The Balfour Declaration in 1917 — a letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild — stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Thus began the great tragedy that befell the Palestinians, which continues to date. The idea was to transport Jews back to the ‘Holy Land’. A great body of Christians believed that the return of Jews to Israel or the Jewish national home would hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ. Thus Zionism was fuelled by Christian restorationism.
Ignorant commentators often crudely argue about the imagined similarities between Pakistan and Israel, as being the only “two ideological states”. Other than the fact that the founders of Israel, quite dishonestly and to the annoyance of Pakistan’s leaders, used the partition of India as a precedent before the United Nations, there is no basis for this claim. Pakistanis for the most part were native to the areas that formed their country and even those who migrated to Pakistan came from other parts of British India and were not imported from Europe or the US. The tragedy of the partition of Palestine is not that the Jews claimed to be a people or that they had national aspirations as a distinct people but the fact that they completely displaced another group of people. The idea of transporting a set of people from one part of the world to another and then forming a nation state or political entity around them has two precedents. The first is British colonialism and white settlements in North America, Australia (and New Zealand) and South Africa. The second is the colonisation of what is now Liberia by African American colonists. In North America and Australia, Red Indians and Aborigines were systematically suppressed and isolated in ever shrinking parts of these countries. In the case of South Africa, the native Africans were subjected cruelly to apartheid. In Israel we see both things happening simultaneously. It may also be remembered that Israel was brought into existence not by a constitutional legal movement but by terrorism, not unlike the kind of terrorism Israel accuses the Palestinians of.
Pakistan, on its part, opposed the partition plan of Palestine on principle right from the start. Even before independence, the leaders of the Pakistan Movement had been the staunchest critics of British policy in Palestine. Therefore, Pakistan Foreign Minister Zafrullah Khan distinguished the case of Pakistan from the case of Israel very well in 1947 and gave the strongest rebuttal to the proposal for the creation of Israel. In September 1947, a partition plan was adopted by the UN, which called for the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states. However, as a consequence of the war, Israel annexed 60 percent of even those territories that were part of the Arab state under the partition plan. Whatever was left of the Palestinian territories was further subjected to annexation during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Since then, Israel continues to annex territories after territories through settlers.
Israel’s rationale for the attack on Gaza today is Hamas. Ironically, in 1979, Israel had recognised Mujama al Islamiya, Shaikh Yassin’s Islamic group, as a registered association. Hamas emerged from that. The hope of the Israelis was that Yassin would be a counterweight to Yasser Arafat. Counterweights the Hamas were but they turned out to be a Frankenstein’s monster for Israel. Where Arafat was ready to compromise, Hamas have refused to move an inch. Hamas fires rockets, Israel bombs Gaza and Hamas gets more recruits; a veritable symbiotic relationship between the two. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was formed in 1964 to achieve national independence for Palestine. It was a federation of various bodies — mostly leftist, secular, socialist and nationalist like Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Front that placed before itself the object of a democratic Palestine. In 1993, Yasser Arafat did what statesmanship required: accepted Israel as a state in return for self-rule and gradual dismantling of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Since Yasser Arafat’s passing, the Israelis have slowly but steadily demolished the Oslo Accord, while blaming the victim for it.
There is no question that Israel is now a fact of history and geography; there is no denying this fact whatever the injustice behind it, but must the Palestinians go through what the Red Indians went through in the US?
One thing is for sure: the Palestinians cannot count on the help of other Arabs or Muslims. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-appointed ‘Caliph’ and leader of the faithful, has — predictably — ruled out any support for the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Israelis have, very tactfully, endorsed the Kurdish demand for independence, thereby effectively neutralising that ancient people who had once produced a Saladin. The fratricidal Shia-Sunni war that is going on in Iraq and Syria, is likely to expand to the greater Arab world with Lebanon being next on the list. Saudi Arabia and Iran will continue to fight their wars in other lands by proxy. The Arab Spring continues to destabilise the Arab world. Turkey’s shortsighted leader is more interested in re-establishing a Caliphate of his own and is not likely to step up to the plate. Afghanistan’s leaders are preoccupied with the implications of the US withdrawal. In Pakistan, we continue to kill Shias and Ahmedis.
At a time when Muslim unity — the unity of the so-called ummah — is most needed, we are found wanting, bickering over dogma and killing each other in the name of religion. It is important to remember that the underlying paradox of Muslim unity has always been that it can only be achieved if theology, doctrine and religion are put on the backburner. Ultimately, a people mired in superstition and caught up in doctrinal disputes are unlikely to ever find that elusive unity and strength.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org