Rock and other hard places

By Derek Taylor, August 11, 2013
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There is a fascinating connection between two current stories in the news.

The first is the Spanish continuing harassment of the Gibraltarians in their efforts to regain the colony for Spain. The second is the pressure on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders. Jews were involved from the beginning in both cases.

Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. By the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 it was ceded to Britain. One of the conditions was that no Jews should be allowed to live in Gibraltar. The Spanish, having thrown them out in 1492, didn’t want a colony of them on their border.

The Jews came anyway, and the Spanish complained. By the terms of the treaty, the British had no excuse and agreed to deport them. At which point, the Muslim Sultan of Morocco said that, if that happened, he would withdraw all co-operation with the Rock — no water, no building materials, nothing. The infrastructure of Gibraltar would have been unsustainable under those conditions.

Why the support? All Morocco’s foreign trade was handled by Jewish merchants, as the Moroccans didn’t have the international connections or the know-how to do it themselves.

The sultan needed his Jews onside. If they left because of the treatment of their co-religionists, the country’s economy would be crippled.

The British solved the problem very neatly. By the Treaty of Fez in 1721 they made all the Gibraltarians British. Now they couldn’t be expelled. The Spanish were furious and in 1725 closed the border for 40 years.

They tried to recover the Rock again in 1779, besieging Gibraltar for more than three years and firing 250,000 shells into the town. The whole population had to be evacuated and the Sephardi congregation in Britain still has plenty of descendants of those refugees. Indeed, it was the Gibraltarian element in 1840 that was largely responsible for the split with what became the Upper Berkeley Street Reform congregation.

Britain held on to Gibraltar, and Gibraltarian privateers — including Jewish-owned vessels — attacked Spanish shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. Today, Spain still wants it back.

Move to the Middle East and 1967, in particular the clear statement by President Nasser of Egypt: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.” He then threw out the UN peacekeeping force and sent 100,000 troops to the Israeli border.

He was supported by mobilisations in Syria and Jordan. Iraqi troops joined the Jordanians, who sent 55,000 men and 300 tanks. All the Arab armies massed on their borders with Israel.

If the Israelis struck first, that hardly made them the aggressors under these circumstances. The Arabs lost the war and, with it, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

So the question is whether you need to give back what you won in war?

As far as Gibraltar is concerned, the British are quite clear. The answer is “no”. As would be the American answer if Mexico wanted Texas back. America annexed that in 1845. They also won New Mexico and California in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico had to give up its territory — although admittedly they did get $15 million compensation.

They obviously considered they had signed the Treaty under duress and, in 1859, when they couldn’t service the capital of a major loan, ignoring the terms of the Treaty they offered California to shareholders as part-payment, as if they still owned it.

It was not accepted then and it is unlikely, to say the least, that the Americans are ever going to “give back” Hollywood to the Mexicans.

There are many, many other examples to which the Israelis could point as clear evidence that the practice of victors in war is to keep what they have gained.

Equally, the losers have little redress; the German Empire lost its colonies after the First World War and hasn’t regained any of them. Is this fair? Well, the Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Iranians are still at war with Israel, by their own choice. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, under those circumstances, for a beleaguered nation to take the steps it considers necessary to avoid being destroyed.

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 11 2013