What does it mean to be British? To some Americans it means consuming tea and scones and having extremely bad teeth. To some French it is synonymous with a nation of bad-in-bed, uncultured pie-eaters. But if you based your judgements solely on what certain Americans and Frenchmen think then abortion is always a bad thing and banning the Burka promotes social cohesion. The best British attribute is our unhesitating support for the underdog. Following our defeat in the last World Cup at the hands of Germany the whole country (at least those with an IQ of over 98.4) rallied behind Ghana until their campaign was prematurely ended by Uruguay. When Eric Moussambani, better known as Eric the Eel, swam the 100m at the 2000 Summer Olympics in over double the time it took his competitors, we similarly felt it necessary to support the Equatoguinean in his efforts – especially given that he had never swam in an Olympic-size pool before. I think therefore it is safe to presume that the majority of Brits sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
I do not wish to slog my way down the well worn path of who is right and who is wrong, for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not that simple and such an approach is shallow and detrimental to attaining a resolution of the conflict. However I do wish to briefly question why – given that the Palestinians are not the nationalist body that suffers the most in the Middle East – we care so much about Palestine, and – given that Israel is not the most vindictive state in the region – why we lambaste Israel so strongly.
The West Bank and Gaza have a combined population of over 4 million Palestinians and most statisticians provide that there have been around 8,000 Palestinian deaths in the last 20 years, a toll of 1 per 500. On the other hand, Turkey’s Kurdish population amounts to around 15 million and in the same time period has suffered approximately 35,000 deaths, a toll of 1 per 428. Of course it should also be noted that Kurdish nationalists have struggled to create their own state for nearly double the time that Israel has even existed. So shouldn’t the Kurds – given their higher death tolls (both proportional and actual), greater time spent fighting for their own self-determination and higher numbers of citizens having suffered oppression – be subjected to greater British sympathy and public support in the international political arena? After all, it was only very recently that Turkey even admitted that Kurds existed and allowed them to speak their own language. Turkey refused to even recognise that she had a separatist body within her population and incarcerated those who held separatist aspirations. Why do we make such a fuss on moral and ethical grounds about a struggling cause that has suffered comparatively little when morals and ethics should dictate that we direct our attention elsewhere?
And then of course we have to question why we demonize Israel to such a great extent. Many countries in the Middle East fail to uphold the rule of law, fail to permit their citizens to engage in free speech and fail to allow their populations to engage in the political development of their country, so why is Israel the primary recipient of castigation from the British public? Because she is Jewish? I highly doubt it (aside from a minority of cases). Because she discriminates against a weaker nationalist body? Quite possibly, but as above there are far worse offenders so such a premise is devoid of reason. Because she has beaten to a pulp all Arab challenges to her regional superiority? Again, a very real possibility given Arab pride but this does not explain British sentiment on the matter. Or maybe because she purports to be a liberal democratic state?
Israel is clearly not a liberal democracy but she insists that she is just that (to claim she practices apartheid is equally as idiotic). If Israel wishes to think of herself as part of the Western ‘family’, she must abide by those rules and beliefs that we espouse and value. She does not. Israel occupies the barren wasteland separating authoritarian from democratic and is therefore subject to the full barrage of our media’s artillery due to such false assertions of equality. Accordingly she is subject to far greater negative opinion among the British population.
The Palestinian cause is afforded too much time and money – far greater results could have been obtained in saving life and bettering living conditions had we spent the same levels of concentration and effort on Africa. And whilst condemnation of Israeli actions is needed, there are far worse offenders in the region that we, as a society, should be condemning emphatically and incessantly. We should be backing the real underdogs in the world, not just those whose oppressors are easy targets.
Tom is Editor for the UK, Europe and the Middle East at theriskyshift.com. He holds a degree in Middle Eastern History from the University of Manchester and is a current postgraduate student in the War Studies Department of King’s College London.