Perspective on The Palestinian Tragedy

“Only then will the young and old in our land realize how great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we sow and harvest; the fruit of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we robbed, we put houses of education, charity and prayer.” Martin Buber, 1961


1840: Lord Ashley writes to UKs foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, his step-father, that the latter had been “chosen by God” to “return the Jews to their inheritance in the land of Promise”. Ashley, a fervent evangelical Christian, was convinced that the Scriptures were soon to be literally fulfilled.

Until recently, the history of ancient Palestine has been ignored and silenced by biblical studies whose object of interest has been ancient Israel conceived and presented as the taproot of Western civilization. Biblical studies have been dominated by Christian theologys focus on the history of ancient Israel as revealed in the Hebrew Bible. This is because Christianity is conceived of as a religion based on revelation through history. Thus, “ancient Israel is the domain of Religion or Theology and not of history. The “ancient Israel” of biblical studies is a scholarly construct based on misreading of biblical traditions and divorced from historical reality (emphasis added).

Recent archeological studies, for example, show that pork was not consumed by most of the ancient peoples of Palestine. Pig prohibition was not unique to the Israelites and was a sensible reaction to the large amounts of scarce water needed to raise them. In the book of Joshua, entire Canaanite villages are eradicated by a victorious Israelite army of tribes that had been freed from slavery in Egypt to march in and conquer the land. Except, thats not how it happened. All the latest evidence indicates no swift invasion around 1250-1225 B.C.E., the time attributed to Israelite settlement in Canaan. “It is difficult to tell an Israelite from a Canaanite because the Israelites and the Canaanites were one and the same people.”4 Complete study of the Dead Sea Scrolls clearly showed that over the course of centuries the stories of the Bible had been intentionally reworkedupdated, many scholars speculated, to reflect current concerns.

Nevertheless, “it was some shock to realize that the narratives in Deuteronomy 7.1-11, 9.1-5, 11.8-9, 23.31-32 and 20.16-18 present “ethnic cleansing” as not only legitimate, but as required by the deity”.11

Last half of 19th century: “According to the German theory, people of common descent.should form one common state. Pan-Germanism was based on the idea that all persons if the German race, blood or descent, wherever they lived or to whatever state they belonged, owe their primary loyalty to Germany and should become citizens of the German state, their true homeland”. Analogous assumptions informed the distinctive Zionist approach to the Jewish Question. In effect this analysis duplicated the reasoning of anti-Semitism.2 In fact, in 1867 many of Austrias Jews were the most ardent representatives of the Anschluss idea.

1896: Zionism-the Herzl plan, responded to European mal-treatment of Jews (in part stimulated by the new nationalism) and called for a Jewish state. The Jews should recognize that they were not a religious group merely, but a true nation waiting to be reborn. His idea startled Jewry and shocked many Jews. Jewry as a whole was not converted to Zionism until the atrocious Nazi attempt at genocide.1 Once it became a serious enterprise, Zionism became patently a colonial enterprise. The time was the 1890s, the heyday of European imperialism; Africa partitioned and Kipling urging the Americans “to take up the White Mans burden” in the newly acquired Philippines.

In 1903, the British Foreign Secretary told the Zionists that Britain was prepared to discuss a suitable site in East Africa “for the establishment of a Jewish colony or settlement, on terms which will enable the members to observe their national customs”.1 This was “the Uganda offer” in which the Ugandans had no apparent role. Argentina was also posited, again, I suspect without asking the Argentineans

Targeting Palestine

British Foreign Secretary Balfour (of the Declaration) introduced an Aliens Bill in 1905 to control immigration; the Bill was directed against the flood of Jews from Eastern Europe. (The Jewish population in the UK expanded from 65,000 in 1880 to 300,000 by 1914).1 There was also up to the end of WWI a strong Jewish anti-Zionist position. In the June 1917 NYT Henry Moskowitz described the curse of nationalism which hung over the world as its most terrible war raged “in which the idea of domination has given certain nations a form of megalomania”. He had no wish for the Jews to join the game and argued against Jewish nationalism; instead, Jews needed a revival of the Hebraic spirit which gave birth to Israels vision, to Davids psalms, to Spinozas God. Quite apart from injustice in Palestine itself Jewish nationalism was a direct threat to assimilated Jews everywhere.1

Furious political warfare finally led to Balfours declaration , 2 November 1917: “Her Majestys governmentfavorsa national home for the Jewish people, and will use its best efforts (for this objective), it being clearly understood that nothingmay prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. It was inspired by high idealism and cynical calculation.1 One historian wondered whether “Lloyd George and Balfour merely took their knowledge of Palestine from the Bible, which in this respect happened to be out of date”.1 The Declaration stored up trouble for the future, as did the contradictory promises of independence made to Arabs in 1916-1917 who were urged to and did rebel against the Ottoman Turks. Not everyone was deluded. Lord Curzon pointed out that the half million Arabs in the proposed home “will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants or to act as mere hewers of wood and drawers of water for them”. 1

As for the US, one of President Wilsons 14 points addressed “nationalities now under Turkish rule (Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians)” who were to be “assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development”.1 In the 1948 presidential election year, President Truman hastily recognized the newly declared State of Israel. Truman, like his predecessor and successor, was happier for Jews to enter Palestine,than for renewed Jewish immigration to America on the scale known before 1914.1

The standard Zionist position is that they showed up in Palestine to reclaim their ancestral homeland in the late 19th century. Jews bought land and started building up a Jewish community there. They were met with increasingly violent opposition from Palestinian Arabs, presumably stemming from the Arabs inherent anti-Semitism. The Zionists were then forced to defend themselves and in one form or another, this same situation continues up to today. The problem with this explanation is that it is simply not true (emphasis added).”

What really happened was that the Zionist movement executed a complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population so that Israel could be a wholly Jewish state. In short, Zionism was based on a colonialist world-view that the rights of indigenous inhabitants didnt matter. The Arabs opposition was not anti-Semitism but based on fear of the dispossession of their people which eventuated. The mythic “land without people for a people without land” was already home to 700,000 Palestinians in 1919.7

Israels Statehood and Palestinian Expulsion, 1948

The UN with strong US backing proposed partition of Palestine in November 1947. The Palestinians rejected the plan because , while the population of the Jewish state was to be [only half Jewish] with Jews owning less than 10% of the Jewish state land area, the Jews were to be established as the ruling body.7

In April, 1948, a month before the declaration of statehood, Jewish soldiers slaughtered in a cold and premeditated fashion (250) civilians at Deir Yassin. According to the former director of the Israeli army archives, in almost every occupied Arab village, acts which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres, and rapes were committed. Every skirmish ended in a massacre of Arabs. Consequently, the Arabs fled.7

When the UN accepted the partition resolution in 1947, Jews constituted 32% of the population and owned 5.6% of the land. By 1949, largely as a result of paramilitary operations such as the Haganah, Irgun, and Stern gang, Israel controlled 80% of Palestine and 770,000 non-Jews had been expelled from their country. (Faisal Bodi writing in The Manchester Guardian, January 3, 2001).

Israel has negated the right of refugee return that has been affirmed by UN General Assembly resolution 194 since December 11,1948 and reaffirmed 28 times.7 Under Section 11 of UNGAR194, Palestinians not wishing to return home should be paid just and equitable compensation. In November 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories and a just settlement of the refugee problem. On December 22, 2000, Human Rights Watch called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged in final status negotiations to uphold the right of return for Palestinian refugees who should be allowed to choose: 1) returning to their country of origin; 2) integrating into a country of asylum; or 3) resettling in a third country.

On September 17, 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte, of Sweden, who had saved thousands of Jews from destruction by the Nazi , and now the Mediator appointed by the UN General Assembly, was assassinated by the Israelis.Muitiple references

The Israeli/Arab Wars

The 1956 coordinated attack on Suez by Israel, Great Britain and France was neither, as first claimed by the Israel, a preventive war nor a retaliatory raid, but a well planned attempt to expand into the whole of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza strip. Menachem Begin leader of the Herut (later Likud) party and later Prime Minister spoke before the the Israeli parliament in October 1955: “I deeply believe in launching preventive war against the Arab states without further hesitation. By doing so, we can annihilate Arab power, and secondly, expand our territory (emphasis added).8

Israel was the aggressor in the 1967 war. After the war, in violation of international law, Israel confiscated over 52% of the West Bank and 30% of the Gaza Strip for military use and for settlement of Jewish colonists (400,000 at latest count, 70,000 of which moved in since the start of the Oslo process. see below). Vast settlements housing nearly 200,000 colonists have been built on confiscated Palestinian land around East Jerusalem. From 1967 to 1982, Israel demolished 1,338 Palestinian homes on the West Bank and detained 300,000 Palestinians without trial. All Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories since 1967 violate the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (Article 49) which Israel signed.7+others Israel continues to violate UN Security Council resolution 242 which has been accepted by the Palestinians.

The October 1973 war (Yom Kippur) resulted from Israels refusal to swap land (back to the 1967 bordersUNSCR 242) for peace. With diplomatic settlement blocked, Egypts president Sadat chose war. The Gulf States chose the oil embargo. Egypts performance forced a cease fire based on UNSCR 338: 1) implementation of UNSCR 242; 2) Negotiations for peace; 3) just settlement of the Palestinian Problem.8 Sadat went to Jerusalem in November 1977. Egypt made peace for return of its land with the condition that there be justice for the Palestinians under UN Resolutions 242 and 338. Israel has paid lip service to the conditions. But the negotiations were called off because of Israels inflexibility.8

This moved President Carter to call Sadat and Begin to Camp David. Both Camp David I and II failed to provide just relief for the Palestinians. Israel complicated matters seriously by placing Jewish settlements on confiscated Arab lands in the Occupied Territories and transferring Jews to become permanent residents. In so doing Israel violated the 1907 Hague Convention on Laws and Customs of War on Land, and the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Time of War.8

In The Washington Post on November 26, 2000, President Carter writes that the underlying reason for the failure of diplomacy and continued violence has been that Israeli leaders continue to “create facts” by building settlements in occupied territory. He continues that these settlements directly violate the Camp David accords which agreed to the pre-1967 borders.

The Intifadas and the “Peace Process”

Abba Eban, the former UN Representative from Israel, wrote in the New York Times of November 9, 1986: “The Palestinians live without a right to vote or be elected, without controlover the conditions of their lives, exposed to restraints and punishments that could be applied if they were Jews. It is a bleak, tense, disgruntled existencethis condition can not long endure without explosion.”9 And so it did explode with the first intifada in December 1987. Young Palestinians rose in protest, not with arms but with stones, knowing full well that they could not compete with Israeli bullets and more sophisticated weapons supplied by the United States. In the first three years 892 Palestinian men, women and children were killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers, while the number of wounded is estimated to be over 106,000.

Yasser Arafat appeared before the UN meeting at Geneva in December 1988 and outlined Palestinian proposals for a permanent solution to the conflict. These included: 1) convening a peace conference under UN auspices; 2) UN assuming administration of the West Bank and Gaza pending final settlement; 3) PLO condemned all forms of terrorist activities, including state-terrorism; and, 4) PLO accepts Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 (even though the Israel and not the PLO was the subject of those resolutions).9 This abandoned once and for all the long nurtured Palestinian dream of a democratic and secular state in all of Palestine.

The settlement question took on new urgency from 1989 on as events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union produced a flood of Soviet Jewish emigrants. Most wanted to go to the US but Washington imposed preventive immigration quotas.9

“To the Moslems belongs the sole ownership of, and the sole proprietary right to, the Western Wallan integral part of the Haram Ash-Sharif area, which is a Waqf [pious foundation] property.”

“To the Moslems also belongs the ownership of the pavement in front of the Wall and the adjacent Moroccan Quarter in as much as the latter was made a “Waqf”, being dedicated to charitable purposes”

This verdict gave Jews the unhindered right to place near the Wall the Table on which the Ark containing the Scrolls of the Law could stand and be read on certain specified occasions. No restriction was placed on individual Jews performing their usual devotions at the Wall. In 1982 when I visited the Haram Ash-Sharif I found it surrounded by Israeli property; indeed, modern apartment buildings for absentee Jews to view the Wall during visits faced the Wall.

Through it all horrifying massacres occurred. One was that at the Haram Ash-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque in October 1990. This pre-saged the massacre on September 28, 2000 when Israeli soldiers fired on a crowd on the sacred square above the Wailing Wall from which stones had been thrown. This massacre set off Intifada II. Relevant to both massacres is the similar clash between Moslems and fanatical Zionists in September 1928. Consequently an investigation committee was formed under the League of Nations in January 1930 which heard the claims of both parties and concluded:

Only when Zionism is being evaluated are normal rules of morality suspended. Whatever the pangs of conscience one might have about the expulsion of the Palestinians and destruction of their villages, the Bible is called on to salve it. Zionism, a program originally despised by Orthodox Judaism as anti-religious and by Reform Judaism as contrary to the mission of Judaism is now at the core of the Jewish credo. And credulous Christians allow themselves to be sucked into the vortex. Nevertheless, I continue to be impressed by the number of distinguished writings by Orthodox and more liberal Jews that deplore the Zionist project and the horror it has inflicted on the Palestinian people.

When Ariel Sharon guarded by about 1000 Israeli police strode into Jerusalems Haram al-Sharif (the “Noble Sanctuary”) on September 28, 2000, the area had been sealed off before, during and after his visit, scarcely ensuring freedom of access. The next day the Israeli army shot eight Palestinians dead some of whom had been hurling stones at police. The world news media ignored that international law entitles the natives of a place under military occupationwhich East Jerusalem has been since 1967to resist by any means possible. All European countries had their resistance fighters during WWII who are lauded as heroes not as terrorists. The Israeli human rights organization Btselem confirmed eye-witness reports that stones were aimed at the armada of Israeli police whose presence on the Aqso precinct was a provocation. The police did not use tear gas to stop the stone throwing but immediately opened fire with rubber-covered bullets which kill at close range. (Amira Hass, correspondent for Haaretrz (Tel Aviv) in the Palestinian Territories as reprinted in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2000). Thus, Intifada II began.

The Intifada I with its remarkable self-discipline and courage was an indigenous uprising, including, in fact, highly organized non-violent resistance in addition to more spontaneous stone throwing. It was neither initiated nor controlled by the PLO leadership in exileindicating that Arafat no longer spoke for the Palestinian people. Thus, it came as a surprise when Arafat joined Prime Minister Rabin in signing the September 1993 Oslo Accords.

Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law, Illinois State University. was Legal Advisor to the Palestinian delegation during the 1991-1993 peace negotiations. He was asked by the Palestinian Peace Team what was the closest historical analogue to the Israeli peace offer. He reported: “A bantustan, they are offering you a bantustan, akin to those forced by the apartheid Afrikaaner regime on its black people”. The Palestinian delegation rejected this proposal. But the Israeli government took this proposal and opened up a secret (to almost all the leadership of the Palestinian people let alone the people themselves) channel of negotiations. This Bantustan proposal became the Oslo Agreement.

And what of this vaunted “peace process”? The miserable condition of the Palestinians and loss of life has become much worse since the signing. 110,000 Jews lived in illegal settlements in Gaza and the West Bank before Oslo. This number has increased to 195,000, not including more than 150,000 Jews who have since taken up residence in Arab East Jerusalem.12

These settlements, more appropriately labeled “colonies”, whose presence even the US had always considered a violation of international lawincreased more rapidly under Ehud Barak than under right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu. Moreover the settlements were linked with permanent, multi-lane highways running through Palestinian lands, orchards and homes confiscated for the purpose. 13 These settlements make the Palestinian part of Gaza and the West Bank (now only 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) into a bantusan of 15 cantons in a sea of Israeli occupation and settlement. Thus Palestinians have been crushed into 64% of the 22%.


Thus far, in Intifada II 350 Palestinians have been killed and 14,000 wounded.14 Forensic experts of the U.S. based Physicians for Human Rights reported that the Israeli army “has used live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators, and that based on the numbers of head and thigh injuries, soldiers appear to be shooting to inflict harm and not in self-defense”.

United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited Israel/Palestine during the Fall of 2000 and reported that Israel is guilty of “excessive use of force” against the Palestinians and called for a halt to the construction of Jewish colonies in the Occupied Territories. A third of the 2000 Palestinians killed have been children (1995 UNICEF report). Since September 2000, over 100 Palestinian children have been killed with special aiming at the head (Jordan Times, 14 December).

For seven years, Arafat has been signing peace agreements with Israel which gave away hope for a viable statehood. Camp David was meant to be the last but Arafat seems, at last, to have woken up to what he has signed away. Now the hope of refugees has been put on the table. It appears that Arafat is more interested in being ruler of a Palestinian State, whatever its condition, than in continuing to seek a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.13

Young Palestinians have had enough, and despite Arafats feeble efforts to control them, have taken to the streets to throw stones and fire slingshots at Israeli Merkavas and Cobras.12 Why is it that more Israelis do not realizeas some already havethat a policy of brutality against Arabs in a part of the world containing 300 million Arabs and 1.2 billion Muslims, will not make the Jewish state more secure?12

Israel’s A mild-mannered refugee born in Haifa, Palestine simply states: “Anyone who signs [away the right of return] will be killed by the Palestinian street”. London Financial Times, January 6/7, 2001 own historians have in recent years documented that the Palestinians were expelled. This truth underpins the guarantees given to Palestinians of their right to return by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention of 1949 (signed by Israel), and UN General Assembly resolution 194 made December 11,1948 and reaffirmed 28 times. Any abrogation of these guarantees would set a disastrous precedent in international human rights law, and provide a clear signal that ethnic cleansers who expel civilians from their homes, steal their property, and prevent refugees returning for long enough can expect to have their illegal territorial conquests blessed with international legitimacy. In the event, the civilized world will find the price of peace too costly.

Through it all, since 1967, the US has disbursed more that $200 billion dollars in unconditional financial and military aid to Israel, while offering blanket political support.12 This aid continues at the level of $ 5 billion per year and more. This obsequiousness to Israels illegal and morally bankrupt behavior is insufferable. It must be changed by a better informed public blitzing the media, the Congress and the President with reasoned calls for a new policy. This policy should rein in Israel and impose a settlement based on: 1) removing Israeli colonies from the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza; 2) releasing West Bank water to the Palestinian inhabitants; 3) inviting refugees to return to their stolen property or to have reasonable compensation; and, 4) dividing sovereignty in Jerusalem.

References and Bibliography

(other than those identified in the text)