A gathering at the Compassion Centre’s soup kitchen last month heard Fr Gerard Burns give some background to the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza.
But before he started, Fr Rob Devlin from the Wellington Palestine Group invited volunteers to stand in a corner of the room behind a barrier.
Fr Rob then told them, ‘We will dictate how much water, electricity and medical supplies you can have and who can visit or go out. A few of you will find work. You might find it crowded—sorry.
‘There are about two million of you in the space the size of Christchurch city. We will dictate who can speak on your behalf.
‘And, by the way, we have powerful friends so try to be quiet.’
This tableau served to remind the gathering of around 70 of the conditions in which Palestinians are forced to live.
Fr Gerard, who has visited the Holy Land on a number of occasions, then outlined the history of the region from before the first world war until the partition of Israel in 1948.
This included the rise of the Zionist movement established to promote the migration of Jews to the Holy Land in the 1880s. This cause was boosted by the Dreyfus case (in 1894 a French Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely accused of giving secrets to the Germans). Following the trial, Hungarian Jewish lawyer and journalist, Theodor Herzl, published a pamphlet advocating the establishment of an autonomous Jewish state in Palestine to deal positively with anti-Semitic persecution. The number of Jewish people in Palestine was small at this time. Migration was slow at first but picked up in the 1930s when the German Nazis started targetting the Jews.
During the first world war, Britain was opposed by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire which was allied with Germany. Britain promised the Arab tribes a post-war state of their own if they helped defeat the Turks. At the same time in 1917, the British foreign minister promised Zionist leaders a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration).
The 1947 United Nations partition plan saw Palestine divided. The Zionists, now one-third of the population, were given half the land against the wishes of the majority Arab population. There was a lot of arm-twisting on the part of United States to get the plan through.
From December 1947 Zionist forces attacked Palestinian villages and it was not until May 15, 1948, that Arab armies from surrounding nations entered Palestine. However, they were unable to defeat the well-resourced Jewish forces. Consequently the remaining Palestinian territories constitute only 22 percent of historical Palestine.
Fr Gerard quoted extensively from Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). Pappe claims that more than a war, the actions of Zionist soldiers in expelling Palestinians from their villages was ethnic cleansing as understood today.
In 1988 Palestinian leaders formally agreed to accept the 1948 boundaries as the basis for a Palestinian state.