THE lines of William Blake’s poem Jerusalem evoke powerful emotions for Christian believers in the Anglican tradition and secular socialists alike, not least because they present a new Jerusalem as an heavenly respite from alienated and exploited labour in the “dark satanic mills” of the early and most brutal period of capital accumulation.
The fanciful notion that 2,000 years ago a fleeting visit to these damp islands by a rebellious Middle Eastern personality might occasion heaven on earth has exercised an understandable appeal to successive generations who have found their earth-bound existence burdensome.
But Jerusalem is not an imaginary city here or far away, but a real place with a history and a people who, in these two millennia, have often lived an existence as burdensome as it is today.
Four-hundred years of rule by the Ottoman Turks was followed by three decades of the British Mandate in which the foundations of the present contested status of the city were laid by a colonial administration that exceeded even the levels of duplicity and and mendaciousness by which British rule was then universally known.
In 25 years the population of Jerusalem tripled and by the 1948 when the British Mandate expired, it comprised one-third Christian and Muslim Arabs and two-thirds Jews.
This is the basic architecture of the present disputes. In the 1948 land grab the newly constituted Israel annexed West Jerusalem, while East Jerusalem fell to Jordan, which subsequently lost it, and a tranche of surrounding territory, to Israel in the 1967 six-day war.
War rarely respects the rights of the people who live on the land over which it is fought. Israeli hegemony over territory which neither the United Nations — which gave legitimacy to the creation of Israel in territory much smaller than that which it presently occupies — nor the international community sanctions, is simply illegal.
And so is every incident in which a Palestinian lemon grove is cut down by zionist settlers, every occasion when a Palestinian olive plantation is torn up by tank tracks, every time an Israeli Defence Force armoured bulldozer knocks down a Palestinian dwelling or crushes a Palestinian child.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the original refugees expelled in 1948 and their families, keep the wooden keys to homes which now lie in territory occupied by arrogant settlers who appear on our TV screens speaking in the accents of North America, Britain, Australia and South Africa.
For many Palestinians the sight of their lost homes and lands now under the modern houses of settlements occupied by foreign-born Israeli citizens or unreachable behind Israeli barbed wire is a source of existential angst.
The Israeli premier faces an election next week. His post-election plans are to grab more land in Jerusalem and to steal yet more Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank and the agriculturally productive Jordan Valley.
If elected, and if carried through, this will render a negotiated peace even more intractable — something that neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor his main sponsor favour anyway.
Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said: “Netanyahu’s cheap pandering to his extremist racist base exposes his real political agenda of superimposing ‘Greater Israel’ on all of historical Palestine and carrying out an ethnic cleansing agenda.”
The British political Establishment, including a sizeable part of the Labour Party, is bound hand and foot to the zionist project and is reluctant to move beyond pious and empty declarations about peace to practical action.
But a future Labour government must make it clear that Israel should comply with international law or face diplomatic pressure and beyond including boycott, sanctions and divestment.
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