If you were Palestinian, you would too.
By Stephen Gowans
Mandate Palestine, the territory that now comprises Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was still very much Arab when the British transferred its control of the territory to the UN in 1947. Two-thirds of the population was Arab and only six percent of the cultivable land was in Jewish hands.
The UN initially considered creating one democratic state in Palestine whose future would be determined by a majority vote of the population, the same proposal put forward by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today.
But the UN abandoned the proposal in favor of partition, which the British favored and the Jewish population accepted. The views of the Arabs – the majority – were ignored.
The UN plan assigned over one-half of the territory to the Jewish one-third of the population and 42 percent to the Arab two-thirds – a highly unbalanced and unfair partition, but more than that, illegal and immoral for being forced on the majority over its vehement objections.
The Arabs, understandably, were aggrieved. But their reasons to be aggrieved were soon to grow more numerous.
War broke out between the two populations soon after the UN partition plan was announced in 1947. Six months later, 800,000 Palestinians had either been forcibly expelled from their homes by the Jewish militia, the Haganah, or had fled, later to be prevented from returning. The Jewish population now claimed 80 percent of the territory, an addition of a further 24 percent to the already unbalanced 56 percent pledged by the UN.
It doesn’t take an ethicist or jurist to see that the creation of Israel was an illegal and immoral act, and that Arab Palestinian hatred of Israel, and a desire to see Israel’s dissolution, is not rooted in irrational hatred or anti-Semitism, but in dispossession.
In 1967, Israel gobbled up the remaining 20 percent of ex-Mandate Palestine it hadn’t conquered in 1948. The call for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders – a plea made by many liberals and progressives as a solution for “peace in the Middle East” – does nothing to address the original ethnic cleansing of 1948, and could hardly, therefore, constitute a just, equitable or even practical solution.
Partition, the solution put forward since 1947, has never worked, not even when the Arab majority was promised 42 percent of the territory. To declare as workable a partition plan that promises a Bantustan-like state on 15 percent of ex-Mandate Palestine and a permanent surrender of the Palestinian right to return is astonishingly naïve.
Apart from dispossession as a reason for hating Israel, Palestinians have other, more quotidian and visceral reasons. These are starkly illustrated in an October 21 2007 Observer article by Conal Urquhart, excerpted below. The article describes, in the words of Israeli soldiers, the brutal and inhuman treatment they mete out to Arab Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.
“The soldiers described dozens of incidents of extreme violence. One recalled an incident when a Palestinian was shot for no reason and left on the street. ‘We were in a weapons carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street and, just like that, for no reason – he didn’t throw a stone, did nothing – bang, a bullet in the stomach, he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the pavement and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look,’ he said.
“The soldiers developed a mentality in which they would use physical violence to deter Palestinians from abusing them. One described beating women. ‘With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can’t have children. Next time she won’t throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn’t have what to spit with any more.’
“Yishai-Karin found that the soldiers were exposed to violence against Palestinians from as early as their first weeks of basic training. On one occasion, the soldiers were escorting some arrested Palestinians. The arrested men were made to sit on the floor of the bus. They had been taken from their beds and were barely clothed, even though the temperature was below zero. The new recruits trampled on the Palestinians and then proceeded to beat them for the whole of the journey. They opened the bus windows and poured water on the arrested men.
“Yishai-Karin, in an interview with Haaretz, described how her research came out of her own experience as a soldier at an army base in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She interviewed 18 ordinary soldiers and three officers whom she had served with in Gaza. The soldiers described how the violence was encouraged by some commanders. One soldier recalled: ‘After two months in Rafah, a [new] commanding officer arrived… So we do a first patrol with him. It’s 6am, Rafah is under curfew, there isn’t so much as a dog in the streets. Only a little boy of four playing in the sand. He is building a castle in his yard. He [the officer] suddenly starts running and we all run with him. He was from the combat engineers.
“’He grabbed the boy. I am a degenerate if I am not telling you the truth. He broke his hand here at the wrist, broke his leg here. And started to stomp on his stomach, three times, and left.”
Liberal Israelis fervently deplore the treatment of Palestinians by the Israel military and find revelations such as these to be deeply distressing. Most, however, are Zionist, and no matter how much they disapprove of the brutality of the occupation are not prepared to consider, or provide redress, to the events of 1948 – the root of Palestinian hatred of Israel. Forcing the Israeli military to live up to its rhetoric about being the most ethical military in the world, will not put an end to Palestinian hatred.