Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1

 Dr Derek Hudson Anvil Wednesday Sept 3rd 2014

Two themes

This paper explores two themes:

(a) firstly, while the absolute need for Israel to defend itself is acknowledged, the extent to which Israel persecutes the Palestinians is grossly disproportionate and goes far beyond Israel’s security needs.

(b) secondly, the present impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians appears to be intractable. Could a two state solution ever work?

My style

I use the words, “Historical Palestine” (HP) or “The Holy Land” to refer to the space in the Middle East

                between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, and

                the lands south of Lebanon and north of Egypt. as opposed to the steadily shrinking ‘country’ called Palestine.

I use the phrase ‘mainland Israel’ to refer to the area demarcated for Israel by the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan.

Today, Palestine consists of the Gaza Strip, a kind of Swiss cheese version of East Jerusalem and the West Bank which includes 140 illegal Jewish settlements containing 500,000 Jewish settlers, plus a number of roads in the West Bank which are reserved for Israeli cars only. The newly constructed separation wall between mainland Israel and the West Bank has further reduced the parts of Palestine which are available for the use of the Palestinians.

I prefer to say ‘anti-Jewish’, rather than ‘anti-semitic’, since the Arabs are also Semites.

After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, two countervailing streams of refugees were created:

(a) I follow the international convention that the term “Palestinian refugees” includes both the Palestinians who were displaced inside Historical Palestine (HP), and those Palestinians who fled to Arab states, particularly Jordan but including Palestinians in Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, etc. The total comes to about 800,000 Palestinian refugees.

Similarly, the 800,000 “Jewish Refugees” from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, etcetera, who came to Israel, include both a minority of refugees in the normal sense of Jews living in Moslem countries who were harassed in their homeland, plus those Jews who left those countries voluntarily (the majority) because they were keen supporters of the Jewish homeland-in-Israel idea.

I d not like to say that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a kind of apartheid. If I were to describe South Africa’s apartheid system by means of a list of 20 key laws, I would find that the situation in the Holy Land might bear some similarity to only half of those key laws. The fact that Israel’s Palestinians can vote in Israeli elections is one of the key examples which shows that the use of the word ‘apartheid’ is technically an exaggeration.


In the beginning

Today’s quarrel by two peoples over a piece of land the same size as Wales may be said to have had its origin when Sarah, the wife of Abraham, burst out laughing[1]. Someone had told her that, at the age of 90, she was about to bear a son. This was several years after she had given up the idea of ever having children and had sanctioned an arrangement whereby Abraham and his ‘hand maiden’ Hagar had produced a son, Ishmael. Sarah then went on to produce her own son, Isaac.

So Ishmael, the traditional originator of the Arabs (with some help from unnamed females), and Isaac (similarly assisted), the traditional originator of the Jews, were half brothers. Loosely speaking, Jews and Arabs are nowadays distant cousins. They certainly look similar. When I went to Israel on holiday, I could not tell who was who if they were wearing plain clothing.

For thousands of years, the Arabs and the Jews occupied HP, between the River Jordan and the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, with the two groups of people living harmoniously together. The task of living together had however been made more difficult by various foreigners taking it in turn to govern all or part of HP. These foreigners include:-



Byzantine Christians

The two British mandates, firstly under the League of Nations and secondly the United                 Nations

The Canaanites

The Crusaders





Ottomans (Turks)


From 1890 until 1918, HP was part of the (Moslem) Ottoman empire with its headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey.


Britain’s strategic interest in Historical Palestine

In the 20th century, Britain was keen to protect its interests in HP, for the following reasons:-

                in order to safeguard the passage of British ships through the Suez canal,

                in order to safeguard Britain’s oil supplies coming from the Middle East[2],

                to make sure that the Arabs fought on the British, and not the German, side during the first       World War, and
more generally to hold onto, promote or even expand, Britain’s sphere of influence in the          Middle East.

Britain did make some improvements in HP when it was in charge, such as supporting the local education system,  introducing a currency and a postage system; but Britain generally didn’t devote much attention to the  development of the people living in HP. 

Britain lobbied hard to be given a “Mandate” to govern HP by the League of Nations. This was a convenient way to safeguard British interests without running foul of the anti colonial views of President Wood row Wilson[3] of the USA. 

The birth of Zionism

In 1897, a wealthy gentleman Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, convened an international conference of Jews in Basel, Switzerland to discuss the following issue.

He said that throughout history, Jews had been harassed or persecuted in whatever country they were living in. From time to time, promises had been made that Jews would be fully protected and treated as full citizens, but these promises had generally proved to be short lived. Non-Jews should not to be trusted when they make promises of good behaviour towards the Jews in their midst. Therefore, a Jewish homeland inside HP made a lot of sense to him; the ancient historical Jewish links with Judea and Samaria in the bible were also a factor.

Herzl was not the very first Jew to suggest that a Jewish homeland should be set up in HP, but he gave the idea a massive ‘push’.

There were a few uninformed Jews who thought that Palestine was uninhabited. There were a few other Jews who knew that Palestine contained ‘some’ Arabs but didn’t consider that to be an important factor. The larger third group of better informed Jews said that they genuinely believed that it would be possible for Jews and Palestinians to live harmoniously together in HP, which they called ‘Eretz Israel’, the Hebrew name for HP. 

Both Herzl and his successor as Zionist leader, the British industrial chemist, Chaim Weizmann, stated publicly that if the Jews could return to HP, it would be their intention to live peaceably with the Palestinians. Some Palestinians are today not sure that they should take these assertions at face value, but that is what was said at the time.

During the first world war, the Ottoman empire, based in Istanbul, controlled a broad swathe of Arab countries including Palestine. The Ottomans joined the Axis powers in fighting Britain and the other Allies.
Half way through this war, Britain had secret discussions with France. The two countries agreed that, if the Allies won the war, the Ottoman empire would be split up as follows:


(a) Turkey would be allowed to become an independent country;

(b) France would be ‘given’ Lebanon and Syria, which would then fall within the French sphere of influence;

(c) Britain would be ‘given’ a broad swathe of southern Arab countries, from Egypt through the Persian Gulf (including Kuwait) and on to Iraq, which would then fall within the British sphere of influence; and

(d) Palestine would be under joint British and French control.

Subsequently, however, the British had second thoughts about part (d) of this agreement. By dint of successful diplomacy, Britain managed to manoeuvre France out of the picture as far as Palestine was concerned. As a result, first the Allies’ peace conference in 1920, and subsequently the League of Nations in 1923, awarded Britain the sole Mandate to govern Palestine as a trustee.

As a result of Zionist lobbying skills, and after several months of draft of memos passing backwards and forwards between senior civil servants in the Foreign office and the British cabinet, the British foreign secretary, Lord Walter Balfour issued the (in)famous Balfour declaration in 1917:

                “His majesty’s government view with favour the establishment of a national home for the          Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this                 object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil       and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status            enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.[4]

In hindsight, this statement of principle by Britain could be said to be noteworthy on account of three omissions:

Firstly, there was no specific mention of the Palestinians, whose interests were thereby prejudiced.

Secondly, there was no mention of any sanction if any future Jewish government in HP did not comply with the condition that the rights of the Palestinians should be respected. This condition subsequently became more of a pious hope than an enforceable condition.

Thirdly, the memo was silent on the question, which one might consider to be ‘the elephant in the room’, namely that Britain in its capacity as the Mandatory Power, was planning to exercise its right to control the rate of Jewish immigration to HP.

During the first World War, Britain carried out a correspondence with Sharif Husayn, the guardian of Mecca and Medina. Husayn was the key as to whether Saudi Arabia would join the Allies or the Axis powers during the war. Britain strongly suggested to Husayn that if the Arabs did not join the Axis powers, and if instead Husayn helped Britain to defeat the Ottoman empire during the war, and if the Axis powers were defeated with his help, then Britain would add Palestine to the territory already controlled by Husayn.[5]

Britain’s suspected insincerity over this idea was subsequently confirmed when a relevant secret British memorandum was disclosed. A senior British civil servant, Henry MacMahon, wrote a secret memo to the British Cabinet, as follows:


                “What we have to arrive at now is to tempt the Arab people into the right path, detach them     from the enemy (meaning the Ottoman empire), and bring them onto our side. This on our           part is at present largely a matter of words, and to succeed we must use persuasive terms.”

During World War 2, discussions about the future of HP continued in Britain. The British government entered into secret negotiations with the next generation of British Zionist leaders, including both Lord Walter Rothschild and the industrial chemist, Chaim Weizmann. At a critical moment in the run up to world war 2, Weizmann had gained considerable influence in British political circles, partly because of his own lobbying skill and partly because he had invented a new, cheaper method of making cordite, and had donated the patent for his invention to the British military establishment. 

At the same time, Britain carried on another set of correspondence with various Arab leaders, in which various promises about Palestine were made to them.

 A prominent Australian historian recently wrote, that at the end of World War 2

                “Britain had agreed to a confusing array of promises and declarations.”[6]

The various British statements had all been carefully worded,  but ended up by being sufficiently vague so that they could be interpreted differently by the various interested parties.

After world war 2, Britain was careful to govern Palestine under the second Mandate in such a way as to give prominence to its supposed role as a disinterested mandatory power, and supposedly not as a colonial power.[7]  However, the only practical difference between the way that Britain ruled Palestine and her other colonies was that the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem was not supported by a locally elected legislative council.[8]

This tactic gave the British Governor some temporary breathing room because there was no forum at which he would have to mediate between conflicting claims by Jew and Palestinians about the rate of Jewish immigration to HP. The High Commissioner was instead supported by a council of mostly retired British army officers.

Later this support was added to by the creation of a Jewish Agency, in accordance with the terms of the Mandate, to help the Governor to understand the view point of Jews in HP. This was such a blatantly one sided move that some Palestinians believe that Britain had secretly allowed British Zionists to make suggestions to Britain as to how the terms of reference of the Mandate agreement with the United Nations had been worded.

After the second World War

After WW 2, Britain gradually became less and less enthusiastic about being the mandatory power, tasked with governing HP. The job of trying to govern HP, while at the same time having to keep the peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, was becoming more and more onerous. This job was not helped by the British being shot at by extremists on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side. The worst outbreak of this kind occurred in 1946, when the Irgun group of Jewish extremists set out to kill British civil servants who had their offices in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. They detonated a powerful bomb in the basement of the hotel. A number of British officers were killed, but so were a number of Jews plus a larger number of Palestinians.[9]

Britain then started to think of the desirability of handing the task of governing HP back to the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, which had originally awarded Britain the mandate over HP.

A sequence of draft plans was sketched out at the United Nations. The aim was to divide up HP into three parts, with the two Israeli and Palestinian portions not necessarily being proportionate in size to the relative number of inhabitant, and with Jerusalem as an international enclave. Successive drafts gave bigger and bigger shares of HP to the proposed new state of Israel, in spite of the fact that the Jews in HP were in the minority:

(a) part[10] would be given to the Jews to govern, although it was understood that a substantial minority of Palestinians would remain in any newly created state of Israel.[11]

(b) part would be given to the Palestinians, but there was general agreement that this would have to be split into two disconnected parts, namely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(c) the city of Jerusalem would become an international enclave, ruled over jointly by some combination of Israel, Palestine and the United Nations.

Each time such a plan was published, the Palestinians rejected the entire principle of ‘their’ land being divided up in this way. This entirely logical attitude ended up costing the Palestinians dearly.[12]

When the matter was brought to a head at the United Nations in 1948, the Israelis were assisted by a temporary whim of Joseph Stalin, the President of the Soviet Union, who had up until then had been violently anti-Jewish.[13] At the last minute, he suddenly decided that Russia should support Israel’s quest for statehood. He did this crucial U-turn because he thought that anything that would reduce Britain’s sphere of interest in the Middle East would be good for Russia. Stalin then instructed Andrei Gromyoko, the Russian foreign minister, to round up all the countries in the communist block at the UN and get them all to vote in favour of Israel, as a group. 

The end result was that the United Nations voted in 1948 to accept the UN’s 1947 partition plan and statehood for Israel, including full membership of the UN. When the Palestinians unanimously rejected the whole idea of partition, the Palestinians had to be satisfied with the lesser status of a ‘territory’ with only observer status at the UN. 

The newly created Israel’s struggle for its existence
There had been some Palestinian attacks on the soon-to-be-declared state of Israel from mid-1947 onwards. But immediately after Israel declared its independence as a new state, it was attacked by the combined might of Palestine plus its Arab neighbours. The new state of Israel, fighting for its very existence, won what was a very bloody but successful battle, with the exception that Israel did not contest the West Bank. That was conceded to Jordan, by mutual agreement.

The Israeli army was better led and better equipped.[14] The Arab armies tended to fight as independent military units and had difficulty fighting as a co-ordinated force.

By contrast, the Palestinian ‘army’ was made up of separate fighting groups, with only a modest  chain of command. When the Palestinian resistance groups were joined by troops from other Arab countries, there was only a modest amount of co-operation between them. The combined Arab fighting force had practically no military intelligence about the disposition of the Israeli forces. 

There was no single spokesman to put the Arab point of view across to the Western world. Any Arab leader who was interviewed tended to make flamboyant statements about the military objectives of the Arab forces in Palestine.

After Israel’s War of Independence

Ever since then, there has been a deep distrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians.[15] The Israelis, while insisting on their right to defend themselves, have gradually become more and more aggressive towards the Palestinians. Israel’s bullying tactics have included:

                The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are occupied by the forces of the Israeli Defence          Force (IDF) on a continuous      basis, 24 hours per day. Palestinian men (and some women)      are routinely detained without charge or trial under the Israeli rules of ‘Administrative                 Detention’. One Palestinian has estimated that one quarter of Palestinian men have been         imprisoned through this process. Some detainees have been kept in prison for several years.    The Geneva Convention states that “collective punishment”, whereby large numbers of              civilians are imprisoned, tortured or killed  in retaliation for an enemy attack, are outlawed.                 While both the Israelis and the Palestinians have been guilty of collective punishment, the                 scale on which the Israelis practise this technique is devastating. For example, when three         young Israeli men were kidnapped in the West bank June 2014, the Israelis killed several   young Palestinian men and put more than 570 Palestinians into ‘preventive detention”, on top of the large number of un-convicted Palestinians already held in Israeli prisons. The                 Israelis also demolished some empty house        owned by a Palestinian living abroad.
Any rock throwing child is likely to be detained under similar rules, the youngest such    arrested child was 5 years old. The IDF says that this kind of ‘provocation’ entitles to fire at    the stone throwers, sometimes with live ammunition;

                Israel claims that the very harsh, sometimes terrifying, treatment of Palestinian detainees,         often with the         aim of extracting a confession from a detainee,  does not amount to torture;

                Palestinian houses in the West Bank which contain children suspected of throwing stones are    likely to be raided in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers so that the soldiers may          ‘map’ the bed any suspect child is sleeping in;

                The establishment of around 140 Jewish settlements[16] in the West Bank, with a population of   around 500,000 Jews[17]; these roads are linked with mainland Israel by roads which are for           the exclusive use of Israeli licensed vehicles;

                the desecration of mosques by Israeli settlers;

                the gradual extension of Jewish suburbs in east Jerusalem, together with their own security                 arrangements;

                talk by Benjamin Netanyahu about defining Israel to be a ‘Jewish state’ would reduce the            status of the 20% part of Israel’s population which consists of Israeli Arabs;  

                the construction of a separation wall between the Israeli ‘mainland’ and the West Bank. This      has reduced the number of attacks on Israelis by Palestinian terrorists; but at considerable    inconvenience, and some loss of land and olive trees to the Palestinians; the actual location    of the wall meant that the Israeli mainland was expanded by a small land         grab;

                the establishment of numerous Israeli checkpoints[18] on the roads that the Palestinians are         allowed to use in the West Bank; these road blocks give rise to frequent detours and delays             when Palestinians are trying to get from A to B in the West Bank;

                recent discussions in the Israeli Knesset[19] about establishing an Israeli garrison in the Jordan       Valley; some Palestinians believe that Israel intends to occupy the Jordan Valley by stealth;

                the intense difficulty that Palestinians experience if they ask for a permit to drive between         the West Bank and Gaza[20];

                the Israeli rule that Jews living outside Israel are allowed to ‘return’ to Israel as immigrants           and be given instant Israeli citizenship; whereas any Palestinian who had been living in             Israel before the War of Independence, and had then moved away from his or her home              during   or after the war, is not allowed to return to his or her original home;

                the bulldozing of thousands of Arab homes;

                the destruction of Arab and Bedouin villages[21]     

                the appropriation of parts of Palestinian farms into Israel, including olive groves;

                Israel has set up a panoply of harsh laws and regulations which apply to Palestinians only;

                Israel’s use of unmanned drones[22] to fire on unarmed Palestinians, which might have been        intended for military targets but inevitably killed large numbers of unarmed civilians;

                the tendency of Israeli soldiers to shoot to kill (or wound at point blank range) when they are    confronted by Palestinian protesters, including shooting some stone throwing children         protesters in the back while they were trying to run away from Israeli soldiers;

                the threat that Israel can attack any part of Palestine at any time, as exemplified by the                invasion of Gaza in 2008/2009 and by an earlier Israeli attempt to assassinate Arafat;

                the grabbing of a large share of the scarce water resources of HP; the water level at some           parts of the Jordan river has been reduced to a trickle;

                the control of Palestinian air space, and the destruction[23] of Gaza’s newly built international airport;

                trawlers from Gaza are only given a very small sea space, 3 to 6 miles offshore, in which to           fish; the area is rapidly becoming fished out; Israeli marine patrols turn back any Gazan             trawler that tries to fish further out to sea, where there are plenty of fish;

                control over who may enter or leave Palestine; this includes the right not to tell                Palestinians living abroad in advance, whether they will be allowed back into Palestine, if they arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv and then ask to be allowed to visit their home   village; American and other foreign Arabs are frequently denied visas to enter Israel and the   West Bank;

                control over which Palestinian students who have been awarded scholarships for study at           overseas universities, will be allowed to actually take up their overseas study;[24] 

                the general control of the quantity of medicines, cement, fuel and other essential imports,         below what the Palestinian population needs; this problem is worse for Gaza than the West                Bank;

                Palestinians who need specialist medical attention at Israeli hospitals may or may not be              allowed into Israel on any particular day; [25]    if they are allowed into Israel for medical              purposes, they may be harassed when they try to return to their homes in Palestine;

                the tight control over the number of Palestinians who have Israeli work permits and who are     actually allowed to enter Israel to work on any particular day[26];

                the publicly expressed negative attitude of Israel towards the wishes of the Palestinians to be allowed to worship peacefully at the Dome of the Rock in east Jerusalem, as they have done            for centuries;

                in mixed areas, Palestinian children have to be routinely accompanied by             Quaker and other                 volunteers as they walk to primary school, so as to ensure their safety; the children and their     accompaniers have to run fast if an Israeli throws a tear gas grenade at them;

                to this day, Israel continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid from              the USA each year; the Palestinians do get generous financial assistance for their         development and security but do not qualify for American military assistance.

With the exception of the construction of the separation wall, and possibly the check points in the West Bank, it is difficult to see how these bullying tactics help Israel’s security in any substantial way.

On a more positive note, the USA has been the main sponsor of the United Nations “UN Works and Relief Authority” (UNWRA) which has supplied much needed support to Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. The US also supplies large quantities of aid to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Areas of aid include education, health, water supplies and security. The US does not supply any aid to Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation.

The many threats to the continued existence of all or part of Israel

Israel obviously has the right to protect its continued existence. Apart from the War of Independence itself, Israel has found that it has to maintain a permanent state of readiness against enemy attacks. As a result, Israel spends a very large proportion of its government budget on the Israeli Defence Force and on its intelligence efforts. This includes the cost of three years of military service for most young Jewish men, and two years for nearly all young Jewish women.

In 1967, after much provocation, Israel initiated an attack on Egypt to the south of Israel and the Golan Heights in the north east. Israel gained control of the West Bank, which had been under Jordanian control since the War of Independence; of the Gaza Strip, which had been under Egypt’s control; and of Syria’s Golan Heights. These conquests massively expanded the amount of land under Israeli control. Israel demonstrated that, soldier for soldier, Israel has one of the best equipped, best motivated, best informed and best led armies in the world.[27]

Subsequently, Hamas, the party in power in Gaza, has continued to attack Israel with rockets on a regular basis. It is likely that Hamas has sometimes deliberately launched its rockets (using mobile rocket launchers) from densely populated parts of Gaza, so that the nearby civilian population is effectively used as a human shield against Israeli retaliation.[28]

The rocket attacks by Hamas (or by its substitute, Islamic Jihad) have been and continue to be very serious. As much as 1/8th of the population of Israel has been badly affected by these attacks, and several deaths and injuries to Israelis have resulted.  It is not surprising that Israel feels threatened by Hamas. The hostile attitude of the surrounding Arab states towards Israel has added to Israel’s fear that it is living dangerously. The more recent worry about the possibility that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon has added to Israel’s perception that it needs to give high priority to its own defence.[29] The resulting lack of trust between Arabs and Israelis has made any sort of coalition government in HP, jointly by Israelis and Palestinians, impossible, at least for the time being.

What, in my opinion, is the future for Historical Palestine?

This is obviously a matter of personal opinion. I wouldn’t if any listener any one says that he or she has a different opinion from myself. The prognosis for then future of HP is complicated by several factors, including the following.

Firstly, I take note of the very deep disappointment of the Palestinians, who feel that there is insufficient official sympathy from the western world for the plight in which they find themselves. There is no shortage of well informed private onlookers who feel that the Palestinians have had, and are still having, a raw deal.

Secondly, there is a strong feeling among Palestinians that Israel does not keep nits word when Israel has made a promise to the Palestinians after Palestine has made a concession at the ngotiating table. For example, Israel promised to release a large number of Palestinian detainees after Fatah changed its policy and agreed to recognise Israel’s right to exist. In return, Israel has claimed that Palestine also negotiated in bad faith, but this claim seems to be less plausible to me.

Thirdly, it should be noted that the differences of opinion between Fatah[30] on the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza strip has made any possibility of successful negotiations between Israel and Palestine even more difficult. Overall, the Palestinian leadership is seen to be rather weak, compared to the much stronger Israeli leadership. 

Thirdly, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank are highly influential in the Israeli Knesset. Many of them believe that the Bible[31] has given them a right to the whole of HP. Their influence is assisted by the Israeli election rule which awards representation in the Knesset to any party which can muster 1 ½% of the votes cast in an Israeli general election. This gives considerable leverage to the ultra orthodox Jewish community. The settlers include descendants of Jews who fled from Moslem countries after Israel’s War of Independence. These second generation Israelis tend to include many right wing extremists who have no time for the moreliberal Israelis who would like to give peace a chance.

Fourthly, the number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants has swelled to 4 million, inclu-ding the refugees in the surrounding Arab countries. Apart from those settled in Palestine itself, the external Palestinian refugees have had somewhat unhappy experiences in their new home countries, with the exception of Jordan, which eventually granted the refugees Jordanian citizenship.

The one point that the Palestinians have on their side is their higher birth rate, which implies that there will be a majority of  Palestinians in Historic Palestine for the foreseeable future.

Some loyal Brits cling to the idea that Britain’s major role in world wide diplomacy should gibve the UK the ability to influence Israel. Although there is some merit to this idea, I personally think that this is an unrealistic example of wishful thinking.

It looks to me as if any attempt at negotiating a two state solution, however ethically desirable, is a pipe dream, at least under current circumstances.

A new hypothetical idea

Currently, there are a handful of Jews throughout the world who are sympathetic to the Palestinians, and who hope for what they informally call a “third intifada”. This is the slang name for a very hypothetical idea, which at present has only a small number of Jewish supporters in Canada, Israel and the United States. It is based on the rather hopeful supposition that a big enough proportion of the Jewish lobby in North America will be so disgusted with Israel’s undemocratic bullying of the Palestinians that they will begin to withdraw both their political and financial support from Israel.

North America’s political and military[32] support for Israel is well known. However, North America’s financial support for Israel is equally essential. It keeps the Israeli economy afloat. Year in and year out, Israel imports far more than it exports. Israel only manages to balance its books financially through four kinds of financial assistance from abroad. Besides official American aid to Israel, there are private gifts and donations every year on a large scale; and equally large scale bond purchases and other kinds of investments in, and loans to Israel.[33]

If these four kinds of financial support from the USA and disillusioned foreign Jews were ever to dry up, Israel would be forced to start genuine negotiations with the Palestinians on the creation of a coalition government of a new unitary state, however distasteful that would be to Israel.

Recent political events in the region

The recent fragile reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas has resulted in a sort of unified Palestinian government,  which has been recognised by the USA.

At the same time, Israel’s provocative decision to build large number of houses and flats in East Jerusalem has caused dismay in the US State Department. This has caused relations between the USA to cool considerably. The position of the more doveish Israeli foreign minister, Avignor Liberman, has been enhanced, while Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with the USA has been weakened.

The new Egyptian government has confirmed Egypt’s ‘business as usual’ relationship with Israel, including Egypt’s monthly purchases of natural gas from Israel. The Egyptian public does not feel as hostile to Israel as was the case under the former Egyptian government.

The recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenage young men has given Netanyahu the excuse to intensify the role of the IDF as a sometimes terrifying army of occupation. This in turn has helped Netanyahu to regain some of the esteem he had lost among the Israelis. As many as 10 Palestinians have been murdered by Israelis, in retaliation for the 3 Israelis killed.

My regretful conclusion

In my opinion, for the time being at least, the idea of a two state solution is dead in the water.  Regrettably, the noble efforts of efforts by Scandinavian diplomats and successive US Secretaries of State are unlikely to yield any tangible results. I don’t see any solution to the crisis on the horizon.

The above considerations imply that for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians are doomed to continue to suffer at the hands of the Israelis. There are a large number of internationally prominent protest groups, such as Amnesty International, which keep up a barrage of criticism of the Israelis’ treatment of the Palestinians, but at present their protests tend to get lost in the wilderness. Israel’s international  public relations efforts are highly successful.[34]

Britain bears some responsibility at least for the situation that the Palestinians find themselves in. 


The research librarians at (a) the Somerset County library system in Taunton, Somerset, and (b) the University of Cape town library, who both gave me reading lists; for comments  from Professor Martin Bunton at the University of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia and Professor Adrian Guelke of Queens University, Belfast; family and friends who commented on earlier drafts of this paper.



My personal interest in the subject

1. I am one quarter Jewish by descent. Around 1870, my mother’s mother’s parents, Jeanette Blumenthal and Siegfried Lomnitz, migrated from the province of Hesse in south west Germany to Port Elizabeth in South Africa. There my great grand father was offered employment by the Lilienfeld family, who were themselves inter married with the wealthy Mosenthal family. Jeanette and Siegfried were observant Jews, but all of their 8 children who survived infancy assimilated into the Christian religion. My South African cousins of Jewish descent have surnames Blumenthal, Kern, Lomnitz, Lowenstein, Meyer and Stein.

2. During the second World War, my father served with the British army in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. My school boy stamp collection had two pages of Palestinian stamps.

My personal contacts with Jews and Palestinians

I have learned to understand the emotional and/or extremist views of people who have either themselves had a near death or other horrifying experience, or have close relations who have; and to be sympathetic to people who find it difficult to be unemotional when they give their ‘take’ on HL. In fact one could argue that to ask anyone who is suffering from post traumatic stress to be un-emotional would be like asking a boxer to fight with one hand tied behind his back.

In the examples below, I am not pointing a finger at Jews or Israelis. I just happen to have had many more contacts with Jews than with Palestinians. The examples below of my personal mini experiences have indicated to me just how strongly the affected people feel about the subject.

1. Over the last fifteen years, I been present at three public Israel-Palestine discussion groups in Cape Town. Completely by chance, all three meetings were attended by individual Israelis.

At the beginning of this year, an Israeli woman who was attending a series of lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Summer School of the University of Cape Town, asked the expert speaker, Professor Benny Morris, why the Palestinians didn’t simply “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply by migrating en masse to the neighbouring Arab countries, which could easily absorb them. It had obviously not occurred to her that the Palestinians might not be enthusiastic about this idea.

2. At a second part of the same Summer School, a pair of talented young South African Jews exhibited their documentary movie about an abandoned Palestinian village near the sea of Galilee. At question time following the showing of the movie, an ex-Algerian Israeli in the audience told the audience that she had been born into a thriving Jewish community in Algeria. After 1948, she had been forced to migrate from Algeria to Israel as a refugee, when conditions for Jews in Algeria became intolerable. She wanted to know why on earth the two gifted South Africans had used their time and money to make a film on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Why had they not made a film about the much more relevant subject of Jewish refugees?

3. Twelve years ago, a young Jewish Israeli woman and a young Palestinian Israeli man were sponsored by a joint Jewish and Arab peace group in Israel to lead a public discussion in Cape Town and other cities in South Africa on their peace efforts inside Israel. After the two speakers had finished their joint presentation, an Israeli man sitting next to me in the audience stood up in order to make a comment. He advised the audience not to believe a single word that the Arab Israeli man had said, and also said that when he returned to Israel he was going to ask the Israeli government to confiscate his passport.

4. My fourth miniature experience relates to my time as a student at the University of Cape Town, from 1955 to 1959. All my Jewish friends on the campus, without exception, were Zionists. It wasn’t until I went to live in the USA in 1964 that I met my first Jew who was not only not religious, but also completely indifferent to what went on in Israel and had no wish to visit it.

5. When I asked a Jewish friend what he thought of the late Arafat as a leader of the Palestinians, he told me

(a) in his opinion, he would place Arafat just behind Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler as one of the wickedest people the world had ever seen, and that

(b) Arafat’s family had billions of dollars hidden in Swiss bank accounts because of the ability of Arafat to syphon off funds intended for Palestinians and convert these funds to his own account while he was still alive. This was in spite of the modest international aid for the Palestinians.

6. I have met Jews who have assured me that the British, during the second Mandate, secretly arranged for arms to be delivered to the Palestinians. I have likewise met Palestinians who are convinced that at the same time, Britain facilitated the supply of arms to the Jews.

7. In 2008/2009, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip. It was called ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Large numbers of Palestinians and Israelis were killed. The Israelis controversially used white phosphorous in their aerial attacks on Gaza.

Some years later, the UN asked a world famous South African judge, Richard Goldstone, and two other commissioners, to investigate and then write a report on Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s vicious attack on Gaza.

What interested me was the reaction of well informed Jews throughout the world to the Goldstone report. Every single Jew whose comments were given felt extremely strongly about the report, one way or the other. The difficulty for me is that although half of these Jews thought that Goldstone and his other two commissioners had done a splendid job, while the other half condemned the report and said that the commissioners were biased because they had naively believed whatever they had been told by Hamas, but gave less credence to the Israeli witnesses.

8. I have observed a wealthy South African Jewish family being visited informally by Israeli diplomats in Johannesburg so that their annual donation to Israel could be amicably “discussed”.

9. I have similarly observed my Jewish relatives in Canada giving generously to Israel. When I went to the Bat Mitzvah ‘confirmation’ of their 12 year old daughter at a Toronto synagogue, the impressive service to welcome her as a new individual member of the congregation ended with a prayer for Israel.

s10. I have met a Palestinian sympathiser who assured me not only that the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas are grossly exaggerated, but that some Hamas members had personally been injured by rockets that had misfired. However, this kind of excuse hasn’t prevented the US government from declaring Hamas to be a terrorist organisation.

11. As a teenager in Cape Town, I benefited from my parents’ membership of a posh country club called ‘Kelvin Grove’. It was where my parents entertained important business guests, and where I and several of my non-Jewish friends had our 21st birthday celebrations. This all white club had a hefty entrance fee and did not allow Jews to be members. Cape Town’s wealthy Jewish community had consequently been forced to create their own ‘King David’ country club.

My parents pointed to a rule of Kelvin Grove that if I became a Junior Member under their auspices, I would be able to become a life time member without ever having to pay the large joining fee. My brother and I both declined to join a club that would not allow Jews to be members.

A relevant event in the Southern Ocean, north of Antarctica, in 1979

I add my own personal guess about the significance of a controversial event that happened once in the roaring forties, north of Antarctica and about 1,000 miles to the south east of Cape Town.

In September 1979, Israel was rumoured to have wanted to test its own nuclear bomb. The rumour mill in South Africa then went on to say that a negotiation had taken place between the South African and Israeli governments. The South African government wanted to maintain its support from South Africa’s small but well off Jewish population, and the Israeli government wanted to use a South African warship for its test explosion of a nuclear bomb in the Southern Ocean.

When an unexplained gigantic flash[35] in the atmosphere between the South African owned Prince Edward Island and the French owned Crozet Island in the roaring forties of the Southern Ocean, north of Antarctica and south of the Indian Ocean, was observed by a US military satellite, it was widely assumed to have been the result of an anonymous nuclear explosion. The nuclear test was rumoured to have been the result of a negotiated agreement between Israel and South Africa. The rumour alleged that South Africa would facilitate Israel’s nuclear test in the atmosphere with the use of a South African war ship at a remote location in the Southern Ocean; in return, South Africa, which was short of foreign exchange at the time, would continue to make a specific exception to their exchange controls in favour of Israel, thereby permitting wealthy South African Jews to continue to be allowed to buy foreign currency with which to make their annual donations to Israel.


[1]     The Bible, the Book of Genesis, chapter 18, verse 12.

[2]     One of the major oil pipelines terminates at the Israeli port of |Haifa.

[3]     Out of all the international statesmen, both western and in the Middle East, who took an interest in the future of HP, President Woodrow Wilson is the only one who suggested that the future of HP should be decided by the local inhabitants, meaning the Palestinians.

[4]                 The Balfour Declaration was typed on a piece of plain paper with no letter head, using a dirty typewriter. 

[5]     Winston Churchill was strongly pro Zionist.

[6]              . “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict – a very short introduction”, by Martin Bunton (OUP, 2013). Britain’s on again, off again rules about Jewish immigration to HP were a further example of this kind of confusion.

[7]               This was done with the USA looking over Britain’s shoulder. President Woodrow Wilson of the USA had made it plain that he intensely disliked the last vestiges of colonialism, so Britain tried to hide the fact that it was actually running Palestine in almost exactly then same way that it was running its other colonies.

[8]                Britain’s colonial style of ruling the Holy Land explains why Israel’s 1948 war of survival was called ‘The War of Independence’.

[9]                Technically, the Irgun did give a half hour warning to a newspaper in Jerusalem that a bomb was about to go off at the King David hotel. However, there had previously been a spate of fake bomb warnings, so the phone call was ignored.

[10]             The 1947 UN partition of the Holy Land gave more than half the land to the Jews even though they only constituted one third of the population at the time.

[11]             After Israel’s War of Independence, 20% of Israel’s population were Palestinian, including a small number of Christian Arabs. They are entitled to vote in Israeli elections and can travel abroad on Israeli passports; but there are many other Israeli laws which discriminate against Arab Israelis. After the war, Israel occupied 78% of the Holy Land.

[12]   The Palestinian position, not to recognise the state of Israel, was undermined by the signing of peace agreements with Israel by Egypt and other Arab countries. 

[13]   Stalin may also have been influenced by the strong socialist movement among the immigrants to Israel. They had made several statements saying how much they admired the Russian system of government.

[14]   Stalin also ordered Czechoslovakia to sell arms to Israel.

[15]   After the War of Independence, there were approximately 1,000,000 Palestinian refugees (including those whom I have counted twice. Almost all the 300,000 Palestinian refugees who had settled in Kuwait were expelled from Kuwait after Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, stated publicly that he strongly sympathised with Saddam Hussein when the USA and UK invaded Iraq in 2003). The Palestinians received considerable assistance from both the surrounding Arab states and the United Nations.

        The total number of Palestinian refugees was closely matched by the 800,000 Jewish refugees who migrated from a number of Arab countries to Israel after the end of Israel’s War of Independence. They had been badly treated by their respective Arab governments. In Israel, the newly arrived refugees, whose very unpleasant experiences in their Arab homelands had left them embittered, came to have a significant influence over Israeli politics.

[16]   There are various legal gradations as to what exactly constitutes a ‘settlement’.

[17]   Some of the Jews in the West Bank settlements have arrogantly adopted the attitude that it is their moral right to harass their Arab neighbours.

[18]   These check points are often manned by armed 18 to 21 year old Israeli conscripts.

[19]   The Knesset is the lower chamber of Israel’s houses of parliament.

[20]   A professional footballer in Gaza was given a contract to join a  football team in the West Bank; he was given a permit to cross over, but on arrival at the West Bank, he was detained without charge for 6 months.

[21]   Before 1948, Palestinian extremists had attacked a Jewish village and killed most of the population there.

[22]   Israel is the world leader in the design, production and sale of drones, followed by the USA. Britain is way behind.

[23]   The Israeli Defence Force destroyed the $68 mn airport, close to Rafah on Gaza’s border with Egypt. 

[24]   A young Palestinian woman successfully completed her first year at a British university. She returned to Palestine for the summer vacation. She was then refused permission by the Israelis to return to Britain to complete her studies, no doubt because the Israelis regarded her as a security risk.

[25]   An elderly Palestinian woman was being treated in Israel for cancer. In the morning, a young Israeli conscript at a     check point had given her permission to leave Palestine and enter Israel for her medical appointment.  On the way home in the afternoon, a different conscript at the same check point refused to allow her back into Palestine. The woman then sat on the ground, next to the check point. Two hours later, an Israeli officer said that she should be allowed to proceed.

[26]   The queue to get through the limited number of entry points from the West Bank into Israel starts at 5am every week day morning. Some Palestinian women set up stalls on the West Bank side of the Israeli check points at 4am, in order to sell tea and snacks to the large number of Palestinian men who stand in the queue while waiting for the check points to open. Only a random number of Palestinian workers are allowed through each day.

[27]   During the six day war in 1967, the Israeli air force was able to organise four sorties per plane per day against the Arabs, compared to the two sorties per day mobilised by the Arabs against Israel. In addition, Israel’s military intelligence efforts were far superior to those of the Arabs.

[28]   There has recently been speculation that at least some of the rockets have been fired from Gaza by an more extreme organisation  “Islamic Jihad  “, which is not part of Hamas.

[29]   Israel appreciates the strong sympathy of both the American and Canadian governments, but cannot afford to rely  on protection and financial support from either or both these countries.

[30]   The youth wing of Fatah is more radical than its older, more conservative, leadership.

[31]   One Jew told me half jokingly that the Jewish ‘claim’ to the entire Holy Land is based on the legalistic concept that the Jewish ‘title deed’ in the Bible pre dates the equivalent promise to the Arabs in the Koran by several thousand years.

[32]   America would probably send an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean if Israel were threatened.

[33]   Technically, donations and aid are recorded on the current account of Israel’s balance of payments statistics. This accounting convention helps to substantially reduce the stated current account deficit (caused mainly by the large trade deficit), and thereby substantially reduces Israel’s need for continuing annual large inflows on the capital account of its balance of payments, ie. loans and investments.

[34]   Including the official lobbying efforts based on 4 Israeli embassies (Canada, Mexico, UN and USA) and about 10 Israeli consulates scattered around North America. Sadly, the public relations efforts of Hamas look very feeble indeed. Hamas has failed to put across to the western world, the logical steps it used to arrive at its stance that it refuses to recognise the state of Israel. This position may be compared with Egypt’s peace treaty with |Israel.

[35]   The South African government denied that they themselves had tested their own nuclear bomb.