[Correspondent’s column] Exporters of tragedy to the Middle East

Posted on : 2023-11-03 16:49 KST Modified on : 2023-11-03 16:49 KST
Countries and peoples who feel historical or moral responsibility for this tragedy shouldn’t behave as they are right now
Smoke rises from Gaza after bombings by Israel on Oct. 22. (AP/Yonhap)
Smoke rises from Gaza after bombings by Israel on Oct. 22. (AP/Yonhap)

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

With great misfortune comes great responsibility.

People often focus on who should be held responsible, but there’s often enough responsibility for everyone to get a share. That’s the case for the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The “Jewish question” goes back two millennia. Few conflicts can be traced so far back into the past.

The leaders of the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy all issued statements supporting Israel after the sneak attack launched by Hamas on Oct. 7. But that list looks suspiciously like a who’s who of countries that bear historical responsibility for the conflict — the groups responsible for this insoluble Gordian knot and their descendants.

In the following paragraphs, we will see how these countries set about building a tragedy over the past 2,000 years and how they sustain the ongoing catastrophe even now.

#1 Italy

The Roman Empire, the precursor of the modern-day state of Italy, destroyed the city of Jerusalem so completely in the first century AD that it was said the Roman legions could find nobody else to kill. That episode was a central episode in the story of the Jewish diaspora.

#2 France

Jews who migrated to Europe were expelled or killed in many countries. During the Black Death, many of them were massacred because of false rumors that they were poisoning wells. Those massacres began in France. In 1394, King Charles VI issued a decree that all Jews must leave the kingdom.

#3 United Kingdom

The UK sponsored the Zionist movement, which advocated the return of the Jews to the “promised land” of Palestine. The British government’s Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine, was a fateful step.

#4 Germany

Anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust, perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Believing they no longer had a home in Europe, large numbers of Jews emigrated to Palestine.

#5 United States

The US has been Israel’s strongest backer, being the first country to approve the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. Along with providing Israel with military support, the US has helped shield Israel from international criticism and opposition for the oppression of the Palestinians.

I suppose that Western countries’ help in establishing and maintaining the state of Israel can be regarded as compensation for the horrific crimes they committed in the past. But more cynically, their approach amounted to something of a “final solution” for the Jewish people. While Hitler sought to annihilate the Jews altogether, other countries adopted the more “humanitarian” approach of sending the Jews out of Europe.

That wasn’t a new idea. There had been proposals to send the Jews to East Africa. Stalin sent Jews in the Soviet Union to Birobidzhan Province, in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Far East.

The Jews ultimately chose the land of Palestine, and the Palestinians who had lived there for generations were either killed or driven out. In that respect, Europe exported its tragedy to the Middle East, and the Jews traded the status of victims for oppressors. In short, Palestinian Muslims are paying the price for the crimes of European Christians. And in that process, Israelis have also endured horrific tragedies such as the one on Oct. 7.

Countries and peoples who feel historical or moral responsibility for this tragedy shouldn’t behave as they are right now.

The US has pledged to give weapons to Israel as it attacks the Gaza Strip and to give food aid to the Palestinians living there. What sort of strange offer is that? Is the US trying to reassure Palestinians that while they may be killed, they’ll be killed on a full belly?

There are no easy answers here, but the time has come for a proactive effort so that both sides can live together in peace.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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