The question of peace in the Middle East, and more particularly Israel, has been the subject of countless books, magazine and newspaper articles, and talk radio for decades. On the periphery of my memory are images of brief, lightning-like wars that played out on our black and white television screen. Israel, that small scrappy little country was once again victorious and figures like Moshe Dyan and Ariel Sharon swaggered into the camera. As with most Americans born after World War II, I had little knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews in Europe and knew even less about the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. I was vaguely aware of Golda Mier’s leadership role but not much else.
Year and year out there was continuing coverage of conflict, truces, peace negotiations, broken truces, more conflict. The cycle never seemed to end and nagging thoughts about why there couldn’t be peace there entered my adult consciousness. The European Jewish population had suffered horrendous atrocities and in my mind they deserved a refuge, a sanctuary, and the newly created state of Israel was that place. I was unaware at the time of how it was created and at whose expense.
As with so much of the strife in the Middle East, the conflicts have their roots in the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. To the victors go the spoils is the old adage and Britain, being the victor, drew up new boundries which created so much of the blowback we see today. After World War I Britain assumed control over the Palestine territory. Then in 1917, the British government issued the the Balfour Declaration with the intention of establishing a national home for Jewish people. This was followed, in 1922, by a mandate issued by the League of Nations, to establish a Jewish homeland, the facilitation of Jewish immigration and encouragement of Jewish settlement, which the Arabs opposed. There followed an escalation of attacks against the Jewish settlers and in 1936 the Peel Commission recommended partition which the Arabs rejected.
At the end of World War II, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were forcefully turned away from Palestine yet they continued to be smuggled in.
These Jewish communities formed political, social, and economic institutions and the Zionist, David Ben-Gurion, served as their leader. The original Zionist strategy had been to purchase land until the original inhabitants had emigrated or failing that a violent seizure of the land.
The conflict between the Arabs and the Jews proved to be too much for the British in 1948 they ended their mandate, turning the question over to the United Nations. In May of 1948 Ben-Gurion proclaimed the creation of the state of Israel and the United States recognized it as a state. The buy-out option proved too slow a process and soon the option of violence was utilized. Future Prime Minister Menachim Begin was a participant in the terrorism that followed.
Before the creation of the state of Israel the population had been 95% non-Jewish however with the immigration and buyout project the Jewish population had increased to 30%. The United Nations was presented with a General Assembly resolution of partition giving 55% of the land to the Zionists. The United States strongly opposed this plan, deeming it against American principles and interests.
A CIA report from 1947 stated that Zionist leadership was pursuing objectives that would endanger both Jews and “the strategic interests of the Western powers in the Near and Middle East.”
Although Harry Truman is admired today for putting and end to World War II, political expediency played a role in his decision to support the resolution for partition. He acted against the advice from respected figures of the day; among those his Secretary of State, George Marshall, Henry Grady, Secretary of Defense, James Forrestall, former Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning, George Kennen and intelligence agent, Kermit Roosevelt among a lenghty list of others.
From an internal State Department memo of the day:
“…the Jews will be the actual aggressors against the Arabs. However, the Jews will claim that they are merely defending the boundaries of a state which were traced by the UN…In the event of such Arab outside aid the Jews will come running to the Security Council with the claim that their state is the object of armed aggression and will use every means to obscure the fact that it is their own armed aggression against the Arabs inside which is the cause of Arab counter-attack.”
Eventually the non-binding resolution for partition was passed but it only served to escalate violence which is with us to this day.
This is clearly a too brief synopsis of a long and complicated struggle to find common ground and peace between these two peoples. However when one reads this history it is hard not to feel deep empathy and sadness for the Palestinian people who have been dispossessed and marginalized. There was a time when European Jews were rounded up and placed into ghettos, deprived of food, water, freedom of movement, and basic human dignity. Today the tables are turned and it is the Palestinian people who suffer these indignities. Are Israelis so far removed from their own history that they have forgotten what we are reminded to never forget? Or rather has the memory disappeared because the immigrants to Israel today have their roots not as refugees from war-torn Europe, but rather in ever increasing numbers from these United States.
The unending creation of settlements, further dispossessing the Palestinians, for American citizens, seems too incredible to fathom. It seems immoral to me to support the continuation of this unending program. I abhor violence of any kind and regret the injury or death of any individual in the conflict between Palestinians and Jews. However I think it is time for Israelis to reevaluate their aggressive settlement and their use of asymetric military superiority over a people can only resort to throwing stones.
Perhaps there can never be peace there, perhaps both peoples are too stiff-necked, too bent on revenge, too proud, too angry, or too ignorant of history to seek a peaceful solution. Every human heart has the capacity to love and it is this potential that gives me hope. It just takes courage.
Following is an article by Juan Cole, from his blog, informed Comment.