The Six-Day War followed and Israel prevailed, but the legacy of that short, sharp act of self-preservation festers to this day. Sadly, a resolution to one of the greatest tragedies of our time seems as remote as it ever was, maybe even more so. There is hardly an issue that so polarises opinion. Even discussing it in public, as UCC discovered, brings difficulties. Israel’s propaganda machine constantly challenges the equally questionable culture of shared victimhood that underpins international support for the Palestinian cause, a culture that saw the Palestinian flag flown over Irish public buildings in recent weeks.
This is an intractably complicated story and, just as in our history, there are conflicting versions of a shared past. That past, just like ours, is pockmarked with imperialism dressed as an assertion of one religion’s primacy over another. After all, the Plantation of Ulster differs little enough from Israeli settlements, other than that 16th-century colonisation has been sanitised by time. Just as today’s political impasse in the North is a consequence of victories for the most extreme expressions of conflicting cultures, neither Israelis nor Palestinians have been blessed with leadership capable of the compromise needed to end their ongoing tragedy.
For decades, Palestinians put their faith in the corrupt terrorist, Yasser Arafat, a plaything of Soviet Russia and once an inexplicable pin-up in university bedsits. It took Arafat’s PLO a decade to recognise Israel after the Six-Day War and offer an insincere declaration of peace. In 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered Arafat a state that he rejected. Within two years, Arafat called on a million ‘martyrs’ to march on Jerusalem. That strand of the tragedy was darkened by Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas — still in charge 13 years after he was elected for a four-year term — who rejected a similar offer nine years ago. The tragedy of Gaza, for whatever reason, is a terrifying indication of what Palestinian statehood might look like and is deeply disheartening.
Recognising this does not mean ignoring the brutality of Israel. It has, for decades, imposed sanctions, inhuman hardship, and land theft on Palestinians. It has made a civilised relationship almost impossible. That tragedy is deepened if a comparison is made between the Trump, Netanyahu, Abbas nexus and the Clinton, Hume, Trimble one. One group is made up of men who want to dominate at all costs, while the others knew that peace is a priceless prize.
This conflict affects us all. It nurtures Islamic extremism and, in the circular nature of human tragedy, it eventually becomes self-perpetuating. Just last year, 5,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel, because of growing anti-semitism, a cancer exacerbated by Islamisation. Those refugees are unlikely to encourage compromise. After the Six-Day War, the president of Egypt, Anwar el-Sadat, tried to broker a peace, but he was assassinated by fundamentalists. Israel, Palestine, and the world need another Sadat like never before, hopefully one who can build a peace without having to sacrifice his life. More than enough blood has been spilt.