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The world attention is focused on geographical Palestine where Israelis and Palestinians kill each other over land they claim belonged to Abraham, their spiritual and probable biological patriot. Their killings are based on narratives of identity as to who, among those who came from mithirimo, the ‘shins’, of Abraham with his three wives, has a bigger claim to the land than the other. That narrative stresses the descendants of Sarah through Isaac and Hagar through Ismael. In the process, except for occasional mention of the Midian, Abraham’s other 6 sons with Ketura get forgotten in the narrative. Also forgotten in that narrative are those people that Abraham displaced as he moved from Ur (Baghdad). His descendants kill each other over his occupying legacy.

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The success of the narrative is in the influence it has to the rest of humanity in which almost 5 billion people claim religious affiliation to Abraham mainly through two of his supposed descendants. These were Jesus, later known as the ‘Christ’, and Mohammed bin Abdullah, also known as ‘The Last Prophet’. The followers of Jesus, called Christians and whose religion is Christianity, are roughly 2.6 billion people. Those of Mohammed, the Muslims have Islam as religion, number over 2.3 billion followers. Lost in between are the roughly 7 million followers of Judaism, the religion that Moses founded roughly 1200 BCE. Moses gave the Hebrews ‘laws’ that became the basis of a new exclusivist faith. He started the process of giving decrees, in the name of God, as an administrative and governance strategy.  

For roughly 3200 years, the Judaic claim that God gave Palestine to the Hebrews alone became a constant source of conflict with other claimants. The Romans scattered the Jews even as one of their religious offshoots, Christianity, spread and entrenched itself in the Roman system. In the process, Christianity was culturally Romanized and then Europeanized so much that it lost its original purpose and identity and became worldly. In contrast, the followers of The Prophet Arabized, Islamised, and dominated Palestine. There then arose Christian and Islamic wars, called crusades and jihads, in which the Jews were practically absent. Jews were dispersed across Christian Europe, unwanted and discriminated.

The pain the Christian West inflicted on the Jews for centuries developed into a source of sense of guilt in the 20th Century. It then transferred its sense of guilt to the Arabs in Palestine; they were not European, Christian, or Jewish. The process of guilt transfer started in France with the Dreyfus Affair in which French authorities accused young Captain Alfred Dreyfus of spying for Germany because he was Jewish. This false accusation gave birth to the World Zionist Organisation whose objective was to send Jews to Zion/Palestine as the ultimate place of refuge.

Palestine was within the decaying Ottoman Empire, labelled ‘Sick Man of Europe’, and its occupants were largely Arabs. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 enabled Britain and France to share the Ottoman Empire with Britain taking Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq while France grabbed Syria and Lebanon. Britain promised a home for Zionists in Palestine, the Balfour Declaration, and set the stage for the presumed descendants of Abraham’s children, Ishmael and Isaac, to clash. In World War II, Adolph Hitler’s atrocities accelerated the purported Jewish ‘return’ to Zion and the inevitable fratricidal collision. In 1947, after the United Nations split Palestine into two parts, one for Jews and the other for Arabs, the Zionists proclaimed the State of Israel in 1948 and expelled the Arabs from Palestine; the expelled Arabs became Palestinian refugees. One small part on the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, remained under Egyptian control until Israel took it, along with the West Bank from Jordan, in the 1967 Six Day War.  

The pressure on Israel to relinquish control of Gaza and West Bank was partially successful in that Israel appeared to concede to the principle of a two-state settlement without actually letting go. Developing an effective intelligence network, the MOSAD, it had Western support to keep a tight leash on Palestinians who, despite occasionally flaring up into intifada, remained in two large geopolitical prisons. In turn, the tight control bred such tough anti-Israeli movements as Hamas and Hezbollah who repeatedly exchanged deadly missiles with Israel. How they get the missiles is a different matter. As of 2014, the frequency of missile exchanges increased so much that in October 2023 it diverted global attention from other volatile places.

The October 2023 Hamas-Israeli fighting is puzzling and exposes unpleasant realities. Since Israel and its MOSAD have tight control of, and know virtually everything that goes on, how come they were supposedly caught flat footed? Or were they? They probably were not. With serious geopolitical mischief in mind, they seemingly and successfully tricked Hamas into taking the bait. Irrespective of the answer, however, four realities come into the open.

The war seemingly created opportunity for the Conceptual West to extricate itself from the economically debilitating embarrassment in Ukraine. With US President Joe Biden facing Congressional rebellion over Ukraine, emotional diversions seemed to be needed. For a while, it seemed that Haiti would do the trick by appealing to African sentimentality and ‘nyapara’ proclivities but that approach made little headway. There then came the emotional Gaza fighting which seemingly diverted attention from resource and emotion draining Ukraine. Gaza is thus an acceptable face saving diversion, despite the human cost.

The fighting also provides excuse for Israel to annex Gaza and West Bank and help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to divert attention from his domestic legal and socio-political challenges. In his September 2023 UNGA address, for instance, Netanyahu displayed a map of Israel that had Gaza and West Bank as Israeli territory. The bold move was not new since remapping Palestine went back to 2020 when US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu established a joint border commission to redraw the West Bank border. This remapping reality makes the supposed Hamas success in missile throwing good excuse for declaring and forcing acceptance of Gaza and West Bank as Israeli.

The Gaza fighting had three unintended outcomes. First, it reinforces the original purpose of the UN Security Council, protecting the interests of big powers from the ravages of global democracy. The US used that protective principle to veto ceasefire proposal interfering with Israeli desire to ‘punish’ Hamas. Second, it exposes the uselessness of such institutions as the International Criminal Court, ICC, which would not investigate or indict any Israeli official. Third, it shows that countries can choose display making maturity. With the US flexing naval muscles in the Mediterranean to ‘defend’ Israel, supporters of Hamas, particularly Iran, restrained themselves to avoid possible encounters with eager US and Israel military. In avoiding the geopolitical bait dangled through fighting in Gaza, they play smart.

The Hamas-Israeli fighting is therefore complex, involves those claiming Abraham as ancestor, and entails deep geopolitical mischief. Since the Romanisation and cultural Europeanisation of Christianity went hand in hand with victimisation of Jews, the Conceptual West became so guilt ridden in the 20th Century that it compensated guilt by excusing Israeli bad behaviour. That sense of guilt, generating fear of offending Jews, gives Israel mental veto over how the West can react to happenings in Palestine. As a result, leaders of the West in the US, UK, and Canada compete to be seen to ‘defend’ Israel. The subsequent Hamas-Israeli trouble is thus geopolitical bantering, diverting attention from domestic problems, and continuation of sibling frictions arising from Abraham’s shins.

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Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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