Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Thoughts on Israel and on colonialism in the Middle East

People who expect some sort of Neo-Nazism from this site in the wake of recent political posts will be sorely disappointed. Where to start? Perhaps with colonialism, then Christianity.

Israel was formed during the twilight of colonialism in the Middle East. During the period it was formed, Britain and France controlled all of the Middle East, and outside of Turkey there was no self determination for the people who actually lived there themselves. Because of the horrors that happened to people who were Jewish during the Holocaust, the governments of England and France, allowed Israel to be formed as part of compensation. But the land wasn't theirs to give. They stood by while Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Israel and made refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Sometimes people claim that a vote that took place in mandate Palestine, controlled by the British, that is hotly contested, gave support to the formation of Israel, but look at it: this was a vote orchestrated by the colonial rulers of the area, who were graciously letting their subjects have a say about whether or not they would like to have another country formed out of their land.

Israel was supported then, and continues to be supported now, because although people who are Jewish were at the bottom of the hierarchy in Europe, they were still closer culturally and religiously to Europeans than Arab Muslims. It should be remembered that at the same time that Israel was formed, segregation still existed in the United States. Racism was alive and well, and people in the Middle East certainly did not escape from it.

The idea that there either was no people in Palestine, that because they didn't have a European style nationalist movement there was no country, or that they were recent immigrants doesn't hold water. Palestine, sometimes denigrated as a name because of its Latin origin, is based on the word "Philistine", that referred to the non-Jewish inhabitants of the region. On that count, the Palestinians are descended from people of the Biblical era. And why exactly should they have needed a movement parallel to that of Zionism to be entitled to continue to possess their land?

In any case, after each of the countries in the Middle East got their independence they made their opinions about Israel perfectly clear: they didn't want it. Overwhelmingly. If Britain and France hadn't been there, Israel would not have been able to have formed.

Israel benefited from being on the edge of the European empires, from being in an area still controlled by them, by people who wanted to make amends for what they had done to them internally in Europe during World War II. But although other compensation is great, it's not possible to just give someone a country, where people are already living on it, unless you already own and possess it. That seriously goes over the line.

Israel has benefited from the relative xenophobia of Europe and the United States, but it's also benefited from the Christian heritage of both. Most of the time the focus on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in Europe is on the negative aspects due to the idea that people who are Jewish killed Jesus, but this ignores another current that, although at times small, has nevertheless been there. Namely, that the entire Old Testament deals with Judaism and people who are Jewish, and takes place in Israel, and that because of this people who are Jewish have a special holy status within the Christian world, even if their non-recognition of Jesus is regretful.

Especially in the United States, this other current is highly significant. From personal experience, and also because of the different history of English Protestant denominations from those on the continent, and Catholicism in general, the Christian Protestant denominations that are largest in the United States have very little anti-semitism built into them. Unlike Germany or other places on the continent where the Lutheran church formed, England had a relatively small Jewish population. Because of this, in the present, the positive recognition of people who are Jewish as being historically important  in relation to Christianity, and Israel itself being similarly holy, predominates in American society. This causes a great deal of support for the state of Israel by devout Christians here in the U.S., who also press for the defense of Israel against Arab Muslims.

Some have associated support of Israel by Evangelical Christians with Christian Zionism, based on a notion that the world is going to end and everyone who is Jewish has to be returned to Israel, but the argument misses the basic point. There's no need for something like Christian Zionism to cause devout Christians to support Israel, because there's the Old Testament, and all of the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses, the Patriarchs, David, and the Prophets, that Evangelical Christians have been growing up on for generations.

I firmly believe that it's a combination of Christianity, western myopia, and the continued prominence of the United States and Europe on the world scene that allows Israel to continue to commit crimes that would be condemned anywhere else with impunity.

If we believe in the right of people's for self determination, and country after country in the Middle East, made up of people self determining themselves, have rejected the presence of Israel, including the people who lived on the land from which it was formed, why are their voices not listened to, and instead dismissed as not important?

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