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.