Rocket attacks, peace prospects, and the lessons of history


The current upsurge in rocket attacks against Israel, has resulted in the usual suggestions that it’s all their fault. The start-point for the blame game is the idea that ‘Palestinians’ have a connection to that land which goes back aeons. But, like everything connected with the Middle East, something deeper is required.

As an amateur student of that region’s politics and history, perhaps I can flesh out the background  and point to different realities.

The first issue is the idea that Jews are a particular ethnicity and therefore racist at their core. Readily available sources show that including the two main groups of Ashkenazy and Sephardic Jews, there are about 15 Jewish ethnicities, including Indian and Chinese. Many of these smaller communities have migrated to Israel and their inclusion in the population makes racist accusations untenable.

To assume that Palestinians have the same ancient origins in the land is also wrong. Thanks to the Arab custom of using country of origin as a family name, the records show that most originate elsewhere and travelled to what became Israel in the late 19th Century. Examples of ‘Palestinian’ names include al-Masri (the Egyptian), al-Djazair (the Algerian), el-Mugrabi (the Moroccan), plus the Houranis from Syria and many others indicating origins in far-flung places.

Given the multitude of origins, it’s no wonder that coining the name ‘Palestinians’, had great attraction.

Why then did these groups head for Jewish-inhabited areas like Rosh Pina, Rishon le Zion (yes, that name again) and Tel Aviv? The answer is the availability of work.

What made the difference was the Jewish-initiated power development on the Jordan River. As with many other instances, the availability of new energy sources galvanised industry and soon, demand for labour outstripped the availability of Jewish workers.

Given that the links of Palestinians, are historically recent, it is useful to re-state the Jewish connection and de-mystify the support for Israel among Christians, especially evangelicals in the US. Two points make this clear. Even though the Palestinians and their boosters, like to refer to the West Bank (of the Jordan River) as the ‘Occupied West Bank’, it is more properly known by the ancient Roman names of ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’. You don’t have to be an expert to see the connection between Judea and ‘Jews’ and similarly, the connection between Samaria and ‘Samaritan’. Samaritan is a name every Christian has learned in the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. In Christian eyes, these names are undeniable ‘street cred’, not to be put aside to suit modern global politics.

A modern-era linkage of Jews to the area, is seen in the population census of Jerusalem taken on two occasions during the British Mandate. In both headcounts, Jews accounted for 60 percent of the population, with Muslims and Christians about 20 percent each.

When considering the idea of an ‘Occupied West Bank’, one can ask: ‘Occupied by whom?’ Prior to the 1967 Six Day War, Judea and Samaria were occupied by Jordan and that other vexed territory – Gaza – was occupied by Egypt. At no time in the Egyptian/Jordanian occupations, did it occur to anyone to promote a ‘Palestinian’ State. Of course, once the two territories ended up behind the 1967 ceasefire line, Palestinian statehood became a ’cause celebre’.

The Jordan factor emerged somewhat earlier in the modern history of the region and is a sorry indicator of how decisions not taken, ended in disaster.

A baseline for the anti-Israel lobby is that the British Palestine Mandate was a ‘Jewish benefit’ mechanism and that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 is the proof. My reading of the Declaration is that it is no more than a vague intention of possibilities and goodwill. Certainly no timeline was mentioned to bring about, as Balfour put it, the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. At the conclusion of hostilities in 1918, Jews could have expected that Balfour’s vague assurance might have been given a territorial reality. After all, hadn’t the Jewish Legion fought bravely (alongside the New Zealanders) and helped defeat the Turks?

Certainly, Britain could have been expected to reward its allies, but the ‘first (and only) cab off the rank’ in terms of a dispensation of Mandate territory was the formation of Jordan. This occurred in 1920s and one can only wonder how different the history of the 20th Century would have been, had the State of Israel been established at the same time? A national home, to which Jews could have fled and defended, once the Nazis embarked on their genocidal mission in Europe.

In terms of current peace prospects, Israel has a dilemma. Looking at so-called ‘land for peace deals’, Israel has returned Sinai to Egypt and a durable peace established. In the mid-2000s, a deal was also concluded with the Palestinians in Gaza and that has been a disaster. The only general election held, resulted in a win for Hamas but, significantly there have been none since. In terms of a ‘two-state’ solution: Who does Israel negotiate with? Hamas, in Gaza, or the PLO in the North? Given the logistical and security nightmare of providing a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, maybe a three-state solution is more practical. There is even a ‘one state’ solution being talked about by the Trump Administration, in the person of Jared Kushner, and an announcement is expected soon.

  • This article was written by Rob Harris. Based in Dannevirke, Rob became interested in Middle East politics in 1967, when he was a junior staff member at the NZ Dairy Board and two colleagues travelling in the region became caught up in the Six Day War.