If you read Bernard Donoughue’s diaries, just published, of his life as an adviser to Harold Wilson in the 1970s, one difference between then and now that hits you hard is Donoughue’s (and Wilson’s) firm belief that the cause of Israel is the cause of people who wish to be free, and that its enemies are the old, repressive establishments. As a boy, I loved this narrative. I cheered as Israeli courage swept away the outnumbering Arabs who tried to destroy it again and again.
But then a different narrative supervened. People called “the Palestinians” began to be mentioned. Once upon a time, the word “Palestinian” had no national meaning; it was simply the description on any passport of a person living in British-mandated Palestine. During the 19 years to 1967 when Jordan governed the West Bank, the people there had no self-rule, and no real name. UN Resolution 242, which calls for Israel to leave territories it occupied in 1967, does not mention Palestinians; it speaks only of “Arab refugees.” Palestinian nationality came along, as it were, after the fact.
Since then, Israel, which was attacked, has come to be seen as the aggressor. Israel, which has elections that throw governments out and independent commissions that investigate people like Sharon and condemn him, became regarded as the oppressive monster. The idea, now promoted by all Arab regimes and by Muslim firebrands with a permanent interest in deflecting attention from their own societies’ problems, is that Israel is the greatest problem of all.
I think, given its difficulties, Israel stands up better than most before the bar of history. I want to ask my fellow Europeans: are you happy to help direct the world’s fury at the only country in the Middle East whose civilization even remotely resembles yours? And are you sure that the fate of Israel has no bearing on your own? In Iran, the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes the link. The battle over Palestine, he says, is “the prelude of the battle of Islam with the world of arrogance,” the world of the West. He is busy building his country’s nuclear bomb.