In response to one of my posts a medievalist colleague of mine posted a comment here and a thread on his own site in which he compared the situation in Ireland with that in Israel.
I confess that I’m not sure how he got from my post, on the cognitive dissonance that results from trying to pressure the Palestinians to behave rationally and, for example, during Operation Cast Lead, stop bombing Israel in order to stop the damage to their own people’s lives and infrastructure, to “Who is to blame in the Israel-Palestine [sic] Debate?,” but it certainly gave him the occasion to make a series of comparisons between the conflict in the Middle East and that in Ireland. I confess to feeling that his analogies were defective throughout, but didn’t quite know how to respond substantively.
One of my regular and valued commenters here at the site responded with an excellent essay on the historical differences which, I think, illustrates just how ill-informed the comparison. With his permission, I republish it here with some short comments of my own [in italics].
Historian Fails History Test
Ray from Seattle:
When I read comments like Paul Halsall’s, I am incredulous. How can any objective person possibly compare the Arab/Israeli situation to Ireland’s?
Protestants ruled the Catholic majority in Ireland for hundreds of years before the “troubles” – which were really a recent flareup in the ongoing struggle by the natives of Ireland over several centuries to divorce themselves of British rule and gain independence. The modern troubles are just another chapter in that long saga of Britain’s colonialism and its ultimate decline.
The state of Israel was created by deliberation of the UN, including all of the new Arab states whose membership required their legal commitment to honor all agreements reached by that body. It concerned the fair assignment of sovereignty over the stateless territory of Palestine – according to majority populations in those areas of the two main ethnic / religious groups living there. It was a generous attempt by the democracies that won WWII to avoid further war and genocide by fair and legally enforceable deliberation and negotiation of opposing interests as judged by that world body of nations.
One side, the Arab states that had agreed to honor the vote of the UN when they became members of it, responded to the Partition vote by immediately declaring their intention to destroy Israel and the Jews who created it. The past sixty years has been a litany of their many failed attempts at it – so far.
In the case of modern Ireland you had a centuries long religious sectarian struggle for a land unfortunately situated close by the shores of a huge military power whose vast wealth was the product of centuries of colonialism and whose past glory was declining. Britain saw Ireland as an essential bulwark on their western shores and as one insult against British power they would not be forced to swallow. Britain confiscated prime land from the Irish by military force and gave it to transplanted Protestants from Britain. Britain’s militarily power has since been placed in service to the descendants of those minority Protestants of Ireland and to their advantage against the poorer Catholic majority whenever it was necessary.
[Note that the French were faced the same problem at the end of World War II. The Americans begged them to get out of Vietnam and they refused, for the sake of French “glory,” despite their particularly inglorious performance in WWII. As De Gaulle says in the opening page of his massive history of his people: “Sans sa gloire, la France n’est pas la France.” And so, we get a) Dien Bien Phu, b) French gloating over American failure in Vietnam, and c) France at the head of the Eurabian alliance in the hopes of taking the US down a notch.]
In the ME you had Jews migrating to a non-state territory they had been largely, but not completely expelled from, many centuries earlier. They did this not as clients of some state, or even as a stated people, but as individuals motivated to one day establish a state in their ancient homeland where no state had ever existed and as a refuge for Jews worldwide who had escaped the holocaust.
Against severe odds by 1947 they had reached significant numbers and were attempting to establish a secular democratic government over that small part of Palestine where they were now the numerical majority, leaving the rest for the Arabs. They attempted this not through conquest and terrorism but through peaceful immigration and the legal instrument of the UN. And they did this while both the Arabs and the Brits were using explosives or their military mandatory powers, respectively, to thwart them. [This feature of the historical process distinguishes Zionism from all other “Western colonial” imperialism (not to mention Arab colonial imperialism): All the others, including the British colonists in Ireland, settled after a conquest. The Jews managed to settle Palestine without conquest, an unprecedented event in the history of foreign settlements.]
Remember that the Partition Plan required that no Jew or Arab be removed from their land or property – while both were free to relocate the few miles necessary to end up under Israeli or Arab sovereignty, as they wished.
Israel occupied the WB as the result of repeated Arab attacks against Israel over the last 60 years. Remember also that the WB and Gaza were both over-run as a result of one of those attacks in 1967. Israel has attempted repeatedly to return most of the WB according to UN Res 242 and has returned Gaza in whole.
RL seems to know you and consider you an historian. As an academic how can you so easily avoid stepping back and seeing the larger picture around which the conflict churns. The Arab/Israeli conflict is not about suicide bombs or occupation of “Arab land” or settlements. Those are only its effects.
It is about the free-world’s attempt to settle issues of sovereignty where two peoples both have some valid claims – peacefully, without killing those on the other side.
It is about one side’s desire to establish a secular democratic state for itself in a recognized and fair international process without resorting to war.
It is about the other side’s fanatical desire to destroy them for “offending their honor”.
It seems to me a scholar of medieval history would be able to avoid the pitfalls of cognitive egocentrism at least enough to appreciate some of these over-riding issues.