling, so satisfying that it became Israel’s policy in its conflict with the Arab world.[14]

If the embers that cause the fires of today are coming from somewhere else then putting out these fires will resolve little; we must put out the fire of a particular past that keeps shooting its embers into the present.




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[1] Another similarity with the Subcontinent is the ways in which the British also disrupted a historical linguistic balance there and exasperated the communal differences amongst the population, thus making language a significant factor in the partition. See “Gup-Shup Bund: The role of language in the partition of India.”
[2] Aeroplanes during this time were still in their infancy.
[3] John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, (London: Verso, 2002), p143
[4] Ibid.
[5] Dr. Khalidi is the “Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. Previously, Dr. Khalidi was Professor of Middle East History in the Departments of Near East Languages and Civilizations and History, and Director of the Center for International Studies, at the University of Chicago.
[6] Tragedy in the Holy Land, produced by MPI Studios 2001.
[7] Edward Said, Orientalism, (London: Penguin: 2003), p286.
[8] Muhammad Asad, Road to Mecca, (New York: Dar Al-Andalus Ltd, 1985), p92.
[9] Ibid, p94.
[10] This was by any standards wholly arbitrary, since in the same month as the last British troops departed from Palestine, the Jews, who were still in a minority, announced independence, and among the first nations to recognise this pseudo-nation was America.
[11] T. E. Vadney, The World Since 1945, (London: Penguin, 1992), p130
[12] Efraim Karsh, The Arab-Israeli Conflict. The Palestine War 1948, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002), p25.
[13] Avi Shlaim, War and Peace in the Middle East, (New York: Penguin, 1995), p23
[14] Nahum Goldmann, The Autobiography of Nahum Goldmann: sixty years of Jewish life,(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969), P289-90.


Asad, Muhammad, Road to Mecca, (New York: Dar Al-Andalus Ltd, 1985)
Chomsky, Noam, Deterring Democracy, (London: Vintage, 1992)
Goldmann, Nahum, The Autobiography of Nahum Goldmann: sixty years of Jewish life,(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969)
Karsh, Efraim, The Arab-Israeli Conflict. The Palestine War 1948, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002)
Pilger, John, The New Rulers of the World, (London: Verso, 2002)
Said, Edward, Orientalism, (London: Penguin: 2003)
Shlaim, Avi, War and Peace in the Middle East, (New York: Penguin, 1995)
Vadney, T. E, The World Since 1945, (London: Penguin, 1992)

Electronic Media:

Tragedy in the Holy Land, produced by MPI Studios 2001

About Ahmed Ali


  1. historically?
    SH ‘Palestinians (historically) did not pick a fight’

    But we are not speaking ‘historically’ but about the present which is all we have right now. The past is done, gone, you want to keep the fire alive by a constant state of grief and I say they need to let go and move on, Sending rockets over to Israel is not the way to achieve peace, indoctinating your children in hate is not the way to peace, voting a terrorist group into power whose platform is to take down Israel is not a statement that says you want peace.

    I agree that it is rather tiring trying to have a conversation with one with such a skewed ideological mind such as yours. I have a feeling that I am probably the one that is more fair minded here since, not being Arab or Jewish, I do not have a dog in this fight and am perhaps able to see things a bit clearer than one, such as yourself, that has been raised in the hate. Seriously, I DO get it but I do hope that one day you will be able to see the whole picture.

  2. Picking fights.
    Dear Lynn,

    welcome back! I thought we had lost you to commenting fatigue, a condition I am fast approaching in having to point out the obvious absurdities in your comments. Please proof read your comments in order to save yourself from coming across as an unreasonable stooge-of-ideology: Palestinians (historically) did not pick a fight. Furthermore, Palestinians have not exactly had opportunity to exercise freedom of choice; the capacity to choose depends as much on the conditions under which choices are possible; one cannot invite a practising Jewish or Muslim person to one’s house and then offer them a choice of several non-Kosher/halal dishes. The capacity to choose therefore is a little more complex than your skewed ideological mind seems able to comprehend.

    Make the right choice Lynn and try to be a little more fair minded.

  3. Barbara, Those things could not have happened had the Palestinian people chosen peace rather than Hamas with their goal of obliterating Israel? When the Palestinians decide that peace is what they want and start living acordingly rather than teaching their children hate and vengeance then, and only then, can peace come. We can’t pick a fight with someone and then label them evil when they kick our asses!

  4. Moving On
    Just so we’re clear what it is the Palestinians just need to just ‘move on’ from by erecting a ‘museum’ – some recent headlines:

    1) 65yr old man Amr Qawasme killed while he was sleeping – israeli forces admit that this was ‘an accident’ – he was a civilian but that the raid was justified because there was a member of Hamas in the same building – for a picture of the blood-soaked sheets and words from his devastated wife see video below:

    2) A doctor (Izzeldin Abuelaish) who spent years looking after israeli patients as a hospital gynaecologist had 3 daughters and his niece killed by Israeli tank shelling in 2009. Defenceless girls of 21, 15 and 13 were killed plus the niece. Another daughter was left blind in one eye and his other son was injured.

    Hear his wails of dispair on Israeli television, how he had to carry his own daughters to the hospital because Israeli forces did not allow him aid despite his Israeli friend’s call for assistance.
    He speaks to Democracy Now about this story and his hope for peace in the future. His book – I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

    3) Gaza – 1,400 Palestinians killed (versus 13 Israeli deaths) – more than half palestinian deaths civilian and 300 children (Wikipedia)

    4)Lebanon – over 1,100 Lebanese deaths – of which 30% were under 13s (Wkipedia)

    If you compare the death toll from 9/11 – 2,996 (acc to Wikipedia) – which resulted in worldwide shock, outrage, condemnation, songs, memorials, films, documentaries etc and which the west, understandably, has not forgotten and reminds us annually with, explain to me how Palestine should ‘move on’ from the death of its children?

    Tell me really, how should Palestine move on from the deaths of its children?

    And how indeed does a country ‘move on’ from something that is continuing to happen? These headlines were just a few weeks ago.

    I genuinely believe it is only when BOTH sides are allowed legitimate platforms of expression, the right to a ‘fair’ hearing and a just arbitrator (i.e. not the US) that a solution will be reached.

  5. Colonialism and Zionism
    Dear Yusuf,

    Zionism is ideology; colonialism is the practice and process by which this ideaology has come to shape and order Israel’s reality.

    Jewish people have always been an important part of Palestine and contributed to its diversity. However,European Jewry’s influx and domination of Palestine during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century is what I, and others, point out is colonialist in nature and impulse.

    Hope that makes it clear.

  6. It seems to me the use of the term “colonialism” to describe the behavior of Israel is odd. There already is a word for it. It’s called “Zionism”. Perhaps “Zionism” has lost it’s original meaning in these parts?

    As SH seems to be an educated man, I suspect this novel use is intentional and is meant to imply that a Jewish presence in Jerusalem is something akin to the British in Delhi. That seems rather strained to me. When the Romans governed Jerusalem, THAT was colonialism.

  7. Gandhi’s Solution for Palestine.
    Question: What do you feel is the most acceptable solution to the Palestine problem?
    Mahatma Gandhi: The abandonment wholly by the Jews of terrorism and other forms of violence.
    (1st June 1947)

  8. Read Derrida
    Dear Lynn,

    I am not giving your words meaning so much as deconstructing them to reveal to yourself what your words IMPLY and can POSSIBLY be taken to mean. It is interesting to me that although you rebut my reading of your words you do not actually openly and clearly deny my reading. Say for instance, by admitting that grave injustice has indeed been perpetrated against the Palestinians by Israel.

    Your ideological alignment requires that you pull away from the article’s central point (Israel’s coloniality and the historic injustice committed) and move in the direction of highlighting Palestinian irrationality and stubbornness in what you see as a refusal to move on – an allegation that I suppose you level at me too, since I insist on recording and reiterating the past in an attempt to correct the present and move into a better future. This point for you I suspect seems paradoxical, in that a future for you needs to be one that moves on from the past. I would debate this point with you more, but I shall move on (for now)!

    People grieve differently of course. But here grieving is not merely an individual grieving, nor is grieving merely a reference to emotions. When I said ‘…one of the ways in which this continuing colonialism is so malicious [is that] it demands that the grieved do not even grieve’ I was speaking of the maliciousness of the Israeli occupation and American support as structural and therefore the grief as bound within structural confines too. The process of grieving cannot begin for Palestinians because the conditions that generate the grief continue to exist. This is a little like expecting those interned in concentration camps to begin a process of grieving while they are captive in the camp. You might find my analogy unacceptable, but try to understand it not as a comparison of like for like, but of the assumption that one can grieve and process out of oneself the complicated emotions that accompany grief while present in the very conditions that produce one’s grief.

    Notice how in our discussion the Museum is starting to function as metaphor. For me, a place where the plight of the Palestinians can finally gain recognition; for you a place where one can record history objectively. This objectivity (implied in your words: “proper, well rounded and unbiased history”) again betrays your fair-mindedness because it implies that Israel the entity (not individual human Israelis) is a victim as much as Palestine. Let me make this crystal clear. An Israeli mother who looses her child is a victim just as much as a Palestinian mother who looses her child. But Israel as an occupying force is NOT a victim, any more than the colonial entity that was Britain was a victim when faced with resistance in India, Australia, Africa or America – even though some of the forms those acts of resistance took were terrible. This therefore brings me back to the article. Recognising the colonial nature of Israel and the neo-Imperial nature of contemporary global politics is a pre-requisite to being able to deal justly with the Israeli/Palestinian situation.

    Oh Lynn, lets not bring forth examples of idiocy which both sides have in abundance. I wholeheartedly say that TV programs like the ones you highlight are wrong. Clear. They are wrong. But what is a misstep is you assuming that Palestinian mothers gleefully sit their children in front of such programs because they are by nature blood thirsty. These programs should be seen as symptomatic of a problem and that problem ought not to be explained simply through a thesis of the peculiarity of Palestinian psychology. That is a typical colonialist epistemology – very nineteenth century. What is more, there are equally nutty Israelis who talk about exterminating the Palestinians – google and ye shall find: for instance on the 16th of this month it came to light that certain rabbis had suggested Palestinians may be exterminated much like the Amelk. Tit for tat I suppose, but how does this add to your argument or mine?

    In 1948 when Israel declared itself independent (whom from it is unclear) the Palestinians didn’t necessarily have passports. Palestinians had lived under Ottoman rule and passports were not a common possession. With the Ottomans losing in WW1 the British came in as a colonial power. They did not issue their Palestinian subjects with passports – remember they were subjects and not citizens. All the while, civil unrest raged in Palestine – small skirmishes to larger scale riots. Passports were not something that would have been the concern for many during this time necessarily. Finally Israel came into being and Palestinian resistance against Israel began. No passports still. I think that undercuts your funny analogy re: Canada and America.

  9. Discredited?
    LOL, And I say YOU are discredited because you assign meaning to MY words. Those are YOUR feelings, not mine. Not everyone grieves in the same way. Some grieve forever, never accomplishing anything in their lives and some grieve a short time then move one with their lives. Not that they forget that for which they had grieved for in the past. Hopefully the grief they went throught was a learning lesson that can be taught to others thus creating something good from something that caused grief. So, yeah, you are the one insisting on needing to grieve so, go on, if you must. But remember that others may not have that same need as you.

    Another example of you stating what MY feelings are ‘After putting forward a very legitimate proposition re: the Museum, you belittle this proposition a little later with the word ‘then’.’ I don’t understand how you can jump to THAT conclusion. But I understand your concerns about the museum being factual and honest. It could be very difficult especially considering that the ones likely to build it may not have ever been taught proper, well rounded and unbiased history. Then,of course it is likely to be destroyed if it doesn’t portray the history that any particular group might want it to. So, yeah, I guess it’s an unlikely thing anyway.

    Can you please explain to me how a mother who wants her children to prosper can sit that child down to enjoy a nice dose of Hamas TV such as this one?
    ‘When the three-year-old called in to say the Jews killed Farfur, the show’s hostess, Saraa’ responded: “That’s right … The Jews are criminals and enemies, we must expel them from our land,” PMW reported.’

    Seriously, do you see ANY room, whatsoever, in a peaceful world for that kind of early indoctrination of hate and fear?

    Speaking of those who fled their homes due to occupation. Can you please tell me what their nationalities were listed as on their passports? Were they Jordanian? Syrian? Egyptian? I am American and if Canada invaded and took over my state and threw me out of my home then I would still be American with full rights as an American citizen and I could go live anywhere else in this country. So I guess it is just difficult for me to understand why Jordan or Syria or Egypt doesn’t take care of it’s own. There doesn’t seem to be any reason, in my mind, why after all these years there should be anything called a ‘refugee camp’ for Palestinians.

  10. Disagreement…
    Dear Lynn,

    Let’s deal with one thing first: I think you are discredited not because you disagree with me but because of the way that you expressed yourself in your last comment. You said ‘grieve if you must’ and I illustrated how your words betray your irrationality – the ‘must’ being the key to unlocking what is lurking as subtext in your view of the Palestinian situation. I refer you to my rebuttal of your last post. It is not funny so much as tragic that you are oblivious to this; being so, I read your comments on peace as deeply ironic and fork tongued.

    Those who were born in present day Israel do not/should not have to leave the land on which they were born. I don’t think they ought to be dispossessed as the Palestinians were and have been since the formation of Israel. Another wrong like that will not solve an earlier wrong committed against the Palestinians. A solution of two states may well be one solution (as I have said before) or another solution which involves one nation (for both current Palestinians and current Israelis) administered through neutral powers – the UN or some other body. NOTE: these are mere speculations; each so-called solution will need to be properly thought out and justice must be a reigning priority in each assessment/consideration. BUT justice cannot be the focus if the injustices are not taken into account. The need to frame Israel as colonial is not a pot-shot at Israel. It is to bring to the fore a reality which, in my opinion, is hard to deny (you can disagree, though you need to do it on the basis of denying Israel’s coloniality rather than, dismissing the point or appealing to ‘moving on’). Furthermore, in my analysis one of the key factors (please note, ONE of the key factors) in perpetuating the problems of Israel/Palestine is precisely the neo/colonial nature of Israel together with the neo-Imperial nature of the US, both of which are compounded by the forces of contemporary globalisation.

    Lastly, any discussion of justice will need to factor in the many Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes because of the occupation of their land. So while you are right to ask about those Israelis who were born in Israel, I wonder whether you also have in mind the Palestinian refugees across many countries in the world.

    And finally, I would love to see an internationally recognised Museum for Palestine together with world recognition of their plight – a history that is taught in schools etc. (much like one for the Armenians in Turkey) Yet, I ask you, because of ease with which you typed that suggestion: can it really come to be? Will it not disturb Israel’s denial for the past 60 years that it is not a colonial nation; that it has not illegally occupied land and dispossessed families and people? It is because Israel CANNOT accept what it is, nor can its supporters accept the fact that they are part of a neo-Imperial system, that such a museum and global recognition cannot, as far as I can see, come to be.

    How funny you are indeed that you keep betraying yourself through your words. After putting forward a very legitimate proposition re: the Museum, you belittle this proposition a little later with the word ‘then’. “If we have that”, you say, “can we then allow the Palestinian children to grow up and get educated in things that will help him prosper rather than in the hatred ‘for the sake of grieving”. The ‘then’ again betrays your lack of introspection. It suggests that the Palestinians do not want to educate their children and see better lives for them; as if they prise their grievance over the development of their children in some morbid lust of vengeance; as if their grievance is not something they can wish away, especially given that even as we exchange these comments they are still affected by colonial occupation.

    Peace indeed.


  11. Turning our backs on justice?
    SH, I have to wonder why you think that ‘moving on’ means turning your back to injustice. Of course we can’t do that. However, I think that perhaps we need to define what ‘justice’ is. How will that look for all those Jewish people that have been born in the country called Israel? I don’t think that you have made yourself clear about what, exactly, you want. How about a Palestinian Museum like the Holocaust Museum? If we have that can we then allow the Palestinian children to grow up and get educated in things that will help him prosper rather than in the hatred ‘for the sake of grieving’?

    By the way, since you don’t agree with me then I would have to say that I think it is you that should be discredited as someone who is not fair minded enough to speak about peace. See how that works? How funny you are.



  12. Solution
    The only solution to this issue is if israel firstly pays for every palestinian life lost and then gets off palestinian land.

  13. Ad infinitum arguements.
    Dear Ghazi,

    I’m afraid the ad infinitum argument (your ‘yadha, yadha’ point) does not mean much all though its rhetorical thrust focuses on dismissing the nature of Israel by equivocating its actions with that of former colonial and imperial enterprises (Muslim/Non-Muslim included). Yet the lack of substance of such a point can be shown in two simple ways. One, so what if there is a history of colonialism in this region, it still does not negate the point that Israel is a colonial enterprise and should be spoken out against for that reason alone much like our ancestors should have done if they witnessed such atrocities as we do today; or much like our progeny should if they happen to observe similar horrors in the future. Two, we live at a time when the vast majority of nations and fair minded individuals reject colonialism as brutalising. A consensus that can hardly be claimed for the past, when sensibilities may well have been different and colonial invasion and occupation a more natural order of things. Thus to tolerate a colonial context in the present is doubly heinous for we tolerate it (and by that I mean refuse to talk about it in these terms) at a time when it is consensually agreed to be amongst one of the great evils of our past.

    Please do not conflate a critique of Israel with a ‘visceral hatred of the Jews’, since this article nor its author subscribe to such hatred. The link between the two may be true for some that criticise Israel but so too is it true that the charge of anti-Semitism is too easily applied to anyone remotely critical Israel and its Zionist origins.

    Israel’s atrocities are not diminished when compared to Arab/Muslim countries much like the severe shortcomings of Arab/Muslim countries is not lessened by an appeal to their social and moral conditions (fewer divorce, less sexual promiscuity etc. as some Muslims claim) when compared to the West. Each nation’s failures are its own much as its success is its own.

    Muhammad or no Muhammad (upon whom be peace) what separates the Semitic “cousins” is politics and present brutality of Israel itself.

  14. No one invited the Muslims into Palestine. Palestine was turned Muslim by a colonial invasion. And before that there were other invasions. And ‘Jewish’ tribes fought each other. And before the Jews there was fighting going on between other tribes. yahda yahda.

    Arabs have lost lands to Jews, and in turn, in Arab lands, Jews have lost their lands to Arabs/Muslims.

    Israel is not perfect, there are injustices, it is difficult to assert otherwise. But I look at what the Arabs/Muslims have as an alternative and I shudder. There are many thousands of Arabs in Israel who are free to move to Muslim-controlled lands at any time. Yet they don’t. That in itself says a lot.

    You can hate the Jews viscerally, but when you examine their productivity, free press and democratic government, those facts are the envy of many a liberal Muslim living in the Middle East.

    Jordanian/Palestinian Muslims and Jews share the same DNA. They are all Semites. What separates them is religion. Actually they both pray to Abraham’s god. What separates them is Mohamed, not the god of Abraham, Mohamed. Surely the fact that they both pray to Abraham’s god is far, far, far more important that any position one takes about the ordinarily-human Mohamed? Why not emphasise the similarities than the differences?

  15. Correction
    Avi *Sholom* should read Avi Shlaim

  16. Reply to Yusuf
    Dear Yusuf,

    Thank you for making your position clearer. I understand that you are not dismissing the plight of Palestinians and that you are appealing for greater pragmatism; a perfectly valid position to take up by the way. However, my proposition/position is not pragmatic. I am not offering a neat solution. What I am offering is a lens by which to analyse why the situation has proven to be so intractable. The lacunae of my analysis boil down mainly to a lack of concrete historical analysis of the manner in which Palestinian resistance has fuelled occupation further. I seek to redress this shortcoming by adopting a postcolonial frame of reference which enables me to take for granted the manner in which resistance by the colonised often feeds the categories and narratives perpetuated by the coloniser to further their colonial enterprise: a well established dialectic in postcolonial studies. That said, the virtue/benefit of approaching the analysis this way is to highlight the blind spot in most pragmatic position which is revealed in your assertion: ‘This [an emphasis on the current injustices of military occupation] will engender sympathy in the West and even in Israel were [sic] a substantial number recognize this and also want it to end’. What does the end of occupation mean? In some respect it means an end to Israel. The continuing settlements that dot formerly/formally recognised Palestinian territory suggest that occupation (for at least a significant number of the Israeli populous) is a modus operandi for the continuing creation and sustenance of Israel. For certain hard liners in Israel there is a palpable desire to eventually establish Israel-proper, which is a much larger dream than the strip of land currently called Israel in the Middle East. These individuals may well be religious extremists and quacks – like their counterparts amongst the Muslim population in Palestine/Middle East and beyond. But the commonality between them and the doves – as Avi Sholom calls the more liberal and amenable characters in Israel – is that for both occupation is the underlying basis upon which Israel must continue to exist; apologetically for one group and defiantly for another. How can even the liberal minded in Israel deny that the land upon which they sit was not at a recent point in history acquired through occupation. One way or another occupation is the nature of Israel because it is colonial. It is sustained by imperial interests and a world order that is deeply neo-Imperial. This can be denied or ignored, but it is a lens that explains in part why the situation in the Middle East has not been adequately addressed let alone solved. A pragmatic solution may well be what is needed in the end, but I would footnote any possibility of this as twice as difficult without calling a spade a spade.

  17. Dear Syed;

    I am not saying one should not plead the case of the Palestinians. I am saying one should emphasize the current injustice of an endless military occupation. This will engender sympathy in the West and even in Israel were a substantial number recognize this and also want it to end. What will be uniformly rejected in the West and in Israel is the elimination of the state of Israel, which, I am sorry to say, will be seen to be the logical outgrowth of your argument among many, even if it is not your intent. On the Israeli side, when they hear references to the situation 500 years in the past, the natural response is to recite even older evidence, even if it is, as you say, “quasi-mythological”, and to retrench from conversations about peacemaking.

    As to grievences not being “centuries-old”, I will cite the example of a certain, unnamed, Israeli PM, who caused quite a fuss merely by opening a gate to an existing archeological tunnel on the “Temple Mount”.

  18. Why is this article fanning flames?
    Dear Yusuf,

    If one really is aggrieved by the plight of the Neanderthals then one can take up their cause. Why should they not? How else does one take up a cause? One does not take up a cause and campaign for justice by submitting to the status-quo. What is at the basis of the disagreement between those who support Israel and those who challenge its history and behaviour, is that Israel’s supporters refuse to see the horror that is being perpetrated. It is merely a rhetorical flourish to dismiss Palestinian grievances in the same breath as the grievance one may or may not feel on behalf of the Neanderthals. Furthermore, your appreciation of history is rather odd. On what grounds would you like to assert that Palestinian grievances are centuries old? The state of Israel (as it stands, and not its quasi-mythological/scriptural forerunner) is a little over 62 years old. The colonial history of Palestine is longer of course, and were we to be living at a time when another colonial power was committing atrocities on the Palestinians, I hope we would be equally vociferous in our condemnation then. But the fact remains; we live at a time when the descendants of some of the former-victims of a horrific crime (the Holocaust) are today perpetrating horrific crimes themselves. Only this time, raising one’s voice in protest is deemed: fanning the flames.

  19. All of us can cite an unredressed historical grievance that affected one our ancestors. Does anyone here have any Neanderthal blood? Quite possibly we all might. The Neanderthal were likely exterminated by “Modern Man”. That is a serious grievance but I am not going to lose any sleep over the fact that my 1200th great grandmother had her head bashed in by my neighbor’s 1200th great grandfather. Genghis Khan destroyed much of South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. His descendents can be identified. Perhaps they should chip in? Most of Western Europe had bad memories of the Vikings. The Britons were sore at the Normans. Look what happened in the former Yugoslavia when centuries-old grievances were rekindled (speaking of the Ottomons).

    It seems to me a pattern has developed after 4 wars to exterminate the state of Israel. It isn’t going to work. The 67 borders are a dream. It seems unlikely to happen to me. The only chance of making peace with Israel is when a right wing government is in place because only they can bring the voters along. And there will also not be any better chance than with a left wing government in place in the US, which is the current situation. The US Undersecretary of State calls Jerusalem by its Arabic name, “Al Quds”. You don’t think that drives the Israelis nuts? How is the situation going to better in the future? Make peace now and quit fanning the flames with centuries-old grievances.

  20. Reply to Ken
    Ken, you like many others in the past make a fundamental mistake when you state the OT to legitimise your claims to the land of Israel. The OT is an adulterated version of the original pristine Torah which was given by Allaah about 3,000 years ago. Hence your claims can only be substantiated if you produce the original scripture and point this out to the world. As the earliest version of the OT is no more than 1,500 according to the BBC a few years ago, it is difficult to see how you can square the circle.

    A quick glance at the opening page of Genesis shows an example of the contradictions that the OT is riddled with.

    There can never be peace in Palestine because it is not in the interest of the Jews to have peace as they would have to give away land (that they don’t actually own and was obtained by murder).

  21. ‘If you must’ she says….
    Dear Lynn,

    Surely historical grievances need to be acknowledged in order for individuals or nations to move on. National memory cannot simply be boxed up and thrown back into the recesses of the unconscious – from there they probably end up doing more harm. It seems amazing to me that in order to vindicate Israel and talk about peace one must be silenced from bearing historical witness to injustice. It is ironic to say the least therefore that you seem to think justice can emerge from turning our backs on injustices. The present stats quo doesn’t even allow for symbolic gestures to be made that go some way to understand and admit to the horrors committed by occupation. Factoring in history is necessary; one did not simply dismiss the history of African Americans or of the Aborigines of Australia – where an apology was at least made for wrongs of the past – as necessary for progress. I admit that the Palestinian cause is not without its unpalatable and – in some cases – reproachable elements, but Israel cannot claim the moral high ground. That is what is implied in your dismissive attitude when you say, ‘grieve if you must’. The idiomatic undertones of this ‘must’ is very revealing of the seething irrationality in your discourse and out look for you think that the grieving is somehow over stated. ‘Grieve [for heaven sake!] if you must’, as if one was merely being stubborn in grieving; as if there is a calculation in raising the issue of Palestinian grieving such that the appeal to Palestinian grief is not only disingenuous but perhaps a false card used cynically. I think you are discredited as someone who is fair minded enough to speak about peace.

  22. Grieve!
    Go ahead and grieve if you must, pick one day a year where you just grieve all day long. But, the rest of the year just keep your head on the goal (peace)and MOVE ON (as Ireland has)!

  23. Reply to Yusuf?
    SH, in your reply to Yusuf you say ‘The article argues that without factoring in historic injustice/s present conflicts can never truly be stopped’

    What does ‘factoring’ accomplish exactly? What do we end up with when we factor in EVERY instance of ugliness on every side? Some kind of solution? The ONLY solution is to accept Israel’s right to exist and move on with advancing your people. Imagine, if all the money that has been spent on attacking Israel had been spent on the advancement of the Palestinian people? What’s done is done but it can be stopped so we don’t have to have this same converstation 20 years from now. Choose peace and peace will come.

  24. justanotherbro


  25. Moving on.
    Dear Lynn, the rhetoric of ‘moving on’ sounds reasonable and allows you to appear dispassionate, level headed, even sensible. Yet, moving on is not an option. One cannot simply move on. When land has been confiscated; historic injustice perpetrated; and continuous repressions practised, moving on sounds like an insult – well meaning though it may be. What is more, there hasn’t occurred to this day an unequivocal recognition of the tremendous loss of the Palestinians in any official way because to do so would be to recognise Israel for what it is. So, Palestinian grievances and the conscience of many fair minded people must continually be sacrificed at the alter of Israel’s own narrative, of which Ken’s comment is a part. It isn’t so much the case that this article pours petrol on the fires of the past so as to keep them burning – they burn regardless. The truth is, this article as so many others burn one’s conscience which in the context of Palestine and Israel has been thoroughly quashed in service of a continuing colonialism. That is one of the ways in which this continuing colonialism is so malicious – it demands that the grieved do not even grieve.

  26. Smell the coffee Lynn
    Thats right Lynn, the article was not about military service and it was not about children’s programs either! funny how you didnt forget to mention your view on children’s programs but did forget to mention the indoctrination of every israeli man & woman forced to participate in an illegal military occupation!
    PS. you asked for a link….its not just israeli children’s programs, its their entire range of broadcasting to all ages. You dont need a link, just watch one of their channels for half an hour.

  27. Wake up John!
    No, John, I haven’t seen any Israeli children’s television that indoctrinates them to hate. Can you please provide a link for that?

    I did not ‘forget’ to mention that Israel has compulsory military service, many countries do. It’s just that this article was not about military service in a legitimate country’s armed services. It was about the need to douse the burning embers from past fires so humanity can move on. Like Yusuf asked, why is European Colonism worse than The Turkish Colonialism? Perhaps we could say that the British ‘liberated’ Palestine from Turkish Colonialism?

    SH, was I really missing the point or were you perhaps the one that missed the point or perhaps it was the writer that missed his own point? He doesn’t suggest how to put out these burning embers but I did. Start by moving on! There are many, many prosperous Arabs that live in Israel (some are even part of the government). How did that happen?

  28. Wake up Lynn!
    In response to Lynn’s comment; You obviously haven’t seen israeli children’s TV have you?
    You also forgot to mention how israel indoctrinates its entire population during their compulsory military service for every man & woman. I can only imagine what you would be accusing the Palestinians of if it was them who forced every man and woman to undergo training in violence. But im sure you only see things from one point of view dont you?:'(

  29. Rewriting history?
    A closer look will show that much of the land which the Jews took was malaria ridden swampland which they struggled to make fertile.
    Through the hard labours at their kibbutzim the desert areas began to blossom and flourish.
    There has never been a time when Jews did not form part of the population of Palestine and, going back to the tile deeds:
    1. God promised the land to Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua and Solomon.
    2. Abraham actually purchased land in Hebron to bury Sarah (Genesis 23)and
    3. King David purchased the site on which the Dome of the Rock now stands (1 Kings 21)
    So who has the prior right? Could it not be said that the Palestinian Arabs moved into Jewish land?
    The Jewish Scriptures say that, because the Jews had not allowed the land to lie fallow every Jubilee year, God would take them out of the land and they would return ‘after many years.’
    What is the date on which we draw the line as to ownership?

  30. Reply to Yusuf
    I think the nature of Colonialism is terrible. However, colonialism varied too. Yes it is true that terrible atrocities were committed by Muslims, and the Armenian and Serbian instances are examples in point. I have no problem in admitting this and I have elsewhere called for this to be redressed (even if only symbolically), eg. the Armenian genocide to be recognised by the Turkish government and memorialised in national history, literature and space. But I would argue that the nature of Zionism as an colonial force with American neo-Imeprialism as it’s over all context is significantly malicious such that to expect America to sort things out in the Middle East is not only naive but also a symptom of paying little heed to neo-colonial contexts which operate in our contemporary times. The article argues that without factoring in historic injustice/s present conflicts can never truly be stopped.

  31. Reply to Lynn.
    Slightly missing the point here. Israel was formed out of colonial conditions and therefore, technically, Palestinians would be within their rights to demand the return of land that was taken away from them, much like the Aboriginal Australians or Native Americans, had their numbers not been so devastatingly reduced. Of course, a people can accept a new status quo and campaign for their rights within the new system/administration (eg. Northern Island, Scotland, Wales; all of which were colonised by the English Crown, though eventually Scottish Kings and foreign kings and queens became part of the ruling elite due to the unique breeding patterns of the Royal aristocracy!), but the way Israel is set up (colonial mentality – see other article) it prevents Palestinians this option even. A two state solution may be one solution, but even then, certain historic debts must be paid by Israel as recompense (not necessarily money but other symbolic gestures), much like the Turkish state ought to pay to the Armenians and Kurds or China to Tibetans.

  32. The author seems to believe that European colonialism was somehow worse than Turkish imperialism. On this notion of subjugated ethnic minorities living a life of scented balms and rose petal covered walkways under the Ottomans, one might want to ask an Armenian or perhaps the Serbs.

    As for Palestine, it is a very difficult situation and most of the world agrees the status quo is unjust, but to pretend the situation 500 years ago will convince anyone of the justness of your claim is utterly naive. It will only serve to inflame.

    Nor is it useful to quote an American Sec. of State out of context and therefore to imply a bias against the Palestinians. When speaking to an Israeli audience, what do you expect her to say? If anyone can nominate a completely just arbiter then let’s here it, otherwise it will require the involvement of the United States. Simply wishing it were otherwise is also naive.

    Pouring petrol on the fire will ony have a predictable outcome.

  33. The Fires of the Past
    I agree! But what is the best way to put out fires? Smother it. The ‘Fire’ can’t go out until the Arabs accept that they lost the war and a new country came of it(not unlike most existing countries). The Palestinians will prosper when they can use their time and talents on progressing and living a good life rather than trying to keep the Fires of the Past in a BLAZE. I lost so much respect for the Palestinians when I saw how they indoctrinate their children in hatred with some of the Children’s Television programs.

  34. just a thaught
    How comes the shia are the one at the forefront of fighting zionism and helping the palestinians?

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