Sunday, October 15, 2023

Welp, here we are again.

 There's a new war in the Middle East -- same as the old war.

lightsource | Deposit Photos
I wouldn't even be writing this post, except that I told a couple of people I would. See, I have no dog in this hunt. I'm not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. The sources of my DNA go no further south in Europe than Czechia (other than the 1% or so that's African, but it's from the western side of the continent).

To clarify: I have no dog in this hunt except that I am a Person, as is each of the Persons, willingly or unwillingly, in this conflict. And as recently discussed here, I am an animist. I believe every Person deserves respect. 

So on that basis, I'm wading in. With the emphasis on wading.


In case you've been living under a rock for the past week and change, this live update story will bring you up to speed. But basically: a week ago yesterday, Hamas, a Palestinian group that the US State Department has labeled a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack on Israel. More than a thousand Israelis were killed, and a number of people were taken hostage. There have been reports -- some now debunked -- of atrocities committed by the Palestinians against Israeli civilians.

In retaliation, the Israeli government, led by hard-line President Benjamin Netanyahu, has attacked Gaza -- where Palestinians have been living under Israeli rule for decades -- basically bombing it into oblivion. Israeli officials have warned those living in Gaza to get out, because they intend to launch a ground war to hunt down and destroy Hamas, once and for all. More than a million people live in the area, and they have had nowhere to go; Egypt now says it will allow Palestinians to cross into their country, starting tomorrow morning.


I spent some time, yesterday and today, acquainting myself with some of the history between these two peoples, and I still have only a cursory grasp of it. Here's the outline, though: this region is part of the Levant, which has passed back and forth from one ruler to another since ancient times. (For a while, of course, it was part of the Roman Empire.) About a hundred years ago, give or take, Britain took control of the region -- then called Palestine -- from the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, the British came up with the idea that there should be a "national home for the Jewish people" there. Please note that nobody asked the Palestinians what they thought of the idea.

This rejiggering of countries to suit colonial powers seems to be a theme throughout the first half of the 20th century. For example: At the end of World War I, the Habsburg Empire was carved up into various new countries. One of them was Czechoslovakia, a union of the Czech lands and Slovakia -- but it wasn't long after that when the Allies lopped off the Sudentenland and gave it to Germany in exchange for a promise from Hitler that he wouldn't invade Czechoslovakia. (Spoiler: It didn't work.) Another was the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, aka Yugoslavia. And of course Russia sucked up several nations, including Ukraine, when it became the USSR in 1922.

As I understand it, virtually all of this was done on paper by the winners of war, without taking into account the relationships among the various ethnicities in these new countries, or even, really, the way the people who lived there felt. 

And so it was with Palestine. Britain's declaration caused a lot of tension and not a few battles between Arab states and the British, but in 1947, the United Nations stepped in and set up these boundaries:

From Wikipedia
The idea was that the Jews would have their territories, the Palestinians would have theirs, and Jerusalem -- sacred to both Jews and Muslims -- would be a UN protectorate. 

That didn't solve anything. There was continued fighting between Jews and Arabs, with the occasional attempt at a diplomatic solution that never held. You can read all about that here. The bottom line is that over the years, more and more of what used to be Palestine has been handed over to Israel, to the point where Palestinians today live in just two areas within Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza, and Israel controls everything, from access to food and water to the number of work permits issued to Palestinians so they can have jobs in Israel.

Getting back to all that nation-building in the early 1900s, you may have noticed that virtually all of those cobbled-together nations in Europe have since split up. Czechoslovakia split into Czechia and Slovakia in the Velvet Divorce of 1992. Yugoslavia began to fall apart in 1980, when strongman leader Tito died, and officially split up in 1991, although it took many more years for all the new borders to shake out. The USSR also imploded in 1991 -- but of course Putin has been trying to get the band back together for a while now, as witnessed by Russia's incursions into Ukraine, starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

And yet, the Israel/Palestinian mashup has endured. Until now, maybe.


To be clear, I'm not taking sides. I believe the reports that the Hamas attack was especially brutal -- but the Israeli government's scorched-earth response is brutal, too. I think the Hamas attack, whatever their rationale for it, played into Netanyahu's hands; for decades, he has wanted the Palestinians gone, and now he has a perfect excuse.

If I had my druthers, the Israelis and the Palestinians would both have their own countries. But nothing's ever that simple.

If I'm on anybody's side, it's the side of the people -- both Palestinian and Israeli -- who are suffering as a result of this war. Yes, the Palestinians elected Hamas to run Gaza, and the Israelis elected Netanyahu (again). But people make mistakes. We elected Trump, right?


There's a lot more I could say. I could talk about the reasons that the US supports Israel, both political and diplomatic. I could talk about the role of religion and whether it's more important as a cause of the strife than simple land grabbiness (TL;DR: I used to think it was all about religion, but I don't anymore). But this post is already super long, and I'd like to watch more of The Fall of the House of Usher tonight. So I will close with this: I really, really, really hope nobody decides this would be a good time to attack either Jews or Muslims anywhere else in the world. 

And please, you guys, take any report of any atrocities as rumor until independently confirmed. Think about the source of what you're hearing and what that source stands to gain from ginning up anger and fear, and then decide whether to believe it.


These moments of Mideast historical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe, everybody.

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