It’s daunting to even consider writing an opinion piece about this problem. You think of all the history, the countless books and articles written, the endless debates, the many battles and outright wars, and the continuing bloodshed–and then you think: I should really just choose something else to write about. Maybe no one but God or some other version of fortune or fate will determine the final answer to this terrible situation. No mortal could possibly have anything useful or helpful to say about it, could they?
On the other hand, the situation will never be resolved if somebody isn’t talking about it, because God/Yahweh/Allah seems to have given up on this mess; appears to have left this particular group of his children to work it out amongst themselves.
So, what can a common person possibly have to say about Israel and Palestine? Who knows? But one must try. So what I will do, after examining some of the history and the current situation, is imagine that I have Solomon-like, even God-like powers. Then, whatever I propose WILL BE DONE. I’ve had extensive practice in imagining that I have God-like powers, and though I have never actually seen my will COME TO PASS, at least it will make me feel better, as daydreams often do.
First the history. And, before I talk about the history, a couple of important qualifications:
First qualification: Much as I’d love to argue this issue in a linear, logical fashion, my mind just doesn’t work that way, so be prepared for some “wandering” and detours here and there.
Second qualification: I am a Jew. A Jew who was born right at the end of World War 2 and who heard his grandparents’ tales of the untrustworthy, disgusting and brutal Goyim who ran the world; a Jew who grew up in a neighborhood with immigrants from Europe (my grandparents’ generation) and their children (my parents’ generation). My parents and the other Jews in my neighborhood came of age in the Depression and World War 2. Most of them had grown up in the inner city and were well used to anti-Semitic words and deeds from the larger population.
We lived a very tribal life in that small corner of New York City: The Irish stayed with the Irish, the Italians with the Italians and the Jews stayed with the Jews. Intermingling, let alone intermarriage, was almost inconceivable. From the Jewish point of view, other groups of people (other religions and nationalities) had proven for many centuries that they couldn’t be trusted; that, at a moment’s notice, they could turn into thieves, killers, and synagogue burners.
Also, I came of age in the Forties, Fifties, and the early to mid-Sixties when the new state of Israel was viewed by most Jews in America as something close to a miracle from God. Even the former socialist and agnostic Jews, like my father, were completely pro-Israel–pro-Zionist, if you will. And Zionist, in those days meant: An ardent supporter of the independent State of Israel. There was never any hidden meaning to the word Zionist that suggested a colonial or expansionist movement. Zionism, as I say, merely meant the successful movement to establish and preserve the State of Israel. There was never a thought that these people–the Israelis (native Jews and Jews who survived the war in Europe) shouldn’t have a state of their own; a home for a group of people who had been brutalized by most of the rest of the world for almost two thousand years.
Every Jewish child in my neighborhood–and I have no doubt we were just like every other Jewish neighborhood in New York City–was told constantly about the wonderful State of Israel. We read about the brave and valiant fight the outnumbered Israelis-Jews put up against the overwhelming hordes from the Arab nations. The State of Israel was something that in a vicarious way, Jews all over the world could feel proud of–could brag about and say: See, we are not just helpless victims. We are as tough, tougher even, than any of you! That’s how Israel was seen by 99% of Jews when I was a kid–and that’s how it was seen straight up to and including the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Most of the Jews I knew, secular and religious, were bursting with pride. If we even knew about the Palestinians at all, it was to see them as either hapless Arab residents caught in the war between the Jews and the surrounding Arab nations or as out-and-out collaborators with the enemies of Israel.
One more thing– I have personally experienced and witnessed–many times–both physical and verbal anti-Semitism. I have gotten into fights with ignorant Jew haters; have endured many anti-Semitic insults (even some by people I once considered friends) and seen anti-Semitism in all sorts of places. One time, around Easter, when I was a kid, some Irish teenagers from another part of Queens threw rocks through our synagogue windows during Passover services, and yelled: “Dirty Jews, You Killed Christ!” The list of such experiences is too long to detail but it never goes away. I still experience anti-Semitism, including a vicious streak of it that thrives on my radio station, WBAI. I mention all this because you should know that it is impossible for me to be completely objective–no matter how hard I might try–when analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian situation and suggesting a resolution.
Now–with those qualifications out of the way–to briefly describe the history leading up to the current situation?
In the broadest possible terms, because so much is disputed about the history of Zionism and Israel, this is the way I understand things…
Based, in primary part, on the long history of bigotry, the relentless oppression and outright murder of Jews, predominantly in Europe and Russia, a group of men (most prominent among them, Theodore Herzl) founded the Zionist movement near the end of the 19th century. Its aim was to create an independent Jewish state.
Many, perhaps most, of the founders of the Zionist movement were not particularly religious; not people who felt that the Jews were destined by God to return to the original land of the Jews–though I’m fairly certain that that thought occupied a good chunk of their collective unconscious. After all, the Old Testament, the only Bible Jews recognized, makes it very clear that Israel, Zion, The Land of the Hebrews, etc. was a God-given land. It was the “promised land”–promised by none other than the creator himself to the original Hebrews. Every year, even in my not-particularly-religious family, we’d have a Passover Seder, and perhaps the most important declaration during the service was: “Next year in Jerusalem!” Jews in every land, for many, many centuries have been saying that. The implication, even in the most assimilated Jewish groups in Europe and the US, was that “we” were an exiled people and that the greatest joy we could have as Jews was to return to “our” land. In other words, no matter how secular, practical, even atheistic a Jew might be, there was this very ancient, bedrock understanding that Israel belonged to the Jews–to “us”.
Also, and this is important to what eventually occurred, I think that when Jews in the rest of the world actually imagined Palestine (as it was known for a long time before it became Israel), it was thought of as an empty place; a barren stretch of desert, uncultivated land and mountains; unchanged since biblical times–certainly since the time of the Romans.
Israel/Palestine was our home that we had been exiled from, and God was keeping it just the way it had always been until we came back to reclaim it. It was the land upon which our old and glorious civilization had flourished. There were ancient synagogues and the Wailing Wall–remnant of the old Temple. There were innumerable spots of land throughout Palestine that had witnessed the actual events/miracles of the Bible–places where Man and God had existed together.
Sure, most of us knew history. We knew about the original Moslem Empire, The Crusades, the Ottoman Empire, then the Brit
ish Protectorate, but all these things were somebody else?s storybook tales; somebody else’s political history. Palestine/Israel was OUR land. The idea that anybody else–Arabs or Palestinians, had actually lived on the land, had lived their for millennia, was absolutely not part of our thinking.
No matter the religious training of centuries, the original Zionists were, predominantly, practical men of the world; writers, journalists, political activists, businessmen and the like. They concluded that the Jews would never be safe from the depredations of the rest of the world unless they had a sovereign state–complete with its own borders, its own government and its own army. It was, above all, a question of justice and survival. The fact that Palestine was “our” ancestral homeland made it the only really logical place to return to (even though the British, at one point, offered the Zionists Uganda to colonize. Damned Decent of them, what?!)
Politically, too, Palestine was a good choice for the Zionists to consider as a safe homeland for the Jews. In the 19th century, it was ruled by a decaying Ottoman Empire and was populated by a “small” group of people (Arabs) who the Zionists considered, in their European racist view, as a backward people who were merely camping out on someone else’s land.
Some of the more sensitive and historically aware Zionists knew there was far more to the local (and ancient) Arab/Muslim culture than “just a few backward Arabs,” but they imagined that the more affluent and better educated modern European Jews would be able to lift these people out of their “ignorance”–to civilize them–all within, of course, the framework of a Jewish State. Certainly there is truth to the fact that there were obvious benefits to modernity (medicine, democracy, social equality) and that the residents of Palestine were suffering, probably, from the lack of these benefits?but such benefits (again, no matter how benevolent) always have to be seen in a larger context; not the least of which is that the local Arab culture was not asking to be “elevated.”
Of course, aside from these political founders of Zionism, there were Jews, some with power and influence, some just common, everyday Jews, who were interested in restoring the land to its original “owners” for primarily religious reasons. You can see this pretty clearly now–it’s unavoidable–when you observe the attitudes and behaviors of the close to 300,000 ultra-orthodox Jews who are settled illegally in the West Bank–not to mention the powerful presence of orthodox Jews inside Israel, in Europe and America. These “settlers” are the Jewish brand of Fundamentalist?the same black-and-white zealot types that America has in its Bible Belt, the same get-rid-of-all-the-infidel types you can find in many parts of the Muslim world. The Jewish fundamentalists in the West Bank and Israel have NO DOUBT that this land–The towns and country in the West Bank–was given to the Jews by God and they would rather die–and actually are dying–than give up this “promised land.”
Never the less, Zionism, aside from whatever religious roots, was originally (and still is really) an essentially practical political solution to the perilous state of the Wandering, Oppressed Jew. It was seen as a survival mechanism to rescue and preserve a people who had been Europe’s favorite victims for close to fifteen hundred years–culminating in the horrors of The Holocaust. And, considering the rise of anti-Semitism in the world again, Israel may yet prove to be the only lifeboat in a sea of hatred and murder.
After the French and the British were triumphant in World War One, they set about cutting up and rearranging the Middle East to suit their political and financial needs: power politics and oil. There were some influential Jews who had provided the Allies with financial and political help, and the idea of a Jewish State was seen as, partially, a deserved reward for this help. No doubt, too, there was also just some plain sympathy and empathy for the Jews on the part of the rulers of at least England–if not France?for the long-time sufferings of the Jews. Remember, too, that the Zionists were, for the most part, cultured and influential white Europeans. And I’m sure that also influenced some of the top leaders of the European powers. They could identify with recognizable fellow Europeans (even if they were Jews) more than they could identify with the “backward” and dark-skinned Arabs.
Another thing to remember is that there was always a clear connection in many British religious circles between the Jews and Christianity (as there is now with the Christian fundamentalists in the US).
Though it is certainly one of the great contradictions of history (considering age-old Jew hatred), a lot of religious Christians, especially in England, saw the Holy Land, Jews, and Jesus Christ as one unit; and, more importantly, the Muslims as the real heretics and outsiders.
And, as always, perhaps this is also part of the racism, it was considered that the current native occupants of Palestine–the Arabs–were merely a bunch of nomadic, temporary settlers on somebody else’s land, holy land at that. If you read many of the original Zionists’ statements you can clearly see that there was never any real consideration given to the eventual fate of the native Arab residents of Palestine when it eventually became a Jewish state. Indeed, you can see in some of the original planners’ statements and documents that the native Arabs would be very unwelcome in this new state. If they (the Arabs) refused to be bought out or simply leave, they might even be forcibly relocated. The only counterbalancing forces to this “realpolitik” view were the Labor Zionists, some Socialists and some Communists who were idealists, and saw all people–Jews and Arabs–united in brotherhood, reclaiming the land, etc.
Then came the thirties; the Nazis and the Holocaust. And, along with that, the new Stalinist Pogroms in Russia of the thirties and forties.
After the war, when the world saw what had been done to the Jews, it was evident that it wasn’t just the Germans who tried to murder and/or rob every Jew they could find; it was also the Poles, the Hungarians, The Latvians, The Ukrainians, and, of course, the French.
After the war, the British Protectorate of Palestine seemed to almost all Jews in the world the only possible refuge for the surviving Jews of Europe. After all, even the land of the brave and the free, America, had refused to admit Jews during the Nazi persecutions of the 30’s. After WW2, no more proof need ever be offered that the entire world couldn’t care less if the Jews lived or died.
The British were holding on to Palestine, refusing to let Jewish refugees enter. Some of that behavior was just plain old British anti-Semitism and the rest was pure politics; the British did not want to offend its much larger and more powerful Arab oil-producing allies (and puppet regimes) in the region. This denial of access to Palestine was just too much for Jews who had lived through the torments of the thirties and forties. Jewish underground forces (like the Irgun) had been formed in the thirties and forties to fight the British (and the native Arabs) who refused to let Jews immigrate to Palestine. Now these groups, well supplied with money and arms from American Jews and other sympathizers, went to work in earnest. Terrorist acts were committed against the British occupying forces and government. Innocent civilians were killed. General world sympathy, as demonstrated in the newly formed United Nations, was temporarily in favor of a Jewish Homeland.
Not to be too cynical, but I think that anti-Semitism, as usual, was one motivating factor in this temporary “sympathy.” For a separate homeland. For centuries, the Europeans and some Arab countries, when they weren’t oppressing Jews, were trying to expel them. So, why not, once and for all, select a place–a place with no oil–and get rid of the Jews finally–give them their own little country an
d good riddance!
Finally, the British evacuated the area and the Jewish State of Israel was recognized by the United Nations. The new state was immediately attacked from all sides (and internally) by Arabs and Arab nations that wanted no Jewish/European state in its midst. They had their own bloody and oppressive European colonial history to deal with–all the way back to the Crusades and right up to the the oppression of the French and the British in the 19th and 20th centuries. For the most part, the Arabs couldn’t care less about the Jews or their suffering. The Arabs saw the Jews as just one more manifestation of the same old group: repressive, land-grabbing Europeans. And, of course, there had long been the usual, irrational anti-Semitism among Muslims.
This new state of Israel, handed to the Jews by the rest of the world, was, after all, already occupied land that was sacred to Muslims. It had been Arab land for 1400 years; and before that it was land that belonged to tribes who eventually became Muslim. Who were these European Infidel interlopers and colonizers to come in and take the land from its (as they saw it) original inhabitants?
Take a look at the Old Testament again–the book, orthodox Jews say, that shows that God gave the Land to the Israelites. Take a good look.
The Jews, after being led out of Egypt by Moses, after wandering for a quite a spell because of failure to obey the will (the whims) of God, were finally brought by the Lord to the land of the Canaanites. This was the very land that God had in store for them to live on for eternity. See anything wrong with that picture? It was the land of the Canaanites. In other words, somebody was already living there! Who were those people? It’s very possible, not going into detailed research or argument here, that the Canaanites were the ancestors of the people we now call Palestinians.
And so, in the late 1940’s, the great (endless) struggle commenced. The Jews won their war of independence against the attacking Arab armies and internal Arab fighters. And in the process, the new “owners” managed to intimidate and chase out a couple of hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs, who eventually wound up in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon–and what is now the West Bank.
Modern Zionists and defenders of Israel say that the Arabs left of their own accord, acting out of irrational fear and hatred of Jews and/or deliberately terrified by their co-religionists into thinking the Israelis–the Jews–would rob, kill and rape them. Others say that the Jews were, in many cases, happy to see the Arabs go–it was part of the original plan: A Jewish state for Jews, and Jews only. A little research shows that, in fact, some Palestinians were terrorized and murdered by Jewish forces. Ariel Sharon, a lieutenant at the time in the Hagganah–the Israeli Army–led a raid on an Arab Village in which dozens of innocent people were killed in cold blood.
In any case, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, but hundreds of thousands stayed, too, and these hundreds of thousands have now become millions; millions in refugee camps, in other lands, on the West Bank, and as occupants and citizens of the State of Israel.
And then came the rest of the attacks, invasions, and wars: 1956, 1967, 1973, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 80’s. Then the first Intifadah, then the second, ignited jointly by Yassir Arafat and Ariel Sharon. And so it continues.. right up until this very day; Israelis and Palestinians shooting and stabbing each other to death; suicide bombers; attack helicopters, rockets, mortars; not to mention the financial and political oppression by Israelis which has caused the Palestinians to live in a state of poverty and humiliation for decades. And the virtual destruction of what used to be a fairly healthy Israeli economy.
Contributing to the Israeli-inflicted sufferings of the Palestinians, you have the cynical and insensitive actions of surrounding Arab nations, some of them swimming in oil and oil money. These nations have done virtually nothing for their fellow Muslims; they have given them minimal financial support and even, in the case of Jordan (aided by Muslim mercenary troops from Pakistan!) attacked and made refugees of (again!) tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Throughout the years of Israel’s existence–and the never-ending crisis–there have been numerous summit meetings, peace negotiations, accords, agreements, UN resolutions, attempts by politicians, religious leaders, and all manner of altruistic private citizens, inside and outside of the region, to bring a lasting peace to the area. Nothing has worked.
But something has to work; something must be done to resolve the situation. Not just for the Israelis and the Palestinians who are killing each other every day and upping the ante in their hatred and violence so all one can see for the future is more death and destruction. Something must also be done because the unhealed wound and spreading infection of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis has long since ceased to be a regional tribal argument. It threatens the safety of the entire world. Israel has nuclear weapons–and who doubts that they would use them if their very existence were threatened? And the Palestinians–aside from whatever local suffering has been imposed upon them by Israel and their own greedy, vain leaders–are used as pawns in a cold, brutal political/financial game by Arab states and Western Powers.
This crisis is partially the cause, and partially the excuse, for what is, in effect, a world war between the United States and the Muslim world–especially the extremists in both camps. This situation is perhaps one of the most twisted, complex political problems that have ever existed.
So what is to be done?
I am a great believer in the truth that one must know one’s past, one’s history, to achieve an awakened, aware and decent present. It works for individuals, it works for families, it can work for whole societies. Look at the Truth and Reconciliation committees in South Africa, the Reparations paid to the Jews who survived the holocaust, the movements for reparations in the USA in regard to the American Indians, the Japanese, the descendants of African slaves. One must take the past into account if one is to achieve a present that has justice and reason and decency in it.
Yet, I think there occasionally has to be a time when history must be forgotten; when the events of the past become an almost insurmountable obstacle to an individual, a family, a group of people, or even a nation.
How many of us have had to finally forget the sufferings, indignities and humiliations of our pasts before we could actually live in the present?
So, concerning Israel and the Palestinians, let us take into account the past, both ancient and recent. Let us consider this past carefully, then set it aside so we can proceed to settle the current situation with as much fairness and justice as possible.
The Jews have suffered rape, theft, torture, and mass murder for centuries. They have finally, whatever the method used, gotten a sovereign state of their own. This state, almost alone among the entire surrounding regional states has no oil, no mineral wealth, no decent amount of naturally usable land; it is no bigger than the state of New Jersey–and a lot less green.
The world has never cared about the crimes that were committed against the Jews, and anti-Semitism is on the rise once again in the world. The Jews need a sovereign state. They have a sovereign state–and they have worked mightily to create something from nothing. They have (or had, before murder and war became a way of life) a functioning economy, modern medicine, a renowned system of higher education, and a democracy. They have a right to exist without the constant badgering, threats and attacks both from within their borders and without. The Israelis have every right to defend themselves against irrational and murderous enemies.
s were never given the respect and decent treatment that a people should have. The Israelis have never treated its Arab citizens as equals and have discriminated against them in a manner resembling the way in which blacks have been discriminated against in the United States. The Israelis have, effectively–self-protection notwithstanding–rendered the Palestinians a people without a country–poor, miserable and in a permanent state of humiliation, grief and rage over their treatment.
The Palestinians must have their own state. It must be in what is now called the West Bank. The Israeli “settlers” are irrational zealots who are stealing land that belongs, must belong for peace and justice’s sake, to the Palestinians. God never gave anyone that land. That kind of story is a fairy-tale for children and an excuse for people to take what belongs to someone else–and I mean that statement to apply not just to the settlers but to the Muslims who also claim “holy” rights to land in and around Israel.
The Israeli government must use its army to remove every last Jewish settler from the West Bank. This land must then be declared the independent State of Palestine; with its own infrastructure, its own laws, its own defense force.
No country in its right mind would leave itself surrounded by proven enemies–let alone one so small as Israel. For that reason, Israel must be given Gaza and make recompense–in money–for that land. Call it Five billion dollars–to be paid out over twenty years. This money is also a form of reparations for the way Israel has treated the Palestinians for the last fifty years. Also, it makes good practical sense for the Israelis to help the Palestinians with money and technical training to develop a viable, thriving Palestine, one that will no longer have any good reason to hate the Jews (of course, irrational anti-Semitism is beyond cure).
There must be a neutral strip of land–one half mile in length–that will run the entire length of the “new” Israeli-Palestinian border. That strip will be, for at least twenty years, patrolled by a force of 50,000 United Nation Peacekeeping troops. Perhaps this number could be reduced as tensions between Israel and Palestine subside.
The Saudis and other Arab oil nations (especially Saudi Arabia, which finances a great deal of the terrorism and anti-Semitism in the world) must be taxed ten billion dollars to contribute to building of the new Palestinian State. This is so peace can be achieved in the larger region and as a form of reparations to the Palestinians for leaving them out in the cold for so long.
Again, the Jews have good evidence from past and current history to fear attack and possible extermination. For that reason, it is impossible that the Right of Return be granted to several million Palestinian refugees. There are already several million Palestinians inside the State of Israel and they must–until the current generations and their hatreds have died out–be considered a potential threat to Israel’s security. So increasing this number–in an already tiny, crowded country–would be, it seems to me, almost suicidal for the Israelis; not to mention financially impossible. Palestinian refugees from other countries, primarily Lebanon, must be resettled, if they wish to be resettled, inside the new State of Palestine.
Jerusalem is a holy city to Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is a city of great historical and spiritual value to the world. All things considered, however, it has more historical and spiritual value to the Jews than to the Muslims. After all, Mecca is the central religious city in Islam. Jerusalem is the central religious city in Judaism. The Israelis, during the time of their tenure have shown a much more tolerant and open policy of access to the holy places of Jerusalem than any Muslim authority has shown in the past or is likely to show (considering the current state of fundamental Islamist influence in Arab states) in the future. Therefore the city must always be completely controlled (legally, militarily, etc.) by the State of Israel, with carefully and fairly negotiated rights of access to all visitors and pilgrims.
And those are my suggestions to solving this crisis.
Even though I am only one average citizen and have no power whatsoever to actually alter this situation, I know that, because feelings on this issue run so hot, a lot of people on both sides will be outraged by my suggestions.
In any case where two peoples have been wronged (in different ways perhaps), and, furthermore, lay claim to the same piece of property, any fair solution to the problem will leave both parties with enduring grudges. Only time can take care of that. Obviously no one–no mortal–will ever make decisions that please all the parties in this case, but, considering the past–and the current merits of the case involved–I can’t think of any more intelligent, fair or just way to resolve this situation.
– Mike Feder (New York City – October 7, 2003)