Monday, May 26, 2008

Old Bertie’s reminder about Palestine

May 25th, 2008

The Greanville Journal

Bertrand Russell

‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil’ (Exodus 23:2).

Over the course of his long career, BERTRAND RUSSELL made significant contributions, not just to logic and philosophy, but to a broad range of other subjects including education, history, political theory and religious studies. In addition, many of his writings on a wide variety of topics in both the sciences and the humanities influenced generations of general readers. After a life marked by controversy (including dismissals from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York), Russell was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Also noted for his many spirited anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, Russell remained a prominent public figure until his death at the age of 97.

Consistent with his uncompromising nature, Russell was a fierce opponent of social conventionality, social injustice, political hypocrisy, war and especially nuclear weapons. He was not a complete pacifist, though, as he judged that some conflicts were inevitable and even desirable from an utilitarian perspective (i.e., the defeat of Nazi Germany to avoid a greater evil than the war itself.) Ever the fluid thinker, and never afraid to express his opinions–even outrageously wrong opinions at the time–in 1948 he argued that a preemptive nuclear strike by the US on the USSR was on the whole preferable to a bilateral nuclear war. Russell eventually came to deeply regret those words and in effect retracted them. This was perhaps his only major embarrassment and about face on a point of major significance for world affairs. In truth, as his political development deepened he travelled from center-right positions held in his youth (natural for a British aristocrat) to something of a democratic socialist/anarchist and clear-eyed anti-imperialist in his mature years. As such he was one of the major voices that could not be silenced in the West (others included Jean Paul Sartre) in their outspoken opposition to the American attack on Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s. Russell in fact went on to organize an International War Crimes Tribunal chaired by distinguished world intellectuals to try leading American politicians for crimes against humanity. He also wrote a memorable book on the Vietnam War, War Crimes in Vietnam, which remains one of the most detailed and moving denunciations of that infamous imperial adventure.

On 31 January 1970 Russell issued a statement which condemned Israeli aggression in the Middle East and called for Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in 1967. The statement said that:

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 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. […] 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…”

This was Russell’s final ever political statement or act. It was read out at the International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo on 3 February 1970, the day after Russell’s death.[31]

Digest prepared by Patrice Greanville. The biblical verse quoted above is Russell’s mantra.

No comments:

Post a Comment