Israel...The Palestinians...A Look Back
How and why do the Jewish people intersect with Islam and the Muslim people? How can one help clarify this very complicated issue. If we can agree to keep Reason first and foremost in the dialog, then we may be able to understand how we got to where we are today and how we can see our way to a more peaceful future. I am Jewish, but I am not a religious person. My roots are deep in traditions, history, education, language and culture, but not in Faith. I do not agree that Religion should be the basis of discussion when it comes to whose land is this land? The more you use Religion as your rationale, the farther and farther apart you will be. The question, as I see it, is not who was here first and thus deseves to be the sole occupiers of the land. Both parties, the Jews and the Muslims will claim they were the first. And then the discussion is over. Having said that, one does have to use the Bible as one source of history, not the only source, but one.
OK, so let's start with a brief history of the region. First of all the name Palestine, what is it's origin? The name Palestine refers to a region of the eastern Mediterranean coast from the sea to the Jordan valley and from the southern Negev desert to the Galilee lake region in the north. The word itself derives from "Plesheth", a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as "Philistine". Plesheth, (root palash) was a general term meaning rolling or migratory. This referred to the Philistine's invasion and conquest of the coast from the sea. The Philistines were not Arabs nor even Semites, they were most closely related to the Greeks originating from Asia Minor and Greek localities. They did not speak Arabic. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs. Their occupation of Canaan would have to have taken place during the reign of Ramesses III of the Twentieth Dynasty, circa 1180 - 1150 BCE (Before the Common Era, more commonly referred to as BC.) The Philistines reached the southern coast of Israel in several waves. One group arrived in the pre-patriarchal period and settled south of Beersheba in Gerar where they came into conflict with Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. It should be noted that these Biblical figures are recognized in both Judaism and Islam, with some differences in interpretations, of course. Another group, coming from Crete after being repulsed from an attempted invasion of Egypt by Rameses III in 1194 BCE, seized the southern coastal area, where they founded five settlements (Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gat). In the Persian and Greek periods, foreign settlers - chiefly from the Mediterranean islands - overran the Philistine districts.
The Hebrews entered the Land of Israel about 1300 B.C.E., living under a tribal confederation until being united under the first monarch, King Saul. The second king, David, established Jerusalem as the capital around 1000 B.C.E.. David's son, Solomon, built the Temple soon thereafter and consolidated the military, administrative and religious functions of the kingdom. The nation was divided under Solomon's son, with the northern kingdom (Israel) lasting until 722 B.C.E., when the Assyrians destroyed it, and the suthern kingdom (Judah) surviving until the Babylonian conquest in 586 .C.E. The Jewish people enjoyed brief periods of sovereignty afterward, before most Jews were finally driven from there in 135 C.E. (Common Era, more commonly called, A.D.). Jewish independence in the Land of Israel lasted for more than 400 years. If you think about it, that is much longer than Americans have enjoyed independence in what has become known as the United States. If there had been no foreigh conquerors, Israel would be 3,000 years old today.
In the second century C.E., after crushing the last Jewish revolt, the Romans first applied the name Palestina to Judea (the southern portion of what is now called the West Bank) in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the Land of Israel. The Arabic word "Filastin" is derived from this Latin name.
In AD 135, after putting down the Bar Kochba revolt, the second major Jewish revolt against Rome, the Emperor Hadrian wanted to blot out the name of the Roman "Provincia Judaea" and so renamed it "Provincia Syria Palaestina", the Latin version of the Greek name and the first use of the name as an administrative unit. The name "Provincia Syria Palaestina" was later shortened to Palaestina, from which the modern, anglicized "Palestine" is derived.
This remained the situation until the end of the fourth century, when in the wake of a general imperial reorganization Palestine became three Palestines: First, Second, and Third. This configuration is believed to have persisted into the seventh century, the time of the Persian and Muslim conquests.
The Christian Crusaders employed the word Palestine to refer to the general region of the "three Palestines." After the fall of the crusader kingdom, Palestine was no longer an official designation. The name, however, continued to be used informally for the lands on both sides of the Jordan River. The Ottoman Turks, who were non-Arabs but religious Muslims, ruled the area for 400 years (1517-1917). Under Ottoman rule, the Palestine region was attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. The name Palestine was revived after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and applied to the territory in this region that was placed under the British Mandate for Palestine.
The name "Falastin" that Arabs today use for "Palestine" is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Roman "Palaestina".
On December 9, 1917, as World War I neared its end, Jerusalem surrendered to the British forces. Two days later General Allenby entered the Jaffa Gate on foot, at the head of a victory procession. This act marked the end of four centuries of Ottoman-Turk rule and the beginning of thirty years of British rule.
The mandate system was established by Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations as formulated at the Paris Peace Conference (January-June 1919). Under this article it was stated that the territories inhabited by peoples unable to stand by themselves would be entrusted to advanced nations until such time as the local population could handle their own affairs. This concept was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
The basic features of a peace treaty with Turkey (the Treaty of Sa¨vres) were adopted, and mandates in the Middle East were allotted to the various Europeancountriess involved.
In the case of Palestine, the administrative control, in the form of a Mandate, was given to the British. By naming this territory the "British Mandate for Palestine" the area that is today Israel and Jordan became the first and only geographic division with the name Palestine since before the Ottoman Empire controlled the area (beginning in 1517). In July 1920 the Mandate civil administration took over from the military. For the first time since Crusader days Jerusalem was again a capital city.
The terms of the British Mandate incorporated the language of the Balfour Declaration and were approved by the League of Nations Council on July 24, 1922, although they were technically not official until September 29, 1923. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations, but a joint resolution of the United States Congress on June 30, 1922, endorsed the concept of the Jewish National Home.
Like the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate recognized the "historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine," called upon the mandatory power to "secure establishment of the Jewish National Home," with "an appropriate Jewish agency" to be set up for advice and cooperation to that end. The World Zionist Organization, which was specifically recognized as the appropriate vehicle, formally established the Jewish Agency in 1929. Jewish immigration was to be facilitated, while ensuring that the "rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced." English, Arabic, and Hebrew were all to be official languages.
In March 1921, Winston Churchill, then British colonial secretary, convened a high-level conference in Cairo to consider Middle East policy. As a result of these deliberations, Britain subdivided the Palestine Mandate along the Jordan River-Gulf of Aqaba line. The eastern portion--called Transjordan--was to have a separate Arab administration operating under the general supervision of the commissioner for Palestine, with Abdullah appointed as emir. At a follow-up meeting in Jerusalem with Churchill, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, and Lawrence, Abdullah agreed to abandon his Syrian project in return for the emirate and a substantial British subsidy.
A British government memorandum in September 1922 ("The Churchill White Paper"), approved by the League of Nations Council, specifically excluded Jewish settlement from the Transjordan area of the Palestine Mandate. The whole process was aimed at satisfying wartime pledges made to the Arabs and at carrying out British responsibilities under the Mandate. Unfortunately for the Zionists and counter to the whole expressed purpose of the Mandate in the first place, by this action more than three-quarters of the territory of the British Mandate was taken away from the potential Jewish Homeland without any corresponding action favoring the Palestinian Jews.
I have spent considerable time looking for sites that would give me a better understanding of the conflict from the Palestinian viewpoint and I have found a few. The problem for me is that right away in these sources I read words like "ethnic cleansing" and I find blatant half truths and innuendoes. They talk about that most Jews in Palestine were not citizens of the country, what country? At that point it was a land being divied up by the Europeans and formerly it was part of the Ottoman Empire and if it was ever an Arab country, it could be said to have been southern Syria, in some historical contexts. There simply was not a legitimate country called Palestine. That is not to say there were not many Arabs living there, there were. But they were either citizens of Syria or Jordan or some other Arab country. I am still not saying that these people don't have a legitimate right to claim some part of this small parcel of land as their own. They do and they were offered a Partition in 1948, but it was refused by the Arabs. I have read arguments explaining why it was refused, but I must say that I did not understand them. And whether the Arabs who left in 1948, did so at the advice and demands of the Arab leaders or because they were pushed out by the Jews or a combination of both, the fact is that there are consequences of war. The Arab nations: Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon declared war on the new State of Israel and they lost. There are consequences. No other nation in the world is judged so harshly as Israel is when it comes to consequences of war, even though in their case, the war (wars) were not statted by them. Also, the Arab nations were proudly on the side of the Germans, closely aligned with the Nazis, during the Second World War. There clearly was no love lost on either side of the equation.
Which brings me to the last point I want to make here. For those who may not be aware, Jews have been persecuted from time immemorial. From being expelled from England and Spain to the Crusades to the Pogroms in Eastern Europe and ultimately to the Holocaust in Germany and throughout Europe by extention. Good, bad or indifferent, they were Jews and for this they have been hated throughout history and we all know what atrocities come from hate. The reason for the movement called Zionism was to establish a land where Jews could not be expelled, humiliated, kept from certain jobs and clubs and universities, etc, persecuted and systematicallyy tortured and killed. Until 1967, when Israel won the Six Day War, even in the United States, anti-Semitism often went unchecked. After 1967, Jews in America walked with their heads a little higher, their self-confidence a little stronger because Americans saw that Jews would not be pushed around anymore, they were no longer weak and at the mercy of the bullies. Israel's strength had long coat-tails.
Now, it is common and accepted practice to see Israel as the aggressor, the bully, the big bad demon keeping the poor Palestinians down. It is simply not that simple. I do not want to see Arab children killed. I do not want to see any people living in inhuman conditions. I want all people to have equal rights. But the rights of others can not be at the expense of the Jewish people. Jews have been historically dispensable, but like the slogan that came out of the Holocaust says, Never Again! Somehow, both peoples have to live freely and securely, not one at the expense of the other.
That it was the land of Israel that became the Jewish homeland is certainlyl more than coincidence. The Jewish people in Israel go back to Biblical and pre-Biblical times and Jerusalem has always been the center of the land. (Also, just for the sake of information, many people argue that Jerusalem is also holy to the Muslims and it is, but not nearly as holy as Mecca and Medina.) But, as far as I am concerned, I would have been just as happy if the Jewish Homeland had been established in a less forebodingg place than in the middle of the Middle East. But where might that other place be? They talked briefly about Africa, specifically Uganda, but that didn't take hold. It seems to me somewhere in the middle of Canada where though the weather may be foreboding, at least the population was low. But as far as I know, Canada wasn't considered. The Jews were associated with Israel and Israel was to become the homeland. And so it goes......