Camie Davis

Countering the ‘Zionists are colonizers’ narrative

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Recently, pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University carried a banner which read, “By Any Means Necessary.” The banner conveys the belief that Israeli Jews deserve to be tortured, raped, burned, kidnapped, and/or murdered because terrorism is merely resistance to the colonization and occupation of Palestine by Zionists. And on December 6, Columbia University plans to allow a teach-in to “discuss the significance of the Palestinian counteroffensive on October 7 and the centrality of violence to anti-imperialism.”

The pro-Palestinian movement contends that Zionism, a movement of Jewish sovereignty and self-determination in the Jews’ original homeland, is synonymous with colonization and imperialism. They assert that early 20th century Zionists committed massive land theft from Arabs and expelled them from Palestine. Demonizing Israel for these supposed sins has led to excusing and justifying atrocities committed against Israeli Jews for decades.

But in reality, history shows that the real “sin” of Zionists was that they were better organized, unified, and resilient in their resolve and focus to build a nation in the Jews’ former homeland. In contrast, Arab leaders and many Arab civilians focused their will and energy on preventing Israel from becoming a nation, on destroying it once it became a nation, and on buttressing the narrative that Zionism/Israel was the sole reason for the displacement and continued misery of the Arabs from Palestine. Israel became and still is the go-to scapegoat for Arab failures and disappointments.

Yasser Arafat, past leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization who took terrorism to another level in his quest to destroy Israel, admitted the following to his mentor Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, “The Palestinians lack the tradition, unity, and discipline to become a formal state. A Palestinian state would be a failure from the first day.” Who knows if Arafat’s prediction was accurate since he and other Arab leaders never gave Arabs from Palestine the opportunity for self-determination. The desire of Arab leaders and Arab terrorists to destroy Israel was and still is the real goal, and the “Palestinian cause” was and still is the public justification for fulfilling that goal.

It’s ironic that the campus the Columbia University students demonstrated on has a plaque hanging in honor of the Native American Lenape tribe. The plaque says: In Honor of the Lenape People. The Lenape lived here before and during colonization of the Americas. This plaque recognizes these indigenous people of Manhattan, their displacement, dispossession, and continued presence. It stands as a reminder to reflect on our past as we contemplate our way forward.

If the colonization narrative about Israel is true, according to the logic of Columbia University, all Israel really needs to do is hang a plaque, reflect, and contemplate about all the Arab land they stole and colonized. But if one looks beyond pro-Palestinian narratives presented on social media and slogans chanted by angry activists, one can easily see there are two sides to the colonization story. And that the historical side of the story counters pro-Palestinian narratives.

History that counters the pro-Palestinian narratives includes that both Arabs and Jews are indigenous to the land Arabs claim is solely theirs; that Jews bought much of the land from Arabs; that displacement and refugee status for many Arabs in Palestine was caused by the 1948 invasion of Israel by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia; that Arab leaders have repeatedly turned down Palestinian statehood; and that Arabs have refused to peacefully co-exist with Jews for over a century, first in Mandatory Palestine, throughout Arab countries, and then alongside the new State of Israel.

That the land was called Palestine is even used by pro-Palestinians as a “got you” moment in their sole claim to the land. When actually the name Palestine gives a nod to how far back Jewish residency in the land goes. In 135 BCE, the Romans stopped a Jewish revolt in Judea and renamed the land Palaestina. But for brevity’s sake I won’t review the other mounds of historical evidence that confirm a Jewish presence in Judea/Palestine/Israel for thousands of years, like the Arch of Titus in Rome built to commemorate Rome’s defeat of the Jews in the Jewish-Roman wars and the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Instead, I’ll fast forward to the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule over Palestine.

During this time, the majority of the populace in Palestine was Arab. But Jews lived there as well. After WWI when the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and during the subsequent British Mandate, especially from 1922 to 1947, large-scale Jewish immigration occurred. This was an extreme point of contention for some Arabs who felt threatened by, were suspicious of, and were unwilling to coexist with Jews, especially European Jews.

Yet Arab violence against Jews in Palestine broke out even before the influx of European Jewry. As described in the 1920 British Palin Commission of Inquiry, a report of why the 1920 Arab riots occurred, Arabs feared economic competition and future extensive Jewish immigration. To combat the feared increase of Jewish population, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who became the leading figure for Arab politics during the British Mandate and had extensive ties to Hitler, began organizing groups in 1919 called fedayeen (one who sacrifices himself) to terrorize Jews. He hoped to duplicate the success of Turkish nationalist who had driven Greeks from Turkey. He also set the political standard of resistance to the coexistence of an Arab and Jewish state. His tactic was known as the “Diplomacy of Rejection” which would be followed for decades by the Arab League and Arab leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

The fedayeen twice attacked a Jewish neighborhood near the Syrian border killing 8 Jews and injuring 200. Along with the violence of the fedayeen, Arab riots broke out. The first large one began on April 4, 1920, when al-Husseini incited Arabs to riot during Passover. They killed 6 Jews and injured 200. Riots extended to Jaffa and Petah Tikvah where 43 Jews were killed and 150 injured. In 1924 al-Husseini started a rumor that Jews were planning to take control of the Islamic holy sites. The rumor led to Arab looting of Jewish property and attacks against Jews that eventually spread to various communities killing 135 Jews and injuring 300.

One of the worst Arab attacks was the Hebron Massacre on August 23, 1929 (Hebron being the place where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah are buried). Arabs killed 67 Jews, including women and children, and destroyed homes and synagogues. The massacre included raping women, cutting off the hands and fingers of some of the victims, holding heads over a stove, gouging eyes out, and scalping a rabbi. Some Arab families tried to help the Jews, saving dozens of them.

Violence intensified from 1936-1939 when 89 Jews, including many children, were killed. Crops and fields were also burned. It was during this period the British sanctioned the arming of the Jewish Haganah (an underground fighting force which would turn into the IDF after the creation of the State of Israel) to better defend themselves against Arab violence. The years of ongoing conflict resulted in the deaths and injuries of many Arabs too.

It’s noteworthy that Arab violence against Jews was not confined to Palestine. Throughout the 1940’s, Arab mobs in Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, and Syria killed and wounded 100’s of Jews and destroyed Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues. Persecution of Jews throughout these and other Arab countries would lead to an influx of Jewish immigration to the newly formed State of Israel.

The Hebron Massacre especially parallels the barbarity of the Arab massacre in Israel on October 7, 2023. But again, to those who believe the one-sided narrative that Zionists stole an entire nation from Arabs through colonization, the barbarity was and still is justified.

Over 25 years ago I spoke about Israel in a small Midwest town in America. After I finished speaking an elderly lady approached me, spoke one sentence, and walked away. She matter-of-factly stated, “My relatives were kicked out of their land by the Jews.” As she walked away, I told her I was sorry for her pain. But I also wondered to myself if what she believed was factual. If it was, then her family represents a minority. Because most of the Arabs who left Palestine either did so after selling their land, after being evicted from land sold by absentee landowners, to escape the violence of Arab fighters, to escape being in the path of the impending Arab invasion, or in compliance to Arab leaders. I don’t wish to minimize the trauma of the Arabs during this time. But I do want to present a bigger picture which shows that a Jewish presence in Palestine was not the main cause of their trauma. Rather it was their reaction and their leaders’ reaction to the Jewish presence which caused most of their trauma.

Regarding land purchases, the Jewish National Fund was established to assist Jewish immigration to Palestine and to evaluate and purchase land there. One of the biggest obstacles the JNF faced, highlighted in a report by Eliahu Elath (who worked in the Middle East Department of the Jewish Agency and later became Israel’s first Ambassador to the United States and President of the Hebrew University), was that there were more offers by Arabs to sell their land than there were Jewish funds to buy it.

In British Mandatory Palestine, ordinary Arabs were persecuted by other Arabs and sometimes even killed for the “crime” of selling land to Jews. Meanwhile, Arab leaders and affluent Arab businessmen were privately assisting deals or selling their land to Jews often at exorbitant prices. For instance, Awni Abdel Hadi privately facilitated the transfer of 7,500 acres to Jews, while publicly vowing to fight “until Palestine is either placed under a free Arab government or becomes a graveyard for all the Jews in the country.” The Arab mayors of Gaza, Jerusalem, and Jaffa and four members of the Arab High Committee sold land to Jews. As did numerous members of the prominent al-Husseini family, including the father of Arab guerilla commander, Abd al-Qader al-Husseini.

As mentioned earlier, another cause of displacement of Arabs was due to the actions of Arab fighters and/or the impending war. The following quotes starkly contrast the pro-Palestinian narrative that Zionists kicked Arabs out of Palestine.

“Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave . . . we brought destruction upon a million Arab refugees by calling on them and pleading with them to leave their land.” The Memoirs of Khaled al-Azm, 3 Volumes, Syrian Prime Minister, 1948-1949

“We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.” Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Said, 1948

“Villages were frequently abandoned even before they were threatened by the progress of war.” Sir John Bagot Glubb, commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion

“They robbed individuals and homes. Life was of little value and the honor of women defiled. This state of affairs lead many Arab residents to leave the city under the protection of British tanks.” Hajj Nimer el-Khatib, leader of the Arab Higher Committee in Haifa, describing the mistreatment of Jaffa residents by Arab fighters

“The first of our fifth column [Arab populace in Palestine Arab fighters hoped would fight with them] consist of those who abandon their houses and businesses and go to live elsewhere . . . at the first signs of trouble they take to their heels to escape sharing the burden of struggle.” Jaffa newspaper, Ash Sha’ab, January 30, 1948

“Their refugees were confident their absence would not last long, and that they would return within a week or two. Their leaders had promised them that the Arab armies would crush the ‘Zionist gangs’ very quickly and that there was no need for panic or fear of a long exile.” Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Orthodox Bishop of Galilee to the Beirut newspater, Sada al-Janub, August 16,1948

“The Arab states encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.” Jordanian newspaper, Filastin, February 19,1949

“[They] preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings, and everything they possessed in the world and leave town.” Jamal al-Husseini, Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee, explaining to the UN Security Council why Arabs did not accept the truce offer April 23, 1948

“While [the refugees] express no bitterness against the Jews they speak with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states. ‘We know who our enemies are,’ they will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes.” Sir John Troutbeck, Summary of General Impressions Gathered during Week-End Visit to the Gaza District, June 16, 1949

“The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade. He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean. Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes, and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mowed them down.” Habib Issa, Al‐Hoda (New York Lebanese newspaper), June 8, 1951

After the Arab war against the new State of Israel broke out, an additional 300,000 Arabs left. However, approximately 160,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens. (The current Israeli Arab population is 2 million.) After winning the war in 1948, Israel eventually took over Jaffa, Ramla, Haifa, Nazareth, Beisan, Tiberias, parts of Acre and Safad, and the western sector of Jerusalem and established settlements on abandoned land. Arabs refer to the war they instigated against Israel, the creation of the State of Israel, and the displacement of Arabs as the Nakba (catastrophe) without acknowledging the roles they played in their own demise, while Israel refers to the war as the War of Independence.

But what about the right of displaced Arabs to return? First, and foremost, Israel was wise enough to prioritize self-preservation. Therefore, the right of return was based on conditions. Mainly, the condition that Arab leaders recognize Israel’s right to peacefully exist. These and other conditions were expressed by David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister) on August 1, 1948, “When the Arab states are ready to conclude a peace treaty with Israel this question will come up for constructive solution as part of the general settlement, and with due regard to our counterclaims in respect of the destruction of Jewish life and property, the long term interest of the Jewish and Arab populations, the stability of the State of Israel and the durability of the basis of peace between it and its neighbors, the actual position and fate of the Jewish communities in the Arab countries, the responsibility of the Arab governments for their war of aggression and their liability for reparation, will all be relevant in the question whether, to what extent, and under what conditions, the former Arab residents of the territory of Israel should be allowed to return.”

The Arab leaders, in their ongoing diplomacy of rejection, said no to these conditions at the expense of the refugees. The Arab League even went so far as to give instructions that the refugees were to be kept in camps rather than absorbed into other Arab countries. Eventually and wisely, Israel turned its attention and energy more towards the 377,251 Jewish refugees arriving in Israel after fleeing persecution in Arab countries.

But even without the proposed conditions being met, Israel allowed some Arab refugees to return and agreed to allow even more if a peace treaty was signed. They also offered to allow families who had been separated during the war to return, to release refugee accounts frozen in Israeli banks (which were eventually released in 1953), to pay compensation for abandoned lands, and to repatriate 100,000 refugees. Again, the Arab leaders rejected all the offers because acceptance of the offers would be acknowledgment of the sovereign State of Israel. Hence, the refugees remained in camps. In April 1950, the Arab League adopted a resolution which forbade negotiating with Israel. The UN’s Palestine Conciliation Commission tried to bring the parties together in 1951, but finally gave up stating the Arab governments “have shown no readiness to arrive at a peace settlement with the government of Israel.”

What pro-Palestinians also conveniently fail to mention is that after the Arab war against Israel, Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza for two decades. Neither government turned these areas into a sovereign state for Arabs from Palestine. Instead, the refugees were marginalized and used as pawns by Arab leaders because the refugee problem was secondary to pan-Arab nationalism (the unification goal of all Arab lands into a vast single empire).

“The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.” Sir Alexander Galloway, former head of UNRWA in Jordan, April 1952

“Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner. They have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes.” King Hussein of Jordan, 1960

From its inception, a Jewish state in the Middle East was considered a blight to the envisioned united Arab empire. The Arab invasion of newly formed Israel was more of an Arab nationalist land grab attempt than a battle for Palestinian national rights. First Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abdel Rahman Azzam, described this land grab attempt to a reporter, “[Transjordan] was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. The Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon.”

As more quotes demonstrate, Arab nationalists were more concerned about absorbing Palestine into a wider Arab empire, than about the Arabs from Palestine returning or having a state.

“It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.” Saudi Arabia Representative at the United Nations, 1956.

“There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not . . . [It is but] a very small, tiny spot there on the southern part of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by a vast territory of Arab Muslim lands, beginning with Morocco, continuing through Tunis, Tripoli and Egypt, and going down to Arabia proper, then going up to Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq – one solid Arab-speaking bloc.” Arab-American historian Philip Hitti

“There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity . . . yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.” Zuhair Muhsin, Military commander of the PLO and member of the PLO Executive Council

“You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point: There is no such thing as a Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian entity, there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people, Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore, it is we, the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people.” Syrian dictator Hafez Assad to PLO leader Yasser Arafat

Speaking of Arafat, it’s telling that the founding document of the PLO, in which Arafat would become the leader of, has little to say about the Palestinians themselves. Two-thirds of the 33 articles focus on the goal to destroy Israel. It’s also noteworthy that the PLO was created during the time when Jordan and Egypt occupied the parts of former Palestine the PLO claimed needed liberating. To anti-Zionists, “liberation” has always been a political and humanitarian cloak to cover their real goal – the destruction of Israel.

Hamas, a terrorist organization that activists around the world are currently defending, doesn’t hide its desire to destroy Israel. Nor does it hide the fact that its desire is based on a pan-Arabic/Islamic goal. “Islamic and traditional views reject the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state … In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state. … [Hence] our main goal is to establish a great Islamic state, be it pan-Arabic or pan-Islamic.” Interview with Hamas co-founder and senior member, Mahmud Zahar, The Media Line, Sept. 22, 2005

From the moment of their arrival in Palestine and after the State of Israel was formed, the Zionists’ fight was not only against local Arab violence, but against pan-Arab nationalists’ violence. This fight has morphed into Israel against Islamic terrorists which, in the name of Islam, publicly declare their goal of the destruction of Israel and violently act upon the declaration. Thousands of Arabs and Jews have been killed and wounded because of this Arab/Islamic quest to destroy Israel. And now thousands of people across the world, including on American universities and in American cities, are marching and chanting for this quest to continue by any means necessary.

About the Author
Camie Davis is a non-Jewish writer and advocate for Israel.
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