IRRESPECTIVE OF WHICH SIDE of the conflict one stands, watching the latest tragedy unfold in Israel/Palestine is heart-breaking. Not the least distressing aspect of the renewed bloodshed is the antagonists’ reflexive defence of long held and deeply entrenched positions. On neither side is there the slightest evidence of new or original thinking. All we hear are the same slogans repeated over and over. But, if both sides insist on standing still, how can there be any movement?
This latest eruption of violence has, however, dramatically exposed the futility of the Palestinians’ uncompromising insistence on the so-called “Right of Return”. Ironically, it has been the actions of the Jews expelled from East Jerusalem in the Arab-Jewish war of 1948 that have revealed the sheer impracticality of this key Palestinian demand.
In demanding the return of the properties their parents and grandparents were forced to abandon in the face of the Jordanian Arab Legion’s successful defence of East Jerusalem in the year of the State of Israel’s birth, Jewish litigants are also demanding the eviction of Palestinian families who have lived in these properties for more than sixty years. Few on either side of this dispute would have been surprised to discover that the present occupants have not the slightest intention of abandoning them voluntarily. Indeed, it has been their resolute refusal to be dispossessed by the Israeli courts, and the mass Palestinian support their resistance has attracted, that set the scene for the latest confrontations.
It is unfortunate that among the Palestinian leadership there does not appear to be anyone with sufficient power to draw the obvious lesson. That the passion of the Palestinians threatened with eviction in East Jerusalem will be matched (if not exceeded) by the determination of the Israelis (and their descendants) who took control of the properties abandoned by Palestinians during the 1948 conflict, to stay exactly where they are.
To insist upon the Right of Return, is to insist upon the rolling back of history to 1948. Except, that simply amounts to demanding that the clock be wound back to a time when the State of Israel did not exist. In other words, the call for all those Palestinians uprooted by Israel’s birth (and their descendants) to be allowed to return to their houses, olive groves and farms, is a call for the dissolution of Israel itself.
If the rest of the world wants to know what a Palestinian attempt at dispossessing the Israeli people might look like, it has only to look at those anti-eviction protests in East Jerusalem, multiply them one-hundred-fold, and then imagine every Jewish protester armed to the teeth and wearing the uniform of the Israeli Defence Force, backed by artillery, tanks, helicopters, jets, and, ultimately, nuclear weapons.
There must be something in the water and the soil of the Holy Land that causes those who claim it for their own to lose all sense of strategic perspective. Today, it is the Palestinians who refuse to accept that against the State of Israel there can be no victory. Two thousand years ago, it was the Jewish people themselves. Or, more accurately, it was the nationalist extremists who refused to acknowledge the impossibility of extricating Judea from the Roman Empire. Again and again they rose in revolt. Again and again, the Romans crushed them in the most brutal and bloody fashion. Eventually, the day came when Rome decided that these stiff-necked Jews had rebelled once too often. They would have to go – but not before they witnessed the complete destruction of their temple and the re-naming of their country as “Syria Palaestina”.
Watching the desperate launchings of Palestinian rockets against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the instant and devastating retaliation of the Israeli Air Force, it is hard not to be reminded of the hard-line Jewish nationalists who took refuge in the great Herodian palace-cum-fortress of Masada. They, too, were magical thinkers, convinced that they could escape the wrath of Vespasian’s legions, who, far below, were patiently constructing the ramp that would carry their siege-engines up and over the walls of Masada – to victory.
Surely, there are some Palestinians who, looking at the entirely predictable consequences of their political and military leaders’ intransigence, recall with trepidation the awful historical precedents associated with refusals to accept that the occupiers of one’s homeland cannot be defeated?
More importantly, perhaps, are there none who recall that the Romans did not disperse all the Jewish inhabitants of Syria Palaestina? Some remained. Over the centuries what used to be called Judea was occupied by Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mamelukes, Franks, Ottomans and the British: the Jews who remained saw them come – and go – until, at length, the Zionists made a great hole in history, and Israel stepped through it.
Holed, or not, History has lessons to teach both the victors and the vanquished about the virtues of patience, and the changes wrought by time.
An optimistic prophet might tell of a mighty Mediterranean entrepot called Gaza City: the glittering prize of an enduring peace settlement between the Palestinian people and the State of Israel. Funded by Arab oil, protected by the United States and Europe, it would fast become a wonder of the twenty-first century world.
A pessimistic prophet might see the Al-Aqsa Mosque in flames and the Dome of the Rock in ruins. He might tell of Israel’s pitiless ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and the Great Jihad it inspired: of Arab and Turkish armies clashing with the IDF at Megiddo; of Pakistani rockets bearing nuclear warheads nearly all being blown out of the sky above Israel’s Iron Dome; and of Israeli jets, hot for vengeance, streaking eastward with their deadly nuclear payloads. He might speak of “The Samson Option” and the end of the world.
There are some who would not care – so long as the Israeli/Palestinian enemy was destroyed. And these are the most dangerous men and women ever to have set foot upon the rocks and stones of the land where David sang, and Jesus spoke, and Mohammed flew up to God. These enemies of compromise, these strangers to wisdom, would make of Israel/Palestine a radioactive desert – and call it peace.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 13 May 2021.