The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.

The People's History

We all know about the recent 3am sessions at Camp David, not to finish an 18.01 problem set, but to forge a "final-status" peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. We are reassured our benevolent President worked tirelessly for peace, that enlightened Barak has gone further than any Israeli prime minister has gone (or perhaps can go) in accommodating Palestinian desires on Jerusalem, and that the intransigent ex-terrorist Arafat scuttled the talks by maintaining old, failed demands for diving Jerusalem. So weíve been told. We think a detailed presentation of this conflictís historical realities contradicts much of the received wisdom about it and reveals much about American imperialism.

Let us cast our gaze to a distant time and place, Palestine 2000 years ago. After decades of Jewish revolts, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 AD and expelled most Jews from Palestine. Thus began yet another Jewish diaspora, scattering them throughout the Roman world. A number of Jews ended up living in Europe. Except in Muslim Spain, they were almost universally despised. Jews suffered persecution and even slaughter in the Inquisition and pogroms. The Church deemed living Jews personally responsible for killing Christ. They were frequently forbidden from owning land and farming, forcing them into professions like money-lending (usury, or lending money at interest, was a sin before the Renaissance). The Renaissance and Enlightenment improved their lot somewhat; nonetheless, anti-Semitism persisted even in "enlightened" countries like France, as evidenced by the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. Faced with continued suffering but also endowed with some power, the movement to create a Jewish homeland in biblical Palestine - Zionism - was born. Zionism began in earnest in the late 19th century, with Jewish settlers beginning to come to Palestine, then controlled by the decaying Ottoman Empire. Besides biblical ruins, there also happened to be some native Arabs, the Palestinians.

Let us examine Jewish claims to Palestine. 2000 years ago, Jews lived in Palestine. Rome expelled them at swordpoint. Many sites in Palestine are sacred to Judaism - some Jews deem the entire land holy. Many Americans know biblical history and view these claims sympathetically. But how do most people react to Serb claims over Kosovo because of its historic and religious importance to them (in 1389 Prince Lazar valiantly led the Serbs to defeat against the advancing Ottomans)? Most of us laugh: "1389? Prince Lazar??? What century are you in? 90% of the people actually living in Kosovo are ethnic-Albanian Muslims." If ancestral inhabitation or religious significance outweigh the lives of human beings actually living somewhere, perhaps white America should use the return leg of their ancestorís Mayflower ticket.

Regardless of the merits of their claims to Palestine, rich and powerful Zionists, such as the French-Jewish Rothschild banking dynasty,persuaded Britain to formally support a Jewish homeland in Palestine in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. After the Allies carved up the Ottoman Empire at Versailles in 1919, Palestine was given to the British as a League of Nations Mandate. This granted Britain control to purportedly prepare Palestine for self-government, and endorsed a Jewish homeland. In 1923 Britain made the lands east of the Jordan River into an autonomous Arab state, Transjordan, and threw in that odd panhandle in east Jordan ("Churchillís Hiccup"). Many Zionist claimed that since 76% of Mandate Palestine was thereby given to the Arabs, the Jews should get the rest. But did the human residents, the Palestinians, ever agree to the Belfour Declaration? Alas, there are no French-Hashemite Abdullah banking dynasties, so the natives in Palestine are irrelevant. Disregard for the Palestinians sand lumping all Arabs together (Palestinians and Jordanians are ethnically disinct and donít live harmoniously in modern Jordan) represents a deep racism, equivalent to saying, "blacks have so many African states, why canít whites have South Africa?"

Six million deaths later, conscience and guilt moved the world to try to settle "The Jewish Question" in some way other than genocide (forget trying to settle the "Hatred Question" or "Violence Question" or "Oppression Question"). The British had made a (literally) bloody mess of Palestine and wanted to get out fast after the War, due to clashes with and between Arab and Jewish paramilitaries and terrorists. In a rare moment of post-War cooperation, Russia and America agreed on a Jewish state in Palestine. A UN commission recommended partitioning Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. Never mind the outbreak of violence in 1939 in central Europe related to nationalism and religious intolerance: splitting a region slightly larger than Vermont along religious and ethnic lines was the path to peace. The commission sought input almost exclusively from Jewish residents of Palestine and allotted them lands far greater than their proportion of the population, including most of the fertile coastland and other valuable areas. Note that Jerusalem was envisioned as an international city, surrounded comfortably on all sides by the proposed Arab state.

The UN General Assembly approved the partition plan on 29 November 1947, with every Arab member state voting nay and promising to stop the formation of a Jewish state by force. The Arabs wanted a unified, heterogeneous Palestine (perhaps because they outnumbered the Jews). Jewish forces had meanwhile conquered many areas not granted them by the UN and on 14 May 1948, the day appointed by the UN resolution, Israel unilaterally declared statehood. War ensued. A cease-fire with the Arab states was reached in early 1949 along the "Green Line," reflecting the borders of Israel with its newly conquered territories. Israel now reached to Jerusalem and controlled half the city, partitioning their "eternal and undivided" capital.

Israel displaced about 1 million Arabs as it annexed these lands and expelled others from Israel proper. For 50 years they have lived as pariahs in refugee camps or as tenth-class citizens throughout the Arab world. They are at issue in the question of the Palestinian "right of return." Israeli officials and William Safire deride the right of return as an attempt to destroy the demographic character of Israel. Decoding, this means that Israel would no longer be 80% Jewish but much more balanced if we were to include the population that was actually living in Israel at the time of its birth, minus those killed, dead, and never born due to appalling living conditions.

After this traumatic birth, Jordan and Egypt "administered" the West Bank and Gaza Strip (the remaining Arab areas), not allowing a Palestinian state to form. Israel joined Britain and France in a military takeover of the Sinai Peninsula and Suez Canal in 1956 to prevent Egyptís Nassar from nationalizing it, so juvenile that the US joined the world and forced them out. Partly due to backfired Russian schemes, Israel pre-emptively attacked its neighbors and easily won the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights of Syria, and again the Sinai. Israel planned on annexing these lands the way it had the "Green Line" territories, displacing the Arab population, colonizing the land with Jewish settlements, and gaining international acceptance in a few decades.

Unfortunately, the Arab world refused to cooperate. Egypt instigated the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Israel won, but it was not the resounding victory of 1948 and 1967. Israel and Henry Kissinger decided Egypt needed to be neutralized so Israel could absorb the Palestinian territories. Egypt and Israel made peace in 1978 at Camp David, when Israel returned the Sinai in exchange for recognition by and "peace" with Egypt. Egypt also became the #2 recipient of US foreign aid, second to Israel, which has been the highest recipients for decades. Israel uses this money to buy American weapons and indirectly fund the "settlement" (read: colonization) of Palestinian lands, despite Congressional prohibitions. With its southwest frontier secure, Israel ignited a civil war in Lebanon in 1978, supporting the Marinate Christian militia in the south against the Lebanese government (itself a puppet of Syria). Israel has directly occupied a region of southern Lebanon called the "security zone" from 1982† until this spring.

Contrary to 1948, the world did not forget Israelís occupation. The UN has passed countless resolutions condemning it and demanding Palestinian rights be recognized. These votes are invariably over 130 yea (the glboal consensus), at most 30 abstentions (US allies who probably support Palestinian claims), and 3 against (Israel, the United States, and El Salvador, Maldives, or some country bribed to soothe our ego). Given this global consensus in support of the Palestinians, Israelís long maintenance of the occupation is a testament to what US backing can do.

More importantly, the Palestinians did not forget. Israel couldnít deport or expel them (partly because it needs them for cheap labor), and witnessed a massive, popular revolt against their military occupation starting in 1988, the Intifada. After years of being taxed, searched, censored, beaten, raped, and shot at, the Palestinians had enough - many risked and gave their lives to let Israel, the US, and the world know. Israel realized something had to be done. Thankfully, the Gulf War happened, increasing US power and influence with Arab states. In the aftermath, the US and Israel seized the "window of opportunity" to finally start negotiations with the PLO on a final settlement. The Oslo Accords of 1993 formally began Israeli negotiations with the PLO and trasnsfer of control over parts of the occupied territories to the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Israel sped up settlement construction, eviction of Arabs from Israel and especially "greater Jerusalem," and economic colonization of Palestine. But still, it looks like the Palestinians will at long last have an independent state.

There are some disturbing questions about the peace process. First, the US is clearly not a neutral party; why is it mediating this dispute? What about the UN? The UN is only allowed by the US to be effective when it either agrees with US interests (e.g. the Persian Gulf War) or in an irrelevant domain (such as a country like Sierra Leone). Given US vital interest in supporting Israel, and the universal support for the Palestinians, the UN cannot play a role. While the Clinton administration has somewhat softened its opposition to the PLO (and sometimes sided with them during Netenyahuís term), it is primarily the movement of the PLO toward the US/Israel position, namely their recognition of Israelís right to exist and dropping of their support for a unified, multi-ethnic state of Palestine/Israel, that has led them to accept Clinton as mediator. Second, what kind of Palestinian state is being created? A look at the proposed "final-status" maps show a country partitioned into 5 regions by tendrils extending from Israel and "greater Jerusalem", with the Jordanian border under Israeli control. As Dr. Adel Samara has written extensively on how Israel is creating a state that is economically utterly subservient to itself, completely acquiescent to WTO/IMF/World Bank exploitative policies. Is this a free, independent state? Is this peace? Is this justice?

Another revealing observation is the moral framework in which the negotiations are viewed. The talks are a big poker game, a horse-trade between the Israelis and the Palestinians, each with something the other one wants: "land" and "peace," respectively (as if the Palestinians want war?). They are not as an Israeli withdrawal from lands it wrongly took over by war. Clinton never speaks about how we must not reward Israeli aggression or deny the Palestinians their God-given and decades-deferred rights. Imagine discussing German withdrawal from Czechoslovakia, or Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, 30 years after an invasion, as negotiations where each party must make concessions.

Perhaps the strongest statement about our moral climate comes from our view about rightful land claims. As mentioned above, many Americans see Jewish claims rooted in ancient history to have some validity. Given the horrors of the Holocaust, the impetus to give the Jewish people someplace they can be safe may stem from genuine sympathy for a people that truly has been oppressed for centuries. However, the Palestinian right of return is barely mentioned here, except to condemn it as a plot to alter Israelís make-up. This question does not concern claims to land based on people dead for 2000 years, but on refugees who are alive today. The very victims of aggression and persecution, not just in Israel but as outcasts throughout the Arab world, are right now living, breathing, waiting, hoping. People who saw their fathers killed, homes destroyed, businesses ruined, wives raped, are still with us, and deserve the same compassion and compensation as Holocaust survivors.

Why is it that these living victims of war have been neglected by Americans for 50 years, while Hebraic claims to the land of milk and honey find receptive ears? Can we be that racist? Perhaps. But perhaps this indicates something about our political and media culture, where we are inundated with the pro-Israel position. Perhaps this points to a lack of true diversity in the ideas and information the public has access to. Perhaps serious examination of "The Jewish Question" will make us ask the "Knowledge Question," "Thought Question," and "Freedom Question." As the Talmud asks, "If not now, when?"


The Thistle Volume 13, Number 1: August 29, 2000.