Notes on the Middle East
Living in Montreal, I am exposed to American television that tends to present a black and white caricature of the news; the Israelis are the goodies and the Palestinians are the baddies. That might be all that most Americans want to know but to me, it's an insult to my intelligence and a challenge to find out the facts as they were before the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) treatment was applied by the media.
It has now become a kind of game, the more extreme the caricature becomes, the more I rebel against being mind-raped and the more curious I become about what is really going on in Palestine. Thankfully, the Canadian media are not as badly biased but they still have a way to go before presenting both sides fairly for the mildest criticism of Israel produces howls of rage from the hypersensitive and powerful Jewish organisations.
In the '60s, I was more or less indifferent about Israel and Palestinians. At most, I might have felt some sympathy for the Palestinians because I generally take for the underdogs but I did not lose any sleep over it. Also, I generally trusted the media to report news correctly and I thought that the American model of democracy offered an admirable ideal worthy of being followed. It could be that I was excessively naive at that time but it is also possible that public morals have changed for the worse in the last 40 years. After watching Nixon lie about Watergate, Reagan lie about the Nicaraguan Contras and Clinton lie about his coffee breaks it's not surprising that I don't believe everything Bush tells us about Iraq. Only a small minority of Americans bother to vote nowadays because they know the power is in the hands of the big corporations.
Politicians lie to us and the media help them sell us what corporate America and special interest groups want us to think. Reports on current events are often incomplete and so well packaged in hype and "political correctness" that it is often difficult to separate the facts from the propaganda. The American media concentrate their attention on all the details of the next Middle East war and pass over lightly on the problems of the economy and of corporate corruption which have a higher priority in the public opinion according to all the polls. Fox and CNN have become so grossly biased that their "news reporting and analysis" sound like paid advertisments for a war with Iraq. Recently, they have started to plant the seed of conflict with Israel's other neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Iran and even Syria. It is difficult not to see their agenda!
I was surprised to observe that most of the Americans with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss the Israeli crisis know very little about the actions of the Zionist movement over the last century that have led to this crisis. I know that Americans are generally not interested in what goes on outside of their country and that very few travel abroad for reasons other than business or military (only 15% have a passport), but they still could have done a little research...
The current failure of the peace process and the threat of a US - Iraq war in the Middle East has prompted me to research the history of the Arabs and of the Jews to satisfy my own desire to understand how they got to be in the terrible mess they are in. There is an abundance of material on the Internet about this subject but much of it is propaganda that needs to be filtered through a critical mind before being able to contribute something useful to a plausible picture. As I was not prepared to believe blindly one side nor the other, I found it useful to think in terms of probabilities to assemble my perception of the events in the manner I have described in "My Toy Village". The picture evolved as I examined new sources so I had to write down what I found most credible or probable as this work progressed. Now that it's done I am pleased to share it, hoping that you will be stimulated to do your own research whether you agree with my findings or not. I have listed several websites at the end of this paper to give you a good start.
It has become almost impossible to be indifferent to human suffering enough not to take sides when one observes the atrocities committed daily by both parties. At best, one can hope to understand how a complex series of events over the past century has brought about the present situation. Having carried out this review, I find the ultimate cause of the crisis to be the support the Jewish Diaspora gave continuously and for more than a century to the project of taking over the homeland of the Palestinian people to make it their own. Consequently I find that the Jews are responsible and admit my bias in favour of the downtrodden Palestinians. Lets see now who the Palestinians and the Israelis are, where they come from and how the conflict evolved.
Arabs, Palestinians & Muslims
Palestinians are Arabs and Arabs are those who speak Arabic as their native tongue and who identify themselves as Arabs.
The Arab World does not correspond to the Muslim World. There are significant non-Muslim Arab communities and in fact, most Muslims live in large non-Arab countries like Indonesia (170M), Pakistan (140M), Bangladesh (100M), India (100M), Turkey (60M), Iran (60M), and many countries of sub-Saharan Africa. There are also significant Arab and non-Arab Muslim communities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Altogether there are more than one billion Muslims of which 90% are Sunni and 10% Shiite. Arabs count only for 25% of that number.
The Arab World extends from Iraq and the Gulf states in the east to Morocco’s Atlantic coast in the west and from Syria in the north to Sudan in the south. This vast region comprises deserts, rugged mountains and fertile river valleys. It is the home of nomadic Bedouins, peasant farmers, agricultural wage labourers, industrial workers, craftsmen and professional of all the trades and services associated with booming cities such as Rabat, Cairo, and Beirut. Today around 250 million people live in the 17 independent countries that make up the Arab world. These are: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Palestinians are Arabs but they have yet to achieve full national independence.
Historians agree that the ancient Semitic peoples, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Amorites, Phoenicians, Hebrews and, later, the Arabs themselves, migrated out of the Arabian Peninsula. Waves of migrations began in the third millennium BC and ended with the Muslim conquests of the 7th century AD. These peoples spoke languages based on similar linguistic structures, and the modern Semitic languages, Arabic, Hebrew, and Amharic (the language of Ethiopia) maintain important similarities. These Semitic migrations into the fertile crescent did not however penetrate the highlands held by the autochtonous Hurrians and later by the Indo-European Hatti, Hittites and Phrygians in the north (Turkey) and Elamites and Medes to the east (Iran).
The first wave of Semitic migrants (3500 BC), roamed over lands upstream from city-states already well established by the Sumerian sedentary agricultural civilisation. They coexisted peacefully with the Sumerians for centuries and developed the Akkadian language, written with Sumerian cuneiform script, that was used by the Babylonians in the south and the Assyrians in the north for almost 2000 years. A second wave (2500 BC), brought the Canaanites that settled in present day Palestine, the Amorites that occupied what is now Syria and the Phoenicians that established their ports along the coast of today's Lebanon.
The Phoenicians developed a great maritime trading network with settlements all over the Mediterranean of which Carthage that developed its own empire. The Phoenicians were invaded by several empires whose gods they just added to their own pantheon. They adopted the ancient Roman gods, converted to Christianity when the Romans did and finally, pragmatically adopted Islam when they were overrun by the Arabs in 634 AD. Their descendants, the Lebanese, have established a far flung trading Diaspora which has been well accepted all over the world. They have never been expelled from any country nor have they suffered pogroms like their Semitic cousins, the Jews.
All these people came from the Arabic Peninsula where a common Arabic poetic tradition had emerged among the desert tribes extolling the values of a nomadic style of life: honour, courage, loyalty, generosity, and tribal solidarity. Lengthy lyrical poems, called qasidas, were transmitted orally beginning in the 6th century AD and then written down in the 8th century. This literary explosion sowed the seeds of a common Arab identity that paved the way for the rise of Islam.
The Arabs emerged on the world historical stage in the 7th century AD with the Prophet Mohammed and the rise of Islam. Mohammed was born in Mecca in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula, an important crossroad on the trade routes connecting Yemen to the south, the Mediterranean to the north, the Persian Gulf to the east, and Africa through the Red Sea port of Jeddah to the west. Mohammed's spiritual and social message, based on the oneness of God, was first accepted in the small community of Medina but it soon replaced the several gods worshipped by the various tribes of the desert. The popularity of his message and the weakness of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires to the north contributed to the success of a remarkable series of Arab conquests. Within 20 years of Mohammed’s death in 632, Muslim Arabs ruled a territory extending from Egypt in the west to Iran in the east.
Arabs and the Arabic language played central roles in the spread of Islam. The Koran is the holy book of the Muslims who believe it is the word of God as transmitted to Mohammed in Arabic by the archangel Gabriel. The fact that Muslims believe the Koran to be the words of Allah make Arabic a sacred language for them. Arabs dominated Islamic institutions until religious control passed to the Persian hands of the Abbasid dynasty in 750 AD. Islam then became the religion of Arabs and non-Arabs alike, and the Arab elements diminished in importance as non-Arab cultures, particularly Persian, Indian, and Greek, contributed to the emergence of a new Islamic universal civilisation.
The voluntary mixing and blending of Arabs with other populations produced a cultural and scientific flowering which reached its apogee between the 8th and 10th centuries AD when Arabic was the language of politics and literature from the Atlantic to China's western border. Muslims and non-Muslims of the most diverse ethnic origins translated philosophic texts from Greek to Arabic, adapted tales from Sanskrit, and copied the styles of the ancient Persian courts. Islamic scientists made path-breaking discoveries in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and mechanics. They invented algebra, demonstrated the circulation of the blood, developed the astrolabe, and were the first to use a magnetic compass for navigation. Today Islam claims around one billion adherents around the world. The vast majority of Muslims are non-Arabs but the Arabic language keeps its special status because Muslims everywhere study classical Arabic to recite the Koran.
Arab and Muslim societies have much more in common with Europe and the West than what some narrow minded westerners claim. Islam recognises the Judaic and Christian traditions and Arab Christians and Jews have always been integral members of the Arab world. There are many historical instances of collaboration between Muslims, Christians, and Jews such as the cultural flowering that took place in Andalusia between the Arab conquest in the 8th century and the fall of Granada to the Spanish in 1492. The Arab civilisation produced many of the scientific and cultural achievements that, once transmitted to Europe, helped lay the foundations for the Renaissance. Two of the more remarkable philosophers of this age were Andalusian contemporaries: the Muslim Ibn Rushd, better known in Latin as Averroes, and the Jew Maimonides (Moche Ben Maimon), who wrote in Hebrew and in Arabic. Countless other indications of cultural and intellectual exchange across the Mediterranean are evidenced by the large number of words of Arabic origin found in Spanish and even in French and English.
Relations between the Christian states of Europe and the Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa have however been punctuated by wars and hostility from the Battle of Tours in 732, which halted the Muslim advance into Europe, through the defeat of the Byzantine forces at Manzikert in 1071 and the ensuing Crusades, to the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683. By the 17th century, the balance of power had gradually shifted in favour of the European powers, a process which was to culminate in the European colonisation of most of the Arab world. Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing through the dissolution of the Ottoman empire during World War I, Britain and France divided up most of the Arab world between themselves with Britain being granted a "Mandate" over what is now Palestine, Jordan and Iraq and France getting Lebanon and Syria by the 1919 treaty of Versailles. That is when today's Palestinians got their name, before, they were just Arabs that had lived there for more than 13 centuries.
Oil discovered in Iran was controlled by the British, discoveries in Iraq were shared 75-25 between the British and the French and the US intervened to grab its share of the Middle East petroleum wealth after WW II. They got the best part, Saudi Arabia. As early as 1928, the world's major oil companies, joined in a cartel to minimise competition between themselves. The "Seven Sisters" made huge profits while paying minimal royalties to the owners of the resources. Naturally, this created resentment against Western rule and power. The stereotypical images of backward Muslim Arabs in the American media and the view of America as the “Great Satan’’ in the imagination of many Arabs today are rooted in the violent history of colonial exploitation and the United States’ dominant role in the Middle East following the disintegration of the British and French empires after World War II.
Modern Arab nationalism took many forms but it reached the climax of its psychological and political power during the 1950s and early 1960s under the leadership of Egyptian President Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser when he defied Egypt’s former colonial ruler, Britain, by nationalising the Suez Canal in 1956. The 1967 defeat by Israel was, however, a catastrophic defeat for Nasser, for Arab nationalism, and for secularism. Since the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, Islamist political movements have become increasingly popular in the Arab world as they are seen as the only defence available against western neo-colonialism. Their influence has been generally limited to the context of their respective countries but the Al Qaeda movement might be a precursor of an international mobilisation against the American-Israeli aggression in the Middle East.
Economically, Arab countries and their populations span the spectrum from the wealthiest to the poorest populations in the world. They have access to widely different natural resources. Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Brunei rank high on the list of gross national product per capita in the world while Yemen and the Sudan are close to the bottom. Economic and social inequalities have also contributed to political strife within the Arab states. Many Arab countries are dominated by retrograde autocratic regimes, a fact which fuels popular resentment against the Americans who support them while preaching democracy and human rights from the other side of their mouth, apparently without seeing the contradiction. Political pressures and military actions from outside the region contribute to the social, economic, and political hardships. Israel, with decisive material and financial support from the United States, continues to deny Palestinian demands for independent statehood with violent consequences for both peoples. There are regional rivalries and differences but the Arab national sentiment remains powerful. Popular support for the Palestinians and resentment at the American campaign against Iraq are expressions of this sentiment all over the Arab world.
Jews & Israelis
It is interesting to note that the distant ancestors of the Jews, that have seized control of British Palestine to create the state of Israel after WW II, are closely related to the ancestors of the Arab populations they displaced and still oppress in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. Both descend from Semitic tribes that migrated out of the Arabian peninsula. Their languages are closely related and they share more genes together than either of them do with Indo-European or Asiatic people. They are cousins who observe many identical ancient customs such as circumcision, ritual slaughter of animals, disdain of pork, etc.
About 3500 BC, a first wave of nomad Semitic tribes migrated eastward out of the deserts of Arabia into the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where they absorbed the non-Semitic Sumerians and developed the Akkadian language and culture which evolved to form the Assyrian and Babylonian civilisations.
A second wave migrating north about 2500 BC gave rise to the Canaanites who peopled the lowlands between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians who settled the coast of today's Lebanon and settled along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the Amorites who occupied Syria and controlled much of Mesopotamia from about 1900 BC to 1600 BC. Around 2000 BC, one of the Canaanite tribes, the Jebusites, built a settlement called Urshalein destined to become Jerusalem 1000 years later.
Events and dates of this period remain vague because biblical tales often come in conflict with other sources (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, etc.). Biblical legends relate that Abraham first moved from Ur in south Mesopotamia to Haran in northern Mesopotamia and then to Canaan, to become founder of the Hebrew people possibly as early as 1900 BC. When researching many sources to narrow down the date of the birth of the Hebrew people, I was astonished to discover that the so called "Hebrew" Abraham and Patriarchs must have been speaking an Akkadian language from Ur because the Hebrew language did not exist at that time. Hebrew appeared only in the 12 century BC as a dialect that had evolved out of Phoenician.
Around 1700 BC, Egypt was disorganised between the Middle and New Kingdoms. Semitic tribes, (probably Amorites from Syria), invaded northern Egypt thanks to novel horse-drawn war chariots and established the Hyksos kingdom at Avaris in the Nile delta. The Hyksos controlled all of Palestine and parts of Lebanon and Syria. They were followed later by other Semitic tribes, of which the tribe of the biblical Joseph, who probably entered Egypt around 1650 BC. Around 1550 BC, however, Ahmose I, from Thebes in the south, conquered the Hyksos, enslaved the Semites remaining in Egypt, subjected Canaan to Egyptian control and became the first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.
Around 1370 BC, the 10th pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Ankhenaton, abandoned the ancient gods, moved his capital to Amarna, half way towards Memphis, to distance himself from the corrupt priestly class of Thebes and imposed a new monotheist cult to the sun god Aton. After the death of the son Tutankhaton he had with his wife Nefertiti, the priestly class re-established the ancient gods but monotheism had reached the north where Moses and the enslaved Semites which were to become Hebrews later, could have adopted it. (It is possible that the adoption of monotheism by these Semite slaves could have been antedated to attribute it to the legendary figures of Abraham and the Patriarchs the same way that the name "Hebrew" has been attributed to them in spite of the fact that the Hebrew language was born seven centuries later!)
Around 1250 BC, during the reign of Ramses II, the captive "Hebrew" slaves managed to escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. It must be around this time that they started to speak Hebrew. Either they formed Hebrew out of Phoenician themselves, which implies that the biblical Joseph and his tribe were Phoenician, or the escaped slaves learned Hebrew from other nomad tribes that joined them to conquer the land of Canaan. Their invasion was opposed by the Philistines in the south-west, by the Canaanites and Amorites in the centre and by the Phoenicians and Aramaeans in the north, but sometime around 1000 BC, the 12 confederated Hebrew tribes of "god's chosen people", united to form a monarchy under their kings Saul and David, managed to conquer Jerusalem and the land that their god Yaveh had promised them.
The victorious Hebrews initially tolerated the worship of other gods. Around 960 BC, David's son Solomon had a large temple built on the Phoenician model for the cult to Yaveh by skilled craftsmen sent by king Hiram of Tyre. He also built smaller temples for the pagan gods of his minor wives. However, that open mindedness did not last and friction soon developed between the 12 Hebrew tribes leading to their division in 930 BC between 10 tribes joining the kingdom of Israel with Samara for capital in the north and the remaining two forming the kingdom of Judah around Jerusalem in the south.
The promised land of Canaan that the Romans later named Palestine, was however a crossroad that was mostly ruled by non Hebrews such as the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Chaldaeans, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Macedonians (Alexander the Great), the Romans, the Egyptian Ptolemies, the Seleucids from Syria, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mongols, the Ottoman Turks and finally the British. As far as gifts go, Yaveh could have done better!
In 721 BC the Assyrian king Sargon II crushed the Kingdom of Israel, which ceased to exist, and deported its 10 tribes to Mesopotamia where they disappeared into oblivion as slaves (the 10 lost tribes of Israel). In 586 BC the Chaldaean king Nabuchadnazar II overran the region, destroyed the temple of Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews of the kingdom of Judah into exile to Babylon where, once more enslaved, their culture was enriched by Babylonian elements as they replaced the Hebrew language with Aramaic which was the local language.
At that time, monotheism had replaced the old polytheist religion of the Medes in the highlands east of Babylon. Mithra, the god of justice and contracts and the minor gods were all replaced by the unique god Ahura Mazda. The new religion, introduced by Zarathrustra, was spread by poetic songs called "Gathas" written in Avestan, an ancient Indo-European tongue. The generally accepted date for the introduction of monotheism in this part of the world is around 600 BC but some linguists place it much earlier because of the older age of the Avestan language. India's modern Parsee Zoroastrians claim that it dates from 1700 BC and some extreme references even mention 4000 BC! This is just one more example that shows how unreliable religious history can be after having been first transmitted verbally then written and rewritten during centuries by true believers. It is therefore also possible that the Hebrews adopted monotheism during their captivity in Babylon at the same time that they abandoned the Hebrew language to speak Aramaic sometime around 550 BC. Of course, by juggling the dates a little it could be argued that monotheism was brought to the Egyptians and to the Medes by the Hebrews but I would consider it more likely that slaves would pick up the religion of their masters rather than the other way around. Anyway, it does not have much importance today other than to note that others had also thought of monotheism.
I am not trying to be needlessly irreverent about the old testament. I think that scepticism is called for when using any "holy scripture" as a reference for historical facts. There is cause to be wary when Christians tell you that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on the sea, and came back to life three days after his death! There probably are as many questionable "historical facts" in the Koran and other Muslim scriptures. Neither Jesus nor Mohammed could read and write and we have no proof that their utterances were recorded faithfully!
In any event, the Persian King Cyrus, who was Zoroastrian but tolerant of all beliefs, conquered Babylon, Assyria, Canaan and Egypt around 536 BC. He freed the Hebrews, who were now speaking Aramaic, and allowed them to return to Jerusalem where they rebuilt their temple in 515 BC. Today's Jews are the descendants of these returning subjects of the kingdom of Judah. I don't know why the Zionists chose to call their homeland "Israel" since their ancestors did not come from the kingdom of Israel. Logically it should have been called "Judah" since the authentic "Israelites" disappeared into Assyria 13 centuries ago! Similarly, they could have decided to resuscitate Aramaean which their ancestors spoke for as long (550 BC - 150 AD). as they spoke Hebrew (1250 BC - 550 BC).
In 336 BC Alexander the Great defeated the Persians who still dominated the region and it passed into the hands of his successors, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. Around 165 BC, the Jews rebelled under the leadership of the Maccabees and struggled against foreign domination until they achieved independence around 130 BC after the disintegration of the Seleucid kingdom. Then, the Roman Empire seized Jerusalem and subdued the Jews in 63 BC. After the advent of Christ, angered by the continual struggle against the Zealots and the terrorist Sicariis, the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD and expelled the Jews from Jerusalem in 135 AD, who then began to migrate to Europe.
The Romans, which had become Christian under Constantinus in 313, were replaced by Zoroastrian Persians in 614 for two decades before Muslim Arabs, a Semitic people from of the Arabian peninsula, conquered Palestine in 634. The Arabs held it, except for short intervals of invasion by Christian Crusaders and pagan Mongols in the 11th to 13th centuries, until it fell to the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire in 1516.
In Europe, the migrating Jews regrouped in closed communities and avoided intermarriage with their Christian hosts in order to maintain the racial purity of "Yaveh's chosen people". This racial arrogance did not win friends and their voluntary religious-racial isolation produced a reciprocal rejection that often led to discrimination, repression, and pogroms. They were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1392, from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497. They established their own distinct communities amongst Arabs throughout North Africa and amongst Christians in Europe, more particularly in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway but they steadfastly remained faithful to their ancient tribal beliefs and refused to integrate like their Lebanese cousins did who are now well accepted everywhere.
Whatever be the reason, it is an unfortunate fact that the Jews did not succeed very well in the art of making friends in most of the places they settled in. Anti Semitic riots in Russia in 1881 and laws forcing the Jews into ghettos provoked the emigration of a large number of Jews to Palestine. The "exodus" was organised by the "Lovers of Zion" movement created in Odessa in 1882. (Zion is the name of the hill on which Jerusalem is built). A Viennese journalist, Theodore Herzl, started to promote his vision of a Jewish National State in 1896. The next year he convened a Congress of Jews at Basel, Switzerland and founded the World Zionist Organisation whose purpose was to establish a "Jewish National Home" in Palestine, then in Ottoman hands. The movement spread to America in 1898 and the 1905 World Zionist Congress confirmed their strategy of infiltration into Palestine after a British offer of a Jewish homeland in Uganda was rejected. The fate of the peaceful Palestinians was then sealed as the predator Jewish Diaspora had chosen its target. Zionism bloomed and 43 Jewish colonies with 100 000 Jews had already been installed in Ottoman Palestine when WW I broke out in 1914.
During the war, Britain and France agreed secretly to share the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the War, even though at that time neither country held any power at all in the region. In 1916, Zionist leaders pressured the British authorities for the creation of an autonomous Jewish settlement in Palestine until the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared British support for the establishment of a "national home" for the Jewish people provided that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". During the same time the British were promising the Arabs an independent state for their support in the war. When the war was over, Albion practised its well known "fair play" with the Arabs and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) divided up the Ottoman Empire with Great Britain getting Palestine, Jordan and Iraq and France, Lebanon and Syria.
After the war, the strategic importance of the Mossul and Baghdad oil concession granted, just before the war, by the Ottomans to The Turkish Petroleum Co. was fully realised and The Iraq Petroleum Company was formed to exploit it with British interests holding 75% and the French 25%.
In Palestine, the steady infiltration of Jews caused tensions that had been mounting for years. In 1919 the American King-Crane Commission investigated the situation and concluded that: "Zionists look forward to a practically complete dispossession of the Palestinian people". It was already increasingly clear that Zionism meant both a) the "return" of all Jews around the world to "Erzetz Israel" and their mass settlement into Palestine, and b) the exodus of indigenous Palestinian Arabs and their mass transfer out of Palestine. In other words, a complete "ethnic cleansing" of the land seven decades before the expression was invented for the "crimes against humanity" perpetrated in the Balkans.
Naturally, the Arabs did not agree with the plans the Jews had for their land. The first anti-Zionist riots occurred in Palestine in 1920. In 1922, the League of Nations nonetheless approved the British Mandate over Palestine in spite of the Balfour promise to the Jews. This mandate by a foreign colonial power prevented the self-determination of Palestinians, it facilitated Jewish immigration and it allowed the transfer of land to Jewish settlers without the consent and against militant opposition of the indigenous Palestinians. Large tracts of land were purchased or "acquired" from the Arabs, electrification of the country was initiated, and a "model" town, Tel Aviv, was laid out and built to be inhabited completely by Jews in spite of Arab protests.
Arab nationalism had been developing during the early part of the Twentieth Century in response to 4 centuries of the Turkish Ottoman rule. The Arabs were fully prepared to reclaim Palestine when the Turks were defeated in WW I. The combination of Zionist colonisation and the British Mandate necessarily caused profound Arab frustration and stimulated their growing nationalist sentiments even more. Jewish immigration and settlements continued under the Mandate with the result that there occurred serious Jewish-Arab violence at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall in 1929. In 1930, Sir John Hope Simpson was dispatched by the British government to study the economic conditions in Palestine. He found that the Zionist land policy was displacing large numbers of Arab farmers while also causing neglect and deterioration of agricultural land. Throughout the 1930s, the Arabs conducted large-scale strikes and boycotts in protest but no one bothered to listen to the Arabs desperate complaints.
Finally, the Palestinian general strike in 1936 in protest of continued Jewish immigration led to the creation of the British Peel Commission in 1937. The Commission found British promises to Zionists and Arabs irreconcilable. It declared the British Mandate unworkable, and recommended partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states with British control of the holy sites. The Zionists reluctantly accepted but the Arabs vehemently rejected the partition plan. Sporadic Palestinian rebellion lasted until 1939 until most of the Palestinian leaders had been killed, exiled or imprisoned, and the British dropped the partition plan. Instead, the British began strict controls over Jewish immigration with the intention of establishing a binational unitary state. This time, it was the Zionists who rejected the proposal. The Arabs demanded immediate creation of a secure Arab Palestine and the prohibition of all further Jewish immigration. As World War II was unfolding, Zionists and most Arabs supported the British war effort but tensions continued to mount inside Palestine.
As the Jewish community became better organised in defence of its immigration plans and settlement on indigenous Palestinian land, the militant Zionists became more violent. At a World Congress in Prague, they claimed their right to establish a Jewish majority on both sides of the Jordan River and declared that continued Arab resistance would be met by further Jewish violence.
After the war, thousands of European Jews who had survived the Nazi holocaust, sought admission to Palestine but the British blocked illegal attempts and detained the migrating Jews in Cyprus and elsewhere. The Jewish terrorist organisations responded to the blockade with an escalation of violence targeting British soldiers and blowing up a number of buildings, bridges, and railways. The oldest, the Haganah, was a armed group secretly organised as early as 1920 by the Jewish Agency, the organisation that officially worked with the Mandate authorities. The Irgun, was a terrorist group founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1929. The smallest and most extreme group, the Stern Gang had broken off from Irgun in 1940. In 1944, Irgun, under the leadership of a Polish Jew, Menachen Begin, announced its war against the Mandate and specifically its goal to assassinate British officials because of their support for a limitation of Jewish immigration quotas. Fifteen British officials had been murdered by October 1944. The terror campaign gathered momentum in 1945-46 and the British Headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel was bombed killing 91 and wounding 45. (It still rates as one of the worst terrorist act in the region after Deir Yasin that killed 254 Palestinians and the the bombing of the US Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 200.)
A 1947 London conference of British, Arabs and Zionists produced no agreement. The British then washed their hands of the Palestine problem and turned it over to the United Nations in February 1947. There were then about 1,100,000 Muslim Arabs, 615,000 Jews, and 145,000 Christian Arabs in Palestine. In April 1947, the UN General Assembly established a Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that proposed partitioning Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states and an international zone including Jerusalem and the holy sites. This was similar to the plan proposed by the British in 1937 following the Peel Commission. The UN plan was adopted on November 29, 1947. Great Britain abstained and the Arab representatives left the General Assembly session declaring they would resist that partition.
The armed Zionist organisations began at once to forcefully expel Palestinians from their homes, claiming that attack by Arab armies was imminent. Terrorism against civilian populations had been consciously chosen as the best strategy to force the Palestinians to leave their land. On April 9, 1948, the Irgun terrorist organisation, commanded by Menachen Begin, attacked the village of Deir Yasin, killing 254 Palestinian men, women and children. It was spectacular but it was only one act amongst many of an increased campaign of violence. Thousands of Palestinians did leave the country in fear of their lives. Begin later declared: "There would have been no State of Israel without Deir Yasin."
Today, half a century later Jews everywhere tear their robes and scream that terrorism is the utmost evil but they conveniently forget that Israel was born thanks to terrorism. Jews condemn terrorism now but they wrote the manual on that form of warfare. Not only recently, but also 20 centuries ago when the fanatical Jewish Zealots called "Sicariis" practised the systematic assassination of their Roman oppressors. I concur that terrorism of innocent civilians is evil but I think that righteous lying, manipulation, hypocrisy and mind rape is just as bad because everyone is victimised even those who are not involved.
On May 14, 1948, the British High Commissioner for Palestine departed the country and the Jews held a ceremony in Tel Aviv to read the declaration of independence of the Jewish State for the Jewish people to be called Israel. That is when the Israelis got their name, before, they were just Jews that had moved into Palestine. The new state had no boundaries and, to this day, more than five decades later, Israel is the only country in the world, the only member of the UN that refuses to accept any identified boundaries. It is worthy of note that Israel was established as a state for the "Jewish People wherever they might be" and not as the state of its citizens. The UN partition plan, however, did identify the boundaries on a map, generally described as a) a narrow strip of coast, including the ports of Haifa and Tel Aviv, but leaving Jaffa and Acre to the Palestinians, b) most of the Negev, a large arid sector in the south, and c) eastern Galilee around Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). The new state of Israel, without definite borders, received immediate recognition by the United States and Russia.
There were also a lot of Jews in Florida. To get an objective feeling for what happened in Palestine, just try to imagine how the average non Jewish American would feel if, a century ago, the "Lovers of Zion" had decided to call themselves the "Lovers of the Everglades" and had set their sights on Florida as the home of the Jews instead of Palestine. What would have happened if after a century of legal jousting and shoving, the terrorist organisations, Haganah, Irgun and Stern Gang, had decided that the time had come to violently throw out the people who had been in Florida before them in order to create a homeland for all the "god chosen" Jews of the world! It's easy to agree that a new landfill has become necessary but nobody wants it in their back yard!
Naturally, the Arab states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq tried to invade the new state of Israel on May 14, 1948. The Jews had however been preparing for war for a long time, the Jewish Diaspora had sent many volunteers from all over the world and had financed the purchase of the weapons required to equip them. They had planted many land mines and possessed abundant ammunition. Many of their weapons were Soviet made purchased through Czechoslovakia. The Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, a puppet protected by the United States, had also participated in a variety of schemes whereby arms were smuggled through Central America to the Zionists as early as 1939-40. Nearly 800,000 Palestinians were expelled almost immediately from their homes and villages in the areas attributed to Israel by the partition. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed and only a 120 000 Arabs managed to remain living within this first version of Israel. This mass expulsion became known to the world community as the first wave of Palestinian refugees. Most of them still live in wretched camps and they now number more than 2 million.
An Armistice was signed in January 1949, ending the first Arab-Israeli War, by which Israel increased by over 40% the size of its partitioned territory. This came to be known as the Green Line Israel inside the pre-1967 borders. Israel conducted elections for its parliament, the Knesset, in January 1949 and on May 11th Israel was admitted to the UN. Within a year, 40 nations recognised this borderless state.
A much different, tragic situation was in store for the Palestinians. More than half had abandoned their homes. Most lived as refugees in the west bank of the Jordan River, a territory that was then part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Gaza Strip had come under Egyptian administration. Palestine ceased to exist as a political and administrative entity. In the eyes of the UN, and therefore international law, the Palestinians were stateless and without any citizenship. They are officially refugees, a "problem" awaiting resolution.
Palestinians who continued to live in Mandate Palestine on the day of the 1949 census acquired the new legal designation of "Arab Israelis". Palestinians living on the West Bank were naturalised according to Jordanian law, as well as those who sought refuge on the east bank of the Jordan River. Those remaining in Gaza, or who sought refuge in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, remained stateless but subject to the control of the countries in which they resided. Over a million presently have this explicit stateless status.
In June 1967, well supplied with US weapons, Israel attacked its neighbours and, in 6 days, seized all of the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. All of the historical Palestine came under the military control of Israel. The Golan Heights and Jerusalem were annexed and 100 000 Jews were rapidly installed there. The best Palestinian lands in the occupied territories were confiscated to build Jewish settlements which were given priority access to the scarce water resources.
The events since that 1967 war have been a succession of horror stories for both parties but mostly for the Palestinians. Major dates are: the 1973 Arab war on Israel, the Camp David Agreements in 1979, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the October 1991 Madrid peace conference, the September 1993 first Oslo Accords,the September 1995 second Oslo Accords, the November 1998 Wye Agreement, and the May 1999 Sharm El Sheik Memorandum. Detailed information and analysis on the events since 1967 can be found on the Internet. I have listed a number of sources below but I can recommend the Israeli website "The Arab Israel Conflict in Maps" for the convenient format in which it reviews the history of this tormented land. I leave it up to you to exercise critical judgement as to the content and to complement it with Arab sources for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon is not mentioned there.
Much ado was made by the American media about Arafat's refusal of the last peace proposals presented by Clinton and Ehud Barak but they did not show the details of the "Palestinian State" that was offered. Acceptance would have meant the irrevocable abandon to Israel of total civil and military control over the white areas shown here inside the green line (60 % of the West Bank). The Palestinians would have been granted civil control over the brown and yellow islands isolated one from the others and from neighbouring countries and perfectly controlled by a web of Israeli fenced-in rapid access roads connecting the Jewish settlements shown in blue. As for Gaza, everyone who has been there will tell you that it is a huge, overpopulated concentration camp.
In plain English that means that Arafat was asked to commit the Palestinian people to agree to be relegated to "reservations" where they would remain subject to the whim of the overwhelming might of the Israeli army. The farmers that had been forcibly removed from their land would provide cheap labour for Israeli enterprises and the three million Palestinians surviving in these reservations would continue being a captive market for Israeli products. (The occupied territories presently absorb 25% of Israeli exports.)
I am certain that my American friends, who might be angry with me for my pro-Palestinian position, have never seen this crucially important map because it has not been shown nor explained to the American public. Neither have their biased media informed them that their tax dollars had paid for the expropriation of the best land for new Jewish colonies and roads in the West Bank. Thanks to the internet, however, those who still have an open mind can now assemble all the facts they need to generate their own perception and escape the manipulation they have been subjected to.
The Israeli did not invent this system of Arab reservations. It is remarkably similar to the system of "bantustans" used by the racist whites to isolate the black majority for the same purpose under the regime of apartheid in South Africa (compare the two maps). It is not surprising that young Palestinians have lost hope of a decent coexistence and prefer death by dynamite to the kind of slavery they are being offered.
The Israeli claim loudly that all they want is peace and security but they choose escalation instead of stopping the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can see that Israel is not looking for peace but for total domination. In continuing their policies of occupation and regional aggression, Israel has defied dozens of separate United Nations Resolutions since 1967 (see here three independent sites on this matter A, B, C). The repression required to "successfully" occupy the Palestinian people in their own country is nothing short of a systematic effort to destroy them. IT IS GENOCIDE.
The US claim they want peace in the Middle East but they choose to maintain their unconditional support of Israel. Actions speak louder than words no matter the level of expertise the American media have attained in the art of manipulating public opinion. The American government has become quite good at using the carrot of aid and the stick of trade sanctions to force weaker countries to comply with it's will. There is not a shadow of a doubt that the US has all the means of persuasion required to put an end to the Israeli crisis if it really wanted to. To begin, they could cut off their three billion dollar annual subsidy to Israel with the promise of reinstating some of it progressively as Israel effectively withdraws from its settlements in the occupied territories. The US would stop blocking the intervention of United Nation's observers and peacekeepers to monitor and prevent provocation from either party. Then it could implement a "Middle East Marshall Plan" to establish an independent Palestinian State in the occupied territories and to rebuild all that Israel has destroyed there. The expense of such a plan would compensate the huge subsidies granted Israel in the last 50 years. I am convinced that such a reversal of policy would end Islamic terrorism more rapidly and at a lesser cost in money and lives than the present hard line.
Some US presidents have, from time to time, gone through the motions of brokering peace accords between the parties but they never have exerted sufficient pressure for the Israeli to take them seriously. Their soft treatment of Israel could have been motivated by a fear of the electoral weight of the Zionist organisations in America but I think there is also something else. I doubt that the US would have become so deeply involved if the 1905 Zionist Congress had accepted the British offer of a "Jewish Homeland" in Uganda where there is no oil!
The presence of half of the world's oil reserves in the Middle East is a towering geopolitical factor that no one can ignore. The highly strategic "oil factor" is however never mentioned in the noble sounding policy declarations of the American government about Israel and the Middle East. The contradiction between the "words of peace" and the "actions of war" (3 billion/year), of the US government invite speculation about a hidden agenda that could explain why the US not only allows the continued Israeli aggression in the occupied territories but apparently welcomes the deterioration of the crisis and the destabilisation of the whole region.
As the days and weeks pass, it becomes more and more obvious to me, and to a lot of people around the world, that Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" are only a pretext to justify an American military intervention to seize the enormous oil and gas reserves of the Middle East. Each day, when I watch the American televised news, and particularly CNN, I feel anger to see that I am being lied to and sadness to realise that the ordinary people of US and of their allies are all being dragged into a new war that is not in their interest but in that of Israel and of the American corporate establishment.
I have no smoking gun evidence to prove this but it makes more sense than the black and white caricature of "Arab baddies" and "Israeli goodies" that we are supposed to believe in!
The following websites offer varied and detailed information on the history of the region and on the Israeli crisis. They are listed here in alphabetical order. Some are published by Arab or Jewish militant organisations and some by apparently neutral bodies such as universities. Naturally, they are all more or less biased for it is practically impossible to write objectively about this crisis. I have chosen these sites for the relevance of their content irrespectively of the distortions they may contain. All of them are worth exploring but it is your responsibility to sort out the facts from the propaganda and to protect your judgement from the outright lies you will find on both sides.