I should like to put in a plea for the constant demonizing of one side or the other of the Arab-Israeli conflict to stop. It only poisons the water.
Just imagine if these two small peoples had not clashed on the same piece of territory. What incentive would each side then have had to manufacture so many absurd myths about the other, distorting their histories, despising their religions and trashing their national characters?
It is dangerously misleading to analyze conflicts in such terms rather than by trying to understand how the objective situations on the ground impact on ordinary people caught up in them, whomever they may be. This is not to excuse anyone but to retain a sense of perspective.
Thus, what in 1948 - in the wake of the Nazi holocaust and the double dealings of the western powers - was a joyous liberation for one tormented people was a wretched catastrophe for another. And something similar may be said about the outcome of the war 19 years later.
And then, when the land-confiscations and settlement-building accelerated a decade or so after 1967, and the Israeli occupation no longer looked to be temporary, Palestinian resistance grew in tandem. If, at times, it turned violent and involved deadly atrocities, it was not because the perpetrators were Palestinian, or Arab or predominantly Muslim, but because they were an occupied people. If there is one cast-iron law of history, it is probably that all occupations and other forms of colonial rule are, eventually, resisted.
The occupier then has a choice of pulling out and letting the native people exercise their self-determination, or remaining and clamping down. Despite its avowal in the years immediately following the 1967 war to stay only temporarily, Israel unfortunately chose to remain, and over time it came to resemble the harsh – at times brutal - occupier that it had falsely been claimed to be in earlier years.
As British citizens, Jewish or non-Jewish, we should be careful not to be too smug or sanctimonious about this. There were times during the British Empire when colonial rule was likewise relatively benign and other times when it was unbelievably cruel. Although it is invidious to make comparisons, some if its excesses were far worse and on a much larger scale than any Israel has committed. A parallel point may be made with regard to some of the atrocities perpetrated by the resistance groups. These practices stopped when colonial rule ended.
This has been the familiar pattern through history, regardless of the geographical origin or political affiliation of the colonial ruler. The contemporary US/British occupation of Iraq and even the prolonged NATO presence in Afghanistan are treading a worryingly similar path. This is not to excuse Israeli conduct – nor either the murderous attacks on Israeli civilians by certain armed Palestinian groups, that the aforementioned human rights organizations have also condemned - but to place it in context.
In parallel, if there has been a persistent pattern of serious human rights violations in the occupied territories, it is not because the perpetrators are Israeli, nor even because they are Zionist - patriotic Israelis and self-proclaimed Zionists have been among the most outspoken critics, as they should be - and certainly not because they are Jews. It is because they are occupiers, and the violations will end when the occupation ends.
As we know from other cases too, enforced rule over another people brutalizes not just the occupied but the occupier as well. By remaining in the West Bank, Israel has done enormous harm to its own social fabric and its international reputation, to say nothing of the profound damage that has been done to the Palestinians who live there. It should not be left to Israel’s enemies to call for a full and final end to Israel’s occupation. It is time, 40 years on, for the true friends of Israel to assert the same demand.
In this spirit, I propose we call on the Israeli prime minister and government to set about unblocking the deadlock and sparking a new peace momentum by a simple act of state: a public declaration that, in exchange for full peace and subject to agreed equitable land exchanges, Israel is prepared in principle to withdraw fully from the West Bank to enable the Palestinians to build their independent state, with which Israel would desire normal neighbourly relations. Not a hazardous unilateral withdrawal, but a sincere, risk-free, unilateral declaration about the envisaged political horizon.
If Israel’s leadership truly seeks peace, let us hear it make this vital - in principle - statement, loudly and clearly and often. And if not, why not?
Dr Tony Klug is a veteran writer on the Middle East who has been advocating a two-state solution since the early 1970s. He is senior policy consultant at the Middle East Policy Initiative Forum and vice-chair of the Arab-Jewish Forum. His doctoral thesis was on Israel’s rule over the West Bank between the wars of 1967 and 1973.
A version of this was used in a Presentation at Independent Jewish Voices ‘Speak Out’, 19 Feb 2007. Visit the Independent Jewish Voices site at http://www.ijv.org.uk.