A short history of Muslim and Jewish Palestine

A short history of Muslim and Jewish Palestine

Leon J. Sokol

Although I agree that the administrations of many colleges and universities have failed to aggressively attack bigotry such as antisemitism and anti-Muslim acts, I believe their  real failure is in failing to educate as to the underlying facts that give rise to the bigotry.

They have allowed the rise in anti-intellectual open debate on campus, suppressing freedom of speech and permitting groups of one view to shout down persons or groups of opposing views instead of openly debating their respective positions. The following are facts to be considered in the current anti-Israel activities, which could be part of such an open debate.

1. First, the casual use of the term genocide should be openly criticized. It trivializes the horror of the Holocaust as well as other genocides such as what occurred in Cambodia. In many instances, the term is used out of ignorance or insensitivity, but in some cases, it is part of an insidious program by terrorist organizations and countries who are committed to the destruction of the state of Israel.

The establishment of Israel was an outgrowth of the world’s reaction to the Holocaust. Iran and its proxies have an interest in trivializing the Holocaust to make it easier to fulfill their stated objective of eradicating Israel.

As such, the pro-Palestinian movements on campus using slogans such as “from the river to the sea” accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, is nothing more than dressed up Anti-Semitism.

2. Israel has a population of 9.2 million people; approximately 2.2 million of them are Palestinian. As Israeli citizens, they enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and economic and educational opportunities. For example, it is estimated that 55% of all the pharmacists in Israel are Palestinian, and many of the physicians are Palestinian women. There are approximately 9,250,000 Palestinians in the Middle East — two million in Gaza, two million in the West Bank, three million in Jordan, and 250,000 in Lebanon. None of these Palestinians enjoy the civil rights or opportunities enjoyed by Israeli Palestinians.

Therefore, the progressives who claim to support these civil rights would be eliminating them for approximately 20% of the Palestinians in the Middle East if Israel were replaced by a government similar to every other Middle East country.

3. Let us now discuss what is Palestine.  It was under Ottoman rule for 400 years, divided between the province of Damascus and the province of Acre. In general, it was known as part of greater Syria. Gaza was not part of the Ottoman Empire and was controlled by Egypt. For the most part, the Palestinian territory was desolate and inhospitable to agriculture. It was occupied primarily by nomadic tribes. The only arable portions were in the northern part of the Galilee, where farming was done on land owned by foreign landowners from Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo. The farm workers were immigrants from these countries who worked as tenant farmers.

Defined borders did not exist in the Middle East until the end of World War I. In 1918, England and France divided up that portion of the Ottoman Empire, arbitrarily drawing borders for Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, describing the remainder as the Palestinian territory. British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour issued a declaration promising that the Palestinian territory would be made into a Jewish state. This promise was broken in 1922, when Britain brokered a settlement between the Saudi and Hashemite monarchies by taking 80% of the Palestinian territory to create the Kingdom of Jordan. The remaining 20% is in Israel and the West Bank.

It is interesting to note that the pro-Palestinian movement does not mention the 80% of Palestine allocated to Jordan.

4. Who are the Palestinians with claims against Israel?

In 1948, when the State of Israel was established, there were 680,000 Jews and approximately 600,000 Arab Palestinians. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion implored the Palestinians to remain in Israel so they and the Jews could build the country together. When Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel, approximately one-third of the Arab Palestinian population — some 200,000 people — remained in Israel, and the other two-thirds — approximately 400,000 people — fled. Those who remained included virtually all of the indigenous Palestinians —  the Bedouins, Druze, and Christians who lived in the area forever.

The Palestinians who fled can be divided into several groups.  Many left, which was understandable. They wanted to avoid being caught in the middle of a war. Many others left at the urging of Palestinian leaders, including the Grand Mufti (a Nazi collaborator during World War II), who promised that these Palestinians would get all the Jews’ property after the Jews were driven into the sea. Some of the Palestinians were forced from their homes by Jewish fighters. It is unknown what percentage of the total fall into this latter category, but it is believed to be a minority of the 400,000 who left.

After the Israeli victory, the Palestinian refugees were placed into refugee camps that exist until this day, kept as political pawns despite the enormous wealth of the Arab countries that had the ability to resettle them. Compare this to the displacement of approximately 850,000 Jews in 1950 — just two years later — from the North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. Those Jews, who had lived in these countries for centuries, had all of their property confiscated and were expelled. The world Jewish community rallied to their support, arranging for them to be resettled in Israel, France, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries.

Although some of those who left Israel may have a claim for reparations, the claim of right to return is not supported by the facts. Leaving voluntarily or with the hope that you can return to take Jewish property does not support a right to return.

5. Pro-Palestinian groups also argue that Israel was created by European refugees and is in reality a European colonization of Palestine. This ignores the fact the Jews have been in Palestine for centuries, as indicated in books written as early as the 8th century after Islam was created. The last official census conducted by the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s found Jerusalem to have a Jewish majority. Also, Jewish migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is paralleled with migration of tenant workers from Syria and Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to what is now Israel.

6. The claim that Gaza is a territorial concentration camp created by Israel is also false. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2006. A free election in which Hamas defeated the PLO on a platform of moderation, economic development and opposing the corruption of the PLO followed. Israel opened the borders to allow economic and humanitarian aid, which lasted for a short time. In just a few years, Hamas declared its true intentions; it wanted to establish a terrorist government committed to the destruction of Israel. That election was the last free election the Palestinians had, and any opposition to Hamas was dealt with harshly. It was clear to Israel from evidence they saw that Hamas had diverted the economic aid it had received to building a military infrastructure for terrorist purposes. It was clear that Hamas was a proxy for Iran, which was supplying it with weapons. It can reasonably be argued that since all of Israel’s attacks on Gaza were in retaliation for attacks initiated by Hamas, no Palestinians ever would have been killed or injured by an Israeli attack but for its self-defense in reaction to an attack initiated by Hamas.

I have no problem with a debate wherein a two-state solution is advocated — I agree with that — nor do I pretend that Israel has not made mistakes with regard to its Palestinian policies. But these issues should be debated openly, with both sides allowed to present their arguments, leaving the audience to judge for themselves.

Leon J. Sokol is an attorney who has been active in Jewish affairs for most of his adult life. He is a longtime board member of JFNNJ, the Jewish Home Family, and the American Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. He lives in Tenafly with his wife, Maggie Kaplen.

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