238. The power of the great (VII)
Updated: Jul 28
In the 2000s British sitcom Peep Show—a double act between the conservative character Mark and the liberal Jez, mismatched flatmates—a dialogue runs as follows: “Mark likes Israel, I'm Palestine. Makes it much more interesting if you pick sides.” And really everyone in the West, whatever they pretend, feels the same way, although not quite to stave off boredom. It goes a good deal deeper than that.
Those who wish to countersignal—to show off—will sometimes pretend indifference, especially if they are New Atheists: “I don’t care what happens in some sandpit. If they built a good mental hospital in Jerusalem a thousand years back we would’ve been spared the trouble.” Cue endless retweets and likes; the rational man knows that it is ridiculous to care about this piece of dirt. At least the Saudis have oil! Something useful! Be rational about it!
From a purely material view, all the European countries bear a responsibility for Israel-Palestine: the major colonial powers all made promises to the Jews and the Arabs—some kept and some violated—that created the region as it is today. Aside from this, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a direct fall-out from the Second World War: it was created by European attitudes to race, Judaism, and national identity. Israel is both lifeboat and compensation for the Jews; and European money, technology, and arms have supported Israel for her entire existence. We cannot renege on responsibility in this regard.
Further, European countries have invited millions of Muslims into their borders during the post-war era; these Muslims feel kinship with the Palestinians—and Mohammad himself tangled with Jewish tribes in fierce desert combat. When a bomb goes off in London part of the justification for that attack is that Europeans support Israel. Indeed, 9/11 was justified on the grounds that America supports Israel; and so the last twenty years of wars, from Afghanistan to Somalia, are connected to Israel’s existence and the West’s attitude to Israel.
The desert is still the crucible of prophets: men go into the deserts to be ascetics, to see the world in black and white—and they bring back harsh messages from the outside. The Arabs say there have been 40,000 prophets, though we have forgotten most. A few names remain: Jesus, Mohammad, Moses. Although the West is only nominally Christian, we retain—as does Russia—an interest in our Holy City, Jerusalem. This extraordinary “dirt patch” birthed three faiths that remade the world—continue to remake the world, if only in secular form—and so we cannot escape the Holy Land. Who rules the Holy Land and why is a salient issue, even in secular times—and far from all the world is secular. Even the English flag memorialises the Cross and the Crusades: our identity is tied to the Holy Land by generations of blood; and almost all our Christian ancestors up until about fifty years ago would be astonished that Christian nations bleed and sacrifice so that the Star of David can rule the Holy Land—rule even the holiest Christian city, Jerusalem—and that Christians cannot preach freely there.
When I was a young Marxist I was for the Palestinians; when I was in my mid-20s I preferred the Israelis in an almost Neocon way, since I disliked the growth of Islam in my country. Eventually, I went to see for myself. This did not change my mind; the Palestinians are treated badly, but not abominably—in material terms it is not as bad as their propaganda makes out. However, what turned me back towards Palestine from effective neutrality was not the material condition of the Palestinians, it was the realisation that Zionism is secular romantic nationalism—a form of fascism, actually; especially Revisionist Zionism, ideological grandfather to the ruling Likudniks—whereas the Palestinians are for God. Aside from this, for over a thousand years my ancestors fought for the Cross, not the Star of David; and I am for the Cross still, not Zionism.