On March 12th, The New York Times had an extensive article about expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. As an agnostic, American Jew, I looked at the pictures with a mixture of dismay, pride, anger, fear, and (to channel the late, great Hunter Thompson) loathing.
I heard someone recently say that it is impossible to know what it’s like to live in Israel, to be surrounded by enemies pledged to your destruction, to see the rise of the endemic anti-Semitism in Europe and the pathetic manipulation of your Prime Minister by American Congressional Republicans. And it’s true: I can’t imagine what it’s like. In fact, I sometimes wonder how there can be any Israeli Jews who could favor a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. I think if I were there, I’d be a gun-toting, crazed, right-wing radical. Fear can do that do a fellow.
At the same time, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a Palestinian, despised and virtually ignored by the rest of the Arab world, betrayed by the Egyptians, who controlled Gaza, and Jordon, who controlled the West Bank, (with the complete support of the rest of the Arab world) which condemned them to a life in camps that could have been eliminated by their Arab brethren from 1947 to 1967, living with two corrupt pseudo-administrations seemingly more interested in graft than governance. How could one not grow up to be a terrorist?
So…as I sat at the kitchen table, confused and bewildered, the blindingly obvious explanation for both Jewish and Palestinian behavior hit me like a ton of Matzos…or Falafel to be fair.
As the Age of European Colonialism came to a crashing end in the late 18th and 19th centuries, one could simply look at a newly liberated land and immediately identify whether the people there had been under the rule of the British Empire…or virtually any other European government. In every case but one, the British had trained the locals to be part of the government, had created democratic systems, and had tried mightily to leave a relatively stable country behind when they left. The French, Germans, Italians, et al. treated the locals like lackeys and abruptly left when they could no longer hold on to their possessions. That’s not to say that the British were benevolent masters deserving of high praise; even the most humane slave owners in the U.S. owned slaves.
But the one exception to the British treatment of their colonies was Palestine. Despite the promise to the Jews after WWI that they would get a homeland, the British and French did little to make that come about. Even during and after WWII, with the visions of the concentration camps impossible to ignore, the British denied European Jews entry into Palestine. And they wouldn’t allow Jews to participate in the government or secure arms against what everyone knew would be a fight to the death…for the Jews. They didn’t treat the Palestinian Arabs much better.
And when they finally got around to carving up this horrible, little piece of desert, here’s what the geniuses in Whitehall came up with.
Look at this map. It’s a monument to infamy, a testimony to the total disrespect the British had for both the Palestinians and the Jews. You couldn’t draw boundaries for two countries that would better ensure enmity and war between the two parties for as far as one could see in the future.
Yellow represents Israel as envisioned by the UN (read: British) in 1947. Light green represents the Palestinian Arabs. The dark green? That area was 75% Palestinian Arab, but the British had promised a reward for the small favors done by the Hashemite Kings in WWI and that turned out to be Jordan.
As for Israel, the distance from Tel Aviv to the border of Palestine was about eight miles! In the upper right hand corner, a tiny sliver of Jews were to live just below the Golan Heights, separated from the rest of their brethren by Arab Palestine. And the poor Palestinians were equally screwed by the British and European powers, especially given that the Gaza Strip was completely detached from the West Bank.
What conclave of morons thought that this was a fine solution to the long-standing problem? Can one look at this and think anything other than, “The Brits wanted the Jews and Palestinian Arabs to kill each other.” Is it any wonder that both sides in this tragic morass developed such radical, angry, self-destructive attitudes towards each other?
With control over so much land in the Middle East following WWI and II, you think the Brits could come up with a way of ensuring a decent chance at success for both the Jews and Palestinians. (I don’t use the word Arabs because the Arabs hate their Palestinian brothers but that’s an entirely different issue.) Yeah. Those noble British with their proud heritage.
So the next time you get pissed off about new Israeli settlements or grow incensed at Palestinians lobbying missiles into Israeli settlements, remember whom to blame for this intractable disaster: Our cousins from across the Atlantic.