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Palestine, Middle-Eastern Orphan or Belligerent Child?

The Palestinian Authority has emerged triumphant and, as Campbell Clark from The Globe and Mail reports in todays news, it has "won a lopsided victory in its bid for “non-member observer state” status at the UN, 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. Canada was one of the nine that voted against." (Nov. 30, 2012 art. Canada 'disqualified' itself from Palestinian peace talks after UN vote, negotiator says ) Alongside the U.S. and Israel, Canada was one of the few countries who opposed the upgrade of the UN status for the Palestinians.

My goal here is not to take sides, but rather only to explore some of the roots of the problems faced by the Middle-Eastern countries surrounding the issue of Palestine, and this simply in order to provide readers with an informed perspective in order to better understand what is currently being reported in the news.

Let's go back to the beginning... In his concise history of the Middle East, Goldschmidt (2002) provides us with a historical bird’s eye view that greatly helps in understanding the first the emergence of spiritual and political Zionism in Europe - a movement which was spawned mostly by anti-Semitism, and eventually culminated with the birth of Israel in 1948. Incidentally, this was the direct result of a UN General Assembly vote that took place in faraway New York in the previous year - on November 29, 1947 - a vote recommending a partition of Palestine that would finally lead to the creation of the State of Israel the following year, declared by David Ben-Gurion in May, 1948, he who would become the main founder and the first Prime Minister of Israel.

What becomes quite clear when taking a look at the recent historical events that led up to the creation of Israel - which describes itself as being both a Jewish and a democratic State - is that, in essence, it is European anti-Semitism that would finally lead up to the British provision of supporting a Jewish state in Palestine (with the advent of the Balfour declaration). The birth of Zionism and the creation of Israel was primarily achieved with Western support. This much is obvious, as the Western Powers of the post-war era were scrambling to sign declarations to divide the spoils of war - Palestine was under Turkish rule as a part of the Ottoman Empire until they were defeated by the British during the First World War. As a British-mandated Palestine was receiving an influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi Europe, at the very same time the neighbouring Arab states - Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan - were are all dealing with an influx of Palestinian refugees; creating each country/kingdom adjustments that lead to internal strife and clearly impacts national identity. Goldschmidt (2002) manages to give us a fleeting impression of these great political changes that occurred in the Middle Eastern countries in these post-colonial times, specially with the Arab-Israeli conflict having affected all of these forms of Arab nationalism one way or another.

Lebanon -  situated at Israel’s northern border - was particularly affected by all this upheaval, and Hirst (2010) even goes so far as describing the country as having become an ideal “guerilla state-within-a-state” because of the presence of Palestinian insurgents having positioned themselves there. Hence, Lebanon’s role in all this mess, for since the creation of Israel it has become a natural strategic battleground for the entire Middle East - specially by playing host to Hezbollah, a gift from Iran. Lebanon as a nation-state is seemingly still trying to recover from this influx of Palestinians into its countryside... that which so many handshakes at the 1947 UN Assembly in New York had perhaps not foreseen. Hence, the die have been cast and Lebanon seems bound to be caught in the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict until the Palestinian refugees are appeased.

All of these multifarious issues that culminate in the geopolitical Arab-Israeli conflict also seem to have a spiritual and/or cultural dimension that is represented in the form of a religious cause - being of course the Islamic fundamentalist cause for the lesser and greater jihads. It is this religious aspect of Muslim Arab culture that seems to be provoked by the insecurity caused by the crushing of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War (Kepel 2002). The direct result of this is a radical conservatism in the form of jihadist groups attempting to establish Islamic regimes all throughout the Middle East. Kepel describes particularly well the fall of the PLO and Arafat’s “disastrous tactical mistake” (p. 324) in supporting Saddam Hussein’s regime. Kepel also makes a good point in mentioning that the fall of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority in Gaza contributed directly to disenchanted Hamas’ newfound embraced ideology of seeing itself as an Islamic jihadist group ready to rid the Palestinians from under Israeli control. The shift in popularity - from the PLO to Hamas - as the Palestinians’ national voice, is aptly chronicled by Kepel (2002). Henceforth, with this religious dimension thrown into the mix, it is from this point onwards that it seems that suicide attacks are the preferred mode of combat for Hamas, and a rash wave of these bombings first became prevalent in the 1990s. As a direct consequence to this, out of desperation, this lead the Israelis to elect “hard liner” Netanyahu in 1996. According to Kepel (2002), Netanyahu’s “hard line” attitude against the Hamas leaders would do nothing but worsen Israel’s relationship with Palestinians and any real effort of a peace accord. All this paved the way for Arafat’s second intifada, as Kepel puts it, a means to rally the Palestinian population behind the PA’s leadership.

Although, at present time, the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to have begun a new chapter... Or has it?

Certainly, radical groups - such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, both supported by Iran - have had a hand to play in the current situation. The Palestinian Islamist group is supported by the Iranian government and all of the recent air-strikes on Tel Aviv were launched with the aid of Iranian-made Fajr rockets, as reported in the media (Yeganeh Torbati, Iran denies supplying rockets to Gaza militants, Nov. 20, 2012, Toronto Sun). Gaza militants had fired rockets at the city of Tel Aviv earlier this month (Nov., 2012), an air-strike which had quickly prompted an Israeli air-strike retaliation and, then which in turn, a retaliation which Hamas in turn returned with by sending hundreds of rockets into southern Israel within a 24 hr period. CTV News reports that "Israeli military officials estimate that Gaza militants have as many as 12,000 rockets, [and the Israeli authorities] said some 220 rockets struck the Jewish state and another 130 were intercepted by the country's dome missile defence system, the Iron Dome." (Rockets fired at Tel Aviv as Gaza conflict worsens CTV News Staff, Nov. 15, 2012). Not too surprisingly, Israel defended itself by sending in ground-troops into Gaza in order to defend itself.
In the wake of all these attacks, following five days of Gaza bombings, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protestors took to the streets of Montreal in order to protest against the Israeli invasion into Gaza (Hundreds of Montrealers protest Gaza bombings, CBC News, Nov. 18, 2012). One cannot help but wonder why no one was taking to the streets when Hamas was firing rockets at Tel Aviv...
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The strange culminating point to all this is the Palestinian Authority's UN status upgrade? One can certainly understand Canada's reticence on the matter of any discussions pertaining to Palestinian statehood. Canada's Foreign Affairs minister, John Baird, was vehemently opposed to the Palestinian bid, but the irony is not lost on the fact that Canada has reportedly given some $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority since December 2007, as reported by Kathryn Blaze Carlson in today's National Post (Ottawa to recall Palestinian aid after Birds strong rebuke of statehood vote, Nov. 30, 2012). Any skeptical mind cannot help but wonder if any of our Canadian dollars ever made it into Iranian hands in exchange for Fajr rockets to launch at Tel Aviv...

Sometimes, it is hard to tell where it all begins and, most importantly, where it all ends...

A vivid image comes to mind, though. It is one that I once saw on an al-Qaeda website somewhere in cyberspace. The image showed some jihadi fighters with some highly stylized Arabic calligraphy written on it, and which strangely enough its author had artistically inserted - as a tactic - the prototypical image of a revolutionary, that of Cuban Che Guevara posted in front of a backdrop saying “Palestine… The homeland of the revolution.” Now, to the best of my knowledge, in the course of his lifetime Che never had anything to do with any jihad rhetoric nor Palestine, yet somehow there he was... with a checkered-scarf. 

Referenced Works And Further Readings: 
A. Goldschmidt Jr. 2002. A Concise History of the Middle East, Westview. 
David Hirst, 2010. Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, New York: Nation Books. 
G. Kepel. 2002. Jihad : The Trail of Political Islam, Cambridge: Harvard Press. 
R. Israeli. 2008. Islamic Radicalism and Political Violence, Portland: Vallentine Mitchell.


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