Mon. Nov. 6, 2023
Watching the unfolding and heart-wrenching tragedy in Gaza on the international news, it gives us pause to consider the blessing we currently enjoy as a nation and people, despite all the problems with crime and poverty, etc. Our cup is not empty, and while we often say we are thankful to our independence pioneers for the work they put in diplomatically and courageously to guide us through the often challenging process, trying to understand a little bit of what is taking place across the ocean in the Middle East should enlighten and inspire us, and especially our younger generation, with a greater urge to study and learn what they can about our own nation, how we got here, and thus shift from what often seems to be nonchalance to reignited patriotism. As in everything, extremism in any direction can lead to disregard for the views and concerns of others, so it is timely for us to appreciate the patriotism felt by our neighbors, even those of a country that still claims us, so that our shared humanity may supersede any tendency to fanatic extremism. Cordial exchanges and appreciation of God’s blessing we all share can allow peaceful coexistence to prevail. In that way, as a people we can learn much from studying and trying to understand the madness that is taking place in Gaza, and they can probably learn something from us over on this side of the Atlantic in the heart of the Caribbean basin.
Considering our own Belize-Guatemala situation, and reflecting on what we see happening in the Gaza, it is noteworthy that there was a stark difference between how the U.N. handled our case and how they dealt with that of the Israelis and Palestinians, with the British being the colonial power in control of both cases. And while the present horrific developments may seem impossible to resolve, perhaps a look back on the origins of the Israel-Palestine crisis by comparison with the Belize-Guatemala “differendum” might shed some light on a possible exit route from what looks more and more like a conflagration with dire consequences for the region and perhaps the world.
At the time when the United Nations agreed to a British plan in 1947 to partition the British- administrated territory of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the independence movement had not yet officially begun in Belize. That happened in 1950 immediately after the Belize dollar was devalued by the British at the end of 1949. But at the time, this territory we now call Belize already had a border, which had not been arbitrarily marked, but had been negotiated, and a treaty had been signed in 1859 with Guatemala. Meanwhile, the colonial subjects, which we all were at the time, had been occupying this territory long before then. When an appeasement approach toward Guatemala, who never occupied this territory, was rejected by Belizeans, the U.N. eventually supported Belizeans’ right to self-determination, and Belize was subsequently acknowledged as an independent nation on September 21, 1981. Belize had successfully lobbied its case to all other Central American nations who had previously supported Guatemala. At the U.N. vote on Belize’s independence with full territorial integrity, only one nation, Guatemala, voted against; even the USA, their chief ally, abstained, after previously voting with Guatemala against Belize. Their leaders were not pleased, but there was no groundswell of people protest in Guatemala at the independence of Belize, and cordial relations continue to this day, with some Guatemalan students still attending Belizean schools across the border in Benque Viejo, even as the case is to be finally resolved at the ICJ. Hopefully, there is not much room for the U.N.’s ICJ to create a problem where there currently is none.
What was attempted with Palestine and Israel was a whole different matter.
According to one Wikipedia page, the “partition of the Ottoman Empire (30 October 1918 – 1 November 1922) was a geopolitical event that occurred after World War I… in several agreements made by the Allied Powers…” where the “League of Nations mandate granted the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, the British Mandate for Mesopotamia (later Iraq) and the British Mandate for Palestine, later divided into Mandatory Palestine and the Emirate of Transjordan (1921-1946).”
The wandering Jews with a long history of searching for a homeland, were terrible victims in World War II in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis under Germany’s leader, Adolph Hitler; and in the aftermath, there was renewed concern to provide a homeland for the scattered Jewish population. Thus, a “UN Ad Hoc Committee” was charged with drafting the “United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine,” which “recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem.”
It sounded like a good plan to the British, to the Jewish residents in then Palestine, and to some Allied nations; but not so to the resident Palestinians and a few Arab nations. If put to a vote among residents in 1948, the result would be academic, considering that among the residents in the territory then called Mandatory Palestine, the Palestinian population was twice that of the Jewish population. In fact, despite a “1917 British commitment to the Balfour Declaration for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘National Home’ for the Jewish people …, a British census of 1918 estimated 700,000 Arabs and 56,000 Jews.”
It sounds now like a recipe for disaster. But in the U.N. Resolution 181 (11) on November 29, 1947 on the Palestine partition proposals, “33 voted for; 13 voted against; 10 abstained; result – adopted.”
More from Wikipedia:
“The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem…
“While Jewish organizations collaborated with UNSCOP during the deliberations, the Palestinian Arab leadership boycotted it.
“The proposed plan was considered to have been pro-Zionist by its detractors, with 56% of the land allocated to the Jewish state despite the Palestinian Arab population numbering twice the Jewish population.”
Moreover, reports indicated that the two-thirds majority to get the resolution passed was not easily gotten. According to the Wikipedia page: “Proponents of the Plan reportedly put pressure on nations to vote yes to the Partition Plan. A telegram signed by 26 US Senators with influence on foreign aid bills was sent to wavering countries, seeking their support for the partition plan… Many nations reported pressure directed specifically at them.”
So, what happened? The craziness began.
“In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly agreed a plan to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states and for international rule over Jerusalem. Jewish leaders accepted the plan giving them 56 percent of Palestine land. The Arab League rejected the proposal.
“Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the modern state of Israel on May 14, 1948, establishing a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution and seeking a national home on land to which they cite deep ties dating to antiquity.
“Violence had been intensifying between Jews and Arabs however, and a day after Israel was created, troops from five Arab states attacked.
“In the war that followed, some 700,000 Palestinians, half the Arab population of what was British-ruled Palestine, fled or were driven from their homes, ending up in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Since then, it has been constant wars and conflicts with intermittent ceasefires and attempts at peace. With the steadfast financial and military support of the U.S., the new nation of Israel has so far successfully and aggressively defended its long-desired homeland against attacks from the severely aggrieved Palestinian Arabs. The most consequential engagement was in 1967. According to Reuters: “In 1967, Israel made a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and Syria, launching the Six-Day War. Israel captured the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip from Egypt and occupied them.”
Enter Hamas, the Palestinian group which according to Reuters, “carried out a surprise attack on southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and seizing around 240 hostages in the deadliest day in Israel’s history. It triggered an Israel-Hamas war that has seen the heaviest Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 75 years of conflict. More than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed as of Monday, say health authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.”
An aggrieved and oppressed people, inevitably will spawn a young generation with extreme views. And such is Hamas, “an acronym of the Arabic phrase ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ whose 1988 founding charter called for the destruction of Israel, although Hamas leaders have at times offered a long-term truce, or Hudna in Arabic, with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state on all Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.”
And why has Israel targeted the whole of Gaza to try and eliminate Hamas? “Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 – the first time it took part, and the last time they were held. It took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a brief civil war in which it routed the western-backed Palestinian forces loyal to Hamas’s domestic rival, President Mahmoud Abbas.”
So, it’s Israel and Hamas; and the world looks on. Meanwhile, there is some whispering about a Ben Gurion Canal Project that is suspected to be an impetus behind the relentless Israeli onslaught in Gaza. We’ll surely hear more on that soon.
Where did it all begin? When will it end? Belizeans must be thankful for what we have in the Jewel.