2-To Margo MacDonald, Member of the Scottish Parliament
You may have noticed me on Sunday, in the front row of the pro-Israel brigade. I thought the overall quality of the debate (if it was one) was poor, particularly because it was hard to slip facts in between a series of wild and inaccurate statements.
You didn’t say much on the subject, but I was perturbed by the main thing you did say. Since I’m a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and was editor of The Middle East Quarterly, I’m pretty sure I am better informed about this situation than yourself. Perhaps you’ll allow me to say a few words in the hope they will help you understand this properly.
You called Israel an ‘artificial state’. I still find it hard to guess what you really meant by this, but it does need to be countered by some facts.
Before Israel came into being, up to 1918, the Ottoman Empire spanned parts of Europe and all of the Middle East except for Iran and North Africa. There were no distinct countries there, just provinces and sub-provinces. What was later called ‘Palestine’ started out as Southern Syria, with its capital in Damascus. There was no state of Lebanon, no state of Syria, no state of Jordan, no state of Iraq, no state of Saudi Arabia, and so on. After the First World War, the empire collapsed, almost overnight, as much from military defeat as its long-standing decline from within. The victors, principally Britain and France, with some input from the United States, were given the task of re-organizing the region and establishing sovereign states. Thus France created a Lebanese and a Syrian mandate, Britain had a Palestine mandate and an Iraq mandate. Some years later, Britain handed over what became Jordan to the Hashemite King Abdullah, taking away a large part of the Palestine mandate. Eventually, Iraq, Transjordan (Jordan), Syria and Lebanon all became states. Lebanon in particular was extremely artificial, incorporating an uneasy mixture of religious and tribal groups (hence the later Civil War). Iraq was a bad mixture too, as we now know from the Sunni-Shi’i clashes there.
A second wave of state-building followed World War II. India was divided to give Muslims an Islamic state in Pakistan, but this was so artificial it broke into two after a war between West and East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh). Other states in Europe, like Yugoslavia, were dangerously unbalanced and artificial. Later two artificial states were created by the division of Korea. The Republic of Ireland remained divided from what it held to be its natural province in the North.
Israel came into existence as a result of the Palestine Mandate, which had been set up to create a home for the Jewish people (and what people in those years needed a state more?) and another for the Arabs. There was nothing artificial about it. The Jews had known it as their homeland for thousands of years and had been expelled from it in 79 AD. From then will 1948, every Jew in every country he found himself in would pray three times a day, reciting the amidah while facing Jerusalem, and the Jewish people as a whole would promise themselves that they would one day return. The Arabs, on the other hand, only came into possession of the land as a result of a wave of military conquests in the 7th century. They do not pray towards Jerusalem and do not hold the city in very great esteem.
The creation of Israel, then, was a natural result of two thousand years of pious hope and came about when survivors of a terrible Holocaust found their way to the land, fearful of yet more attacks, like those that had already started in some places (and the new wave of vulgar anti-Semitism that is growing rapidly every year). To deny the Jews their right to the land of their forefathers and condemn them to go out among people who will as readily kill them as blink would be a blow against all common decency. When I consider that the worst of those who wish ill for the people of Israel are countries like Iran and terrorist groups like Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and hundreds of others round the world, and then think that these violent criminals have hardline supporters among the Left in European countries, my heart sinks, not just for Israel but for ourselves and what we have allowed to breed among us. When I think that in 1948 Israel stretched out a hand of friendship only to be sneered at when six Arab armies charged into Israeli territory and tried to tear down everything those early settlers and those Holocaust survivors had started to build, I feel that decency struggles to be heard above the clamour of ungenerous voices.
Please think again about Israel. Like many people, including people in high office, your heart is in the right place, but you are probably not well informed of the facts behind the rumours. Israel has never been a morally bankrupt country. It has only once fought a war beyond its borders, but has been invaded and attacked time after time, and it has been forced to defend itself. That has pressed it into actions that it would prefer not to take, but it has done all in its power to lessen the severity of what it does by telephoning Gazan civilians to warn them of imminent attacks, in time to take refuge or flee. Those telephone calls have been supplemented by leaflets and e-mails. After the Gaza War of 2008-09, a leading British soldier, Col. Richard Kemp, stated that ‘based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: during operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.’
Margo, Sunday’s programme opened and closed with cries that the people of Gaza are starving to death. I was unable to get in one comment that shows this to be mere fiction. In April, the Deputy Director of the Red Cross in Gaza, Mathilde De Riedmatten, stated categorically that ‘there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza’. Gaza is not Ethiopia during the famine or Darfur today. Nobody is starving, though some are wealthy and well fed and others are poor. But that is the responsibility of Gaza’s government, Hamas, not Israel. Israel sends in 40,000 tons of produce to the strip every week. Are the wealthy Arab states doing anything like that? Israel send aid missions round the world. When did you last hear of the oil states doing the same thing? Israel should be judged by the good it does, not the harm it can inflict in its own defence. The Israelis left fine greenhouses in Gaza to be used to build up the Gazan agricultural sector. Within days the greenhouses and their state of the art equipment had been trashed and carted away. Was that Israel’s fault? There would be no harm at all if the Palestinians, just for once, said ‘enough is enough’, stopped the constant aggression, and learned how to build a state at peace with its neighbours.
This has gone on longer than I originally planned. I hope you have found some of it helpful. At the same time, I may have left a lot of questions unanswered. If so, please contact me. I trust to your goodness of heart to ask you to rethink this whole business. I am proud of Israel. It is a moral country that does vastly more good in the world than it has ever done harm. If you like, I can arrange to have you taken there, when you will see how remarkable a place it is and how nothing in it feels remotely artificial.
Dr. Denis MacEoin