In her career-ending off-the-cuff remarks last week, veteran Hearst correspondent Helen Thomas surely overstepped the bounds of diplomatic propriety, but she got it about half right. Israel should lift the blockade and get out of Gaza and the West Bank for good. Even many Israelis support that. The deeper issue is the ongoing campaign to eject Palestinians completely from Israel, particularly the ultra-Zionist efforts of the extreme section of the population (especially illegal settlers, many of them themselves immigrants) who have been muscling Palestinians out of their homes in east Jerusalem and other places where they have been resident for centuries. Less than half-hearted measures taken by successive US administrations have effectively given a green light to both squatters’ rights and ruthless displacement. Building The Great Wall of Israel has hardly helped ease tensions, although it may well have protected Israeli citizens from suicide bombers.
Regrettably, recent talk about a two-state solution has mainly been just that – talk. Stymied by the United States, the United Nations has done little more than fume and issue edicts that are simply ignored by both Israel and Hamas. So what if the Israelis are doing a little ethnic cleansing? Everyone else seems to have done it. The annals of ancient history are littered with accounts of massacres and the forced displacement of unwanted or recalcitrant inhabitants, not least in the ruthless invasion of Canaan by the Hebrews following their departure from Egypt.
The Romans obliterated the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars and drove the Celts out of Gaul. Goths and Huns of various stripes pushed everyone around. Similarly, the Anglo-Saxons drove the true British into the far west of the island by successive invasions and wars. Mongols and Turks created empires by subjugating and dispossessing native peoples. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English monarchs imported Protestant Scottish settlers to reduce the rebelliousness of native northern Catholic Irish, French Canadians were driven out of the part of Canada they called Arcadia by English troops, the Cherokee and other Native Americans were routinely displaced by the U.S. government, and Jews were likewise driven into exile from Russia (and other countries). So much for the tip of the iceberg.
The post-colonial era saw Spain, France, and Belgium retract their empires. England finally abandoned southern Ireland, reluctantly departed India, and, having divested itself of control in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and elsewhere, might someday consider returning the Malvinas to Argentina. Residual racism persists, of course, as the legacy of empire-building. Minority people suffer discrimination in England (Pakistanis, Jamaicans), the US (Native Americans, people of color generally), Germany (Turks), France (Algerians), Serbs (Bosnians, Croats, and Albanians), Thailand (Tamils), Kurds (everywhere), as well as the Roma people and religious minorities generally.
Ironically, most “developed” countries in the world are nations of immigrants, whose climb up the scale of socio-economic influence usually succeeded by stomping on the fingers of those coming up behind them on the ladder. And mistreating the dispossessed, marginalized, and conquered still seems to be regarded as part of the spoils of war or economic domination. Israelis above all seem to think they are above criticism in this respect.
It’s sad that the great old lady said too much and said it unwisely. At least she was not afraid to speak the truth, as she saw it, to power. Never had been. But branding her as “anti-Semitic” is also just part of the game, the Scarlet Letter of shame that in the end covers a multitude of other peoples’ sins.