I think we’ve all been shocked by the recent events in Israel and Palestine. Hamas made a well-coordinated military assault on Israel by both land and air that apparently took the Israeli military completely by surprise. Hundreds of people were killed, prisoners were taken, and the whole region has been thrown into turmoil.
I don’t think any of us in the Fighting Fathers community could celebrate the Hamas’ attack. Civilians have been killed and hostages taken. There’s already been a terrible loss of human life, and I’m no fan of Hamas. I’ve seen firsthand some of the things done, if not by them directly, by their parent organisation, The Muslim Brotherhood. I do not support Hamas and I do not support this kind of violence in any way. Having said that, I equally cannot support the sort of retaliation that is being talked about, both within Israel and by Israel’s supporters around the world – a retaliation that Benjamin Netanyahu has promised “will be remembered for decades to come”.
There is a lot being said about this conflict at the moment, and I appreciate that it can all be a bit confusing. I want to say just two relatively straightforward things that I think need to be said. Then I’ll leave it to you to think it through further as you pray for Israel and for Palestine and for our fragile and fracturing world.
The first thing I want to say is that this eruption of violence coming out of Gaza should not have surprised us. Of course, in its timing and in its military success, it has surprised everybody, but that the Palestinians of Gaza should rise up and fight should not surprise us. Indeed, at one level, this is just another round in a long fight, and this despite the fact that US President Joe Biden refered to the Hamas attack as ‘unprovoked’. That really should have picked him up by the fact-checkers because the attack was certainly not unprovoked. Indeed, this attack is part of an ongoing fight has been being waged for nearly a hundred years, and has already claimed tens of thousands of lives, and displaced millions of people.
It all goes back to1917 when the Brits issued the ‘Balfour Declaration’ – a letter written by then Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, committing the British government to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This led to a massive migration of people into Palestine between 1923 and 1948 – a land where, up to that point, 90% of the population had been Palestinian Arabs.
This influx of immigrants eventually led to the first Arab revolt, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, when it was crushed by a combined army of 20,000 British troops and 15,000 immigrant Jewish settlers. 5,000 Palestinians were killed, and three to four times that many were wounded. These were the early rounds of the fight, taking place while the British still had colonial control of the country.
By 1947, the immigrant Jewish population had grown to comprise a third of the population of Palestine though they only owned about six percent of the land. This led the United Nations to adopted ‘Resolution 181’, calling for the establishment of an official Jewish state, comprising a little less than fifty percent of the land. The Palestinians rejected the plan, of course, because they didn’t want to give away that much land, which included most of the fertile coastal region. In response, the immigrant leaders took matters into their own hands and started a military operation to evict Palestinians from their homes and to take control – an operation that has since been referred to by the Palestinians as ‘al nakba’ (meaning ‘the catastrophe’).
As a result of al nakba, around 15,000 Palestinians were killed, as many as 750,000 were forced out of their homes, and seventy-eight percent of historic Palestine was captured. On May 15, 1948, Israel announced its statehood, and the neighbouring Arab states responded by declaring war on the new state. The first Arab-Israeli war ended six months later with an armistice signed between Israel with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria,
At that point there were still around 150,000 Palestinians living in the new state of Israel, with others living on the West Bank of the Jordan (subsequently known as the ‘West Bank’) and in Gaza, but things degenerated further after the war of 1967, where Israel again fought against all its Arab neighbours. After decisively winning, Israel took control of areas in both Lebanon and Syria, along with the Palestinian settlements. This was, formally, the start of the military occupation of Palestine.
Since 1967, the violence has, for the most part, been less overt. What we’ve seen over those years, and continue to see, is a process whereby the Israeli government builds settlements of Jewish-only communities in the West Bank, often evicting Palestinian families from their homes to make way for their new residents. This process has been unrelenting, despite repeated international appeals to halt these developments.
Of course, the Palestinians have not just quietly acquiesced to the theft of their land and the loss of their homes. There have been ongoing, endless, peaceful protests, as well as multiple violent attacks on military and civilian targets. There have also been two major ‘intifada’ (‘uprisings’) – the first going from 1987 to 1993 and the second (far bloodier) uprising going from 2000 to 2005.
Since the suppression of the second Intifada, we’ve seen Israel build an enormous wall around the Palestinian areas in the West Bank that has been successful in reducing terrorist attacks in Israel, though at enormous cost to the Palestinians living inside those walled-off areas, and in 2007 the Israelis (with the help of Egypt) completely sealed off Gaza from the rest of the world – walling the people of Gaza into what has been described as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’. Israel has complete control over who and what comes in and out of Gaza, which has allowed them now to cut off all fuel supplies, electricity, food and water.
This is obviously a very superficial history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and if you read the official statement by Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas, you’ll find that he lists a whole series of other grievances that he believes justify the recent military assault. As well as the settlements and the Gaza blockade, Haniyeh speaks of the 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, and the recent actions of Jewish settlers ‘defiling’ the Al-Aqsa Mosque – an action that was bound to mobilise Palestinian Muslims against the Israeli government.
Now, as I say, I don’t like Hamas and I don’t like Ismail Haniyeh, and I’m not suggesting that any of these actions or the terrible history of pain between Israel and the Palestinian people justifies this latest surge in violence. Even so, I am saying that this attack was not ‘unprovoked’. It’s another round in a long history of violence.
That is the first thing I want to say – that this is just another round in a long fight. The second very important thing that needs to be said is that this is not just another round in this long fight, in that sense that there are some very unique aspects to this latest round of violence that should be of particular concern to all of us.
One unique aspect to this latest round of violence, of course, is that it’s the first time in a long time that anyone representing Palestine has had any real military success, which is why many Palestinians will inevitably see this as a cause for celebration. More concerning though, from my perspective, is the timing of this assault in terms of current regional and global power dynamics, as I believe this conflict has the potential to escalate rapidly, and could engulf the whole world.
Hamas have called on al Muslims around the world to support this latest Palestinian military operation, and this call is well-timed. Despite the fact that opposition to the Palestinian Occupation is almost an article of faith for Muslim people worldwide, in recent months we’ve seen a series of Middle-Eastern countries normalise relations with Israel. Both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have done this, and pressure has been put on Saudi Arabia by the US to follow suit. Interestingly, I read only today that the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, (known as ‘MBS’) has publicly expressed his support for Palestine, which more or less scuttles any prospect of the Saudis normalising relations with Israel. This is a major political win for Hamas and for Palestine, and I suspect that it may have been one of Hamas’ key strategic goals in launching their military assault when they did.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is not likely to be alone in the Arab world in showing support for Palestine in this uprising. Indeed, Lebanon-based Hezbollah has already fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms in support of the uprising, which is particularly significant, I think, because Hezbollah is a Shia organisation that normally would have nothing to do with Hamas, who, as I say, are a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. These two do not normally get on, despite having a common enemy, yet it may be that a ‘3rd Intifada’ could see the two working together.
What will Syria do, I wonder? If they were in a better state, militarily, I suspect that Syria might take this opportunity to retake the Golan Heights, which is sovereign Syrian territory, occupied by Israel ever since the war of 1967. There has never been a peace treaty signed between Israel and Syria since that time, and Israel has indeed been bombing Syria continuously over the last ten years, so there will be little sympathy for Israel coming from Syria at the moment, nor, I expect, will there be from many of Israel’s Arab neighbours. The question is, if some of those Arab neighbours do get militarily involved in this struggle on behalf of Palestine, would this draw the big international players further into the conflict, initiating a third world war?
Certainly, the rhetoric of the some of America’s political leaders suggests that they are more than ready for a global ocnflict. Current US Presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, said, “The fanatic Hamas terrorist group must be destroyed. But Hamas is only a small symptom of a larger disease… Iran, Russia, and China are in league together, attacking Americans, American allies, and American values. This is a battle between the civilized world and barbarians. America must stand up for our citizens, our values, and our friends.”
I did hear via a Jewish friend in Israel that evangelical Christians there were saying to her, “Don’t worry. This is just the beginning of Armageddon.” If they are referring to prophecies of the end times, I think they give us every reason to be worried. Moreover, a global conflagration that could potentially kill millions and millions of people is in no way something that any sane person should support.
We are not there yet, and we don’t have to get there, but the way to pull back from this potential Armageddon is not by further escalating the violence. The way forward, and the only way forward in my view, is for Israel to accept what the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) has been calling for since 2005. Namely:
- An end to the military occupation of Palestine
- Equal rights for Arabs in Israel
- The right of return for Palestinian refugees.
You’ll notice that this list, which has been agreed to by representatives of every section of Palestinian society, doesn’t even mention an independent Palestinian state. These goals are not impossible to achieve. We can do this. We should do this. For the sake of Israel and Palestine, and for the sake of all humanity, we need to do this.
Pray with me, please. Pray that peace will come, and come quickly, but pray that with peace comes justice – the only thing that can make for lasting peace – a justice that entails the end of the Occupation, equal rights for all, and the right of return.
May the blessing of God Almighty – Father, son and Holy Spirit – be amongst us and remain with us always. Amen.
Father Dave – 13th October 2023