The Palestinian Debacle and the lesson from Biafra

When modern doctors want to eliminate rogue cells that have formed a cancer, they bombard them with lethal radiation. They use linear accelerators, marvellous instruments that provide steady, reproducible streams of radiation from any angle at any dose. Inevitably most of the radiation does not hit cancer cells.

 It hits healthy cells, killing them, deranging normal body functions, weakening the immune system, and possibly inducing new cancers.

When modern farmers want to eliminate pests from their crops, they choose from an impressive array of poisons, crafted in laboratories, mass-produced in factories, available at amazingly low prices. They spray the countryside with 430 million pounds of poisons each year, 98% of which never hit the pests. They hit the soils, the waters, the bugs’ natural enemies, and innocent bystanders of many species — including us.

When the President of a modern superpower gets mad at the tinhorn dictator of a smaller country, or a lone terrorist he sends 100,000 soldiers to capture that man. The soldiers command machines and weapons breathtaking in their power and deadliness. They smash through a city, disrupt the civil order, kill thousands of civilians (and a few dozen of themselves), and create such havoc that they must stay around to prop up the crumbling government and economy.

The technologies that support these activities are tributes to the knowledge, creativity and determination of the human race. The mentality that underlies them, however, is not far removed from that of the most primitive cave-man. UGH! BAD!! SMASH!!!

The difference between us and the cave-men is that our instruments for smashing are vastly more powerful and our rationalizations more complex. I like to think, anyway, that the cave-man did not suffer from enough guilt or hypocrisy to label his depredations “Operation Just Cause.” The Smash Your Enemy mentality has always driven the practice of war, but in our society it drives much else. We fight Battles against Cancer and a War on drugs. We attack far too many problems through emotions of fear and rage. Act and act fast. Flatten the opposition. Lay waste the territory, if you must, but gun the bad guys down. Sacrifice anything and everything to the limited, violent objectives of the warrior. There are, of course, more advanced ways of thinking. In quiet corners of our society people are working on problems like cancer, agricultural pests, dictators, and hostile foreign powers, starting from a premise much more thoughtful than “Nuke ‘Em”.

I have reproduced this interesting narrative from the Sustainability Institute to illustrate the futility of what I call mankind’s cave mentality. How would an organism that claims a higher intelligence and aspires to conquer his universe be so dumb as to self destruct? You cannot continue the same old policies that have not worked and expect a different result. This oft repeated campaign rhetoric of Barack Obama is a truism that comes to my mind today as I contemplate the carnage that goes on in Gaza.

To get a true sense of this carnage please tune in to Al-jazeera, a channel which does not spare its viewers the footage of bereaved parents holding the dead corpses of their infants nor mangled remains of able-bodied young men and women, fathers and mothers fully alive but a few moments ago. Israel launched the offensive on Dec. 27 to halt years of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. A week later, ground troops moved in. Palestinian medical officials say more than 850 Palestinians have been killed, roughly half of them civilians. Israel and Hamas ignores a U.N. resolution passed Thursday calling for an immediate and durable cease-fire that would lead to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. You are moved to ask; what prevents the leaders of both Israel and Palestine and the Arab world, to come to an equitable agreement that allows each to live as good neighbours in peace. Or more appropriately; why wouldn’t Hamas, Fatah and the rest of the Arab world come to the unavoidable conclusion that Israel, for ill or for good is a reality and have come to stay, and nothing they or anyone can do will change that reality? Those six decades of wars, terrorism, suicide bombing and intifadas have not and cannot change the status quo. I repeat; you cannot repeat the same policies that have not worked for decades over and over again and expect a different result.

The greatest challenge that the human race has ever faced still remains: to live in a world free of the threat of violence. Violence is not restricted to times of war; it exists everywhere: in homes, schools and communities. Where there is injustice, there is conflict. Conflict is generally classified in terms of both violent and non-violent conflict. Violent conflict is generally associated with the use of force as a means to an end, while non-violent conflict usually involves peaceful negotiation between conflicting groups or even mediation by an external (outside) group in order to work toward a compatible goal or resolution. Over time, non-violent conflicts can erupt into direct force if a reasonable compromise is not reached.

Much of the violence in our society stems from an oppressive political, economic and social system of power that reinforces differences between groups and allows one group to have power or privilege over another group. Tribal/ethnic groups, Women, blacks, gays and lesbians, religious minorities, the poor and working class, people with disabilities, and youth tend to factor into non-power groups. This is not to say that these groups do not have strong will or exact power over others, but that they have limited institutional power. When both violent and non-violent means have been tried without success the victims generally succumb to impotent rage.

Life is not fair. There is so much injustice. When all the strategies stated above: violence, non-violence and impotent rage, have all been tried without success, a wise soul will pause, do some soul searching and revise his strategy; He who fights and run away- sang Bob Marley, lives to fight another day. The Palestinians should pause and simply look around them, at the travails of different peoples at different times and clime to learn this vital lesson of life and survival; especially the Biafrans but also the East Timorese, the Polisario of Western Sahara, the SPLA etc.

I am more familiar with the story of Biafra, so about Biafra I will talk. Decades of orchestrated pogroms against the Igbo in the northern Nigeria, ethnic tensions and chaos continued after the Nigerian Independence in 1960. But as the military took over in the mid-1960s, ethnic tensions broke out. Up to 30,000 Igbos were killed in fighting with Hausas, and around 1 million refugees in the north fled to their Igbo homeland in the east. On 30 May, 1967, the head of the Eastern Region, Colonel Emeka Ojukwu (as he then was), unilaterally declared the independent Republic of Biafra. After initial military gains, the Biafran forces were pushed back. Over two-and-a-half years later, 1 million civilians had died in fighting and from famine. Photographs of starving children with huge distended stomachs from protein deficiency horrified people around the world but Biafran forces failed to obtain any international support.

You cant help but be sickened by the senseless violence that this war wreaked upon a West African nation that could have been an example of harmonious progress to the whole of the continent. The most disturbing aspect is that it deteriorated steadily from a war in which the original motivation was the reincorporation of the breakaway east back into Nigeria into a spectacle of racial hatred run amok. General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the federal government, in unleashing a war that he thought could be ended within 48 hours, has let loose forces that others do not understand and that the Nigerians cannot control.

Other Nigerians to judge from its public utterances, seems blandly unaware of just how far the Nigerian own army is completely out of control. Igbo-land was turned into a charnel house of gutted hamlets and rotting corpses. Their men folk simply lined up in many cases against the wall of the buildings and machine-gunned, the women raped to the accompaniment of ritualistic mutilations, the children splitted on machete knives. Genocide is an ugly word and an even uglier reality. I have read so many books and watched documentaries of how soldiers looted, raped, killed and tortured. The Biafrans are squeezed ever more tightly into the centre of the ring, with a vengeful Nigerian army seeking its pound of flesh for its own casualties.

The war fell into a form of stalemate, with Nigerian forces unable to make significant advances into the remaining areas of Biafran control. But further Nigerian offensive from 1968 began to close the ring around the Biafrans with further advances on the two northern fronts and the capture of Port Harcourt on 19 May 1968.

The blockade of the surrounded Biafrans led to a humanitarian disaster when it emerged that there was widespread civilian hunger and starvation in the besieged Igbo areas. The Biafran government claimed that Nigeria was using hunger and genocide to win the war, and sought aid from the outside world. The Biafra secession was finally crushed in January 1970. Finally, Biafra surrendered and was reabsorbed into Nigeria. Defeat has been followed by 30 years of humiliation. The wounded veterans line up in their wheelchairs alongside the main roads in Enugu, begging for money from passers-by. After the Nigerian-Biafran War, Igboland was devastated.

Many hospitals, schools, and homes had been completely destroyed in the brutal war. In addition to the loss of their savings, many Igbo people found themselves discriminated against by other ethnic groups and the new non-Igbo federal government. When the civil war ended, the Nigeria government promised the Igbo people that there would be no victors and no vanquished but the Igbos have been largely excluded from power ever since and still believes that none of the problems that led to the war have been solved yet they are still there. We have a situation still resembling the type of situation that saw the beginning of the war.

There is plenty of resentment but little talk of secession among the Igbo today. The vast majority of Nigeria’s population is under 40 years old and only small proportions have direct memories of the war. But the causes of the Biafran conflict – ethnic rivalry and mistrust – are as relevant today as ever but ndi-Igbo have moved on.

This proud and dynamic race that regards the political system as an instrument for achieving own personal goals; believes that status is acquired through ones innate ability rather than privilege, and believes in acquiring rather than inheriting wealth; With their emphasis upon achievement, individual choice, and democratic decision-making, the challenges of modernization for the Igbo entailed responding to new opportunities in traditional ways, have really moved on. By sheer force of will rather than general acceptance, the Igbo have integrated themselves into Nigeria’s economic, political and social system. Today, Chief Emeka Ojukwu enjoys the role of elder statesman, living in comfort in the former Biafran capital, Enugu. Forgiven by the Nigerian authorities in the early 1980s, but admits to no remorse for the events of the civil war.


The paletinians might have legitimate reason to be resentful. They of course know the history of how the Jews came to their land. On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, with a two-thirds majority international vote, passed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, a plan to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning the territory into separate Jewish and Arab states. following the Isreali declaration of independence, the neighboring Arab states and armies (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Transjordan, Holy War Army, Arab Liberation Army, and local Arabs) immediately attacked Israel, and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War ensued. Consequently, the partition plan was never implemented.


Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and neighboring Arab states eliminated Palestine as a distinct territory. A major consequence of the Arab Israeli war was the exodus, referred to by Palestinians as al Nakba or al Naqba meaning the “disaster”, “catastrophe”, or “cataclysm that have led to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Historians have argued over the causes of the Palestinian exodus but the fact on the ground is that the Isrealis have effectively occupied this land for about 60 years. The UN later resolved that the refugees wishing to return should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property and that efforts should be made to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation.


The Palestinians constantly repeat claims of rights based on this Resolution and in particular insist on the right to return to lands that are now part of the State of Israel and they continue to be at war with Israel till today. From early 1965 to the Six-Day War in June 1967, the PLO through Fatah pursued a consistent policy of border attacks. Later Fattah leaders adopted a new approach known as “the entanglement theory.” This involved using sabotage to force Israel to adopt an offensive position, which in turn would force the Arabs to step up their military preparedness. This cycle of action-retaliation-reaction led to a gradual escalation of tension on the borders, and eventually to the Six Day War in 1967. The Six-Day War ended in 1967. Israel’s victory was devastating to the Arab countries, who had expected a quick and easy victory for themselves. Instead they not only failed to achieve their goal of destroying Israel, but on the contrary Israel gained all of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Sinai, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.


Israel had avoided the threat to its very existence, but then there was no peace after the victory.  The years from 1967 through 1991 were a turbulent period in the Middle East reaching from the end of the Six Day War in 1967 through the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process in 1991. The Palestinian Arabs and neighbouring Arab countries waged war on Israel, conventionally in the surprise attacks and invasion of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and through terrorism, diplomatic pressures, and economic warfare through use of the oil weapon. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) emerged and is recognized as the Palestinian’s leaders and masterminded the use terrorism to destroy Israel when it became clear that conventional wars were not going to achieve that goal.


In 1993 representatives of the State of Israel and the PLO signed the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements”, aka the “Oslo Accords”. They were signed at a Washington ceremony hosted by US President Bill Clinton in 1993, during which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended decades as sworn enemies with an uneasy handshake. This agreement was the fruit of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, following the Madrid Conference in 1991. The Oslo Accords contain a set of mutually agreed-upon general principles regarding a five year interim period of Palestinian self-rule that is expected to lead to a permanent status to take effect at the end of the interim period. But here we are, another round of recriminations, bombings, assassinations, 1st, 2nd, 3rd ad infinitum intifadas, demonstrations, deaths, tears and blood, when will it all end?


Why is man so intent on destroying his kin? How could the world’s best brains devise a formula that conquered space, the moon, stars and the planets but fail to devise a formula that would allow the inhabitants of a tiny fraction of its universe live in peace? Is it not yet time for Palestinians, Khaled Meshaal and Mahmud Abbas to emulate Emeka Ojukwu and Biafrans so that the whole world would heave a sigh of relief?