Hugh Reilly has been permitted column space in ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper this week to vent off in an overly flip and cynical piece on the Israel-Palestine peace process ( 28 January 2014 ‘We must call a halt to Israeli filibustering in Gaza’, p.24).
Of course the world waits for a successful outcome to this process with unbated breath because there is a much more serious conflict underway in the region – that of the Syrian Civil War and the future of other local Arab states when the current Syrian state collapses. Some 100,000 people have died so far in the Syrian Civil War and that is probably around 20,000 more fatalities than Arabs/Palestinians killed in all conflicts with the Jews of the Yishuv and of Israel since the 1920s. Palestine and the Palestinians will of course grip our attention again when at last they take over Hashemite Jordan from King Abdullah and establish the State of Palestine that had always been intended there. The tipping point when that might happen is probably not too far off (given the enormous number of Syrian and stateless-‘Palestinian’ refugees streaming into Jordan from Syria). Hugh Reilly might want to focus his attention on that.
His preference is to blame Israel for the perceived impasse in the peace process – Israel, the country which has consistently ended as the victor in the wars and conflicts between the two sides over the last 60-odd years. It is Israel’s fault that the beaten Palestinians haven’t come to the negotiating table as the beaten… you know… as the beaten have always had to do throughout human history… in 1815, 1914, in 1945… it isn’t a new concept. Not the Palestinians though. No. The behaviour of their leaderships bring to mind the Black Knight in the Monty Python film, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. After his encounter with the King, the Black Knight who has been reduced to a mere stump of a man – a head and a torso – says ‘All right, we’ll call it a draw … Running away eh? … You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!’ The Palestinian defeat has been the longest defeat in history. Reilly however draws a parallel with the Hundred Years War!
Paraphrasing Reilly just a little, call this blog prickly but it is difficult to square the alleged desire for peace, as professed by the West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas, with the continuing language of hate fostered in Palestinian schools across the West Bank and in the other Palestine, Gaza… in text-books there, and in playgrounds.
Then there is the issue of education in Scotland. Reilly believes that schoolchildren here receive no education regarding this ‘most important international conflict’. Is it really the most important international conflict though? More important than the long-festering Kashmir conflict between India, Pakistan and China? More important than the smouldering Sunni-Shi’ite stand off? More important than the smouldering stand off between China and Japan? How would Reilly handle the education of Scottish schoolchildren on the Israeli-Palestine issue anyway? Set it in the context of other conflicts in the post-1918 and post-1945 systems? Set in the context of other movements of populations in the 1940s and 1950s… when ethnic-Germans were forced from their homes in Poland and the then Czechoslovakia and from Hungary… when Moslems from India and non-Moslems from Pakistan were expelled en masse? Somehow I doubt that that would be Reilly’s intention.
Another major concern of Reilly in his piece is the matter of recognition by any emerging Palestine of the Jewish character of Israel.
Why is this such a major concern for him? In the last few days we have seen a new democratic constitution emerge in Tunisia – a constitution that states that Islam is the state religion. One might think that this may not sit too well with the fact that Tunisia, the flag of which features an Islamic crescent moon, has a small Christian and Jewish population too. Then there is Switzerland, and all of the Scandinavian states… each showing Christian crosses on their flags. In Switzerland however, 16% of the population is not Christian. In Turkey, Jews and Christians perhaps find it difficult to identify with the Islamic crescent. The flag of Saudi Arabia is green, a traditional colour in Islamic flags, with the Shahada or Muslim creed in large white Arabic script above a white horizontal sabre. The foreign population of Saudi Arabia may exceed 12 million, and though comprehensive statistics for the religious denominations of foreigners are not available, they do include Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. Few of these people identify with the state symbols of Saudi Arabia and its flag. However it seems that for Reilly and others it is just a step too far for Israel to express its Jewish character. We can have an Italy, an Ireland, a Poland, all of which express a certain Christian character – and which we all recognise – but we can’t have an Israel that expresses a Jewish character.