Sunday, 28 February 2010

British imperialism and Palestine

I am currently reading Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which i bought from the bookshop in the American Colony hotel in east Jerusalem.

Apparently this is the hotel where Tony Blair stays when he is here as middle east 'peace' envoy (laugh, cry, or be sick? i can't decide....)

I can't think what he makes of the bookshop, as most of the books put forward well researched and cogent arguments which are the opposite of everything he stands for.

It is interesting to read in the first chapters of Pappe's book the role played by the British before Israel was created. Zionists often portray themselves as a plucky independence movement, fighting not only 'threatening Arabs' and but also the might of the British empire, which occupied Palestine up to the 1940s.

As Pappe shows, whilst it is true that there were tensions between the Zionists and the British (culminating most famously in the bombing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem), overall the British strengthened and emboldened the Zionist movement. This goes right back to Lloyd George who, as Pappe writes, "supplied his government...with a host of 'strategic' considerations for why Palestine should be colonised by the Zionist movement, which were mostly infused by his own overriding distrust of, and disdain for, 'Arabs' and 'Mohammedans', as he called the Palestinians".

The British repression of the Palestinian revolt in 1936 severely damaged the fighting capacity of the Palestinian national movement, leaving them unable to resist the attacks by Zionist militias in 1947-48 which drove Palestinians from their homes. Pappe records instances in the 1930s of Zionist militia units working with British troops to attack 'rebellious' Palestinian villages, and being taught by them how to use weapons effectively against villagers.

Lastly, Pappe records that in response to Zionist bombings of bridges, military bases and the King David Hotel, "the British reacted mildly - especially in comparison with the brutal treatment they had meted out to the Palestinian rebels in the 1930s". The response was partial disarmament and arrests, not executions and use of military force.

Some believe that Israel today has become the ultimate 'rogue state', escaping the control even of the United States. But i think the relationship between Israel and the world's biggest imperialist power (then the British, now the US) remains generally the same. Despite some tensions, Israel acts within limits laid down by its paymasters. The function of those limits is to ensure that Israel is an effective and obedient watchdog for imperialist interests.

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