Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The tragedy of Gaza

The current turmoil in the Gaza Strip is ultimately the result of colonialism. In Palestine during WWII, the Brits, in hopes of maintaining their colonial base in the Near East, persuaded Jewish settlers who fought for them that there would be a Jewish homeland. Unfortunately, there was no land not already occupied--if sparsely--and so the Brits tried to wriggle out of the commitment when the War was won. They failed: settlers came in through the blockade, the Stern Gang bombed hotels and trains, and a pattern was set: Israelis, whose leaders (Sharon, Rabin, etc) would for decades be veterans (in other contexts, they would have been called terrorists) developed and maintained a seige mentality.

This had some positive impacts: social, community, or military service was expected as the price of citizenship; kibbutzim worked hard and selflessly to reclaim land and build the economy. But we're now seeing some of its negative impacts: a willingness to see any encroachment on Zionist rights or land as attempts at genocide, a willingness only exacerbated by Palestinian, Egyptian, and Syrian leaders' willingness to pander to their own demographics using the most inflammatory, violent rhetoric; a terrific ethnocentrism; political naivete; inability to escape a zero/sum mentality (cf Protestant/Catholic in Northern Ireland).

The seige mentality went further and led to great injustices: Gaza and some of the occupied territories became essentially large concentration camps, from which Palestinians were allowed to leave only to work in Israel. This led to an artificially-enhanced standard of living for many Israelis, just as the same sorts of "tribal homelands" had done for white minorities in South Africa--they are described by authoritarian military governments as independent states, but in fact they simply provide a docile, poor, desperate-for-work source of cheap labor.

The Israeli government should never have encouraged settlements in the first place, and the only reason they did was to gain political advantage in negotiations with the Palestinian authority, "possession being 90 per cent of the law." Now they're reaping the painful, internally-divisive results of that selfish opportunism.

It's tragic that the settlers are losing their homes, but it's far more tragic, and far more revealing, that they're calling the soldiers carrying out the evictions "Nazis." When you breed generations of ethnocentric religious fanatics, you sacrifice any sense of political sophistication, moderation, or history. Chris McGreave of the Guardian agrees; "messianic minority" is a good description both of Intifada members and of Zionists.

Daoud Kuttab also agrees, saying "unilateralism is not a rational long-term and effective policy." Words our own president-by-proxy would do well to consider--but he won't.

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