Imperialism and the Settler State

Bin the Israeli war machine

Today Palestine lies at the heart of the global misunderstanding which was once fashionably called the “war on terror”. The problem, however, is more dated than that. History, through the Balfour Declaration in 1917, testifies to the fact that the Palestinians – the majority inhabitants of the land of Palestine – were relegated to marginality by Britain’s insistence on “the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people.” Moreover, by way of his infamous letter of 2 November 1917 to Walter Rothschild, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour also reduced the indigenous majority Arab inhabitants to be the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” whose rights would be protected by His Majesty’s Government. Yet His Majesty’s Government failed to honour its pledge.

The sole purpose of the present writing is to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. The historical subject matter, however, is so complex that it is not an easy task to write anything on the issue at all. For the sake of simplicity, since Pakistan does not recognise Israel, we will make things simple for ourselves by excluding Palestinian bashing (that they are Muslim Arab terrorists) from our analysis. In fact our objective is to repudiate the depiction and caricature of the Arabs as a “terrorists”, a label which has lastingly been stuck on them by a mixture of historical events, poor leadership, and propaganda. We will seek dispel this myth and argue the point from the Arab point-of-view. In any event, apart from killing innocent people, the Israeli state is apt at defending its criminal behaviour by employing the Harvard and Yale gurus and pundits which it uses to disguise its murderous actions. So we can let it be their lot to do this dirty work themselves. But one thing is certain, no matter how demonic an image of the Arab the Israelis and Americans manage to conjure up, they will never be able to wash clean the blood which Israel has spilt to support its six decade long existence. Expressions such as Dier Yassin, Sabra, Chatilla, Qana, and Operation Cast Lead etc are not just household expressions for Israeli atrocities in the Occupied Territories, they also globally used metaphors for murder, loot, and destruction. The characteristic which connects these horrific events is that they were Israeli crimes against humanity whose perpetrators should be brought to justice.

To place imperialism in its historical context in his book Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction Robert C. Young observes that at the time of the First World War nine-tenths of the world’s surface area was controlled by imperial powers. And in particular Britain governed one-fifth of the world’s area and one quarter of its population. This had lead Vladimir I. Lenin to make the historic observation that “for the first time the world is completely divided up so that in the future only redivision is possible.” Using a mazdoor kissan ideological position as its point of departure  this article views Britain villainously in how she dealt with and disposed of her Palestinian mandate which she had acquired by virtue of her victory against Jamal Pasha of Ottoman Turkey in the First World War.

In The Gun and the Olive Branch David Hirst expertly uses his vast experience as a journalist to explore what he terms “the roots of violence in the Middle East”. Hirst explains that by the mid-1930s the British policy of encouraging Jewish mass settlement and “emigration” back to the homeland of their ancestors which began the late nineteenth century had deeply sown, in Palestine, the seeds of distrust and enmity between the Arab and Jewish populations. The Palestinians, without any voice or representation, fell prey to Britain’s imperial designs and were systematically dispossessed of the ownership of their land.

The acclaimed Palestinian academic and former peace negotiator Sari Nusseibeh has explained in his book Once Upon a Country that the Jews were one third of the total population of Palestine in 1948 and they owned less than 5% of the land. Yet the Jews were awarded more than half of the territory of the country of Palestine. Therefore, it is unsurprising and not by chance, that in his book Reflections on Exile celebrated academic, human rights’ campaigner, and Palestinian émigré the late Professor Edward Said described Palestine as a place at whose “core, then, there is an irreconcilable antinomian conflict embodied in the land.” One would just have to agree with that statement point blank because religion always has, continues to, and perhaps always will decide the fate of the land of Palestine.

Rightly so Israel is considered by most intelligent people as a land grab which arose through a forced British immigration policy. The country which is now obsessed with “securing its borders” so that only “the best and the brightest can stay” did not extend a similar courtesy to the Palestinians. Much persecution, emigration, and immigration has affected the Middle East over the centuries but in the last century Britain systematically made the original Arab inhabitants of Palestine second best by buttressing Jewish immigration to Palestine. In contemporary history streams of  Palestinian refugees have fled their homelands to the surrounding countries of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and others during the Nakbah (“the catastrophe”) in 1948, the Naxa (“the set back”) in 1967, and other equally bloody events which we have witnessed in more recent times such as Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the truly repugnant “Operation Cast Lead” (December 2008-January 2009) which took so many innocent Palestinian civilian lives. But rather than enumerate Israeli war crimes (which in fact are innumerable) it is more fruitful to explore Palestine through the eyes of the Arabs (Palestinians first of course).

But before expanding upon that proposition it is a good idea to approach the settlement of the Jews from the perspective of a truly secular Arab. Professor Gilbert Achcar who is a professor of International Relations and Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London sheds light on the subject of Jewish immigration to Palestine by noting that in comparison North America and Europe which were better equipped to facilitate and absorb a population of immigrants, immigration to Palestine was disproportionately encouraged. And in his book The Arabs and the Holocaust Achcar has argued that Zionism’s founding forefather Theodor Herzl and his proposed Judenstaat triggered the initial Jewish “return” to the homeland. Subsequently, the return became a tidal wave of mass migration as:

“It increased by a factor of ten under the British mandate, rising from 61,000 in 1920 (out of a total population of 603,000) to more than 610,000 (of a total population of nearly 1,900,000) on the eve of the proclamation of the State of Israel.”

Moreover, a lot of the immigrants who entered Palestine did so illegally. Surely, under the immigration laws of any Western country illegal entrants are to be “removed”. Why should illegal entrants to Palestine be any different? According to Achcar, who relies exclusively on Israeli statistics to make his points in relation to Jewish immigration, in the period 1933 (when Hitler assumed power in Germany) until the end of Britain’s mandate in 1948 313,000 migrants settled in Palestine and 115,000 of them arrived illegally. Furthermore, the total Jewish population of Palestine was 18.3% in 1932, 35% in 1946, and 37% in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared. After that it was just a question of “expelling the Arabs and taking their place” as David Ben-Gourion himself wrote to his son in a letter.

Achcar makes the point that even from a comparative Nazi perspective “Jewish emigration to Palestine” was “the lesser evil for Germany.” Equally, the Soviets encouraged the immigration of Jews to Palestine from the parts of Europe which they controlled. According to Achcar Washington, additionally, told London to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine, and America’s President Truman requested that the suffering of the Jews in Europe be alleviated by a special dispensation which allowed 100,000 Holocaust survivors to be admitted to Palestine: Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the time Earnest Bevan responded by saying that “they [the Americans] did not want too many of them [Jews] in New York.”

Pakistan and Israel’s non-recognition of one and other coupled with the fact that both post-colonial states have experienced large influxes of foreigners acquiring their citizenship on the basis of religion makes the present theme interesting to write about. Both countries face crucial questions in measuring up for future generations. David Grossman explained Israel’s dilemma in surviving as a state by stating on the BBC’s Newsnight show that in his view he did not see Israel as a country which would last for his grandchildren to grow up in if things went on as they were and a peace with the Arabs was not achieved. Although, unlike David who lost Uri, I have not lost a son in uniform in a war which I opposed, I can nevertheless say that is unlikely that my grandchildren will live in a country called Pakistan if all wrongdoing is not reversed immediately which will no doubt never happen.

Anyway despite all the pessimism let us examine what the position is in relation to “rights” which Pakistan would like to see afforded not only to its own citizens but also to the Palestinians.

The fundamental rights enumerated in articles 8-28 in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan such as articles 9 (Security of Person), 10 (Safeguards as to arrest and detention), 14 (Inviolability of dignity of man), 15 (Freedom of movement), 16 (Freedom of assembly), 17 (Freedom of association), 24 (Protection of property) and 25 (Equality of people) are the touchstone of the development of egalitarian governance in our own country – whether such governance will ever be achieved is another question which will be explored elsewhere on this blog.

Moreover, article 40 of the 1973 Constitution (Strengthening bonds with Muslim world and promoting international peace) militates that in delineating policy Pakistan must take steps to “forge fraternal relations based on Islamic unity … promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.” Therefore, as a country which does not recognise Israel, Pakistan needs to do more to spearhead the legal campaign against Israel and we need to do more to ensure that the innocent victims brutalised by Israeli military strikes are represented through legal action.



Please contribute to this fund

This link provides access to a very noble and successful effort in providing legal remedies for Palestinians by Mary Nazzal Baytaneh, a barrister who lives in Amman.

I know Mary from law school in London when she organised events which resisted Israeli oppression and in the year 2006 when we did the Graduate Diploma in Law in the College of Law in Bloomsbury I can remember very clearly that the “Jewish Society” heckled and undermined the Law and Justice Forum event which Mary had organised and Hickman and Rose, who obtained the historic warrant against Genral Darron Almog, came to speak at the Law and Justice Forum.

But those were the days when the law of universal jurisdiction had not been diluted for the purposes of protecting Israeli war criminals. Due to successful challenges by human rights activists such as Mary, the UK has amended the meaning of criminal liability under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 to arise only in cases where the defendant is “normally resident” in the UK which, of course, no Israeli involved in war crimes is (or at least I hope so!).

In a conversation the legendary Pakistan’s foremost urban planner, architect, poet, and historian Arif Hasan stated to me in a private conversation that a very large number of people crossed the border from during the bloody days of August 1947 and that Pakistan was very much a state which was founded upon migration and migrants. The difference, of course, in a comparison between Pakistan and Israel is that in Pakistan Britain did not selectively dislocate people and settle others in their place to suit the pomp and bigotry of is rotting and corrupt empire. If she did and someone knows then please let me know. While Pakistan is not always a pleasant place to be and despite the fact that it is universally condemned as a corrupt country, nevertheless, Pakistanis can state that in their dysfunctional and kleptocratic state the institution of racism and apartheid does not manifest itself as limitlessly as it does in the “democratic” Jewish state of Israel.

So what will it take to make things better in Palestine so that the world can be better off? The answer is that Israel and America will have to make more serious concessions to bring about the type of change which is urgently needed. On the issue of settlements no Palestinian or Arab party can ever say that they will accept them because to do so will be political suicide. And so, in their political correctness and for the sake of political expediency, they keep going on and on about resolving the issue in the spirit of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. The trouble with the text of the resolution is that it requires the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” which means that Israel need not withdraw from “all” territories. The word “all” was deleted from the text of the resolution as the victorious Israelis would not allow it to stand in the resolution’s text and the Arabs, owing to their defeat, had to swallow and digest its deletion. Therefore, the settlements, it seems are not going anywhere. The settlements will continue to feed the conflict and Israel will commit many new war crimes to “protect” such illegalities.

And despite the efforts of the Obama administration to bring some life to the long dead peace initiative between the Palestinians and the Israelis it seems that things can only get worse. If matters are to improve then the international community has to ensure that Israel adheres to the international human rights standards which its American and European masters are so keen to impose on other countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.

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