Daily Archives: May 2, 2010

Richard Hamilton and a disappearing Palestine

Maps of Palestine (2009-2010) by Richard Hamilton

If anyone had taken a stroll through sunny Hyde Park in recent weeks they would have come across the Richard Hamilton exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery.

Richard Hamilton is a great British artist who certainly packs a hard left-wing punch at the world situation, but at 88 he seems to have resorted to banal student politics.

Visitors were immediately greeted by a grubby Thatcherite hospital ward (just as well the exhibition closed last Sunday or the Serpentine could be accused of bias so close to an election).

Another room was dedicated to the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Iraq. There were Jesus-like paintings of some of the IRA hunger strikers who had painted their faeces on their cell walls.

One wall was dedicated to the anti-Vietnam student riots at Kent State University in America in which students were killed by the police. There was also a painting of a gun-toting Tony Blair portrayed as a cowboy.

But, as ever, in these lefty-artists’ exhibitions there was one corner dedicated solely to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There was a painting, Unorthodox Rendition, of Mordechai Vanunu soon after his capture in Rome in 1986, when he had fallen for the honey-trap of a beautiful Mossad agent who had lured him away from his secure nest in London where he was being shielded by The Times.

Unorthodox Rendition (2009-2010) by Richard Hamilton

What possesses these artists to have such sympathy with someone who would reveal state secrets is beyond me.

Hamilton had also painted Maps of Palestine (see top).

This kind of juxtaposition, a map from 1947 and one from 2010, is straight out of a Ben White talk.

White is continuously invited by the Palestine Societies of British Universities to brief his audience against Israel, while urging them to buy his book, Israel Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide.

Any average anti-Israel talk will make the comparison between 1947 and now.

I watched as people were transfixed by the colourful map (Israel in blue, Palestine in red). Most would have walked away with a subconscious idea that Israel is an expansionist state that takes land that doesn’t belong to it.

There was no hint of the 1947-49, 1967 or 1973 Arab initiated wars against Israel, Israel’s security considerations or of the ongoing peace process negotiations trying to alleviate this tragic Palestinian situation.

And in getting to the 1947 partition resolution many hours of analysis had gone into the allocation of land to its Jewish and Palestinian Arab inhabitants.

There was UNSCOP and the Anglo American Committee of Enquiry, for starters.

The 1947 partition was not some hastily arranged project that favoured one group, the Jews, while prejudicing another group, the Palestinian Arabs.

Hamilton’s painting actually shows how equitable the division was in 1947, although this will have been totally lost on viewers.

The United Nations attempted to create a fair and viable Arab state.

The Jews were to have 55% of the land and the Arabs were to have 45%. This accorded to where each group was roughly concentrated on the ground.

Of course, with there being 600,000 Jews and 1,200,000 Arabs this seems inequitable, until you look at the southern part of Israel’s allocation which was mostly uninhabitable desert.

The size of the Palestinian Arab allocation was irrelevant anyway. The Palestinian Arabs and surrounding Arab countries went to war with the Jews in 1947 because they would not accept a Jewish state per se.

In 1937, the Peel Commission had proposed giving 80% to the Arabs and just 20% to the Jews.

The Jews accepted, but the Arabs rejected a Palestinian state even on 80% of the land.

The Serpentine Gallery exhibition was titled Modern Moral Matters.

Hamilton’s next painting of the tragic conflict could juxtapose Lord Peel’s 1937 partition plan (see below) with that of the UN’s in 1947.

Had the Arabs accepted Peel in 1937 many of the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis may have found refuge in a Jewish state far earlier than 1948.

So as much as the current tragic fate of the Palestinians is a “modern moral matter”, surely the Palestinian rejectionism of 1937 and its past and present consequences for the world is as, if not more, important.

Peel Commission partition recommendation of 1937: Israel in purple, Palestine in green