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Bertrand Russell's message on Israel remains relevant amid the conflicts of today

December 10, 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on that date in 1948. This important step was seen as the global response to the atrocities during the Second World War, resulting from the brutal ideology of fascism, which was rooted in racism.

It is more than ironic that in May of that same year, the Zionist movement established the state of Israel. A few weeks later, the National Party of South Africa won a general election, launching the system of apartheid. The ideologies of both of these regimes were geared to the removal of thousands, if not millions, of people who were indigenous to the target lands; that could be achieved only by policies that demonised those viewed as “others”. These forms of racism were what the war was supposed to eliminate.

As we reflect on the circumstances in Gaza, please review the attached Last Message from Bertrand Russell, a British Nobel Prize-winning philosopher. The statement was read on February 3, 1970 — the day after his death — at the International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo. The mathematician/peace activist, whose submission was made on January 31, 1970, spoke of the bombing raids that Israel was making deep into Egypt. Those words possess a timelessness.

The Last Message

The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to resist. This is the lesson of all aerial bombardment.

The Vietnamese who have endured years of American heavy bombing have responded not by capitulation but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940 my own fellow countrymen resisted Hitler’s bombing raids with unprecedented unity and determination.

The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For over 20 years, Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion, Israel has appealed to reason and has suggested negotiations.

This is the traditional role of the imperial power because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression.

The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annex foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.

The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral millstone around the neck of world Jewry”.

Many of the refugees are now well into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements. The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was given by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless.

With every new conflict, their numbers have increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict.

No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent, just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.

We are frequently told that we must sympathise with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering.

What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number of refugees to misery, not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to military rule, but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging from colonial status to continued impoverishment as military demands take precedence over national development.

All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published December 11, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated December 11, 2023 at 7:08 am)

A message that resonates

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