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Notes from the 1995 RSGB Jewish Student Peace Process Tour

An overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to 1948

Sharona <someone>

In 1995, in, sadly, more optimistic days for peace in the Middle East, I went on RSGB's first Jewish Student Peace Process Tour of Israel, Egypt and Lebanon. Having recently rediscovered the notes I took at the seminars on the programme, I have decided to blog such of them as are not completely overtaken by later events, as they remain interesting. This is the first of these.

Disclaimer: All views expressed (except in square brackets) are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is, further, not guaranteed.

The following information derives from the work of Walter Laqueur (b. 1921), an objective source cited by both Jews and Arabs.

1908 was the year of the first violent conflict between Jews and Arabs, in Jaffa, at the Jewish festival of Purim. Prevously Jews had coexisted mostly okay with the Arabs—in Arab countries Jews and Christians had second class citizenship.

Now, whilst the Jews and the Palestinians go back in the area to the same time, Palestinian nationalism does not go back as far as Jewish nationalism. Zionism created Palestinian nationalism.

What distinguishes the Jews (along with the Celts and Armenians) is that after their kingdom was destroyed, they maintained a common nationality. It was in 135 CE, after the Bar Kochba Revolt, that the Emperor Hadrian first used the term Palestine [renaming Judaea after the Jews' hated ancient enemies, the Philistines]. The Jews reverted from calling their land "Judaea" to using the Biblical term eretz Israel (the land of Israel); the Arabs took to using the term "Palestine".

It is important to note the continuity of Jewish presence in the four holy cities (Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron) since the start of the exile. On the other hand, the Arabs' claim to have no nationalistic feelings and belong to a Greater Arabia is also wrong. The Arabs living in Israel were fellaheen ("peasants"), who, like the Jews, did not own their own land. Until the seventh century, the fellaheen lived on land of the Romans. From the seventh century onwards they lived as serfs on lands owned by the invading Arabs from Saudi Arabia (absentee landlords).

This created a paranoia in both peoples—the Jews were landless and persecuted, losing both Israel and [much later] Spain. In the sixteenth century, following the expulsion from Spain, the Sephardim came to the four holy cities and lived together with the Arabs—both under the rule of the Ottomans. Both Jews and Arabs were second-class citizens; all the Turks were interested in were taxes, and bribery, and favouritism.

Occasionally the Sephardim tried to revolt (e.g. Shabbetai Tsevi), and the Turks would put the revolt down. The Turks persecuted the Arabs more, even though they were also Muslim. The Arabs entered a decadent period and declined.

By 1908 there had been a Turkish presence for nearly four hundred years, and they still showed no signs of getting out. This period saw the advent of Jewish nationalism—Zionism. Initially the Turks were not unduly upset—until the Arabs caught the idea of nationalism from the Zionists.

In 1908 violence broke out—both peoples were beginning to look at the other as a threat to their existence, as regards land. This was [then] a purely Jewish-Palestinian problem, distinct from the [later] Israel-Arab world conflict.

In 1917, the Turks were expelled by the British—General Allenby and Lawrence of Arabia—to the glee of both Jews and Arabs. The Sykes-Pikot Agreement divided up the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France.

In 1918 there was a meeting in Paris between leading Jews and Arabs. Representing the Arabs was Emir Faisal, the titular head of the Arab world, from his HQ in Damascus—Syria was then the cradle of Arab nationalism. He also represented the Palestinians, who then considered themselves to be part of southern Syria.

Representing the Jews was Chaim Weizmann, a left-wing Zionist, and physicist [later to be president of the State of Israel]. He was an intellectual, which is why he was chosen to represent the Zionists.

These two signed a document together which called for Arab-Zionist cooperation to end all colonialism, and Arab recognition of an independent Jewish homeland in the area of the British Mandate [of Palestine], in return for Jewish guarantee of Arab well-being.

The British did not like this, and nullified the agreement, preventing all further meetings unless under British aegis, which meant no more meetings. It also meant Britain had declared itself anti-Zionist.

In 1922 Britain, in the person of Winston Churchill, wanted an ally in the area so they invented a country, Transjordan [modern-day Jordan], by partitioning Palestine. This meant problems for both Jews and Arabs.

Now, at the time the British Empire's biggest concern was India, and the British were desperate to control the Middle East, as it linked three continents. Hence, both Jews and Arabs didn't have a chance. Both the British and the French fostered hostility between Jews and Arabs to prevent further Faisal-Weizmann agreements. The Jews and Arabs would have fought anyway—but the British/French/American policy of "divide and conquer" would exacerbate any problems.

Faced with such resistance, the Kurds gave up [their struggle for self-determination]. The Jews did not.

In 1938 came the fifth, and most notorious White Paper, which nullified the 1918 Balfour Declaration [in which Lord Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, had declared his support for an independent Jewish homeland in Palestine]. But in any case the Balfour Declaration did not have the backing of the entire British government, and was not regarded by subsequent British governments as binding: in 1919, and again in 1922, Winston Churchill delcared the Balfour Declaration null and void.

The 1938 White Paper declared the following:

  • No more than five thousand [Wikipedia: fifteen thousand] Jews were to be allowed into Palestine per year. (At least one hundred thousand Jews would go on to die because Britain turned them back to Nazi Germany, because the Brits allowed deportees from entry into Palestine to be interned in Cyprus.)
  • After five years an independent Arab state was to be created, leaving no room for the Jews.

From this time the Jews declared all-out war on the British. Underground Zionist movements—primarily the left-wing Hagana [Defence] and right-wing Irgun—smuggled Jews into Palestine, and attacked the British; if caught people-smuggling, the British would turn them back or even fire on them.

From 1935 the Palestinians were also at war with Britain, as they perceived the British to be planning to leave Palestine, which would imply the creation of a Jewish state. The Jews, however, were fighting the British as they perceived them not to be leaving! By 1948 there was all-out three-way civil war.

In 1947, the UN, the successor to the League of Nations which had awarded the Mandate of Palestine to Britain in the first place, attempted to deal with the Mandate, as the British were then giving up with what Churchill called their "pain in the crotch"—though this would mean the loss of Asian trade, and the Suez Canal. (The British also gave up in 1947 their "Jewel in the Crown"—India.) This ambivalence resulted, on the 29th of November 1947, in the British abstaining on a vote over the future of Palestine.

On the 14th of May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared Israeli independence, and the rest of the Arab world was sucked into a conflict that has lasted, on and off, to the present day.

The UN had voted in 1947, on the creation of:

  • A Jewish state.
  • A Palestinian state.
  • An international Jerusalem.

Ben-Gurion, with 95% of the Zionist vote behind him, accepted this. (Menachem Begin did not, and that was the end of the Irgun.)

The Palestinians were divided fifty-fifty.

Now, if the Arabs had accepted this proposal, it would have meant peace there and then. The main Palestinian factions at the time were the Husseinis, an extremist Palestinian family violently against Zionism, and the more tolerant Nashashibis.

What actually happened in 1948 was that Jordan swallowed up the land allocated for the new Palestinian state. In contravention of international law, it annexed it, an act recognised only by Britain, and another creation of the UK—Pakistan, a state created to divide Indian nationalism. [Hmm, this take is arguable].

Why did Jordan do this? King Abdullah (I) had his own ambitions to be head of the Palestinians—though no Palestinians recognised him as such as he was a Saudi!

There then followed what Israel calls its War of Independence, and the Palestinians call al-Naqba "the catastrophe"; as a result of which (in an mirror of the India/Pakistan conflict, but on a smaller, though louder, scale), were created two streams of refugees. In India/Pakistan there were thirty million Muslims fleeing India, and ten thousand fleeing Pakistan; in Israel/Palestine there were 600 000 Palestinians fleeing Israel, and 140 000 refugee Jews, 110 000 fleeing from Iraq and 30 000 fleeing from the West Bank. [This total does not include the much larger number of Jews who had to flee from other Arab countries in the ensuing years.]

The Jews were kicked out by the Jordanian army, from Hebron, East Jerusalem, Nablus and Jenin. The Jewish army—the IDF—in turn kicked the Arabs out of Lod (which they called Lydda), Ramle, and all the Arab villages in the Jerusalem corridor. The Jews had to flee Iraq due to anti-Jewish rioting from 1941.

At least on the Jewish side there was an attempt to moderate the situation. The Hagana tried to get the Arabs to stay—e.g. in Haifa—but an Arab village near Haifa was destroyed and the Arabs freaked and ran. The same thing happened on the opposite side in Hebron: after the massacre of the Sephardi community there in 1929, they too fled.

Ben-Gurion attempted to put a brake on anti-Arab actions. In 1948 members of the Irgun and Stern Gang attacked an Iraqi base outside Jerusalem. Ben-Gurion had ordered them not to; and that he would do so with his men [the Hagana, which from now on, as the Israeli Defence Force, was to be the only Jewish army]. They defied him and killed six hundred Arabs. The next day Ben-Gurion publically apologised and sent a telegram to King Abdullah calling it an atrocity and putting a price on the head of the person responsible—Menachem Begin. But there was no equivalent on the Arab side—King Abdullah never apologised for the massacre of Sephardim in East Jerusalem. And whilst the Jews never wished to expel the Palestinians, the same could not be said for the other side.

So much for the Palestinians, but the rest of the Arab world used the conflict for their own ends, using both Jews and Palestinians as pawns.

Date: 2007-04-17 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
It sounds like a game from the Arab site. I don't think the forever lasting war could have been prevented from the Jewish site when the Arabs do not cooperate.

Date: 2007-12-06 10:01 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( samsonblinded.org/blog/we-need-a-respite-from-peace.htm )?

Date: 2007-12-06 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com

Peace process doesn’t lead to peace. Concessions to Arabs and imploring for peace only provoke them for the last-ditch fighting. That correlation is clear at least since the Oslo accords.

Well, lack of a peace process is not going to lead to peace. You say that concessions to Arabs and imploring for peace only leads to last-ditch fighting, but it didn't with Egypt, and it didn't with Jordan. You're not talking about Arabs here but Palestinians, who, as Abba Eban observed, never miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity. Consider, though: if Yasser Arafat had died a few years earlier, we might have had peace at the end of 2000, when all his negotiators were urging him to go for it, and even the Saudi ambassador told him if he did not take this up, it would not be a tragedy, it would be a crime.

Peace process cannot lead to peace. If history is any lesson, peace is only achieved through crushing defeat of one’s enemy.

Throughout most of history, yes, but I'd like to hope we live in more civilised times today. Besides, crushing defeat brings the need for military occupation and festers resentment—and we've had exactly that in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the last forty years. That resentment is going to take generations to go away if its causes are not addressed.

Peace process is highly unusual. Every other nation destroyed whatever aborigines happened to live on the land that nation chose to build a state.

See above remark about civilisation. Genocide is not an acceptable solution. For shame, for shame, that a Jew would ever think of perpetrating genocide.

Peace process is illegal. The original arrangement for the Jewish state included Transjordan, but the British illegally cut it off. Then the UN further partitioned Israel to accommodate Palestinian Arabs.

I don't know enough about the history of the first partitioning to comment on its legality; the second one, since carried out by the UN, was therefore legal in the eyes of international law. Nothing of this, however, has any bearing on the legality of the peace process today.

Peace process is immoral. Palestinian Arabs don’t constitute a nation. Offering them a state is a plot against Jews.

All peoples deserve the right to self-determination, and since the Palestinians and Jordanians do not identify with each other, the Palestinians deserve their own country or at the absolute least, wholly autonomous region. As for deeming it a plot against Jews, I'm sorry, but that is sheer idiocy.

Peace process doesn’t offer safety. Jews need a secure state rather than a beach strip eight miles wide.

Correct, and that is why a viable Palestine must be guaranteed secure for Israel, by permanent demilitarisation and a sufficiently-powerful international peacekeeping force. (By this I mean not like the powerless UN forces in the area already, but like the UN forces that have stopped the Korean War from restarting ever since the 1950s.)

Peace process runs against Judaism and Jewish history. Jews are attached to the land which the peace process gives to Palestinians: Judea, Samaria, Hebron, Schem, and the Temple Mount. Coastal areas of the modern Israel are irrelevant to Jewish religion or history. Jews could as well settle in Uganda or Arizona.

Firstly, Palestinians are also attached to that land; they've been living there as long as we have. Secondly, the coastal strip was part of Israel in the First Temple period, and also at the height of the Hasmonean period. (I also don't see anyone seeking to give it up!) And thirdly, Jews have no G-d-given right to occupy the land (in pre-Messianic times).

Date: 2007-12-06 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com

Peace process is not for real. Israeli government employs the peace process for the sole objective of destroying Jewish religious and nationalist opposition to its rule. Neither security of the Jewish state, nor fulfillment of Jewish objectives are the peace process’ goals.

I'm sorry, but I don't pay heed to conspiracy theories; this is more idiocy.

Peace process is pointless. Israel can settle with Palestinian government, but a sufficient number of Palestinian Arabs would always resent what they think is Jewish occupation of the land of their ancestors. A few thousand such Arabs would always be there, and will always attack Israel employing terrorist tactics.

True, but with a just peace, and a prosperous Palestine, they will have their patriots against them, and it would be in the Palestinian government's interests to put the work into stopping their actions that it is up to the Israelis to do now.

Peace process fails to address the major issue of Israel’s Jewishness. Israeli Arabs already constitute more than a third of Israeli youth. Arabs constitute majority in many important areas of Israel. The area of Lod near Ben Gurion airport is as much hostile to Israel as Gaza. Israel’s real problem is not the Palestinian Authority, but the Israeli Arabs who can field the largest faction in the Knesset ten years from now.

This is a problem, but it's separate from the Palestinian one.

Peace is not viable in our case. After the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel continues immense military spending. Egypt continues anti-Israeli propaganda and builds an army whose only target is Israel.

Oooh, how many wars with Egypt has Israel fought in the last twenty years?

Peace is not a proper objective. Jews moved into Israel to fulfill religious and nationalist objectives. If peace and security are the utmost objectives, Israelis should move to Canada.

הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון, אוהב שלום ורודף שלום׃

Date: 2007-12-07 10:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ploni-bat-ploni.livejournal.com
I am very impressed. Yes, he is a troll, but you countered his argumentation beautifully. Kol ha kavod!

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