By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
These words appear in Psalm 137 as a song of lament by the people of Judaea, who were taken into slavery for some 60 years by King Nebuchadnezza of Babylon.
The waters are the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.
It was enough to make one weep for the people of the turbulent middle East when Netanyahu, posturing during the run-up to the 2019 Israeli general election, justified claiming sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying: Jewish roots in Golan go back thousands of years. This is cod history from the same bank of biblical mythology that defines the Jews as God’s “chosen people”, those with the sole right to live in the “land of milk and honey”. This religious fundamentalism delights Trump and his devotees, the bigots of the American evangelical right.
If we are going back to fundamentals, let’s examine a few and see if we can get closer to some historical truth.
About 25 years ago, a child was brought by her newly arrived immigrant parents to enrol at a London primary school. The headteacher was astonished to learn that child spoke only Aramaic. She had heard of this as the language spoken by Jesus. She was not the only one to have assumed that Aramaic was an ancient, dead, Semitic language, but no, it is still very much a live language in western Syria, a new addition to the 100 or so languages then spoken by children in London’s polyglot schools.
DNA sequencing indicates an early ancestry shared by Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Kurds, Turks and Bedouins. These groups are collectively labelled Semitic on account of their shared linguistic origin.
Related ancestry is not surprising as their roots go back to the northern crest of the Fertile Crescent arching over the Arabian Desert, from Egypt, through Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to Iran. This was the cradle of civilisation, the birthplace of agriculture, birthplace of our staple cereal crops, irrigation, sheep-rearing, written languages, mathematics, metallurgy and the invention of glass and the wheel. The area was a happy coincidence of favourable climate and geology, rich plant biodiversity, cross-roads for trade in goods and ideas from which developed rich human ingenuity
The term Semitic is no more precise than the label Celtic. It does no more than indicate heritage from the distant past, particularly closely rooted languages, the Semitic languages, including Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew.
Palestine, the country where Judaism and Christianity had their origin, was especially important in ancient times. Because of its central position in the fertile crescent, it invited invasion by the predatory, rival empires of Egypt and Babylonia and later, Rome, as well as marauding by the nomads of the neighbouring desert. Invaders slaughtered in vast numbers and took booty and slaves. The Assyrian empire occupied the whole of present-day Syria, including Golan, as far back as the 25th century BCE, long before the Israelites got a look-in. Present-day Israel was the home of the Canaanites (another Semitic people) until they were partially expelled and partially assimilated by the Israelites. Another tribe, the Philistines, who gave Palestine its name, suffered a similar fate.
With God on their side
We are told in the Old Testament Book of Joshua, that God told the eponymous Joshua, who was now the leader of the Israelites, after the death of Moses, that he was giving the Children of Israel all the land between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean. Of course, the land was not vacant. The resident Hittites and Canaanites had to be expelled. Netanyahu and the evangelical simpletons give the impression that God gave gigantic vacant lots to the Israelites. Not so. Like all the other warring empires and tribes of the fertile crescent, the Children of Israel had to shed much blood in order to win ground.
It is thought to be around 1,000 BCE that the Habiru (Hebrews) established themselves in Palestine. They were a mixture of tribes leading a semi-nomadic existence. They followed their flocks of sheep and goats in their search for pasture, and were sedentary farmers until their crops exhausted the fertility of the soil and they had to move on. The Old Testament books of Judges and Samuel give us a picture of the twelve tribes of Israel fighting with each other, as well as sometimes joining forces against common enemies, including the Philistines, Hittites, Ammonites, Moabites and Assyrians. Clearly, if it was a choice between eking out a living in the desert, or cultivating and grazing the more salubrious hills and valleys of Palestine, the latter was a land worth fighting over. The Hebrews who invaded Palestine differed little from the barbaric peoples around them. They were all in the business of invading, killing, expelling and enslaving. They were not committed monotheists. One of their gods was the rain-god, Baal, or Jahveh, which morphed into Jehovah. They tended to adopt the cults of whatever area they settled. That nonsense was well and truly sorted out when Moses came down from his meeting with God on the summit of Mount Sinai. He told the people that there is only one God and he is a jealous God and so all their other graven images will be destroyed. He also gave them the ten commandments and all the rest of the laws of the Jewish faith. Many of these laws are borrowed or adapted from the Babylonian code laid down by King Hammurabi around 2,000 BCE. Either the God of Moses had inspired Hammurabi, or the other way around.
As a demagogue and populist, Netanyahu re-writes history to suit his needs. What a pity the people of Israel do not see through him, but his appeal is that he spouts justification for the land-greedy, gun-toting settlers and the Arab-hating racists. In other words, it is convenient to accept his nonsense because it suits their self-interest. The same is true of the flag-waving, excitable Americans who laud Trump’s every petulant outburst.
The two-state solution for Israel/Palestine was never meant seriously; it was never more than a sop to the UN and any governments which displayed a modicum of concern for the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
The Nobel Peace Prizes awarded for furthering the twp-state solution were sheer baloney, worthy of being placed in the same bracket as the Nobel awarded to Henry Kissinger, war-monger par excellence
Now, by taking over more of Jerusalem, annexing the Golan Heights, absorbing the West Bank settlements into greater Israel as a prelude to displacing all Palestinians from the West Bank of the Jordan, and all this with the support of the USA, the last vestige of pretence of supporting the creation of a Palestinian state can be expunged. If a 2-state resolution of the problem ever comes about, it will not be with the backing of the likes of Netanyahu and Trump.
After the 1967 war, Israel had under its control the entire British mandate territory, the “Palestine” in which Balfour, in 1917, promised a “national home for the Jewish people”. What his declaration did not specify was how much of Palestine the Jewish state could have.
Having effective control of Gaza and now much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has gobbled up the potential Palestinian state and you cannot have a state without a territory.
But you can. The best way to counter Netanyahu and Trump is for Britain and other countries to recognise the State of Palestine and give it a seat in the UN.
Israel is no longer the brave little country of the days of Exodus, the land of peace-loving kibbutzim, creating oases of plenty out of virgin, un-watered desert. Long-gone is the haven of socialist democracy in a sea of Arab potentates. Israel is now a neoconservative state, much like most of its neighbours, and a faithful reflection of its patron, the United States.
The euphemistically-named Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) describes its air and land forces as bigger and more technologically advanced than those of any NATO power apart from the US. Israel’s ranting against Iran’s nuclear capacity and aggressive intentions is no more than a cover for the fact that it is the only nuclear armed state, possessor of WMD, in the Middle East.
In 1967 there was the 6-day war between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Palestinians were not combatants , but suffered the biggest losses. Israel was intent on having access to the Red Sea (through the Straits of Tiran) as well as the Mediterranean. The IDF caught Egypt by surprise, destroying almost the entire Egyptian air force. Then, with air supremacy, the IDF took and occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, Sinai from Egypt, Golan from Syria and the Gaza Strip from the Palestinians. Unfortunately, brave, wily little Israel won sentimental sympathy around the western world. Since then we have learned the long term cost Israel has exacted of us all.
The US and Israel, with the complicity of Britain and France, has turned the Middle East into a cauldron. Every bit of interference, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen has made this theatre of violence and misery even more hellish.
Gaza has become little better than a concentration camp. Its population is periodically brutalised and its economy is egregiously undermined by embargos and sanctions. Some of its people are let out daily in order to provide cheap labour for Israel. Its people suffers collective punishment, yet another example of Israel’s flouting of international law.
The recently enacted Jewish State Law makes Israel an apartheid state, Palestinian enclaves being the equivalent of Bantustans in South Africa under its white-supremacist governments.
Richard Burgon MP was recently castigated for saying that Zionism is a threat to peace.
He is right.
It is Zionism which motivates Netanyahu and his supporters in grabbing more and more Palestinian land, making a long term peace settlement in Israel less possible. Thus, Zionist policies are a threat to peace in the Middle East.
So toxic has become the whole issue of anti-Semitism that people shrink from telling it as it is.
Since the 19th century the term anti-Semitism has been widely used to designate that form of racism which is hostility and discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group. Although the term is modern, the ideology and practice go back to medieval times, with recorded episodes of discrimination and violence against Jews in England, Spain and throughout the Russian Empire and in France and Poland during the 20th century. Although the Jews are only one of the categories of Semitic people, the term anti-Semitism applies specifically to the Jews.
During the 2nd World War, the Nazis were desperate to get their hands on the oil of the Middle East. One of their ploys was to foment discord in Iraq, which was then under British control. The trouble was put down by the British army, just as brutally as a generation earlier in 1925. This led the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to flee to Berlin in 1941. Seeing an opportunity to win Arab support for the German war effort, Hitler promised him that the Wehrmacht would destroy Jewish settlements in Palestine. An empty promise. For a time, the Nazi media stopped using the term anti-Semitic and replaced it with anti-Jewish, taking account of the fact that Arabs, as well as Jews, are Semitic.
Although Jews formed no more than 1 per cent of the German population in the 1920s and 1930s, anti-Semitism was central to the ideology of the Nazis. Jewish Marxists, so-called, were held responsible by the Nazis for the “knife-in-the-back defeat of Germany in the First World War and a conspiracy of international Jewry was blamed for the punitive Versailles Treaty, which caused so much suffering and bred so much resentment among the German people and laid the ground for the demise of the Weimar Republic and the consolidation of the Nazis’ Third Reich.
Israel has blatantly ignored International law by establishing permanent settlements on land won by war. There has not been state-sponsored land-grabbing on this scale since Germany expanded into conquered eastern Europe between 1939 and 1943.
Within Israel’s original borders, the Arab population now slightly exceeds the Jewish population and this demographic trend puts the wind up Netanyahu and company. They want more Jews, by immigration and any other means. This means they need more territory for the Jewish population and they will get it by whatever ruthless means they can. Netanyahu has annexed to Israel the illegal settlements of the West Bank. You can be sure that this is a prelude to claiming Sovereignty over the whole of the West Bank. Netanyahu and Trump, between them have killed off the idea of a 2-state solution. They are eager to clear Israel, Gaza and the West Bank of all Palestinians, in order to take over the whole lot.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, have much in common. After a 2-year investigation, Israel’s Attorney General has announced his plan to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Separately, his wife faces a charge for misusing thousands of dollars of state funds.
They both display the arrogance of power and in the 2019 election they have retained it. Forgive the electorate; Many of them (I quote Jesus on the cross) know not what they do .
Beside the metaphorical waters of Babylon, I weep for the Jewish and non-Jewish people of Israel