A close-friend wrote to my wife with serious concerns about her nephew, a bright and idealistic young man who came home from his elite university full of indignation about the state of Israel and its alleged destruction of the once flourishing nation of Palestine. In response, I wrote back with a general point about any nation’s “right to exist” and four specific questions about the recent history of the Middle East:
If Israel has no right to exist, what is America’s right to exist?
Both countries give the same answer: refugees and settlers from around the world came to our land and built up a nation over more than a century, making major sacrifices in blood and toil to establish a new nation based on shared ideas rather than long-time indigenous residence. If anything, Israel’s claim to legitimacy is MUCH stronger than the US claim for three reasons:
1) No one claims that the Brits (and others) who settled North America were coming back to an ancestral homeland.
2) No international organization ever recognized their right to that homeland, as the League of Nations did for Israel in 1923 and the United Nations did in 1947.
3) No one can possibly claim that Israeli settlement caused a demographic disaster for the native population since the PALESTINIAN population of the country is more than 50 times greater than it was when Jewish return began in earnest in the 1880’s. At no time—in no decade—did Palestinian population decline, but the Native American population drastically declined (mostly through disease, by the way) from the beginning of European colonization (1607) until 1900 (when Indian numbers began a dramatic rise).
1) If Palestine was the ancient homeland of an ancient people with their own strong sense of national identity, can anyone name, please, the most famous Palestinians produced in those centuries and millennia of history? Who was the most celebrated of all in the long line of Palestinian kings, or viceroys, or prime ministers? Which Palestinian poet or philosopher stirred the world with his words and ideas? Which great Palestinian scientist or inventor or composer or painter achieved international or even regional renown? The inability to answer that question doesn’t testify to a lack of ability or brilliance: it testifies to the synthetic, phony nature of “Palestinian” identity. There were no remarkable or brilliant kings of Palestine because there were no kings of Palestine at all—no Arab nation every existed in this area, only ill-defined pieces of various Islamic, Turkic, Byzantine and Roman empires over the course of 2,000 years. The only time any national identity existed centered on this particular piece of real estate, that national identity was Jewish: that’s why the only famous “Palestinians” who ever existed were Jews, from King David to Jesus to Moses Maimonides (died in Israel in 1215) to David Ben Gurion. No “Palestinian” Arab nationalism ever existed, as distinct from Pan-Arabism, until Yasser Arafat (born in Egypt, raised in Kuwait) invented it out of whole cloth after the June war of 1967.
2) If Palestinians merely yearn to establish their own homeland on the West Bank, Gaza and in East Jerusalem, why did they make no effort to do so—and no progress in doing so—during the twenty years when all those territories were in unquestioned Arab control (1947-1967) without a single Jewish “settler” or even resident allowed to live there? The ancient Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, inhabited by a religious Jewish community without interruption for more than 3,000 years, had been liquidated of all Jews, with more than 50 major synagogues utterly destroyed—by explosions and bulldozers—after the Old City fell to Jordanian troops in 1949. Before the war of extermination launched by Nasser in May, 1967, there were ZERO Israeli communities anywhere in “Palestinian territory” but no moves toward statehood. Isn’t this definitive proof that the whole purpose of “Palestinian nationalism” has nothing to do with building a Palestinian state (where one never, ever existed) but in destroying a Jewish state (which did exist in the region for more than 1,000 years)?
3) Zionism and Jewish return to that ancient homeland began in the 1880’s. Before Hitler even came to power, a half million Jews had settled permanently in today’s Israel and built whole new cities where none ever previously existed (Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv, was founded in 1909 on empty sand dunes, purchased from their absentee owners, and today the metro area is home to 4,000,000 Jews and more than 42% of Israel’s population). Question: during all this energetic and fateful Jewish resettlement, when did the very first Palestinian refugees lose their homes and find themselves driven from their ancient patrimony? Answer: only AFTER 1948, and the war of destruction launched by local Arabs and, ultimately, their Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian Lebanese and Iraqi allies in 1948-9. The population figures are unequivocal, undeniable, compiled not by Jews and Zionists but by Ottoman Turks, Brits, and Palestinian Arabs themselves: Jewish settlement didn’t drive Palestinians from the land, but rather attracted them to it in unprecedented numbers. In fact, Palestinian population not only increased alongside the Jewish population, but increased at faster rates: between WWI and WWII (1918-1929) the Jewish population went up by 470,000 but the Palestinian Arab population went up by 588,000. Palestinian life expectancy, living standards and education levels also improved spectacularly, as measured by all international and Arab organizations.
4) If Israel is truly an alien presence imposed on the region by the imperialist, colonialist designs of the United States and its Western allies, due to the overwhelming power of conspiring Zionists and Jewish voters, then how many American troops have lost their lives or even risked their lives on Israel’s behalf in the 65 years of the nation’s history? Answer: absolutely zero. In none of Israel’s wars did American military forces take an active role. In fact, in Israel’s War of Independence (1948-49), while the young nation lost more than 1% of its total population on the battlefield (the equivalent of 3,100,000 Americans today), the Israel Defense Forces were crippled by a thorough American arms embargo that prevented any material or military assistance to the Jewish state. Arab oil interests have always been more influential on shaping Western policy than Zionist pressure or pleas.
During all the years of Hitler’s Holocaust (1939-45), and in the three years immediately following the war, the British government did NOTHING to help Jewish refugees who tried to flee to Israel and in fact banned their emigration entirely, arresting and deporting any Jews who attempted to enter the area of Mandatory Palestine (today’s Israel, Palestinian territories, and Jordan). As recently as 1967, when Egypt’s dictator Nasser repeatedly announced his intention to “eliminate” the Jewish presence in the region and ordered the UN peace-keeping troops to get out of his way (they immediately complied), the US Secretary of State Dean Rusk announced to the world that America would remain “neutral in thought, word and deed” and would do nothing to rescue the threatened Jewish population.
Major US Foreign Aid to Israel didn’t begin until after the October War of 1973, as part of an effort by the Nixon and Carter administrations to bribe the Israelis, basically, to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Part of the peace agreement brokered by Carter involved promises of aide at its current levels to both Egypt and Israel. In 1967, Israel won its war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan without any American planes in its air force; the nation relied on French “Mirages” it had purchased to confront the advanced Russian MIGs used by the other side.
Finally, if pro-Israel policies are the result of Jewish influence rather than American self-interest, then why do Jewish voters remain unshakably committed to the Democratic Party which has been consistently less supportive of Israel’s interests than the Republicans. The most pro-Israel political figures in American history—“Mr. Republican” Bob Taft, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush—NEVER attracted a majority of Jewish votes, but the most anti-Israel nominees—George McGovern and Jimmy Carter—unfailingly performed well in the Jewish community as long as they were Democrats. Since FDR, only one Democrat failed to win more than 60% of the Jewish vote: Jimmy Carter in 1980, who saw the Jewish vote split three ways (and nearly evenly) between himself, liberal independent candidate John Anderson, and Reagan. In 2012, Romney (a personal friend of Netanyahu’s for 30 years) was clearly, unabashedly more pro-Israel than Obama (who had feuded publicly and bitterly with the Israeli government) but Obama still drew 70% of the Jewish vote.
As to the belief that a more pro-Palestinian policy on the part of the US would lead to reduced terrorism against American targets, consider that the worst, bloodiest terrorists outrages in US history all were launched and planned under the most pro-Palestinian administration in US history. Bill Clinton not only presided over the Oslo Accords, granting recognition to the Palestinian Authority, but met more frequently with Yasser Arafat than he did with any foreign leader. Yet under Clinton, Islamist terrorists plotted the first AND second World Trade Center bombings (yes, 9/11 was entirely planned and set up during Clinton), the Embassy Bombings in East Africa, Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, and so forth. Under that pro-Palestinian US regime, and the similarly pro-Palestinian Israeli regimes of “peace makers” Rabin and Peres, Israeli deaths at the hands of terrorists averaged nearly 200 per year; under the “get tough” policies of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu, those deaths have averaged less than 20 a year.
These are facts.
Please invite any doubters to check them out, with independent sources. These facts—and the four questions posed above—simply do not conform to the anti-Israel narrative. How, for instance, can you describe Palestinians as a people dispossessed when their population swelled and their conditions dramatically improved simultaneous to mass Jewish immigration?
As to book resources (beyond my own Medved History Store CD’s) try ISRAEL: A HISTORY by Sir Martin Gilbert (Churchill’s authorized biographer) or MYTHS AND FACTS: A GUIDE TO THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT by Dr. Mitchell Bard of California State University, Sacramento.