Saturday, 20 September 2014

Palestine - The Cause of a Country

I've known for some time that I would be blogging about Palestine and it's interesting in recent months to see how the Palestinian Territories, particularly Gaza, have come and gone in the news. Palestine has become a real cause célèbre in the past hundred years, particularly on the left of the political spectrum and it's fair to say that most of us will know more about Palestine than we do about other places I've blogged about, eg. Eritrea or Kiribati!

Or do we? 

As I've started researching about Palestine and started trying to see the world through Palestinian eyes, my first conclusion is that Palestine is a place we think we know, through news headlines and politics, but what do most of us really know about Palestinian culture, beyond the political sphere? I don't want to criticise the well-meaning solidarity that exists for Palestine around the world, but I'm coming to the conclusion that Palestine is a cause for most people when, what the Palestinians really need, is a country.

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict - A Very Short Introduction

The Dome of the Rock by F.R.L.
I've always wanted to read a book that would explain the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a concise and clear way and Martin Bunton's The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict - A Very Short Introduction (2013 - part of the Oxford University Press series that I love so much!) does just that.

Like most people out there, I had a rough idea of the history of Palestine/Israel and a sense of the reasons for conflict, but Bunton's book helped me order the events and understand the important milestones, particularly in the 20th century, when Palestinians saw their mandated territory shrink from 75% to 22% of the land currently recognised as Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The issues are complicated, needless to say, and I don't have time to go through all of them, but I will share one interesting thing that I learned regarding Jewish settlement in the eastern Mediterranean towards the end of Ottoman rule and during the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948).  At first the need for a Jewish homeland was so strong that most Jewish settlers bought land in the plains between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea, rather than the ancestral Jewish homelands in the mountains of Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank).

View from the Garden of Gethsemane by F.R.L.
The plains contain some good farming land, particularly for citrus fruits, with easy access to the port of Jaffa and European markets, however, this part of Palestine was also vulnerable to Bedouin raids, so the majority of the Palestinian population stayed in the mountains.

Thus, the Jewish homeland, which is now Israel, ended up in lands that weren't ancestral Jewish lands and the Palestinian population ended up in the West Bank, which is the ancestral homeland, not just of Judaism, but also of Christianity and with sacred Islamic sites as well.

Unfortunately, nationalism has dominated the Palestinian-Israeli discourse, with each side claiming the other has no real identity and a reluctance on the part of the Israeli government to fully hand over control of the West Bank to the Palestinian authorities, usually under pressure from right-wing Jewish groups to hold on to the Jewish ancestral homelands.

Which Palestine?

Christian nuns on the Temple Mount by F.R.L.
I'll probably need to explain what I mean when I say Palestine, as well, as Palestine means different things to different people.  There is Palestine as seen by the majority of Palestinians, an historic land incorporating the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.

There are the Palestinian territories, the de facto political entities of the Gaza strip and the West Bank, currently under varying degrees of Israeli occupation.

There is the State of Palestine, the nation declared by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1988.  It's the most internationally accepted form of Palestine, being an observer state at the U.N. and recognised de jure by more than two-thirds of the world's countries (United States, Australia and European countries being notable exceptions).

The Palestine I want to blog about is not so much a geographical one, as a cultural one.  More than any other place I've blogged about, it's going to be hard to get away from the politics of Palestine (even food can be political!) but I'll try to learn more about the culture of Palestine through movies, books, music and cooking.

It's hard to learn about Palestine and not learn about Israel, but my blog posts will focus on Palestinian culture, rather than Israeli culture, regardless of the geographical realities or political understanding.

I hope you'll join me on this learning journey over the next month or so, I'm sure it will be an interesting experience!

Image credits:

To illustrate this blog post, I wanted to share some photographs from Flickr member F.R.L. who is originally from Munich in Germany.  Rather than create just another slide show for friends and relatives, F.R.L. took the brave move to put his photos on Flickr!  Thanks for sharing these images with us F.R.L. and yes, they are interesting!

You can see more of F.R.L.'s photos on his photo stream.  
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