ISRAEL-ARAB CONFLICT: HISTORICAL ASPECTS

After I uploaded some of my photographs of the Israel Support Rally on a Russian photographers' sight, a discussion arose under one of my pictures. I asked my virtual friend Yuriy Elkin to help me defend my point of view. As a result there was an excellent explanation of the current and historical aspects of the conflict between Israel and Arabs. Here is an excerpt of that discussion as well as several document links provided by Yuriy.
Vladimir Kelman, 05/23/2002

Yuriy:... A few points (actually, it's the SHORT version, believe it or not):

1) Why is it so wrong for a Jew (i.e. Sharon) to go somewhere in Israel (i.e. its capital, Jerusalem)? I guess, it would be just despicable for a Frenchman to set foot in the Louvre... Also, Sharon did not enter "Al-Aqsa" (I assume you are referring to this early Christian church, captured and rebuilt into a mosque by the moslems centuries later). He just visited the most sacred sight in Judaism: Temple Mount. What an outrage!

2) Regarding settlements, it would probably be a shock for many, but there has NEVER in history been a Palestinian state. However, there HAS been a state of Israel in Judea and Samaria (now called West Bank by many). Jews were always a presence there, throughout the ages, and were a MAJORITY in East Jerusalem up through the first third of the XX century, until being driven out by the Arabs (two-thirds majority of the city population being Jewish, the rest being divided between Arabs, Greeks and others). The myph of "traditionally Arab East Jerusalem" is just that - a myth.

3) "The territories" were won by Israel in a defensive war from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and according to international law, such lands rightfully belong to the victorious defender. Russia's city of Kaliningrad and Kuril Islands are examples of that. So, the notion of "illegally occupied territories" is pure spin. BTW, the infamous UN resolutions also do NOT require Israel to give them all up.

4) Incidentally, those Arab countries, while in posession of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, never even thought about creating some kind of a state for the people they forcefully kept in refugee camps.

5) The number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries after 1948 was about the same or greater than that of displaced Arabs (mostly moved out of the way by their own armies in the war of agression against Israel in 1948), but those Jews were integrated into Israeli citizenry. On the contrary, displaced Arabs were never allowed by any Arab country to integrate into their societies. Such exchanges of population were a common occurance after WWII, numbering in the millions. Germans moving to Germany and Greek/Turk exchange are just two examples. The blame for leaving displaced Arabs in a miserable condition rests squarely on the shoulders of Arab countries, who have been using those people as pawns for the past 50 years.

6) Yes, Baruch Goldstein's act of targeting civilians was abhorrent terrorism. However, you do remember his name after all these years, don't you? What are the names of the Arab terrorists? Do you even remember them all? Would you like to compare the number of terrorist acts perpertrated by Israelis and Arabs? Can you really compare one act of a deranged individual to the orchestrated campaign of deliberate terror?

7) This might be another shock, but here goes. There IS a Palestinian state in existence today. It occupies 75% of geographical Palestine (which was promised to the Jews by the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations conference), and its population is about 80% "Palestinian Arabs". Yes, you guessed it, the name is Jordan. So why is it necessary to tear off another third of the land away from the already small Israel?

8) The answer lies in PLO's own documents from the 60s, 70s up to right now. It states in their documents (in black and white) that there is no Palestinian people (they are a part of the larger Arab people), and the only reason to demand a state next to Israel is to create a base for the further attacks on the "Zionist Entity". Arafat was openly saying this as recently as in 1996 in Stockholm. The same logic is still in play: just look at official Arab maps of Palestine (including PA's own emblems and textbooks). The Arab Palestine takes up the whole region, with no Israel in site. And these are the people Israel is forced to negotiate with! You can read the latest speeches by Arafat and others at www.memri.org, translated in English.

B: Both sides have shed blood and continue to precipitate the shedding of blood. Israel be safe, secure and protected from terrorism, absolutely. Palestians, whose land was lost in the squandering of British deals after the war, have a right also to peace and sovernignty. All i was suggesting, simply, was that when you reduce a person, anyone, to caracture, you allign yourself with ignorance. Idealogues, on both the right and left, are equally blind-sighted. Blood is blood. Israel knows this in more profound ways then almost any nation, and it is nothing short of tragedy that the hubris of men, mostly men, continue to condemn the children, israeli and palestian alike. I'd refer you to Anthony Lewis essay in the New Yorker... but more essentially, I'd suggest the writing of David Grossman, Israel novelist and essayist above all else. He is much more enlightened things to say then either the New Republic, the New Yorker, or either one of us, frankly. Shalom.

Yuriy: 9) "Blood is blood". Well, if you equate a murderer with a policeman who shot him while stopping a murder, then yes. However, if you blame Israelis, when they send in infantry, risking the lives of their own soldiers, to minimize civilian Arab casualties, then you would surely condemn Americans and Europeans who routinely use carpet bombing and bombing of civilian centers, right? If you equate Sharon with Arafat because of civilian deaths, regardless of what caused those deaths, then you would certainly equate Churchill and Truman with Hitler and Hirohito because of Dresden and Hiroshima! Actually, this comparison is unfair to the Israelis because they did NOT burn whole cities populations alive to a crisp or evaporate towns with the nukes. Moral relativism is a very dangerous thing, and can lead to very unpleasant results. If you're really interested, I can try to find links for you to read. I can already anticipate accusations of being unbalanced. However, there's this thing called "history": things either happened or they didn't. Balance is just not a factor in history. The spin can create mythology, but it can't replace facts. I would recommend an excellent book "From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine" by Joan Peters. You probably won't like her conclusions, but about a half of the book is photo-copies of documents. I admit, I'm also not balanced or evenhanded, as far as this conflict is concerned. However, some things ARE black and white. WWII is another such example. Would you care to come up with an evenhanded and understanding approach to gas chambers? Terrorism and perpetuating murderous lies fall into the same category in my eyes. Cheers.

B: Yuriy. I do not disagree with you, and thankfully (finally) I recognize someone who offers historical capitulation of events (I've decided against that up to this point as appearing too academic). Without delving into long-fingered history of our ancestors and family (pointing toward european and middle eastern and biblical history), I agree that the the notion of Palestine as a state as been one of political subterfuge: used, historically since '49, as hobgoblin to reject the right of Israel statehood. In the context of recent history, it was understood, or at least in principle, that there should be a Palistian nation, regardless of whether or not there is historical presedence for this. And further, I agree that, it seems to me, the burden of the Palistian plight lay more responsibly with the arab nations. The Palestians, almost akin to gypsies, have been ostracized and rejected by their own bethern, in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. Again, I repeat, 100% support for Israel and the protection, safety of her people. Israel, unlike any other nation in the world, opens her doors to all kin. In a sense, the state is a state for all Jews and she backs this up with citizenship if any jew wishes to live there. I think frankly this is one of the most critical and beautiful ideas in nationhood. As for the idea of settlement, i am not speaking of nations however; but moral understanding of human, and historical behavior. I do not agree with Palestian demand for so-called "re-patriation"...or return of refugee, not at all. Truth is it is no one's land. We ourselves, as americans have taken land that was "possessed" by others long before us. I have merely suggested to Vladimir, and to many, that the reality is that in order for humans to live, we must try and understand, even if our enemies do not. Israel, because of her history, and because of jewish history, has a greater access to understand this moral truth. I was merely suggesting that given the long historical wand of forces and moments, that by reducing the other to an implacable nothing, one finds themselves staring at their own mirage. I cannot stand Arafat, and I despise the terrorist outfits to which he has aligned himself, including those radical islamic groups in lebanon and supported by Iran and Iraq. And I agree, a Palestian state exists, and the leadership should, with the help of the Arab world, rid themselves of any and all association. Well, ...... why is it that if a person, who supports israel decides that Israeli politicians and reducing themselves also, then they are immediately labeled as a palistian sympathsizer. What should she do to prevent this madness against her people and her state. I cannot and do not offer any answers, but instead, as Rabin suggest, offer something else... movement. My only hope is that the children, growing up with such hatred for each other, will someday learn some richer way that history has shown to prove... and yes, it disgusts me that anti-semitism, as a result of all this, is now rearing his head in europe, and this is even more essential that Israel remains strong, protected, safe.....arafat, i agree, should be gone... but I also believe israel can be better served then by sharon as well.... it may even come as a surprise that I agree with most of the writing of David Ben-Gurion... I'm not sure Sharon is worthy of Ben-Gurion, even though Ben-Gurion was absolutely brillant and strong in support of the need for Israel to protect herself... by dream, is his "Two basic aspirations underlie all our work in this country: to be like all the nations, and to be different from all the nations. These two aspirations are apparently contradictory, but in fact they are complementary and interdependent. We want to be a free people, independent and equal in rights in the family of nations, and we aspire to be different from all other nations in our spiritual elevation and in the character of our model society, founded on freedom, cooperation and fraternity with all Jews and the whole of the human race." Okay... thanks for your patience.

Yuriy: B., my apologies for disturbing you with the "Churchill-Hitler" analogy. I did not intend to imply that you would actually equate Truman with Hitler: that exclamation mark was supposed to be a question mark, the whole sentence being a rethorical question. Again, my apologies for mistyping and for not making my point clear. However, equating Sharon with Arafat is just as despicable, as far as I am concerned. Now to the topic at hand. First of all, I have to mention that it's not my place to discuss MY vision of Israel simply because I don't live there. I live in the States, and unless I perform the Aliya, serve in the IDF, and vote in the Israeli elections, I have no moral right to tell the Israelis how they should structure their society. Now to your points:

1) If there already is a Palestinian Arab state in Jordan, as you concur there is, then why should there be TWO of them? I can't find an explanation other than the already mentioned tactics of gradual destruction of Israel.

2) The notion of the long-standing world (or, at least, American) acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian Arab state is, alas, not correct. Just ten years ago the official American position was "In accordance with the United States traditional policy, we do not support the creation of an independent Palestinian State." (Madrid, 18 October 1991). Our administration is putting a spin on this right now, but, again, it doesn't change the facts.

3) Palestine was not occupied by millions of Arabs before the Jews came, as it was the case in your comparison with the American Indians. When Mark Twain visited Palestine, he found an "uninhabited desert" (I'm not sure about the exact wording, though). The Arabs started coming to Palestine en masse only after the Jews started draining the swamps and irrigating deserts, thereby creating a viable economy. Later, while strictly limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine (in direct violation of the Mandate), the Brittish were importing Arabs by tens of thousands as to preserve their demographical majority in accordance with the political interests of the Empire. If you read Ms. Peters' book, you will be puzzled as to why the definition of a "refugee" was specifically amended ONCE in the history of the UN - in relationship to Palestinian Arabs, to make sure that brand new Arab immigrants (having come to Palestine as recently as 2 years before the partition) would be counted as "indigenous" population. Judging by documents, the vast majority of Arabs currently considered Palestinian refugees have been brought into Palestine within two decades before the creation of Israel. The most outrageous example of this are Arafat himself and the infamous Edward Said, both Egyptians, Arafat born in Cairo.

4) Yes, I also want peace for all the world, and I don't want Arabs to suffer any more than you do. However, what's going on in Israel is WAR, and the question is of survival of the Jewish state. It is obvious, that Arafat and his cohorts (and generations of Palestinian youth, being brought up with hatred in textbooks and children's TV shows) are bent on the destruction of Israel. To ignore this, to pretend that all is well and that a piece of paper signed by a man who broke every verbal and written promise he ever made would change everything, is, in my view, a path to suicide. Unfortunately, exactly because of the moral understanding specific to the Jewish tradition, the Jews are very likely to ignore the danger coming from others, and rather to rationalize and "understand" it, hoping for the best and seing the best in humans. This very logic killed the whole branch of my family, when they decided to stay in Germany, refusing to believe that the civilized Germans would do them any harm.

5) "I cannot and do not offer any answers, but instead, as Rabin suggest, offer something else...movement." That all depends on the direction and circumstances. If you are standing on the verge of the abyss, movement might not be a very good idea. Sometimes, standining still and holding one's ground or even retreating after making mistakes, is the only way to survive.

6) I strongly disagree with your contention that hatred is tought in both camps. While ample evidence exists of Arab children being educated from kindergarden on in anti-Semitism, there's nothing to support the same assumption regarding the Israelis. Disturbing as it sounds for me, having grown up in the very politicized Soviet Union, there are actually mandatory "Lessons of Peace" in Israeli schools, as far as I know. Judging by the information that I have, there is intense brainwashing going on in both camps; however, Arab children are taught to hate irrationally, and Israeli children are indoctrinated into as irrational a trust. In my opinion, both approaches are extremely dangerous.

7) I'm not sure what you meant in your complaint about someone being labeled a "Palestinian sympathizer". I, certainly, didn't throw any labels to anybody aside from Arafat, Said, Hitler and Hirohito. There is also nothing wrong in BEING a Palestinian sympathizer (or Israeli for that matter), as long as the person in question is willing to discuss things rationally and calmly. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, including, of course, the Arab population of Palestine. I, for one, would not want to be one of them and live their life. However, I don't believe that the solution to their problems should be Israel's responsibility or done at Israel's expense. Cheers.

B: Well...obviously there is some kind of gap, because I agree with you, nearly point for point, in your exegis. Let me say simply, never have I, nor would I equate Sharon with Arafat, and your recapitulation of historical events (including exodos of palestinians into what is now Israel) has being correct. As for our moral tradition, it is because of this Sharon, an others, demigogery is so disheartening. Israel should never be week, nor ever wince from defending herself against terroism, hatred, hostilty: not ever. She, as a state, is a blessing and a responsibility. Nor can I offer judgements of the state or her citizenry, because I am neither Israeli nor, as you properly pointed out, served in IDF. As for Said, he's the complex character, and there is much I admire about him, and much that I find morally and intellectually insolvent (particularly his depiction of himself as part of Palestian diaspora when he grew up in reasonable wealth and priviledge upon the intellectual palestian elite of Cairo. An exile yes, but his enslavement toward political nomenklatura has often blinded his moral compass as well). Keep in mind, as you know as a Jew, that study includes intellectual eloqution and debate, but it does not predispose to extend the suggestion of ignorance of your debator. I am willing to discuss, rationally the irrational events which continue to plaque the Middle East. But I do believe, and this IS jewish tradition, that the palestian problem is part of Israel's responsiblity: for the responsibility of of our lives is also the responsibility for others. Isreal, in my opinion, is one of the moral compasses of the world (for her bravery, strength and tradition) and it is because of this that she has the most to gain, and lose, by understanding history's inelegant patterns... especially when dealing with shadows. Arafat and his ilk are morally bankrupt and Israel must never weaken herself, but she must also try, as hard as possible, within the posture of strength, not to be blinded by her sorrow, anger and the hatred with which she so proudly refuses to yield. I've never said I have answers (unlike political rhetoric), I simply try to understand why this madness continues... we're all... well.. in earnest: shalom.....
"This, too, did Raba say: Let one by all means learn, even though he is liable to forget, yea, even if he does not fully understand all the words which he studies, as it is said, My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy ordinances at all times." -- Avodah Zarah 19a

Yuriy: B., I'm glad we agree on so many things. However, I believe that the Jewish tradition is to be a beacon, an example to the world, NOT to solve all the world's problems. That one seems to be more of a Christian and Moslem approach (bring one to salvation even against his will). The only Jewish attempt of forcing their values onto someone else (forced conversion of Herod's father's tribe) has been roundly condemned later by the rabbis. In the same light, I don't see how forcing peace onto people who currently believe (rightfully so) that they can achieve more through terrorism, can advance anybody's interests in any way, least of all - the Palestinians themselves. That's why I don't understand the logic: "We know Arafat is the father of modern terrorism and a terrorist himself; we know he can't be trusted - he proved it time and time again; BUT he's the only one who's there, and we have to talk to him". I don't see the value of talks for the purpose of talking. As one wize Frenchman said, "Every people has a government that it deserves". It's up to the Arabs to come up with a culture of peace and leadership capable of bringing the peace about. Israel cannot do that for them (well, they can kill Arafat or exile him, but the "civilized world" wouldn't have it). Until that happens, I don't see the way out. Right now the position of our administration is really alogical, insisting that Arafat is worth dealing with (read: capable of stopping terror) and at the same time is not responsible for not controlling terrorists operating from his own building (i.e. not capable of stopping terror). This is Orwell at his best: "War is Peace". My opinion is this: Yes, people should strive towards peace (as Israel does, excessively so at times), but not at the price of being delusional about the other side. Wishful thinking is no substitute for reality. Cheers.

May 2002

Links from the text above:

  1. Innocents Abroad - Mark Twain in Palestine - in 1867
  2. Hebron is an ancient biblical city in Erez Israel (Encyclopedia Judaica for youth 1996)
  3. Timeline: History of Jerusalem
  4. SUCCESSIVE DRAFTS AND FINAL TEXT OF THE BALFOUR DECLARATION, 1917
  5. The Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations, 1922
  6. Information Regarding Israel's Security (IRIS)
  7. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
  8. We do not support the creation of an independent Palestinian state (US Letters of Assurances to the Palestinians and Israel; Madrid, 18 October 1991)

Home Page  |  Israel Pages  |  Articles and Documents