Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s recent revelations that the Israeli government is encouraging Kurdish separatism in Iraq, Iran and Syria should ring a bell for anyone who has followed the long history of English imperial ambitions.
It is no surprise that the Israelis should be using the tactic of “divide and conquer”, the cornerstone policy of an empire that dominated virtually every continent on the globe save South America. The Jewish population of British-controlled Palestine was, after all, victim to exactly the same kind of ethnic manipulation that the Sharon government is presently attempting in Northern Iraq.
Following the absorption of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the British set about shoring up their rule by the tried and true strategy of pitting ethnic group against ethnic group, tribe against tribe, and religion against religion. When British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour issued his famous 1917 Declaration guaranteeing a “homeland” for the Jewish people in Palestine, he was less concerned with righting a two thousand year old wrong than creating divisions that would serve growing British interests in the Middle East.
Sir Ronald Storrs, the first Governor of Jerusalem, certainly had no illusions about what a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine meant for the British empire: “It will form for England,” he said, “A little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”
Storrs’ analogy was no accident. Ireland was where the English invented the tactic of divide and conquer, and where the devastating effectiveness of using foreign settlers to drive a wedge between the colonial rulers and the colonized made it a template for worldwide imperial rule.
Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin normally take credit for creating the “facts on the ground” policies that have poured more than 420,000 settlers into the Occupied Territories. But they were simply copying Charles I, the English King, who in 1609 forcibly removed the O’Neill and O’Donnell clans from the north of Ireland, moved in 20,000 English and Scottish Protestants, and founded the Plantation of Ulster.
Protestants were awarded the “Ulster privilege” which gave them special access to land and lower rents, and also served to divide them from the native Catholics. The “Ulster Privilege” is not dissimilar to the kind of “privilege” Israeli settlers enjoy in the Territories today, where their mortgages are cheap, their taxes lower and their education subsidized.
Prior to the Ulster experiment, the English had tried any number of schemes to tame the restive Irish and build a wall between conqueror and conquered. All of them failed. Then the English hit on the idea of using ethnicity, religion and privilege to construct a society with built-in divisions.
It worked like a charm.
Once the English hit on the tactic of using ethnic and religious differences to divide a population, the conquest of Ireland became a reality. Within 250 years, that formula would be transported to India, Africa, and the Middle East.
It was “divide and conquer” that made it possible for an insignificant island in the north of Europe to rule the world. Division and chaos, tribal, religious and ethnic hatred, were the secret to empire.
It would appear the Israelis have paid close attention to English colonial policy because their policies in the Occupied Territories bear a distressing resemblance to British policies in Ireland.
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