David Shaw

To be belligerent

Words like belligerent or belligerency or, to target Israel, “belligerent occupation” are easily thrown around. We can learn something from events of recent months in the Far East. The Chinese, we were informed initially, were becoming belligerent and aggressive towards their neighbours, mainly about some unoccupied islands off their coast. China and Japan were on the path to conflict, some writers suggested.

President Obama got worried about this and suddenly appeared in the Pacific giving up for the moment the messy Middle East. He was talking tough, stationing marines in Australia, reassuring his allies. Later, we learned that US military bases in the Philippines are being reactivated.

Then came a change. The Japanese got noisy, increased their military budget and went to a shrine to praise their “war heroes” from World War II. Suddenly, it was the Japanese who seemed belligerent. Now, we are trying to follow the antics of President Putin of Russia who has seized Crimea and is making belligerent moves towards Ukraine.

It is easy to use this word belligerent. Years ago, Chinese Premier Chou En Lai was asked if China had belligerent, aggressive plans. He replied that there was not a single Chinese soldier anywhere on foreign soil. The US had forces stationed in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, defence arrangements with South East Asian countries and Australia and New Zealand and a powerful fleet dominating the Pacific. That hasn’t changed.

It is an interesting point that the Japanese and the other Asian nations claiming those islands are not seeking to help national groups seek freedom. They are not trying to free people from Chinese rule. Their aim is the possibility of oil or minerals out there under the sea. Even the Sultan of Brunei, who sits on tubs of oil down in Borneo and was for a while the richest man in the world, has put in a bid, probably inspired by his favourite oil company.

Would those nations follow these policies if they didn’t have the support of the U.S.?

So we might claim that Israel doesn’t much deserve a label of belligerency. We accepted the 1947 partition plan and did not claim anything else. In the years up to the Six Day War, no claims were made about the West Bank or Gaza. In fact, we pleaded with King Hussein to stay out of the war.

Not that there weren’t people among us advocating more belligerent lines. But what counts is what our government and Knesset decide. There came a moment in ’67 war when the Jordanians were reeling and our leaders had the opportunity to seize the HolyCity and then to take control of the territories. Perhaps that was our moment of belligerency although we were immediately ready to negotiate peace.

None of this is not to say that we don’t have belligerent people in Israel, even in the Government, such as Mr Naftali Bennett. And we are also conscious of millions of our hard earned shekels being spent on settlers.

Mr Bennett leads a party representing only 10 per cent of Israeli voters but, because of our invidious political system, occupies a powerful position in the government. He wants to put a million Jews in the West Bank. His buddy, the Housing Minister, is busy diverting funds to build more houses in the West Bank. Perhaps these policies earn the title of “belligerent occupancy”, the favourite phrase of those declaring our presence in the West Bank illegal under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

In contrast, we have to remember that the majority of us voted for the Oslo Plan and supported disengagement from Gaza. We send our sons and daughters to help defend us in the West Bank and along the northern borders but we are ready for peace. I believe many of us remember that question after seizing the West Bank: “What are going to do with a million Arabs?” I have seen it attributed to both Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and to our chief of the defence forces, Yitzhak Rabin, in those days. Whomsoever said it, it doesn’t sound belligerent.

About the Author
David Shaw was a correspondent in South East Asia and China and wrote for British and Australian papers from Jerusalem.