It was in secretive European corridors, like The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 for example, that the fate of Africa (and the tragic fallout from her colonial legacy) would be decided. This, we know today, to have been the formalization of The Scramble for Africa which was already in full swing.
The conference contributed to ushering in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers. This, we know today too, to have been done in the self-interest of the then-global imperial powers.
Nefarious economic and empire-building agendas lurked behind the European governments’ glossed-over public pronouncements for their brutal colonial occupation that later ensued. Spreading ‘the light of Western civilization’ was the repeat favorite front – King Leopold II of Belgium easily came to mind as a lead example.
The express will of the inhabitants of these African lands, their sovereign hopes, and independent wishes for their future progeny were completely erased from the picture during such weighty deliberations. It was an invite-only party, for a self-selected few: the self-righteous, self-anointed ‘beacons of humanity’, ‘enforcers of enlightened dignity’, and the ‘democratic liberators’ of what they termed, unequivocally and unashamedly, to be the savage lands of barbaric hordes that needed the good old colonial guidance of the ‘cultured’ West.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916: Shaping the Modern Middle East
The Middle East wasn’t spared this political machination, this divide-and-rule mischief that followed the colonial experiment, either. The region’s many modern quagmires can largely be traced, once again, to the secretive Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916.
The agreement effectively divided the Ottoman provinces of the Arabian Peninsula (whose ruling power, The Ottoman Empire, collapsed after defeat during the First World War) – into areas of British and French control and influence. The agreement allocated to the UK control of what is today southern Israel and Palestine, Jordan, and southern Iraq. France was to control southeastern Turkey, the Kurdistan Region, Syria, and Lebanon.
This agreement is seen as a turning point in Western and Arab relations. It reneged upon the UK’s promises to Arabs regarding a national Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria (where the Palestine Territory fell), in exchange for supporting the British against the Ottoman Empire. This secret agreement, along with others, was made public by the Bolsheviks in 1917, such that the British were embarrassed, and the Arabs dismayed. The agreement’s legacy has led to much resentment in the region among Arabs against the West – a legacy that still resonates to this day. It didn’t end there.
The Balfour Declaration: Seeds of the Ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Balfour Declaration issued by the British government in 1917 announced its support for the establishment of a national home in favor of the Jewish people in Palestine, which had a small minority Jewish population in a majority Arab province. These two groups of people had co-existed peacefully enough for centuries, before the Western colonial occupation and outside involvement.
The declaration has had long-lasting consequences to date. It greatly increased popular support for Zionism (a Jewish nationalist movement that originated in eastern and central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century) within Jewish communities worldwide and became a core component of the British Mandate for Palestine.
It led indirectly to the emergence of the State of Israel, which included hundreds of thousands of newly resettled Jewish communities from Europe who termed the Palestine territory as their divinely given promised land.
This Western-backed creation of the new Jewish state, without addressing the many concerns of the majority Arab population already within the territory, who had expressed designs of their own for a sovereign republic in the lands they called home for centuries, is considered a principal cause of the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict, often described as the world’s most intractable conflict.
The result? Years of unending illegal, armed, forced settler occupation in the Palestine Territory by the newly established state. This in turn led to continuous land and territorial grabs; structural physical, mental, emotional, and social violence; death, despair, and destruction; economic turmoil and suffocating embargoes; crushing and undignified racist, colonial, occupational policies against the now displaced, embattled and encircled native populations who previously called the very lands home.
This is just a short snippet, giving context to the decades that followed, of multiple devastating wars and countless volatile uprisings, of the unraveling modern Palestinian fight against liberation from this unjustified occupation at the turn of the 20th Century, first from the occupying British colonial power and ultimately, against Israeli.
The Ongoing Tragedy of Palestine.. A Century of Struggle, Injustice, and Violence
This tragic dilemma of Palestine, described as among the last of the world’s remaining colonies, still rages on a hundred years later into the 21st Century – and only getting catastrophic by the day, as the recent violent surge occasioned by Palestinian Hamas fighters’ infiltration from besieged Gaza into Israeli occupied territories on 7 October 2023 proves.
Apart from the long-held resentment and frustrations over years of continuing brutal occupation; the recent desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque – a sacred religious site in Islamic tradition – and the most violent year of Israel settler aggression as was 2023’s record, were three key reasons cited by Hamas as the trigger for this bout of unprecedented violence.
Before this, it has been a flood of human rights groups’ report after report, and United Nations Security Council resolutions that – as a matter of international law – decry the apartheid, unlawful, state-sanctioned, deliberately organized, and well-documented Israel colonial settlement of Palestine for decades: reflecting what has been perennially cited by Palestinians as their legitimate reason to fight.
That is why, considering the complexity of the situation at hand, the Western governments’ ‘unequivocal support’ declarations to this most recent altercation – only brandishing the one-sided narrative of Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense – has been a shock to the many versed with the historical background that reframes the broader argument against such a move.
Also shocking is how fast Western governments’ political capitals and cultural institutions have been hoisting the blue and white flag of Israel – from The Eiffel Tower, The Sydney Opera House to the EU Parliament building.
Seeking Peace and Justice Amidst Historical Injustice
Isn’t the same parliament supposed to be a democratic representative of European citizens, many of whom do not ‘simply stand with Israel’? Is this ‘unequivocal support’ another unconscious cover for the West’s many years of silent complicity in Palestine turned outright support for Israel?
Support of which has been taken as a license to kill by the most far-right-leaning government in Israeli history – reading from the barrage of missiles currently pummeling innocent civilians seeking haven in UN schools and hospitals, to the complete cutting off of all food, water, fuel and humanitarian aid coming into the Gaza strip, to a seemingly inevitable land invasion by Israeli military?
What Hamas did is terrible – but how different is it from what the Israeli Defense Force and the frenzied, armed settler community have been doing every other day for years? How can there be long-standing peace, without reinforcing the justice that has been delayed and denied all these years?
Again, this post does not justify or condemn, it merely describes a fact: taking sides will only continue the carnage. Call for restraint and immediate de-escalation on both sides we must. But the fact still stands: The Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine needs to be addressed, if we are to put to rest this bloodletting that has stained our collective consciousness.
Sins of the past to be swept under the rug? Not so much, if they still carry a charged reality. The situation will keep erupting if Israel does not change its treatment of Palestinians – who are no doubt determined to continue the spirit of this generational struggle, to free themselves from ongoing colonial occupation, with or without the world’s finger pointing to their apparent Western declared folly.
We owe it to ourselves to analyze such terrible incidents all over the world in the right context, from Kurdistan to Somaliland (among other ongoing cycles of volatile European powers’ imperial past), with brutal honesty as need be.
Because tragically enough, it’s always civilians on either side that bear the brunt. Israeli citizens are much of the victims as are the Palestinians in this case, and an end to occupation is the only way to begin putting an end to this remnant of colonial hangover.
Otherwise, The Israel-Palestine cycle of “a piece of you, for a piece of me” will continue. Otherwise, The Children of Abraham’s shared heritage of salutation, Salaam: “peace with you – and peace with me” – will amount to nothing but empty words.