Home Social Justice Column: A Letter Regarding the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Column: A Letter Regarding the Israel/Palestine Conflict

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On his deathbed the brilliant philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell used his last moments to pen a statement about the Israel/Palestine conflict. What follows is a complete reproduction of that letter, which is dated Jan. 31, 1970.

“The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to resist. This is the lesson of all aerial bombardment.

The Vietnamese who have endured years of American heavy bombing have responded not by capitulation but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940 my own fellow countrymen resisted Hitler’s bombing raids with unprecedented unity and determination. For this reason, the present Israeli attacks will fail in their essential purpose, but at the same time they must be condemned vigorously throughout the world.

The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested “negotiations,” This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.

The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral millstone around the neck of world Jewry.” Many of the refugees are now well into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements. The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their numbers have increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.

We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number of refugees to misery; not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to military rule; but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging from colonial status, to continued impoverishment as military demands take precedence over national development.

All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East.”

That was 42 years ago.

Whereas Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace. And in response to Israel’s recent truce-violating attack on Gaza, President Obama said Israel had the “right to defend itself” and that “No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” But since Israel broke the ceasefire (as usual), this puts Palestinians in the defensive position (as usual).

The Obama administration has a history of tacitly supporting Israel’s war crimes. In the midst of unprecedented financial woes, President Obama has requested a record-breaking $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel for 2013. The president publicly professes that Israel should halt its settlement expansion, but then he showers Israel with military assistance which it uses to enforce settlement expansion – settlements which are illegal under international law, and which the United Nations Security Council, United Nations General Assembly and International Committee of the Red Cross all agree violate the Geneva Conventions.

If we ignore President Obama’s words and examine his actions, we find him supporting Israel’s illegal seizure of Palestinian land. In early 2011, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., acting on behalf of the Obama administration, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement expansion, even though 122 other nations supported it.

President Obama also blocked the Palestinian bid for statehood through the U.N. Security Council last year despite the fact that a majority of Americans, a majority of Israeli Jews and a majority of the world’s people would all support the creation of a Palestinian state, according to several trustworthy polls,

The Obama administration demands an end to Palestinian violence, but it doesn’t demand an end to Israeli violence. The Obama administration demands that Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist, but it doesn’t demand that Israel recognize Palestine’s right to exist.

True, both sides are guilty of hideous violence; but only one of those sides is being forced to live in a veritable concentration camp where people’s lives are largely dictated by the Israel Defense Forces. If the prisoners of a Nazi death camp threw grenades over the electrified fence and killed German civilians, we couldn’t condone the violence, but neither could we condemn it.

The Palestinian resistance is accused of being militant and extremist; but the Palestinians don’t bulldoze Israeli homes; the Palestinians don’t deprive Israelis of potable water; the Palestinians don’t impose crippling economic sanctions on Israel; the Palestinians don’t impose naval blockades that prevent Israel from receiving humanitarian aid; the Palestinians don’t impose dehumanizing checkpoints that Israelis must pass through every day.  Given Israel’s relentless aggression, they should be considered the militant extremists.

If the Israeli government is genuinely concerned about its people’s safety, then it should immediately halt settlement expansion, withdraw to pre-1967 borders, and pledge its support for a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital; basically, comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

Israel’s current program eerily echoes the Nazi policy of Lebensraum (living space). History teaches that such behavior should be stopped immediately, no matter who the aggressor is.

If we adopt the principle that you don’t rightfully own what you’ve stolen, then Israel doesn’t have the right to negotiate over land it stole from Palestinians. It can only give it back.

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