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October 6, 2012

The Other Side of the Coin

I wrote this in 2001 after 9/11. At that time, I lived in the US. This post represents thoughts from that period of my life, and is a culmination of a number of conflicts that arose in my mind at that time, which in turn led to a provocation of deeper interest in understanding the chronological sequence of events in Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan, and following up to read more on these subjects. It was also propelled forward by disagreement with ignorant and biased ramblings of so-called experts on American television and radio, who pandered to the nationalistic mood which prevailed in the US at that time.

It has its fundamental origins in my deep rooted disavowal of patriotism and nationalism as divisive notions.  There is only one thing common and binding to all of us – that is the inherent goodness of our selves that we are born with. The goodness that somehow along the way is either misplaced or pushed aside. We all share the same hopes, joys, aspirations and fears as human beings. We are all fundamentally the same, no matter which country we swear our allegiances to.

So, examine we must, the causes of a fellow human being’s misery and pain. What is it that causes so much hatred? Surely there must be some history here. This is an attempt to try and understand it. That must be our first step towards healing wounds that fester.

NOTE: I have gathered my thoughts as well as facts gleaned from readings and ruminations on these subjects over the last couple of years into this essay. Obviously, I have borrowed heavily from various sources, specifically with respect to dates, names, etc. However, I have attempted to put it in my own words, and provide as balanced a perspective as possible. It is impossible to find unbiased authors and information on this subject matter, and it is also near impossible to avoid one’s own bias while writing or reading about this topic. I have as much admiration for the state of Israel as I have sympathy for the Palestinian peoples. However, there seems to be some unfairness and lots of misunderstanding in the way we have treated the Palestinians. Calling it out does not imply an Arab bias or a justification of the horrific violence that this conflict has seen. Hope this is as interesting as it is informative. Let me know what you think.

The other side of the coin

The attack on WTC has caused an emotional earthquake of massive proportions. Whoever did this succeeded in bringing out the best and worst in each one of us, whichever part of the world we may live in. A lot is being said. Yet, a lot seems to be unsaid. There is a great new reality out there that is not being even mentioned. And it is time to unwrap ourselves from our flags and understand it.

The making of the Middle East imbroglio

A lot of today’s crisis in the Middle East has its roots in the perceived manipulation of Arab – and hence by association, Islamic – interests by Western powers, the UK and the US in particular.

Our tale starts in the early 20th century, when Western hemisphere found itself embroiled in a war that arose by the act of a single sniper’s bullet. World War One broke out and divided Europe into Britain and allies against a unified Germany. Not surprisingly, Britain found itself being beaten badly as the war progressed. Historical archives suggest that Britain found itself “staring in the abyss of submission.” The United States had chosen to remain aloof and away from the war, in spite of the threats facing its long time friend.

The Zionist Movement

It is pertinent to digress here to describe the development of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, started by extremely wealthy Jews in the US and Europe. The Zionist movement was founded by a Viennese businessman – Theodore Herzl whose primary goal was to unite European and American Jews into a powerful, political entity to work towards the ultimate goal of a sovereign Jewish state “Israel”. The “Jewish problem”, as it was described at that time (by Zionists), was “the perceived unwillingness of Western countries to accept Jews in their midst,” and by others as “the apparent inability of Jews to live among others.

Although the Zionist movement was viewed by some (including Jews) with fear and revulsion at that time, it succeeded in capturing the imagination of a majority of Jews. By 1900, the Zionist movement was an organized effort and was perceived widely to wield significant political and financial influence, especially in the United States. It is even claimed that generous contributions from this movement helped Britain’s war efforts, something that the Germans never extinguished from their memories, although there were an equal number of less wealthy Jews who contributed to Germany’s war efforts in World War One, and early in World War Two.

The Zionist movement, spearheaded by Herzl, shopped around the major powers at that time for the possibility of the creation of Israel in what was then called Palestine. No one listened. Except for Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey, who was neck deep in debt and at the end of a long rope his people had given him. Herzl offered to pay off the Sultan’s debts, and in turn the Sultan offered modern day Uganda as a site for Israel. Herzl had his mind set on Palestine. But the Zionist movement voted to take Uganda because of an increasing pessimism about their capabilities to influence the major powers at that time to give them Palestine. Herzl died in 1904, under the mistaken belief that his dream of Israel in Palestine was destroyed.

The Balfour Declaration

Winston Churchill wrote later that the world had not realized how close Britain was to defeat, and that any straw had to be grasped. Such a straw was the claim that Jewish influence in the United States could help bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies. Dr. Chad Weizman, who later became the first President of Israel, used his legendary powers of persuasion on the British to impress upon them his ability to convince the United States to enter the war. In the words of The Encyclopedia Britannica, Britain “hoped” that Jewish influence in America would tip the balance. One reason for this hope was what came to be called “the myth of Jewish power.”

In any case, Britain succumbed to the reality of their circumstances and this gave rise to the now famous, and disputed by others as mythical, Balfour Declaration of 1917, an assurance given by the British government to the Zionist movement.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status of Jews in any other country.”

The Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2, 1917)

British leaders may well have believed the assurances of Dr. Weizmann that Jews in America could help rally opinion to the side of the Allies. Weizmann himself may have believed it at the time. The United States did enter the war on the side of Britain, France and the Allies, thus assuring the defeat of the Central Powers led by Germany. But America’s entry into the war may have had little or nothing to do with any Jewish influence. By the time, the Zionists and British drafted the Balfour Declaration, the Americans were already seven months into the war. But, perception was created about America, and this perception, in the minds of most Arab Muslims, was reality.

The creation of Israel

Modern day Palestine came under British control in the mid 19th century. With tacit British approval, Jewish immigration to the area occurred increasingly starting in 1880, and accelerated through the 1940s as a fallout of Nazi atrocities in Germany. Meanwhile, the local Arab population protested what they suspected to be an attempt to displace them from their homeland. By the 1940s, the Jewish population has grown to sizable numbers in the region and was already in daily conflict with its Arab neighbors.

In 1947, Britain made preparations to withdraw from the Middle East. Under overt British guidance, the UN offered two states : Israel and Palestine. A portion bordering Jordan, known as West Bank and a narrow area along the southern coastline bordering Egypt called Gaza Strip were offered to Palestine. Israel accepted. But, the Palestinians refused.

This did not stop the British from proceeding to execute on the proposal. Incensed at what they considered to be an outrageous violation of their interests by the Jewish-British alliance, the Arabs attacked. In 1948, Egypt from the south, Syria from the North East, and Jordan from the east attacked Israel simultaneously. Before commencement of war, the Arab countries advised the Palestinians within Israel to leave their country for Jordan with the assurance that they could return when the war was won. Over 90 percent of the Palestinian population left with hopes of returning to their homes and property.

Unfortunately for the Palestinians who vacated their homes and left much of their wealth and possessions behind, the Arabs were beaten easily by Israel. All in all, it was an utter defeat for Arab forces especially the Palestinians, who have been ‘lost’ ever since, with fading hopes of reclaiming what was once their home.

A Faustian Deal

In the medieval German legend, Dr. Faustus, or Faust, “sells” his soul to the devil. In the Balfour Declaration, Britain bargained its reputation for integrity and good sense by selling out the Palestinians, against whom it had no complaint, as well as well meaning Jews who worried that increased anti-semitism would result from the deal. Faust made a bad bargain, but he hurt only himself. The Balfour bargain brought misery on four parties mentioned in the declaration, and on a fifth unmentioned party, the United States, whose entry into World War I Britain had hoped to achieve from the deal. The four mentioned parties were Britain itself, “the Jewish people” who were promised a state of their own in Palestine, “Jews in any other country”, and “the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” meaning the Palestinians.

The Palestinians thus became a whole nation of Biblical Jobs who had done nothing to merit continuing agony. Three-quarters of a million of them lost homes and property in 1948 and 1949 as a result of Israeli aggression. Another 250,000 were forced out of Palestine at gunpoint in 1967 when Israeli forces seized the West Bank and Gaza, along with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights. More than half of the current total of 6.5 million Palestinians now live outside their ancient homeland.

Britain seems to have suffered the least. However, its departure from the Middle East, and from its Empire as a whole, was hastened as it eventually dawned on residents of other British colonies that, rather than shepherding the Palestinians along to self-government, as required by the terms of Britain’s League of Nations “mandate” for Palestine after World War I, London had heartlessly sacrificed the Palestinians to advance its own interests.

If the Palestinians are the big losers, the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, “the Jewish people” of the Balfour Declaration, appear to be the big winners 84 years (as of 2001) after the declaration was issued. But it’s perhaps still too early to be certain. Instead, one might bear in mind the words of the late Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. When asked in the 1970s what he thought of the French Revolution which happened than a century and a half earlier, he replied, “Let’s wait and see how it turns out.”

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