Thoughts on Gaza

The situation in the Middle East seems to be worsening. The news that Israel is suspected of using white phosphorus in urban areas is a new low in the conflict. There has been shockingly little outcry in the West over the way that Israel is behaving - indeed the majority of news outlets seem to be in support of the Israeli offensive.

Clearly this is a complex scenario, and without a knowledge of how the region came to be in this situation it is difficult to judge the morality and justification for the scenes we are seeing. By polarising the issue and taking it out of context, the mainstream media have failed badly in reporting on the region.

The history of the Middle East has always been a turbulent one. For thousands of years, its position at the meeting point of three continents has meant it is often the place where armies collide, and the deep religious history of the area has meant that it has held strong emotional weight on the people fighting over it, often inspiring the conflict itself.

The First World War saw the region seized from the Ottoman empire. In a secret agreement between Great Britain and France a large portion of the Middle East was divided among the two powers and the control of Palestine by the British was confirmed by the San Remo Convention in 1920. This mandate meant that during the interwar period, Palestine was controlled by a civilian administration headed by the High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel. This period also saw the start of a great migration by Jews back into the region - over 350,000 Jews returned between 1920 and 1945, influenced by the increasing anti-semitism within Europe.

This influx of Jews caused much bad feeling from the Arabs, causing the British to attempt to limit the immigration of the Jews, and in 1929, the massacre of 67 Jews. It is thought that the massacre was inspired by rumours that the Jews were attacking Arabs and seizing control of their holy places. The massacre drove the Jews out of Hebron, and was one of the events that resulted in the creation of several militant Jewish groups, such as Etzel and Lehi, whose reciprocal violence caused them to be branded 'Terrorist groups' by the British administration.

The second world war saw the increase in this immigration, as Jews fled from the horrors of the Holocaust. While the British sought to maintain their quotas for immigration, huge numbers of Jews entered Palestine illegally. In 1946, incensed by the British position on immigration which had left thousands of Jews stranded in displaced persons camps across Europe, the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters to the British Administration, was bombed by a Zionist group called Irgun. Despite the bombing, the British position continued to be unpopular, and as the Jewish voice within America became louder as Jews escaped across the Atlantic, Britains hold on the region became untenable.

The fate of the region was decided by the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947. Although the plan was wildly unpopular amongst the Arab and Muslim world, the vote was passed by the dominating power of the West, and almost immediately Arab riots broke out in Jerusalem. The famous slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land" became a bitter insult to the people whose homeland had been taken away.

In 1948 the British terminated their mandate and Israel declared independence. The Arab states had put forward a plan for the creation of a "United State of Palestine", rejecting the UN's plan as it was opposed by the majority of Palestinian residents, and the news that Israel had declared independence prompted an immediate invasion by the Arab countries: Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq supported by Morocco, Sudan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The fighting lasted a year, during which an estimated 80% of the Arab population fled the area. The ceasefire meant that the area now known as the West Bank was annexed by Jordan, while Egypt took control of Gaza. While the Western world had acknowledged Israel's sovereignty, the state is not recognised by the majority of the Arab world.

The bloody history of Israel has continued to this day. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist group. Israel responded by sending airstrikes to Beirut where the surviving attackers were believed to be hiding. Israel has also continued to erode the boundaries of the Palestinian regions in a quest for more land, and more water - many of the aquifiers lying on contentious land.

The recent conflict seem to start with the beginning of the Second Intifadah, a Palestinan uprising caused in part by the failings of the Camp David Summit, and the riots following the military presence at prayers a day later. Partially provoked by the failings of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians, angry at the failed withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the West Bank, erupted in violence.

This violence has continued to the present day, and the situation in Gaza today is considered to be a continuation of the Second Intifadah.

The viewpoints of the two sides cannot be more diametrically opposed - Israel considers it's actions to be a part of their own war on terror. By going on the offensive against Hamas militants in retaliation for rocket attacks, they are showing that they will not tolerate such terrorism. Part of the reason that this is the view espoused by the Western media is the fact that it is such a similar line to take to the West's position on terrorism. Since the events of September 11th, and the London bombings, taking anything other than the hardest line on terrorism has been inconceivable - certainly political suicide. By capturing the population's fear of terrorist attacks, both Britain and the USA have managed to polarize opinion, a valuable political tool which has thus been embraced. By casting the Arab world as the supporters of such events, an 'us and them' feeling has been created, which means it is far easier to justify tanks aimed at civilians, airstrikes on mosques and now chemical weapons. They're 'terrorists' - they don't deserve pity. It is far easier for the media to jump on the bandwagon of hate that they have created to sell stories of fear, to capitalize on the divisive politics and portray the story as a struggle of good versus evil. Besides, Israeli's are whiter than Palestinians - it's easy to subtly influence the racism of the nation to support the story.

And on the other side there is just as much manipulation. The USA is as hated as they can be in the Arab world - the war in Iraq has made sure of that - it is easy to portray Israel as the lapdogs of the infidel, after all most of the Arab nations still don't recognise the Israeli state - Hamas aren't terrorists, they're fighting the century old oppression of the foreign invaders.

And as with any conflict the losers are the civilians, the people caught between the aggression of both sides. Both sides have powerful allies - Hamas are receiving weapons from Iran, Israel have the backing of the US. The conflict has the potential to get much worse. There are more powers at play here than just Israel and Hamas. While a ceasefire would bring welcome respite to the battered Gaza Strip, only negotiation and diplomacy, tolerance and discussion between the West and the Arab world, will bring an end to the conflicts in this area.