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Editorials

These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Editorial Number 221 supplement: August 2014

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]


"The War to End Wars" was a war to start wars

We do not normally editorialise in this short news supplement for a holiday period. However, given the significance of the date – the 100th anniversary of the entry of what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to the 'Great War' which subsequently became labelled the 'First World War', we are making an exception.

It is one of the tragedies and ironies of conflict in the world today that so many can either be traced directly to the First World War and its aftermath, or the lineage of conflict includes a very direct role of that war in the conflict today. Israel and Palestine, central Africa, Syria, Iraq, Libya, even Ukraine, all bear the unmistakeable mark of the 1914-18 conflict and its aftermath. It is also ironic that the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World war should be a time of ferocious and bloody war in a number of locations in the globe.

The 1914-18 conflict did nothing to change the nature of imperialism, which continued afterwards and was even extended through some post-war settlements. Obviously some empires, such as the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman, fell or disappeared. But others continued to develop. The British Empire was reaching its height. The USA was coming to the fore as a world superpower and extending its role. And while Germany may have been defeated in the First World War, its imperial ambitions re-emerged in a direct response to the settlement made at the end of the First World War and its sense of injustice, and there is a very real sense in which the Second World War emerged from the First.

Today the EU prides itself on having got rid of war in Europe. But this hides many realities. The EU claims the name 'Europe' in the same way as the USA claims the name 'America' when the two are not synonymous and never can be. Certainly the EU may have moved beyond armed conflicts between its members, who include some significant major powers, but it continues to export conflict both economically (through the arms trade and in other ways) and politically (in trying to extend its influence, as in Ukraine). And unfortunately a considerable number of conflicts of various kinds remain in Europe today. The gradual emergence of an 'EU' superpower is not a positive development on the world stage, particularly in the context of an often positive Irish neutrality being compromised and ditched by craven politicians who are afraid to say anything out of order to the US or EU powers. An EU superpower may be a very negative force in conflicts later in the 21st century.

War continues to be an instrument of policy today just as it was a hundred years ago. And just as a hundred years ago it compounds the problems and leads to destruction on a vast scale. We are not saying nothing has been learnt; obviously some things have sunk in. But there is perhaps an analogy with the Northern Ireland situation where a particular armed struggle ('the Troubles') has generally been judged to be no longer necessary, or even possibly mistaken, but armed conflict in general has not had the same judgement. So war within the EU is out but wars externally are still supported or fought in various ways.

Sadly, the judgement must be that what we have learnt in a hundred years is quite limited. Not only was the First World War a complete and utter disaster for humanity and Europe in particular, it did virtually nothing to advance humanity or justice. So let us remember this as the warmongers of today try to justify their current activities and possibly even the actions of their forebears a hundred years ago.

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Bombs and Buildings

By Clem McCartney

To understand what is happening in Israel/Palestine at present, it would be instructive for Israel and the West to compare and contrast the actions of Hamas and other groups in Gaza in firing rockets at Israel territory and the action of Israelis in building homes in the West Bank.

1. Each settler home that is built in Palestine and each rocket fired at Israel are a forceful intrusion into the other community's territory against the will of the people living there.

2. Both are intended to inflict harm on the other community.  Hamas and its allies want to cause damage to infrastructure and possibly injury and death to humans.  They cannot be justified.  The Israelis want to undermine the viability of the Palestinian state and at the same time they damage the lives and welfare of the communities already living there.  They cannot be justified in terms of the need for houses and land.

3.  The impact of the two sets of actions is very different.  Because of Iron Dome the rockets are ineffective, though they still create anger and fear in the Israeli community.  The building of settlements and the acquisition of land and water is much more effective.  Directly it interferes with the capacity of Palestinians to maintain an adequate life style and increasingly undermines the viability of the Palestinian administration and its capacity to build a functional legal entity. 

4. The capacity of each community to resist the intrusions into its space is also very different.  As noted already Iron Dome is an effective defence against the rockets.  In contrast the people in the West Bank have no capacity to resist the building of settlements and the other intrusions in their life.

5. Equally the capacity of the communities to retaliate is also very different.  The Israeli Government and Defence Force have no compunction or limitation in taking retaliatory action, even though this is causing disproportionate injury and death to the general population of Gaza.    And the Palestinians in the West Bank certainly have no capacity to retaliate.  One might also make a comparison of the impact of the actions of the Israeli authorities in blockading Gaza and the capacity to resist and retaliate.  Hamas and other groups in Gaza do retaliate by firing rockets which we have already noted has virtually no impact and encourages the intensification of current Israeli attitudes.

6.  The other contrast between the two actions is the response of the international community, which accounts for the different capacities of the two communities to resist and retaliate, rather than reach a durable solution.  While there is general condemnation of the rocket attacks the international community is supine in the face of the continuing Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

I am not suggesting a moral equivalence between the firing of rockets and building houses.  I leave that for others to discuss and focus instead on the practical impact. 

But when the comparison is made between the intended and actual effect of each programme, it is clear that the practical damage done by the building programme is much greater and the lack of clear opposition to it from the international community, and their lack of support for the opposition to it by Palestinians, allows the building to continue unchecked.  In contrast the unequivocal condemnation of the rocket attacks, and even more the unconditional acceptance by  the international community of the Israeli right to defend itself, leave the way clear for the current bombardment by Israel and the resulting tragedy that is unfolding in Gaza.  There is no incentive for Israel to reach a sustainable durable solution which respects the people of the West bank and of Gaza.

Again from a practical point of view it should not be surprising that Palestinians and many others around the world can see double standards in the way the two situations are treated and it should also not cause surprise that this is leading to the persistence of Hamas in resisting, no matter how futile.  More generally it is also building up negative attitudes and polarisation which will damage the interests of Israel and the West for many years to come.

So if we are to look for practical solutions it might be helpful to see both the settlements and the rockets as forms of aggression and give equal attention to ending them and perhaps a solution might be found if they were both made part of a comprehensive agreement, in which case the blockade of Gaza could also end.
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The next full issue of Nonviolent News will be for September, deadline 2nd September.

Copyright INNATE 2014