The word “Zionism” is often thrown around by people who know very little, or nothing, about it. Zionism was an organized reaction to centuries of violent anti-Semitism that threatened to wipe out the Jewish people. After centuries of persecution and pogroms, the active persecution of Jews had become intolerable. And on the horizon was the complete mechanization of society. By the mid-20th Century anti-Semitism would become mechanized. The same methods that organized and processed other disciplines for maximum efficiency—industry, government, warfare–would be applied to the most horrific and evil actions of mankind.
Even with a long history of persecution virtually unmatched among the world’s populations, the persecution of the Jews in the mid-20th century entered a phase that astonished and appalled even the most cynical and hardened of the world’s citizens. The nations of the world decided that this finally must end. With no way to gauge the unpredictability of mankind’s sudden breaches of civility or rationality, the nations of the world determined that the Jewish people needed a homeland, a safe place to live. In 1948, the nation of Israel was created for just such a purpose.
That is the story that most of us know. But there are aspects of it that make it vastly more complicated, reasons why the conflict in Palestine has no simple solutions. It is a story of basic rights, the right to own land, the right to an ancestral home, the right to practice a religion, the right to fair treatment, the right to adequate space to live and the right to the continuance of ancient traditions. The surprise for some people may come in the fact that we are not talking in this case only about Jews, but Arabs also.
Before anything else, we must look at the history of Zionism and its origins. In the late 1890s, the pogroms had spread from Western Europe to the last refuge of the Jews, their final destinations in fleeing Europe, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. Incidents like the Kishinev pogrom where dozens of Jews were murdered, hundreds wounded and 700 homes destroyed were endemic, with over 300 similar incidents in 1896 alone.
At the same time, in Paris, a man by the name of Theodore Herzl, who was an attorney, a journalist and an author had been stunned by the anti-Semitism surrounding the Dreyfuss Affair. Seemingly liberal France had shown an extraordinary and unexpectedly strong surge of anti-Semitism. Herzl realized that if this could happen in France at the turn of the 20th Century, it could happen anywhere, anytime and the only true option was a Jewish homeland, a place to which Jews could withdraw in times of persecution. His idea was that Jews were constantly persecuted because of their position as outsiders in every country. If Jews could be so hated and vilified as they were even in the supposedly tolerant and fair French society of the belle époque, Herzl thought, only a Jewish state will be safe. Of course, history had already provided many more examples than merely the Dreyfuss Affair.
Historical Persecution of the Jews
The Jews had experienced their share of intolerance long before the modern era. They had experienced both prosperity and desolation in the dozen or so centuries before Christianity. In a conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in in 722 BC the Jews in Israel were exiled in small numbers to all parts of the Assyrian Empire, losing their identities and their culture. From this experience came the tales and the legends of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. In 597 B.C. the other Jewish state, the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Chaldeans and 10,000 Jews were shipped off to Babylon. In this case, while it was a gigantic number, they were all sent to the same place and continued their religion and traditions.
After the Diaspora, which was the expulsion and prohibition of Jews from entering parts of Palestine around 130 AD, the Jews moved into the Baltic countries and Southern Europe. Eventually some moved into what is now Poland, the Ukraine and Russia. Others moved in the opposite direction, to the western part of North Africa and as far as Spain. As early as 391 AD we have letters from emperor Theodosius instructing outposts in the Roman Empire to refrain from further destruction and desecration of synagogues, as Jews and their religion were not prohibited. Officially there was no persecution, but the letter itself demonstrates that synagogues were being destroyed very early in the Middle Ages.
But the year 438 AD, while practicing Judaism was legal, Jews were restricted from local offices and while Jewish temples still could not be destroyed (although interestingly by this time in the Holy Roman Empire pagan temples could be destroyed) no new Jewish temples could be constructed. Within only a few hundred years into the Christian era there was religious competition between Christians, Jews, heretical religions and the remnants of paganism.
As Christianity became the dominant religion, the declarations of the Emperors became more and more repressive. By the mid-sixth century, some Christian communities were actually forcing Jews to convert, tearing down synagogues and making Jews help construct basilicas on the site.
In 610 AD in Spain, the Visigoth king, Sesbut prohibited Judaism. Successive Visigoth rulers in Spain as well as rulers in France began to demand Jews convert or be expelled. By 700, the standard anti-Semitic regulations such as identification, exclusion and restriction that became part of anti-Semitic life in Europe were already on their way to codification.
The Jews in Spain were able to live, for the most part and for some time with a good deal of security along with Muslims and Christians. In some areas they even flourished. But when the Christians drove out the Muslims, the repressions returned. By 1066 AD, the breakdown in Moorish rule, provided an opportunity for anti-Semitism to begin in earnest. It did, with a vengeance when over 4,000 Jews were massacred in Granada.
In 1096, the First Crusade triggered a maelstrom of violence against the Jews that would not slacken for 500 years. Not only did the Christian princes of Europe want vengeance against the Mohammedans, they wanted retribution from Jews for “killing Christ.” Of course some more politically minded might have accused the Princes of using genocidal tactics to conveniently relieve some of their debt. With very few occupations open to them, the Jews had become lenders to the nobility.
The Crusaders, both peasants and princes cut through the Rhineland communities of Speyer, Metz, Mainz and Worms with total devastation. As many Jews tried to escape to the East, other crusaders caught up to them and massacred not only the inhabitants of places like Magdaberg and Prague, but the Jews who had fled there. One segment of the Crusaders followed Jews into Hungary, but the King, fed up with pillaging and looting, first had them disarmed and then had them all killed.
Again in the Second Crusade in 1147 AD and lasting well into the next century thousands of Jews were killed in France. In Spain, Jews were allowed to exist independently for a while. But the unpredictable happened again when Henry II, half-brother of Pedro I who had protected the Jews, in 1360 began persecutions that butchered 12,000 Jews in Toledo. Life in Spain continued to be perilous for Jews under John I, and in 1391 a mob rioted and murdered 4,000 Jews in the streets of Seville.
Elsewhere in Europe persecution was the same. Jews were expelled from Britain completely in 1290 and from France in 1306. In Germany, as the Black Death began to take hold, Jews were accused of causing the plague by poisoning the wells. In 1348, suspecting a Jewish doctor, and after torturing him until he falsely confessed to poisoning wells, the people burned every single Jew in Basel. As the plague worsened, and hysteria grew, German Jews who did not escape were burned by the tens of thousands.
In 1349, whole Jewish communities in Erfurt, Brussels and Strasbourg were wiped out, while other Jews were shipped off to Poland. In 1389 an accusation against a Jewish boy turned into a riot that massacred 3,000 Jews in Prague. In desperation, Jews moved on from Europe to Poland and on to Russia where there was less strife and more space.
Those who stayed in Europe, particularly in Spain would continue to with danger as their constant companion. In 1480, under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Torquemada became head of the Inquisition. Under his leadership the Inquisition forced 200,000 Jews out of Spain, another 50,000 to convert to Catholicism, and murdered another 2,000.
In Mecklenberg, in 1492, a Jew was astonishingly accused of stabbing a piece of the Holy Eucharist, the bread used in the sacrament of communion. Twenty-Seven Jews were murdered in a resulting pogrom.
By the 1540s, during the reformation era, Martin Luther wrote in “On the Jews and Their Lies” that the Jews were full of “the devil’s feces…which they wallow in like swine.” He encouraged and succeeded in having many Jews exiled from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1612, a Calvinist pastor in Frankfurt reprinted Luther’s anti-Semitic works, using them to stir emotions against the Jews which eventually resulted in the murder of 3,000 Jews and the expulsion of the rest. He was later executed by Lutheran authorities but it was too late for the Jews of Frankfurt.
By 1648, even Poland was not safe for the Jews. When the Cossacks crossed the Dnieper River in a revolt against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire, they decimated hundreds of Polish villages, killing Jews as they went. Some estimates are that over time as many as 100,000 Jews died; other estimates are even greater.
Still facing quotas, job restrictions and derision by many in Western Europe, by the late 18th Century many Jews had literally been driven into Eastern Poland. In 1791, many of these lands came under Russian rule, and Russian Empress Catherine the Great decreed that there would be an area where Jews could live, work, and within which they could travel freely, called the Pale of Settlement. Jews were elsewhere in Russia not allowed to travel freely, although is also true that most peasants were also restricted from travel outside their own villages at that time.
Still, riots or “pogroms” broke out in 1821 against the Jews, which first began the international understanding of the term. They began in Odessa and then repeated in 1859, and in 1871. In 1881, serious pogroms began throughout the entire territory. In hundreds of communities, like Odessa, Kiev, Kishinev, Minsk, Rostov-on-Don and many smaller towns and villages, estimated to be in excess of 600 different communities there were beatings, rapes, murders, destruction of Jewish homes and looting of their property.
Between 1881 and 1924, when restrictive quotas were established, over 2 million Jews emigrated from Russia, Poland, Galicia, Romania, Hungary and other places in Eastern and Western Europe to the United States. In only two years, 1891, when Jews were expelled from Moscow and 1892, immigration from Russia tripled to well over 200,000. In the worst single 12 months of the Russian pogroms, 1905-1906, over 154,000 Jews immigrated to the Unites States.
So, Herzl was hardly understating the problem. In fact the worst was yet to come. Up to the point that he began to think of a Jewish state, there had been more than enough anti-Semitic persecution to warrant such a vision. What has already been listed here was a tiny fraction of the total persecution. There were literally tens of thousands of such incidents. So there was good reason to think that a Jewish homeland, no matter how welcoming the United States seemed at the time was a reasonable solution.
As far as immigration to the United States is concerned, it was not unlimited. While it did offer a welcome alternative to Jews from Western Europe where the Jews had also experienced exclusion and persecution, it was farther, involved learning a new culture and a new language. But no one at the time could have foreseen the degree of despotism and inhumanity that would occur in Europe fifty years hence. History had demonstrated to the Jews that they could be in favor in one decade only to be expelled in the following decade. We know of the Jewish experience even in the U.S…restricted clubs, neighborhoods, university quotas….hardly a perfect society. In 1900, what was to say that a country that had only 35 years earlier freed slaves would be certain to accept universal brotherhood?
Then came the Holocaust. Western European Jews had been leaders in scholarship, science, music, philosophy and industry for generations. Most had considered themselves by the 1930s to be German, French, Austrian, British, Belgian or Scandinavian nationally and Jews religiously. They had fought for their countries and contributed greatly to the culture and economies of the countries where they lived.
But even that didn’t help. By 1933, the evil in the world had turned over again. Western Europe was becoming more anti-Semitic again, particularly in Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy. Fascism was taking hold of the people of Western Europe.
Within a dozen years, the Nazis and other Fascist countries and collaborators had killed 5,934,000 Jews of a total European Jewish population, 8,862,000, or 67%. They killed 9 out of every 10 Jews in Poland and the Baltic Countries, 88% of the Jews in Germany and Austria. They killed 90% of the Jews in the so-called Protectorate (Czech Republic, Bohemia, Silesia and Moravia.) Even Herzl would never have been likely to anticipate this kind of industrialized genocide. Other Jews did, but it was too late.
Zionism and Palestine
After Herzl died, Chaim Weizmann, a distinguished Chemist and a Zionist enthusiast, became one of the leaders of the Zionist movement, becoming President in 1920. Weizmann studied chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute in Darmstadt, at the Technical Hochschule in Berlin and at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He lectured at the University of Manchester and in 1910 became a British citizen. He is generally recognized as the father of industrial fermentation. He used this process to develop acetone, a chemical used in the preparation of cordite, an explosive used with artillery and similar weapons. With this contribution to British munitions, Weizmann became friendly with British Prime Minister Balfour.
Weizmann lived in England until 1937 when he moved to Israel. In the early years of the 20th Century he was able to persuade Prime Minister Balfour that Jews needed a homeland. He suggested that Jews might have a homeland through the setting aside of some land in the Jew’s original homeland, now Mandatory Palestine. Already, as early as the 1880s, Jews from Eastern Europe had begun to trickle into Palestine, where approximately 90% of the population had been Arab as late as the third quarter of the 19th Century.
The British dominated the decisions on the geography of the Middle East after the First World War had taken down the Ottoman Empire. The Balfour Declaration, which said that the Jews should have a home in Palestine, though not exclusive, was therefore a very important pronouncement, which encouraged Zionist actions. On the other hand, King Faisal of Iraq and his father had been made promises about Arab nationalism, including Palestine. The Arabs felt that there was an understanding that Arabs would be given ancient tribal lands after the First World War. So there were conflicting and somewhat contradictory pronouncements by the British. Nonetheless, the time did seem propitious for the Jews to be considered for land in Palestine, at least some part of the Mandate where they could find refuge, a home in the desert.
The Palestinian Arabs had few rights and freedoms under the old Ottoman Empire. They were basically farmers who had lived on the same land for generations. The Jews in the first wave of early immigration, or Aliyah, in the early 1880s, amounted to only 25000 to 35000 immigrants, mostly from Russia, some with minor skills and others agricultural workers. To Arabs who had not experienced immigration into Palestine before, even this seemed like a large number. It threatened their lifestyles, traditions and religious practices.
By 1905 or 1906, there had been two more mass immigrations, one from roughly 1905 up to the First World War and the second after the war up to about 1922 or 1923. That group comprised about 70,000 Jews in total. In all, between 1881 and1923, about 100,000 Jews immigrated to the Ottoman Empire in Arabia into what later became Mandatory Palestine. It was still a very small percentage of the population.
As a result of further persecutions in Eastern Europe, and in spite of the quotas established by the British on Jewish immigration, Palestine saw still another 90,000 Jews immigrate between 1924 and 1929. Now there were approximately two hundred thousand Jews in Palestine. The Jewish population, which had been no more than 5% as late as the mid-1800s, was now over 25%.
In 1929, a dispute over the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which appears to have been caused by a sermon from an over-zealous Zionist rabbi, alarmed and incited the local Arab communities to violence. There was a riot in which one could already see the outlines of conflicts to come. According to the British report on the riots, during the week of 23 to 29 August, approximately 133 Jews were killed and 198 injured. In the same period, 116 Arabs were killed and 232 Arabs were injured.
The Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine was climbing. It had grown to about 382,000 by 1936 and the Arab population to 982,000. (Although other figures say that Jews comprised only about 27% of total Palestinian population.) Jewish immigration, much of it in violation of enumerated quotas, increased tensions. In response, the Arabs formed gangs whose job was to harass local Jewish communities, but the British who were the enforcement agency were drawn in. Over three years, from 1936 to 1939, the Arabs revolted against British rule and Jewish immigration. The death toll was most certainly at least 3000 Arabs killed to perhaps as many as 5,000. Several hundred Jews, perhaps as many as 500, were killed and several hundred British military. It was a bloody mess, but in the end the British prevailed.
One thing about Jewish immigration and land purchase should be noted at this point. It is pretty clear in the historical record that no reliable records on the ownership of land in the areas that were Palestine during the Ottoman Period were available until at least 1860. At that point, we know for certain that Bedouin tribes ranged the area and caused havoc to local farmers. Local farmers then relied on the Ottoman authorities who gathered up a great deal of the land. Because of the insecurity and instability, many farmers forfeited their land for debts or sold to large owners. There were few small farmers owning land. Most of the land was in the hands of wealthy Arab investors, who lived as far away as Beirut or Damascus, much of which was sold or deeded to them by the Ottoman authorities. A good percentage of Arabs, therefore, were basically tenant farmers or squatters, with minimal irrigation, often in malarial conditions, beset from time to time by marauding Bedouin gangs. From all accounts, that varied in reliability from as official as the Peel Commission to as informal as the travel journal of Mark Twain, the area as a whole was not a settled agricultural community. By the latter half of the 19th century, in fact, many small communities had actually disappeared.
So the Arab Revolt started in 1936 and continued until 1939. The British forces came down brutally on the Arab population. More and more land was being purchased by Jewish organizations in large tracts from absentee landlords. At first, much of the land was either literally swamp or desert, but eventually as that waste land was sold off, more valuable land was bought up by Jewish organizations. Estimates are, however, that only between five to ten percent of the land was considered fertile. Purchases of that land would be significant.
By 1935, approximately 2,000,000 dunams (500,000 acres) of which ony about 25% had been purchased by individual Jewish immigrants were in the hands of three large Jewish organizations, including the Jewish National Committee. This organization and the other two were largely collectives funded by large and small donations from Jews all over the world but particularly from Eastern and Western Europe
The Jewish immigrants, and the Zionists, ranged from those who simply wanted a place to park their families free of persecution to those religiously dedicated Zionists who wanted a much larger and totally Jewish state encompassing much of original Palestine. Prior to World War II, even the organized Arab groups were no match for the British military, whose job was to maintain the peace in Palestine. Although the British were not particularly friendly to the immigrant Jews, the Jewish group, Haganah, worked with the British against Arab terrorism, as some of it was directed at Jewish settlers.
At the end of the fighting in 1939, when World War II intervened, the Arabs had an organized force of about 10,000. The British had brutally suppressed their revolt, both against their rule and against the Jewis settlers. The dominant guidance to that point had been the Churchill White Paper of 1922 which prescribed two outcomes for Palestine. First, that it would maintain at least partially an area as a homeland for the Jews, and second, that any partition would have clear and distinct areas for both Jews and Arabs. In the interim, Jewish immigration would be restricted only to levels that would be economically feasible.
Of course, at the time of the declaration in 1922 no one, including Churchill, foresaw the horrendous events of 1933 to 1945 in Germany and Eastern Europe. Obviously by the late 1930s an escape to anywhere from Germany was essential. Naturally an escape to an area where a large number of other Jews lived in relative safety would be preferable. Not only was Palestine the putative homeland of the Jewish people, but it had British protection and had already been designated by the British essentially as a place of refuge. Therefore, although the British refused to increase legal immigration quotas, illegal immigration continued.
Another problem was the creation of the mandate of the Transjordan. As a gesture to the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali and his son King Faisal I, who had both helped the British in World War I, the area west of the Jordan River was designated as Transjordan and ruled by King Abdullah I, the brother of King Faisal of Iraq and the son of Hussein bin Ali. This partition established a state east of the Jordan River in which the emir would have virtually authority and in which none of the provisions for a Jewish homeland in the Palestine mandate would apply. When this happened in 1922, it effectively cut the amount of land for a divisible Palestine, the land available for Jewish (and Palestinian) settlement by at least half.
As the Second World War loomed, in June of 1939, a supplementary White Paper was published by the British government of Neville Chamberlain as the administrators of Mandatory Palestine. This paper allowed the British to dispense with the troublesome matters of Palestine in which three years of debilitating police action had just completed. It would allow the British to focus on their main problem which they knew by then was a World War, which, as it happened, would commence a mere 90 days hence.
The White Paper laid out certain simple issues. The British decreed that no more than 75,000 Jewish immigrants could enter Palestine between 1940-1944. There would be an independent Palestinian state established within ten years. And little or no more land could be purchased by Jews for the time being.
During the war, there were attempts by both sides to attract the Arab population. The Nazis tried to entice Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Arab leader in Palestine to rally Arabs to the Nazi cause. He did make radio broadcasts, helped them recruit converts to the Nazi cause and eventually spent the war in Germany. The Jews organized during the war. With Nazis arriving in North Africa the Jews of Palestine prepared for the worst.
The general perception is that the Arab countries leaned somewhat towards the Axis powers because of Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. Because of this, they felt that an Axis victory, though not the optimal situation, would enable the complete control of Palestine and end Jewish influence in the area. The Jews in Palestine organized with the British, created the Palmach as a home defense unit. They organized a Jewish Brigade with Jewish and some British officers that fought in Italy in 1944-1945.
We have no reliable statistics about Jewish immigration to Palestine during or immediately after the War. They are all couched in numbers that involve speculation about how many arrived, how many were allowed in, how many got in illegally, and how many were turned away, returned to their original destinations or to retention facilities in places like Cyprus. But we know that 100,000 immigrated to Israel in 1948 legally. So it should not be too much of a stretch to imagine that an equal number came in 1946, another equal number in 1947. There were numerous agencies, ships, organizations sending former Holocaust members, and those still being persecuted in Eastern Europe to Israel. Therefore, from 1939 up to 1948, a conservative number of total immigrants could be estimated at something like 250,000 to 300,000.
The State of Israel and the Conflicts
Between 1948 and 1950 alone, half a million Jews immigrated into Israel. That was in a country where the Arab population of Palestine at that time (1947)was about 1,290,000. So the Jewish population of Palestine, now (1948) at about 608,000, would add 500,000 more, a total of 1.2 million, by 1950. I think the most dedicated Zionist would see that Arabs, 85% of the population in the late 19th century, might be concerned that the movement towards a Jewish majority was unrelenting.
Population growth in Israel, as well as continued high immigration has pushed the population from a little over a million in the post-war era to about 8 million of which about 6.4 million are Jews. Now, no matter what you think of Israel or the Palestinians, and no matter what you think of the way things have been handled only since Israel was declared an independent international state, that is a massive transformation. No Arab, sitting in a desert oasis or under an olive tree in the year 1900 could ever have imagined such numbers. I doubt if Jews or Zionist Jews even understood the proportions into which this whole process would evolve.
It doesn’t mitigate the facts. There are clear facts about the persecution of the Jews, even today, even in a land about the size of New Jersey that the world gave to them. But now there is a solution. And that solution is a negotiated peace with Palestinians. Palestinian hatred of Jews is not the same hatred, the same irrational fanatic hatred….no matter what they say…as the Jews experienced in all those other situations. Jews and Arabs did live together in an often uneasy, but also unwarlike symbiosis for generation upon generation. The encroachment, and let’s face it, that is what it was until 1948, of Zionist settlers into Palestine changed that relationship. And now the fanatics on both sides, but particularly on the aggressor side, the side feeling aggrieved, use whatever hateful, exaggerated rhetoric they believe will rally their cause. This is not uncommon in revolution and in war.
After World War II, the murder of six million Jews and the collective guilt felt by all rational unbiased gentiles in the world decided the issue of a Jewish homeland. The limits of the Balfour declaration and the subsequent Churchill clarification of 1922 were reestablished in 1947 when the UN partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
Now it should be said that the history of proposed partitions have been varied and the occupation of lands after wars and incursions have created even more confusion. But there are some things that can be said. The first is that the plan proposed by the United Nations in 1948, to which Israel agreed and the Arabs did not, would have given Israel about 14,000 square kilometers. Today, after all the fighting and occupation and new settlements, Israel has about 20,700 square kilometers.
It should be said that the 1948 plan was an attempt, as so often happens in international politics, to arrive at a happy medium that would, frankly, cap the territory into which Israel could bring more immigrants while creating two relatively equal states with some common areas and a certain mutual economic viability. It wasn’t the best of all possible worlds; it was the best of what was available considering the world circumstances at that time. Remember that this was happening in the midst of European countries giving up all their old colonial possessions. That, combined with the sympathy for the Jews, hardly provided a good context for Arabs who were seen as largely non agrarian, unstable, Bedouin and nomadic in nature. Whether true or not, this was the world’s opinion. And it does not excuse taking of land illegally, wherever that occurred.
The declarations of Israel as a separate country and the resulting wars have taken their toll. The 1948, so called “Israeli War of Independence” began in May of 1948 when not only Palestinians but armies from other Arab countries—Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq—plus later entries, Saudi Arabia and Yemen entered the area allocated to Israel within Palestine and attacked Israeli settlements and Israeli military forces. The outcome for Palestinians of this roughly ten-month war was that Israel retained its territory and gained about 60% of the Palestinian territories outside of the 1948 original territorial delineations of Israel.
After the 1948 war, Israel returned large areas to Arab control. They returned the Sinai to Egypt completely and returned to the natural boundaries of the Isreali state. And the Israelis withdrew from Southern Lebanon, from the Gaza Strip and from the Golan Heights.
But the 1948 war caused huge displacements and eventually led to immigrations both ways. As a result of the war, about 700,000 Arabs, refugees and others left what is now Israel and never returned. And by the mid-1990s almost a million Jews had emigrated from or been expelled from Arab countries and had immigrated to Israel.
To this point, the number of Palestinian refugees who have been able to return, from all conflicts has amounted to only something like 1-2%. There are nearly a million and a half Palestinian refugees living in 50-60 camps around the Middle East. The Israeli laws allowing for purchase–some would say confiscation–of the property of former Palestinians is a massive issue facing these refugees. Other Israeli laws make it difficult for refugees to even return. Thus enters another issue, the issue of Right of Return, which is pretty clearly laid out in international law, to which Israel is not currently adhering.
All this must be seen in context. In 1967, after repeated PLO attacks on Israel and some other actions between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Syria, Egypt mobilized forces on the Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula. As a result, Israel made pre-emptive attacks against Egypt and Syria and made incursions into the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai. Within six days, Israel had not only defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, as well as some Palestinians, but it held the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. Much of this territory has never been returned and forms the basis of much of the current controversy between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Arab states themselves were defined by the British and the French in the post-colonial period. No less than Israel, the territory that is now Iraq, that we call Syria and even Jordan…all these were maps carved out from the spoils of the Second World War and the need to remove European powers from what were Semitic lands of the Middle East. In this, the combination of British and French artistry, with the acquiescence of other countries in the United Nations, redrew the maps of the post-Ottoman world.
This left the Saudis in charge of the Arabian Peninsula (vast oil wealth soon to be found) and the Hashemites in the Transjordan. Other than the war with Israel, the conflicts and rivalries among the various Arab and Persian factions have shaped Middle Eastern and North African politics ever since then.
After the wars: Conflicts and Solutions
Over the subsequent decades following the 1948 war, there was a persistent Arab bombing campaign and two more large-scale Arab attacks on Israel, 1967 and 1973. Through the 1970s, therefore, Israel was seen as having the moral high ground based on the Holocaust and Arab behavior towards the Jews since before 1948. There was also the legitimate sympathy throughout the world for a small, young country, legally established by the will of the vast majority of nations, fighting for survival against an assortment of larger and very wealthy Arab nations. Still, beginning with the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in the early 1980s, that moral position began to erode.
No one should make light of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war by passing over it and merely acknowledging its happening and the political consequences. Yes, the Israelis won it. They did, if anyone ever does win a war. After all the people have died, have been maimed, homes destroyed and people displaced winners are few. But the outcome of that war has colored the rest of the negotiations and given the Palestinian terrorist groups the moral ammunition, or at least a legitimate sounding excuse to carry out lethal attacks on Israeli communities.
One of the problems is that there are approximately 2,000,000 Arabs living in the West Bank, with about 500,000 Israelis. The Israelis continue to add Jewish Settlements in the West Bank, which is legally Arab land, merely occupied by Israel. Consequently, the Israeli Settlements are illegal under international law. Israel refuses to accept this, even though 164 separate nations have declared the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory. The West Bank, therefore, is divided. In some areas it is governed by the Palestinian Authority and in others by Israel. In the meantime, Israeli settlements continue.
For those who don’t know the geography of Israel and Palestine, the area is shaped a little like Illinois. As you look at it on a map, it is tall and thin, with the Jordan River and Jordan where Indiana would be and the Mediterranean Sea where the Mississippi River would be. At the bottom there is no St. Louis, but arid land and Egypt and at the top there is an area called the Golan Heights where Chicago would be, and then Syria. When the land of Israel was created in 1948, the Arabs were supposed to have the land we now call the “West Bank” a piece of land about half way up the country, on the Jordan River, extending about two-thirds of the way over to the Mediterranean on the left and including the cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlem in the middle. Israel had two seaports on the Mediterranean, Haifa and the capital, Tel Aviv. (The Isrealis call Jerusalem their capital, even though Jerusalem was part of the original Arab lands and is part of the occupied territories, still in dispute. All of the world’s embassies are in Tel Aviv. Once again, religious idiocracy reigns supreme here.) The Palestinians also have a stretch of land in the lower left hand side called the Gaza Strip and a section at the top, near Syria.
Of course, this never happened. The Arab countries attacked immediately after Israel was declared a country. The result, in that war and subsequent battles was that the Palestinians lost about two thirds of Gaza, lost all of the area around the Golan Heights and at least a third of the middle portion which we call the West Bank. It is in this middle section, which, with the restored Gaza Strip that the Israeli settlements have reached out into land which was formerly Palestine, not Israel. In general, Israel’s position is that this is land conquered as a result of war and it is not obligated to return it. The rest of the world does not agree.
As a result, the outcome is that the Israelis say….give us peace and we will…negotiate….about the return of your land. The Arabs say, return our land and we will have no reason not to give you peace. But the conflict itself has set up road blocks. The Arabs live on very much smaller territory than is possible to live decently for the size of their population. The Israelis dictate policy in almost all the area that was formerly Palestine. The result is that without action…not promises (this has gone on for over 30 years)… Palestinians have far less hope of a fruitful life and now consider a fruitful life to have killed a bunch of Israelis.
The biggest problem with peace in the area today is the occupied territories If the facts in dispute really do surround land, then they form the remaining problem with Israeli – Palestinian relations. If Israel, which was formed as a respite from attacks on their religion, intends to keep the Jewish religion as a central focus of their country, then there is no option but to have United Nations presence to administer Jerusalem. Otherwise, it would be possible to have a secular state in which Christians, Jews and Muslims could all share the “holy places.” While this may seem irrational to many throughout the world, it is clear that many in the Middle East, including Jews, still harbor pre-Medieval superstitions and beliefs. Until science completely proves all those myths irrational to the majority of inhabitants of Middle Eastern countries, religion will be a large obstacle, as it has no rational basis for discussion.
Finding real solutions
The Oslo agreements seem to be a sound basis from which to begin discussion. As defined by the Oslo agreement, Area C, 99% of which is excluded from Palestinian use, contains most of the West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces. According to the World Bank, (hardly a radical organization) access to these resources and open spaces would enable the Palestinians to halve their budget deficit and lead to an expansion of their economy by a third.
Area C includes most of the Israeli settlements, something like 150. In 1972, there were only 1,000 Israeli settlers living in what is now Area C. By 1993, their population had increased to 110,000. But, as of 2014 they number something like 350,000 – as against 150,000 Palestinians. The problem with Area C, however is that it is not controlled by Arabs, while containing approximately 60% of arable food producing land. Moreover, the Arab residents are cut off from services available to other Palestinians in Areas A and B. So the real solution, unpalatable to the Israelis but unmistakable, is to take the three settlements closest to Israel which have about 80% of all the settlement population and annex them. Then make Jerusalem an open city with international administration, and return Israel’s capital to Tel Aviv which it effectively is now. Then take the rest of the West Bank and the original area of the Gaza strip and return them to Arab control and declare them Palestine. Immediately. Let the international community work out the sanctions on those who do not comply. Let the world’s armies come in and force compliance, killing people on both sides, just as is being done now. Life’s a bitch and then you die, but at least if you comply you don’t die tomorrow from a bomb or a rocket.
Some people say that it is not possible for America to control what the Israelis are willing to do. We have too many Jewish advocates here in the country. But if you really consider all the possibilities, for example, America siding with the Arab countries against Israel, there would be plenty of support for that if Israel does not stop bombing the Gaza strip. Do you think that it would take more than one Arab embargo to get the weasels in Congress to go along with an Arab-US settlement of the Isreali border questions? There are a dozen other ways, and the Israelis know it. They will simply play the power game as long as the American congress is totally ineffectual.
According to a 2013 European Union report, Israeli policies in the area have undermined the Palestinian presence there, with a deterioration in basic services such as water supplies, education and shelter. Nearly 70% of the Palestinian villages are not connected to the water network that serves settlers, which accounts for the fact that Palestinians in the zone use only a quarter to a third of the pro capita consumption of settlers.
The question before the proper organizations and institutions responsible for bringing this sad state of affairs to a relatively equitable outcome for both sides is whether both sides really want peace and governments that will provide economic benefits and long term security for their citizens. Both sides must forfeit some of their ridiculous religious demands. Both sides must compromise on security. Both sides must agree to adjustments in land and resources. If they cannot agree, then only two choices remain. Force them into doing what is right for the people.
For the Israelis it would, at the very least, end the settlements , restore much of Arab lands, the occupied lands, and relinquish some hold on Arab areas held for religious reasons only. When it comes to saving children’s lives or taking them out of squalor, you can believe this: God and or Allah would approve some adjustments to ancient religious traditions. We can force the Israelis to do it. We can force the Palestinians to do anything. The job is simply to tell American Jews the truth. Then have a vote or a poll. Jews in this country are as honest and compassionate as it gets. Let our foreign policy follow the poll. Even if it loses, and propaganda wins, look at it this way: we would have another $3 billion a year to spend on our own schools.
For those who say the Palestinians will not agree, even to any reasonable proposal forced (if necessary) on the Israelis, it is actually simpler to deal with them. Round up the heads of France, Great Britain, the other European countries, Australia, South Korea, Canada, and a few others. You wouldn’t need to talk to a greater number of people than those leaders. Agree that if the Palestinians do not accept the proposals that the U.S. has forced Israel to offer, then we will let them all—Jews and Arabs–die like dogs in their own gunfire. If they do not want to live happily and prosperously, which these proposals would help them to do, simply drop them for good. And Israel. Let the two sides, the Arabs…..all the Arabs….and the Israelis. Let them kill each other and their children and their grandchildren. After all, we’ve already done enough for two groups of people who have given us nothing in return except grief and terrorism and turmoil. If they cannot accept reasonable proposals on both sides, wall them off from the world and let them kill each other.
The Oslo accords have given a good start. Follow up by incorporating the three settlements that encompass 80% of the illegal Israeli settlers, all within 5 miles of the “green zone,” into Israel. This would basically re-draw the map of Israel and allow other settlers, perhaps with some government compensation to move into those territories. In any case, they are and would be in Palestinian land illegally. Part of the proposal would be that they could stay there if they wanted to. It would,however, be Palestine, not Israel. Next, the United Nations would establish a commission to administer Jerusalem. It would be a perpetual commission unless and until the two countries came up with a mutually agreeable plan that both would sign, at which point the UN commission would be dissolved and leave. Next, Israel would cede more land to the new Palestinian state, perhaps south of Bethlehem along the Dead Sea, or expanded out from the old Gaza. This would compensate for the land the illegal Jewish settlements have taken up, the ones not returned up to now…very valuable land…and to compensate the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons who legally have a right of return.
Many people would like to create an illusion. The illusion is, as we said at the outset, that thousands of years of Jewish persecution were ended with the development of a national homeland for the Jews. Therefore, within that state, and within those international principles there is no room for debate. But there is room for debate. The answer is in the details, not in the situation broadly viewed. As we have shown, hundreds of thousands of Jews came to Palestine illegally. With population increases and with subsequent legal and illegal immigration into the new state of Israel, those immigrant families now number in the millions. Large international organizations bought up Palestinian land. There was nothing illegal about it. But there was nothing wrong with Credit Default Swaps either, but we would all like a second crack at the people who created them. Whatever you think of Fatah, Hamas or the PLO, this all happened to Arabs who were simple people, living on land that they had inhabited for millennia.
Another point is this. In addition to those now living in Israel, there are millions of Jews living all over the world. Many in the United States have dual citizenship with Israel. So theoretically, they may summer in the U.S. and spend their winters in Israel rather than Miami Beach. Is that fair? We are talking now about equitable treatment of citizens of one geographic area with limited space.
If the Israelis cannot build on basic principles of fairness, then agreement is probably impossible. No matter which side has the upper hand today, things can change in a month or a year or a decade. Both sides should both consider the possibility that either one could end up in total destruction if they cannot come to common ground.
In any case, it is time the United States made clear to the world that if Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine do not accept rational policies and this means real and immediate action by the Israelis, not merely promises, and real acceptance by Palestinians—without rancor or any future terrorist acts–then we wash our hands of all future outcomes and will no longer support either side militarily or financially.