Stop me if you’ve heard these claims before, “Israel must return to the pre-1967 borders” and, “If only Israel stopped building illegal settlements in the West Bank, there would be peace!” Not only do those come from the rank and file Left, they have been espoused by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. There is a major problem when the top two diplomats of the United States show such a perverse and incorrect understanding of the facts behind the Arab-Israeli conflict. People who advocate such terms either have no understanding of the history of the conflict, or know the facts yet choose the path of ignorance in the face of history.
These people seem to believe that the conflict started out of thin air when Israel conquered Judea and Samaria (renamed the West Bank) as part of her overwhelming military victory in the Six Day War. A simple reading of the history of the region would show this not to be true, yet it seems no major Democrats have done their reading. Perhaps it is no fault of their own, as President Obama was only six years old when the IDF destroyed the much larger armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan during those six days in June, 1967. One would think that being in a position of such power as the President of the United States would require the Commander-in-Chief to have a thorough understanding of the history behind the conflict, but that appears not to be so. The common themes behind the Arab-Israeli conflict are rooted in religion, not Palestinian desires for a sovereign state, and until the common perspective shared by those on the Left is corrected, there will be no true peace in the Middle East.
From the advent of Islam, there have always been Jews living in Arab controlled land. Given the region that Islam arose from, conquered, and ruled for over a millennium, it would have been an impossibility for all of Araby to be free of Jews and Christians. Based on the individual ruler, whether it was a King, Sultan, or Caliph, Jews enjoyed varying levels of freedom in Dar al-Islam, the Domain of Islam. However, what we know for certain is that Jews were always regarded as dhimmi, or second class citizens. They had to pay a jizya, religious tax, and were forbidden from riding on horses, herded into ghettos, and generally excluded from high paying jobs.
There are verses in the Quran detailing the relationship between Muslim and Jew. Some say to treat them as “People of the Book” which makes sense considering the Jewish Bible served as a basis for the Christian Bible and the Quran. Some verses are less friendly and more militant. Surah 11 v. 96 says, “And thou wilt find them [Jews] the greediest of mankind…” and Surah 4 v. 56, “Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment” [i.e. keep finding Jews to burn].
Common tradition is to associate Jew-friendly surahs to a Mecca-version of Muhammad, or his preachings while based in the city of Mecca. Other, more violent surahs have been associated with his teachings when he was based in Medina, hence the term, Medina Quran. What is clear from the 1500 years of Islam is that Jews were not only never to be regarded as equals with Muslims, but that it would be unthinkable for a Muslim to see a Jew as a ruler of Muslims.
Fast forward a few centuries, and relocate from the Hejaz desert of Saudi Arabia to the Ottoman district of Damascus. Within the orbit of Damascus was a land with many names. Some called it, “Southern Syria” others called it by its Roman name, “Palestine” or simply, the “Holy Land” as it was holy, in varying degrees, to all three monotheistic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Ottoman Empire ruled over Palestine, yet there were always Jews living there, many had lived there since before the destruction of the Second Temple. The Ottoman Empire ruled over vast quantities of land and inhabitants who regarded themselves as Muslims, not Iraqis, Jordanians, Syrians, or Lebanese.
There was no sense of nationality in Araby as there was in Europe. When the Ottoman Empire fell, Britain and France were quick to draw new national boundaries that often lumped different ethnic groups together into international boundaries that suited their colonial aspirations. The British, having taken control over much of the Middle East drew up a political entity called Palestine which encompassed modern day Israel and Jordan. The French quickly drew national boundaries for Lebanon and Syria which became French mandates.
Speaking of Jordan, the Kingdom of Jordan was not in existence from time immemorial. It was created by the British in 1922 under the name Transjordan, which referred to it being a transit route on the oil pipeline from Iraq to British controlled Palestine. Jordan was lopped off from the original Palestine Mandate (meant to be home to a Jewish and Arab state) in an attempt to please Hashemite Arabs and satisfy the requirements to give the Arabs a state in Mandatory Palestine. This left the remaining mandate territory to Jews. Jordanian ethnicity was, no different than Palestinian ethnicity. The territory of Jordan was supposed to be the Arab state bordering the Jewish state, there was no mention of a separate Palestinian state in international discussion to this point in history because Jordan was that state.
Per the Balfour Declaration, the Jews were to be given a home in Palestine. This brought a large influx of European Jews who purchased land from Arab landlords largely living in Damascus and Beirut. Jewish immigrants saw a barren land, land that was holy to them and they began to work it. They drained malaria-infested swamps, revitalized the citrus industry and made Jaffa oranges world famous. They created cities such as Tel Aviv where only sand dunes had existed. Mark Twain noted the condition of the land when he visited. He said, “Stirring scenes … occur in the valley [Jezreel] no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent-not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings.”
These Jews of the First Aliyah turned a barren countryside into an agricultural marvel through their hard work, legal purchase of land, and a desire to succeed. This upset local Arabs who had no nationalistic concept of an Arab Palestine that is preached today throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These local Arabs raided and killed Jewish settlers who were not encroaching on any West Bank villages. These local Arabs were subjected to no checkpoints in Jerusalem. These Arabs were killing Jews because they were Jewish in land that Arabs felt only belonged to Muslims.
The British Mandate over Palestine was a bloody period in history. Arabs were attacking Jewish settlers and vice versa. Eager to placate Arabs, the British appointed a prominent figure to be Mufti of Jerusalem. His name was Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and he was a distant cousin of the future murder-turned-politician, Yassir Arafat. Al-Husseini had one general slogan, and it was, “There has never been a political entity called Palestine.” He published a newspaper from Jerusalem entitled Al-Suria al-Janubia, which means “Southern Syria.” He had these views because in the minds of contemporary Muslims, there had never been a separate political entity known as Palestine. Palestinians referred to Jews and Christians who lived in the land. Muslims at the time of Husseini saw Jerusalem as belonging to Syria. For decades, al-Husseini preached this, and used fiery religious rhetoric to stir up Muslims to attack Jews. As a Muslim Priest, the idea of a Jewish homeland in the Dar al-Islam was unfathomable to al-Husseini on religious grounds, not for nationalist reasons. The invention of a Palestinian nationality would not come for decades.
After Israel’s victorious War of Independence, Egypt and Jordan ruled over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively. The “refugees” who had fled in 1947-1949 were never referred to as Palestinian refugees, but Arab refugees, because again, Palestinian nationalism did not exist then. Egypt and Jordan did not create a separate state for “Palestinians” as there was no concept of those Arabs being any different, linguistically, religiously, culturally, or ethnically from Jordanian or Egyptian Arabs. Even when Nasser assumed control over Egypt and took grand stage in the Arab world, he did it on a platform of Pan-Arabism. Until his humiliating military defeat in 1967, Nasser had never conceived of a Palestinian state. His rhetoric was branded towards uniting all of Araby under one state, with him at the head of it. It wasn’t until Nasser was humiliated militarily by Israel in 1956 and 1967 that he realized “The Zionists” would have to be defeated by less conventional means. That is where the invention of a Palestinian nation started. Arabs had never wanted, conceived of, or advocated for a Palestinian nation because nationalism has never been their stated intention. Throughout history, we have seen Islamic nations shudder at the thought of nationalism, because they have no history of nation building. By supporting Fatah in 1964, Nasser brought the invented Palestinian issue to the forefront.
All of this pre-1967 history is important to know, because it helps provide context for the point of this writing. Muslims and Arabs have had a problem with Israel and Jews long before the Six Day war brought Israel the West Bank. Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran before any Israeli soldier occupied Ramallah. Jordanian snipers were killing Jews in Jerusalem long before Israeli tanks rolled into Bethlehem. Syrian artillery was raining down on Israeli farmers long before Israeli soldiers reunited Jerusalem under Jewish rule. The only reason Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza was that Arab despots in neighboring countries were fueled by religion to try and attack Israel before 1967.
Israel has shown multiple times that is willing to trade land for peace, and has done so with Egypt. In fact, it is only Israel and Egypt that have lived up to UNSC Resolution 242, a binding resolution calling for the warring states to lay down their arms, trade land for peace, and leave Israel with secure and recognized borders. Israel has tried to trade land for peace with Syria vis. the Golan Heights, only to be rebuffed time and time again. At the Taba negotiations in 2001, Israel tried to give the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza for their own state, maintaining only a sliver of land near the border for security reasons, yet Arafat and the PLO walked away. Perhaps they walked away because they knew that if the Palestinians were to get a sovereign state, it would take away the nationalistic umbrella that they use to wage their religious jihad against the Jews and Israel.
The West has grown tired of religiously-inspired wars. Europe has had its fill and then some, and America has always striven to avoid them. To Arab Muslims however, they have been waging religious war- on each other, Christians, and Jews for more than 1,000 years and have never put down the sword except to pick up the gun and suicide belt. Islamic terrorism came to America on 9/11 but it has been at Israel’s doorstep long before the Israeli Army emerged victorious in 1967. Yassir Arafat knew that if he framed his struggle in nationalistic terms it would win him approval in the West, but that does not mean that his struggle was nationalistic.
Israeli politicians have also tried to see the conflict as being nationalistic in nature, because they know a religious one is almost unsolvable. Repeatedly, Arafat turned down offers for statehood, and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas (who received a Ph.D. with a thesis on Holocaust denial from Moscow University) has done the same. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not about the West Bank. It is not about the Gaza Strip, which Israel no longer controls. It is about a sovereign Jewish state existing in the Dar al-Islam, the domain of Islam. Muslims do not even face towards Jerusalem to pray, they face away. It is their third holiest site, while being the first for Jews.
For decades Muslims in Palestine did not seek to establish a Palestinian state, but rather to eliminate the Jewish one. First it was militarily, which the Arab world has proven to be horrible at. Now, it is politically and demographically by demanding things like the Right to Return of Palestinians, an absurd demand considering many left voluntarily waiting for the slaughter of Jews to be over before returning. President Obama and his underlings on the Left may still turn a blind eye to the religious nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it is about time that America woke up and see the conflict for what it truly is; a religiously-driven war to rid the Middle East of its lone Jewish and democratic state.