Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict IV

Part IV

1948-49

In 1948-49, everything comes to a head, and what in some respects was quite clear or might be described in relatively compatible terms for both Palestinian and Jews altered radically.

The Jewish Claim

For the Jewish yishuv, there were three critical events that defined their perspective on their State: a. the UN proposal to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab section; b. the attack by neighboring Arab states; c. the victory.

  1. After the British threw up their hands, the UN decided on a partition plan for what was defined as Palestine. In the plan, the areas that were mostly Jewish were consolidated into one area, and the remaining area was designated as an Arab state. The Jewish area was quite small, while the Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and the Negev remained under the Arab administration. Jordan remained under King Abdullah. The Jews, under David Ben-Gurion, accepted the plan. The Arabs rejected it.
  2. When Israel declared its independence as a state (in the small area designated it), the armies of the neighboring Arab states attacked. In theory, they should have easily wiped out the Jewish army with its paucity of arms; and their goal, as they told their Arab listeners was to quickly overwhelm the territory and wipe out the Jews. Those Arabs who left of their own free will could speedily return to their homes.
  3. The Jews won and with the win acquired relatively vast areas (for a tiny country) without much Jewish population.

To a great sense, the Jewish viewpoint is as simple as that stated above. We agreed to partition, we were attacked by Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi armies, and against all odds, we won. Regarding the Palestinians, many fled as refugees do in any war; the relatively wealthy (such as in Jaffa) fled expecting to quickly return, and toward the end of the war, Palestinian Arabs were also expelled as a possible fifth column, especially in areas with a small or even negligible Jewish population.

The Palestinian Claim

The Palestinian version is quite different as anyone who is at all acquainted with the Palestinian narrative knows. The Partition Plan often does not appear (or when it does, it is dismissed as the product of Western colonialism) nor does the attack by Arab armies. In the Palestinian narrative, Israel, a creation of the West and therefore of Western imperialism/colonialism is solely responsible for the loss of Palestine and the expelling of all the rightful natives from its midst.

There are numerous reasons for this blatant hole in the historical account.

  1. The first is that the Palestinian moral position of its right for self-determination in 1918-1919 has, among many of its proponents, essentially remained unchanged. If anything, it switched from 1919 to 1948; i.e., we were in the majority at both times, and therefore by right, we should have had a state.

There are, however, several other equally important factors:

  1. The fight against Israel was not fought by the native population.
  2. With minor exceptions, the native Arab population had no national identity until after the land had been lost.

The Palestinians were pawns of their fellow Arabs, who planned on dividing the territory among themselves and had no intention of creating a Palestinian state. It is normal for a national identity to be forged when fighting against the foreign invader or those who come to colonize, for example, in Kenya, Algiers, or even the Netherlands. But in this instance, the national identity was forged out of defeat. The great Palestinian event is the nakba, the catastrophe. The name says everything. When catastrophes occur, the victims are in no way responsible. The Jews acquired the role of the colonialist oppressor—they and only they were responsible for the catastrophe. And thus, it is important that all the Palestinians who left were expelled. They were the majority—and they were expelled. If they were also responsible for the nakba, if they had left of their own free will or if they had left because of battle, then they would have had themselves to blame, as well, and not only the Jews.

There are an additional two factors that must also be considered..

The first, which in the course of nearly 70 years has had its ups and downs in influence, is the religious aspect. In strict religious terms, Israel can never be legitimate as this region is part of the historical Islamic hegemony. There can can be no relinquishing of the land. This is essentially the position of Hamas, the Hezbollah, and Iran to this day.

The second begins primarily with Haj al-Husseini, and that is the anti-Semitic aspect. I am quoting from a booklet he authored for Muslim soldiers enlisted in the Nazi SS division in Bosnia. The quotes are relatively long, but they reveal the pernicious core of much of the extreme Palestinian criticism of Israel today. Note also the mixture of religion and nationalism, which characterized the Grand Mufti.

For us Muslims, it is unworthy to utter the word Islam in the same breath with Judaism since Islam stands high over its perfidious adversary. Therefore, it would be wrong to carry out comparison of those two generally different counterpoints…

Jews are known in history only as a subjugated people. Their vulgar nature and insufferable stance toward the nations that offered them hospitality, and toward their neighboring nations, are the reason that those same nations had to resort to [certain] measures in order to suppress a Jew’s efforts to obtain his desire by force.

The history of antiquity shows us that the pharaohs were already forced to use all means against Jewish usury and Jewish immorality. Ancient Egyptians finally expelled the Jews from their land. Led by Moses, the Jews then arrived in the Sinai desert…

Following that, the Jews spread like locust [sic] all over the Arab peninsula. They came to Mecca, to Medina, to Iraq, and to Palestine, which is the land of milk and honey. The group of the Jews that came to Syria and Palestine was now under Roman rule. The Romans, however, soon discerned the peril that threatened the land from the Jews, and so they introduced harsh measures against them. Besides that, a serious, contagious illness of plague erupted, which was by common opinion brought into the land by Jews. When even medical doctors stated that the Jews were indeed the source of the infection—and their opinion was obviously correct—there arose among the people such upheaval against the Jews that many Jews were killed. In addition, that event is the reason why the Jews have been called “microbes” in Arabia to this very day.

The Arabs have a particular understanding for introducing forceful measures against Jews in Germany and for their expulsion from the country. After the [First] World War, England and America enabled the Jews to settle in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state there. Jewish excrement from all countries assembled there, rascally striving to seize the land from Arabs. And indeed, they succeeded in buying land from the poorest of the poor and from unscrupulous landlords. By doing so, they took poor widows’ bread and stole food from children to fatten themselves. When the Arabs opposed the Jewish settlement, the Jews did not shun bloody murders. So they robbed many families of their livelihood and threw the families into misery and troubles. (God will punish them for those disgraceful deeds).

The Jewish struggle against Arabs is nothing new for us, except that as time passed, the location of the battlefield changed. Jews hate Muhammad and Islam, and they hate any man who wishes to advance the prosperity of his people and to fight against Jewish lust for possessions and Jewish corruption.[1]

The article continues with descriptions of Jewish conspiracies against Muhammad, including an attempt by a Jewess to poison him!

I have one other historical note regarding the 1948-49 conflict. Recent releases from French archives have revealed that British agents in Arabic countries, working without the knowledge of 10 Downing Street, were instrumental in encouraging the Arabs to attack the Jewish settlement and proposing the division of the conquered land among the victorious nations. I mention this because even here, colonialism played a decisive role. The claim by Palestinians that only Israel is the ugly creation of Western colonialism is a false one; their wanderings are also the result of the invisible hands of colonialist agents.

[1] Havel, Boris, “Haj Amin Husseini’s Anti-Semitic Legacy,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2015

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict III

Part III

Up to 1948: the arguments of critics

The Palestinian claim

The number one argument against is that the Palestinians were never a people or a nation or anything cohesive, neither in 1918 nor in 1948. Even today, there’s a different dialect for Jaffa, Gaza, Jerusalem, and the Galilee. This is true but irrelevant. If it were relevant, then there would be no Kenya, no Angola, no Lebanon, probably half of the African countries of today. It’s further said that the Arabs in Palestine, despite claiming to have lived here for centuries or even thousands of years are relative newcomers. If we take, for example, the number of Muslims in Jerusalem in 1896, which was 8,560, it is quite clear that the population mushroomed in the twentieth century. Whether the population flourished beforehand depended on the investment of the Ottoman Empire in the region. For instance, in the 16th century, when the Cotton Market prospered in Jerusalem due to trade with Egypt, Safed flourished as well as a textile center. In addition, the Arabs in Palestine and in the Middle East in general moved around quite a lot. Jaffa was destroyed in the 19th century and was largely settled by Egyptians (the neighborhoods have Egyptian names); Acre was attacked as well; Haifa was a fishing village. In the 18th century, the Galilee was ruled by a Bedouin. No doubt, the oldest residents in Israel/Palestine are the Samaritans. Palestinian claims that they have been here thousands of years are mostly nonsense; just as are Jewish claims pointing to David’s kingdom as giving Jews legitimization. But the falsehoods (however loudly proclaimed) do not deny the Palestinians right in 1918 at the end of WWI to a state.

The Jewish claim

There are numerous arguments against the Jewish claim, and like the arguments against the main Palestinian claim, none of them hold water and many of them show a profound misunderstanding of the history of the Jews.

The first is that the Jews are only a religion and not a people. This is false. It is true that in every Western country, Jews are regarded as members of a religion, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially in the U.S., is proudly proclaimed from both civic and religious pulpits. But this does not mean the portrayal is fully accurate. The first mention of the word “Jew” is in the Book of Esther, where Mordecai is called, “hayehudi, the Jew.” The initial meaning was both geographical and political: he or his ancestors came from the State of Judea. Over the centuries, there were Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean basin, and they maintained their ethnic and religious identity through marriage, custom, and ceremony. I’ve been told that Jews are “tribal.” Because of its negative connotations, I don’t like that appellation. The Jews are a people, much like, let’s say, the Thai, who wherever they go maintain their local customs and religion. Anyone can join Thai Buddhism if he or she wishes.

In addition, although the Jewish settlers in Palestine in the 19th century were religious, those who came in the early 20th century and were the ones who established the foundations for a state, were not. The opposite: they were often anti-religious. Religious Jews remained in Europe. Jews who rejected the religion and defined themselves as a people became Zionists.

The other complaint often leveled at Israel is that it is a colonization and a creation of the West and Western imperialism.

As I have stated before, the settlement by Jews is unique; no settlement other than that of American blacks in Liberia is comparable. Like the settlement by the American blacks, it was a return to a homeland. On arriving in Liberia, however, the American blacks discovered that despite Africa being their homeland, they were culturally apart; in this regard, they were colonialists. Similarly, the Jews were also culturally colonialist. They didn’t speak Palestinian Arabic (although several would learn), and they regarded themselves as culturally distinct. The best example of this is the creation of Tel-Aviv, which began as a Jewish suburb of Jaffa. The Jews wanted better sanitary conditions, better roads and schooling for their children—in short, they wanted to be modern, and they regarded the modern as a Western attribution. So—the Jews were not colonialist and yet colonialist, and certainly, the Palestinians regarded them as such, although it should be mentioned that in the 1930’s, there was already a conscious attempt in Jaffa to imitate the better aspects of Tel-Aviv.

It should also be noted (as this is often ignored) that from the end of WWI to the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jews were diligently building the infrastructure of a state: that is, there was an indigenous, local development not dependent on the decisions of Western powers. The opposite: the British Mandate tried to severely limit the number of Jews allowed into the country. It’s true that the development of the Jewish yishuv (settlement) was also encouraged by monies collected from Jews throughout the West (including Eastern Europe) to purchase land. Until 1948, all the Jewish land was legally purchased. The Arabs, under Haj Amin Husseini, asked for help from the wrong imperialist, as he courted Hitler to encourage him to enter Palestine and kill all the Jews.

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict II

Part II

The Basic Palestinian and Israeli Positions (Up to 1948)

The Palestinian Position

The crux of the Palestinian argument is easy to state. In 1918, at the end of WWI, when the West carved out nations in the Middle East, there were 60,000 Jews in Palestine and 600,000 Arabs. By all rights, the Arabs ought to have been given a state. Instead, they were robbed. Certainly, if one’s perspective stops at 1918 or 1919 when the British Mandate was created and the Jews were promised a homeland in an area that was overwhelmingly Arab, from an Arab perspective, the injustice is blatant. I would like to point out two things: Palestine and the Arab population therein included what would become Jordan and by 1865, there were probably more Jews living in Jerusalem than either Christians or Muslims in the city (depending—of course—on who you ask). By 1922, Jews formed over half the population of Jerusalem. This is just to give another perspective.

The Jewish/Israeli position

The Jewish position is actually more complicated than the Arab one—and it has to be recognized right away that it is somewhat unique. The only migration comparable to the settlement of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine by the Jews is the return of American blacks to Liberia to set up a state[1].

There are three aspects to the claim of the Jews’ right of return. The first is that the Jews are a nation. The second is that they have been dispersed due to persecution, and the third is that they have always looked toward Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, as their homeland. This right does not rest on religious reasons or the fact that 2,000 years ago, there was a kingdom of Judea. If the Jews had not maintained Eretz Yisrael as an ideal for 2,000 years, they might as well have gone to Uganda. In Jewish literature, Palestine was always called Eretz Yisrael.

Both the Palestinian and the Israeli arguments are legitimate, and therefore to some extent (or to a great extent), the conflict was inevitable.

[1] I’m thankful to Dr. Cuthbert Simpkins for pointing this similarity out to me.

A Reasoned Approach to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Introduction

Amidst all the clamor and mutual accusations, I thought I would set out clearly, in an unbiased a fashion as possible, the claims by both Palestinians and Jews regarding Eretz Yisrael/Palestine. My father taught me that there are always two sides to every story. And, of course, this liberal position, weighing one side’s claims against the others, is in itself a bias that many on both sides will find fault with—and even, perhaps, insult. This blog will have six parts (one part appearing per week):

  1. Introduction
  2. The basic Palestinian and Israeli positions (historically up to 1948)
    1. The Palestinian Position
    2. The Jewish/Israeli Position
  3. The Arguments of Critics
    1. The Palestinian Claim
    2. The Jewish Claim
  4. 1948-49
    1. The Israeli Position
    2. The Palestinian Position/Understanding of the Events
  5. 1967 and afterward
    1. Israel
    2. Palestine
  6. The Current Situation

Several disclaimers are in order. The first is that I am in Israeli, and therefore, however hard I try, there will obviously be some bias in my presentation of both sides; in fact, the very attempt to present both sides as equal will most likely be held against me. In addition, I’m not going to talk about the atrocities committed on both sides or about the supposed ethnic cleansing because quite frankly, they don’t interest me and I’ll let historians squabble over this for centuries to come. I am making one exception, since I mention PLO terrorist acts. My excuse is that historically this was a role the PLO deliberately played out, and when it failed to reach its goals, the PLO changed course. I realize, as well, that from the Palestinian viewpoint, Israeli air attacks, which also killed innocent victims, were labeled terrorism.

I’m not going to discuss Gaza, as well.

This little essay began with a goal of being quite brief, and to my dismay, the more I wrote, the more explanations I found necessary to include. Nevertheless, obviously, there are many events I do not cover nor wish to cover here.

Please if you comment, reasoned arguments would be appreciated. I realize this is a volatile subject for many in this world.