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The Roots of the crisis in Gaza

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OPINION by Zubeida Jaffer

The crisis in the Gaza has its roots in the events of the two world wars. At the end of the First World War, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, drafted a declaration that recognized the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. At the time, ninety percent of the people of Palestine were non-Jews. British liberal public opinion believed that Jews had suffered historical injustices, that the West was to blame, and that therefore, the West had a responsibility to enable a Jewish homeland. Zionist activists helped him draft the declaration that was put before the British parliament.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood 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.”

At the time, Balfour was part of the liberal government of Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Some interpreters of the Declaration have argued that it was never intended as an endorsement of a uniquely Jewish state. Rather, that Jews would establish a homeland in Palestine alongside Palestinians and other Arabs established there for almost two millennia.

When Palestinians protested in the 30’s, British and Jewish forces put down their uprising. Soon the Second World War followed and the criminal behavior of the German Nazis resulted in the aggressive immigration of Jews to Palestine. In 1948, three years after the end of the war, Israel declared its independence with the assistance of Britain and other mainly European countries.

A careful study of British history will point to a number of historical injustices that have their origins in the British parliament.

Take our own country for example. The British Kingdom did not lift a finger when British and Dutch settlers reached an agreement here to take over – to steal would be more appropriate – South Africa from its local inhabitants in 1910 when the majority of people were excluded from having any rights in the country of their birth. Before Union in 1910, they placed thousands of Afrikaners into concentration camps bringing them down to their knees. Earlier than that they happily encouraged Cecil John Rhodes to take our diamonds to Britain and to put local miners into guarded camps preventing them from owning any diamond rights.

One could go on and on.

But this is not about us. It is about the Palestinians and the Israelis. Surely many of them must be crying out for peace.

South Africa is a friend of Palestine in particular. Nelson Mandela made this point several times and insisted that the country would continue to stand by its friends. At the same time, he also acknowledged that South Africa recognizes the right of Israel to exist. Too much water had flown under the bridge when he and his party came to that conclusion in 1991. How then do we approach this crisis?

It is useful for us to be clear as we were when we fought colonialism and apartheid. We are fighting the system of Zionism and Israeli occupation. We are not fighting against Jewish people. We fought the system of Apartheid, not white people. Under the guidance of a wise African leadership, this helped us control our anger and hatred towards individuals.

Last week’s protest in London was phenomenal and hopefully partly demonstrated that the British people recognize their complicity in contributing to the creation of this problem. In earlier years, their government helped the Israeli’s put down the uprisings of the people of Palestine. It was their government that gave the right to Jewish people to move to Palestine from all over the world. The tens of thousands who moved from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy on Saturday afternoon denounced Israel as a terrorist state and castigated Prime Minister David Cameron for backing Israel’s right to self-defence against Hamas rocket fire.

At the weekend, President Obama at last expressed “serious concern” for the rising casualty count in the Gaza strip. It has taken him long. Those who benefit most from all of this drama are the huge arms industries in both these countries. Is he beholden to them? Will his envoy John Kerry act decisively or will they once again dither? This is one of the biggest foreign policy tests for the president. If in his reign, he behaves as those who have gone before him, it would be one of his greatest shames. He would confirm his status as a lame-duck president that many of us hope him not to be.

Interestingly, thousands of people came out on the streets of Chicago, his hometown at the weekend. Thousands have marched in New York city as well. It is no secret that the USA holds the greatest political sway over the Israeli’s. This does not mean that the rest of us across the world should not protest.

However we do need to recognize that in this intractable political problem, it is strangely the people of the United Kingdom of Britain and the United States of America who hold in their hands the power to end the carnage and stop the occupation. May they camp out in London and Washington to stop this darkness closing in on us so that Israeli soldiers can go home to their parents and wives and Palestinian children can be tucked up into their beds at night. Perhaps then we will finally be able to start a process that can lay to rest the ghosts of the two world wars.

Zubeida Jaffer is a veteran South African journalist who is Writer-in-residence at the University of the Free State. For more information, see her website,
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