When looking at the borders of Israel, sometimes we research a few years or decades into history and there the research ends. A conclusion is made. An editorial is created. Opinion is terse. And, the media moves on.
First, who are the Palestinians?
They are Arabs who claim to have descended from 6th century conquerors and from indigenous peoples who have lived there since ‘time immemorial’. Most historians agree that the identity of Palestinians was created in the late 20th century in response to the identity of Zionists.
The word Palestine is derived from a 5th century BC word to define a strip of coastal land that stretched from Phoenicia to Egypt. It was used to collectively define all people that lived in this region. Who lived there?
The Canaanites were a pagan tribe of diverse people who were known as the sea people for their great trading and wares. Current Arab thought is that to claim the Palestinians are direct descendants of the Canaanites pre-dates the Israeli’s claim and thus gives Arabs dominate rights to Palestine. But this is simply a theory with no basis in fact. The supposition was first made in 1961 by Yasser Arafat. Some claim the Canaanites are ancestors of Jews, Christians, Greek, Roman and Arab peoples. What we do know is that we – don’t know and most of our knowledge of Canaan comes from the Hebrew Bible.
When did the borders of Israel become such a hotbed?
Prior to the land being gifted to the Jews, Israel was the property of the British and the boundaries also included what is now Jordan. Prior to the British rule the land was controlled by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest in history. It embraced three religious millets; Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Each millet was segregated. And although the Ottoman’s proclaimed tolerance, preferences were obvious; only a Muslim could be in the government, children of non-muslims were forced out of homes and raised Ottoman Muslims, and an ‘extra’ tax was imposed on non-muslims..
Prior to that, Israel was occupied as a portion of the Eastern Roman Empire under Constantinople, a Christian. Prior to that it was ruled by a Jewish tribe, the Maccabees, prior to that the Greeks – then the Persians – then the Babylonians – then Assyrians and prior to that it was ruled by King David of the Jewish Kingdoms which takes us to about 1000 BC.
It has a history of endless conquering. So, to say that it somehow belongs to the Arab Palestinians – is simply – wrong. The semantics of who was living on the land has always been overruled by who was ruling and who was conquering.
How and why was Israel defined in modern day?
During the late 1800’s anti-semitism was prevalent and Jews were being pushed out of Europe and Russia and settling in Palestine. Their population was considerably less than the Arab population, but they outrightly purchased land and founded towns. WWI was the result of the British and the French uniting to conquer the Ottoman Empire. Dividing the spoils, today’s Syria and Lebanon were given to the French, and today’s Jordan, Iraq and Israel were given to the British. Arab nationalism was rising and they became enraged at having to share the land. The Arabs rioted and the British got nervous. In 1922 the British Mandate for Palestine divided Israel from Jordan and cited Israel as a Jewish state ruled by the British and Jordan as an Arab state ruled by the Hashemite family. Over the next 13 years, Jewish immigration to Israel rose significantly, although still they were outnumbered by Arabs.
In 1935, the rise of anti-Semitism across Italy, Germany, Austria and throughout the Arab world created renewed immigration to Israel to escape persecution. But the Arab population in Israel was hostile and riots rose once again. In 1937, the British sought to fix the problem they created and partitioned Israel into two states with a strip of land from Jerusalem to the port city of Jaffa being called an ‘international zone’. Arabs on the Jewish side were told to move and Jews on the Arab side were told to move. The Arabs rejected the plan and riots and revolts continued.
By 1939, WWII was in full blown chaos and the Jews were now targets in a much larger revolt and extermination. The Arabs of Palestine were pro Nazi. The Jews fought alongside the Brits and the schism extended. By the end of the war Israel was still a hotbed of ethnic hostility. The British decided to wipe their hands of the mess and give the problem to the UN. The UN went back to the solution previously raised in 1935 and decided partitioning the country was the best idea. The Jews reluctantly agreed, but the Arabs did not. Britain pulled out all its troops, and with the angst of a civil war looming, nearly 200,000 Arabs fled to neighboring countries.
In 1948 the Jews declared war on the Arabs. The ethnic cleansing that ensued was promulgated by both Jews and Arabs. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs continued to flee while refugee camps held scores of displaced Arabs from Palestine. By the spring of 1949 a cease fire was stipulated.
In contrast to the exodus of Arabs, this time frame saw more and more Jews arriving in Israel as they were being systematically targeted in their home countries of Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Iran. It is estimated that the total Jewish population of these Arab countries was about 1 million. Northern Iraq had a Jewish population that had lived there peaceably for 2000 years. But after WWII, Arab hostilities toward that population increased dramatically, persecution, arrests, floggings, and murder became their life. The British government ordered the Jews to vacate their homes throughout the Middle East, leave their possessions, their businesses and take one suitcase for their exodus to Israel. They had nowhere else to go.
Rife with border skirmishes, in 1956 Egypt, Jordan, and Syria blocked passage through the Suez Canal and Red Sea. This move prompted the British and French to intervene and deploy troops to support Israel by way of their own interests in the Suez.
The next decades saw the UN Resolution 242, the Six Day War, The War of Attrition, the rise of the PLO, the Yom Kippur War, a short lived peace agreement, the Lebanon War, the Intifada, the Gulf War, The Madrid Conference, and ultimately the Oslo Agreement I and II.
The Jewish people have never been compensated for the land and possessions they lost as refugees from the Middle East. There is no mandate in place to give them back their lost land in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc… The Jews were ‘given’ a very small spot of land that they could call their own and name Israel.
Perspective: the Middle East is roughly the size of the United States. Israel is roughly 2 ½ times the size of Rhode Island. Giving away half of that to the Arabs seems a bit preposterous when taken into a pure context. It would seem more plausible for the remaining Palestinians to be absorbed into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq – just as the land the Jewish people owned was taken from them by the Arabs.
Today, Israel is 75% Jewish and 20% Arab. The number of Jews in Iraq? Zero. Number of Jews in their ancestral Lebanon? Zero. The number of Jews in Jordan? Zero. Egypt? Less than 10.
Just a thought.