so this is the day: The comments of Poor Insane – which I appreciated a lot for he, finally, seems to be a person sincerely looking for a dialog where one listens to the other’s arguments – and a discussion I had with a dear friend, D., who is reading this blog though only commenting in private (why by the way?) pushed me into getting something written down I have pushed off for quite a while now. Nearly a year to be specific; as long as I have had this blog: Does Israel belong there?
First of all I feel I have to make you learn two pieces of vocabulary so we can tell things from each other in this posting: medinat ysrael, the State of Israel, referring to today’s political nation Israel and erez ysrael, referring to the historic-geographic land of Israel as it is described in the bible.
So far … any more to procrastinate the “hard issue”? I am afraid nothing that wouldn’t be all to obviousely distracting from it …
To put it in a nutshell: I don’t have an answer to that question. There’s just too much information amiss or information I’ve only gotten from untrustworthy (either pro-Zionist or pro-Palestinian) sources to come to a solution. I’ll include those questions I’d love to have answered and if somebody can provide sources to any of them he’s more then welcome!
Nevertheless, me not being able to answer that question doesn’t change anything about the right of existence of today’s medinat ysrael, State of Israel. As far as the situation goes today the world – and that does include the Arab and thereby also the Palestinian world – will have to accept Israel existing and Israeli and Palestinians will ultimately have to come to a solution that grants both populations a peaceful, free and sustainable way of living. Whether that will be a classical two-state-solution or one or another kind of a joined state or maybe a completely different approach is another topic and a question only to be answered by history in the years to come. Even if Israel was to be proven “guilty” as the trigger of the current conflict (though I suppose even in the worst case scenario plenty of other entities would have their part too) it cannot be suggested today’s Israeli population (neither the Jewish nor the Muslim or any other) is punished for what their parents might have done wrong. This is why untouched by the historic “truth” I will never accept any voices questioning today’s medinat ysrael‘s right of existence.
As far as history goes – and I hope Poor Insane and others are with me as far as that – there was some kind of political entity inhabited by Jews at some point in history at least to the Jewish rebellion against Rome and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE. And this is where my first questions to historians enter the stage: Who – ethnically – were the inhabitants of erez ysrael up to 70 CE? Was there already an Arab (Jordanian / Palestinian) population in erez ysrael? (remember there where no Muslims back then!) and about what percentage of the total population were they? What other minorities (?) used to live there in that time? (Today it’d be Druze and Beduin people and a number of other minorities).
Around 70 CE and the centuries following would also be the time when Rome did its best to get rid of the Jews of Israel. They did prohibit teaching of Judaism – Rabbis had to teach in hiding – and destroy everything and everybody Jewish they could get hold of. Also they “exported” plenty of Jews off to Europe as slaves (the last “Roman” diaspora). What I don’t know, though would love to find out is how many (what percentage of the total population) Jews remained in erez ysrael in about 700 CE? How and when did they disappear from the land that apparently at one point was inhabited mainly by them? When would be the first time there where more Arabs (Jordanians / Palestinians) then Israelis (Hebrews) in erez ysrael?
The 8th century CE brought about the rise of Islam and subsequently them taking over erez ysrael. But what happened to the Jews living there? My idea of it – though I might be mistaken so feel free to correct me – is that a number of them apparently converted to Islam and another group was killed (let’s avoid the g-word here). If this is correct it’d mean that ethnically today’s “Palestinian” population of erez ysrael was no more no less then Jews who converted to Islam at one point around the 8th century. Which is interesting if you consider that Judaism isn’t only about what religion one chooses but also about genetics – inherited belonging to the tribe of Israel. ((I’ve suggested that to some rather zionist friends of mine once and they nearly freaked out *lol*. I wonder how pro-Palestinians ‘d react to that one?))
I know for sure though that there were some places in Israel that are known to have continuously and in direct line been inhabited by Jews all the time from the time of the second temple: Jerusalem, Hevron (well, no longer, apparently), Zfat and Pki’in. So I dare to claim that there have, since the days of Moses, been Jews living in erez ysrael. It’s not like they completely disappeared at any given time … they just declined from a majority to a minority in the land that used to be their’s.
Anyway: After the Muslims came the Crusaders or better to say the split the country between the two of them for a while. There’s plenty of records of Jews living in erez ysrael during crusader time and the impression I got – though I am not a historian nor an expert of any kind – is that the population seems to have been rather mixed at that time with no population outnumbering the other all too much. In general Jews seemed to have had quite a lot of power and influence when it came to trade whilst political power, unless it was with the Christians, was more likely to be with Muslims. But again: That could be my fantasy going wild.
Later on, however, Muslims took back the land and held it basically until Ottomane times. By then Aliya Alef, the first wave of, mostly European, Jews migrating back to Israel would already have started. David Ben Gurion, for instance, legendary first Israeli Prime Minister, used to have a Turkish passport at some point. So now we are well into Zionism and Jews already moving back to Israel. A Israel that, by that time, hadn’t been existing anymore for about 1’800 years but then, though it was in contemporary literature referred to as “Palestine” talking about the geographic area wasn’t Palestine either but a part of the Ottomane empire until World War I in which it was taken over by Great Britain until medinat ysrael‘s Independence in 1948. An Independence that, according to Israeli sources, wasn’t all to much Great Britain’s doing anyway for apparently (according to Israeli sources) Jewish underground organisations, such as the Ha-Ganah, had already fought a decent battle against Britain’s rule for some decades pushing her to the point of getting out of the region before they completely lost their face.
I’ve read in a book about Theodor Herzl’s life once that in the beginning of Zionism many weren’t all too concerned about where that Jewish State would be located. The most important point about it, at that point, was to have a state that was mainly Jewish in order to protect Jews from persecution. There were talks about giving the Jews some piece of land in today’s Uganda (Africa) but it never happened for one reason or the other. Only later on Zionists chose their old homeland, erez ysrael, as the target for Jewish migration in order to establish that Jewish State.
What I’d love to have are reliable sources about the percentages of ethnic groups in erez ysrael around 1800 and their development during the 19th century yet I haven’t found any reliable (paid neither by Jews, nor Ottomanes) sources about that one. So I can’t tell you anything about who “inhabited” erez ysrael when Aliya Alef started. I’d love to know. I’ve seen some charts but not only am I afraid their numbers mirror that of those who paid the author but also did it strike me that the numbers only consist of “Jews” and “Muslims” or similar but there’s no word about Christians, Beduins, Druze safe any other minority and no difference between a “Palestinian” Arab and a Turk which limits the reliability of the sources to nil in my opinion.
The time of the foundation of the State of Israel is known as the “nakba”, the catastrophe, in Palestinian and Arab history. For Jews of course it was exactly the opposite: They finally had a country of their own, a place where they could feel safe. Well, mostly. At least now their enemies came from outside and they knew who they were.
I know some survivors of the Shoah and I can clearly depict what a great feeling it must have been for them. One lovely elderly lady, an Auschwitz survivor, H., whom I love dearly and who – in her way and perhaps without knowing of it – taught me a couple of very important lessons about “life” and “fate”, told me the point where she had really been able to make her peace with her past was the day when her son, while at the army, visited Auschwitz with his unit; that regular Israeli soldiers could go and visit there was the greatest of all feelings to her. Anyway where I want this to lead to is the following: Of course Jews at that time had a lot of wounds to hatch – psychologically as well als physically – and a whole state to build up so yes, it is perfectly possible that they forgot about those who had to innocently suffer for their happyness. I am sure wrong has been done and people have come to harm without contributing to it.
As concerns the “nakba” there’s quite a lot of controversial information again that makes it hard for me to sort out who’s “right” and who not. Whilst Palestinian sources claim “Palestinians” had been displaced from their homes by Israelis or similar I’ve read and heard plenty of Israeli sources claiming the only people that called for Arabs to leave the newly founded medinat ysrael was Arabs. I couldn’t remember ever having heard of Israelis actually killing or driving Arab people out by force – though this, again, might be due to me lacking sources so feel free to supply any. Anyway apparently for one reason or another many Arabs didn’t feel welcome in a Jewish state so they left to neighbouring countries who in the subsequent decades gravely betrayed them by declining even second and third generation refugees citizenship, work permits and a live outside refugee camps. (Or am I mistaken concerning this? How do you think about this, Poor Insane? Why do they do that?)
Talking about medinat ysrael and its foundation: British Mandate Palestine consisted not of today’s medinat ysrael but rather of both today’s medinat ysrael plus today’s Jordan. So when UN allowed – more or less voluntarely – medinat ysreal to be founded it already split the land and gave the bigger part, Transjordan – today’s Jordan – to the Arab population. A part of land Israel wasn’t all too interested into anyway for first of all they just wanted some land where they could finally settle down in peace and second of all according to bible sources it didn’t belong to them or their ancestors anyway.
So I can kinda understand why many Israelis claim they have already given half of the land to the Arabs anyway and them feeling the Arabs are just taking more and more of the land until, if they keep giving the Arabs more land, there will be no land left for Israel in the end. From the Israeli perspective it looks like every time they give land to the Arabs they just want more which of course makes Israel reluctant to give them any.
Another word to the name “Palestine”: There is two possible roots for the name “Palestine”. One of them being the ancient people of the Philisters, a people of whom we hardly know a thing but that they settled down in today’s Gaza strip and were pretty misterioue tradesmen – there’s quite a lot of really cool archaeological stuff left over from the Philistines in Gaza. Some say they were responsible for a series of raids in all the Eastern Mediterranean in that time but there’s not sufficient proof to be sure yet. Anyway it seems that those Philistines were no Semitic people, neither Arab nor Hebrew, but indogermanic spoken so they didn’t “belong” to the area at all. So I suppose as “original Palestines” the Philistines can be ruled out (though I’d love to run some genetic testing on today’s Gaza population (the part of it that’s not refugees from somewhere else) to find out if they are the actual descendants of Philistines).
Possibility number two and what is broadly accepted as historic truth (again I am open for sources suggesting the opposite) is the Romans renamed what used to be Judea into Palestine in order to disconnect the Jews with Judea; as a punishment for the Jewish revolts so to say. So as far as I am concerned there has never been such a thing as a “tribe of Palestine” that today’s Palestinians could derive their name and identity from. So here – again – comes one question: When and why did Palestinians begin to call themselves “Palestinians”? And what did they call themselves before that? I’ve heard rumors though unfortunately nothing reliable (sources anybody?) that up to some point in the 1960ies the average Palestinian would identify himself as “Jordanian” and only as the Palestinian liberation movement gained momentum were they told to call themselves “Palestinians”. There is hearsay about some elderly Palestinian people telling they were born “Jordanian” until one day somebody dropped by telling them that now they were “Palestinian”. I’d love to know whether there’s truth in that for that really makes it sound as if there is a possibility that “Palestinians” and thereby “Palestine” is no more no less then an artificially constructed entity in order to be used for Arab foreign politics (while nobody cares what happens to those being called “Palestinians”). Which even in the worst case scenario of medinat ysrael not “belonging” to erez ysrael wouldn’t make “Palestinians” any better then “Israeli”.
This is just a rather random serving of aspects being part of the big question. There’s plenty more where that comes from at nearly every blog concerned with the area and its politics and history.
So here comes the thing with the question asked above: Who is to judge which people “belongs” to erez ysrael? What conditions have to be met for a people to rightfully “own” the land they are living in and what conditions have to be met in order for a people to loose that right? Poor Insane is absolutely right that, if following the logic of the Jews belonging to Israel because they did live there at some point you had to displace half of mankind and draw a completely new map. Many Jews claim they are a special case because of being persecuted for so many millenia and that historically proven the only way to grant their savety is by giving them the possibility to stand up for themselves by giving them a state of their own – medinat ysrael. Is this valid? I don’t know but I think if we have a look into history we cannot completely dismiss the argument nor the one that whilst Arabs do have half a continent to run to Jews have nothing but that tiny place called “Israel”. But then of course I can perfectly understand every Palestinian asking what the heck this does have to do with him and why this means his grandmother had to (?) leave her home in order to go someplace else.
I don’t believe anyhow that further forced displacements (neither of Jews nor Muslims) can pose a solution to the conflict but rather does a solution have to be found with everybody staying in the place he is living in now (which of course leaves open the question of what to happen with millions of “Palestinian” second and third generation “refugees” that likely couldn’t be supported by the pure size and resources of erez ysrael whatsoever.)
That’d be my personal overview of the situation. I think it’s the longest posting I’ve written so far but still merely scratches the surface of the whole problem, anyway I hope I could give you an idea of how complicated and multi-layered it is. I am more then open to any questions and any further discussion and if you are interested in any particular aspect just tell me and I’ll see what information I can get.
looking forward to a great discussion