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Palestinian issues: Displaced persons and refugees

'May 12, 1948: On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab.' Getty
'May 12, 1948: On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab.' Getty
AFP/Getty Images)

This is part one of a series discussing the Palestinian and Israeli situation. It is important to revisit the historical context as readers want to know and understand it as objectively as possible. Israel was born as a nation just shy of a month after my own birth in 1948. That act was not a simple accomplishment, and the outcomes thereafter have been anything except peaceful.

“On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same day.”

When did it all began? Some might have it that it was in 1917 when United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour informed Baron Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish Community that he favored creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Britain controlled Palestine from WWI to 1948, however it didn’t act on the Balfour declaration to create a Jewish state and an Arab state, nor did they support unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees. Great Britain had conflicting interests with Arabs and resisted.

Bear in mind that a large number of Jewish people had survived the holocaust and had become refugees and displaced persons without a place to go. They sought a land of their own in the place of their religious origin.

It would be incredibly shortsighted to start the timeline in 1917. History in this place is tumultuous. It is foolhardy to try to turn back the clock, but it is essential to understand history to make sense of the present situation.

“Palestine is the name (first referred to by the Ancient Greeks) of an area in the Middle East situated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Palestine was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1517 and remained under the rule of the Turks until World War One.”

Jewish people might accurately remind:

  1. Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C.E., two thousand years before the rise of Islam.
  2. Arab refugees began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
  3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 B.C.E, the Jews had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.
  4. The only Arab domination since the conquest in 635 C.E. lasted no more than 22 years.
  5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.
  6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 hundred times in Bible. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.”

While factually true, this denies the fact that Arabs lived in the subject territory alongside Jews.

The foundation of the dispute about Palestine and its destined ownership is from a great misunderstanding between the British government and Sherif Hussein of Meca in 1915.

“Sir Henry McMahon, acting on behalf of the British government, met with Sherif Hussein of Mecca in 1915 and made what were taken to be a series of promises to the Arab people. These ‘promises’ were later disputed by the British government and, as with many issues concerning recent Middle East history, were open to interpretation.

Hussein interpreted the correspondence given to him by McMahon as a clear indication that Palestine would be given to the Palestinians once the war had ended. The British government was later to dispute this interpretation. They claimed that any land definitions were only approximate and that a map drawn at the time (but not by McMahon or a member of the British delegation) excluded Palestine from land to be given back to the Arab people.

The confusion arose from one small phrase in the correspondence between McMahon and Hussein. Land that "cannot be said to be purely Arab" was excluded from the agreement – as far as the British were concerned. Hussein, and very many Arab people, considered Palestine to be "purely Arab". The British saw Palestine differently as the Turks, while they had been masters over Palestine, had allowed other religious groups to exist in Jerusalem – hence their belief that Palestine "cannot be said to be purely Arab".

By the time war ended in November 1918, two distinct schools of thought had developed regarding Palestine:

1) That the British had promised Palestine to the Arabs after the war had ended in return for their support to the Allies in the war.

2) That the British had agreed to give their support to the Jews for a homeland in Palestine as laid out in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

In fact, neither was to emerge as the League of Nations had given Palestine to the British to govern as a mandate. This left many Palestinians feeling that they had been betrayed by the British government. At the same time many Jews started to enter Palestine as a result of what they believed the Balfour Declaration had offered them. The British were left to ensure law and order was guaranteed in Palestine – something they found increasingly difficult to do.”

In hindsight, a two state solution is probably a very bad idea. The reason for this is that it promotes a non pluralistic or secular outcome. In the free world today, the ideals have moved forward. Cultural diversity is a good thing. Democratic ideals are essential as is respect for inalienable rights. Mutual respect and tolerance are essential for peaceful coexistence. Therefore, any government and any religious institution that fails to uphold these values becomes obsolete and hostile to the free world.

People living in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank would be better served by a contiguous pluralistic and democratic form of government. That idea is up for discussion as we proceed to explore the current history in this historical context.

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