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Background to the Israel-Palestine Crisis
What are the modern origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
World War I, Britain made three different promises regarding historic . Arab leaders were assured that the land would become independent; in the Balfour declaration, Palestine Britain indicated its support for a Jewish national home in Palestine; and secretly Britain arranged with its allies to divide up Ottoman territory, with Palestine becoming part of the British empire. Historians have engaged in detailed exegesis of the relevant texts and maps, but the fundamental point is that Britain had no moral right to assign to anyone. By right Palestine belonged to its inhabitants. Palestine
In the late l9th century, anti-Semitism became especially virulent in
Russia and re-emerged in . Some Jews concluded that Jews would only be safe in a Jewish state and thus founded Zionism. Most Jews at the time rejected Zionism, preferring instead to address the problem of anti-Semitism through revolutionary or reformist politics or assimilation. For many orthodox Jews, especially the small Jewish community in France , a Jewish state could only be established by God, not by humans. At first Zionists were willing to consider other sites for their Jewish state, but they eventually focused on Palestine for its biblical connections. The problem, however, was that although a Zionist slogan called Palestine "a land without people for a people without land," the land was not empty. Palestine
World War I, Britain arranged for the League of Nations to make Palestine a British "mandate," that is, a colony to be administered by and prepared for independence. To help justify its rule over Arab land, Britain arranged that one of its duties as the mandatory power would be to promote a Jewish national home. Britain
Who were the Jews who came to
The early Zionist settlers were idealistic, often socialist, individuals, fleeing oppression. In this respect they were like the early American colonists. But also like the American colonists, many Zionists had racist attitudes toward the indigenous people and little regard for their well-being.
Some Zionists thought in terms of Arab-Jewish cooperation and a bi-national state, but many were determined to set up an exclusively Jewish state (though to avoid antagonizing the Palestinians, they decided to use the term Jewish "national home" rather than "state" until they were able to bring enough Jews to Palestine).
Jewish immigration to
was relatively limited until the 1930s, when Hitler came to power. The Palestine U.S. and Europe closed their doors to immigration by desperate Jews, making one of the few options. Palestine
Who were the indigenous people of
Pro-lsrael propaganda has argued that most Palestinians entered
Palestine after 1917, drawn to the economic dynamism of the growing Jewish community, and thus have no rights to . This argument has been elaborated in Joan Peters's widely promoted book, From Time lmmemorial. However, the book has been shown to be fraudulent and its claim false. The indigenous population was mostly Muslim, with a Christian and a smaller Jewish minority. As Zionists arrived from Palestine Europe, the Muslims and Christians began to adopt a distinctly Palestinian national identity.
How did Zionists acquire land in
Some was acquired illegally and some was purchased from Arab landlords with funds provided by wealthy Jews in
Europe. The legal purchases were often morally questionable as they sometimes involved buying land from absentee landlords and then throwing poor Arab peasants off the land. Land thus purchased became part of the Jewish National Fund, which specified that the land could never be sold or leased to Arabs. Even with these purchases, Jews owned only about 6 percent of the land by 1947.
Was Palestinian opposition to Zionism a result of anti-Semitism?
Anti-Semitism in the Arab world was generally far less severe than in
Europe. Before the beginning of Zionist immigration, relations among the different religious groups in were relatively harmonious. There was Palestinian anti-Semitism, but no people will look favorably on another who enter one's territory with the intention of setting up their own sovereign state. The expulsion of peasants from their land and the frequent Zionist refusal to employ Arabs exacerbated relations. Palestine
What was the impact of
? World War Il
As war approached,
Britain shrewdly calculated that they could afford to alienate Jews-who weren't going to switch to Hitler's side-but not Arabs, so they restricted Jewish immigration into . This was precisely when the need for sanctuary for Palestine Europe's Jews was at its height. Many Jews smuggled their way into as the Western nations kept their borders closed to frantic refugees. Palestine
At war's end, as the enormity of the Holocaust became evident, for the first time Zionism became a majority sentiment among world Jewry. Many U.S. Christians supported Zionism as a way to absolve their guilt for what had happened, without having to allow Jews into the
. U.S. Zionists, who during the war had subordinated rescue efforts to their goal of establishing a Jewish state, argued that the Holocaust confirmed the need for a Jewish state: Had Israel existed in 1939, millions of Jews might have been saved. Actually, United States Palestine narrowly avoided being overrun by the Nazis, so Jews would have been far safer in the than in a Jewish Palestine. United States
During the war many Jews in
joined the British army. By war's end, the Jewish community in Palestine was well armed, well-organized, and determined to fight. The Palestinians were poorly armed, with feudal leaders. The Mufti of Jerusalem had been exiled by the British for supporting an Arab revolt in 1936-39 and had made his way to Palestine during the war where he aided Nazi propaganda. From the Zionist point of view, it was considered a plus to have the extremist Mufti as the Palestinians' leader. As David Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish community in Berlin Palestine and 's first prime minister, advised in 1938, "rely on the Mufti." Israel
What were the various positions in 1947?
Both the Palestinians and the Zionists wanted the British out so they could establish an independent state. The Zionists, particularly a right-wing faction led by Menachem Begin, launched a terror campaign against
. Britain London, impoverished by the war, announced that it was washing its hands of the problem and turning it over to the UN (though had various covert plans for remaining in the region). Britain
The Zionists declared that, having gone through one of the great catastrophes of modern history, the Jewish people were entitled to a state of their own, one into which they could gather Jewish refugees, still languishing in the displaced persons camps of
Europe. The Zionist bottom line was a sovereign state with full control over immigration. The Palestinians argued that the calamity that befell European Jews was hardly their fault. If Jews were entitled to a state, why not carve it out of ? As it was, Germany had more Jewish refugees than any other place in the world. Why should they bear the full burden of atoning for Palestine Europe's sins'? They were willing to give full civil rights (though not national rights) to the Jewish minority in an independent Palestine, but they were not willing to give this minority the right to control immigration and bring in more of their co-religionists until they were a majority to take over the whole of . Palestine
A small left-wing minority among the Zionists called for a binational state in
, where both peoples might live together, each with their national rights respected. This view had little support among Jews or Palestinians. Palestine
What did the UN do and why?
In November 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition
Palestine into two independent states, a Jewish state and an Arab state, joined by an economic union, with internationalized. Jerusalem
In 1947 the UN had many fewer members than it does today. Most
Third World nations were still colonies and thus not members. Nevertheless, the partition resolution passed because the Soviet Union and its allies voted in favor and because many small states were subject to improper pressure. For example, members of the U.S. Congress told the Philippines that it would not get economic aid unless it voted for partition. U.S. Moscow favored partition as a way to reduce British influence in the region; was viewed as potentially less pro-Western than the dominant feudal monarchies. Israel
Didn't Palestinians have a chance for a state of their own in 1947, but they rejected it by going to war with
In 1947 Jews were only one-third of the population of
and owned only 6 percent of the land. Yet the partition plan granted the Jewish state 55 percent of the total land area. The Arab state was to have an overwhelmingly Arab population, while the Jewish state would have almost as many Arabs as Jews. If it was unjust to force Jews to be a one-third minority in an Arab state, it was no more just to force Arabs to be an almost 50 percent minority in a Jewish state. Palestine
The Palestinians rejected partition. The Zionists accepted it, but in private Zionist leaders had more expansive goals. In 1938, during earlier partition proposals, Ben Gurion stated, "when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of
The Mufti called Palestinians to war against partition, but very few Palestinians responded. The "decisive majority" of Palestinians, confided Ben Gurion, "do not want to fight us." The majority "accept the partition as a fait accompli," reported a Zionist Arab affairs expert. The 1936-39 Arab revolt against the British had mass popular support, but the 1947-48 fighting between the Mufti's followers and Zionist military forces did not.
But even if Palestinians were fully united in going to war against the partition plan, this can provide no moral justification for denying them their basic right of self-determination for over 50 years. This right is not a function of this or that agreement, but a basic right to which every person is entitled. (Israelis don't lose their right to self-determination because their government violated countless UN cease-fire resolutions.)
achieve larger borders in 1948 as a result of a defensive war of independence? Israel
Arab armies crossed the border on May 15, 1948, after
declared its independence. But this declaration came three and a half months before the date specified in the partition resolution. The Israel U.S. had proposed a three-month truce on the condition that postpone its declaration of independence. The Arab states accepted and Israel Israel rejected, in part because it had worked out a secret deal with 's King Abdullah, whereby his Arab Legion would invade the Palestinian territory assigned to the Palestinian state and not interfere with the Jewish state. (Since Jordan Jordan was closely allied to Britain, the scheme also provided a way for to maintain its position in the region.) The other Arab states invaded as much to thwart Abdullah's designs as to defeat London . Israel
Most of the fighting took place on territory that was to be part of the Palestinian state or the internationalized
. Thus, Jerusalem was primarily fighting not for its survival, but to expand its borders at the expense of the Palestinians. For most of the war, the Israelis actually held both a quantitative and qualitative military edge, apart from the fact that the Arab armies were uncoordinated and operating at cross purposes. Israel
When the armistice agreements were signed in 1949, the Palestinian state had disappeared, its territory taken over by
Israel and Jordan, with in control of the Gaza Strip. Egypt , which was to have been internationalized, was divided between Israeli and Jordanian control. Jerusalem Israel now held 78 percent of . Some 700,000 Palestinians had become refugees. Palestine
Why did Palestinians become refugees in 1948?
The Israeli government claims that Palestinians chose to leave
voluntarily, instructed to do so via radio broadcasts from Arab leaders who wanted to clear a path for their armies. But radio broadcasts from the area were monitored by the British and American governments and no evidence of general orders to flee has ever been found. On the contrary, there are numerous instances of Arab leaders telling Palestinians to stay put, to keep their claim to the territory. People flee during wartime for a variety of reasons and that was certainly the case here. Some left because war zones are dangerous environments. Some because of Zionist atrocities-most dramatically at Deir Yassin where, in April 1948, 254 defenseless civilians were slaughtered. Some left in panic, aided by Zionist psychological warfare, which warned that Deir Yassin's fate awaited others. Some were driven out at gunpoint, with killings to speed them on their way, as in the towns of Ramle and Lydda. In short, the Palestinians were subjected to ethnic cleansing similar to that seen in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Palestine
There is no longer any serious doubt that many Palestinians were forcibly expelled. The exact numbers driven out versus those who panicked or sought safety is still contested, but what permits us to say that all were victims of ethnic cleansing is that Israeli officials refused to allow any of them to return. (In Kosovo, any ethnic Albanian refugee, whether he or she was forced out at gunpoint, panicked, or even left to make it easier for NATO to bomb, was entitled to return.) In
, Arab villages were bulldozed, citrus groves, lands, and property seized, and their owners and inhabitants prohibited from returning. Not only was the property of "absentee" Palestinians expropriated, but any Palestinians who moved from one place within Israel to another during the war were declared "present absentees" and their property expropriated as well. Israel
Of the 860,000 Arabs who had lived in areas of
Palestine that became , only 133,000 remained. Some 470,000 moved into refugee camps on the West Bank (controlled by Israel Jordan) or the Gaza Strip (administered by ). The rest dispersed to Egypt Lebanon, , and other countries. Syria
expel the Palestinians? Israel
In part to remove a potential fifth column. In part to obtain their property. In part to make room for more Jewish immigrants. But mostly because the notion of a Jewish state with a large non-Jewish minority was extremely awkward for Israeli leaders. Because
Israel took over some territory intended for the Palestinian state, there had actually been an Arab majority living within the borders of . Nor was the idea of expelling Palestinians something that just emerged in the 1948 war. In 1937, Ben Gurion had written to his son, "We will expel the Arabs and take their places...with the force at our disposal." Israel
How did the international community react?
In December 1948, the General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which declared that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so" and that "compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return." This same resolution was overwhelmingly adopted year after year.
repeatedly refused to carry out the terms of the resolution. Israel
Did the Arab countries take steps to resettle the Palestinian refugees?
were Palestinians eligible for citizenship. In Jordan , the government feared that allowing Lebanon
Palestinians to become citizens would disturb the country's delicate Christian-Muslim balance; in
, the shortage of arable land led the government to confine the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip. It must be noted, however, that the Palestinians were reluctant to leave the camps if that would mean acquiescing in the loss of homes and property or giving up their right to return. Egypt
It is sometimes implied that the lack of assistance to Palestinians from Arab nations justifies
's refusal to acknowledge and address the claims of the refugees. But if you harm someone, you are responsible for redressing that harm, regardless of whether the victim's relatives are supportive. Israel
Hasn't there been a population exchange, with Jews from Arab lands coming to
and replacing the Palestinians? Israel
This argument makes individual Palestinians responsible for the wrong-doing of Arab governments. Jews left Arab countries under various circumstances: some were forced out, some came voluntarily, some were recruited by Zionist officials. In
, Jews feared that they might be harmed, a fear possibly helped along by some covert bombs placed by Zionist agents. But whatever the case, there are no moral grounds for punishing Palestinians (or denying them their due) because of how Jews were treated in the Arab world. If Iraq Italy were to abuse American citizens, this would not justify the harming or expelling Italian-Americans. United States
How were the Palestinians who remained within
Most Arabs lived in the border areas of
and, until 1966, these areas were all declared military security zones, which essentially meant that Palestinians were living under martial law conditions for nearly 20 years. After 1966, Arab citizens of Israel continued to be the victims of harsh discrimination: most of the country's land is owned by the Jewish National Fund which prohibits its sale or lease to non-Jews; schools for Palestinians in Israel are, in the words of Human Rights Watch, "separate and unequal"; and government spending has been funneled so as to keep Arab villages underdeveloped. Thousands of Israeli Arabs live in villages declared "unrecognized" and hence ineligible for electricity or any other government services. Israel
Following 1948, didn't the Arab states continually try to destroy
's victory in the 1948-49 war, there were several opportunities for peace. There was blame on all sides, but Israeli intransigence was surely a prime factor. In 1951, a UN peace plan was accepted by Israel Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, but rejected by . Israel
When Nasser came to power in
Egypt, he made overtures to that were rebuffed. When Nasser negotiated an end to British control of the Suez Canal zone, Israeli intelligence covertly arranged a bombing campaign of western targets in Israel as a way to discourage British withdrawal. The plot was foiled, Egypt Egypt executed some of the plotters, and Israel responded with a major military attack on . In 1956, Gaza Israel joined with Britain and France in invading Egypt, drawing condemnation from the and the UN. United States
How were the
occupied? Occupied Territories
In June 1967,
Israel launched a war in which it seized all of Palestine (the West Bank including East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt), along with the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from . Large numbers of Palestinians, some living in cities, towns, and villages, and some in refugee camps, came under Israeli control. (In 2001, half the Palestinian population of the Syria lived in refugee camps. The Israeli conquest also sent a new wave of refugees from Occupied Territories to surrounding countries.) Palestine
Israel's supporters argue that although Israel fired the first shots in this war, it was a justified preventive war, given that Arab armies were mobilizing on 's borders with murderous rhetoric. The rhetoric was indeed blood-curdling and many people around the world worried for Israel 's safety. But those who understood the military situation-in Tel Aviv and the Pentagon-knew that even if the Arabs struck first, Israel would prevail in any war. Nasser was looking for a way out and agreed to send his vice-president to Israel for negotiations. Washington Israel attacked when it did in part because it rejected negotiations and the prospect of any face-saving compromise for Nasser. Menachem Begin, an enthusiastic supporter of this (and other) Israeli wars, was quite clear about the necessity of launching an attack. In June 1967, he said, "had a choice." Egyptian Army concentrations did not prove that Israel Nasser was about to attack. "We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
However, even if it were the case that the 1967 war was wholly defensive on
's part, this cannot justify the continued rule over Palestinians. Sure, punish Egypt and Jordan-don't give them back Gaza and the West Bank (which they had no right to in the first place, having joined with Israel in carving up the stillborn Palestinian state envisioned in the UN's 1947 partition plan). But there is no basis for punishing the Palestinian population by forcing them to submit to foreign military occupation. Israel
Israel immediately incorporated occupied East Jerusalem into Israel proper, announcing that was its united and eternal capital. It then began to establish settlements in the Jerusalem in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit a conquering power from settling its population on occupied territory. These settlements, placed in strategic locations throughout the West Bank and Occupied Territories , were intended to "create facts" on the ground to make the occupation irreversible. Gaza
How did the international community respond to the Israeli occupation?
In November 1967, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 242. The resolution emphasized "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and called for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territory occupied in the recent conflict." It also called for all countries in the region to end their state of war and to respect the right of each country "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. "
Israel argued that because resolution 242 called for Israeli withdrawal from "territories," rather than "the territories," occupied in the recent conflict, it meant that Israel could keep some of them as a way to attain "secure" borders. The official French and Russian texts of the resolution include the definite article, but in any event
U.S. officials told Arab delegates that it expected "virtually complete withdrawal" by Israel, and this was the view as well of Britain, France, and the . USSR
Palestinians objected to the resolution because it referred to them only in calling for "a just settlement to the refugee problem" rather than acknowledging their right to self-determination. By the mid-1970s, however, the international consensus-rejected by
Israel and the United States-was expanded to include support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and , perhaps with insignificant border adjustments. Gaza
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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