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Origins of conflict: present and future

By Stephen Keim - posted Thursday, 15 January 2009

It is a bad time to be a moderate Muslim, anywhere in the world. Any argument used to justify moderate solutions to problems in the Middle East looks pallid in the light of the current Israeli offensive in Gaza, and appears shattered among the dead and dying of the United Nations school in the Jabalya Refugee camp.

It was not until I arrived home from university at 10.30 at night, on September 6, 1972, after catching two buses, that I become aware of the tragedy of the Black September hostage taking and botched rescue attempt in Munich during the Olympic Games of that year. Like the rest of the world, I was shocked.

Then, as now, Israeli authorities sought a short term military solution with airstrikes on Palestinian targets, and two decades of assassinations, including the mistaken assassination of an innocent person in Lillehammer in Norway.


Looking back, it seems remarkable that it took 24 years from the events of 1947-48 (including the massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin), which turned residents of the British mandate of Palestine into Palestinian refugees, for something as horrible and tragic as the Munich events to occur.

Spin doctors defending the current Israeli offensive and the associated bloodshed are very short term in analysing causes and justifications, mentioning only the rockets sent over recent months from Gaza and aimed at Israeli towns. Any analysis must go back at least to the events that forced the British hand, as colonial over lord, to agreeing to the partition of Palestine, allowing the creation of the Israeli State.

One does not have to go back 50 years, however, to see obvious causes of the current impasse and its associated bloodshed. In January 2006, Hamas won a stunning victory in democratically run, and internationally monitored, parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian people, well used to suffering, chose Hamas to take them into the future.

What was the response of Israel and the West to this election result? It was arrogant: the West knew better than the Palestinian people about what was good for them. It was short sighted: the West believed that refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian’s elected representatives would strip popular support from those representatives. This was stupid as it left Hamas with no alternative but to use some form of violence: limited as the damage may be that is caused by rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

So, Israel, supported by the United States, refused to negotiate with Hamas. Israel has also imposed an economic blockade on Gaza since shortly after that election win making the lives of Gaza’s residents even more difficult.

The problem with punishing a society for making what you think is the wrong choice in their election is that they will be even more likely to make the “wrong” choice next time they have a chance.


Through all of this, Australia, even under its new government, echoes the short term arguments of its big friend, the United States. Our government does not seem to realise that, even if Israel’s current offensive were to succeed in killing every current Hamas member, there will still be millions of alienated Palestinian children to create the Hamas of the future. Short term solutions, generally, have adverse long term effects.

We have now seen more than seven years of the war on terror. Among the invasions and the detention of people in legal black holes around the world, our government has tried to engage with moderate Islamic people to persuade them that resorting to violence is foolish and short sighted and that the way to solve geo-political problems is through peaceful dialogue. Because most Islamic people are moderate, these attempts have received strong support from moderate Muslims around the world including in Australia.

The 660 people killed in the current Israeli offensive in Gaza will not stop moderate Muslims (or moderate Israelis) from urging peaceful solutions to the suffering and conflict in Palestine. Nor will the 43 people killed in the Israeli attack on the United Nations run school in Jabalya.

They do, however, make the task of urging peaceful solutions, not just now, but for decades into the future much, much harder.

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About the Author

Stephen Keim has been a legal practitioner for 30 years, the last 23 of which have been as a barrister. He became a Senior Counsel for the State of Queensland in 2004. Stephen is book reviews editor for the Queensland Bar Association emagazine Hearsay. Stephen is President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and is also Chair of QPIX, a non-profit film production company that develops the skills of emerging film makers for their place in industry.

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