Saturday, July 18, 2009

No end in sight

This post is probably my last about the past and present history of the Middle East. I know I am losing you. Not nearly as many of you as I thought care how the conflict came about. Most would rather just side with the Palestinians and let it go at that. No need to actually reason it out.

Many Jews stayed living through the centuries in the area which later became called Palestine, as did many Arabs. As I mentioned before, they were both simply called Palestinians. They were also called by their religions, Jews and Muslims. And, of course, there were other peoples and other religions.

But a large number of the descendants of the original Hebrews did NOT stay in that area and were dispersed throughout the world. Some became wealthy and influential in Europe. Some ended up in Hollywood. But MANY lived in large segregated Jewish communities in Germany, Poland, and Russia - and many other places as well.

These last all had a couple things in common: One, they were all segregated and persecuted by the majority in each country, for the most part. Nobody liked the Jews, it seemed. Two, they all dreamed of someday again having their own homeland.

This post is not going to be a pity party for the Jews. Anyone who has read history knows how each country treated them. The word "ghetto", which we today use to mean any slum, comes from the place Jews were made to live in each city; the Jewish quarter. The Jews in Russia in the 19th century suffered "pogroms" (organized massacres; sanctioned ethnic cleansing) at the hands of the Tsars. If you have seen the play or movie "Fiddler on the Roof", then you have an idea of how the Jews lived in Russia.

If all these dispersed Jews had one thing in common, it was that they were outsiders, strangers in strange lands, living for generations in those countries, but never being truly able to call it their own.


Zion was the name of the hill in Jerusalem upon which King David built his city. It means other things to other people and other religions, too.

To the Jews "in exile" living in other lands, though, Zion was more than that: Zion was a concept, a deeply-rooted dream about one day, some day, again having their own homeland, a place where they belonged and nobody could throw them out. This dream was solidified into a common vision called "Zionism".

The dreamed-of future homeland was known as Zion. Zion was not (and is not) a real place in the sense we are talking about - not a bricks and mortar place. Instead, Zion describes a shared dream, a condition of ownership and belonging.

There is an old joke that the definition of "home" is a place that, when you go there, they have to let you in. Such a place, in the dreams of the Jews over the centuries of not belonging, was Zion. True, Zion was a hill in ancient Jerusalem where King David built his city, and it also means other things, but in this instance we are talking about the dreamed-of Jewish Homeland.

Dreamers of such a homeland, and those who would, when it was finally realized, defend that homeland against all comers are "Zionists."

For centuries, wherever they were in the world, all Jews repeated the same phrase when they sat down to their meal at Passover: "Next year in Jerusalem." But none of them ever lived to see it.

Zionism, as a concept, is important. If you understand Zion to epitomize a dream come true from centuries of dreaming, of Jews long-dead dreaming, of persecution and oppression survived, of being strangers in strange lands and countless humiliations endured, then you may have some small inkling of why the people living in Israel today are not going anywhere.

Not because the Palestinians want them to disappear; not because the U.S. or the U.N. want them to do this or that; not until every Jewish man, woman, and child are dead. Even then they wouldn't leave; their bones would be buried there.

If the Palestinians entertain such a hope, or a hope of garnering enough world opinion to force Israel out, they might want to consider rethinking that hope. The only hope for peace is for the Palestinians to learn to live with Israel, and yet they prefer to dream of Israel's magical disappearance.

The ultimate persecution of the Jews: The Holocaust

Then, as you all know, came World War II and Hitler's attempt to purge the world of the Jews once and for all.

At the end of WWII, the Jews that were left were, in large part, homeless. Even their ghettos had been destroyed. Many, many families were not intact anymore. They were let out of the prison camps, but with no real place to go.

They began coming to the ancient homeland of their fathers. They came any way they could. They came by the thousands. Many of them had nothing but tattered clothes and a very old dream.

Of course, they also immigrated to many other countries far and wide after the war, but enough started showing up in the land of their ancestors that there was cause for alarm among the Arabs and their British administrators.

Exodus II

Even before WWII, the Jewish immigration to Palestine was immense. The British were still the administrators of Palestine (and other areas of the Middle East), and their Peel Commission recommended a tiny area be partitioned from the rest of Palestine for the Jews to live in, leaving the vast majority of Palestine for the Arabs.

The Arabs opposed even this, called the Jews a race cursed by God, and put pressure on the British, who caved. Palestine was closed to further Jewish immigration. Ships overloaded with hopeful Jews were turned away. Famously, one such ship, with no place to go, capsized and all aboard perished. But still the Jews tried to come.

The Arab league was formed to further Arab interests in the area and fight against any more Jewish immigration. The world was on the side of the Arabs.

President Roosevelt assured Kind Saud that the U.S. would not support further Jewish immigration as long as he was president. When he died, though, the Jews gained a powerful friend in Harry Truman.

In 1947, the United Nations began to debate. The situation was becoming intolerable. It was decided that the British Mandate would end, on May 15, 1948, and that Palestine would be partitioned. After the anouncement, violence began breaking out around the country. A U.N. "trustee" arrangement was floated in an attempt to head off Israeli statehood, which would certainly mean war. Everyone knew the Jews were not going to be satisfied this time with simply living in another ghetto in Palestine, U.N. or no U.N.

Truman was against the idea of a "trusteeship" and the idea was never implemented. Violence escalated.

On May 14, 1948, as the British were still leaving Palestine, and knowing full well what was going to happen to them, the Israelis declared independence.

The Israelis didn't have long to wait. Immediately, every Arab League member declared war on Israel, with the stated intent to "totally eliminate" the new state of Israel. Only one country in the world came forward and recognized Israel's independence as a sovereign state.

The Arabs have never really cared for the United States since.

But soon Iran, the Soviet Union and many other countries recognized Israel.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli war is known by Israelis as their war of independence.

The five Arab states who actually attacked the new country of Israel were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. King Abdullah I of Jordan was the commander of the Arab Legion and there were other Arab armies made up from the other countries.

Israel had known, of course, that it would be called upon to defend its declaration of independence, and had, for a long time before, been training and equipping a paramilitary underground fighting force. In addition, armed settlers answered the call, directly defending their land. Counting both men and women fighters (Israeli women have always fought and died alongside their men) Israel had a sizable force, if somewhat rag tag.

One of Israel's greatest assets was the streaming in of Jews from all over the world to fight with them, perhaps as much as 10,000 per MONTH. It is estimated Israel started with about 29,000 fighters, but by December they had over 100,000. Still, they were facing the armies of multiple nations.

Progress was slow, but the Israelis began taking territory. Armistices were signed in 1949 and a U.N. Commission was set up to monitor the "peace". Israel ended up with about 50% more land than it had had under the original U.N. partition, had the Arabs just left Israel alone in the first place. Needless to say, even more Jewish immigration occurred after the war and is still going on.

I'm going to leave out the parts of the killings and massacres that occured during the war.

The Arab world attacked Israel again in 1967. This time the war lasted 6 days and Israel ended up with pretty much all the land they cared to keep. They took the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt but gave the Sinai back after Egypt recognized their right to exist. They still haven't given back Syria's Golan Heights and probably never will, since Syria likes to bombard Israel from those hills. Syria periodically complains to anyone who will listen and in return, Israel bombs them whenever it gets the urge. If you start a war with Israel, you had better not lose it.

Except for periodically lobbing a handful of Scuds into Israel under Saddam, Iraq is pretty much out of it. Lebanon is still a threat. Or at least half of it is. Israel goes into Lebanon every 5 or 6 years until the world cries in protest at Israel's barbarity, and then they leave Lebanon, the unfinished business still unfinished.

Some of the Palestinians seem to want peace and are just tired of the genertions of fighting. Others, under Hamas, still fight the good fight and continue to lob homemade rockets into Southern Israel, which Israel is expected to just smile and endure. There is really not much left for them to destroy in Gaza anyway.

I'm sure not all of you see the solution as clearly as I do.

Remember the movie "Cool Hand Luke" where George Kennedy and Paul Newman are boxing in the yard? And the much stronger Kennedy keeps popping Newman and knocking him on his rear? And then, a few seconds later, Newman rolls over, gets to his knees, and staggers to his feet, over and over and over again, only to be walloped again by a frustrated Kennedy?

Finally Newman hears the advice of Kennedy and the onlookers.

"Stop. Getting. Up."

Would that the Palestinians would heed the same advice and decide to start today living in peace and starting down the road to prosperity. The choice is and always has been up to the Palestinians, not the Israelis.

The Israelis simply aren't going to leave. Get over it.


  1. There you go again! Sweeping statements about losing us, just because Sheila tried to make a valid point about moving forward. Well, you may have lost Sheila, though I doubt it, but you aren't going to shake me off nearly so easily. Mainly because I say nothing relevant.

  2. I've never watched "Cool Hand Luke" but I've just read the summary a few minutes ago. I gather he may have heard the advice but he didn't heed it.

    Reading through the rest of the post, I suspect you are skating over some salient points there too. I don't know nearly enough about the situation to argue with you for the most part but one thing does hit me:

    "They took the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt but gave the Sinai back after Egypt recognized their right to exist." And Gaza?

    so, no, I don't see the solution as clearly as you do.

  3. I also love the idea you have going here. I am going to watch and see what the results are. Can you imagine being hated not only by your neighbors but by the world? I cannot fathom it.

  4. I don't have a side in this. I suspect there is no "right" side and no "wrong" side. I suspect they both have a valid viewpoint and some aspects where they're not so good.

    Perhaps, if they (BOTH of them) agonized less over the past, they could build a future they could both live with.

  5. @A. - You say you don't know nearly enough about the subject to argue with me. And then you start arguing with me. Whywhywhy?

    Gaza doesn't belong to Israel. They gave it to the Palestinians. Who use it to launch rockets into Israel. Just a way of saying "thanks."

    @Ettarose - Yes. Yes I can.

    Oh. You mean Israel. No. No I can't.

    Did you know Kitty Hawk is in NC? You probably did. But did you know about the predator cat that learned how to fly, whence the place got its name? There you do. You don't know EVERYTHING.

    Trivia: Was the Wright brothers' occupation back in Ohio?

    @Stephanie B - So painfully true.



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