The Middle East's parade of sorrows

SCMP July 31, 2006

The west is very good at accusing Japan of forgetting unsavoury history. But nothing beats the west for forgetfulness when it comes to the history of the Middle East over the past 100 years.
The latest Lebanon war and various anniversaries this year should be reminders of that past. But the west goes blindly on, trying to fashion the region according to its own interests and prejudices.

The latest example comes from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with her statement that the latest war represents the "birth pangs of a new Middle East". The same was said about the war in Iraq, another graveyard for the west ever since the British were humiliated in the battle at Kut exactly 90 years ago.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt that followed president Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956. For Israel, that war was militarily beneficial, setting back Egypt's power for a decade. For Britain and France it was a diplomatic disaster, making it plain that, even in Europe's Middle East backyard, the US was the arbiter.

It has been so ever since, ensuring that Israeli expansion has continued in the face of innumerable UN resolutions. But never has a US administration been so supportive of Israeli expansionism in the name of "security" than that of President George W. Bush. As for the US media, racial bias is so ingrained that it cannot even be acknowledged. In the process, the US has hastened the transition of opposition to Israel from secular nationalism to a more dangerous religious fundamentalism.

This year is also the 90th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a secret arrangement between Britain and France that aimed to divide the eastern Arab world into spheres of control. The agreement contradicted previous promises of independence made to the Arabs in return for their help against the Turks. A year later, Britain then promised Zionists that one part of the Arab world to come under their control, Palestine, could become "a national home for the Jewish people" - who then constituted about 10 per cent of Palestine's population.

So much for democracy at work. Only Zionist extremists such as Ze'ev Jabotinsky had the honesty to note that the "national home" could only be established by force, in the face of the natural opposition of the majority. For Jabotinsky, Israel was a moral imperative that overrode others' rights.

It was poignant to read at the beginning of the latest war that American Jews were flying into Israel, to offer support and perhaps become permanent migrants. Meanwhile, the Arabs who were born in the then Palestine and became refugees in 1948 remain barred from returning.

And those who remain - now 20 per cent of Israel's population - are a poor and excluded minority. Poignant, too, were the Israeli appeals to the civilian population of southern Lebanon to leave or suffer the consequences of war. This sounded much like what happened in the 1948 exodus of 700,000 Palestinians.

The Israeli attack on the UN observer post was a reminder of previous incidents where Israel has sought to "teach lessons" to neutrals and friends. One such was an attack on the spy ship USS Liberty, during the 1967 war with Egypt, resulting in 34 American deaths. The CIA, National Security Agency and State Department all concluded that this was not a question of mistaken identity. The Israelis knew exactly what they were doing.

None of this should be viewed as an excuse for Arab crimes and incompetence. But any notion of a "new Middle East" must start from the recent history of the old one, and western imperialism's imposition of a still-expanding Jewish state on the region.

As for Israel, it will win all wars - except the last one.




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