It’s not often that the anthropopper gets so angered by something he hears on the news that he shouts at the radio and then stalks out of the room, saying: “I refuse to listen to any more of these obscene lies.” Yet this is what happened a few days earlier when I heard Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, praising the Israeli Defence Force for its “restraint” after they had killed 62 demonstrators and shot nearly 2,500 more in the face of protests in Gaza a day earlier.
Haley went on to tell the UN Security Council that “”No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the record of several countries here today suggest that they would be less restrained.” She then blamed Hamas, the Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organisation which runs Gaza, for backing the demonstrations and encouraging protesters over loudspeakers to rush the border fence with Israel throughout the Gaza strip. She said it was Hamas — not Israel — that was making the “lives of Palestinians miserable.” Her comments came at the same time as the U.S. blocked a Security Council resolution calling for a probe into the violence.
These demonstrators from Gaza were marking the 70thanniversary of what they call the Nakba Day (‘Day of Catastrophe’), on 15th May. For the Palestinians it is an annual day of commemoration of the displacement of Palestinian Arabs that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. Perhaps there are not many people today who are aware that the state of Israel was founded in 1948 on the forcible expulsion or displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians from their lands, to make way for 70,000 Jews. The Holocaust during World War II had given urgency to the question of a Jewish state, an idea first supported by the British government in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – but in 1948 these Palestinians had next to no involvement with the persecution of the Jews and saw no reason why they should vacate their homes for the founders of the new state. They were driven from their homes during the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 for the simple reason that they were not Jewish.
As the Israeli historian Benny Morris has pointed out: “There could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist. A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians . . . [therefore] it was necessary to uproot them”. They have been denied the right to return to their homes ever since for the same reason: they are not Jewish, and their presence would upset the carefully-engineered demographic tables maintained by the state to preserve its tenuous claim to an exclusively Jewish identity. The maintenance of that demographic balance and the suspension of the Palestinians’ political and human rights are inseparable from one another: the one enables, produces and requires the other.
So let us acknowledge it: the founding of Israel was the consequence of an historic injustice to the people already living there. Put yourself in the shoes of the Palestinians: would you have agreed to leave your home and go into exile to accommodate a group that came from outside the borders of your country, claiming a homeland lost two thousand years ago?
Now, you don’t need to tell me that Hamas is a terrorist organisation – I know. I think it likely that many of the 30,000 – 40,000 demonstrators attempting to break through the border fence were strongly encouraged to be there by Hamas. I’m also of the view that the Palestinian Arabs have been very badly served by their fractious and divided leaders (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank), who for decades have vowed to sweep Israel and the Jews back into the sea and whose only response to Israeli violence is more violence and virulent anti-Semitism. This Arab violence against Palestinian Jews long predated the birth of Israel, and prior to the 1948 war, it was usually one-sided. What’s more, I doubt that many of today’s Palestinian Arabs would be prepared to accept any size of Jewish state, however small, even if it was only based on Tel Aviv and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. It has been their violence, divided leadership and utter intransigence that has contributed so much to the present impasse. So please don’t tell me that there is long-standing hatred and terrorist activity on the Arab side – I’m fully aware of it.
My point is this: Israel was also born out of terrorism – witness the activities of the Stern Gang and Irgun, and their assassinations of Lord Moyne (the British Resident Minister in the Middle East) and Count Folke Bernadotte (the United Nations mediator), and many hundreds of others. Two of Israel’s most prominent statesmen, Yitzak Shamir and Menachem Begin, were terrorists. Later on, Jewish terrorists became legitimate leaders, presidents and prime ministers; and Begin and Shamir are among these.
According to Henry Siegman (president emeritus of the US/Middle East Project and a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) writing in the London Review of Books, the leading political players in the U.S. “are probably unaware of, or simply refuse to know about, the extent to which terrorism and war crimes marked the creation of Israel. Those who are told about this history dismiss it as a fabrication. What they deny or ignore is that these charges have been fully documented not only by historians, including Israeli ones, but by Israel’s own military. The point of recognising this history is not to justify terrorism by either Israelis or Palestinians, but to acknowledge the outrageous double standard that has been applied to the two parties and has undermined the possibility of a peace accord. Without knowing that history, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the extent to which Israeli propaganda has succeeded in shaping a narrative about the creation of Israel that presents the Palestinians who were brutally expelled from their homes as the aggressors and the Jews as their victims. Without that history, it is impossible to understand the outrage Palestinians feel over having been portrayed as the bad guys for so long.”
Siegman goes on to say: “The point is not that Israelis have no right to defend themselves against Palestinian terrorism, but that the Israeli argument that there is no moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli preventive and retaliatory violence is deeply flawed. The relevant comparison is between the way the Jews acted during their struggle for statehood – not after they achieved it – and the way Palestinians, still very much in the midst of their hopeless struggle for statehood, are acting now. It is also flawed because you cannot condemn terrorism if you do not offer people under occupation a credible route towards achieving viable statehood through non-violent means. That is something Israel has never offered the Palestinians.”
Israel, through the support of the U.S., currently has the whip hand over the Palestinian Arabs and uses it ruthlessly. In Gaza, the Israeli army snipers were using high velocity bullets that left huge exit wounds, guaranteed to maim those who were not killed outright. Agreed, 30,000 to 40,000 demonstrators hurling rocks, Molotov cocktails, and attempting to lay explosive charges at the security fence and even to fly burning kites into Israel to set fields on fire, must have been a truly intimidating sight. But even so – why did the soldiers use live ammunition? Why did they not use tear gas, or rubber bullets? The Israeli death toll as a result of the storming of the Gaza fence was precisely nil.
Imagine yourself in the position of the ordinary people forced to live in Gaza. Gaza is 25 miles long, and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide, with a total area of 141 square miles. With a population of 1.85 million Palestinians, it ranks as the third most populated polity in the world. Since 2006 and the election of a Hamas government, it has been under an Israeli and U.S.-led international economic and political boycott. Due to the Israeli and Egyptian border closures and the Israeli sea and air blockade, the population is not free to leave or enter the Gaza Strip, nor allowed to freely import or export goods, or to fish freely in the sea. An extensive Israeli buffer zone and border fence within the Strip renders much land off-limits to Gaza’s Palestinians – it was this border fence that the Palestinian Arabs were attempting to breach. The population is expected to increase to 2.1 million in 2020. By that time, Gaza may be rendered unliveable, if present trends continue, with 95% of its water being unfit to drink, and electricity available for only a few hours each day, with access to food, medicines, and fuel also severely limited. Unemployment is 44%, rising to 60% for those between the ages of 15 and 29.
The UN’s leading human rights official, Mr Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has said of the Gazans: “They are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest.” Well, how would you feel in their situation? Would you not want to attack the border fence of your prison?
The demographer Arnon Soffer of Haifa University is the architect of the current isolation of Gaza. In 2004, he advised the government of Ariel Sharon to withdraw Israeli forces from within Gaza, seal the territory off from the outside world, and simply shoot anyone who tries to break out. “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Soffer told an interviewer in the Jerusalem Post (11 November 2004); “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” He added that “the only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.” In response to the current killing and shooting, a senior member of the Israeli parliament, Avi Dichter, reassured his audience on live television that they need not be unduly concerned. Their army, he told them, “has enough bullets for everyone.”
Israel’s minister of defence, Avigdor Lieberman, has said that there are “no innocent people” in Hamas-run Gaza. Lieberman’s opinion of the value of the lives of Palestinians mirrors the view expressed by Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s minister of justice. A year before her appointment in 2015, Shaked posted on her Facebook page an article by Uri Elitzur, a settler leader, in which he said that Israel should target not only militants but the “mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which the snakes were raised. Otherwise more little snakes will be raised there.”
And yet Jews are the genetic brothers and sisters of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, and they all share a common genetic lineage that stretches back thousands of years. That is why this massacre and maiming of Palestinians in May 2018 by the Israeli Defence Force reminds me ineluctably of King Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Claudius, you may remember, murdered his brother the King of Denmark (father of Prince Hamlet), seized his throne, and to add insult to injury, then seduced and married Hamlet’s mother, his late brother’s Queen. Claudius tries to pray to ease his conscience, but finds that he cannot:
O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’?
That cannot be; since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder, My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
(Hamlet, Act 3 sc. 3, lines 36 to 55)
At the same time as young Israeli soldiers were slaughtering Gazans at the border, just fifty miles away a glittering champagne reception was taking place in Jerusalem to celebrate the opening of Donald Trump’s new embassy there. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, welcomed the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu and two Christian Zionist pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, to the embassy to lead the guests in prayer. Commenting on this, the former presidential candidate Mitt Romney quoted Jeffress as saying “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,” “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell” and Islam no better. Such a bigot, continued Romney (who is himself a Mormon) “should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem”.
And yet he was. And Netanyahu was bowing his head and mouthing his prayers alongside him, obviously less troubled by conscience than was King Claudius. It seems strange to me that the Israelis are willing to take any amount of anti-Semitism from preachers who believe paradise will not come until the Jews accept the punishment of a jealous God and convert to Christianity. Presumably they are prepared to live with the insulting beliefs of the Christian Zionists, just as long as the result is that the Americans do nothing to prevent Israeli settlers from taking over more and more land in the West Bank.
For let us be clear: it is American domestic politics that is sustaining and prolonging the present situation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Why did Trump take the controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an action which has received worldwide condemnation? He did of course give his repeated backing to Israel during the presidential campaign in 2016 and needed to fulfil the expectations of his voters. In turn, this leads to a further question: why would Trump voters be especially supportive of the Jerusalem policy? The answer to this almost certainly lies with a type of evangelical Christianity, ie Christian Zionism, and one of its most fervent supporters, Trump’s vice-president Mike Pence.
As Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University has written:
“To talk about the power of the “Jewish lobby” in the United States is actually misleading, when the more correctly described “Israel lobby” wields far more electoral power thanks to its reinforcement by Christian Zionists. They number tens of millions of voters compared with the far smaller American Jewish population who, in any case, will tend more often to vote for the Democratic Party. Nearly a third of Americans, around 100 million people, lean towards evangelical Christianity and of these perhaps a third embrace the Christian Zionist perspective. This is passionate in its support for Israel.”
To quote the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell: “The Bible Belt is Israel’s safety net in the United States.” The consequence is that no Israeli government, as long as it has U.S. support, will uproot the illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which already make a contiguous, autonomous and independent Palestinian state impossible. It is obvious that the “two state solution” is finished – American political calculations and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank have ensured its death. This whole issue also comes at a time when what is becoming known as the “Israel Victory” political caucus is gathering influence in Congress. This caucus, which has plenty of support in Netanyahu’s government, takes a simple, binary view: Israel has won, the Palestinians have lost – and everyone had better get used to living in a Jewish state. Such hubris may cause anger and dismay among many Jews in the United States and Western Europe, but it is a driving force within the Trump administration. Perhaps most significant of all, it fits almost perfectly into the Christian Zionist vision. Almost one in three Americans believes Israel was given to the Jews by God as a prelude to the Battle of Armageddon and Jesus’ Second Coming.
This belief that Jesus Christ will come for a second time in a physical body has been said by Rudolf Steiner to be a complete misunderstanding, and that Christ will not return in physical incarnation. This was done once and for all time, and will not be repeated. But according to Steiner, Christ is here already, in the etheric body of the Earth. From the 1930s onwards, Rudolf Steiner said, the Christ would be visible in etheric form to those who have been able to develop their powers of spiritual perception. At first the Christ will be seen by only a few, but during the next three thousand years more and more people will be able to have this experience.
In a series of lectures given in 1917 (the same year as the Balfour Declaration), Rudolf Steiner also said the following:
“I have described the task for mankind in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch (i.e. our present age) as that of coming to terms with evil as an impulse in world-evolution. We have spoken of what this means from various points of view. The indispensable need is that the forces which manifest as evil when they appear in the wrong place shall be overcome by human endeavour during this epoch, so that men can begin to make out of these forces something favourable for the whole future of cosmic evolution. Hence the task of this fifth post-Atlantean epoch is quite specially arduous, and many temptations lie ahead. And as the powers of evil make their appearance in gradual stages, men are naturally much more inclined to give way to them in all realms instead of battling to place what appears as evil in the service of the rightful course of world-development. This, nevertheless, is what has to come about — up to a certain point evil must be turned to good ends.”
The fundamental objection to everything that is happening to the Palestinian Arabs is that it goes against the second part of the Balfour Declaration, that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” So how, to use Steiner’s expression, can the evil in Israel and Palestine be turned to good ends?
The two-state solution died because Netanyahu and previous Israeli governments were determined to kill it, Palestinian terrorism and violence encouraged the Israelis in that determination and American and other Western politicians who could have prevented its demise lacked the resolve and moral courage to do so. Therefore the only solution to this conflict that still remains is a pluralist, non-theocratic and secular state of Israel-Palestine, with a limited “right of return” and a settlement that gives Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Israelis the same, equal civil rights in ONE state.
Unless the almost inconceivable happens and the U.S. turns off the money and weapons taps, movement from Israel towards a one-state solution will never begin – one cannot really blame them when they have experienced so many Palestinian bombings and atrocities. So any progress now will be entirely dependent upon the Palestinians being able to find a leader cut from the same cloth as a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, a truly inspirational visionary who will lead them away from violent hatred and towards a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.
Such a campaign is likely to cost Palestinian lives, but rather like Gandhi’s Salt March, it could be much more effective than violence in changing world public opinion. American journalist Webb Miller was on the scene of the Salt March and he later described what followed. “Suddenly,” he wrote, “at a word of command, scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads…Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins.” Miller’s harrowing account of the beatings circulated widely in the international media, and was even read aloud in the U.S. Congress. Winston Churchill—no great fan of Gandhi—would later admit that the protests and their aftermath had “inflicted such humiliation and defiance as has not been known since the British first trod the soil of India.”
If the Palestinians were to adopt similarly peaceful means of protest, it would alert the whole world to what Israel has become under the influence of an ethno-nationalist, right-wing version of Zionism, transformed by successive Israeli governments into something that its nineteenth and twentieth century founders never intended. Public revulsion in the United States at scenes of Israeli brutalisation of Arabs could lead to the decline in America of the influence of Christian Zionism – and then there would ultimately be an opportunity for a one-state solution to emerge. The Israelis should remember that hubris is always followed by nemesis.
Let King Claudius have the last word, in his realisation that, however we may twist things to avoid justice while here in physical incarnation, ultimately we cannot escape our karma. God is not mocked.
“In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ‘tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But ‘tis not so above,
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature, and we ourselves compelled
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults
To give in evidence.”
(Hamlet, Act 3, sc. 3, lines 57 to 64)