Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Cowboys and Indians, Israeli Settlers and Palestinians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st August, 2013

Cowboys and IndiansIsraeli settlersAs a child of the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised on The Lone Ranger (black and white TV version) and other Westerns, in which the noble white cowboys and sheriffs fought against the dastardly redskins, as the wagon trains carried settlers across the Mid-West, in the name of civilization and Christianity. One just took it for granted that this crucial period in US history was an enterprise to be admired, and it was only much later, when I had acquired an educated, critical mind, that I realized that Justice had been stood on its head. The Indians were desperately trying to halt their dispossession, in the face of brute force and more advanced firepower, and it was the settlers and those who protected them who were the real baddies. I’m reminded of this by what is happening in Occupied Palestine today. Again, as a child, I grew up in an environment in which the creation of the new state of Israel was seen as a heroic endeavour, in which the young labourers on the kibbutzim were involved in a noble purpose, the Jewish people risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust. And had Israel remained within the boundaries drawn up by the United Nations that argument might have continued to hold water, even though the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who were made refugees by the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 would see things otherwise. But Israel did not remain within those boundaries, and many within Likud and some even more extreme political groups in Israel persist in their expansionist aims and colonising Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in defiance of International Law, and the feeble protests of the West. Once more, the narrative enunciated by Israel, AIPAC and other pro-Zionist groups is that the “settlers” in what was formerly Jordanian territory and is meant to be the basis for a putative Palestinian state are engaged in a noble enterprise, like the colonisation by white immigrants of the American West. And once again, Justice has been stood on its head. It is the Palestinians, whose land is being appropriated, olive trees cut down and children intimidated, who are the victims and the Israeli settlers and the IDF army that protects them that are the villains. The ultimate irony, of course, is that while in the short term the Palestinians will be the losers, in the long term, if this occupation and absorption by Israel of Palestinian territories persists, demographic trends will mean the Jewish state will de facto cease to exist. I think that’s called “shooting yourself in the foot”, as cowboys might say.

8 Responses to “Cowboys and Indians, Israeli Settlers and Palestinians”

  1. Michael said

    There were no boundaries drawn by the UN. There was a particion plan, which the Arabs rejected, and then a war against the Arab invasion. Then there were lines of cease-fire. The rest of your narrative is equally fantastic (as in fantasy).

  2. John McHugo (Chair, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and author of "A Concise History of the Arabs") said

    Michael – it wasn’t quite like that. The UN partition plan was not a Chapter VII UNSCR and was not legally binding. It was no more than a recommendation, a suggestion, and Israel’s proclamation as a state did not comply with the terms of the partition plan in any case. The Arabs were therefore perfectly within their rights to reject it. By proclaiming his state, Ben Gurion turned the bulk of the indigenous population of Palestine into enemies,and foreigners in their own country overnight. Arab armies only intervened after Palestinian society collapsed under the impact of the onslaught by Zionist/Israeli militias to establish their Jewish state, Yes, Israel did come into existence as a sovereign state (although the point at which this occurred can be disputed) because it complied with the requirements of the Montevideo Convention, but it did so with an obligation to those people (Muslims and Christians) who were adversely affected by its creation. I believe it was admitted to the UN on this understanding. To this day, Israel refuses to acknowledge its obligations to the Palestinians but it will have to do so in some way if there is to be peace.

    John McHugo
    (Chair, Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and author of “A Concise History of the Arabs”)

    • Michael said

      Of course, prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel, the “indigenous” population was the best friend of the Jews. Arab armies intervened on the day of the proclamation of the State of Israel because they had in their infinite wisdom foreseen that Palestinian society would collapse. As to the actions by the Arab states, who out of petty revenge for their humiliating military defeat declared their Jewish citizens enemies and expelled hundreds of thousands of them, I don’t hear much about their obligations.

      Whatever the legal complications are, the facts remain – the Jews agreed to numerous partitions, including the one that took 80% of Palestine and made Jordan out of it, and the Arabs every time invented excuses as to why they won’t accept them. Israel came into existance as a sovereign state because the Jews have established all the institutions of such state, not because of UN votes or resolutions. The powerlessness of any and all UN resolutions and votes is proven daily in Syria, so you’ll excuse me for not paying attention to anything coming out of the UN.

      • John McHugo (Chair, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and author of "A Concise History of the Arabs") said

        Michael: several points. First, why do you put quotation marks around the word “indigenous”? Do you deny that the Muslim and Christian Arab majority were indigenous and had a right to be consulted as to what would happen to their land? Secondly, the Palestine Mandate – with or without Jordan – was not intended to be a partition between Jews and Arabs (read the provisos to the Balfour Declaration which was incorporated into the Mandate), The Mandate was an artificial creation in any event, and had no legitimacy in the eyes of the people who were ruled by it. Thirdly, if you don’t “pay attention to anything coming out of the UN”, then why did you bring the UN into this conversation in the first place? Yes, Israel did become a sovereign state partly because the Jews had established embryonic institutions for their state during the Mandate, but did they not by doing so exclude the majority, non-Jewish population from it? Only those non-Jews who were still present on the day of the first Israeli census were allowed to gain Israeli citizenship.

        You are right to draw attention to the disgraceful treatment of their Jewish populations by many Arab countries. Two wrongs never make a right, but perhaps history could have been very different – did you know that back in the 1870-80s one of the first Egyptian nationalists was a Jew? His name was James Sanua.

        I believe that a just settlement that will last can only be reached if both parties recognise the rights of the other as the starting point for negotiations, and painfully acknowledge the history of the other. The two historical narratives, as Edward Said put it, need to be looked at in counterpoint.

        Beware that by denying the rights of the Palestinians (as the Israeli government does by colonising East Jerusalem and the W Bank etc) you do not end up making the one state solution the only possible way forward. The alternative is basically what is called the Saudi peace plan, which reflects both parties’ rights in international law. So much for your implicit suggestion that the Arabs have never been prepared to compromise – though I could refer to other, much earlier Arab offers of compromise..

  3. Michael said

    There was an Arab compromise- in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement. If the Arabs want peace, all they have to do is to ratify the agreement and all will be peaches. No need for new plans! Conflict solved! That is to show you there are more options than the Saudi proposal. Now we only need to get the Arab states to agree on… well, lets just wait a while to see if there are any Arab states left. Who will Israel sign any agreements with? And what will they be worth when there is a choice between a military dictatorship and an Islamic theocracy, both of which ignore anything signed by their predecessors?

    • Michael – there were many issues with the Faisal- Weizmann agreement, not least the fact that neither of them had the right to bargain over the self-determination of the people of Palestine (by Palestine I mean the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean). Your suggestion that it should be adopted today cannot be taken seriously.

      You ask who should Israel sign an agreement with? The answer is the representatives of the Palestinians – if an agreement could be reached with them after negotiations that started from the acknowledgement by each party of the other’s entitlements in international law, then you would find the vast majority of other Arab states (under whatever government) accepted it.

      But Israel is not prepared to recognise Palestinian rights, is it? And I see little sign of any acknowledgement of those rights in the approach you have taken in this correspondence. It is only by acknowledging those rights that Israel can gain the legitimacy it so earnestly craves. Until then, I’m afraid you will find a great deal of understandable anger directed against an Israel that lacks the courage to tell its people (and the Jewish diaspora) the truth. Let’s not forget that failure to do justice to the Palestinians was one of the factors that radicalised Osama bin Laden and many others. We have all suffered as a result of this. .

      • Michael said

        I’m not saying it should be adopted, I’m saying it can be adopted. I’m saying there are more options than Saudi plan or one-state solution. Not that the Saudis have any right to bargain. Dictators not elected by anyone and not accountable to anyone – do they have legitimacy?

        Representatives of the Palestinians – who may that be? Not like they had elections recently (or elected anyone remotely accepting the right of the Jews to live). I don’t see why Israel should negotiate with people who don’t represent anyone and have no authority to sign any agreements, nor respect any agreements signed.

        As to the radicalization of Osama bin Laden and the link to the Palestinians (which I find rather far-stretched), that’s just blackmailing. “Give us what we demand or we will make trouble in the whole world and blame you” – that is actually what you’re saying. Not a good starting point for negotiations.

        What I find hard to understand is why the anger is directed towards Israel and not towards the Arab states, that encouraged their brothers and sisters to leave Palestine, so that their armies can crush the Jews? The states that have failed in their murderous quest, then out of petty revenge expelled their Jewish citizens and kept their own brothers and sisters caged in ghettos ever since as a leverage on Israel?

        What I wanted to say is that I think your post is rather… well, biased to say it mildly. There were no “boundaries drawn by the United Nations”. Judea and Samaria are not “formerly Jordanian territory”. East Jerusalem does not exist, there is just one Jerusalem. Whether Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria are “in defiance of International Law” is at least subject to discussion. “Demographic trends [that] will mean the Jewish state will de facto cease to exist” also do not exist. When confronted with the holes in your “narrative” you resort to the Osama scarecrow. You still believe in ghost stories, do you?

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