Winston Churchill: the Imperial Monster February 25, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, History, Imperialism, Kenya, Racism, South Africa, War.
Tags: british empire, british imperialism, dresden firebombing, gandhi, history, imperialism, kenya, mau mau, michael dickinson, racism, roger hollander, winston churchill, world war II
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Roger’s note: This week, a low life scum by the name of John McCain, presiding over a Senate committee, referred to peace activists who had come to make a citizen’s arrest on war criminal Henry Kissinger, as — well, low life scum. I have always had a strong distaste for people in positions of power and authority, of whatever nationality, who are liars, racists, warmongers, etc. This goes as well for dead “heroes” who happened to be on the winning side, the side that writes history. My obsessive antipathy towards Winston Churchill began when I read about the fire bombing of Dresden toward the end of World War II, ordered by Churchill to terrorize and punish the the residents of this city that had great cultural heritage but zero strategic importance from a military point of view. This incineration of almost an entire population compares to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it was the inspiration for the celebrated novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” written by an American soldier who survived the Dresden bombing, Kurt Vonnegut. If you didn’t already know that Churchill, who is considered by most to have been a noble statesman and warrior, was a disgusting racist pig, you will after reading this.
Fear-Monger, War Criminal, Racist
This week Britain is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Millions of people worldwide watched his state funeral on television in 1965, and thousands of people lined the streets of London to pay their last respects as his cortege slowly passed. But I somehow doubt that President Obama will be adding his own warm words of remembrance for the iconic British wartime leader.
After all, his own paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was one of 150.000 rebellious Kikuyu “blackamoors” forced into detention camps during Churchill’s postwar premiership, when the British governnment began its brutal campaign to suppress the alleged “Mau Mau” uprising in Kenya, in order to protect the privileges of the white settler population at the expense of the indigenous people. About 11,000 Kenyans were killed and 81,000 detained during the British government’s campaign to protect its imperialist heritage.
Suspected Mau Mau insurgents were subject to electric shock, whippings, burning and mutilation in order to crush the local drive for independence. Obama’s grandfather was imprisoned without trial for two years and tortured for resisting Churchill’s empire. He never truly recovered from the ordeal.
Africa was quite a playground for young Winston. Born into the privileged British elite in in 1847, educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, brought up believing the simple story that the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation, he set off as soon as he could to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples,” whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”.
In Sudan, he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages”.
In South Africa, where “it was great fun galloping about,” he defended British built concentration camps for white Boers, saying they produced “the minimum of suffering”. The death toll was almost 28,000.
When at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his “irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men”.
(On his attitude to other races, Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, once said: “Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin.”
Churchill found himself in other British dominions besides Africa. As a young officer in the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, Churchill one day experienced a fleeting revelation. The local population, he wrote in a letter, was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” – just as Britain would if she were invaded.
This idle thought was soon dismissed however , and he gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops, believing the “natives” to be helpless children who will “willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown”.
But rebels had to be crushed with extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, Churchill unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland’s Catholic civilians, making a hypocritical mockery of his comment:
“Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men’s passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination.”
His fear-mongering views on Islam sound strangely familiar:
“But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness.”
“On the subject of India,” said the British Secretary of State to India: “Winston is not quite sane… I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s.”
When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance against British rule in India, Churchill raged that Gandhi:
“ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back. Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed.”
In 1931 he sneered: “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer of the type well-known in the East, now posing as a fakir, striding half naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”
As Gandhi’s support increased, Churcill announced:
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
In 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused by the imperial policies of the British. In reply to the Secretary of State for India’s telegram requesting food stock to relieve the famine, Churchill wittily replied:
“If food is scarce, why isn’t Gandhi dead yet?”
Up to 3 million people starved to death. Asked in 1944 to explain his refusal to send food aid, Churchill jeered:
“Relief would do no good. Indians breed like rabbits and will outstrip any available food supply.”
Churchill statue in London. Photo: Getty Images.
Just after World War I, approximately one quarter of the world’s land and population fell within the spheres of British influence. The Empire had increased in size with the addition of territories taken from its vanquished enemies.
As British Colonial Secretary, Churchill’s power in the Middle East was immense. He “created Jordan with a stroke of a pen one Sunday afternoon”, allegedly drawing the expansive boundary map after a generous lunch. The huge zigzag in Jordan’s eastern border with Saudi Arabia has been called “Winston’s Hiccup” or “Churchill’s Sneeze”.
He is the man who invented Iraq, another arbitrary patch of desert, which was awarded to a throneless Hashemite prince; Faisal, whose brother Abdullah was given control of Jordan. Sons of King Hussein, Faisal and Abdullah had been war buddies of Churchill’s pal, the famous “T.E. Lawrence of Arabia”.
But the lines drawn in the sand by British imperialism, locking together conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders were far from stable,and large numbers of Jordanians, Iraqis, Kurds and Palestinians were denied anything resembling real democracy.
In 1920 Churchill advocated the use of chemical weapons on the “uncooperative Arabs” involved in the Iraqi revolution against British rule.
“I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas,” he declared. “I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”
As Colonial Secretary, it was Churchill who offered the Jews their free ticket to the ‘Promised Land’ of ‘Israel’, although he thought they should not “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” He dismissed the Palestinians already living in the country as “barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung.”
Addressing the Peel Commission (1937) on why Britain was justified in deciding the fate of Palestine, Churchill clearly displayed his white supremacist ideology to justify one of the most brutal genocides and mass displacements of people in history, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph”:
“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
In fact, many of the views Churchill held were virtually Nazi. Apart from his support of hierarchical racism, as Home Minister he had advocated euthanasia and sterilisation of the handicapped.
In 1927, after a visit to Rome, he applauded the budding fascist dictator, Mussolini:
“What a man! I have lost my heart!… Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.”
(“The Bestial Appetites and Passions of Leninism”, eh? Where can I get a copy?)
But years later, in his written account of the Second World War (Vol. 111), fickle-hearted Winston applauded the downfall of his erstwhile hero:
“Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.”
Britain’s American allies saw to that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they dropped their atomic bombs and killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Churchill had ordered the saturation bombing of Dresden, where, on February 13 1945, more than 500,000 German civilians and refugees, mostly women and children, were slaughtered in one day by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), who dropped over 700,000 phosphorus bombs on the city.
Prime Minister Churchill had said earlier:
“I do not want suggestions as to how we can disable the economy and the machinery of war, what I want are suggestions as to how we can roast the German refugees on their escape from Breslau.”
In Dresden he got his wish. Those who perished in the centre of the city could not be traced, as the temperature in the area reached 1600 degree Centigrade. Dresden’s citizens barely had time to reach their shelters and many who sought refuge underground suffocated as oxygen was pulled from the air to feed the flames. Others perished in a blast of white heat strong enough to melt human flesh.
Instead of being charged with being responsible for ordering one of the most horrific war crimes of recent history, in which up to half a million people died screaming in his firestorms, Churchill emerged from the war as a hero. An unwavering supporter of the British monarchy throughout his life, he was made a knight of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of knighthoods, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
“The monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, “God save the Queen”; when she loses, she votes down the prime minister,” he once said.
Shortly after the Second World War was won, however, Churchill’s Conservative government was voted down by a Britain tired of battle, austerity, and hungry for change.
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” said Churchill, and to a certain extent he succeeded. exte habit of dictating in the nude to his male secretaries. y and conscriptioneople were massacred ‘Winnie’ became Britain’s great national icon, with his trade-mark cigar and V-sign, remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour (we won’t mention his eccentric habit of pacing about the office in the nude while dictating to secretaries!) The fat cigar clamped in his mouth a symbol of cocky British defiance, Churchill was genial courageous Big Brother figure, revered by the media. His stirring wartime speech:
“We shall fight them on the beaches! We shall never surrender!” makes no mention of “We shall bomb them in their cities! We shall make them suffer!”
Churchill’s brutality and brutishness have been ignored, but he never reckoned on the invention of the internet, or its power to allow authors to question his view of history and expose the cruelty and racism of the man.
When George W Bush moved out of the White House he left a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval office. He’d used it to inspire him on his ‘war against terrorism’. Barack Obama had it removed. I wonder if he found the bust offensive? Was it out of respect for the pain and distress his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, suffered on Churchill’s orders ?
Removing a bust is a fairly simple matter, but toppling a statue is quite another. In Westminster Square in front of Parliament in London there are several statues of deceased politicians and dignitaries, one of which I find particularly distasteful. Hands clasped behind back, the jodphur-clad figure striding purposely forward is that of Jan Christian Smuts. racist forefather of the Apartheid system in South Africa.
As for Churchill, who, as Home Secretary, said:
‘I propose that 100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race.’
His hulking toadish statue stands tall on a granite plinth, clutching a walking stick, his unblinking bulldog gaze on the Houses of Parliament where he reigned twice as a Conservative Prime Minister.
If I were Prime Minister of Great Britain, one of the first things on my list would be the removal of memorials to facist-minded racist imperialists. The statues of Smuts and Churchill in Parliament Square would be the first to come down.
Michael Dickinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arab revolts for change…a feeling of déjà vu! March 22, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya.
Tags: algerian woman, arab, BentAljazair, british empire, democracy, imperialism, Middle East, ottoman empire, Palestine, roger hollander
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Me…an ordinary Algerian woman.
The rest is all in my writings…all in my silent ellipsis …
Long time ago…in the Middle East – 1916-1918…the Arabs wanted to rise up against the Ottoman Empire. They wanted change! They wanted to get rid of the Turkish tyranny!
The British Empire offered them a helping hand…the empire promised freedom for all the Arabs…they believed it…Arabs thought, it is their right to use any mean to gain freedom from tyranny…so they backed the British army in their fight against the Ottoman empire (which was the Muslim khilafa at that time, but that is another story)…the local Arabs even helped General Allenby in the 3rd battle of Gaza… yes Gaza… they helped the
Trojan British horse get inside Palestine …and the way was open to the holy land…to all the Middle East…
After the defeat of the Turks…it is the strong British empire that filled the vacuum left by the fall of the Ottoman empire…and the British empire didn’t honor its promises …and the Arabs didn’t get freedom … their land got reshaped …sliced into many states under British occupation and the ruling of new local tyrants…
…and the best of the best…a precious bit of their land was given to the… Zionists!
Almost a century later…the whole region still suffers from the consequences of these “British manipulated” Arab revolts…
Without the help of the Arabs …the British Empire wouldn’t have occupied the region…
Without the miscalculation of the Arabs there would have been no land to be given to the Zionists…
Without the betrayal of the Arabs the Muslim khilafa wouldn’t have fallen…(but that’s another story)
The Arabs’ resentment against the Turks was used by the British to topple the Ottoman empire …the Arabs didn’t have any alternative to offer to the Ottoman empire…they just wanted to get rid of it…but the power vacuum had to be filled… and the British empire had power, a plan and a clear goal…occupation!
Revolt is not revolution!
One century later…
…2011 in the Middle East …the Arabs want to rise up against their ruling dictators. They want change! They want to get rid of tyranny! The US Empire offered them a helping hand…the empire promises freedom, democracy for all the Arabs…and the Arabs still believe the promises…made by Western empires…and Arabs still think… it is their right to use …any mean to gain freedom from tyranny…
…trading local tyrants for …new global ones…
same old… Arab story…
Calling a Time Out January 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan history, Afghanistan War, british empire, bush administration, congress, cost of war, foreign aid, foreign policy, george mcgovern, Iraq, joseph stiglitz, Middle East, muslim country, oval office, president obama, roger hollander, terrorism, u.s. military, war
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As Obama gets down to work, the question of how best to deal with the conflict in Afghanistan looms large. (Photo: Getty Images) 22 January 2009, www.truthout.org
by: George McGovern, The Washington Post
more than $3 trillion. That war has clearly weakened our economy and our armed forces even as it has made the national debt soar. The Bush administration committed itself to Iraq before the recession. Today, with our economy teetering, does the Obama administration believe that it is time for yet another costly war in yet another Muslim country?
As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. There is reason to believe some of our top military commanders privately share this view. And so does a broad and growing swath of your party and your supporters.
True, the United States is the world’s greatest power – but so was the British Empire a century ago when it tried to pacify the warlords and tribes of Afghanistan, only to be forced out after excruciating losses. For that matter, the Soviet Union was also a superpower when it poured some 100,000 troops into Afghanistan in 1979. They limped home, broken and defeated, a decade later, having helped pave the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is logical to conclude that our massive military dominance and supposedly good motives should let us work our will in Afghanistan. But logic does not always prevail in South Asia. With belligerent Afghan warlords sitting atop each mountain glowering at one another, the one factor that could unite them is the invasion of their country by a foreign power, whether British, Russian or American.
I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East – our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel – that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment.
We cannot evade this reckoning. The British thought they could extend their control over Iraq even while pulling out their ground forces by creating a string of bases in remote parts of the country, away from the observation of most Iraqis. It didn’t work. No people that desires independence and self-determination wishes to have another nation’s military bases in its country. In 1776, remember, 13 little colonies drove the mighty British Empire from American soil.
In 2003, the Bush administration ordered an invasion of Iraq, supposedly to reduce terrorism. But six years later, there is more terrorism and civil strife in Iraq, not less. The same outcome may occur in Afghanistan if we make it the next American military conflict.
Mr. President, the bright promise of your brilliant campaign for the White House and the high hopes of the millions who thronged the Mall on Tuesday to watch you be sworn in could easily be lost in the mountains and wastelands of Afghanistan.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has estimated that the war in Iraq will have a total cost of
I’m aware that some of my fellow Americans regard me as too idealistic. But sometimes idealism is the best realism. And at a minimum, realism and idealism need not be contradictory. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not only angered Iraqis who have lost family members, neighbors or homes; it has also increased the level of anger throughout the Muslim world and thrown up obstacles to our political leadership in that deeply important part of the planet.
Like you, Mr. President, I don’t oppose all wars. I risked my life in World War II to protect our country against genuine danger. But it is the vivid memory of my fellow airmen being shot out of the sky on all sides of me in a war that I believe we had to fight that makes me cautious about sending our youth into needless conflicts that weaken us at home and abroad, and may even weaken us in the eyes of God.
As you have noted, Mr. President, we take pride in our soldiers who conduct themselves bravely. But as you have also said, some of these soldiers have served two, three and even four tours in dangerous combat. Many of them have come home with enduring brain and nerve damage and without arms and legs. These troops need rest, rehabilitation and reunions with their families.
So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war – unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?
During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. Such a program is now underway in several countries approved by Congress and the United Nations, under the auspices of the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act. (Forgive the self-serving title.) Although the measure remains painfully underfunded, with the help of other countries, we are reaching millions of children. We could supplement these efforts with nutritional packages for low-income pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants from birth through the age of 5, as is done here at home by WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Is this proposal pie-in-the-sky? I don’t think so. It’s food in the stomachs of hungry kids. It would draw them to school and enable them to learn and grow into better citizens. It would cost a small fraction of warfare’s cost, but it might well be a stronger antidote to terrorism. There will always be time for another war. But hunger can’t wait.
George McGovern, a former senator from South Dakota, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972.
War on Two Fronts: A Somber Assessment January 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: bagladesh, british empire, Bush, gandhi, gaza, hamas, hindu, India, israel, jerulalem, kashmir, louis ruprecht, Middle East, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, muslim, Obama, pakistan, Palestine, rockets, roger hollander, two-state solution, war, west bank
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The lackluster and mildly bizarre performance of President Bush in this, the last of his 47 presidential press conferences, puts the muted period to a failed presidency that began with constitutional fireworks and cultural exclamation-points. It was a strange show. His attempts to be gracious with the press fell flat, his professions of commitment to the ideals of liberty and free speech were scarcely plausible, his self-deprecating attempts at humor elicited not so much as a smile.
It was his simplistic assessment of the current situation in Gaza that was most striking, however, and worrisome. The situation is simple for Bush; it always has been. Israel’s battle is America’s battle, and vice versa. It is framed as a battle of Israeli democracy against the anti-democratic forces surrounding her, and it is thus another front in the War on Terror that has always had a theological echo in this president’s biblicist mind.
There can be no peace so long as Hamas is lobbing rockets into Israel, the President concluded. That is very true (though not absolutely so). The statement needs a supplement. There can be no peace so long as many things continue to be permitted—like the flow of illegal weapons into Gaza, like the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank, like a de facto Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip, etcetera. There are no heroes in this conflict, and that is what this president’s simplistic and one-sided reasoning always failed to comprehend. Why did he not do more? Because someone is always lobbing a rocket or detonating a bomb, and this invalidates any and every gesture toward peace, in his simple view.
Barack Obama famously noted that a president rarely has the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time. The standard litany of current crises is well known: the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; two wars with staggering expense accounts; ongoing security concerns, etcetera. And well before being sworn in, the troubles of the President-elect have multiplied: Bill Richardson’s withdrawal of his nomination to a Cabinet post; controversy over seating certain Senators; debates about the economic stimulus package he proposes; debates about the appropriateness of inviting Rick Warren to the presidential podium.
Now two new battles are brewing, and we did not directly anticipate either one. But we need to find a way to think them together. Pakistani troops are massing on the Indian border, and Israel has mounted a punishing ground assault on Gaza. In fact, the Israelis have just brought up their reserves, indicating that they intend to be at this for some time.
There is something almost surreal, and supremely depressing, in hearing poignant phrases uttered for the hundredth time. The faces of the politicians change; the well-meaning professions of care do not. So we are told that they will apply themselves with new urgency to the Mid-east peace process. And yet the US president, when asked today why his attempts to move that process along never made any headway, noted rather lamely that “they’ve been fighting there for a long time.” It was clear from his subsequent remarks that he was thinking at least as much about biblical history as about the post-1948 era.
And yet 1948 provides one interpretive key to the whole mess.
Israel, India and Pakistan are all three creatures of the post-colonial break-up of the British Empire at the end of World War 2. And India provides a cautionary tale for Israel today. The terrifying moral they provide is that “two-state solutions” do not work, if we imagine working as the creation of stable borders and relatively peaceable neighbors.
When it was clear in 1946-7 that the British would leave the Indian subcontinent, then the great post-colonial question emerged: how many countries should be created out of what were previously vast colonial holdings? Gandhi, it may be recalled, was state solution (and he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist, not an Islamist). Gandhi envisioned a thriving multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy, one that laid claim to its proud history of productive Hindu-Muslim coexistence. His Islamic counterpart, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, disagreed, insisting that the Muslim minority on the subcontinent needed a country of its own. Hence the emergence of the two-state India-Pakistan solution.
Yet Pakistan was an almost surreal construction from the beginning. It was a bizarre non-contiguous territory: East and West Pakistan, separated by over one thousand miles of India. Unsurprisingly, the two halves of Pakistan fell to bickering, then fell apart, their quarrels supported by an Indian regime that was interested in maintaining a weak neighbor to its north, and the predictable civil war that began in 1971 resulted in the creation of an independent Bagladesh. Since then, India and (West) Pakistan have fought two major wars of territorial dispute (primarily over the status of Kashmir), one minor war, and have skirmished almost constantly.
The moral of this strange tale is two-fold. First, the arbitrary construction of a country composed of two non-contiguous parts is doomed from the start. The second lesson is even more troubling: “Two-state solutions” do not work. Built into the model at its inception is the premise that these potentially hostile groups cannot co-exist peacefully. What is taken off the table at the start is the possibility of peaceful coexistence and the creation of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, genuinely cosmopolitan society. If you assume at the start that you need two separate countries because the relative populations cannot coexist, then you should not be surprised if these two countries fight periodic wars from then on. Conflict, after all, was the very premise that named the problem for which two states allegedly provided a solution.
We have the makings of this same situation in Israel today. The nominal Palestinian “state” is an even more bizarre non-contiguous territory constituted by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas’s victory in the most recent elections (they won a plurality rather than a strict majority, but that is beside the current crisis), we have been moving toward an Israeli-sponsored civil war between the two parts of this quasi-Palestinian state (the two Palestinian parties involved, Fatah versus Hamas, have come to symbolize the conflict, and the stakes). Israel has invested heavily in assuring that this quasi-state cannot succeed. Traffic between the two halves of the quasi-country is well-nigh impossible, exacerbated now by the construction of the West Bank wall. New Israeli settlements in the not-so-sovereign West Bank are deliberate and constant provocations that further de-legitimate this quasi-state. The de facto blockade of Gaza makes the economic viability of the state suspect as well. And to be sure, the neighboring Arab countries have not done much to help either the situation or their Palestinian comrades. The parties on all sides of this conflict that do not want peace have found it very easy to play the current system to maintain a constant state of low-level violence that periodically breaks out into hotter moments, like the one we saw in south Lebanon, and the one we see now in Gaza.
Thus a proposed two-state solution results, in the best case, in the creation of three states, not two, as well as a state of constant conflict and continual alert. And the dirty little secret is that the truces, so often declared and so often violated, are never ironclad and never honored to the letter. The strange reality is that a truce almost always tolerates a certain low level of violence, violence that is voluntarily overlooked by both sides in the interest of accomplishing greater goals. Some peripheral attacks are overlooked. A stray rocket is not blamed on the government. Illegal new settlements are not blamed on the government, either, but assof foreign agitators (most of them from Brooklyn).
And on it goes, as casualties rise and anger festers. Why has there been no progress on the peace front? My increasingly desperate worry is that the initial conditions were set in such a way as virtually to guarantee continual conflict, a constant state of alert, mutual mistrust and antipathy, periodic escalations and explosions of almost theatrical violence.
There is nothing worse than commentary on the Middle East that goes this far, and then either throws up its hands in world-weary despair, or lays the blame squarely on one side, or else suggests a surprising new approach that everyone else has overlooked. I recognize that this commentary runs the very real risk of sounding the same. This is not what I wish to communicate, though my despair is real, and heartfelt.
I recognize that there is no turning back the clock, no possibility of revisiting the question of whether a two-state proposal really was a good solution. It is literally too late to go back to the beginning and to start over, in the Indian subcontinent or in the Middle East. But one change in strategy might accomplish symbolic things, most importantly a sense that the US intends to be not merely an honest broker but actually realistic about finding a way out of the current impasse.
Every peace proposal I have ever heard agrees that the question of the status of Jerusalem must be postponed. It will be the thorniest problem to solve, and every attempt to resolve other disputes will founder on the shoals of the Jerusalem Siren-song.
What if we have this precisely backwards? If no current peace proposal can imagine a peaceable solution in Jerusalem, then of what use are they? They all simply kick the can up the road, knowing full well than any potential breakthrough will be undone as soon as we turn to the long-postponed Big Question. Why, then, not try to do the hardest thing first? Indeed, were the various competing parties ever able to agree, however unhappily, to a political solution concerning the status of Jerusalem, it would almost invariably be a solution that did not permit Jerusalem to belong to any one group, and thus it would model the alternative possibility that two-state solutions normally erase: that of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, cosmopolitan alternative.
I see no real possibility that such an adjudication is possible, certainly not now. But in the long run, this seems a more realistic goal, ironically enough, than the endless hand-wringing that comes from people of good will who wonder aimlessly “why they hate each other so.”