European Actions Hurt Palestinians and Block Peace
Europe marks a century of interference
Next month is the 100-year anniversary of the battle of Tel-Chai, where the first shots of what became the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were fired. Those events also mark the 100-year anniversary of Europe’s disruptive intervention in Israeli-Arab affairs.
As World War I ended, Arabs and Jews were aligned: The Arab Emir Faisal strongly supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, alongside an Arab Hashemite Kingdom in Syria under his rule.
But the prospect of a peaceful Middle East was quickly shattered by Europe. France invaded Syria, forcing Faisal out and obliterated the short-lived Arab Kingdom of Syria. In the process, French-Arab fighting leaked into the vicinity of the Jewish village of Tel-Chai.
Faisal offered Arab protection to the Jewish villages but the Jews opted to remain neutral, perhaps in fear of France, which has a long history of committing atrocities in its excursions into the Middle East. Local Arab forces suspected that French soldiers were hiding in Tel-Chai and asked the Jews for permission to go in to look. A sequence of apparent misunderstandings led to gunfire between the Jewish and Arab forces, taking the lives of 6 Jews and 5 Arabs.
This was a century ago. Since then disruptive European meddling in Israeli-Arab affairs has only intensified. Europe’s interference triggered the first shots back then and European interface remains a primary hurdle to peace today.
Europeans often claim their actions are meant to help the Palestinians. This is laughable. For example, Europe’s obsessive crusade to sabotage Palestinian employment and mentorship in Jewish-owned businesses might serve the agenda of the Palestinian Authority – an un-elected body supported by Europe, which Palestinians perceive as corrupt and detached – but it certainly hurts individual Palestinians. The European Union pressured the Israeli company SodaStream to close its West Bank factory, leading to hundreds of Palestinians losing their jobs. Similarly, the EU’s outrageous product-labeling decree which is designed to damage Jewish-owned businesses in the West Bank, would hurt the Palestinians whom those businesses employ. Europe’s insistence that it knows what is best for an Arab is not only Islamophobic, but it is also indicative that Europe clings to its colonialist mentality. As if denying Palestinians the freedom of employment is not bad enough, some Europeans now wish to also deny Palestinians the freedom of consumption, by supporting a BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaign led by the United Nations Human Rights Council to sanction global companies that sell products in West Bank Jewish-owned businesses. Palestinians shop in those malls and supermarkets, and unlike Israelis who have access to similar stores in central Israel, Palestinians depend on those outlets for certain international products. Just like the EU labeling edict, the consumption edict will hurt first and foremost Palestinians.
How do Europeans justify such horrific actions? In part by refusing to let go of an old myth which argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the primary source of the Middle East’s and even the world’s problems. If it could be solved, the logic goes, the world would be safer, and hence international pressure must be mounted on the Jewish state, which should compromise its security and interests for the sake of Western civilization. By now, this myth has been debunked. Certainly, the centuries-old Sunni-Shite conflict has nothing to do with Israel, nor are the rise of Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, Iran’s expansion or the Syrian civil war. In-fact, Israelis and Palestinians are typically on the same side in those issues. There is even military cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
At the same time that Europe’s old myth is being negated, Europe’s own conflict with Islam is intensifying. Armed French police approaching a Muslim woman on the beach and ordering her to take off her clothes outraged Muslims around the world – not only in Europe. Such incidents produce a sad reality in which many European Muslims will not go to the lakes and beaches anymore in fear of being subjected to similar state-sponsored harassment. Some argue this amounts to a de facto Apartheid in Europe. Similarly, at new checkpoints that sprung-up in Europe, such as on the Austrian-German border, white Europeans whisk through, while European citizens of Arab ethnicity can face delays and humiliation.
Applying the flawed European principle to today’s circumstances would suggest that the European-Muslim conflict is destabilizing the world, and international pressure should be mounted on Europe to compromise its values and security for the sake of Western civilization.
But rather than resorting to distorted European logic, there is an opportunity to do something different and daring: change course. Europe can improve its relationship with its Muslim population by learning from Israelis and Palestinians: study the nuanced approach, the use of de facto as opposed to de jure frameworks, as well as promotion of inclusiveness and coexistence as opposed to negation and coercion of narrative.
The two radical changes that would improve Europe are synergistic and can be done in parallel: Disengage from its patronizing interference in Israeli-Palestine affairs on the one hand, and apply the experience of Israelis and Palestinians to Europe’s new realities on the other.