The other day the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign convened a meeting in London to discuss the deficiencies of the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s latest onslaught on Gaza. Especially reprehensible, participants felt, was the platform that the broadcaster gave to Israel’s elder statesman Shimon Peres to purvey what amounted to Zionist propaganda.
Interviewed by an exceptionally self-effacing BBC correspondent, Peres declared that it eluded his comprehension why, after Israel’s magnanimous “withdrawal” from Gaza in 2005, its people had chosen the terrorist path when they had a golden opportunity to create a flourishing society.
Less one-sided than it was, the BBC’s coverage of the Palestine-Israel conflict still does little to indicate the background to Israel’s immiseration of the Palestinian people. This dereliction is the more culpable for two glaring reasons: Because it assists Israel in its effort to portray Gaza as a security threat that neither yields to analysis nor admits of solution; and because the BBC is a public service body that levies a license fee from every UK household with a television and thus, in effect, employs British public money to contribute to Israel’s global PR crusade. In truth, as the French historian and former diplomat Jean-Pierre Filiu makes abundantly clear in his distinguished new book, Gaza: A History, the chronic crisis of Gaza is eminently susceptible to analysis once its tortured history in the 20th Century is properly understood. What that history teaches is that Gaza is the place it is thanks to decades of remorseless victimization by the Jewish state. What it teaches, too, is that Gaza was, and remains, central to the Palestine-Israel conflict and to the chances of resolving it.
Few grasp that following the creation of Israel in 1947, this tiny, famously fertile coastal strip was meant to be a salient part of a new Arab state that was to share Palestine with Israel. In the event, Gaza became a magnet for desperate Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist forces. One refugee observed that it became the “Noah’s Ark of a lost Palestine.” The reality was that one in four Arabs of historic Palestine sought sanctuary on one percent of its land area, or put otherwise, 200,000 refugees crammed into a territory inhabited by 80,000 Palestinians. In the 1950s when Gaza was under Egyptian administration, Israel feared the area would turn into a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism. In 1956, Israeli forces occupied Gaza for four months, with a grim resultant death toll. Years of comparative quiet ensued, but following the “Six Day War” that Israel waged against Egypt and its Arab neighbours in 1967, Gaza was invaded anew by the Israeli Defense Force and an occupation began that, for all Shimon Peres’ disingenuous claims to the contrary, endures to this day. It was in seeking to counter guerrilla resistance by Palestinian nationalists that Israel took steps to nurture extremism in Gaza. The resilient, tunnel-building, religio-political faction now known as “Hamas” sprang in no small measure from Machiavellian Zionist meddling.
In December 1987, Gazan Palestinians initiated the first Intifada, which rapidly spread to the West Bank. The rise of Hamas steadily weakened Fatah and the Palestinian Authority led by Yasir Arafat, dividing the Palestinian cause against itself and ultimately spawning the second Intifada in 2000. Meanwhile, as he strove to crush Arafat’s nationalist movement, Israel’s then leader, the late Ariel Sharon, succeeded only in imparting fresh impetus to Hamas. The crippling economic blockade of Gaza instigated by Israel in 2007 and its subsequent bloody and destructive military interventions have combined to foment greater radicalization in the region than ever.
Jean-Pierre Filiu believes that if there is to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, its “foundation and keystone” will be Gaza. He maintains that the cycle of violence could be ended if Israel lifted its blockade, thereby reviving the shattered economy of Gaza and offering opportunities other than militancy to young Palestinians, more than half of whom are unemployed. Illuminating about the past and constructive about the present, his humane and timely book furnishes what, with respect to the Palestine-Israel conflict, the BBC has long failed to furnish: A genuine public service.
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