(Author’s Note: my good friend Meredith wrote an excellent piece on the recent emerging stories of journalists being intimidated by members of the Obama administration. Click here, read, and give her some love!)
Someone whose opinion I have long valued just dropped a bomb on me. He no longer believes that the Jews had a right to found the Nation of Israel.
His question to me? “What right did the Jews have to displace the people living in the Palestinian Mandate?”
I’m going to answer that here, because apparently The Economist ignores the fact that Israel has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and believes that Israel had no right to be founded. The common argument has become one of turning the spotlight on us (deflecting is a poor way of winning an argument, by the way) – how would we, as Americans, feel if the Mexicans decided that they wanted to finally carry out Reconquista and take back the Southwestern United States by force? Well, first of all, Mexico wasn’t originally Mexico – it was taken over by the Spaniards, and if you really wanna get technical, there are indigenous people who were murdered and displaced by the ancestors of today’s Mexicans, so really, they don’t have a claim to their own land if you look at it that way.
But I digress.
Nations and cultures the world over have hated the Jews for centuries. If you go back far enough, it really started with Roman Christians a few generations after the crucifixion of Jesus blaming the Jews for “murdering” Him. (Side note: my take on that is that it’s ridiculous to blame the Jews. Jesus Himself didn’t have to die – He could have killed everyone who came for Him with a snap of His fingers, but He made the choice to go to His death willingly because all of mankind needed a way to get to God, and His sacrifice was that way.) This attitude carried over until the mid-1400’s, when Jews were restricted to very, very few professions – one of them being the middle-age version of banking. For centuries, it was one of the only real professions Jews were ever allowed to hold anywhere. They became adept at saving, lending, and larger economic principles because they had to.
Jews scattered to the four corners of the world never lost their longing to return to the Israel that had been founded by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In 1881, the First Aliyah began due to severe persecution of Jews worldwide – pogroms in Europe and Russia. In Russia, the assassination of Alexander II ended up being blamed on the Jews and they had to flee en masse. The overwhelming majority of the 3 million or so Jews came to the United States, but about 25,000 went to the area that once was Israel – which, at the time, was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.
At the time, there were already sizable Jewish enclaves in major cities in the area, particularly Jerusalem. The financial industry wasn’t established at all in the region, and most of the new settlers had absolutely no farming experience, so a British lord (whose name escapes me at the moment) gave them some help.
In 1904, the Second Aliyah began – and more than 40,000 Jews immigrated to the region, all expelled from Russia and Yemen. The Kishinev Pogrom kicked it off. In April 1903, an article in an anti-Semitic Russian publication claimed that a boy found dead and a young girl who committed suicide and was declared dead at a Jewish hospital were actually murdered by Jews who wished to use their blood in the preparation of matzah for Passover. The pogrom was led by Russian Orthodox priests and calls to kill the Jews were made as entire Jewish neighborhoods were leveled. By the time it was over, 49 Jews were dead, nearly 600 wounded and thousands were homeless. The very next year, Aliyah began – and in 1905, a second pogrom born of anti-Czar protests left 19 Jews dead, more than 50 wounded and hundreds more homeless.
It should be no surprise that Theodor Herzl would give birth to the World Zionist Organization. Jews were hated everywhere, to the point of mass murder. They needed a home – more than they knew. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, the area known as Palestine (so named by the Romans, “Palestina”) became a tribal area with no government. Arabs quarreled with Jews in the area, sometimes had all-out battles with them, but that was nothing new – Jews weren’t wanted anywhere they went. The Russian Revolution led to the murder of 100,000 Jews and another 500,000 being turned out of their homes.
Then came the Nazis and Shoah. The pogroms escalated until Jews were forced out of their businesses, then their homes, then their ghettos – then their lives. between six and eight million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis (along with three million other “undesirables”, including homosexuals and gypsies). By the time Shoah had begun, there were around 200,000 Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine. Muslims in the area rioted in 1920, protesting continuing Aliyah. Also, America had enacted severe limitations on immigration and the British were tired of trying to quell Muslim riots against Jewish immigration so they banned Jews from immigrating to the area – the Jews literally had nowhere to go. They had to immigrate in secret.
The area known as Palestine has never been an actual nation. It was originally a tribal region populated by farmers and shepherds until the Muslims came in and slaughtered them all – by 1938, the Palestinians were made up of the descendents of the Muslims who invaded and took the area by force (which led to the Crusades, but that’s a different argument). Jews made up nearly 35% of the population in the region by the end of WWII. Muslims in Palestine were so opposed to the Jews living there that Britain finally had to give up and leave. While the entire area from the Mediterranean all the way to the Eastern border of modern-day Jordan was originally supposed to be Israel, The United Nations had to come up with a compromise. The Jews needed a home, and the Muslims in the Palestinian Mandate hated the Jews just as much as the Russians and Europeans did. Their compromise? Two states: one for the Jews, one for the Muslims. 20% of the land originally promised as Israel became Eretz Israel. The rest became Transjordan.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion declared Israeli independence. On May 15, every surrounding nation – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria – declared war and attacked Israel. Some 700,000 Palestinians left – many will try to tell you that they were kicked out, but in reality, the majority of them left of their own volition. Only about 100,000 had been expelled from their homes and Israel later offered to allow them to come back, even offered citizenship and full rights as Israeli citizens; they all refused. It was Muslim Palestinians who began the violence against Jews settling in the area, and the Jews had to fight back; eventually they started hitting back afterwards to make it clear that they weren’t going to be pushovers. It still hasn’t ended.
Israel today is more accepting than any other Mideast nation. Whereas gays and lesbians are tortured and killed by Muslims in neighboring countries, they are welcomed in Israel. The Israelis have also contributed more to science, agriculture and economic issues than all of the Islamic republics combined. Yet we have gay groups in America standing against Israel and supporting groups that would murder them if they visited.
Golda Meir, one of my heroes, said quite succinctly, “there will only be peace when the Palestinians decide they love their children more than they hate us.”
What right did they have? I think it’s pretty clear.