“Almost everything you think you know about the Middle East is untrue”

March 17, 2002

[Note by Tom Gross]

In this piece, Peter Hitchens, a leading British commentator, and the brother of virulent anti-Israel campaigner Christopher Hitchens, writes: "If peace is what the Arab world wants, why do we not ask the Arabs who have so much more land so give some of theirs, so that Israel's borders are no longer an invitation to invasion."

Peter Hitchens is a subscriber to this email list.


The only way to peace
By Peter Hitchens
The Mail on Sunday (UK)
March 10, 2002

Almost everything you think you know about the Middle East is untrue. For anyone who knows the regions geography and history, the nightly news bulletins are a torture to watch, with their sloppy editorialising about 'peace' and their depiction of Arab and Israeli as squabbling children in need of a clip round the ea from wise Western statesmen.

Those world statesmen are not much better. In normal life, it is a sign of being unhinged if you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. But in the business of Middle East diplomacy such behaviour could earn you a Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1978, Israel has been urged to give up a little more land in return for the promise of peace which always seems to evaporate. The land however is gone for good.

The whole logic is odd and hypocritical. America a vast territorial empire with harmless neighbours to north and south, and vast oceans to east and west urges Israel, one third the size of Florida and with foes on every hand, to give up 'land for peace'. So does Britain, a secure island entirely surrounded by deep water and with no obvious enemies in sight. The phrase 'land for peace' is interesting in itself. It is actually another way of describing the appeasement forced on Czechoslovakia by her supposed friends in 1938. This was also supposed to promise peace, but made the country impossible to defend and opened the gates for invasion a few months later. Those responsible for this cowardly stupidity are still reviled 60 years on. Those who urge it on Israel in the present day are praised.

Israel and territories would fit comfortably within the borders of England with plenty of room to spare, and then look at the absurd shape of it. Any general asked to defend such a country would groan with despair. At one point, between Qalqilya and the Mediterranean, it is so narrow that a tank could cross it in 18 minutes and a jet bomber in 18 seconds. Its only international airport is within easy rocket range of potentially hostile territory. So are its capital and its principal highway. It is worth mentioning that it is also within missile range of Iran and Iraq, not far over the eastern horizon, and that Iraq and Iran agree on only one thing their loathing of Israel. Within living memory it has three times been the target of invasions from its neighbours, in 1948, 1967, and 1973. During the Gulf War it was bombarded with Iraqi Scud missiles. You might pardon its inhabitants for being a little nervous about their security.

The astounding thing is that so many Israelis, despite this danger, have sought peace treaties with their neighbours based on a trust they have no reason to feel. Almost the entire Israeli media, the country's largest political party, most of its authors, academics and artists, campaign constantly for their own state to make risky concessions to its enemies. Even its conservative leaders have made such concessions, especially by handing back the Sinai desert with its valuable oil and strategically vital territory to the Egypt in 1978. The last left wing premier Ehud Barak was prepared to present half of Jerusalem to Arab control two years ago. He was turned down.

He also sought to give back the Golan Heights to Syria but was rebuffed. This militarily vital piece of ground was originally part of the League of Nations mandate of Palestine when its borders were fixed in 1920. It was then handed over to Britain in a deal with the French, who controlled Syria in 1923. Israel captured in bloody fighting in 1967.

In the same year Israel conquered the famous 'Occupied Territories' which are now supposed to be turned into a Palestinian state alongside Israel. You might think Israel had seized them illegally from their rightful owner. In fact this is not true. They were grabbed by armed force along with the eastern and most holy part of Jerusalem then known as Transjordan in 1948. Transjordan ethnically cleansed all Jews from this land and from its sector of Jerusalem, and promptly renamed itself Jordan. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule, the area was never described as 'Occupied Territory'

At that time there were also no demands for independence from the Palestinian people, the Gaza strip was gobbled up by Egypt in the same year, to a chorus of silence from the world protest industry.

Israel has many blots on its past and is not a perfect society. Some of its founders were shameful terrorists as many British Army veterans and others have reason to know. During the 1948 war there is little doubt that the Israelis drove some Arabs from their homes, though the Arab radio stations were also urging them to flee to give the Arab invading armies a clear run in their invasion.

But it is not some kind of crude oppressor. Would you know from the BBC that Israel has a million Arab citizens with full civil and voting rights, except that they do not have to serve in the army. This arrangement is far from perfect and in recent years relations have grown worse, but no Arab country gives such rights to Jews, if it even permits them to live within its borders.

Then there are the 'refugees' in these squalid townships. Why are they still there? About 650,000 Arab fled from what is now Israel in 1948. There are now about five million officially classified refugees. More than 1.5 billion has been spent by the UN on housing and feeding them, mainly provided by Western nations. Most of the Arab states refuse to grant them citizenship or to pay towards their maintenance. They have a political interest in preventing this weeping sore from ever healing, since the refugees plight is excellent anti-Israel propaganda. They still promote the idea that they may one day return to their lost homes. For if they did so, Israel would cease to exist, its Jews a minority in an Arab state.

Compare the Palestinians with the 12 million Germans expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Hungary and Roumania after World War Two. All have long since been absorbed into Germany and few seriously dream of returning to their lost homes. This often bloody transfer of population was done with the approval of the great powers of the day, and is now largely forgotten. Or compare them with the 14 million caught in the wrong place in the bloody India-Pakistan partition of 1947. Nearly 8 million Hindus fled from Pakistan and 6 million Moslems streamed out of India. None of them is still in a refugee camp, nor are the 900,000 Jews driven often with great brutality and persecution from Arab countries after the foundation of the State of Israel, most of whom settled in Israel.

Yet none of the supposed efforts for 'peace' has managed to achieve the civilised resettlement in Arab countries of these refugees. Why not, since they share a common religion, language and culture with the whole of the vast Arab world, and might surely have benefited from some of the vast Arab oil wealth.

The reason is that most of the West has lazily accepted the TV news idea that this is a squabble between people who are equally misguided. It has swallowed the Palestinian claim that they are the oppressed. Yet Jewish Israel occupies only a tiny part of the Arab and Muslim Middle East. They have ignored the simple that if Israel is to survive to needs sensible borders. At the moment it would rather have a frontier which is defensible and unrecognised than one which is recognised but cannot be depended.

We are supposed to engage in a war against Terrorism, here is a great opportunity to defeat and finish terrorism in one of its greatest bases. If peace is what the Arab world wants, America is now in a unique position to arrange it. Her military and diplomatic power is at its zenith. Instead of asking Israel to give land for peace, why do we not ask the Arabs who have so much more land so give some of theirs, so that Israel's borders are no longer an invitation to invasion.

At the same the time we could end the grievance which has kept this useless conflict alive, a new Marshall plan could resettle the refugees in a couple of years throughout the area in peace and comfort. Their politically impossible 'right to return' could be bargained away forever. ...Arab world needs to understand that no amount of threats, terror, will shift Western World from its defence of Israzel's right to exist, it must stop using anti-Israel feeling as a safety valve for the discontent in its own mismanaged societies, whose despotism and squalor and brutality rarely if ever feature in the TV news bulletins.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.