Last Saturday saw the culmination of the latest hate campaign against Israel with a rally in London to stop the 40 year occupation of the West Bank. Once again the Don Quixotes of the righteous Left mounted their high horses and rode fearlessly into the sunset to slay the evil Israeli giant. And as is usual with those who get on to high horses it was the riders not the horses who wore the blinkers.
To Israel's critics the issue is quite straightforward. The occupation is entirely without justification. Not only is it immoral and illegal per se but it has brought in its wake a terrible oppression that is wantonly destroying the lives of innocent Palestinians. With this kind of tunnel vision there is, of course, no serious consideration of the wider picture; the actual cause of the occupation, the reasons for the barriers, checkpoints and military incursions. Everything is in black or white, almost literally since it is based on a false analogy with the (worthy) struggles against the Apartheid system in South Africa.
Yet even a cursory analysis of the situation shows the anti-Israeli case to be far from robust. The so-called occupation arose from Israel's dramatic victory in the Six Day War. Yes, Israel fired the first shots but the war had its origins in Egypt's decision to close the Gulf of Aqaba (Israel's lifeline) to Israel's shipping and to order the removal of UN troops from the Sinai. With Arab armies massing on Israel's borders and the Arab media daily calling for Israel's destruction most commentators had little doubt that Nasser's actions were a prelude to a massive attack on Israel.
The Israeli pre-emptive response was therefore generally regarded as a legitimate act of self-defence. As such, a strong case can be made for the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights not being illegal since many international law scholars have argued that territory won in a defensive war should be kept, as a deterrent against potential aggressors. Notwithstanding this consideration, Israel agreed to comply with Resolution 242 of the UN security Council which for the first time in history ordered a nation to return territories lawfully captured in a defensive war.
But this requirement was spelt out in the resolution as a quid pro quo for an overall peace agreement recognising israel's right to live within secure borders. In fact Israel fully complied with the resolution by returning the Sinai to Egypt and land claimed by Jordan in recognition of their willingness to accept the existence of Israel. The other territories have largely remained in Israeli hands since neither the Palestinians nor the the Syrians have been willing to meet their part of Resolution 242 which required a proper peace with Israel. Where Israel has unilaterally given land back to the Palestinians they have been repaid with rocket attacks from these areas, which is hardly conducive to more land being returned in this way.
It is this unwillingness by the Palestinians to make a proper peace with Israel that might explain the nastier features of the occupation. Could it be that the checkpoints, the barriers, and the Israeli military attacks are designed not to hold a people down but to hold down those elements of the population who are repeatedly springing at Israeli throats in the most dastardly ways? If there are excesses in this connection surely the prime responsibility must lie with the Palestinian attackers (who are lauded as martyrs) rather than the Israelis trying to stop these atrocities (who are usually brought to justice if there is sufficient evidence).
I know that there is the question of the settlements (roughly 3% of West Bank territory) and I am happy to discuss this matter in any follow-up thread. However this piece is not intended to be fully comprehensive. It is simply about providing another, blinker-free, perspective on an issue that is currently arousing such passions in left-wing circles. Who knows, with their new, improved vision they might discover, like Don Quixote, that they have got it completely wrong?