Tags: "The Shadow of a Year", antisemitism, British Mandate for Palestine, Gaza, Hamas, John Gibney, Palestinians, the State of Israel
As I explained in a previous post, I was shocked to learn the history of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinians, how the Israelis drove the Palestinians off their land, even attempting to eradicate Palestinian traces from the landscape. Aware as I was of the history of Western (and Christian) antisemitism, I had avoided the whole question of Israel and the Palestinians. And I do believe that the current killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the destruction of Gaza by the Jewish Israelis is totally unacceptable, something the international community must stop.
Yet even as I acknowledge all this, I must admit I am also deeply disturbed by the self-righteous tone of many of the anti-Israeli articles, listserv posts and demonstration announcements coming my way of late. By mentioning this I do not mean to suggest that I agree with the majority of Americans who blame Hamas for the current conflict. I don’t blame Hamas. At least, I don’t blame them any more than I blame myself and the rest of us supposedly virtuous USies.*
To begin with, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the United States is helping to fund the Israeli military, at the rate of $3 billion a year. That’s somewhat, but not massively, less than the amount Congress says we can’t afford to intervene in the refugee crisis on our borders. And as a result of this $3 billion, we help to guarantee that the Israelis, whether they are the attackers or the attacked, will lose a minute number of soldiers and civilians compared to the deaths and destruction in Gaza. And let’s be clear: my husband and I are funding the Israelis, as you are if you are paying U.S. taxes. I am not refusing to pay those taxes now, just as I did not refuse to pay them during the invasion of Iraq, a military catastrophe that we not only made possible but implemented.
And that’s not the only reason we and our European allies are not entitled to feel righteous toward the Israelis. Another is that the U.S. fought with the Europeans who had gone to war against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Then, as part of the League of Nations, we agreed to the establishment of the British Mandate for Palestine, which took what is now Israel , Gaza, and the West Bank out of Arab hands. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British had pledged themselves to establishing a Jewish State in Palestine, and after World War II, that state was established; Gaza came under the control of Egypt, and the West Bank under Jordan. I myself have often wondered why the victors in World War II didn’t give Bavaria to the Jews for a homeland, considering the crimes the Germans had perpetrated against them. But since the British already controlled Palestine, I guess it was just easier to hand a chunk of that territory over to the State of Israel. We colluded in this mess from the beginning.
The other reason many of us here in the U.S. and Europe have no reason to be righteous about the ongoing catastrophe in Israel/Palestine is that Christian antisemitism and the Holocaust did and still do play a major role in Israeli violence. There are those who question how the Israelis can continue to invoke the Holocaust as a justification for their actions, as if a people can recover from a genocide in a few decades, or even seventy-five years. Those who take this position need to get real. In my studies of the history of Ireland, I have been struck by the extraordinary length of time that it takes for a people to truly work through and move on from traumas such as massacres and famines. In The Shadow of a Year Irish historian John Gibney documents how Catholics and Protestants in Ireland used a Catholic uprising and massacre in 1641 to justify violent attacks on each other up to and including the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century. I wonder how long we USies* will continue to fixate on 9/11 and use it to justify our own Middle Eastern wars?
But the Jews have sustained persecution by the Christian West since well before 1641–since at least the 4th century, when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. In Constantine’s Sword, James Carroll argues that, had it not been for pogroms and conversions, in 2000 there would have been two hundred million Jews in the world, not a mere thirteen million. Seventeen hundred years of ethno-religious persecution, even without the Holocaust, might well result in a culture of paranoia.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not on Israel’s side. I believe it is a telling sign of the dysfunction of the entire international order that the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, and the inhumane blockade that facilitated the conflict, continue.
But I also think that those of us with Christian roots, or who are citizens of the United States, have an obligation to be extremely careful about how we talk about this conflict. Self-righteous condemnation of Israel risks making us sound all too much like the Euro-American antisemites and colonizers who played a major role in getting this conflict going in the first place.
*”USies” is a term I formulated so as to avoid describing myself and other resident of the U.S. as “Americans,” a term some Central and South Americans find offensive.