Sacrosanct State and Complacent West

By Jeremy Salt – Ankara

‘Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.’ — Barrack Obama

‘I’ve been to Gilo and seen the security fence protecting Israeli families from attacks in their own homes.’ — Hillary Clinton

‘When I heard about the rocket fire at Israel I felt it was a danger to Italy and to the entire West.’ — Silvio Berlusconi

‘While we speak here today thousands of people are living in fear and dread of missile attacks and acts of terror by Hamas.’ — Angela Merkel

These quotes are chosen at random from a script written in the theatre of the absurd known as ‘the west’. Does Barrack Obama, the Harvard law graduate, not know that Jerusalem is an occupied city? Does Hillary Clinton not know that the Israeli ‘families’ living at Gilo have built their homes on land belonging to someone else? Does Silvio Berlusconi seriously regard Hamas rocket attacks as a threat to Italy and even the ‘entire West’? Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton were speaking at the AIPAC conference in Washington last June, Angela Merkel in the Knesset in March and Silvio Berlusconi at Sharm al Shaikh this week.  He and other European ‘leaders’, as they are called, Merkel,  Sarkozy and Gordon Brown among them, had gathered in Egypt to ‘discuss’ Gaza with Husni Mubarak and  Mahmud Abbas, i.e to tell them what their part would be in the European plan to bring peace to Gaza.

Remember that during the three weeks of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza close to 500 children were amongst the 1300 people killed. More than 85 per cent of them were civilians. As bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble it will be some time before the final civilian death toll is known. Banned weapons were used. Whole families were massacred and whole streets destroyed with bunker buster bombs. The living was left for days alongside the dead because Israeli soldiers prevented ambulances and medics from reaching them. Trapped between the sea and the fences erected by Egypt and Israel the Gazans were simply shot down like animals in a game reserve. Then the killers were hauled off so that Barack Obama’s inauguration would not be ruined by the spectacle of children still being killed.

Remember the scenes of absolute horror coming out of Gaza when you consider what  the European ‘leaders’ meeting in Sharm al Sheikh decided to do in the wake of the Israeli attack. Their priority was to prevent Hamas from rearming. They offered to cooperate with the US and Israel to prevent arms and ‘terrorists’ from being smuggled into Gaza. They called for an end to the firing of rockets into ‘southern Israel’.  Merkel said Israel had the right to live at peace and not under the threat of rocket attacks. Gordon Brown offered the services of the Royal Navy to prevent weapons being smuggled into Gaza by sea. Sarkozy declared that the European Union would never do anything to harm Israel’s security. Berlusconi went a step further and said he would work for the admission of Israel into the EU. At a meeting with Ehud Olmert, one of the three architects of the slaughter of Gazans they were told: ‘We did not want to hurt them or their children. They are the victims of Hamas’. No one protested. As Haaretz newspaper reported: ‘None of the European leaders condemned Israel for these casualties’

There is a moral sickness in the ‘west’. It does not apply to people but their governments, most of which, it should be remembered, ‘cooperated’ with the United States in the launching of two massively destructive genocidal wars on Iraq and a third on Afghanistan. The lesson from Sharm al Shaikh is that the ‘west’ is again up to its old tricks. Since the invasion of Egypt by France in 1798 it has postured as the defender of civilized values while engaging in acts of theft and slaughter. The French occupation of Algeria (1830-1962) was the first step on the long road that led to Palestine. In his time William Gladstone ordered the British invasion of Egypt in 1882, which was followed by the invasion of Sudan and the slaughter of thousands of protonational Sudanese warriors at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. The civilian population of Omdurman were terrorized into submission through the British shelling of their city. Bodies lay everywhere. In his time another British Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George, directed the Greek invasion of western Anatolia in 1919, described by a commission of inquiry, with Arnold Toynbee agreeing, as a ‘war of extermination’ of Turkish Muslims in the occupied territory. 

Only a few years before the Greek invasion, hundreds of thousands of Muslims had been massacred or herded out of their homeland in south-eastern Europe by the armies of four Balkan states during the Balkan War of 1912-13. The same powers that were to determine the future of the Middle East in Paris and San Remo after the First World War did nothing to stop them. In 1917 a British army marched into Baghdad, its commander declaring that ‘our armies do not come into your lands as conquerors of enemies but as liberators’.  ‘Iraq’, a country which did not then exist, was immediately subjected to land and air attack to make sure that its people received the full benefits of their ‘liberation’.   From that time until and beyond that day in April 2004 when graduating Iraqi police were told by Jerry L. Bremer, the ‘head’ of the ‘Coalition Provisional Authority’, that ‘once again the Land of the Two Rivers is the focal point of the clash between the forces of darkness and the light of civilisation’, Iraq has never recovered from the shock of the ‘impact of the west’. In Tony Blair, Britain found a late 20th reincarnation of William Gladstone and David Lloyd-George, all of them enthusiastic for war, all of them profoundly sanctimonious, deeply hypocritical and totally ignorant of the countries and cultures they were destroying. Gladstone and Lloyd-George were completely hostile to Islam. Tony Blair, on the other hand, is such a narcissist it is difficult to say that he stands for any fixed truth.  

In 1917 Arthur James Balfour ‘gave’ Palestine to the Zionists. Of course it was not his or his government’s to give but rightful ownership was hardly a consideration at the high point of imperialism. Balfour’s gift was cloaked in the rhetoric of high morality and noble purpose. The reality was seedy. For its own imperial purposes Britain needed a loyal minority on the ground in Palestine, something like France’s Maronite protégés in Lebanon, but did not have one. On the assumption that the Zionists would fill such a role the British government decided that they should have Palestine, and that Britain should protect them, should build up the ‘national home’ and should close the door to the future until they had built up some viable demographic base. For their own purposes the Zionists never talked openly of establishing a state in Palestine. They hid their ambitions and tailored their aspirations and their rhetoric to meet British interests. They talked of bringing civilization and progress to the ‘primitive people of Asia’, as Moses Hess wrote. They were loyal but only for as long as loyalty served their purposes. When Britain was exhausted as an imperial power they turned immediately to the United States, the only ‘western’ power that could replace Britain and France in the Middle East and further their interests.

From 1917 the ‘west’ has never budged in its support for the Zionist project in Palestine. Influential voices of protest have been raised from time to time (i.e. Ernest Bevin’s in 1948) but until the present, right up to the summit conference at Sharm al Shaikh, Israel apparently can commit no crime that cannot be overlooked, explained away or justified by ‘western’ leaders. Hands will be wrung at the ‘disproportionality’ of its actions but never is it subjected to punishment for the worst of the crimes committed by ‘defence forces’ acting on the orders of the government of Israel. Never once has it been suggested by anyone outside the Arab or Muslim worlds that Israel should be made to pay reparations for the loss of life and destruction of property. Even now someone else is going to have to pay for the reconstruction of Gaza which, because the ‘west’ refuses to restrain or punish what Norman Finkelstein has called a ‘lunatic’ state, a state Yitzhak Laor describes as being engaged in ‘a long war of annihilation against Palestinian society’, will remain vulnerable to destruction again whenever the government of Israel decides. Israel has plunged the Middle East into war after war, and many more could have started as the result of its provocations had Arab states felt able to respond.

No state in the Middle East has treated international law and the United Nations with greater contempt yet no other state in the world has been so indulged. There is apparently nothing Israel can do that warrants punishment. It can invade, occupy and settle; it can assassinate; it can send death squads into Palestinians towns; it can massacre; it can use banned weapons; it can reduce the suburbs of Beirut, the towns of southern Lebanon, the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza to an urban wasteland; it can set bomb hospitals so that patients have to be evacuated in the middle of the night; it can bomb orphanages, schools, mosques, bridges, roads, power plants, fuel depots, anything it wants to bomb and anywhere it wants to bomb; it can create wave after wave of refugees; it can turn them into refugees twice or three times and still bomb them wherever they find shelter; it can uproot olive groves and orange orchards; it can declare any kind of war it wants, topographical, hydrographical, demographical, without the ‘west’ intervening except to declare that it will stand by Israel. So the question has to be asked – is there anything Israel can do that the governments of the ‘west’ will not allow beforehand or indulge afterwards? If the murder of hundreds of children does not make a difference, what will? Is the ‘west’ still so mesmerized by the Nazi holocaust of the Jewish people that Israel has the licence to do whatever it wants?    

In its sleepwalking state the ‘west’ does not seem to realise what it is standing by, and what it should be standing for, because its refusal to deal rationally with Israel, through the application of international law, and through the application of sanctions, isolation and ejection from the United Nations if it does not respond to warnings, threatens to end in a collision of terrifying proportions.

The point is being made by an increasing number of commentators that Israel cannot survive in its present state. The reason may be demographic, because in two or three decades there will be far more Palestinians between the Mediterranean and the Jordan than Jewish Israelis. The reason may also be that people across the Middle East and elsewhere have reached the conclusion in the wake of Gaza that Israel in its present state and peace are permanently incompatible. Israel’s depredations have certainly bred anti-Semitism but basically Israel is reviled for what it is and what it has done. It is in a region where it has made itself hated through its own actions.  

The spectacle of religious Jews watching the destruction of Gaza from afar and dancing in celebration, the anti-Arab graffiti written on the walls of Hebron and Gaza might not speak for all Israelis but certainly speaks for a large number. The triumphalist rhetoric in the Israeli media, the indifference of the Israeli mainstream to death and destruction in Gaza and Lebanon is proof that nothing is going to change until Israel is made to pay for its savage, atavistic and deeply uncivilized behavior. There is no two state solution on the horizon. There is no one state solution on the horizon. There is no principled involvement by the United States or European governments on the horizon, so what else can there be on the horizon but more war and finally, perhaps inevitably, one aggressive war that Israel cannot win  without the direct involvement of those ‘western’ states committed to its ‘defence’. This is the dark, bleak future boiling over the horizon in the wake of Gaza.

– Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to

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