How well informed are we about the Middle East conflict?
One of the saddest aspects of the continuing tragedy enveloping East Jerusalem and its people is that too few of us here in the UK, outsiders looking in on the situation, consider the issue closely enough to make any sort of informed judgement. In the Commons, which thankfully is now more ethnically diverse than ever before and is at last starting to voice the opinions and attitudes of most sectors of British society, we hear members on both sides of the argument putting their points passionately, articulately and with absolute commitment.
They, and others, continue their verbal battle on social media and again, those of us with no direct, ethnic or historical connection to the region or the conflict, see individuals we respect and admire greatly in other ways, write with vitriolic bile and apparent contempt for those on the other side. And as there is currently little significant UK government involvement or comment, at least to general public knowledge, many consequently see the situation as a tragedy that will never be resolved.
It has been going on for so long that others have allowed the issue of occupied East Jerusalem to sink into their unconsciousness, or perhaps consider it something better not confronted. But as Britain, as with so many other global troubles, played its part in creating the situation, we surely must also play our part in trying to help those suffering today, however difficult and politically uncomfortable that might be.
The eventual division of Jerusalem dates back to World War I when Britain conquered and occupied Palestine at the end of 1917. The British government agreed to recognise Arab independence, separate from the Ottoman Empire, and in the Balfour Declaration committed itself also to the creation of a “national home” for the Jewish people. As part of the long process that followed, Jerusalem was eventually divided into East and West, generally unsatisfactorily to both Arabs and Jews. Through small-scale violent conflict to full-scale war, with first Jordan and then Palestine on one side and Israel on the other, the situation has deteriorated ever since, despite repeated international efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
But following the 1967 Six-Day War, the eastern part of Jerusalem was occupied by Israel, and that situation remains the same to this day. Israel imposes a strict military rule over East Jerusalem and other parts of the region, with Palestinians forced from their homes and entire communities displaced. On the occupied land Israel creates new settlements, exclusively for Israelis. In recent months Palestinians have courageously raised the level of protest, but the occupying military swiftly and harshly crush any dissent. Many governments, at best, turn a blind eye to what is happening, while some allow companies in their countries to operate in the occupied areas or trade in goods produced there. Perhaps, as a start, the UK government could be more vocal in its condemnation of these activities and the continuing injustices, rather than leave it to individual MPs and protest groups.