By Patricio Guevara.
Baher Kamal is a journalist with over 40 years’ experience who developed his profession with IPS (Inter Press Service); of Egyptian origin and residing in Madrid (Spain), Baher helps us gain an understanding of the Palestine-Israel conflict to deepen what was previously written in an interview with Pedro Ferraracio, a member of the PNC (Palestinian National Committee) and promotor of the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign.
How do you see the Israel-Palestine conflict?
It’s a conflict that started over a 100 years ago, with the arbitrary division of the Middle East, and there is now some activism slightly more in favour of the Palestinian people who are affected by the injustice of what’s happening.
In 1947 the United Nations agreed to give a third of Palestinian territory for the creation of Israel, and two-thirds to the Palestinian people. In time, this proportion changed greatly and in this moment the Palestinians are in pockets of land, in isolated communities surrounded by Israeli settlements and constructions.
In Morocco there is a city called Fez that is practically all Jewish, I lived in Cairo when I was young and there was a building with Jewish and Muslims families. They didn’t ask for anything, they coexisted, and that’s that. The countries of the Middle East welcomed the Jews who were displaced from Germany.
What I don’t understand objectively is the policy of seizing all Palestinian territories and isolating them slowly from their society, which is happening throughout Israel and with United States’ resources. So it’s a matter of politics, it’s no longer a question of religion or people.
Israeli society is very much mixed. Israeli policy has encouraged the immigration of Jews from Russia to Israel, from Ethiopia to Israel, from Arab countries to Israel, to increase the population of Israel. I believe that both Palestinians and Jews, on the human level, on the street, are victims of the political-military machinations that wanted to create this situation.
And I understand the boycott. What I also know, read or learn is that the boycott cannot be total and work very well, because there are always tricks to get round it, and I know there are also European and US universities that were planning to do joint events in Israel and have decided to boycott it because of the bombing of the Gaza Strip, which is a prison – every time there is any kind of terrorist attack on the Israelis, they raze the entire Gaza strip to the ground.
There were ships carrying humanitarian aid that Israel didn’t allow to arrive, so I understand the boycott, it’s explicable. Because this has nothing to do with religion anymore.
In the West (United States, Canada, Europe, etc.), the subject is understood as a conflict of religions, and I don’t see it that way, I don’t see it as a dispute of Jews against Muslims or Muslims against Jews, or Christians against everyone, or everyone against Christians. I don’t see it like this, the issue is purely political, a political project to implement machinations in the Middle East, which is ultimately a strategic zone for oil.
Religious arguments are used but the plan doesn’t reflect that, there is no religious war in the Middle East, we have always lived quietly. Lately and for many years there have been Western information and Western foreign policy that have put this religious edge to present it as a fight between religions. There is no struggle. Everyone has their faith and believes in their own way. It’s their faith, everyone has it, and this is coming from a layman.
What is the historical Context for the Conflict?
In 1897 the first World Jewish Congress took place, in Basle-Switzerland, which somewhat touched on the idea or plan to create a state for the Jews.
Then, in the following century (20th century), in 1916, Great Britain (which was an empire), France and marginally, Tsarist Russia, which was not yet communist, was not the Soviet Union, it was not anything yet. Great Britain and France basically decided to divide the territory of the Middle East and in general the Arab countries between them after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that is the Turkish Empire. Indeed they created new states like Syria, like Lebanon, that didn’t exist before. And the Turkish Empire effectively fell because it was in complete decline and this happened a few years later, the plan for Middle East division was drawn up by the French and British in 1916, and in 1918 the Ottoman Empire collapsed. In 1919 British Chancellor Lord Balfour made a promise to the Jewish people to create a state in the Middle East in exchange for the collaboration of the Jewish community with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Then in Turkey came a general called Kemal Atatürk who in 1923 completely overturned the structure of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, proclaimed the Turkish Republic, changed the alphabet used in Turkey to the Western alphabet, banned clothing that could be associated with the Islamic religion so that they would dress in the Western way. His plan was that Turkey, which is partly in Asia and partly in Europe, would be integrated into Europe, orienting it more towards Europe than towards the East; there was this promise, this statement from Lord Balfour of the military chancellor. All this was before the Second World War.
The Second World War that began years later solidified the plan and the United Nations – which was much smaller as an organization and was in fact called “The League of Nations” and not, as today, the United Nations Organisation (UNO) – approved the creation of the state of Israel as a homeland for the Jews and the plan was to divide the Palestinian territory as I said before, a third for the Jews to create their own state and two thirds for the Palestinians who were there and to whom the land belonged.
Then with time there were wars and there was a war in 1948, and another one in 1956, when Egypt was born. Then France, Britain and Israel bombed Egypt and then there was another war in 1967, which was a spectacular defeat of the Arab armies in particular (the Egyptian, the Syrian and the Jordanian). There was a war in 1973 which was a kind of a draw because there were neither winners nor losers, and a peace agreement was signed between Egypt and Israel, the first to not declare more wars, and that was followed by an agreement between Jordan and Israel, which share a border. Syria refused to sign this agreement, and wanted a part of Syria called “The Golan Heights” that Israel had occupied in the 1967 war returned to them. These are the key dates.
Then there is a later date, much later, and the situation went on like this, permanent tension.
Much later in Bush junior’s administration in 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a doctrine literally called “creative chaos” in the Middle East, that many interpreted as creating a situation of instability or letting it be created or encouraging it, or if it was created to support it, therefore changing the region. Many believed that the strategic plan was to fragment (even more) the current states of the Middle East.
For example, to unite the Kurdish part of Iraq with the Kurdish part of Syria (a minority), with the Kurdish part of Turkey, to destabilize Turkey, for reasons known only to them; and as we see, so far the word religion hasn’t surfaced.
Everything has been a series of plans for the territorial expansion of economic interests, military control, and strategic control of the Middle East. In other words, I haven’t seen the word “religion” until now. I think that both politicians and the Western media gave information (and still do) about waging a religious war which never was, but the smokescreen, the curtain is that Muslims want to destroy our Christian civilization, that they want to destroy the Jews and no one has said that the Christians have bombed Iraq (because no one in the Middle East says this) which is Muslim. No one talks about NATO troops from the USA and Europe and no one ever said they were Christian troops, because it could easily be said, but no.
When it comes to anything that comes from an Arab country, they say it’s from an “Islamist” or “Islamic” organization or “Islamic State” or from an “Islamic” or “Islamist” president, always. But for example when there was a terrorist organization in Germany or when there was an organization called “The Red Brigades” in Italy, when there was the terrorist organization ETA in Spain, no country, much less any Arab media, spoke about “Christian-German” “Christian-Italian” or “Christian-Spanish” terrorist organizations.
In contrast, Israel, the current government that has been here for some time, wants to proclaim and continues to proclaim that the state of Israel is a Jewish state, so that non-Jews cannot reside in Israel. That is to say that neither Arabs nor non-Arabs, only purely Jewish people, and this is accepted. I do not criticize the people of Israel, not at all; I even have friends there.
In the West they say the Jewish state, the Hebrew state is positive, and if another country is called the Muslim state, they say “very bad, terrorist.” And I would never say “the Christian state of Ecuador”. This creates repression and oppression of peoples, creates despair and creates loss of orientation because we no longer know who, what or why they are bad and why it is so bad to have been born a Muslim. No one chooses his religion at birth, I do not mind being born a Muslim or born of any other religious belief, I do not care; saying “religious war” (which it isn’t, they turned it into one) is a focus which always comes from politics.
Do you think these boycott actions (BDS) are really effective?
It’s a very important and very difficult question for me personally. I don’t know, it’s not enough, but it’s something. It’s doing something at the level of popular activism, at the intellectual level of all who participate in the boycott, okay; Israeli goods have preferential treatment in the European Union. They don’t pay tariffs or they pay very little and it’s considered as almost internal trade.
In Brussels I learned that Israel bought oranges from Brazil and brought them to the European market as Israeli oranges, there is a boycott of the products produced in the Palestinian lands which Israel sells as its own.
Bar codes on many products now have 4 or 5 letters identifying those Israeli products, and the boycott prevents their purchase.
There is a controversy about the capital of the state of Israel since the official capital is Tel Aviv. Jerusalem, on the other hand, isn’t anyone’s, because it belongs to everyone. In Jerusalem there’s a Muslim mosque symbolically sacred and then there is a large Christian community; the United Nations said Jerusalem was a free city, like the Vatican.
Now with Trump’s victory, the Israelis say, “they can now declare Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.” So, there’s a boycott, which is very good because it creates resistance but then they use Christians to eliminate the Muslim community and they say “this is the capital of Israel” and goodbye.