Anti-Israel advocates have distorted the history of Israel so that today, a Jew who arrived in Palestine in the 1890s is not called a Palestinian, while an Arab who arrived in 1945 is. This is part of the anti-Israel narrative.
It has become popular for progressives in America to argue that the Jews of Israel are colonizers. The claim is that, although Jews lived in Israel in distant times, the modern state of Israel is built on land stolen from the Arabs. This claim is bogus.
A Jewish Claim to Israel
Jews have lived in what is today Israel for over 3,500 years. In the perspective of historical time, the Arabs are recent arrivals. When the first Arabs descended upon Israel in the seventh century, Jews had already resided there for two thousand years. The Jewish nations of Judah and Israel had been independent kingdoms that lasted for centuries before they were conquered by outside groups. One of those conquering groups was the Arabs. They came from far away—-the Arabian Peninsula—-and it is they who colonized the local population.
Historically, Jews are a people native to Israel.
Arabs also have rights to the land because they have been residents for a long time. Today Israel considers Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) as disputed land. Two peoples have a claim to it based on historical precedent. The Israeli government recognizes that the Arabs also have a claim on this land and have made several offers to return essentially all of it to the Arabs in exchange for peace. But most Arabs and Arab leaders claim that all of Israel is Arab land. They have never acknowledged any part of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
A Comparison with White Settlement of the United States
Ironically, unlike Jews in Israel, the White European ancestors of today’s progressives, who came to the Americas beginning in the sixteenth century, were truly colonizers. And, unlike Jews in Israel, neither these Europeans nor their ancestors had ever lived in the Americas before they colonized them. The native Indians, on the other hand, had been there for thousands of years.
The settlement of the Americas by White Europeans was different from the return of Jews to Palestine and later, Israel. The Europeans who colonized the Americas relentlessly wiped out the Indians and stole their lands. As European settlement expanded westward, the US Cavalry systematically attacked and murdered native Indian villagers, often unarmed women and children. Today we call this ethnic cleansing and genocide. Surviving Indians were corralled into reservations on the most barren and remote lands, where they remained impoverished, isolated and powerless. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, American Indian children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to “Indian schools” where the last vestiges of their language and culture were wiped out forever.
In 1848, the US invaded and occupied a large part of northern Mexico. The new American rulers replaced Mexican judges with American judges who invalidated the land ownership of the Mexicans so that Anglos could seize and hold the land. The US then proceeded to annex all of the acquired territory, which to this day, remains part of the United States.
There is currently a Reconquista movement to reclaim this land for Mexico. It could be compared to the current progressive movement to “reclaim” Israel for Palestine. However, whereas many progressives support the Palestinian effort to replace Israel, few people anywhere take seriously the demands of the Reconquista movement.
Modern History of Jews in the Holy Land
The original Jews of Israel faced two great expulsions. The first great expulsion was the Babylonian exile in the sixth century before the Christian era. Later, in 72 A.D., the occupying power, Rome, defeated the Jewish army. The Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem and renamed the country Palestina. However, Jews continued to live throughout the land that is today Israel, including Jerusalem.
Ottoman Empire and Jewish Return
In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire invaded and colonized the area. They ruled for 400 years until they were defeated by the British and French in World War I. During Ottoman rule, Palestine was almost entirely barren desert and swampland. During four centuries of neglect and onerous taxation by the Ottoman rulers, the area became depopulated—of both Jews and Arabs. Evidence of this was provided by Mark Twain’s account of his travels in Palestine in 1867. He described traveling from one end of the country to the other and seeing few signs of people or development, not even vegetation.
Jews began returning to Palestine in numbers beginning with the birth of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s. The first Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) began in 1882. That immigration wave was followed by a number of others throughout the twentieth century.
In these immigration waves, Jews did not expel or force Arabs off their land. Jews bought land from Arab owners. Many Arabs were eager to sell their lands (much of it unproductive) to Jews because the Jews paid high prices. (Arab tenant farmers had to move to other land when the absentee Arab landowners sold their property to Jews.)
As the Jewish population of Palestine expanded, a new economy sprang up: farms, small factories, roads, water systems and the like. Palestine became a magnet for Arabs in surrounding countries who flocked to it for the good paying jobs that Jewish development had spawned. An observer in Syria at the time described the exodus of Arab villagers from southern Syria into Palestine. So many Arabs left for Palestine that many of these southern Arab villages in Syria were emptied of their inhabitants. (Arab immigration to Palestine was easy because Palestine was considered to be a southern province of Syria.)
Anti-Israel advocates have distorted the history of Israel. According to them, a Jew who arrived in Palestine in the 1880s is not a Palestinian, while an Arab who arrived in 1945 is. This is part of the anti-Israel narrative.
Israel has never carried out genocide against Arabs, targeted their non-combatant civilians, placed them in reservations or extinguished their culture.
Despite accusations to the contrary, Israel never systematically drove Palestinian Arabs from their lands. Six hundred fifty thousand Arabs fled their homes or were expelled as a result of the war initiated by the unprovoked invasion of Israel by five Arab states in 1948. Arabs in a few locations were ousted by the Haganah, the Israeli army, as a matter of self-defense. (Many Arab villages maintained militias and used their villages for arms storage, military training, bivouacking of troops and launching pads for attacks against Jewish communities. These militias closed road traffic to Jews throughout Palestine. As a result, during the 1947-1949 war, 100,000 Jews in Jerusalem were cut off from the outside world and faced starvation.)
But most Arabs fled because of the actions of their leaders. Many fled at the advice of Arab leaders who wanted a free hand to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Many others fled when the Palestinian Higher Committee, in an attempt to spur surrounding Arab countries to invade Palestine and kill the Jews, spread false rumors of massacres of Arabs supposedly committed by Jewish militias. The plan backfired. Instead of hastening the invasion of Israel by the Arab countries, it caused a panic among the Arab population of Palestine. This led to massive flight.
Few believed that the small Jewish community of Palestine would survive the 1948 onslaught of five Arab armies and thousands of “volunteer” fighters from across the Arab world. The Jews paid a terrible price to defend their new country: 6,000 Jewish civilians and soldiers died. In comparative terms, if the United States fought a war today against invading armies, it would be as if 3,200,000 Americans died.
After Israel’s miraculous survival of the Arab invasion, 850,000 Jews were expelled or forced to leave surrounding Arab countries. So what happened was a population exchange. Although the exchange was involuntary, it was not unusual in the post-World War II period, when 60 million people in Europe and Asia were forced to resettle away from their original homes.1
A Nation of Jews: A Just Cause
The Jews of Israel are not usurpers in a foreign land. They have done nothing wrong. They have done a lot right.
They have built a great nation where Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, have equal rights. They have transformed swamps and deserts into an affluent modern nation. They have built a cutting-edge society with a standard of living equal to that of countries with far greater advantages. They have managed to survive and thrive despite constant threats and attacks from Arab neighbors.
Israel is truly a multicultural nation. It is forged from millions of Jews who have come from different language groups, cultures, and nations across the globe. It is home to 1.5 million Arabs, as well as other minorities such as Baha’i, Greek Orthodox and Circassians.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East with democratic institutions. In a region of unstable and brutal dictatorships, it is a bulwark of Western values of freedom. Israel is a world leader in a wide array of fields from medicine, digital technology, water management, agriculture, defense, education, and more. And Israelis share their knowledge with many countries, benefitting the entire world.
Progressives support the national liberation movement of every imaginable national minority, including Palestinians, who, until the 1960s, never considered themselves to be different from Syrians or Arabs. There is only one national liberation movement that progressives do not support: that of the Jews. That national liberation movement is Zionism, the movement to re-establish a Jewish homeland on its original territory.
Despite great obstacles, the Jews have realized their dream, recited in Jewish prayers for two millennia: “next year in Jerusalem.”
1. Refugees and Displaced Persons Before, During, and After World War II, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from: