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
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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