Source: The Economist
With luck, the destructive two-week battle between Israel and Hamas may soon draw to an end. But how long before the century-long war between Arabs and Jews in Palestine follows suit? It is hard to believe that this will happen any time soon. Consider: Israel’s current operation, “Cast Lead”, marks the fourth time Israel has fought its way into Gaza. It almost captured Gaza (behind a pocket containing a young Egyptian army officer called Gamal Abdul Nasser) in 1948, in the war Israelis know as their war of independence. It captured Gaza again in 1956, as part of a secret plan hatched with Britain and France to topple Nasser as Egypt’s president and restore British control of the Suez Canal. It invaded a third time during the six-day war of 1967—and stayed there for 38 years, until withdrawing unilaterally three and a half years ago.
Why they fight And Gaza, remember, is only one item in a mighty catalogue of misery, whose entries are inscribed in tears. The Jews and Arabs of Palestine have been fighting off and on for 100 years. In 1909 the mostly Russian socialist idealists of the Zionist movement set up an armed group, Hashomer, to protect their new farms and villages in Palestine from Arab marauders. Since then has come the dismal march of wars—1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006 and now 2009—each seared by blood and fire into the conflicting myths and memories of the two sides. The intervals between the wars have not been filled by peace but by bombs, raids, uprisings and atrocities. Israeli settlers in Hebron today still cite, as if it were yesterday, the massacre of Hebron’s Jews in 1929. The Arabs of Palestine still remember their desperate revolt in the 1930s against the British mandate and Jewish immigration from Europe, and the massacres of 1948.
The slaughter this week in Gaza, in which on one day alone some 40 civilians, many children, were killed in a single salvo of Israeli shells, will pour fresh poison into the brimming well of hate (see article). But a conflict that has lasted 100 years is not susceptible to easy solutions or glib judgments. Those who choose to reduce it to the “terrorism” of one side or the “colonialism” of the other are just stroking their own prejudices. At heart, this is a struggle of two peoples for the same patch of land. It is not the sort of dispute in which enemies push back and forth over a line until they grow tired. It is much less tractable than that, because it is also about the periodic claim of each side that the other is not a people at all—at least not a people deserving sovereign statehood in the Middle East.