Tag Archives: Palestinians

Open Letter to my Son

My son has often accused me of trusting the Palestinians and therefore being naive. But he is wrong. I have no doubt but that the Palestinian leadership wishes that all of Israel were part of Palestine and all the refugees on all their generations were returned to their (no longer existing) villages. That’s not where the difference between us lies. It’s not a matter of naiveté.

Many years ago, A. B. Yehoshua wrote that the difference between the liberal and the conservative viewpoint is that liberals believe people can change. This is but one of the differences, although a good dash of skepticism should probably be mixed in our cocktail of hope when describing a people who has been fed hatred for Israelis and Jews and the promise of return for nearly 70 years. Those in the refugee camps have been kept miserable so that their misery was not only proof of the cruelty of the lsraelis/Jews, but an example of a squalor to be redeemed by returning to the land and the iconic olive tree.

There are two other main differences between us, one pragmatic and one ideological. The first, the pragmatic, is that the Palestinians are in a win-win situation. The Palestinians can sit where they are with as corrupt a government as they wish, and, in the end, if Israel will continue to absorb more of their lands, there will be so many Arabs within Israel that Israel will no longer be a Jewish state, that is, a state where the majority are Jews. It is important to emphasize here that my definition of Israel is that a majority of Jews makes it a Jewish state. There is no religious imperative in my definition. Others have different definitions. There are arguments, as well, with these statistics, but to my mind, they are not important and certainly not essential. The longer Israel occupies the West Bank, more and more Arabs without any voting rights will fall under its jurisdiction. This will inevitably lead to apartheid – although to be honest, there is apartheid rule in the West Bank already even if most of the more obviously discriminatory aspects of apartheid are absent. If one wishes to be precise and to avoid the loaded word apartheid, it is probably more accurate to describe the situation as an Israeli colonization in which the Arabs have no voting rights.

But at this point, I’ve entered the fractious realm of ideology. My son, and others, would claim that the occupation is not an occupation. The Palestinians are not and never were a people. You cannot occupy a land that did not belong to anyone. The last occupiers were the Jordanians, and the Jews have greater claim than any other people, especially the so-called Palestinians, who are a recent creation.

The Palestinians, indeed, are a recent creation, despite attempts to claim otherwise. It’s probably true that a sense of national identity among the general populace, and not merely among the intellectual and political elite, began with the Nakba, the catastrophe, the defeat that is celebrated in Israel as the War of Independence.

The novelty of a Palestinian identity, however, does not make it illegitimate without claims for land. At the end of WWI, when the West divided up the Middle East, there were at least six times as many Arabs in Palestine, which included Jordan then. The Arabs were the natives. The Jews, despite their legitimate nationalist claims, were intruders. That status (even considering the numbers of Arabs who emigrated into Palestine) could never change.

The paradigm here is the creation of nations in Africa and the break-up of western imperialism. Africans learned nationalism from the West. Leaders (intellectuals, the wealthy, and, in Arab states, often Christians) led rebellions. Usually, a general feeling of nationalism began during the rebellion (with the colonial power strengthening that feeling through oppressive responses) and increased on victory – often only to dissipate into tribal disunity afterward.

The difference between Palestine and Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Algeria – is that the national feeling rose out of defeat and, to a great extent, under manipulation by the Arab powers, who deliberately kept Palestinians stateless. My son would say it’s an artificial nationalism created deliberately against Israel. And to some extent it is. And like its Colonialist forebears, Israel’s activities in the occupied territories only further the Palestinian nationalist cause.

However, Palestinian nationalism is a fact. Dismissing it because it is unjustified reminds me of those Arabs who would claim that Jews are members of a religion not a people and therefore have no right to a homeland. Besides, as I have written, Palestinians had every right to expect some sort of national state after WWI.

There are of course three other considerations. The Palestinian “problem” is as one says in Hebrew “kotz b’tachat,” a pain in the ass – not necessarily for Israel, which has created a situation in which it can often ignore the distress of occupation but for Arab nations around Israel that are interested in openly doing business with the state. The Palestinians have become the cause célèbre in the Arab world. Everywhere in the Arab – and Muslim world – Israel is known as the cruel oppressor, the horrible monster created by the West.

The second relates to how Israel is viewed in the Western world. The longer Israel holds onto the West Bank and isolates Gaza, the more conclusively it appears as a colonialist oppressor and loses the legitimacy it had as the realization of Jewish national hopes.

The third is antisemitism. The open issue of Palestine encourages antisemitism. The Jews are part of a conspiracy controlling the United States and certainly its newspapers. It’s only because of their devious successes that they were able to rob the Palestinians of their homeland.

There is, however, one addendum I would like to add. To a great extent, the Palestinian national identity was not created by Palestinians in Palestine but both by those who were in exile and other nations. I visited Bethlehem – as the guest of someone high up in the Fatah – don’t ask how – and there I learned that the country is run (as my son knows) by clans and gangs, and connections. The Palestinian authority for example, hasn’t been able to collect taxes from the Daheisha refugee camp. The camp simply refuses and the authorities are too afraid to enter. If you park your car illegally, whether you get a ticket depends on who you know. This holds true if you park your car legally as well. There is a great deal of pretense in the claim of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, their suffering under the occupation is real, and it is the occupation that is making Palestinian nationalism more legitimate every day.

More can be written. The Israeli right will ask – what about military considerations? An independent state can build an army and attack whenever it wishes. That’s the subject for an expert in foreign affairs – not for me. The current situation is intolerable.

A Reasoned Approach to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict VI

Part VI

The current situation

The current situation is unhealthy for both sides. Israel under Netanyahu is interested in extending the settlements in the Occupied Territories, that is, the West Bank, while the military and the Israeli police seem to be aiding the destructive activities of Jewish activists in the West Bank. The cadre of Jewish terrorists, which had been handled with kid gloves by the government, lately has become even more violent.

Internally, Israel has undergone a drastic shift due largely to demographics, as the number of religious Jews and the Jews from African nations (called mizrachim) has steadily risen. This population is joined by the Jews from Russia (who ironically include a large number of Christians). None of these groups are influenced by the democratic socialist secular ideas of the founders of the Jewish state, and in fact, the Russians, in general, have no appreciation for democracy. In short, they, like the new king in the Bible, “knew not Joseph.” The Zionism of the mizrachim always differed as it had a religious base.

In addition, an Israeli Jew today is unlikely to know an Israeli Arab. Jews live in Jewish communities (and many think it’s perfectly all right to refuse permission to Arabs to live there), and Arabs live in Arab communities. Nearly the only exceptions are Haifa and Jaffa, but even there, the familiarity is limited. I would imagine that at least nine out of ten Jews have never been inside an Arab house. Often when watching television commentators interviewing Arabs, I’m utterly embarrassed by their ignorance and implicit bigotry. They will bluntly ask, “Do you feel like an Israeli?” as if being an Israeli is a prerogative of Jews (like the commentator or interviewer). In short, for most Israeli Jews, Arabs are the other, the stranger, the one they can easily identify with terrorists.

Moreover, the Jews are beset by tribal divisions. The ultra-orthodox hate everyone who is not ultra-orthodox—including the Hasidim, and the State (especially Bibi’s party) has inflamed the discontent of the Jews from Northern Africa (mainly Moroccan Jews, called “mizrachi”) against the Ashkenazi establishment. The Jews in Israel are a people with little consensus and an underprivileged populace of “mizrachi” Jews who hate Arabs—and, as all underprivileged people everywhere, find solace in their hatred.

On the Palestinian side, it is also not in any way clear that the Palestinian leaders have given up the goal of reclaiming all of Palestine, so that today, Israel is led by someone who believes in a Greater Israel (including the West Bank) and the Palestinian Authority by leaders who believe in the return of all the Palestinian refugees to the area of Israel, which would end the existence of a Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority, which is quite corrupt, is also short of cash, so that there are constant rumors of its collapse.

Young Palestinians have opened a third Intifada, characterized by individuals knifing passersby. The Israeli government has ruled that in such cases the police can open fire with intent to kill. As a result, the number of killed Palestinians far exceeds the number of killed Israelis. In general, it seems that the general goal of the Israeli government is to make life as difficult for Palestinians as possible and in this way encourage emigration. Benyamin Netanyahu regards them as vicious, and the Israeli government frankly doesn’t give a damn about them. In an article in Haaretz, the noted sociologist, Eva Ilouz, compared life for Palestinians in the West Bank to that of slavery.

On 2 January 2016, Nidal Zahran wrote the following in “Quora,” when describing the difficulties of life in the West Bank.

Not only that the economy is unstable, but the level of Israeli control over the economy is just ridiculous. Israel, for example, does not allow telecom operators to provide 3G services. To this day we only have 2G!
A friend of mine tried to establish a farm. for 17 months he was running back and forth trying to get approvals from the military.

Freedoms
The Palestinian Authority is not the most democratic government. It is a slow moving oligarchy that is corrupt and often oppressive of freedoms. This however, is very little to what we face from Israel.

The entire Palestinian economy is captive to the Israeli military. We are subject to Israeli military law. Israel controls what and who is allowed in or out of the country. It controls who you can marry. Everything! so, being jailed for criticizing the government, is little compared to having every aspect of your life controlled by a foreign military.

To give a couple of examples. We have a house in our village which is classifies as “Area C”, When we requested a waterline to be connected to the house, they could only install the line until the end of “Area B”, the remaining 5 meters require an approval of the military commander of the area, which is almost impossible to receive on any “construction” project!

For me to visit my wife’s family in Jerusalem, I need a permit from the Israeli Military.

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.