Archive for the ‘Arab world’ Category

[Palestinian flag]

Palestine is the land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean that lies between the Jordan river and the sea, between Egypt and Syria. In the middle is the city of Jerusalem. It is a land divided between Arabs and Jews, a land of endless killing and blood.

The Romans kicked the Jews out of Palestine nearly 2000 years ago. In the 1800s the Jews began returning in large numbers. In 1947, after Hitler had killed six million Jews, they were given Palestine as a country of their own. They named it Israel.

But Israel did not fall from the sky: it was created by pushing Arabs off their land, land they had lived on for over a thousand years. Those Arabs are now called Palestinians. They want their land back.

The Jews say that God had promised them the land. It says so in the Bible.

Because the Arabs are mostly Muslim and the Jews are Western, the dispute is not an ordinary one, but has become important the world over. It is always in the newspapers. So much so that many assume that this has been going on for thousands of years and not just 60.

Most Palestinians went to live in other Arab countries. Many went to live in Jordan, the neighbouring country to the east. Those with education live quite well, but many live in wretched settlements called refugee camps. The tents are long gone, but the people are still there.

In 1967 Israel took over a part of Jordan called the West Bank, and parts of Egypt called the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Israel gave back the Sinai in 1980 to make peace with Egypt. The West Bank and Gaza are still under the thumb of its military.

Israel sent Jews to settle the West Bank and Gaza. Some hoped that one day they would become part of Israel proper. But in 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza. Both the Israeli army and the Jewish settlers have left, but the army still attacks Gaza from time to time.

In the early 1990s Israel half-promised that the West Bank and Gaza might some day become an independent country. There was some solid movement in that direction and in 2000 peace was almost made between Israel and the Palestinians, but then it all fell apart. There has been an on-and-off low-level war going on ever since, not just between Arabs and Jews, but even among the Arabs themselves.

While Arafat was alive to lead the Palestinians, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), especially the Fatah part of it, was the only political party that mattered, as corrupt as it was. Arafat died in 2004 and the years since has seen the rise of Hamas. Now both parties fight for power, both at elections and in the street.

In January 2006 Hamas won elections in Gaza. In June 2007 they took over Gaza by force. Hamas is backed by Iran, Fatah by the West.

Israel is now building a wall between itself and the Palestinians. Along the way the wall is taking in choice bits of the West Bank. It has yet to reach Jerusalem. The Jews seem to have given up on making peace.

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Sudan (1956- ) is the country south of Egypt. It is the cruellest place on earth. Unlike, say, Rwanda and Cambodia, the violence never seems to stop. It goes on and on. Just when the long war in the south was coming to an end – a war in which millions were killed or made into slaves – war broke out in Darfur in the west.

The north and the south are like two different countries:

  • The north is Arab in language and Muslim by religion, like neighbouring Egypt, but few are Arab by blood.
  • In the south English and Christianity are more common, as in neighbouring Uganda. Few are Muslim, some are Christians, most worship spirits. This is the beginning of black Africa.

Even though you barely heard about it in the West, Sudan is where the greatest jihad of our time has been fought. It ended in a draw in 2005.

Just as that war was winding down, another broke out in Darfur in 2003. The people in Darfur are Muslims but are black, not Arab. Feeling the government had not been fair to them, they took up arms. This led to war which continues to this day In 2006 it spread to neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic.

Unlike the war against the south, Darfur has become a fashionable cause in America and Britain.

Two of the men responsible for the blood of Darfur will likely be brought up on charges before the ICC, the World Court. Sudan says it will not turn them over. The United Nations in turn threatens to cut off trade to Sudan.

The African Union has a force in Darfur, but it is too small to do any good. The United Nations talks of sending a much larger force, but so far it is just talk.

Not only the people, but the land also changes from north to south:

  • The north is like Egypt: mostly dry land with towns and farms along the Nile. At Khartoum, the seat of government, the Nile divides into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
  • In the middle of the country, the dry land turns to grassland.
  • In the south the grass gives way to trees, to woodland and wetland. Everyone is black. Now you are in the tropics.

Sudan has bad roads and few schools. Most are farmers or herders.

Sudan has oil, most of it in the south. France, India, Malaysia and especially China have sunk money into oil wells in Sudan. China needs the oil badly.

Some of the oil money pays for Russian arms, some goes into putting up tall, glass buildings in Khartoum. Little of it goes to the south, where most children do not even go to school.

As part of the 2005 peace deal, the south will vote in 2011 on whether to become independent. With so much oil there, it is seems unlikely the north will let it go without a fight.

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