Tens of thousands of Jews immigrated into Palestine—-but so did many thousands of Arabs.
Do you have a well-meaning friend as I do? One who says things like,
- “If you were a Palestinian how would you feel if a group of foreigners suddenly arrived and took over your land?”
- “The Jews replaced an existing state of Palestinians.”
- “If they wanted a state, why didn’t Israelis create a shared country where everyone is free to worship his own God?”
- “The US and Europe forced Israel on the Arabs. The only reason the Jews were able to impose a Jewish state on the Arabs was that the US supported it with arms and money.”
- “The Jews are not a people. Judaism is a religion. So the Jews are not entitled to a state.”
- “Israel subjugates Palestinians.”
- “Israel does not represent my values.”
In this post, I respond to my friend’s misconceptions.
“If you were a Palestinian how would you feel if a group of foreigners suddenly arrived and took over your land?”
Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel for over 3,500 years. Over millennia they have survived the conquest of the region by many foreign powers.
In the Roman Wars of the first and second century, many Jews were killed or expelled. However, Jews continued to live in significant numbers in what is Israel today. Jews never left Palestine entirely. They continued to live in the Galilee, Golan, Gaza, Judea and Samaria.
North Africa and the Middle East—-including Palestine—-were colonized by invading Muslim armies from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century.
The Ottoman Empire ruled from the sixteenth century to 1918.
During Ottoman rule, Palestine was left in ruins from the Ottoman’s onerous taxation, their failure to invest in the area, and in the 1800s, harsh land policies that nullified the deeds of local inhabitants.
Palestine became partially depopulated. This was evidenced by Mark Twain’s famous 1867 book, Innocents Abroad, which described his journey through a desolate Palestine with hardly a person, tree or bush in sight for miles. (One exception was the rich agricultural area of the Jezreel Valley.)
Modern Zionist Jews came to Palestine beginning with the first Aliyah (immigration) in 1882. From then until the establishment of the state of Israel, tens of thousands of Jews immigrated into Palestine—-but so did many thousands of Arabs. They came from surrounding regions for the jobs created by Jewish development—-land reclamation, farming and light industry.
No fair reading of history would claim that the Jews were foreign to Palestine.
The new state of Israel declared its independence in May of 1948. The armies of five of Israel’s Arab neighbors immediately invaded.
Israel repelled the invading Arab armies (losing one per cent of its population in the process). In the ensuing months and years, 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries were expelled or were forced to flee, losing their homes, land, bank accounts and businesses. The vast majority of expelled Jews settled in Israel. Estimates of the number of Arabs who were expelled or fled Israel as a result of the Arab-initiated war, run from 650,000 to 700,000. That is about one per cent of the 60 million civilians who became refugees in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
Today half of Israel’s Jewish population are those who fled Arab countries and their descendants. I don’t know why so many ideologues argue that “all the Israeli Jews came from Europe.”
“The Jews replaced an existing state of Palestinians.”
There has never been a Palestinian state.
In 1947, at international hearings to discuss the proposed UN partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the Arab representatives from Palestine strenuously objected. They viewed themselves as Syrian, and insisted on remaining part of that country. They rejected the idea of a separate Palestinian identity.
In 1948, Syria, Palestine and the surrounding areas had never been a nation. They were part of the Roman Empire, later the Ottoman Empire and then under British and French Mandate.
In pre-state Israel you would find: the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Palestine Post Office, the Palestine Post (newspaper), the Palestine Soccer League, the Anglo-Palestine Company, and many other such organizations. All were Jewish.
On the other hand, many Arab institutions did not refer to themselves as Palestinian.
From the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 until the late 1960s, Arabs referred to themselves as Arabs or Israeli Arabs, not Palestinians. The Jews were called Jews or Israeli Jews.
The change came in 1964 when Yasir Arafat founded the terrorist group, the PLO, with the goal of destroying Israel by armed struggle, i.e., terrorist attacks against civilians.
A few years later, Arafat’s Russian handlers advised him to end his “destroy Israel” rhetoric in favor of the politically palatable narrative that the Arabs of Palestine were engaged in a national liberation movement like those of other third world people.
This is when the term Palestinian began to refer exclusively to Arabs.
“If they wanted a state, why didn’t Israelis create a shared country where everyone is free to worship his own God?”
The 1947 UN Partition Plan did in fact propose a small international zone. It consisted of the city of Jerusalem with its Muslim, Christian and Jewish populations, and was to be administered by the United Nations.
This never happened.
Upon Israel’s establishment in 1948, Israel’s Arab neighbors launched a war to destroy the new state. Jordan attacked and conquered East Jerusalem. The Jordanian army expelled the Jewish population which had been in place since ancient times. During the subsequent 19 year Jordanian occupation, Jews were not allowed access to their holy sites. The sites were damaged and defiled. Arabs smashed tens of thousands of Jewish gravestones in the holy Mount of Olives cemetery; they turned the Western Wall into a garbage dump; and looted Jewish homes under the eyes of Jordanian forces. The Jordanians destroyed all but one of the 35 synagogues in the Old City.
The idea of a shared country—a binational state for Jews and Arabs—sounds good in theory. But it is not realistic. If a binational state were ever established, it would quickly turn into another Arab state. After all, Israel has fewer than seven million Jews, while Arab countries are home to 370 million Arabs and Muslims.
And how have Jews fared in Arab countries? For centuries they have been the target of state-supported discrimination, violence and periodic massacres. Egypt is one example.
In the 1920s, Egypt stripped all Egyptian Jews of their citizenship. Later they passed legislation that required all Egyptian employers to maintain a workforce of 90% Egyptian citizens. This led to the impoverishment of thousands of Egyptian Jews.
In the years following the establishment of the state of Israel, government-encouraged riots and targeted bombings of the Jewish community and businesses resulted in over 100 deaths, hundreds of injured, and the leveling of over 200 Jewish businesses.
In 1967, all adult Jewish Egyptian men were imprisoned. While in prison they were subject to abusive conditions including systematic beatings. Jewish prisoners were forced to run in circles and chant anti-Israel slogans while being whipped. Some remained in prison for three years. After their release they were forced from the country. Continued persecution led to the flight or expulsion of the entire Jewish population, save for a handful of elderly Jews.
Jews in other Arab countries faced similar circumstances. Arab countries today are free of Jews with the exception of tiny remnant Jewish communities in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
“The US and Europe forced Israel on the Arabs. The only reason the Jews were able to impose a Jewish state on Arab territory was that the US supported it with arms and money.”
Israel received US economic aid soon after its establishment, and it began buying US arms in 1962. But it received no grants for military aid until Egypt and Syria’s invasion of the Sinai and the Golan in 1973. That was a quarter century after Israel’s founding.
“The Jews are not a people. Judaism is a religion. So the Jews are not entitled to a state.”
Mohammed, the founder of Islam in the seventh century, thought the Jews were a people. That is why he dubbed them “the people of the Book (Torah).”
The warrant in international law for the establishment of the modern Jewish state is contained in the League of Nation’s San Remo Resolutions, approved in 1922. The Resolutions called for a “Jewish home” (nation) to be established in what is today Israel, Gaza, the “West Bank” and Jordan. (Soon thereafter, Jordan was detached from the area reserved for the Jewish state.)
When the UN was established in 1945, it incorporated the San Remo Resolutions into its charter. That is where it remains to this day. Despite some advisory UN resolutions, the provisions of the San Remo Resolution have never been rescinded. They remain international law.
In the end, Israel was left with 1/6 of one percent of the land mass of the Arab world. That is smaller than the state of New Jersey.
“Israelis subjugate Palestinians.”
About twenty per cent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, with rights protected by Basic Laws and a Declaration of Independence. There is some discrimination, but it is not all anti-Arab. For example, if a Jew tried to live in an Arab village in Israel he would be harmed or killed.
And yes, some Jews are bigots. But unlike some Arabs who engage in murderous anti-Jewish incitement, they are not supported by the apparatus of the state, the media and non-governmental organizations.
In a recent public opinion poll of Israeli Arabs, about two-thirds agreed that Israel was a good place for Arabs to live. Even Arab non-citizens in East Jerusalem are rushing these days to sign up for Hebrew language courses—in order to get well-paying Israeli jobs. Almost 20% of graduates of Israeli universities are Arab. Almost a quarter of Israeli doctors are Arabs, as are almost half the pharmacists. Arabs and Jews work side-by-side in hospitals all across Israel where they see Jewish and Arab patients in shared rooms.
Many Arabs have advanced to high positions in Israeli society, such as Supreme Court Justice, members of the Knesset (Parliament), ambassadors to foreign countries, and head of homeland security.
“Israel does not represent my values.”
Israel is the only country in the Middle East that upholds liberal Western values.
Consider women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of religion, democratic governance, a free and independent judiciary, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly—-in short, democratic institutions and practices, and the values that support them. These democratic practices can be found nowhere else in the Middle East.
The nonpartisan organization, Freedom House, has given Israel its top rating as a democratic society with a fair and free political life. Arab countries have been rated as autocratic regimes with minimal political rights or severe repression.
For My Friend
I understand where my friend acquired his misperceptions about Israel.
International and national media outlets regularly promote these misconceptions. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have propagandized against Israel from its inception. Religious leaders, including those from the Muslim and Christian faiths, have added to the chorus of condemning voices. Nongovernmental organizations—often funded by hostile states and individuals—have been added to the anti-Israel mix.
I want to tell my friend that things are not always as they appear. I hope he visits Israel someday to find out for himself.