Thursday, August 03, 2006
Israel and Palestine
What Ought to but Can’t be Done about Israel and Palestine
Let me start by baring my own biases and prejudices. I disapprove of “religious” states, in which one particular religious sect is chosen as the official state religion and the holy book of that sect and its interpreters are the basis and final arbiters of law in the state. There are at least two such states in the world today: Iran and Israel. Of the two, Israel is the more paradoxical. Although it is a vibrant democracy, with every political opinion represented by members of its parliament, or Knesset, it is in no way egalitarian. Only Jews are permitted to immigrate to the state. Non-Jews, who once lived in territory now under the jurisdiction of the State of Eretz Israel, are not allowed to return to their own homes. These are homes that they still own, in principle, and in which they and their ancestors had lived for generations. Iran has no legal restriction for a non-muslim to move there and take up residence. It is less “democratic” that Israel. A group of conservative clergy decides who can and who can’t run for seats in the national parliament, or Majlis. Israel has no such restriction on running for office.
The fight between Israel and Palestine began in 1948 when the state of Israel was established as a specifically “Jewish” state in the midst of land that had previously been predominantly Muslim. The new Jewish state stated in its constitution that any Jew living anywhere in the world was welcome to emigrate to Israel and become one of its voting citizens. It was obvious that the small territory granted to the new state could not possibly accommodate the millions of Jews in the world, many of whom were at the time eager to move to a place where they would at last be free of persecution. The state had to expand. It expanded into adjoining territory that was already occupied. The occupants had to be cleared out to make room for the Jews that were flooding to the new state, most of them survivors of the holocaust of the previous few years. These occupants, the Palestinians, resisted moving and were chased out during several wars by intimidation. They or their descendants are still living in refugee camps, waiting and hoping that some day they may return and again occupy their own ancestral homes.
The new occupants, the Jews that survived the Holocaust, Jews from Russia, even Jews from the United States, also had a claim to the territory of Israel or Palestine. Their claim was nearly 1900 years old. Their ancestors had been forcibly removed in 70 AD by Imperial Rome as a means of pacifying and occupying the fractious Kingdom of Israel. They had waited nearly two millennia to return to their homes.
There was at one time a plan to partition the British Protectorate (Palestine and Jordan) into two states: a Jewish and an Arabic state. This plan had been cooked up by the British Prime Minister Lloyd George and the King of Saudi Arabia. No one consulted the Arabs who lived in Palestine and Jordan at the time. (Actually, I probably should not use the term “Jordan” here; the British Protectorate was known as Palestine and it included territory on both sides of the Jordan river. The part east of the river was known in 1948 as “Trans-Jordan.”) The new State of Israel would include at least part of the holy city of Jerusalem. A leading cleric at the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, took exception to having a non-Muslim state created that would occupy any part of Jerusalem. Jerusalem and territory surrounding it were part of “waqf” (if I have the correct spelling), or territory that, having been converted to Islam, must henceforth forever remain Islamic. He led a war against the newcomer. In spite of the odds, the Israelis won, and Eretz Israel was born.
Now, as a non-Jew and a non-Muslim, I have no patience with any religious claim to the territory of Israel or Palestine. I deny that Jews have any historical right to go there and displace the indigenous people. If they choose to do so, they must face the consequences. My country should not help them in this land theft. I deny also that Muslims have any historical right to retain control of land just because the people in it were at one time converted to Islam. My belief is that individuals should be free to choose any religion they wish. In spite of my belief, my country is helping the Israelis to steal land from the indigenous Palestinians. If I were in charge of our foreign policy, I would cut off all forms of aid to Israel and give them to understand that they were completely on their own in what they are doing. I recognize that any President who adopted such a policy would be overwhelmingly defeated at the next quadrennial election and his party in Congress would lose heavily in the next biennial election. In short, the American People sympathize with Israel and happily aid and abet it in any of its monstrous schemes to induce the Palestinians to “just go away.” Ideally, I would tell Israel that it must respect the rights of the dispossessed Palestinians to return to their homes, and give up the idea of creating an exclusively “Jewish” state. However, that would be unwarranted interference in their affairs. Let them and the Palestinians fight it out on even terms, with no help from the United States for Israel or help from Iran or Saudi Arabia for Palestine.