The Promised Land of Palestine
AT the time of writing, Palestine officials reported that 220 people had died from the airstrikes carried out by Israel on the Gaza strip. UN sources claim that almost 80% of the dead in Gaza are civilians while a truce initiative by Egypt faltered as Hamas rejected diplomacy as a means to their end. Back home in Bangladesh, social media is awash with messages in solidarity with the Palestinians who are facing one of the most blatant cases of reported genocide in recent times. Here, again, anti-Semitic feelings are at an all-time high and social media has been inundated with statuses condemning the action of Jews and counter-comments on how the acts of one state does not reflect the entire religious diaspora. The people of Bangladesh have been actively looking for ways to donate money to Palestine, without really verifying its intended use (indeed, much of these portals act as cash flow for Hamas and its militant wing). We have also been searching for Jewish consumer products to boycott, in a show of solidarity with the oppressed in Palestine.
History, though, paints a curious context to the events in present day Palestine. The persecution of Jewish people has been present for almost the past two millennia. The great bone of contention between the Christian church and the Jews was much more economical than theological. The concept of lending money with interest was forbidden inside Christianity, and indeed all Abrahamic religions. Usury was only considered a sin when practiced among the members of your own faith. And so, many Jewish people became moneylenders to the Christian empire, often making exorbitant amounts of profit. The relationship was often tense and the persecution mounted as the empires gained strength. Notable instances of Jewish persecution perpetually decorate the annals of history -- starting from the pogroms which preceded the First Crusade in 1096, their expulsion from England under Edward I's orders in 1290, their expulsion from Spain in 1492, the pogroms in Imperial Russia stretching between the 18th and the 19th centuries and, much recently, the Holocaust in German-occupied Europe. The prime cause for the persecution remained the fact that the Jewish network controlled much of the financial institutions and in the face of their economic superiority, faced persecution as a retort.
The idea of a Jewish state is not a recent phenomenon. There have been several attempts to create isolated areas of Jewish habitants throughout history. Theodore Herzl, recognised by many as the father of modern-day political Zionism, saw the rampant persecution of Jews in Europe and the Arab world and thought of a state for the Jews (different from our understanding of a Jewish state, or what is now Israel) where Jews would be able to live free from the fear of persecution. Many places were considered in regards to this, including Uganda and Cyprus. Adolf Hitler's Nazi party considered the Madagascar islands as a place where they could offload the Jewish contingent of Europe. But due to historical ties to the land then known as Palestine, Zionists urged for a State of Israel on that land. Wars are profitable businesses, and much of the events of today can be blamed on the powers of colonialist Europe -- Britain and France. The borders demarcating the countries of the Middle East today were decided upon by the British and the French after World War I. In exchange for Jewish support to the Allied cause during World War I, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, giving their support to the creation of a state for Jews in Palestine. Although the British later backtracked with the creation of Mandatory Palestine, the pressure from the French and later the US meant that the UN voted to create the state of Israel in 1948. And the ethnic population of Palestine was then pushed to the periphery of a land they had inhabited for centuries. To put the singular finger of blame on Israel's actions today on them would be imprecise. Several of the world's superpowers acted to create the military state of Israel that we now see. Was it not Britain's fault to promise sensitive land where other ethnicities dwelt to a religious diaspora? Was it not Nazi Germany's fault when thousands of Jews fled in panic from Europe and took refuge in Palestine? And is it not the US' fault as it continues to provide aid and diplomatic support to an Israel with an increasingly burgeoning military outlook?
But at the back of it all lies the sorry face of prejudice. Prejudice it was that caused Jews to be labeled as second-class citizens throughout Europe for much of the second millennium. And it is that prejudice that Israelis display today, regarding Palestinians as second-class citizens. The US continues to provide aid to Israel as many of its private financial institutions, firms that prop up the foundations of US' capitalist existence, are controlled by Jewish businessmen. The entire context leading up to the present day conflict is one of dirty expediency. Many countries must shoulder the blame for the death of innocent civilians in Palestine today. That the State of Israel was set up in a land which already housed a substantial population is not only the fault of Israeli nationals. At the same time, militancy carried out by Hamas cannot be condoned. Monetary donations to fuel their military activities are not the best way forward. Violence begets violence and the notion of war in the name of stability has been historically proven wrong.
History, then, should be our greatest ally moving forward. The Bangladeshis (and, indeed, people the world over) aggrieved at the current state of affairs should understand that anti-Semitic sentiment has played an instrumental role in placing us where we are. To continue in that vein serves no purpose except that of more bloodshed. Diplomacy, with a view towards co-existing peace, should be the order of the day.
The writer is Editorial Assistant, The Daily Star.