Comments allegedly made by Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday casting aspersions on the effectiveness of John Kerry’s role in Middle East peace negotiations have increased tension between the U.S. and Israel on the heels of the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, a central figure in the long history of the conflict.
News on the never-ending failure to resolve the issues, and particularly on the death of the controversial Sharon, provides another opportunity to ramp up criticism of the Israeli regime. It no longer comes as much of a surprise that the narrative of those so vehemently opposed to Israel never changes, although with reports that anti-Semitism is on the rise, it probably shouldn’t.
Still, it is perplexing to many how critics from the Western World consistently find so much fault with Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, while ignoring or rationalizing the behavior of its opponents.
Sharon certainly didn’t always represent the best of Israel. In his later years he surprised hard-right supporters by forming a moderate centrist party and evacuating Israeli settlers from the West Bank. That has never been enough, however, to soften condemnation of his more hawkish actions of his youth, including the raid on Qibya that led to the death of nearly 70 civilians and a Christian militia’s raid in Libya, for which the Israeli government assigned him indirect responsibility.
It is common knowledge that war is hell and no matter how just the cause, it is impossible to have extended conflict without collateral damage. Even the most ardent believers in the United States efforts in wars just or unjust would seemingly have to acknowledge that atrocities occur, such as those allegedly committed by Allied forces in the Pacific during WWII, where Saipan-based U.S marine Steve Judd attributed some of the Allied excesses to "repeated exposure to horrors.” London School of Economics Professor Antony Best summed it up stating quite simply, "the truth is that war is an occasion when God-awful things happen."
For Israel, war has been going on for well over half a century and regardless of the impetus, there will always be those, even in the Jewish community, who believe that ethnic cleansing was part of the Zionist emigration to the Holy Land. Washintgon Post opinion writer Richard Cohen, commenting on Ari Shavit’s recent book “My Promised Land,” recently claimed that there was "ethnic cleansing" of Lydda during Israel's fight for independence in 1948, citing Shavit's contention that "in it lies the dark secret of Zionism." He goes onto argue that a "required atrocity" of evicting 50,000 to 70,000 Palestinians was necessary to control areas near Jerusalem.
But revisionists seem oblivious to the very text of the Declaration of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) which clearly states only one of the many efforts to reach out to Arabs living in the area who had already been attacking the Jews:
"WE APPEAL — in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months — to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."
This was also reflected in practice. Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion opposed the displacement of Arab fellahin, agricultural laborers who cultivated the land, whom he viewed as "the most important asset of the native population" and said 'under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to the fellahs or worked by them". In addition, much of the land was purchased - over half of it from non-Arabs and another 25% from Palestinian-Arabs.
But Ben-Gurion went much farther than that. Speaking to Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934 he stated “We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.”
Still, everyday critics of Israel and Zionism rarely acknowledge what many more learned detractors have documented about this supposed expulsion, here characterized as "atrocity." There is a large amount of documentation proving that not only was there no “ethnic cleansing” per se, which generally implies genocide, but much of the alleged transference or expulsion of Arabs that supposedly occurred was not at the behest of the Zionists but rather, the invading Arab governments. Reporting from The Economist, a frequent critic of Zionism, from October 2, 1948 stated:
“Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit....It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.'
Time’s reporting on the battle for Haifa (May 3, 1948) confirmed the same findings: that the mass evacuation was partially due to fear and also at the behest of Arab orders; in fact, they had specifically strategized that withdrawing all Arab workers from Haifa would paralyze the city.
Indeed, not only were many told to leave but under the threat of treason. As longtime Israeli dissident Benny Morris wrote in “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited:"
“Arab officers ordered the complete evacuation of specific villages in certain areas, lest their inhabitants ‘treacherously’ acquiesce in Israeli rule or hamper Arab military deployments…. There can be no exaggerating the importance of these early Arab-initiated evacuations in the demoralization, and eventual exodus, of the remaining rural and urban populations.”
Khaled al Azm, Syrian Prime Minister from 1948-90 has himself admitted the Arabs played a central role in ordering the future refugees to leave their homes and admissions of fabricating stories of Israeli atrocities and other Arab leaders have taken responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians then and now rather than laying the blame entirely on Zionists.
That is in addition to well-documented history showing that attacks against the Jews were hardly uncommon long before Ben-Gurion’s proclamation establishing the State of Israel and in fact, the Palestinians should not be solely identified as “victims” for many reasons including the claims of Israeli atrocities have often been exaggerated. More importantly, the violence was more often attacks on Jewish settlements beginning in the early years of Jewish immigration, starting with individuals and small bands and later growing to more widespread, organized attacks. The violence became more frequent and more brutal and were constant in Palestine in 1929 including the Hebron massacre, where which 67 Jews were murdered.
Although the Declaration and other statements by the Palestine Jewish authority, among others, clearly indicate that transfer was never their original intent, Morris himself noted in an interview with Shavit that Ben-Gurion had little choice when it came to moving hostile Arabs:
“He [Ben Gurion] understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it.
There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes…. A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy it.... When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed....
Critics of Israel are quick to dispute the notion that opposition to Israel equates to anti-Semitism; however, if their claims are accurate one has to wonder, given the history of the Middle East, it is only Zionism and the State of Israel that seems to garner so much opposition. After the Greco-Roman wars and a Persian conquest, there was a Jewish commonwealth established around 614. After that, it was again conquered by Arabs and transferred between different factions until falling under control of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, where it remained under Turkish rule until the British took over after WWI.
The obvious question is easily answered as MapsOfWar.com asks, “Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans...the list goes on."
Apparently "Hail the conquering hero" applies unless you are a Zionist.
Only Israeli control of the land seems to be a source of outrage. One can’t help but wonder why, when you consider, as Larry Miller put it. “five hundred million Arabs; five million Jews. Think of all the Arab countries as a football field, and Israel as a pack of matches sitting in the middle of it."
The elusive concept of “Dayenu,” a concept meaning “it would have been enough” that is a staple of Passover prayers, seems alien to the Arab world.
Amidst the various control over the centuries, it’s not as if Jews were never there. Emigration accelerated after WWII but it had been going on for centuries. Aside from those who had been there from the beginning, one can easily see a significant influx as early as in the time of Columbus.
- Some Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, settled in Palestine.
- During the 16th century, Jewish communities took hold in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed.
- In 1697, Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid led a group of 1,500 Jews to Jerusalem.
- In the latter part of the 18th century, Eastern European opponents of Hasidism, known as the Perushim, settled in Palestine.
- Modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881 as Jews were fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe.
Further Aliyahs brought more Jews to the region.
- The Second Aliyah (1904–14) brought some 40,000 to Palestine.
- The Third (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyahs (1924–1929) brought an additional 100,000.
In fact, the Jewish community even found itself at odds with Britain after WWII as Jewish refugees left destroyed communities in Europe for the Holy Land and the British found themselves unable and unwilling to try to mitigate the growing Arab-Jewish conflict, which peaked when Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. After this announcement, it only took one day before Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen declared war on the new State.
It's also important to note that Jews were not only emigrating from Europe but from other parts of the Arab world. Anti-Semitism was rampant throughout the Arab world and the Nazis and various influential Arabs became strange bedfellows during the rise of the Third Reich. The Nazis had begun broadcasting Mein Kampf in multiple languages including Arabic, a legacy of vehement hatred that survives today. Ultimately between 1948 and 1970 it is estimated nearly a million Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries.
The native Arabs, who came to be known as Palestinians although they were predominantly Syrians, found themselves in a far worse situation than simply being told to leave by the incoming Zionists. Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas observed that the invading Arab armies promised to destroy the Zionists and protect the Palestinians but instead, forced them to leave and then either abandoned them or put them in ghettos not so different than the ones the Jews had been forced to live in.
Many first-hand observers are even less kind and point out what is still going on that today that most journalists understand:
"On April 9, 1953, the Jordanian daily al-Urdun quoted a refugee, Yunes Ahmed Assad, formerly of Deir Yassin, as saying: 'For the flight and fall of the other villages, it is our leaders who are responsible, because of the dissemination of rumours exaggerating Jewish crimes and describing them as atrocities in order to inflame the Arabs ... they instilled fear and terror into the hearts of the Arabs of Palestine until they fled, leaving their homes and property to the enemy.' "
Since that time, many ardent critics of Israel point to these alleged war crimes supposedly perpetrated by the Jewish state while largely either ignoring or rationalizing repeated acts of terror by their neighbors. And while denying the factors that led to many of the indigenous Arabs leaving their homes, they often refer to Israel as an Apartheid state, a label flatly denied by those who actually lived in under genuine apartheid in South Africa.
That comparison also requires ignoring the simple truth that Israeli Arabs, comprising nearly 20% of the population, live in peace under Israeli governance with equal rights and in fact, more rights than they would have living in a nearby Arab country.
Of course, the Palestinian refugees are not in the same situation—but they are not under Israeli jurisdiction and since the initial war, none of the Arab nations have provided a home for them in any of their plentiful land and in fact, actually confiscated some of the land designated for Palestine and kept it for themselves.
Fair-minded observers in the Arab world don't ignore the ongoing treatment of Palestinians by other Arab nations, who often persecute and kill them more often that Israel ever has in its worst moments. Much of the persecution by their Arab brethren is blamed on their own actions.
Many believe there will never be peace in the Middle East and it's hard to argue that point when supposed efforts to negotiate a peace treaty have always failed. Perhaps that is because those who have ostensibly represented the Palestinian people have had a different agenda.
Karmel Melamed posted in the UCLA journal in 2003 asking why so many ignore the mistreatment of the Palestinians by their own government:
“Why hasn’t the mistreatment of Palestinians by Arafat’s own dictatorship been a factor in their plight? Why has Arafat and the Palestinian Authority continued to keep the Palestinian people starving in rundown refugee camps when the government has had millions in U.S. and European Union aid to build homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure? Again, where is [the] outrage for the thousands of Palestinians who have been mistreated by their own leadership?
Again and again, it is easy to blame Israel for the plight of the Palestinian people when their own leadership and the Arab world has done more injustice to them than anyone else. If there is anyone to blame for the Palestinian misery, it is the Palestinians’ own leadership, which over the past 10 years has chosen a path of war, terrorism and death instead of peaceful co-existence.”
Moreover, while the Palestinian government is now run by Hamas, a known terrorist organization, the most original perpetrator of “peace” was the master terrorist Yasser Arafat himself. One might well ask where else in history has a government ostensibly representing those forcibly displaced (although a fair evaluation of the facts shows that is largely not the case), insists that peace will only be attained by a return of what was forcibly taken, but was taken only as a last resort. Access to the areas the Palestinians want is only restricted due to the constant threat of attack. Yet despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak making far more concessions than any prior Israeli prime minister at the Camp David summit in 2000, Arafat walked away rather than making similar concessions of his own.
It should go without saying that any country at war is going to step over the line at times. Soldiers and politicians are far from perfect and there is nothing more dangerous to our humaneness that being at war. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is well known for his oft-quoted adage “If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war… if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. “
That point is open to debate but it has to be said that those who point to the State of Israel as a poster child of Zionist imperialism and genocide have to be willfully ignoring the acknowledgements of many even in the Arab world who have acknowledged that the plight of the Palestinians is hardly the result solely of actions on the part of Israel.
Even Jordan’s King Abdullah, writing in his memoirs, blamed Palestinian leaders for the refugee problem:
"The tragedy of the Palestinians was that most of their leaders had paralyzed them with false and unsubstantiated promises that they were not alone; that 80 million Arabs and 400 million Muslims would instantly and miraculously come to their rescue.:
More importantly, as if pretending a routine sampling of sources alleging the one-sided perpetration of war crimes by Israel doesn’t inevitably lead to Holocaust revision and denial along with blaming the Jews for everything from starting World War II by declaring war on Germany to controlling all the international bank cartels, the entire position of uniformly challenging the legitimacy of the State of Israel raises the question:
Why are the Arabs entitled to possess and control an entire football field while the Jews must give up their pack of matches?