In 1916, midway during what was referred to then as the Great War, the European colonial powers were also busy carving apart the remains of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. One of the entrees was prepared by Mark Sykes, a British aristocrat, member of Parliament and military officer, and François Georges-Picot, a French diplomat.
Working with a map of the region, they drafted the agreement under which imperial France took control of the lands north of what is today’s border between Lebanon and Israel (including Syria and northern Iraq), and England claimed the southern territory – Transjordan and the rest of Iraq. What they referred to as Palestine (the Holy Land) was supposed to be under joint “protection,” with the participation of the soon-to-disappear Russian empire.
Sykes-Picot and the European adventure in the Middle East did not end well, to understate the case. Like the entire colonial enterprise, but to an extreme, the foreign rulers had no understanding of the numerous ancient cultures, histories, societies, fears and hatreds in the region. They were soon overwhelmed with revolts, terrorism, and other difficulties, including the never-ending war between the Jews and Arabs. By 1948, the Europeans were gone, leaving a trail of violence that continues 70 years later.
It seems, however, that the heirs to Sykes and Picot have learned little if anything from this dismal experience. Today, European politicians and diplomats, with their entourage of public relations consultants and NGOs, are busy drawing new borders for what they imagine to be a “solution” to the conflict. Today’s imaginary map has two states – Israel and Palestine – living “peacefully, side by side.”
To get to this arrangement, the Europeans, led now by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and including an entourage of diplomats, NGO officials (paid by the EU), and public relations spinners, have focused their attention on the tiny encampment of Khan al-Ahmar. This site, situated strategically just outside Jerusalem on the four-lane highway that connects Israel’s capital to the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and from there, to Amman and, some 72 hours later (by car or tank), to Iraq.
Whether the Bedouin nomads put their tents down in this desert area in the 1950s (during the Jordanian occupation) or in 1988, as the Israeli government contends, is open to infinite dispute. In 1991, Palestinians tried to build permanent structures in the location, including a school. For three decades, Israel has rejected all the efforts to turn Khan al-Ahmar into a Palestinian outpost that would become the core of an ever-expanding presence along the strategic highway near Jerusalem.
But with the encouragement of Europe, the struggle continued and escalated. The 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority, appeared to open the door for the eager for the long sought-after Palestinian state.
Oslo divided the West Bank into three legal units – Area A (the cities) under full Palestinian control, Area B under Palestinian civil and Israeli security control, and Area C, which is under full Israeli control. Khan al-Ahmar is centrally located in Area C, and as 20 years of Israeli court rulings have confirmed, the law clearly prohibits anyone – Palestinians, Bedouin and Europeans – from squatting on land that is not theirs, and starting to build.
In the legal and political tug of war over this strategic location, the Europeans dotted Area C with EU flags hoisted above one-room pre-fabricated huts which, to add to the emotional impact, are usually declared to be schools. Destroying a school, regardless of its actual use, or its legal status, is ideal for again accusing Israel of human rights violations, and Khan al-Ahmar’s European school is featured in the current campaign.
European diplomats and UN officials make regular site visits, and post photos showing solidarity with the “victims of Khan al-Ahmar.” (In dividing the Holy Land again, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is fully on board with the rest of Europe.)
In August, diplomats were seen at a Palestinian “art exhibit,” which, as seen in the social media images, featured a number of classic antisemitic themes. After they were featured in an Israeli newspaper, the UNICEF representative declared that she had spoken to the organizers about this issue. The head of the Norwegian office in Ramallah did not bother to respond.
Doing their part in this campaign, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and dozens of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs funded primarily by European governments have churned out urgent statements, reports, and social media posts declaring the plan to bulldoze Khan al-Ahmar to be a “war crime.” Millions of euros, krona and pounds from European taxpayers are invested in this public relations effort.
In 1916, Sykes and Picot met and drew their maps in secret, as was the practice in the colonial era. In the 2018 version, the European officials who are leading the war of Khan al-Ahmar are assisted by armies of diplomats, NGOs and media spin masters. Whether the this makes any difference in the outcome remains to be seen.The author is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president at the Institute for NGO Research.
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