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Now we are paying for the sins of the fathers

LIFE, according to Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian, can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. This assertion is particularly true when we consider the onslaught in the Gaza Strip and the growing hatred and malevolent fury of the red-shirted movement here at home.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from the competing and irreconcilable Jewish and Arab national political movements that can be traced back to the late 19th century. At the heart of the discord is the question of the right of the state of Israel to exist vis-a-vis that of Palestine.

Zionism - the Jewish national movement came into being in 1897 in response to the rising anti-Semitism in Russia and Europe. The Palestinian national movement started in 1917 after the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, which gave control of Palestine to Great Britain at the end of World War I. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, named after the British foreign secretary at the time, proposed the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Tension in the region between the Jewish and Arab groups and between the two groups and the British grew and erupted into a series of riots.

The genocide conducted by Germany against the Jews during World War II and the high cost of war suffered by Britain led to the handover of the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the United Nations. In 1947, the UN approved partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Such partition was criticised for its arbitrariness and total disregard for sensitivities involving the issues of religion and national sovereignty. It fuelled resentment, instability and violence that have spread across the Middle East ever since.

In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was created, based upon the notion that Palestine is an indivisible homeland of its people. Some condemn the movement as a terrorist group, while others commend it as a staunch nationalist force to be reckoned with. For or against, the PLO crystallised the Palestinian nationalist aspiration that resulted in violent attacks on Israel and the latter's fierce defensive and offensive retaliation.

Growing more insecure with the increased hostility along its border, Israel, in the Six-Day War in 1967, invaded and captured the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and annexed East Jerusalem to its Western Jerusalem. The conflict became more violent and contentious. Time and again, efforts by various parties to reach a negotiated peace settlement hopelessly failed.

We would have thought that the external conflicts would create an ultimate national unity within the Israeli and Palestinian communities. But that is not at all the case. There are some Israelis who do not support the right of the state of Israel to exist. The most vocal group is called Neturei Karta, which genuinely believes that such existence is contradictory to Jewish law. It points out the fundamental difference between Judaism and Zionism; the first has to do with Jewish religious teaching, the latter being a political movement that has nothing to do with such teaching and, in fact, undermines Jewish life. On the opposing end are Jewish people who firmly believe that without the state of Israel, there is no way for them to reunite with God, and that Israel was given to Abraham in a covenant with God. Both sets of followers are carrying out vigorous campaigns in furtherance of their respective beliefs, adding to the complexity of the issue.

Not to be outdone, the Palestinian movement is divided into Fatah and Hamas. The former currently occupies the West Bank and the latter Gaza. Israel, in recent years, has been trying to promote the economic progress made by the Fatah secular movement, while continuing to enforce an economic blockade on Hamas, which constantly sends rockets deeper and deeper into Israel and tears away any sense of "normalcy" Israelis have left.

Most of the world condemns the military assaults by Israel on and into Gaza. But is it a surprise, given the long history of atrocities carried out over more than a century by all parties in the conflict?

Back to Thailand, people may dismiss the growing red-shirt movement as mercenaries for hire and devoid of any core belief in the democracy they claim to protect and uphold. But those who entertain such a view are wrong. Just as some yellow-shirts truly believe in their righteous cause that justifies all means, no matter how hideous, to achieve the end, there are red-shirts who are true believers in their cause of protecting our "democracy", again, at all cost. Our 23rd prime minister made the mistake of underestimating the yellow-shirt's resolve. The same mistake is being made with this view of the red-shirts now.

The problem with democracy in Thailand is we have not really been given a chance. The 1932 revolution rushed an unprepared country into adopting this unfamiliar western ideology without heeding the fact that Thailand lacked all the major requisites for democracy to prosper. The series of governments that came afterwards did not have any real vision or intention of building a solid foundation on which our democratic house could be built. As a result, the house is sitting on rickety stilts. America might have declared its independence from Britain via a less noble cause - to free itself of tariffs the British levied on molasses that America was importing from French colonies to make rum - but its forefathers served the country well by laying out a solid democratic philosophy and solid principles that make America the pinnacle of democracy today.

It is too expedient and wrong to point fingers at certain traditional institutions as the root causes of our inability to achieve true democracy - which should mean much more than general elections and the one-man one-vote system. Just as the Israelis, Palestinians and Western powers engulfed in the ever-expanding Middle East conflicts are paying for the sins of their fathers, Thailand is paying dearly for the short-sightedness of the "fathers" of our democracy and the selfishness of corrupt politicians who have been in power ever since. Democracy in Thailand has become an empty cliche because of those sins and the sin of our gullible proclivity to think that democracy without a solid foundation can be an instant panacea to all our political woes, one that will automatically land us in Shangri-la. 

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