I am sure I am not alone to find the lack of progress for the Israeli-Arab stalemate to be extremely disheartening. Graham Fuller, former vice chair of the National Intelligence council asked me just the other day why Secretary of State John Kerry was going to Israel “for the zillionth time” to try and get an Israeli-Arab Peace Agreement? According to Fuller and former U.S. Ambassador Richard Murphy, the steady takeover of Palestinian land continues unabated, and no one in America cares to lift a finger. The governance of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the problem of Israeli settlements all were supposed to be addressed and are still not being addressed. Israel, by building fences and obstacles and imposing economic scarcity on the territories clearly wants to “cleanse” the occupied territories of their Arabs. Israel clearly wants to annex the land it took in 1967.
Israel continues to construct far-flung road networks that crisscross the region that allow access to exclusive Israeli housing units, which are of course protected by permanent Israeli military installations. The Arab land that remains is being chopped into separate and noncontiguous cantons. It’s an agonizing exercise of slow strangulations of the Palestinians.
Benny Morris, an historian I sometimes admire, relates that not only did Israel’s soldiers expel the Arabs in 1948-9, but that they committed war crimes along the way and those were simply airbrushed from the narrative by Israel. Morris sees such things as collateral damage to state-building. Yet in 2009, Morris said that a “cage had to be built” around the Arabs while others called Israel’s Arabs “a cancer in the Israeli state.” He holds the same views today.
Some Frenchman said, “Rule over another nation corrupts and distorts a society and tears the national fabric.” I can’t remember who said it. But Israeli ignores international law and secretly manufactures nuclear weapons, but we Americans have no sense of outrage. They still surrender the moral high ground to Israel, not the Arabs.
It may be that the Palestinians aggrieved sense of neglect and the Israelis insistence on their moral rectitude are the chief impediments to any agreement, but I don’t agree. Isn’t true that the main impediment to agreement is America itself? Israel’s supporters drown any intelligent discussion of the issue, and any resistance by the Palestinians is immediately labeled “terrorism.”
I would love to have comments posted on Pat’s site bout this issue, In the meantime, I have edited and rewritten a piece I did for Pat among the Israeli allegation that the Palestinians are an “Invented People,” which I now have edited and rewritten. Again, I would hope that people would respond by comments to his site.
An Invented People
My son once asked me about a remark by a comedian who asserted that the Palestinians were never a people, and I replied to him, “That=s an AIPAC argument. I used to see it in the writings of reflexive American far-right Israeli supporters except even the hard right in Israel (some of whom I talk to) no longer disputes that the Palestinians are and were a people. Were they a people united by language, race and a common culture like the Jews? No said AIPAC. Butfor seven hundred years the Arabs or Palestinians made up the majority of the population of what was called Palestine before Israel became a state in 1947 — (that=s when the U.N. vote was taken at the U.N. in Flushing Meadow New York to partition Palestine between Arabs and Jews.)
The Palestinians were a village people who lived in settlements ranging from a few dozen people to a thousand. They placed their villages near springs and sited them on ground that had defensive features so that they could be safe from the marauding raids of the Bedouin tribes who were always wandering in off the desert and helping themselves to what belonged to other people. There was always a low-level of warfare between the Palestinian villagers and the Bedouin tribes.
The Palestinians lived by agriculture (like the Romans and the early Greeks.). The farm economy was not sophisticated and didn’tinvolve much irrigation, etc. but it was their way of life. The Arabs were also made up of clans, and they never knew any sort of unanimity. They were the victims of incessant feuds and rivalries and would pay a heavy price for their disunion.
The Arab-Israeli dispute is essentially a misnomer. The Arab nation did not exist as a co cohesive entity in terms of significant political accomplishment, according to Wilbur Eveland, a friend of mine, now dead, who was a DOD Middle East expert. Domestic problems, intra-Arab quarrels, and petty jealousies have dogged every Arab effort to federate. Persistent attempts to unite Iraq and Syria by coups and compacts went nowhere.
After World War I, the Palestinian Arab society had not stood still all this time. In the post-war years the Palestinians went through urbanization, small-scale industrialization, and suffered unemployment B all placing stresses on the traditional order and radicalizing younger men who threatened the conservative elite and in some cases supplanted it.
The Zionists by this time had established the Jewish Agency, and it was well-funded, meaning that the levels of Jewish immigration began to rise steeply. Arab fears of an eventual Jewish majority sharpened. The Arabs could do math and see that the rising tide of Jewish immigrants might overwhelm them. In addition, there was a major increase in Jewish land purchases in Palestine. Absentee owners, rich Arabs or Turks or Lebanese who lived outside of Palestine, held a lot of Arab land. They didn’t=t care to who they sold the land to, as long as the Jews offered them high rates. The Jews did. At first the land purchases involved large, uncultivated tracts but now they began to involve small, cultivated ones. When the Jews bought the land, they evicted the tenant farmers that had worked it for centuries.
As in all things, there was certain hypocrisy involved in the land transactions. A lot of Arab owners took a hard anti-Jewish line during the day, but secretly sold land to the Jews at night, according to one contemporary critic.
Benny Morris, the distinguished Israeli historian, said that the damage it caused to the Palestinians was psychological and political. A Jewish historian named Porath said that the sales actually devastated the Palestinian National Movement. They spread an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and mischief. AIt enfeebled@ the national movement, he said.
What the sales produced was a mass abandonment of the countryside, sending the dispossessed Arab tenants to the cities where they became rootless urban poor. The evictees joined thousands of other evicted Arabs dating from 1880-1920 period, who had moved to cities from rural areas. But what stuck to the Arab collective consciousness were the land losses stemming from Jewish purchases. It was a resentment that never went away. Many Arabs felt dispossessed and became radicalized. A sinister feature was that the Arab radicalization became more and more identified with religious symbols and values. The Arab leaders were quite aware of the political uses of religion. Islam now began to reassert itself, and we have our first Islamic fundamentalists. By 1935, the Arabs had formed the Palestinian Arab Party that was opposed to the establishment of a home for the Jews and asked for resistance to its establishment.
Hostility worsened. By 1936, there was another outbreak of violence — Arab gangs attacking Jewish settlements, towns, and Jewish people. By then even Ben-Gurion clearly saw its cause. In May of 1936, he said: "The Arab fear of our power is intensifying. It is exactly the opposite of what we see. It doesn’tmatter whether or not their view is correct. They see immigration on a giant scale. They see the Jews fortifying themselves economically. They see the best lands passing into our hands. They see England identify with Zionism."
He added the Arabs were"fighting dispossession. The fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people, which others want to turn into the homeland of the Jewish people. This is the absolute kernel of the struggle.
One factor that intensified Arab resistance was the fact it was not just land they were losing, but sacred, ancestral Muslim land. It was sacred Muslim soil being lost. And the Arabs feared what the Jews had already envisioned: that the small Jewish state would serve as a springboard for expansion.
The Jews by now saw the only solution lay in transferring the Arabs out of Palestine. Herzl had at one time thought Arabs and Jews might possibly live in peace, but by 1936, no mainstream Jewish leader thought coexistence with the Arabs possible without the clear physical separation of the two people, achievable only by transfer and expulsion. It was a strange view of coexistence, and, worse, the Zionist rationalization for this was facile. They said they saw transfer as a highly moral solution.
(This feeling and conviction has intensified today.)
First, they wanted the new Israel to be a country of empty spaces so it could absorb new Jewish immigrants and the importance of this outweighed any rights the indigenous Arabs may have had. They felt the Arab had no ancestral or religious tie to his land, but that Jordan to him was the same as Palestine. Why couldn’tthe Palestinians go to Syria or Jordan? (Of course, parties of the British foreign establishment had once thought of sending Jewish immigrants to Uganda, just as Lincoln wanted to send the former American slaves to Liberia.)
The Jews felt that transfer would best be done voluntarily but the Arabs made clear they were not going to go anywhere, which meant war would be the means for transferring the Arabs. One Israeli politician, Zingwell declared in 1905: "We must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population." He added there was no particular reason for the Arabs to cling to these few kilometers, clearly not seeing that the Arab might be animated by the same reverence for his religion and ancestral past as the Jews were.
Partition and War
The U.N. vote taken in November, 1947 at the U.N. gave 57 percent of Palestine to the Jewish people in spite of the fact that two-thirds of the population was Arab. And the Arabs were still the majority owners of the land. When they heard the vote, the Arabs were incensed, but the Jews were also stunned when a U.N. Special Committee recommended that Jerusalem be placed under international trusteeship. The Jews had wanted it as the capital of the new Jewish state. The Arabs were especially affronted because language was used by the British and Americans that said the partition of Palestine was being done in part as a recompense for the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet the Arabs pointed out, with some justice, that they had not mistreated the Jews in their midst over the previous centuries. Yet their land was to be taken to repay the Jews for atrocities done far away by the Nazis. Why?
The utter cynicism and hypocrisy of America's own immigration policies regarding Jews now became a major stink in Heaven's nostrils. There were thousands of displaced persons in Europe after World War II, yet now concern was suddenly being taken for them. The U.S. Congress was refusing to allow its own refugee bill out of committee and during the first eight months of 1948, while urging that a quarter of a million Jews be allowed to enter Palestine with its 1.2 million Arabs, the United States allowed only 4,767 Jews into its own soil, thanks to the immigrant ship the Exodus.
Further, the passing of the U.N. vote had been the result of some rather brutal U.S. arm-twisting. Truman, trailing in the polls to presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, a former New York governor and crime fighter, needed Jewish support to win the election. When the French at first withheld their support, Truman threatened Paris with a direct cut off of U.S. aid. Four nations became crucial to passage of partition: Haiti, Greece, Liberia, and the Philippines. Congress basically blackmailed President Roxas of the Philippines, the U.S. threatened Greece with a total aid cut off, and in Liberia, which produced rubber, Harvey Firestone of Firestone Tires threatened Liberia with a rubber boycott after the Jews threatened to boycott all of Firestone's products.
War was quick to come, and it was to be a war of roads. Palestine had been split into three parts and holding roads open would be key to Jewish success. But the huge numbers of the enemy Arab armies, made much of by Zionists, were totally misleading. The nature of the two societies would be decisive. Israel was a highly motivated, literate, organized, semi-industrial society. It was socialist, and it owned state industries but that was concealed from the American public. Israel became instead a little democracy, a Little America in the Middle East. Facing it were the Arabs, coming from a backward, largely illiterate, disorganized, agricultural society. For the average Arab, statehood and even nationality were a vague abstraction.
Plus Israel had the backing of America, the Soviet Union, and many European countries.
And after the Holocaust, the Israelis were all drive, push, resolution, pitilessness and self-reliance. They were clever enough to smuggle into the new Israel 72,000 parts of a machine that would provide the basis for an Israeli arms industry before the war even started.
By contrast, Arab forces were badly supplied and poorly trained. The principle of a single, united command, so essential to the winning of any war, was missing. In addition, Arab efforts at war were piecemeal and uncoordinated. For example, only 450 or so out of 800 Palestinian villages contributed troops to the conflict. The villages on the West Bank barely stirred. Some preferred to assist the Jews, even providing them arms because of rivalries or feuds with their Arab neighbors. Other Arabs collaborated because they though the Jews would win. The Jews, of course, did. ( A good book to read on the war is OJerusalem, by Collins and Lapierre).
But this chief point of all this comes down to this: after the Six Day War, Israel became the strongest element in the Middle East, and the prickly insecurity that lay at the base of its foundation, changed in two decades, to a self-satisfied arrogance.