The Israeli occupation of Palestine was recently catapulted into mainstream geopolitical discourse as Israel attempts to evict six Palestinian families from their residence in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. What followed was a bloody campaign of still ongoing ethnic cleansing that claimed more than 200 Palestinians lives, including civilians and children.
And like always, everyone on Twitter, Facebook and other social media became keyboard warriors, either supporting or denouncing either side. Observing some of these online petty squabbles, I realised how little people knew about the conflicts and the myths that drove them. Often these myths were propped up by political leaders to rally people behind their cause.
Before talking about the myths. I first wanted to talk about an intriguing fact. The Western media keeps blabbering about the terrifying extremist group in Palestine named Hamas.
But did you know thet Israeli intelligence agency Mossad actually helped Hamas rise to power?
Yes, this is in fact, true. Hamas was first founded in the 1987, during the second intifada. But its roots were planted long ago by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Mossad wanted to undermine the dominant party in Palestine, the Nationalist PLO. At its heart was the secular Fatah Party led by Yasser Arafat. By empowering the Islamic Association which later became Hamas, the Israeli leaders wanted to divide Palestinian people.
So in 1978, when Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a religious cleric in Palestine wanted to register his Islamic association, Israelis were too keen to help. They supplied Yassin's Islamic Association, the pre-cursor to Hamas, with funding required to build mosques and schools in Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Even US Congressman Ron Paul once said on the House floor, "Hamas was encouraged and really started by Israel to counteract Yasser Arafat."
If you don't believe Ron Paul, Israeli Brigadier Yitzhak Segev said, "The Israeli government gave me a budget and the military government gives to the mosques."
Now that you know this, think twice about voicing your unequivocal support for Israel.
Now, let's look at some of the myths.
Myth 01: The conflict is primarily about religion
No, it's not.
No matter what the overwhelming majority of people and the so-called religious pundits think, the conflict between Israel and Palestine as well as the subsequent occupation of Palestine, has nothing to do with religion. It is not a conflict between Judaism and Islam. Jews are not out to destroy your religion, and Muslim are not out to take your freedom away from you.
In fact, the European Jews who first encouraged and organised the mass migration of Jewish people to present-day Israel were primarily secular Jews. There were also Christian Zionists who believed in the statehood of Israel. They were mainly driven by the Zionist ideology – a doctrine that dictated that all Jews, believer or not, belong to one uniform state of Israel. The foundation of Israel, therefore, is driven by the Zionist nationalist ideology and not by Judaism.
Not all Jews are Zionists, neither are all Zionists Jews. Many Jews are not even religious, and many Jewish groups like the Jewish Voice for Peace vigorously oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
On the flip side of the coin, the initial Palestinian movements were also largely secular. Contrary to commonly held belief in the West, they were not Islamic extremists. Rather, it was the persistent exploitation of the Palestinian people that drove out the Palestinian seculars and gave rise to extremist groups like Hamas in 1987.
And no! Hamas does not represent all of Palestine, regardless of what the Western media propagates.
Myth-02: Israel and Palestine have been fighting for centuries
This is a very common misconception. Even Hillary Clinton once jokes about this, saying that conflict was going on for so long that it made the 800-year-old British-Irish conflict look young in comparison.
Guess what! She is wrong.
The Israel Palestine conflict is a relatively modern development. In fact, up until the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived rather peacefully in the region, except for a few incidents that too occurred in the 1920s.
Following the Balfour declaration, European Jews began to migrate to then Palestine as promised by the Western Allied Power, i.e., Britain and France. Since then, communal violence became more common in the region. More importantly, when the Arab forces attacked Israel, especially following the foundation of the state in 1948, they did so because they considered this as colonial theft of Palestinian land.
Myth-03: Most Israelis and Palestinians hate each other
No, they don't. Although there are powerful, right-wing fringe groups that do harbour hatred towards the other side in both Israel and Palestine, the majority of the population can better be described in terms of apathy and antipathy.
Most Palestinians are concerned about their rights and security and just wants Israel to halt the occupation of their lands. They want Israel to stop expanding their settlements into Palestinian territory and nothing more than that. They also want the right to self-determination.
However, mistrust among the Israeli and Palestinian people grew when Itzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated at the hands of the right-wing mob for signing the Oslo Accords with the PLO. The subsequent failure of the Oslo accords gave rise to the second Intifada resulting in the death of more than 2000 Palestinians and 1000 Israeli citizens.
Myth-04: The Israel-Palestine conflict is too complex to understand
This is one of the more common myths, and it often drives people away from learning about the issue in detail. Granted that the conflict is complicated on some level, but it's not that complicated.
In essence, the Israel-Palestine conflict is about land, i.e., who gets the land and the proportion in which it will be distributed. There are some other thorny issues regarding the division of Jerusalem and the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. With a bit of effort, you can get to the bottom of all of these issues.
There are several reasons behind the persistence of such a myth, one being the very continuation of the conflict for so many decades. Secondly, each side in the conflict has different narratives, which do a great disservice to any enthusiast.
Most importantly, both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian partisans often try to portray the issue as beyond comprehension of outsiders who do not have ground-level experience. This is a ruse, a narrative device to dictate the conversation and hijack the narrative. Because as long as they can dictate the narrative, they can use it to rile up people's emotion which would serve their purpose and add further fuel to the perpetual cycle of violence.
Myth-05: European powers created Israel to apologise for the Holocaust
While the inhumane treatment of the Jewish population in Israel galvanised support for the Jews and accelerated their immigration to Palestine, these elements, i.e., European anti-Semitism, the Zionist movement, preceded the Holocaust.
Honestly, European powers could not care less about the holocaust survivors and their repatriation. Rather, the foundation of Israel was a settler-colonial project undertaken by Britain. Why do I say so?
Through the Balfour Declaration, Britain promised the Zionists in Europe a state in the Palestinian region to garner their support in its war effort.
The British also promised the Arabs their independence in support of the war effort. But the Brits did not intend to keep any of those promises. Instead, the whole purpose of the mandate was to establish a settler colony in Palestine and prevent the majority Arab population from ever gaining the rights to self-determination or at least keep them at bay.
And the British eventually accomplished their goal in 1948 (although not in the way originally intended) through the violent uprooting and ethnic cleansing of the Arab population from Palestine.