Shocking cynicism of a poisoned homeland

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By Sara Dowse

Dateline: Sydney Morning Herald | [print_link] January 8, 2009

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Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of three toddlers, Ahmed, Mohamed, and Issa Samouni in Zeitoun (AP) With Western publics —especially American—constantly immersed in an ocean of trivial and misleading items on TV and other media, even images like this carry little lasting impact. The corporate media, among many crimes, has succeeded in atomizing and disarming the emotional capacity of people to respond.

It has taken me days to begin writing this, so horrified have I been by Israel’s latest actions. My sense of justice, however – as a mother, a Jew, and above all as a human being – impels me to try.

The massacre in Gaza has its roots in virulent European anti-Semitism and the 1917 Balfour declaration, when the British government promised Zionists that Jewish people would have a homeland in Palestine if Britain was victorious in World War I.

The key word here is homeland, and it should be remembered that the promise was qualified by the condition that such a homeland would “not be to the detriment” of the Palestinians. The steady increase in Jewish immigration under the British mandate provoked riots and protests, but Palestinians were still in majority until, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the Zionists unilaterally declared an Israeli state.

Despite the suffering of the Palestinians, whose land was taken from them, for many years the sympathy of the developed world was with Israel, refuge for the survivors of the Nazi slaughter of European Jews, and beleaguered by surrounding hostile Arab states.

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No Hamas rocket has ever demolished a whole building, as this Israeli bomb (easily) did.

With the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel could no longer be accepted as a victim. Yet it has continued to play on the sympathies of Western governments, most particularly the US, and Jews of the diaspora. In reality, Israel has been a colonising state, masquerading as the most democratic, most humane, most modern nation in the region. It has served the Western powers to have such a proxy in the Middle East, and most recently, under the Bush Administration and in concert with the Israelis, they have played a cynical game of divide and rule, encouraging the Israelis in their blind refusal to negotiate with Hamas, just as for years Israel refused to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the forerunners of Fatah, whom they now support.

Hamas is not a terrorist organisation, but the legitimate, democratically elected government of the Palestinian Authority. We may not like what it stands for, but that is no reason for sidelining it. Undermining that government by Israel and the West is but one of a string of cynical actions on their part.

The rationale that Hamas has refused to accept Israel’s existence or to eschew violence is yet another example of how the truth has been twisted. What Hamas rejected was the continued, barbaric Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the laying down of arms against an aggressive military occupation. I have heard with my own ears the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, say exactly that. Is he to be trusted? It would have been worth a try.

SIDEBAR: Extract from The Telegraph (UK)—

Gaza bombing witnesses describe horror of Israeli strike

When the first accounts emerged this week of what the Israeli armed forces did to the extended Samouni clan in Gaza they were initially lost in an already crowded chorus of civilian suffering.

But as more survivors surfaced to give largely consistent testimony the horrific realisation emerged what happened to the Samouni family could constitute war crimes by Israel.

Israel is barring foreign journalists from Gaza so it is difficult to verify completely the survivors’ accounts about an incident that left up to 70 civilians dead.

They contain allegations that Israeli forces shelled a building where they had previously put a large number of civilians, killed a child in cold blood, used human shields and failed to provide proper treatment to survivors.

Even though they were nearby, Israeli soldiers were found not to have taken action to help four children who spent 48 hours clinging to what the ambulance crew believed to be their mothers’ corpses.

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And who now would trust Israel?

So here we have it: a tough, technocratically savvy, nuclear power with the backing of the largest military power the world has known, bombing, then invading, a territory the size of a small city, with a population of 1.5 million, most of whom are civilians, to “defend our citizens”.

The ceasefire was meant to lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza, but it didn’t. It was meant to facilitate the release of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were members of the elected Hamas Government, but it didn’t.

Israeli planes raided southern Gaza in November. The Hamas rockets continued. Which side broke the ceasefire? Hamas may not be blameless, but the situation is far more complex than Israel claims. The fact that more than 600 people have died because in a couple of weeks the US will have a new government and next month Israel will have an election, is the most shocking form of cynicism the Palestinian people have yet faced.

Since the 2006 invasion of Lebanon I have undergone what for me, as a Jew, has been an agonising realignment of my feelings about Israel. I have come to believe that a specifically Jewish state has been a terrible mistake.

A homeland is different from a state. There have been examples throughout history and there are in our own time polities with mixed ethnic populations and official sanction for their living in harmony together. Australia is one.

I don’t know how it will come about – I hope with as little bloodshed as possible – but I look forward to the distant day when the land becomes a multicultural country again, perhaps as a federation, perhaps in another form, but similar to what it was before it was destroyed with the poison of ethnic territorial nationalism.

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Sara Dowse is an Australian author who wrote Sapphires, a novel about three generations of Jewish women.

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