By Jueseppi B.
By Jews for Justice in the Middle East
Published in Berkeley, CA, 2001
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As the periodic bloodshed continues in the Middle East, the search for an equitable solution must come to grips with the root cause of the conflict. The conventional wisdom is that, even if both sides are at fault, the Palestinians are irrational “terrorists” who have no point of view worth listening to. Our position, however, is that the Palestinians have a real grievance: their homeland for over a thousand years was taken, without their consent and mostly by force, during the creation of the state of Israel. And all subsequent crimes — on both sides — inevitably follow from this original injustice.
This paper outlines the history of Palestine to show how this process occurred and what a moral solution to the region’s problems should consist of. If you care about the people of the Middle East, Jewish and Arab, you owe it to yourself to read this account of the other side of the historical record.
The standard Zionist position is that they showed up in Palestine in the late 19th century to reclaim their ancestral homeland. Jews bought land and started building up the Jewish community there. They were met with increasingly violent opposition from the 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, as the documentary evidence in this booklet will show. What really happened was that the Zionist movement, from the beginning, looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the indigenous Arab population so that Israel could be a wholly Jewish state, or as much as was possible. Land bought by the Jewish National Fund was held in the name of the Jewish people and could never be sold or even leased back to Arabs (a situation which continues to the present).
The Arab community, as it became increasingly aware of the Zionists’ intentions, strenuously opposed further Jewish immigration and land buying because it posed a real and imminent danger to the very existence of Arab society in Palestine. Because of this opposition, the entire Zionist project never could have been realized without the military backing of the British. The vast majority of the population of Palestine, by the way, had been Arabic since the seventh century A.D. (Over 1200 years)
In short, Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. The Arabs’ opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.
One further point: being Jewish ourselves, the position we present here is critical of Zionism but is in no way anti-Semitic. We do not believe that the Jews acted worse than any other group might have acted in their situation. The Zionists (who were a distinct minority of the Jewish people until after WWII) had an understandable desire to establish a place where Jews could be masters of their own fate, given the bleak history of Jewish oppression. Especially as the danger to European Jewry crystalized in the late 1930’s and after, the actions of the Zionists were propelled by real desperation.
But so were the actions of the Arabs. The mythic “land without people for a people without land” was already home to 700,000 Palestinians in 1919. This is the root of the problem, as we shall see.
Early History of the Region
Before the Hebrews first migrated there around 1800 B.C., the land of Canaan was occupied by Canaanites.
“Between 3000 and 1100 B.C., Canaanite civilization covered what is today Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and much of Syria and Jordan…Those who remained in the Jerusalem hills after the Romans expelled the Jews [in the second century A.D.] were a potpourri: farmers and vineyard growers, pagans and converts to Christianity, descendants of the Arabs, Persians, Samaritans, Greeks and old Canaanite tribes.”Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright, “Their Promised Land.”
The present-day Palestinians’ ancestral heritage
“But all these [different peoples who had come to Canaan] were additions, sprigs grafted onto the parent tree…And that parent tree was Canaanite…[The Arab invaders of the 7th century A.D.] made Moslem converts of the natives, settled down as residents, and intermarried with them, with the result that all are now so completely Arabized that we cannot tell where the Canaanites leave off and the Arabs begin.”Illene Beatty, “Arab and Jew in the Land of Canaan.”
The Jewish kingdoms were only one of many periods in ancient Palestine
“The extended kingdoms of David and Solomon, on which the Zionists base their territorial demands, endured for only about 73 years…Then it fell apart…[Even] if we allow independence to the entire life of the ancient Jewish kingdoms, from David’s conquest of Canaan in 1000 B.C. to the wiping out of Judah in 586 B.C., we arrive at [only] a 414 year Jewish rule.” Illene Beatty, “Arab and Jew in the Land of Canaan.”
More on Canaanite civilization
“Recent archeological digs have provided evidence that Jerusalem was a big and fortified city already in 1800 BCE…Findings show that the sophisticated water system heretofor attributed to the conquering Israelites pre-dated them by eight centuries and was even more sophisticated than imagined…Dr. Ronny Reich, who directed the excavation along with Eli Shuikrun, said the entire system was built as a single complex by Canaanites in the Middle Bronze Period, around 1800 BCE.” The Jewish Bulletin, July 31st, 1998.
How long has Palestine been a specifically Arab country?
“Palestine became a predominately Arab and Islamic country by the end of the seventh century. Almost immediately thereafter its boundaries and its characteristics — including its name in Arabic, Filastin — became known to the entire Islamic world, as much for its fertility and beauty as for its religious significance…In 1516, Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire, but this made it no less fertile, no less Arab or Islamic…Sixty percent of the population was in agriculture; the balance was divided between townspeople and a relatively small nomadic group. All these people believed themselves to belong in a land called Palestine, despite their feelings that they were also members of a large Arab nation…Despite the steady arrival in Palestine of Jewish colonists after 1882, it is important to realize that not until the few weeks immediately preceding the establishment of Israel in the spring of 1948 was there ever anything other than a huge Arab majority. For example, the Jewish population in 1931 was 174,606 against a total of 1,033,314.” Edward Said, “The Question of Palestine.”
How did land ownership traditionally work in Palestine and when did it change?
“[The Ottoman Land Code of 1858] required the registration in the name of individual owners of agricultural land, most of which had never previously been registered and which had formerly been treated according to traditional forms of land tenure, in the hill areas of Palestine generally masha’a, or communal usufruct. The new law meant that for the first time a peasant could be deprived not of title to his land, which he had rarely held before, but rather of the right to live on it, cultivate it and pass it on to his heirs, which had formerly been inalienable…Under the provisions of the 1858 law, communal rights of tenure were often ignored…Instead, members of the upper classes, adept at manipulating or circumventing the legal process, registered large areas of land as theirs…The fellahin [peasants] naturally considered the land to be theirs, and often discovered that they had ceased to be the legal owners only when the land was sold to Jewish settlers by an absentee landlord…Not only was the land being purchased; its Arab cultivators were being dispossessed and replaced by foreigners who had overt political objectives in Palestine.” Rashid Khalidi, “Blaming The Victims,” ed. Said and Hitchens
Was Arab opposition to the arrival of Zionists based on inherent anti-Semitism or a real sense of danger to their community?
“The aim of the [Jewish National] Fund was ‘to redeem the land of Palestine as the inalienable possession of the Jewish people.’…As early as 1891, Zionist leader Ahad Ha’am wrote that the Arabs “understood very well what we were doing and what we were aiming at’…[Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, stated] ‘We shall try to spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the border by procuring employment for it in transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly’…At various locations in northern Palestine Arab farmers refused to move from land the Fund purchased from absentee owners, and the Turkish authorities, at the Fund’s request, evicted them…The indigenous Jews of Palestine also reacted negatively to Zionism. They did not see the need for a Jewish state in Palestine and did not want to exacerbate relations with the Arabs.” John Quigley, “Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice.”
Inherent anti-Semitism? — continued
“Before the 20th century, most Jews in Palestine belonged to old Yishuv, or community, that had settled more for religious than for political reasons. There was little if any conflict between them and the Arab population. Tensions began after the first Zionist settlers arrived in the 1880’s…when [they] purchased land from absentee Arab owners, leading to dispossession of the peasants who had cultivated it.” Don Peretz, “The Arab-Israeli Dispute.”
Inherent anti-Semitism? — continued
“[During the Middle Ages,] North Africa and the Arab Middle East became places of refuge and a haven for the persecuted Jews of Spain and elsewhere…In the Holy Land…they lived together in [relative] harmony, a harmony only disrupted when the Zionists began to claim that Palestine was the ‘rightful’ possession of the ‘Jewish people’ to the exclusion of its Moslem and Christian inhabitants.” Sami Hadawi, “Bitter Harvest.”
Jews attitude towards Arabs when reaching Palestine.
“Serfs they (the Jews) were in the lands of the Diaspora, and suddenly they find themselves in freedom [in Palestine]; and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.” Zionist writer Ahad Ha’am, quoted in Sami Hadawi, “Bitter Harvest.”
Proposals for Arab-Jewish Cooperation
“An article by Yitzhak Epstein, published in Hashiloah in 1907…called for a new Zionist policy towards the Arabs after 30 years of settlement activity…Like Ahad-Ha’am in 1891, Epstein claims that no good land is vacant, so Jewish settlement meant Arab dispossession…Epstein’s solution to the problem, so that a new “Jewish question” may be avoided, is the creation of a bi-national, non-exclusive program of settlement and development. Purchasing land should not involve the dispossession of poor sharecroppers. It should mean creating a joint farming community, where the Arabs will enjoy modern technology. Schools, hospitals and libraries should be non-exclusivist and education bilingual…The vision of non-exclusivist, peaceful cooperation to replace the practice of dispossession found few takers. Epstein was maligned and scorned for his faint heartedness.” Israeli author, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, “Original Sins.”
Was Palestine the only, or even preferred, destination of Jews facing persecution when the Zionist movement started?
“The pogroms forced many Jews to leave Russia. Societies known as ‘Lovers of Zion,’ which were forerunners of the Zionist organization, convinced some of the frightened emigrants to go to Palestine. There, they argued, Jews would rebuild the ancient Jewish ‘Kingdom of David and Solomon,’ Most Russian Jews ignored their appeal and fled to Europe and the United States. By 1900, almost a million Jews had settled in the United States alone.” “Our Roots Are Still Alive” by The People Press Palestine Book Project.
To read The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict in ti’s entirety click on the link.
The British Mandate Period
The UN Partition of Palestine
Statehood and Expulsion
The 1967 War and the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
Addendum by If Americans Knew:
1973 War (Known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War)
The History of Terrorism in the Region
Jewish Criticism of Zionism
Zionism and the Holocaust
Israel has sought peace with its Arab neighbor states but has steadfastly refused to negotiate with Palestinians directly, until the last few years. Why?
From the 1970s until the 1999 Israeli High Court decision forbidding torture during interrogation (theoretically), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were subjected to inhuman treatment in Israeli prisons.
Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel
Intifada 2000 and the “Peace Process”
Views Of The Future
Sources for further research on Palestine and Israel
These short quotes do not, of course, prove the assertions made here. The historical evidence, however, is overwhelming and is available in fully documented form in the books cited. Particularly useful sources are:
- Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice by John Quigley, professor of law at Ohio State University. Duke University Press, 1990.
- The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians by Noam Chomsky, professor at MIT and “arguably the most important intellectual alive” (NY Times). South End Press, 1983.
- Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. An honest history of Zionism by a noted Israeli scholar who teaches at Haifa University. Olive Branch Press, 1993.
- Bitter Harvest by Sami Hadawi. A very complete look at the documentary evidence of the creation of the state of Israel, by a Palestinian Christian who lived through that period. Caravan Books 1979.
For articles from the alternative and Israeli press, please see ZNet at http://www.lbbs.org and http://www.commondreams.org/viewsarchive.htm.
A wealth of information on Palestine/Israel is to be found at http://www.geocities.com:0080/CapitolHill/Senate/7891.
Another very useful resource is the Jewish Voice for Peace. To join their mailing list, e-mail shlensky@socrates.Berkeley.edu.
Also, the American Educational Trust, publisher of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs(a great magazine) has a large selection of books available. Write for their free catalog to AET, PO Box 53062, Washington, DC 20009.
This booklet can also be found on the web at http://www.cactus48.com
For Jewish Readers
As we have seen, the root cause of the Palestine-Israel conflict is clear. During the 1948 war, 750,000 Palestinians fled in terror or were actively expelled from their ancestral homeland and turned into refugees. The state of Israel then refused to allow them to return and either destroyed their villages entirely or expropriated their land, orchards, houses, businesses and personal possessions for the use of the Jewish population. This was the birth of the state of Israel.
We know it is hard to accept emotionally, but in this case the Jewish people are in the wrong.We took most of Palestine by force from the Arabs and blamed the victims for resisting their dispossession. If you run into someone’s car, for whatever reason, simple justice demands that you repair it. Our moral obligation to the Palestinian people is no less clear. It is time for all Jewish people of good conscience to make whatever amends are possible to the Palestinians in order to live up to the best part of the Jewish tradition — its ethical and moral basis.
Any criticism of Israel is traditionally seen by American Jews as harmful to the Jewish people, even if the criticism is true. But “my people, right or wrong, my people” is no different than “my country, right or wrong, my country”. Once we start down the slippery slope where the ends justify the means we have left behind any claim to morality. Along with millions of other American Jews unaffiliated with the major U.S. Jewish organizations, we are outraged at the Israeli government’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinians and feel that it has been the ruination of the high moral standing of the Jewish people.
The Israeli government could solve the Palestine/Israel crisis tomorrow. It actually would be in the best interests of its citizens to do so because random acts of terrorism against Israelis would cease if Palestinian demands for a viable, independent state were accepted and compensation for Arab losses made.
Here in America, we Jews are thoroughly assimilated into the mainstream of society and hold positions of power and influence in every field of endeavor. We do not need to be in a defensive mood anymore. We can afford to change out attitude from “is it good the the Jews?” to “Is it good?” At the very least, American Jews need to categorically state that we cannot condone Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and the intentional murder and crippling of Palestinian protestors armed only with rocks, as documented in reports by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli groups like B’Tselem, etc.
According to a survey commissioned by the five largest American Jewish organizations, but suppressed by them afterwards, 20% of American Jews support Palestinian demands and 35% say that Jerusalem should be shared. This, in the face of a near-total blackout of the Palestinian position in our press, is very impressive. Join this growing segment of American Jews by contacting Not In My Name, at http://www.nimn.org, a group that is spearheading a coalition of Jewish groups to protest the Israeli occupation.
Israel’s long-term interests can best be served by supporting Israeli peace groups, like Gush Shalom (www.gush.shalom.org), not the Israeli government and its brutal repression, which just leads to endless violence. Israeli peace groups rightfully criticize their government and we should too, since they claim to act in our name. American groups like the Jewish Peace Lobby, Jewish Voice For Peace and the Middle East Children’s Alliance also deserve your support. Don’t compromise yout ethics in blind support of bad politics—work for a just soultion instead.
Please write for more free copies of this booklet to the address on the back page and ask your Jewish friends to consider the information presented here. For everyone’s sake. Peace.
Important Note: at the end of the next section, Conclusion II, there is a list of Jewish organizations in America and Israel, and links to their websites, which are informative and interesting. We encourage to explore them with an open mind.
We hope that this look at the historical record concerning the root cause of the Middle East conflict will give second thoughts to all who have previously supported Israel’s actions.
The persecution of the Jews for centuries in Europe was the worst of many stains on the European record, and the Zionists’ desire for a place of sanctuary is certainly understandable. Like all other colonial enterprises, however, Zionism was based on the total disregard of the rights of indigenous inhabitants. As such, it is morally indefensible. And, as previously stated, all subsequent crimes — and there have been many on both sides — inevitably follow from this original injustice to the Palestinians.
Given the damage that has been done to the Palestinian people, Israel’s obligation is to make whatever amends possible. Among these should be assisting the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel should not object to this state and, in addition, should help with its foundation via generous reparations. Besides being the right thing to do, this would stop the sporadic acts of violence against Israel, as the Palestinians’ legitimate desire for their own state would be realized. Moreover, all laws that discriminate against non-Jews living in Israel should be repealed.
Given the history outlined in this paper, we conclude that the Palestinians have gotten “the short end of the stick” and that justice demands that wrongs should be righted. Full and complete justice would entail allowing any Palestinian to return to Israel if they wished but, practically speaking, we understand that this is a recipe for even more bloodshed. Therefore, recognizing that reality, we join Gush Shalom and other Israeli peace groups in calling for a negotiated, modified right of return with the bulk of Palestinian refugees being settled in a Palestinian state, financed by generous reparations from both Israel and the international community.
As U.S. citizens, we have a special obligation to see that justice is done in this matter. U.S. financial aid to Israel has been, and continues to be, enormous; and our diplomatic support is the crucial factor allowing Israel’s continued occupation of Arab territories. We strongly recommend that you contact your elected representatives in Washington and urge them to insist that, as a preconditon of continued support, Israel must abide by the consensus of world opinion and withdraw to its 1967 borders, as demanded in numerous UN votes.
American Jews in particular have a special responsibility to acknowledge the Palestinian point of view in order to help move the debate forward. As Chomsky writes in his Peace in the Middle East?, “In the American Jewish community, there is little willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historical injustice, whatever one may think of the competing claims. Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even begin.”
In the long run, only by admitting their culpability and making amends can Israelis live with their neighbors in peace. Only then can the centuries-old Jewish tradition of being a people of high moral character be restored. And only in this way can real security, peace and justice come to this ancient land.
Thank you for taking the time to read
“The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict”
Compiled, Edited, and Published by
Jews for Justice in The Middle East
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