By Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy
(The recent comments by Llhan Omar, the member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, concerning Israel and American Jewish support for Israel has created such controversy on an issue that needs clear explanation that we felt it was necessary to repeat this earlier piece on Jewish persecution, Palestinian persecution and conflict over land in the Middle East.)
The earliest Jewish Diaspora came in 722 BCE when the powerful Assyrian empire conquered the entire area of the Middle East as far as Egypt, reaching down into Judah and Israel and extracting tens of thousands of Yehudim (the Hebrew word for Jew) and marching them along parched desert trails to the north and east. Certainly many died from exposure and starvation. The terror, even in those days of short, brutish life spans, must have been enormous.
So the Jews were accustomed to persecution even before the Christian era, but perhaps no more than other minor principalities under the dominant military empires. The difference is that the Jews would continue to be persecuted for 2000 years, until almost wiped out completely in some countries of the world.
“Zionism” is a word often used casually by people who know very little, or nothing, about it. Zionism might be described as an organized reaction to centuries of violent anti-Semitism that eventually threatened to wipe out the entire Jewish people. After centuries of persecution and pogroms, the active persecution of Jews had become intolerable.
On the horizon of the early 20th Century was the complete mechanization of society. Within several decades, anti-Semitic persecution would also 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.
With a long history of personal suffering virtually unmatched among the world’s populations and races and religions, this particular deviance in the human personality, the persecution of the Jews by the mid-20th century had entered a phase that astonished and appalled even the most cynical and hardened. Repelled by the sheer inhumanity of otherwise cultured and civil societies, the nations of the world finally decided that this scourge must end. In 1948, world leaders, led by the United States, carved out a small corner of the Middle East to create a homeland for the Jews, the nation of Israel.
That 20th Century genocide and world response is the entire knowledge of Jewish persecution that many of us know. But the story of anti-Semitism, vastly more complicated, pulses with extreme hardship, constant fear and death throughout the millennia that preceded the most recent generations.
The true history of the Jews far overshadows the term “Zionism.” In fact, it intermingles with all aspects of Jewish-Arab relationships. The conflict and bloodshed in Palestine are mere scars on the surface of a far greater problem for the Jews, one that stretches back more than 2000 years. The conflict in Palestine is far more complex than rocks and tear gas and borders and small rockets launched into civilian populations. It is merely the current manifestation of an age-old problem.
Did Zionism create Israel? Or did the collective guilt and continuing progression in the human spirit create Israel? Certainly the nation of Israel and the ongoing conflicts resulting from its creation were populated throughout the world by Zionist efforts. But even this dedicated 50-year effort was not enough to save the lives of over 6 million Jews murdered from the time Theodore Herzl first began to spread the concept.
Whatever current-day conflicts between Arabs and Jews over land, the ancient struggle is between Jews and groups in all parts of the world who have denied Jews the right to own property and land, the right to an ancestral home, the right to fair treatment, the right of personal security and the right to observe an ancient and honorable religious tradition in one’s own community.
Historical Persecution of the Jews
As early as the 3rd century, as Christianity began to dominate the religious practice of the West, persecution of the Jews increased. Until then, many religions, including Judaism, sought attention throughout the Middle East and Europe. But pogroms of Jews became more intensive and ubiquitous as Christianity steadily began to dominate the religious beliefs of the old Roman Empire.
The Jews had experienced their share of intolerance long before the modern era. In a conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC the Jews in Israel were exiled 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. Somewhere between 597 B.C.E. and about 580 BCE the Babylonian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Judah and thousands of Jews were marched off to Babylon. Although it was an extremely large number for those days, they remained together and continued their religion and traditions.
After the revolts of the Jews against the Roman empire near the end of the pre-Christian and early post-Christian era, the Jews were defeated completely, decimated and their religion completely desecrated with the destruction of the Temple. And they were cast out of Israel. This was the Roman Diaspora of the Jews, in which they were expelled and prohibited entering parts of Palestine around by about 130 CE.
Some Jews moved into the Baltic countries and Southern Europe. Others, finding persecution within the Roman Empire, eventually moved on, 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 CE. letters from emperor Theodosius instructed 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.
By the year 438 CE, although practicing Judaism was legal, Jews were restricted from local offices. Jewish temples could not be destroyed, but no new Jewish temples could be constructed. In the first several centuries of the Christian era, many religions competed for members, including 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 forced Jews to convert, tearing down synagogues and making Jews help construct basilicas on the site.
In 610 AD in Spain, the Visigoth king Sesbut outlawed Judaism. Successive Visigoth rulers in Spain as well as rulers in France began to demand Jews convert or be expelled. By 700, what would become standard anti-Semitic regulations such as identification, exclusion and restriction, had been codified and were a routine part of daily life in Western Europe.
After the Moorish invasions, the Jews in Spain were able to live securely with Muslims and Christians. In some areas they even flourished. But when the Christian kings expelled the Muslims, the repressions returned. By 1066 AD, Moorish rule disappeared and anti-Semitism resumed with a vengeance. In Grenada, over 4,000 Jews were massacred.
In 1096, the “People’s Crusade” marched down the Rhine on its way to the Holy Land, torturing killing thousands of Jews along the way. Instigated by Pope Urban II, and led by an improbable character named Peter the Hermit, tens of thousands of German and French and Italian peasants and some minor knights, laid waste to the communities of Speyer and Metz and Mainz with massive devastation. A series of plagues and “signs” and the rage against the Muslims spilled over into anti-Semitic furor against the Jews, who were accused of “killing Christ.”
As many Jews fled to the East, one branch of the Crusaders followed the Jews into Hungary, but after much pillaging and looting, a large number were themselves slain by the Hungarian army..
In the Second Crusade in 1147 AD and lasting well into the next century, thousands of Jews were dispatched in rages throughout France. In Spain, Jews were allowed to exist independently for a time. 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, in Basel, after a Jewish doctor who was suspected of poisoning wells falsely confessed after torture, the people burned every single Jew. As the plague worsened and hysteria grew, German Jews who could not escape were burned at the stake by the tens of thousands.
In 1349, whole Jewish communities in Erfurt, Brussels and Strasbourg were massacred, while other Jews sought to escape to the East. Nevertheless, in 1389, in Prague, an accusation against a Jewish boy led to a riot and massacre of 3,000 Jews. In desperation, Jews moved on to Poland and Russia, seeking some semblance of peace and freedom.
In 1480, Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain appointed the anti-Semitic monk Torquemada to head the Inquisition. Torturing and prosecuting Jews and Muslims alike, Torquemada and the Inquisition put to death thousands of Jews and eventually forced the expulsion of hundreds of thousands who would not convert to Christianity.
In Mecklenburg, in 1492, in the ultimate absurdity of religious intolerance, a Jewish boy was accused of stabbing a piece of the Holy Eucharist, the bread used in the sacrament of communion. Twenty-Seven Jews were murdered.
By the 1540s, during the reformation era, in his work “On the Jews and Their Lies” Martin Luther wrote that the Jews were full of “the devil’s feces…which they wallow in like swine.” He succeeded in having 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. This 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. Official estimates show that over time as many as 100,000 Jews were killed. Some other estimates are even greater.
By the late 18th century, still facing quotas, job restrictions and derisive attacks by many in Western Europe, 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. Elsewhere in Russia, Jews were not allowed to travel freely, although is true that most peasants were also restricted from travel outside their own villages at that time.
Still, in 1821, riots or “pogroms” broke against the Jews, which first began the international understanding of the term. They began in Odessa and then repeated in 1859, and again 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.
By the late 1890s, the Jews of Poland, Russia and the Ukraine were now being persecuted by the hundreds of thousands in those last hopes of refuge. There were innumerable incidents like the Kishinev pogrom where dozens of Jews were murdered, hundreds wounded and 700 homes destroyed. There were over 300 similar incidents in 1896 alone.
Theodore Herzl and the Origins of Zionism
At that time, in Paris, lived an attorney journalist and author named, Theodore Herzl. Accepting France as a very tolerant society, he suddenly became disillusioned after the severe anti-Semitic reaction of a large segment of French society surrounding the Dreyfuss Affair. Dreyfuss was a Jewish military officer falsely accused of treason. Herzl was shocked by the degree to which seemingly liberal France revealed an unexpectedly strong propensity towards anti-Semitism. He 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 to find a Jewish homeland, a place to which Jews, at the very least, could withdraw in times of persecution.
Herzl’s final conclusion on the nature of anti-Semitism was that Jews would constantly be persecuted because of their position as outsiders in every country. If Jews could be so hated and vilified, as they were even in the relatively tolerant France of the belle époque, Herzl believed that only a Jewish state could be safe. Of course, history had already provided many vastly more shocking examples than the Dreyfuss Affair.
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 and 1892, when Jews were expelled from Moscow, 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 history of anti-Semitic persecution to warrant such a vision. There were literally tens of thousands of such incidents. There was good reason to think that a Jewish homeland, no matter how welcoming an alternative 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 in the U.S…restricted clubs, neighborhoods, university quotas….hardly a perfect society. In 1900, for Jews, the U.S. was not a panacea. Yes, it was a country that had expressed interest in and had accepted large numbers of Jewish immigrants. But it was also a country with strong anti-Semitism, a country which had, after all, only 35 years earlier freed slaves. Lynchings were common including that of an Atlanta Jewish businessman, Leo Frank, who was dragged from his home and murdered as late as 1915. So, American Jews were far less removed from danger in turn-of-the-century America than we would like to remember.
The Jews of Western Europe had been granted legal equality under the law as early as 1791 in France and in other European countries, including Germany in 1871. They had assimilated into society as lawyers, doctors, teachers, tradesmen and military officers. Many served in the military of their countries fighting wars on the continent and around the world. They were cautious but somewhat persuaded that a new era had begun, where anti-Semitism, however real, might be a silent threat or a relic of earlier attitudes of previous centuries. They rightly felt that they were accepted and respected members of European society.
Then came the Holocaust. The Western European Jews who had so recently been leaders in scholarship, science, music, philosophy and industry for generations became the objects of Right Wing political actions. By the 1930s, those who had considered themselves to be German, French, Austrian, British, Belgian or Scandinavian citizens—but Jews religiously–found themselves under attack. A new wave of irrational anti-Semitism swept across Europe. In some places it became mortally dangerous. By 1933, Western Europe was becoming more anti-Semitic, particularly in Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy. Fascism was taking hold.
Within a dozen years, the Nazis and other Fascist countries and collaborators had killed 5,934,000 Jews of a total European Jewish population of 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 anticipated this kind of murderous genocide on an industrial scale.
It is worth a brief pause in this narrative to explain just how pervasive and sinister and thorough was this “ethnic cleansing” of Jews from Europe, Germany, Austria, France and the Eastern States as well as Fascist-conquered countries like Norway and the Netherlands.
Many have heard of the famous concentration camps, like Auschwitz, in Poland, where over a million Jews were put to death, or Treblinka, where a million died, or lesser known Belzec, where over 400,000 died. Then there was Sobibor, where 170,000, died, and Chelmno, 152,000, and Bergen-Belsen, 70,000 from 1941-1945 alone. There were more, over 800 individual locations, ghettos, outposts, where Jews were put to death in numbers ranging from ten to ten thousand.
In 1933, at Dachau, in Bavaria just north of Munich, the first Nazi concentration camp was built. It would house over 200,000 prisoners over its twelve years, politicians, priests, gypsies, Communists, and some Jews. It was not a death camp, yet over its existence, even in this one camp, an estimated 39,000 died. Life was cheap in Europe in those days and Jews…make no mistake…were on the run, merely to stay alive.
Zionism and Palestine
Theodore Herzl died in 1904. But he had foreseen and anticipated the furor and fever for Jewish extinction that would grasp the emotions of dedicated anti-Semites in years to come. It fell to Chaim Weizmann, a distinguished Chemist and a Zionist enthusiast, to become the leader 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 in England 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.
Because of the obvious potential for British munitions, Weizmann became close friends with British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. It was this relationship that was influential in persuading the Prime Minister to create the Balfour Declaration. Weizmann lived in England until 1937 when he moved to Israel. In the early years of the 20th Century he had been able to persuade Prime Minister Balfour that Jews needed a homeland. He suggested that this might be done by setting aside of some land in the Jew’s original homeland, now British controlled 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. Ultimately the worldwide revulsion at the events of the Jewish Holocaust in the decade of the 1930s and the 1940s did create a more favorable international atmosphere and sense of urgency for a Jewish Homeland. The time had come when most nations of the world were agreeable to finding some part of the British Mandate where Jews could find refuge, at long last a home in the desert, a return to ancient beginnings
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, this modest immigration, as it would turn out, 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 a second, larger number after the war, up to 1923, about 70,000 Jews in total. In all, between 1881 and1923, about 100,000 Jews immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, what became Mandatory Palestine, a British protectorate. In those days, 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 appears to have been caused by a sermon from an over-zealous Zionist rabbi. Alarmed and incited, the local Arab communities reacted violently. 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. e Jews fled Europe and almost certain death, they sought any way possible to emigrate to Palestine. The Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine grew to about 382,000 by 1936. The Arab population was 982,000. Jews, desperate to escape Eastern and Western Europe, found their way to the northern coast of Africa, immigrating in many cases in violation of enumerated quotas. In response, the Arabs, only realizing that their land was quickly being overrun, formed gangs to harass local Jewish communities, to make immigration less comfortable, likely in a simple attempt to slow it down. The British, the enforcement agency for Palestine, were drawn in.
Over three years, from 1936 to 1939, the Arabs revolted against British rule and Jewish immigration. The Arab death toll was recorded as between 3000 to 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 is clear about the land in Palestine. No reliable records on the ownership of land in the areas that were Palestine before the British, during the Ottoman Period, were available until at least 1860. The general sense is that Bedouin tribes ranged the area and caused havoc to local Arab farmers. Local farmers then relied on the Ottoman authorities for security. Ottoman investors from the East then 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. Many of them ultimately sold it to Jews and Jewish organizations.
Consequently, 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 in Palestine, therefore, could be described as basically tenant farmers or squatters, with minimal irrigation, often living in malarial conditions, beset from time to time by marauding Bedouin gangs. Accounts of daily life in those days varied in reliability. It could be as official as the Peel Commission reports to as informal as the travel journal of Mark Twain. Most accounts portray the area as somewhat unsettled agricultural land. By the latter half of the 19th century, in fact, many small communities had actually disappeared. But
But as the fleeing Jews became more and more pervasive in the land, the Arabs revolted. The 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 only 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. But resistance to Jewish immigration into Palestine, despite the genocide in Europe, was considerable.
The Jewish immigrants and the Zionists, ranged from those who simply wanted a place to park their families free of persecution to the religiously dedicated Zionists who wanted a much larger and totally Jewish state encompassing much of original Palestine. Prior to World War II, however, neither Jews nor Arabs were a 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. Arab terrorism was directed both at the British and the Jewish settlers.
It is important to note the conflict as early as the late 1930s between Arabs and Jews over land. By the end of the fighting in 1939, when World War II intervened, the Arabs had built an organized fighting force of about 10,000. The British had brutally suppressed the revolt, both against British rule and against the Jewish 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, the goal would be that legal Jewish immigration would be held, at least that was the attempt, to levels that would be economically feasible.
Of course, at the time of the Balfour declaration in 1922 no one, including Churchill, foresaw the horrendous events of 1933 to 1945 in Germany and Eastern Europe. Now it was the late 1930s and Jews realized that an escape to anywhere 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 significant 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 given to 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 in half the amount of land for a divisible Palestine, the land available for Jews and Palestinians.
In June of 1939, as the Second World War loomed, a supplementary White Paper was published by the British government of Neville Chamberlain, as it was the administrator of Mandatory Palestine. This paper allowed the British to dispense with the troublesome matters of Palestine. 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 World War II, there were attempts by both the Axis powers and the Allies to attract support of 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 made radio broadcasts, helped them recruit converts to the Nazi cause and eventually spent the war in Germany. The Jews of Palestine spent the war largely preparing for a potential disaster, a Nazi invasion of North Africa.
The general perception is that the Arab countries leaned somewhat towards the Axis because of Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. The Arab leaders felt that an Axis victory, though not the optimal situation, could give them 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 British officers that fought in Italy in 1944-1945.
No reliable statistics exist 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 found their way 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 and organizations sending Israel Holocaust survivors and many of those who were still being persecuted in Eastern Europe. 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. In 1948, the Jewish population of Palestine had reached about 608,000 and would add 500,000 more, a total of 1.2 million, by 1950. Even the most dedicated Zionist should see that Arabs, 85% of the population in the late 19th century, might be concerned that the movement towards a Jewish majority was unrelenting. There is almost complete consensus that Jewish immigrants, settling in communes for collective productivity and security, attempted to make friends with native Arabs. But what they could not see, just as simple Arab farmers could not understand mass murder of an entire race and religion, was that the Arabs had already been fighting this encroachment for over a decade or, in some cases, longer. The Jews were attacked relentlessly, and in 1948, with the nations of the world ruling against them, the Arabs struck back.
Population growth in Israel, as well as continued high immigration of Jews worldwide into Israel, has pushed the population of Israel from a little over a million in the post-war era to about 8 million today, of which about 6.4 million are Jews. The area considered Palestine, had been, for two millennia at least, predominantly sparsely settled Arab land. Beginning at least by the early 20th century, those Arabs living in Palestine must have felt a virtual tsunami of immigrants had swept onto their lands. No Arab, sitting in a desert oasis or under an date palm tree in the year 1900 could ever have imagined such numbers. It is very unlikely that Jews or even Zionist Jews could fully comprehend the alarm and the confusion of those who suddenly found themselves in a new land and a new society composed of Arabs and Jews in a rapidly increasing equal relationship.
The facts are clear about the need for a Jewish Homeland. No one was wrong about that. The Jews were persecuted in all lands for at least the entire history of Christianity, culminating in the attempt by the Fascists to erase Jewry with the greatest genocide of all time. Even today, even contained in a refuge granted by the United Nations, smaller than the size of New Jersey, mingled on a daily basis with antagonistic often violent neighbors, surrounded by hostile nations, they live with intermittent deadly attacks from those who hate them.
The outcome was resistance, rebellion, conflict and war. As a result of those wars, Jews, who had already known the deadly history of non resisting, fought for their lives, and with the assistance of many countries in the free world, and Jews worldwide, and the United States, defeated the armies of the countries by which they were surrounded. The result of those wars, particularly 1948 and 1967, for the Arabs, was disastrous. Over 700,000 Arabs living in Israel were displaced.
The Palestinians have a name for it. They call it the “Nakba,” which means “catastrophe.” And it was. If we return to 1948 and try to reconstruct the mental processes of both Arabs and Jews, the most likely situation is this. By mid-1947 war between Palestinian Arabs, plus allies in Arab countries surrounding Palestine was already underway in one form or another. Many Arabs decided to leave, and many were undoubtedly encouraged to leave by the Jews, motivated both by antagonisms as well as humanitarian reasons because the Israeli Jews had no intention of losing their hard won land. Many Arabs thus fled to safer parts of Israel. Others departed the country altogether. Unquestionably, some left simply because they no longer wanted to live in a Jewish state, where their needs and wishes were clearly subordinated to those of the Jews.
No matter why they left, that 700,000 exiles, only a few of whom are the original inhabitants, has grown to over 7 million displaced people.
Where do they live now? Over two million live in Jordan, which has been, by far, the most welcoming state. Half a million live in Lebanon, a similar number in Syria, a million and a third of the 1.9 Arabs in the Gaza strip are refugees and about 800,000 in the West Bank. These are all people who lived somewhere else in what is now Israel but now are legally refugees from their former homes. Many of the communities from which they came have been destroyed. Thus far, next to none of these exiles have been allowed to return. It should be said that there are other exiled Palestinians, in smaller numbers, living in Egypt and Iraq. The fact is, however, that the Palestinian exiles now live and have lived for decades in miserable conditions in refugee camps
One final complication is a government that encourages the idea that this land has always belonged to Jews and worldwide, Jews have a natural right to return to a land which, they believe, God has ordained as theirs.
In the West Bank, Palestinians often live in refugee camps in what was formerly their Homeland, while Jewish settlers from all over the world build homes on what was formerly and is legally even today, Palestinian land. In the Gaza Strip, a part of the divided land that became Israel that was designated for Arabs, thanks to Arab rebellions against what they feel, with some considerable justification, is Jewish oppression and maneuvering to take their land, has become a much smaller area, blockaded, forcing the Arab population again into refugee camps, and poverty and ill health and 40% unemployment of any kind.
Are the Arabs blameless? Not at all. Israelis tried for many years to make accommodations with Palestinians but local and regional politics, fomented by what can only be called evil forces inside the Arab countries of the Middle East, made a safe and secure peace impossible. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria and groups within Lebanon have funded attacks and resistance to Israeli attempts at solutions. Now the Arabs are facing a resolute, some even call it a “Fascist” political party in Israel, which most people believe has no interest in or intention of settling with Palestinians.
Is the die cast? Obviously, with many powerful countries within the United Nations having differing opinions and favoring different sides, the world is far from helping to find solutions. But some things are clear. The Israelis feel that they have a firm ally in the United States, even in their current posture of what appears to be simply ignoring Palestinian rights and demands. The Arab countries, seemingly indifferent to the plight of their fellow Arabs, show no signs of discontinuing their abuse of the refugee status of Palestinians.
But now there is a solution. There is much hatred between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel and Palestine. But it is not the kind of anti-Semitic hatred of the Jews that we found in Western or Eastern Europe. This is largely a problem of land. Wars and antagonisms over land can be settled.
Jews and Arabs are basically the same people. Recent studies show a closer connection in DNA between Jews in general and Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians than between Israeli Jews and Jews from distant reaches. The fact is that in the Middle East, Jews and Arabs did. live together in an often uneasy, but also unwarlike symbiosis for generation upon generation. The encroachment, which is what it was, factually, 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.
The history of proposed partitions reflects anything but certainty in what is just and what is minimally acceptable to all. Consequent occupation and transfer of land has 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. Much of that land was won in wars that Israel did not originate, or in situations where it did, did so from absolute perception of the need for military action in order to survive.
One thing is absolutely clear. The major part of Middle Eastern Arab culture has supported the destruction of Israel from the very beginning and continues to this day. They have spent billions of dollars in that effort. It is not merely rhetoric. Tens of thousands of Israelis have died or were permanently maimed from unprovoked military attacks by others.
The 1948 plan for the creation of Israel was a good plan in retrospect. It was a solid attempt, for that era, 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 was not the best of all possible worlds; it was the best of what was available considering the world circumstances at that time.
The creation of Israel happened at a time when European countries were returning their old colonial possessions. Palestine itself was seen largely as a wasteland, good neither for agriculture or grazing. The Palestinian Arabs were seen as largely non agrarian, unstable, Bedouin and nomadic in nature. Whether or not this was true, it was the world’s opinion at the time. But it does not excuse taking 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 Israeli 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 moved 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 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 international state, Israel, was originally a piece of land, some of it purchased by Jewish organizations, the rest deeded by the United Nations to the newly formed nation of Israel. It stretches from Syria and Lebanon in the North to Egypt at the bottom of the Negev desert. On the west it is bordered by Jordan and on the East by the Mediterranean Sea. On the southeast portion a strip of land extends in wards known as the Gaza strip. This is Arab land. In the approximate middle of Israel, extending in an easterly direction, from the Jordanian border is an area now known as the West Bank. It includes the city of Jerusalem, a significant place to both Arabs and Jews for religious reasons.
At the outset, in 1948, the West Bank area and the Gaza strip was about 45% of the land of Israel, set aside for Palestinians. Today, after wars and incursions and retaliations, that land, as it is now arranged by Israelis, is only about 15% of the total land in what is considered Israel.
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. The combination of British and French diplomatic artistry, with the acquiescence of other countries in the United Nations, redrew the maps of the post-Ottoman world.
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 wealthier 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. The Israelis won. But after all the dead are buried, after the maimed have been treated and healed, homes restored, and people resettled, there are few winners. The resentment of the then-resident Arabs over the outcome of the 1967 war has colored all subsequent negotiations, It has provided the main justification in the minds of aggrieved Palestinian terrorist groups or at least a legitimate-sounding excuse to carry out lethal attacks on Israeli communities.
Nonetheless, there is a huge problem that cannot be ignored. There are approximately 2,000,000 Arabs living in the West Bank, with about 500,000 Israelis. The Israelis continue to add Israeli Settlements which are built on occupied territory and are illegal under international law. Israel refuses to accept this ruling, even though 164 separate nations have declared the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory. Therefore the West Bank 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 like Illinois but is the size of New Jersey. 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 arid land and Egypt and at the top there is an area called the Golan Heights, and then Syria, where Wisconsin would be. 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 Bethlehem in the middle. Israel had two seaports on the Mediterranean, Haifa and the capital, Tel Aviv. (The Israelis call Jerusalem their capital, even though Jerusalem was part of an international zone in the middle of the original Arab lands.) It is now part of the occupied territories, legally belonging to the Palestinians, but still disputed by the Israelis, who have occupied it for decades.
All of the world’s embassies to Israel (except now the U.S. embassy) are in Tel Aviv. Religious belief, some say religious fanaticism, on both sides, reigns supreme here. The Palestinians are now restricted to that small stretch of land in the lower left hand side, on the map, the Gaza Strip and a section at the top, near Syria and a smattering of locations inside the West Bank.
Whereas the original map of Israel gave the Israelis 55% of the land and the Arabs 45%, the Israelis now control 85% of the land, and water. Whether they left on their own in 1948 or 1067, or were forced out then, or later, the fact is that approximately 6 million Arabs are refugees from what was their homeland. International law says that they have the legal right to return. It is clearly the obligation of the leaders of Israel to work out these details. As of now, they have shown little interest in carrying out their legal obligations. On the contrary, they continue to build Israeli settlements on Arab land in clear violation of International law. 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.
The Israelis now 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 survive, even for their current population, let alone any repatriated refugees. The Israelis dictate policy in almost all the area that was formerly Palestine. This has continued for over 30 years. Palestinians have little hope of a fruitful life. Consequently, the average Palestinian considers a fruitful life to have killed as many Israelis as possible.
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 religious 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 to peace, as it leaves 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. 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, but for the benefit of long term existence and the growth of two nations, not merely revenge.
The common wisdom is probably that it is impossible or improbably the United States to substantially influence what the Israelis are willing to do. We have too many Jewish advocates here in the country. This is not necessarily true.
Americans are largely pro-Israel. We have been treated to the fanaticism and mania of many of the Muslim countries, a culture with many fine attributes, but a culture that also seems to live constantly on the knife’s edge of chaos. But we are not blind and we are not stupid and we will not be bullied. We see the inequity in what has happened to Palestinians and how many in Israeli politics have taken advantage of this for their own gain and to increase their power, size and influence at the expense of the powerless. We do not stand for such deliberate cruelty, no matter whether a little or some or even much of it may be deserved based on prior actions.
There is fault now on both sides. And the time for action has long since passed. Are we so dedicated to our Israeli friends? Really? How long do you think it would take the Christian Fundamentalists of Alabama and Mississippi to disavow the Israelis if it cost them $6 per gallon gasoline, and a petroleum shock through the system such as we felt from 1973 to 1980? Preachers all over the south would be invoking Mohammed.
It is important to provide justice, not merely when it is on behalf of your friends but when it is in the interest of your own integrity to call upon your friends to do the right thing. This is international, global politics. The Israelis will rightly do what they feel is in their best interest as long as no one reminds them that they are losing their integrity as a nation and losing the long tradition of compassion of their race and religion at the same time.
According to a 2013 European Union report, Israeli policies in the area have undermined the Palestinian presence there, with 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, there is no question Yahweh and 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 their fellow Jews, the Israelis, are wrong. Morally wrong. 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. At the very least, Americans must stand up and vote on this issue. It is a moral obligation, because we support an ally whom we know to be operating in error.
Those who say the Palestinians will not agree, even to any reasonable proposal forced (if necessary) on the Israelis are simply wrong. The heads of France, Great Britain, the other European countries, and most of the world outside the Middle East, Communist China and Russia will support any proposal to end the misery in Palestine. We know it provides half the fodder for terrorist organizations.
The Oslo accords have provided a valuable outline. 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 remain in Palestine of course. T
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.
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 those purchases but to the Arabs who lived on that land, who had perhaps been unknowingly deluded by those in the old Ottoman structure from believing it was no longer theirs, which it was not, those large Jewish purchases of land would certainly have been disturbing. Whatever the reputation of Fatah, Hamas or the PLO, they express the historic resentments that arose from rapid change, over mere decades to a land that had been inhabited by the same tribes for millennia.
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. If one issue in this whole business is the equitable treatment of people needing a place to merely exist, then this policy is clearly questionable.
If the Israelis cannot build on basic principles of fairness, then agreement is probably impossible. This is a serious problem for both sides. No matter which side has the upper hand today, world events often cause rapid change. Left completely without the support of Western Europe and the United States, Israel would be in a far more precarious position. The whole point of Israel and Zionism was to create a stable, permanent homeland for the Jews. Israeli policy seems to grow farther apart from that goal.