New Zealand’s love-hate relationship with Israel

Yesterday the Jewish state of Israel turned 70. יום הולדת שמח (Happy Birthday). As Israel begins its 71st year as a modern nation, it is one of the wealthiest nations for its small size on the planet, yet also one of the most divisive.

I have said this in the past, so it should not be anything new to anyone:

Israel has a right to exist. And like all nations it has a right to self defence.

What it does not have the right to do anymore than any other nation is to annex territory, whether it is by stealth using creeping occupation or annexation by military force. Israel is practicing the former in Palestine. It has also used military force at times involving the use of illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and white phosphorous. The 2008-09 war involved artillery bombardment and heavy use of air power.

Unfortunately, whilst the U.S. and – if it goes to war with Iran – Saudi Arabia turn a blind eye to its disregard for international law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has all but said Palestine does not exist will continue to show contempt for the international community.

I have met people from Israel and I have met people from Palestine. One of the casual staff at work is a Palestinian. When I was moderating a group on Yahoo! for expatriates living in New Zealand, I met an Israeli couple and their young daughter. I don’t judge either by what is going on in their respective lands. Both the Israeli family and the Palestinian colleague have told me they moved to get away from the violence.

I cannot say I blame them at all. Like I think is the case with a lot of New Zealanders, I look at the current violence in the Middle East with frustration, sadness and – if I am honest – a bit of fear about where the simmering conflict in Syria could end up. It is a conflict we cannot really have any influence over, though there were many, like myself who were very proud when New Zealand and other countries passed a resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands in the dying days of its chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.  I look at the looming confrontation between Israel and Iran. Age old hatred and suspicion will never die among the older politicians and citizenry who never knew peace, or – in Iran’s case – the right to dissent against bigotry.

Those who have been to Israel have been really impressed with its history, its culture and there is no doubt that Israel as a modern nation has contributed much to the world. Its companies have created an impressive array of technologies. It has a well educated population. I had the honour of attending a Jewish wedding in the United States in 2017, which I thoroughly enjoyed learning the customs of.

And as the 70th Anniversary of the Day of Nakba (yawm alnakba)is commemorated in Palestine, I hope that all those near the border districts will hold their commemorations peacefully. Israeli’s and Palestinians can argue over who is to blame, but I suspect I speak for a lot of New Zealanders when I say that all I really want is some sort of peace.

New Zealand U.N. vote NOT anti-American

As the furore over the American decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel grows, the United Nations Security Council has voted against the U.S. move 14-1. And the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 with Canada and Australia abstaining

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been very clear on the issue.

Contrary to the popular belief of Fox viewers, the international vote against the United States moving its capital to Jerusalem is not an expression of anti-Americanism. In the context of New Zealand, it is no more so than the 1985 resolution condemning France for the Rainbow Warrior bombing is anti-French. Both were the result of their respective Governments making poor choices on the international stage that the world saw as non compatible with it’s understanding of international law. Many French were horrified by what their country had done and so too are many Americans horrified at what it is doing in the Middle East today, and that has to be recognized.

Anti-Americanism in my view is an act openly contemptuous of America as nation or Americans as a people. It is stated in a way that is deliberately intended to degrade and have a strain of hatred in it. Anti-American rhetoric is what you hear from the Ayatollahs of Iran or the propaganda of such organizations as al-Qaida. I do not see such ugliness emanating from New Zealand or the United Nations General Assembly.

Nor is the vote anti-Israeli. The world has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Contrary to the belief of the Prime Minister of Israel, the world has long recognized  that the issue of Jerusalem can only be resolved by negotiations in the broader two state context. Further contrary to his belief, this is not an anti-Israeli vote. The idea that it is, is insulting and inflammatory. Many Israeli’s are quite horrified by the Government of their country and the systematic way in which it is slowly but deliberately taking Palestinian lands and eradicating any evidence of Palestine. They know about the deliberate annexation by stealth using the establishment of new villages to stake a claim to Palestinian land. They know about the demolition of orchards depriving Palestinians of one of only a few sources of income. I assume then they also know that the street names in Palestinian territories are changing as they come under Israeli control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well what his country is doing and even endorses it – he just will not admit it because it would be an own goal and a point blank admission that Palestinians are telling the truth.

I have stated before my position on Israel. What needs to be said is that this requires international co-operation. In return for Israel withdrawing from the lands seized in1967 and 1973, Russia must tell Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah, HAMAS and other militants. Palestine must give recognition to Israel’s 1967 borders and cease all militant activity, disarm them and disband the militant wings of these and other organizations.

Neither side is perfect and both have done things that they should not have. But there are other historic players who need to be acknowledged. Britain and France took over swathes of the Middle East in 1916-17. As part of the British mandate a Jewish state was established as a result of the Balfour Declaration. The Arab interpretation of the Declaration was that an Arab state would also be established. None was and when one looks at the causes of anti-Israeli sentiment today among Arab nation’s, this is is most likely a major reason for such ‘ll feeling.

New Zealand must condemn Jerusalem decision

On Wednesday, New Zealand time the President of the United States, Donald Trump made the shocking announcement that America would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

New Zealand must condemn Mr Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We must not follow America and move our diplomatic mission there. The media and the politicians have ignored the history of the Palestinian struggle and it will come back to haunt them.

Not surprisingly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is over the moon. And in recognition of it, against the walls of the old city, the American and Israeli flags were projected side by side.

In effect Mr Trump has ripped the Middle East process into shreds of paper and then thrown them in the face of the Arab world, the Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister and his hawkish Government, plus the hard line Republicans in the United States are the only ones applauding.

The effect is more than to just anger the Palestinians and the Arab world. Along with his inflammatory efforts dealing with North Korea and Iran, Mr Trump has now added a third place that he is offside with around the world. What are the conflict around the world at greatest risk of turning into international conflicts with potentially world wide consequences? There are a few:

  1. North Korea – on tenterhooks, with one false move possibly starting an international conflict that has regional, possibly global consequences
  2. Iran – not on tenterhooks yet, but creeping that way with America, Saudi Arabia and Israel ratcheting up the inflammatory rhetoric despite its compliance with the U.N. nuclear deal
  3. Eastern Europe – high risk, with N.A.T.O. forces building up and Russia actively seeking to counter their influence, and a boil over could rapidly escalate into an international conflict
  4. South China Sea – not on tenterhooks, but potentially the one with the biggest risks as a direct military confrontation between super powers is not likely to end well for anyone
  5. Palestine – comparatively stable for now, and would not have made this unique list but for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

In 1917, whilst World War 1 was going full bore in Europe, Britain and France embarked on a bit of empire building in the Middle East. In 1916 two new nations were carved out, with borders paying scant attention to the ethnic or religious communities there. Their protestations were put down brutally and the new nations were called Iraq and Syria. In 1920 Winston Churchill – the same Winston Churchill who would be lauded as a hero 20 years later for staring down Nazi-era Germany – authorized the bombing and gassing of Iraqi rebels. Britain and France wonder these days why they are not so popular in the Middle East.

Palestine and the Arab lands did not do much better under the Balfour Declaration and people wonder why there is so much animosity in the Middle East. Let us have a look at how the Palestinian animosity towards Israel and the West came to be.

The Balfour Declaration came about for several reasons:

  • World War 1 was not going well for the British and it was hoped that by announcing a formal Jewish state in recently occupied lands, Britain could increase the support among the Jewish communities in major allies and neutral countries
  • Britain wanted to create a land bridge between crucial Middle territories such as Egypt with its “crown jewel” India – a British backed Jewish state would be part of that land bridge
  • Despite agreeing with France on how to carve up the Middle East, Britain viewed its dominance in the region as essential

In the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, Britain was entrusted with the temporary administration of Palestine on the understanding it would work with the Arabs and the Jews. The Jewish population increased rapidly in Palestine. Unlike the Jews, the Arabs were not granted any sort of nationhood despite helping Britain with the war against Turkey. Animosity over this continues to the present day.

So, it is against this background that Mr Trump has made a highly inflammatory and totally irresponsible decision to support Israel having its capital in Jerusalem. Combined with his refusal to rebuke Mr Netanyahu for Israel’s ongoing annexation by stealth of Palestine, this effectively amounts to a non-military declaration of war against Palestine and it should be roundly condemned.

And it is.


New Zealand wimps out to Israel

Six months ago just before Christmas, I and many others were absolutely delighted when the Government of New Zealand announced it had sponsored a United Nations Resolution on Palestine. The resolution (2334) called for the condemnation of the Israeli settlement building programme on lands that it has occupied since 1967. It was drawn up with the support of Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal.

It was a proud moment for New Zealand at the United Nations, coming to an end of two years as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Our neutrality had been restored and preference for a two state solution made clear.

Until this week when Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gerry Brownlee said that he did not endorse the Resolution..

I am disgusted. Israel did nothing to deserve a change of course on our part. Indeed their response was bad enough that a lot of people were wondering what else could have been done, short of outright war. It was more like a irrational spoilt brat throwing a hissy fit because the global community had put it in its place.

It is not that I hate Israel. It is not that I am anti-Semitic.

It is because since the 6 Day War in 1967, Israel has illegally occupied lands that it seized in that war and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has studiously ignored United Nations rulings and flagrantly contravened them when it has suited him and his party. It is because there is illegal home building going on over top of Palestinian lands that Mr Netanyahu refuses to recognize as anything but Israeli.

If Israel quit those lands and went back to its 1967 borders, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with the the wall it has also been building these last few years. I do not think the opposition against Israel would be anywhere near as strong.

I thought we were a nation that stands for the rule of law. I thought we were a nation that was built on the premise of the “fair go”, a nation that stood up for the little guy and tried to level the playing field where it could. The actions of this country in appeasing Israel by wimping out on what was initially something received very well across the board – a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli house building in the occupied territories, in settlements that have no legal right to exist – are by no means something to be proud of.

It shows that with the appointment of Gerry Brownlee as Minister of Foreign Affairs, we have a Minister who is as happy to bungle on the world stage as he is to bungle in local affairs. Mr Brownlee knew what he was doing when he refused to endorse the resolution.

Without Israel ceasing the occupation and annexation of Palestine, a two state solution is not possible. Mr Netanyahu is clearly not interested in it, as his latest demands for the dissolution of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine clearly shows.

Sorry Palestine!

New Zealand right to co-sponsor Israel/Palestine resolution

On 24 December 2016 I heard the news that a United Nations resolution had condemned the Israeli construction of illegal settlements in the disputed territories. Accompanying it was the news that Israel was taking retaliatory measures against the nations that sponsored the resolution.

The recalling of ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal was petulant, bullying behaviour by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said from the outset he has no desire for a peace with Palestine. New Zealand, which has a history of diplomatic ruptures with Israel, will survive this just as it survived the fallout from the Mossad forging New Zealand passports in 2004.

New Zealand has a largely good record on the subject of Israel and Palestine. It has always seen a two state solution as the only sustainable way forward, regardless of who has been in Government. This National led Government to its credit has been no exception to the rule. New Zealand led the voting in favour of the resolution that enable Israel to become a nation in 1948 when other nations were having second thoughts.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 was passed by 14 votes with 1 abstention (United States). It condemned the Israeli construction of illegal settlements on disputed lands claimed by Palestine, calling for the immediate halt to construction and forbade the building of new settlements.

Contrary to what Mr Netanyahu believes, there is also a segment in it which demands that Palestine maintain efforts to stop militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah launching attacks on Israel. The last paragraph of Page 1 reads:

Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,

Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,

It should be pointed out that contrary to what some on the left believe, the Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks, must be as terrifying as they are destructive. Whilst the Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile/rocket system will down 98% of the rockets fired, the ones that get through arrive with very little warning, are not targetted to hit anything in particular and almost always strike civilian targets. The rockets are increasing in reliability, range and destructive power.

I support the right of Israel to exist within its 1967 borders. Within these borders it has the absolute right of self defence that every other nation has. Prior to the Six Day War (5-10 June 1967), Israel was within it legitimate borders as set out by the United Nations resolution. It had not annexed any land at that point as it did in the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and since then by stealth using the construction of illegal settlements. The second sentence of the resolution reads thus:

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,

For me religion is not a valid justification for Israel’s conduct on the world stage, because if one party or another uses religion as a justification every other religion in fairness should be allowed to as well. Millions will try to use it in justifying their standpoint, but the only justifiable stand point for me is international law and what I call “common decency” which transcends all ethnicities, nationalities, genders, religions, political ideologies and so forth.

This is why I am proud to say New Zealand was a co-sponsor of Resolution 2334. It was the right thing to do.