Saturday 25 November 2023

Palestinian nationalism undermines the SNP


I don’t know if every Scottish nationalist is also a Palestinian nationalist, but certainly large numbers are. The SNP leadership is certainly pro-Palestinian. That’s perfectly reasonable. Sensible people can support the Palestinian cause. There need be nothing disreputable about that. But there is something of an inconsistency between what Scottish nationalism tells us about the Scottish people and what Palestinian nationalism tells us about the Palestinians.

One of the oddities of Palestinian nationalism is that throughout history since the Islamic conquest of the Levant in 634-641 there was no attempt to create a Palestinian state. Indeed, the present borders of Israel and the occupied territories only came into being after the First World War. Before that Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and was indeed divided between the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem and the Beirut vilayet. It was Britain that created somewhat arbitrarily the borders of what Palestinian nationalists call Palestine.

The story of this region since the late 19th century has been heavily influenced by mass migration. Jewish people originally lived in Israel during Biblical times, but there were only a few thousand Jews in Palestine prior to Zionism. The vast majority of Israelis can trace their ancestry to the region back no further than the twentieth century.

But this is where Scottish nationalism comes into conflict with Palestinian nationalism. The Palestinian supporters universally deplore Zionism. But Zionism is merely the process by which Jewish people migrated to Palestine and then when enough had arrived fought to create an independent Israel from British ruled Mandatory Palestine. Why should it be that the SNP is allowed to fight to escape British rule and create an independent state, but Israel is not allowed?

Palestinians and their supporters regret Zionism and would have preferred that Jewish people had never arrived in Israel, but instead had stayed in Eastern Europe, North Africa or elsewhere in the Middle East. They see the migration of the Jews as being the cause of the Palestinian Nakba that saw large numbers of Palestinians displaced from their homes during the Arab Israeli war of 1948.

But why didn’t the Palestinians take the Scottish nationalist view that each new arrival is a new Scot and as Scottish as anyone whose family has lived in Scotland since time began. This is the supposed foundation of Scottish civil nationalism. It is racist to suppose that Humza Yousaf is not Scottish because his family came from somewhere else. It is racist to say Nadia El-Nakla Yousaf’s wife is less Scottish than Robert the Bruce. Indeed, according to the SNP anyone who has the right to live in Scotland is Scottish and ought to be able to campaign for Scottish independence or to rejoin the EU just like anyone else.

Well, that’s fine, but why doesn’t Nadia El-Nakla apply the same standard to the migration of Jewish people to Palestine? They migrated to Palestine just as her family migrated to Scotland. By the same logic they should be no different from the original population.

The Palestinian argument depends on Palestinians being the indigenous population of Palestine and the Jews being an illegitimate population because they migrated there. If Palestinians don’t think this then why are they complaining about Israelis most of whom were now born in Israel? If the indigenous have different rights to the descendants of migrants, which is the logic of the Palestinian argument, then it would have consequences for much of Europe including our First Minister and his wife.

Around the time that Zionism began, there were tiny numbers of ethnic minorities in Europe. There were very few black people and very few Muslims. But we can’t live in a world where the migration of Jews is some sort of outrageous catastrophe, but the migration of 44 million Muslims to Europe during the same time span is cultural enrichment. That would amount to Muslim migration good, Jewish migration bad, which is obviously antisemitic.

Let’s say that the migration of new Scots continued to increase, and the population of “old” Scots continued to decline. Eventually there may be a majority of new Scots in the area around Glasgow and these new Scots led by the descendants of Humza Yousaf and Nadia El-Nakla may decide that they would prefer where they live to be independent from the rest of Scotland. They campaign for an independence referendum and win.

But how is this different from what happened in Israel? The descendants of migrants obviously have the right to choose to be independent from other people, otherwise it would be wrong for Humza Yousaf to campaign to be independent from other parts of the UK.

The problem with the SNP argument is that it is on the one hand deploring mass migration to Palestine but encouraging welcoming and indeed rejoicing in mass migration to Scotland. But one of the lessons of the Arab Israeli conflict is that mass migration doesn’t always lead to a society that is at peace.

In an ideal world Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis would never have come into conflict at all. They would have shared Mandatory Palestine with no need to fight about it. They would have been friends and good neighbours.

But if even Scottish nationalists cannot bear to live in the same country as English people because they vote Tory, how can they argue that Jews and Muslims should live in a single state after 75 years of warfare. To argue that it was wrong to partition Palestine into a Muslim state and a Jewish state is to argue that it is wrong to partition Britain.

Israel has made good efforts to live as a multifaith multiracial country. There are large numbers of Israeli Muslims, Druze, and other faiths. There are also Israelis of all races. They all have the same rights as citizens. To call this Apartheid is to misunderstand the term.

But the Palestinians only want to live with other Palestinians. If there were ever to be a two-state solution the Palestinians would want zero Jews to be living in that state. Most Palestinians and privately many of their most prominent supporters would rather there were no Jews living in the Levant at all.

But if perpetual conflict hatred and an inability to live together in peace is the result of mass migration to Palestine, why should we suppose that here all will be well?

It would be great if we all just treated everyone else as fellow human beings and didn’t care about where they came from or what they believed. But if that were the case there would be no motivation for Scottish nationalism, which depends on their being a distinction between the Scottish people and those living in other parts of the UK which is such that it cannot be reconciled but instead requires separation.

But then the mass migration of far more people to Europe than every went to Palestine is in danger of leading to a similar conflict over land, scarce resources and political control. This after all is the history of the USA.

It is certainly necessary that we treat every new arrival as equally Scottish or British. The alternative is degrees of citizenship and discrimination. But if Palestinians think of themselves as the original people who were displaced and developed their sense of identity in part because of the mass migration of Jewish people, are we quite certain that something similar might not happen here?

Careful about complaining that the Jews are migrants, and the Palestinians are indigenous and that means the Jews have no right to be there. You wouldn’t want to cut yourself on that claymore, it’s sharp.

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