Middle East troubles again

I'm sure many readers will have experienced the feeling of coming back from a break and feeling disconnected from the world because you haven't been following the news. That's exactly how I felt after coming back from a brief trip away from home. One of the first things I did when I got back was to refresh my RSS feeds and see what had been going on around the world. The single most alarming news item upon getting back was about the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza strip.`

It is difficult to discuss this without knowing some background. I have done some reading to be better informed on the issue.

It seems that the Palestinian area has long had people from a diverse range of cultures; it seems that reliable archaeological evidence about the origin of the Israelites is rather thin on the ground, but that it goes back to at least 2500 BCE. The Israelites, who later gave rise to the Jewish ethnoreligious group (which is defined neither exclusively by ethnic origin, nor by religion, but a combination of both), have variously been in and out of autonomous power in the region, but never full power between the Syrian empire in 720 BCE until 1922 CE. During the Roman empire, Jews were not allowed at all after they were expelled due to a rebellion.

The Arabs are another group which are also difficult to define; it is not a religious group, but can refer to people who speak Arabic as their first language, or have Arabic genealogical roots or nationality. They also have a strong connection with the area. There is some overlap between the Jews and the Arabs, because some Arabs have converted to Judaism and been accepted into the Jewish community.

In summary, the Jewish ethnoreligious group have a strong association with the region, as does the Arabic ethnolinguistic group, but so do many other groups.

The modern Palestine was created in 1922 out of land formerly part of the Turkish Empire in 1922, after the first world war, by the Palestinian Mandate. The aim of the mandate was to create a state where Jews could live, but which also was respectful of other cultures and religions. The official languages were English, Arabic, and Hebrew, with currency with Arabic writing on it also being required to have Hebrew on it, and vice versa. The British government was given the power to act as the 'Mandatory' and supervise the formation of the Palestinian authorities. This become increasingly undermined due to terrorist attacks against Arab citizens, and opposition by the British and international public to the mandate due to the cost of British 'peacekeeping forces', and Britain's refusal to let holocaust survivors into Palestine.

In 1947, Britain handed control over to the United Nations (formed two years earlier in 1945), who passed a resolution to divide Palestine up into an 'Arab state' and a 'Jewish state'. The Jewish leaders supported this and Israel declared independence, but the Arabic people and surrounding Arabic nations were opposed to the two-state solution. In the resulting war, Israel occupied areas outside the areas assigned to it by the UN.

The conflicts have never really been resolved, with political forces in both Palestine and the surrounding nations such as Hamas going as far as saying that Israel should never have existed (or should have been created, say, from German land instead), and that it should be destroyed.

I agree that the two-state solution was probably not the best solution. The reasons for the Arabic resentment of the Jews in the 1940s was apparently due to a lack of human rights legislation and social justice - for example, Jews were buying up large blocks of land, and then refusing to hire anyone who wasn't a Jew. Such discriminatory hiring practices would be illegal under human rights legislation in many countries. The two-state approach was unnecessarily divisive, and the whole conflict could probably have been avoided by less heavy-handed measures.

However, now that Israel has been created, I don't believe that suggesting that the state be destroyed is even vaguely constructive - and actually starting a war over it is even worse, and so the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel must be condemned.

However, even more deserving is the Israeli response. Under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the fourth Geneva convention),

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

In other words, modern international law prohibits the use of force against civilians. The Israeli army seems to be targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure to 'send a message' to the Palestinian leaders. Such actions have no place in a fair and just world.

I certainly am disappointed that both the US Republicans and Democrats backed the Israeli strikes.