Spain, Ireland, and Norway Rewarding Terrorism

Culture - June 1, 2024

The Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 was a terrible event, a real catastrophe, almost unbelievable. The terrorists raped women and killed babies. They murdered 1,200 people in total, more Jews than have been killed in any single day since the Holocaust, and took more than 250 hostages. Unlike the Nazis, the Hamas terrorists did not try to conceal their wickedness. Instead, they insolently displayed footage of their hideous crimes online. Another difference was that in war the Nazis mostly did not try to hide behind civilians, whereas the Hamas terrorists use both the hostages and their own people as human shields. It is thought that 125 hostages remain in captivity somewhere in Gaza.

Three Different and Mutually Hostile Populations

It was surprising, indeed shocking, that the governments of Spain, Ireland, and Norway decided on 28 May 2024 formally to recognise a Palestinian state without at least making it a precondition that Hamas would release the remaining hostages. Moreover, the question is what this declaration means. Under international law, a state should have 1) a permanent population; 2) a defined territory; 3) a government; and 4) the capacity to enter into relations with other states. There is no such thing as the Palestinian state. The Arabs in the former British Mandate under that name (1922–1948) are divided into three mutually hostile groups: 1) The Arabs in Israel are around 20 per cent of the population and enjoy full rights in a liberal democracy, including representation in the Knesset. 2) The Arabs on the West Bank have some self-government, but they live in a territory occupied by other states, first by Jordan in 1948–1967, since then by Israel. They are at present governed by Fatah, notorious for its inefficiency and corruption. 3) The Arabs in Gaza live in a territory long occupied by other states, first by Egypt in 1948–1967, then until 2005 by Israel, when she withdrew unilaterally. Soon after that Hamas took power. They are bitterly opposed to Fatah whose members and supporters in Gaza they abducted, tortured and killed in droves after the Israeli withdrawal.

There is no one distinct and permanent population which can be called the Palestinian nation. ‘Palestine’ is just one of many names given to the region comprising Israel, the West Bank under Fatah and Gaza under Hamas. In this region, Jews were in a majority until the third century AD. After repeated rebellions against the Roman Empire most of them were killed or expelled, although some remained in the country, possibly 10–20 per cent of the population. Christians were in a majority when the region was under the control of the Byzantine Empire, but in 637 it was conquered by the Muslims. Most of the population subsequently converted to Islam and adopted Arabic. The Ottoman Empire ruled the region from 1516 until 1917 when the British occupied it. Jewish immigration started in late nineteenth century as a result of persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire and elsewhere, and then because of Zionism, the proposition that the Jews were a nation that needed a homeland, and a state. Immigration increased in the years between the two world wars when the countries of the world could, in Chaim Weizmann’s famous words, be divided into those who wanted to expel Jews and those that did not want to admit them.

Wounds Not Allowed to Heal

At the end of the Second World War, about two thirds of the population in the British Mandate were Arabs while one third were Jews. The United Nations Assembly in 1947 proposed the division of the region between the two groups. The Jewish leaders accepted the proposal, but the governments of the Arab states vehemently rejected it. (The Arabs living in the British Mandate had no say in the matter.) When the state of Israel was founded in May 1948, the Arab countries immediately attacked. As a consequence, about 700,000 Arabs fled from Israel, believing in an imminent Arab victory, whereas Jews in the Arab countries fled, or emigrated, over a somewhat longer period, 600,000 of them to Israel, 300,000 of them to other countries. Israel, against all odds, defeated the joint Arab forces in 1948, although the West Bank was subsequently occupied by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt. The Jewish refugees to Israel were integrated into the society, whereas the Arab countries refused to grant citizenship to Arab refugees from Israel, and kept them instead in special camps for decades.

The twentieth century has seen many mass expulsions or ‘population transfers’: In 1923, 1.6 million Greeks fled from Turkey to Greece after the Greek-Turkish War, while 400,000 Muslims fled from Greece to Turkey. Most of these people had lived for generations in their countries of birth. In 1940, 400,000 Finns fled to Finland from territories which the Soviet Union seized in a war against Finland. In 1945, no less than ten million Germans (or German-speaking people) were expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other central European countries. It was a silent but real miracle that they were integrated relatively peacefully into the German Federal Republic. In 1947, the partition of British India into India and Pakistan was followed by the transfer of perhaps sixteen million people between the two new states, while at least one million lost their lives in the ensuing violence. It was an incredible bloodbath. In 1962 about a million French-speaking Algerians fled to France after they had been told that they could either leave with a bag or in a bag. In all these tragic cases, however, the refugees had a country willing to accept them: Greece or Turkey, Finland, Germany, India or Pakistan, and France. Slowly, the wounds were allowed to heal. Gradually, the survivors could resume a normal life. There was one exception: the Arabs who in 1948 fled from the British Mandate of Palestine after the foundation of the state of Israel were nowhere welcomed. Thus, the identity of the Palestinians was shaped by the refusal of the Arab countries to integrate them into their societies and to recognise them as fellow Arabs. So much for brotherhood in the Arab world.

Are the Palestinians a Nation?

There is no doubt that the Jews are a nation. They share a language, Hebrew, a religion, Judaism, and a long and rich cultural heritage although they were scattered around the world from the time of the Jewish rebellions brutally suppressed by the Roman Empire until the foundation of Israel. Moreover, this is a nation which has made an enormous contribution to world civilisation, not least in the arts and sciences: More than 200 Jews have received Nobel prizes. While Jews are about 0.2 per cent of the world’s population, they are about 20 per cent of the prize recipients. By contrast, four Arabic-speaking Muslims (including Egyptians who are generally not considered Arabs) have received Nobel prizes, one in literature and three in science, two of whom lived in the United States and one in England. In addition, several Arabic speakers have received the Nobel Peace Prize, sometimes for promising not to kill any more Jews. But are the Palestinians a nation? It is true that they all speak the same language, Arabic, and are of the same religion, Islam, and that they all come from the same territory, the British Mandate of Palestine. But they do not share the same history or most importantly, the will to be one nation, as they are divided into three mutually hostile groups. It is therefore less than plausible to regard them as a nation.

Two Sweet-Sounding but Bad Ideas

Two ideas about resolving the conflict in the Middle East sound good and are endlessly repeated by crowd-pleasers and professional do-gooders. One idea is about an immediate ceasefire in order to save civilian lives. But the goal must be to destroy Hamas, just as the goal in the Second World War was to destroy Nazism. It did not occur to anyone in early 1945 that the Allied should agree to a ceasefire with the Nazis in order to save civilian German lives if it meant allowing Hitler to govern a part of Germany from his Berlin Bunker. The war had to be finished. There are civilian casualties in all wars, but the reason why they are so tragically many in the Gaza war is because Hamas use ordinary citizens as human shields. It is terrible, really heartbreaking, to see helpless women and children, and also of course innocent men, being injured or killed in Gaza. But it is Hamas who are to blame. They are the cowards hiding behind civilians. The Israeli Defence Force has to finish its task, and it was not made any easier by the declarations on 28 May from the governments of Spain, Ireland, and Norway.

The second idea is a two-state solution, something similar to the one the Arab states rejected in 1947. Again, it sounds good. But in the present circumstances it is unrealistic. No state can accept a neighbouring state from which raids and rockets can be expected all the time. Hamas do not hide the fact that they refuse to recognise the right of Israel to exist. It is instructive, but also chilling, that they held a conference in 2021 about what to do after the disappearance of Israel and ‘the full liberation of Palestine from the sea to the river’. Those Jews who dared to resist were to be killed. Some other Jews would be allowed to leave or to remain as citizens of the new Palestinian state. Those Jews who were ‘experts in the areas of medicine, engineering, technology, and civilian and military industry’ would not however be allowed to leave because the new state had to draw on their expertise. The conference also recommended that lists should be compiled of ‘the agents of the occupation in Palestina, in the region, and the world’ so that Palestine and other places could be purged ‘of this hypocrite scum’. Is this the Palestinian state that the governments of Spain, Ireland, and Norway are recognising? Of course not in theory, but most likely in practice, if Israel is not allowed to win the Gaza war.

The Only Realistic Solutions

The only two realistic solutions of the conflict in Gaza and the West Bank are, first, that the Arab states accept Arab refugees from those two territories and integrate them into their societies and, second, that those who remain can live in self-governing units, a bit like Swiss cantons, within Israel which would however retain sovereignty over the region as a whole.