António’s vacuum: Senhor Guterres needs broader historical horizons

Hamas will feel very encouraged by the UN Secretary General’s line

On October 24th last, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres caused quite a degree of international controversy when – during a speech to the UN Security Council – he appeared to suggest that there was some justification for the barbaric slaughter that Hamas waged on southern Israeli communities on October 7th.

Senhor Guterres said that the violence “did not happen in a vacuum”, adding that the “Palestinian people [had] been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.

Wrong Causality

There are a few points to be made about these comments. Firstly, the people of Gaza have not been under any occupation since 2005, since Israel voluntarily withdrew from the territory. Hamas seized power following Israel’s withdrawal, slaughtering several dozen members of the rival Fatah Palestinian faction in a bloody civil war. So, whatever their motivation was to launch such atrocities, it wasn’t due to “suffocating occupation”.

Secondly, if Senhor Guterres intended to attribute the Hamas terror attacks to the Israeli presence in the West Bank, he should consider that in the early 1950s, nearly 1,000 Israelis were murdered in cross-border fedayeen raids from Egypt and Jordan. These attacks occurred well before Israel entered the West Bank, which happened after the 1967 war when it was attacked from there. There was no “suffocating occupation” then either and his causality is all wrong.

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Senhor António Guterres
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Senhor António Guterres

Jewish refugees forced to flee again

As with other parts of Israel, many of the residents of the southern Israeli kibbutzim targeted by Hamas’s actions are Mizrachim, Jewish refugees from Arab and Islamic countries who sought refuge in Israel due to persecution and violence. The Arab mobs who attacked Mizrachi Jews in Tripoli, Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and many other Arab cities were not being subjected to a “suffocating occupation” yet the Jews were attacked and killed anyway. Now, they and their descendants are once again forced to flee antisemitic atrocities.

The destruction and expulsion of ancient Jewish communities in Arab countries, with histories spanning over 2000 years, is a significant but often overlooked aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their claim to refugee status is as valid as that of the Gazans involved in the attacks on October 7th.

There is one aspect of the Arab-Israeli issue that does not “happen in a vacuum”. And that is the tendency of western leaders and politicians (including many Irish ones) to excuse anti-Israeli violence and to imply that it would not have happened were it not for certain actions by Israel. Hamas will feel very encouraged that the UN Secretary General and much of the Irish political class is following that line.

By Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh.

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