My Middle East. Part Seven. A Tale of two Narratives

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The adage that if we ignore the past we are condemned to repeat it is proving true in the Arab/Israeli conflict with increasing regularity. The conflict we see today is presented world-wide as something entirely different, and context-less, from the one which began around the end of World War 1, and truly exploded in May 1948. Thus the Arab/Israeli war today is based on propaganda, name calling, and random accusations surrounding the suffering of innocent people.

It’s not surprising that two totally contradictory narratives have developed, and the conflict has become seemingly unsolvable.

Armed with the few basic historical facts we can understand, and critically analyse the Arab narrative that Israel is occupying their land, and analyse Israel’s narrative that they have a cultural, historical, and political right to be exactly where they are.

Back in 1919, in accordance with the accepted and frankly brutal modus operandi of the day, the British took on the conventional ‘right’ to oversee the Middle East. The Turks had ruled Palestine for several centuries, and when the British defeated the Turks, with the help of the Semitic people, Arabs and Jews, they ‘naturally’ took control of the Ottoman Empire. That doesn’t make it right, especially in today’s eyes, but back then it went with the territory .

That’s what humans did, and had done for thousands of years in the Middle East, and elsewhere. A succession of rulers and empire builders had dominated the area known as Palestine: Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander, The Romans, The Crusaders, Byzantine, The Islamic Golden Age, Mamluks, The Ottomans, The British.

Self-rule and self-determination were rare for the Semitic people of Palestine, Arabs or Jews, especially after the invasion of the Romans. And it was the mixed fortunes of both branches of Semitic people to be represented by the last of these successful empire builders, Britain.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that originally, peaceful self-rule was the stated intention of the British for the Arab and Jewish Semitic people. Some commentators may smile wryly and say that we all really know it was about trade routes and oil supplies. Such hidden agendas cannot change the official political moves which were made at the time, and to which ordinary people had to respond.

In order to understand the situation today in the Arab/Israeli conflict, I needed a basic knowledge of this more recent history. Then I could add my own thoughts in good faith. My observations are based upon recorded broad-brush strokes of history, initially perused on the internet. I have also read some books on the subject, mainly to substantiate the basic information, rather than for the more easily selective minutiae. My readily available sources are listed at the end of this article.

A Probable History

Suppose that, back in 1919, the Jews heading for the area of Palestine earmarked for the creation of the Jewish State, had been respectfully acknowledged by an Arab population heading for a new State of their own in Syria.

Then, based on well documented cultural and historical arguments, there may well have been no objection to the Jews building Israel exactly where it is today.

And yet, unbelievable as it may seem, at one point this outcome was entirely possible.

Before such a momentous decision as giving away a quarter of the phenomenal State of Israel could even be considered, it does not appear plausible to disregard the influence of the British and the French governments, in the early decades of the twentieth century, on the tensions prevailing in the Middle East today. Mainly through a faulty sense of direction, they built a road to war, and we need to go back to the cross-roads.

The original aim of giving a large portion of land for self-rule to the Arabs and the Jews, can be seen as an unusual and wise intention for the time. Probably only equalled in history by Cyrus the Great, back in the sixth century BC.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see if the original plan would have worked out. Old habits of empire, back in 1919, expressed such thinking as that which informed the Sykes-Picot agreement. With this agreement, the original intention to allow Emir Feisal to set up an independent Arab State in Syria, with the Jews setting up their independent state in Palestine, was defeated.

Even so, in 1922 Winston Churchill and TE Lawrence made an effort to partially fulfil the original promises. From the original allotment to the Jews, of Palestine, which extended from the Mediterranean Sea, to where Iraq is today, Churchill created two countries, one called TansJordan for the Arabs. Seventy-five percent of Palestine became the promised, but substituted, Arab state; while the remaining 25% eventually became the promised, diminished, Jewish state of Israel.

But the majority of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine in 1922 seem to have known nothing of the centuries old Jewish predicament, and their historical ties with the land. It is possible that the ordinary Arab people were not made aware of what was originally proposed, and the reasons for it. The responsibility for doing this would have rested with the authorities of the time. Though it would not have been the simple matter then that, with the proper use of media, it could be today.

And it seems to me that the unfortunate mishandling of a noble aim, discussed in detail with Emir Feisal and Chaim Weismann, does not diminish the rights or needs of the Jewish people today, or make them guilty by association.

The division of Palestine was a compromise which the Jews, having no other choice, readily accepted, but which understandably did not satisfy the Arabs, who were justified in expecting something else. Indeed, Emir Feisal had added a note onto the very letter written by Balfour in 1917 to the effect that should any of the plans be changed, he could not be held to any agreements. But, the plans were changed.

Ironically, after all of the political machinations 1914 – 1922 and beyond, the Jewish homeland was to become established, under great and continuing duress, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Nevertheless, in 1922, there seemed to be enough room for the Jews in what was now left of Palestine, the actual land which became Israel in 1948, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea. The total numbers of all cultures in the new and reduced version of Palestine, according to a British census in 1922, came to less than a million people. About 800,000 of these were Arabs, who were intended to co-exist with the Jews, as twice that number do today. And there were about 30 people per square kilometer. 
In the same area which is Israel today, there are around 360 people per square kilometer and, as we shall see, this demographic has repercussions for the future planning of Israel.

In May 1948, Britain effectively left a land they had conquered but did not understand. Away from the resulting confusion which, if they were not alone in creating, as overseers they had responsibility for. 
On 14th May 1948 the State of Israel came into existence, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the Golan Heights in the north, to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south, bordering with Egypt at the Sinai Desert in the southwest.

On 15th May 1948, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt attacked, with the aim of stopping the existence of Israel as quickly as possible. Minor battles and skirmishes within the nascent land of Israel, between Arabs and Jews, had been going on for many years already. Clearly, since at least 1919, the Arab narrative that Palestine was a land invaded by Jewish foreigners, had taken hold and informed their actions.

The Arabs were unsuccessful in defeating the new state of Israel, and between February and July 1949 various armistice agreements were signed between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries. 
At the time of the armistice, Jordan occupied a large area of the new Israeli state, which had existed for about a year; that is, Jordan occupied the regions known as Judea and Samaria, which they chose to re-name ‘the west bank’ of the Jordan River. This is a vague, geographical term, and I think they would have been more credible keeping the names Judea and Samaria.

Seen on a map today, the area of Israel referred to as ‘The West Bank’ looks like what it became in 1950, an untidy extension of the country of Jordan, who had decided to annex what they had occupied.

This was not considered a legal move by the international community, and only Britain and Pakistan recognised it. Today, Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria is disputed on the basis of the geographical limit of Jordan’s occupation in 1949. But Judea and Samaria were officially part of the state of Israel as of May 14th 1948.

[Logically, had Jordan been even more successful, they might have overrun, and occupied a much larger “west bank”. What cannot be disputed is that in 1922 the borders between Jordan and Israel were set for when Israel became a state. There was a strange looking plan offered by the UN in 1947. The Jews, again desperate, agreed to it, but the Arabs wisely refused. And the 1922 borders remained.]

Jordan’s occupation of Eastern Israel lasted until 1967, when Israel finally had enough strength to take her diminished allotted land back.

Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, which had been occupied by Jordan in 1949, and annexed by them in 1950, now came to be known by some as “occupation by Israel”. That is, Israel were supposedly occupying part of her own country which had, incidentally, been first occupied and then illegally annexed by Jordan.

Thus it can only be that those who suggest a return to “pre 1967” borders, in a two-state solution, are attempting to re-instate Judea and Samaria as part of Jordan. Even though all but two countries in the world correctly said that Jordan had no right to the land they had merely occupied in war.

But then, in 1988, Jordan ceased to consider Judea and Samaria as part of her country, and unilaterally handed her illegal claims on, to the newly formed Palestine Liberation Organization. In this way “The West Bank” was morphing into “Palestinian Territory”.

Ironically, this re-naming of the west bank, if not Judea and Samaria, into something resembling the name of a country, is fine as long as we remember that both Jews and Arabs are Palestinians. As we shall see later, this can work well in a possible, and I think logical, future.

It is significant that, all through the twentieth century, colonized peoples have reclaimed their origins, demanded self-rule, and ousted imperialist occupiers, reverting to names for themselves and their countries in their native tongues.

Thus there are many Semitic countries in the Middle East now. Israel, a Jewish nation of old, is one of them.

And there are several Arab states as well: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. Their creation seems not to have united the Arab tribes of 1919, and perhaps, with hindsight, the original intention of uniting the Arabs in Syria was unrealistic. Possibly it was never really desired.

By 1973, with the defeat of Egypt and its allies who had attacked Israel for the third time in twenty five years, it appears that it was recognized that, in open warfare, it was becoming unlikely that those members of the Arab community who were intent on destroying Israel would ever be successful, as Israel continued to developed her defensive capabilities.

It was around this time that the conduct of the Arab/Israeli conflict seems to have begun to morph into today’s shadowy yet bombastic form. With increasing media coverage, and the high profile involvement of people like Henry Kissinger, and more recently John Kerry, the attention, and the voices, of more and more people around the world have become accessible.

Thus, while the Jewish narrative remains what it has always been: that they have a historical and cultural right to a land where Israel is now situated; the Arab narrative began to change.
 It was no longer that “the Jews should be pushed into the sea” but merely that a quarter of their tiny land should be given to a section of the Arab population.

To help Israel see the sense of this new chapter in the Arab narrative, the scale, form, and ownership of the Arab attacks became, on the surface, relatively small actions by the PLO who had relocated to Lebanon, from where they attacked northern Israel. These attacks continued from 1971 – 1978, when Israel retaliated, leading to the war of 1982.

The conflicts with the PLO operating from Lebanon seem also to have been the beginnings of a change in popular perception of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Up until 1982, Israel was quite clearly fighting a war for survival against a much larger enemy. A people of one hundred million, against a single country of anything from one million, to the current seven or eight million.

Over the past 40 years or so the Arab narrative has changed the Arab/Israeli conflict into the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, through which wording Israel is seen as the stronger and aggressive power. And although it is said that the PLO were backed by the large and powerful country Iran, and became aligned with Hezbollah, the general media presentation of the conflict was changed.

Today, when Israel builds settlements in Judea and Samaria, the Arab spokes-people around the world condemn Israel for building in this area of her own country. In their narrative, the twice renamed west bank of the Jordan River is not part of the State of Israel. Yet much of the early Jewish and Christian history, and its protagonists, also revered figures in Islam, were considerable justification for the original plans concerning the creation of a Jewish State where it is today. And, in 1922 Judea and Samaria were included in the reduced allotment of land to the Jews.

A Possible Future

From the broad brush-strokes summarized above, my perception is that there are perhaps 4 or 5 million people, in Eastern Israel who have lived under 65 years of Jordanian Arab/Sunni Muslim influence.

It is not surprising then that they might reject the idea of being Israeli citizens, if they have been brought up to believe that they alone are the original people of this land, with an Islamic history, and that Jewish people are newcomers with no history.

Given previous Arab attitudes, behaviour and promises of destruction towards Israel based on what looks to me like a mistaken perception, it is understandable that with the best will in the world, having another Arab country, not on your doorstep, but rather living in your back room is not perceived as a healthy solution to the conflict.

The offer of the two-state solution [which is increasingly seen to include the strategic area of Israel known as Gaza] is that the Arabs in Judea, Samaria [and Gaza] will stop their periodic civil war actions of suicide bombings, tunneling, random rocket and personal attacks, in their stance as innocent victims of recent occupation, if only Israel will give them a quarter of her rightful country. 
A doorway through which 100,000,000 Arabs could one day stream into the heart of Israel, should they wish to, bringing them a victorious end to the actual and ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict.

The offer of a two-state solution is bound to be suspect, even if previous attempts to destroy Israel from 1948 onwards, and the caution they naturally engender, are put aside for a moment. 
The attempt to create a ‘Palestinian State’ in Judea and Samaria, after the occupation by Jordan, and the setting up of the PLO in 1964, simply shows that many Arab people have never accepted the decisions of 1919 -1922.

Such an attitude is their right, but, a million and a half Arab people do live in Israel today, and many of them have found high level positions in Israeli society. The fact that Jews and Arabs can live together peacefully in Israel cannot be denied. And because some Arabs and Jews can live in harmony, the onus falls on those who will not, to state their case. This would necessarily include an historical, religious and cultural discussion of the premise that Israel is occupying Arab land.

In reality, this is the belated, more reasonable type of action that is being called for today: to get around the table and talk openly, with the world watching, about the truth of the matter.

The desire to settle things peacefully is a major step forward, but the actual competence to do so will be based upon the ability to produce a narrative that will stand up to critical analysis. If the solution could be found in vague, easy concepts, or in the shoutings of the loudest voice, or the posturings of the celebrity diplomat, then we would already have peace in the Middle East.

Semitic people, both Arabs and Jews are far too shrewd to be satisfied with a solution which favours one side over the other. Bargaining, and getting a fair deal are skills nurtured through history by Semitic people.

If, as in my own perception of the Middle East, based on religious, cultural, and historical factors, Israel has every right to exist exactly where it is today, including Judea and Samaria, the practical question becomes: What would be a just solution in 2015 to the  dark confusing mess which has been created there?

One ongoing effect of Jordan’s occupation of Judea and Samaria until 1967 seems to have been that, because of the similarity in cultures between the people living in Eastern Israel in 1948, with that of the occupying people of Jordan, the people living in Eastern Israel haven’t didn’t really have the opportunity to move forward with the rest of Israel into her particular Jewish future. Instead, while being Israeli citizens, they moved into Jordan’s Arab/Sunni Islamic future for 20 years.

One cannot blame the inhabitants of an occupied area of a country for not keeping up with the rest of their country, when they, by military convention, have been kept separate.

Meanwhile, it is important in creating a plan for the future to acknowledge that the vast majority of Arab Muslim people living on Israeli soil which was not occupied at the end of the 1948/49 war by Arab invaders, have taken the opportunity to assimilate the new culture and made their lives accordingly, with many an outstanding success.

Therefore, if the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict was made common knowledge, and headline news, and the two-state solution was recognised and dropped for the escalation of alienation that it must be; then there would be a clear choice for the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria.

They could openly acknowledge their Israeli citizenship, and agree to embrace and further Israel’s Jewish State, while being free to live as they wish.

Or they could petition to become real Jordanian citizens by choice, rather than the quasi ones they seem to have been for the past sixty-five years.
 These choices would be, with appropriate education and discussion, a relatively simple operation. Particularly when compared with what is on offer at present.

It would be a useful re-direction of personal energies, and financial resources in Eastern Israel, and could be achieved in the education of a generation.

As with any other country in the world, the rulers of the land set the overall cultural and religious standards. Clearly Israel is a Jewish state, the national language being Hebrew, the strict observance of Shabbas and traditional Holy Days, and the deeper fabric of society make this clear.

I have noticed a great willingness to embrace various other cultures and religions, within this overall arrangement. This is an attitude which befits a people who are the curators and protectors of such an important religious and cultural centre of the world. This attitude is enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

The original idea behind the Balfour Declaration, though subverted in 1919, stipulated that resident Arabs should not be displaced if they wished to live within the nascent Jewish state. This was a noble caveat, even though some may have seen it as a threat, based on the perception of the two cultures coming together with their different approaches to life.

And it is understandable that, because of the differences, the question of ‘majority’ between Arabs and Jews in Israel has been an important issue since day one of the plan to have a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.

But this anxious view, while completely rational circa 1919, is not necessarily accurate in 2015. 
As I mentioned earlier, back in 1922, the area of Palestine ultimately allotted to the Jews for their proposed state of Israel, was populated by roughly 30 people per square kilometer.

Today, the population of Israel is about 360 people per square kilometer. Her population density compared to western countries is exceeded only by The Netherlands, with something over 400 people per sq. km. But while Israel’s birthrate is currently over three per female, The Netherlands, and the rest of Europe in general, is under two, for, I think, wise logistical reasons for all of us.

I believe that Israel will find it necessary, or at least wise, along with many countries in the world in the near future, to ask, and educate, her citizens to reduce their birthrate to two per family. [World population in 1920 was around 1.86 billion. Today, it stands at something over 6 billion.]

From my reading on the Guttmacher Institute website, it appears that family planning is an accepted part of Islamic culture also where, ideally, quality of life takes precedence over sheer numbers of people.

Many commentators are of the opinion that a couple of centuries of this lower birthrate would ease a lot of the current strains and tensions affecting the whole world. And it is not so long ago that Catholicism, which frequently over-saw the creation of families of ten or twelve children, made changes in this area for reasons perhaps more connected to the emancipation of women, than the current worries we all have with regard to over-population.

By making this, I think necessary, change to her cultural ethos, Israel, while including the citizens of Judea and Samaria in everything, would not lose her Jewish cultural majority. However, the Arab people living in Judea and Samaria who, I believe, currently do not vote in Israeli elections, would immediately have real influence on the policy of the Israeli government.

Diversity and individuality evolve year by year within all previously uniform and rigid religious/cultural/political groups. And the freedom to practice one’s own preferred relationship with the universe is likely to become more and more attractive to all human beings.

The acute situation in Israel, apart from being frustrating and frightening, is also the reason why the Middle East is such an apt focus for world attention today. For, regardless of cultural differences, action informed by clear and wise thinking, which knows no boundaries, is the only thing which will solve the Middle East problems, and so point the way for the rest of the world to solve their own similar ones.

Conclusion

In terms of the historical modus operandi of many conquering nations, the original idealistic intentions for the Semitic people of the Middle East, Arabs and Jews, could be seen as wise and generous.

That they were incompletely achieved back then is tragic but perhaps not surprising. That they can be completed in what is a new, potentially much more enlightened era for all of us in the 21st century is to be hoped, and even expected.

To an increasing number of people, all religions seem evil and destructive because they are said to cause wars. Not only does this thinking disregard the great good to be found in religion: the solace, guidance, and inspiration, but it tends to lay the blame for innate problems of human nature on perceived evil abstractions, rather than the other way around.

Likewise, many lack the will or tenacity to trace even the recent history in the middle east, thinking perhaps that they have nothing to learn.

Then here is also something more material to consider: The area of Israel is approximately 26,000 square kilometres. The population of Israel, including all regions, is roughly ten million. Israel exists bordered by several Arab countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, which together total well over one million square kilometres of land.

At the moment, within the theatre of the Arab/Israeli conflict, which is precisely about the possession of land for historical reasons, Arab nations have roughly 40 times more land than Israel, and around one hundred million more people.

I can’t help thinking that if the positions were reversed, those of the international community who have no time for history or religion would be crying out, “You can’t allow the Arabs a lousy 26,000 sq. km. of land, when you have over a million? What’s the matter with you!”?

But those who are influential, who make decisions and recommendations which affect so many peoples’ lives in the middle east and around the world, are duty bound to make their research into history, culture and religion and their thoughts on these topics public, as a preface to their suggestions. Then they might persuade us that they have the right answers.

The following sources have been helpful in developing my personal view of the Arab-Israeli conflict as expressed in this and previous articles on the subject:

The Ethnic Cleansing Of Palestine – Ilan Pappé

Also a Video/Lecture on the same subject – Ilan Pappé

Churchill And The Jews – Martin Gilbert

The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom – T.E. Lawrence

A Peace To End All Peace – David Fromkin

My Promised Land – Ari Sharit

Exodus and The Haj – Leon Uris

Numerous Wikipaedia articles re demographics/histories/dates/cultures in the Middle East

You Tube programmes on Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmood Abbas, Khaled Meshaal, and several other commentators with strong opinions on both sides

Conversations

News Channels

Discussion/Documentary Programmes

Newspaper Articles

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5NmGSsnUsQ

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Should there be a Jewish State exactly where it is today?

Israel iPod 2013 103
The Religious Element

My first reason in favour of there being a Jewish state exactly where it exists today, rests on a number of people well known to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Among these legendary people are Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther, John the Baptist and Jesus to name only a few. All are Jewish, Biblical people.

Muslim, Christian, and Jewish believers also see them as important historical figures. The earliest, Abraham dating from around 2000 years BC.

The stories and ideas involving such giants of Middle East culture, are common ground for most of the people living in the area today. They preserve a link to the original ideas upon which these three religious cultures have been founded.

Elijah, for example, was in direct conflict with the Jewish King Ahab who, as often happens over time, had lost touch with the original tenets of his culture.

It is worthwhile remembering at this point, that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, revered and was inspired by Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Jesus, and perhaps many other Biblical figures.

And, for those who entertain religious ideas, Abraham began Judaism; Moses pulled it back together; while Elijah and Jesus sought to remind people who might be straying, of the original intentions. Mohammad also saw himself as a similar kind of reformer. It seems logical then that both Christianity and Islam are actually based upon the original tenets of Judaism. Given the reforming intentions of Elijah, Jesus, and Mohammed: Jews, Christians, and Muslims would logically see themselves, at base, as adhering to a common original philosophy, if differing on the precise understanding or interpretation of that philosophy.

And yet, judging by the situation today, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are actually divided within themselves as to the true message of their founders. It seems to be overlooked that the prophet Jeremiah, revered by all of these religions, declared, as far back as 650 BC, that man’s relationship with God should be personal. No one would have the right, or even the necessity, to tell another what to think.

Canon 2014 052

 

Whilst many a tyrant has sought to overrun and oppress people through mundane physical strategies such as brute force, manipulation, or sheer population growth; these Jewish giants along with other inspirational human beings, from all corners of the globe, and all eras, have guarded and strengthened the spirits of ordinary humble souls.

While places of worship are routinely built upon legendary sites, and often usurp them, the remarkable thing about the Holy Land is that the attraction remains palpable, largely because, for the heroes and heroines mentioned, the countryside itself was their sphere of operation: hill and tree, cave, desert, river, sea and sky, and some still visible cities and towns. Thus, knowing the stories, to simply walk the land and breathe the air, is to connect in your own way with these people, who walked and performed on the very same ground.

Naturally, the very existence of so many world famous and spiritually influential Jewish people over such a large span of time, originating from the land under discussion, would mean that there must have been a supporting cast of millions more, ordinary Jewish folk, living in the area down through the millennia.

While many invaders may have fought for and ruled over the actual terrain of present day Israel in a more brutal and mediaeval era, it is a fact that, amongst all of this turmoil, a series of remarkable Jewish people created the “Holy Land” by their very existence, and made it the magical and inspiring place for millions which it is today.

Generally speaking, knowledgeable Christians and Muslims accept that the Holy Land was, first and foremost, the home of Jews who are integral to their own religions.

Interestingly, people such as Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Jeremiah were all in the position where we might find artists, singers and poets today. In a world which has often been seen as corrupt, barbaric, and misled, they attempt to enlighten us and to strengthen the spirit.

And yet, many of these Biblical people were originally seen as anything from rebels to outright criminals. But now Elijah is given pride of place at the Jewish Passover Seder; Jesus, John, and many saints are celebrated throughout the year.

For me, these legendary folk provide convincing reasons why Jewish people today should have a country in the Middle East, why it should be where it is now, be called Israel, and why it is right and proper for Jews to be the custodians of The Holy Land.

Mohammad born in Mecca fled to Medina, under threat of assassination in 622 A.D. the date which marks the beginnings of Islam. Mecca and Medina remain the two holiest cities for Muslims, with Jerusalem the third, based on a miraculous event.

When you consider the number of great Jews, a few listed above, who have lived and worked in and around Jerusalem and The Holy Land, the claim of Islam upon Jerusalem as a holy place associated with Mohammed, while valid, falls into perspective.

That Mohammed ascended to Heaven on the horse Al-Buraq for a night, from Jerusalem, is impressive, but it must be remembered that he is in a large and incredible company here.

We are also talking about Jews who have gone up to Heaven in a whirlwind from Jordan. Jews who have parted the River Jordan with a smite of their mantle, drawn water from rocks, made serpents of staffs, been fed by birds, called fire down from Heaven, walked on water, come back from the dead, raised the dead, survived in the Judean wilderness, and appeared to many saints over the years. They have written psalms, proverbs, poetry loved all over the world, and which have inspired artists, teachers, individuals. All exactly where the Jewish homeland stands today.

King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. There is a City of David beside Mount Zion. Jesus overturned the tables here, made the blind see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear. The ratio of miraculous events which occurred in what is now present day Israel would appear to be at least twenty to one in favour of the Jews, over any other people of the world. This, supported by a cast of millions, seems a strong claim to sovereignty. Whole empires have been built on far less worthy claims.

It is appropriate that Muslims and Christians should also dwell in Israel, preserving their holy sites, sharing their common sites, welcoming and guiding visitors from all over the world.

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What is mentioned above is enough to convince me of the Jewish right to a sovereign state where it is today. But, not everyone is a believer in Biblical characters. To them Elijah, Jeremiah and all the prophets are fictional creations. The stories about Abraham and the beginnings of Judaism are made up. Moses and tablets of stone, Mohammed ascending to Heaven on Al-Buraq, are pure fantasy. To them, Jesus appearing at the supper at Emmaus, near present day Latrun, is a ridiculous fairy tale.

But there is surely arrogance in dismissing beliefs, so important to many, as complete fantasy, rather than viewing the Bible as a mix of fact, fiction, allegory, historical and poetic truth, and indeed taking the time to try and figure out which is which, while developing and maintaining an open and tolerant mind. I agree with the notion that the Bible is the most overrated, and most underrated, book in the world.

To a significant number of people, all religions seem evil and destructive because they are said to cause wars. Not only does this thinking disregard the element of personal choice involved, but it also disregards the great good to be found in religion: the solace, guidance, and inspiration. This attitude tends to lay the blame for the innate problems of human nature on perceived evil abstractions, rather than the other way around.

So, those who make decisions and recommendations about the Middle East, which might change the course of history, should be more than willing to make the scope of their research about religion and culture, and their thoughts about it public. By doing this they might convince Jews, Arabs, Christians, and the wider world that they have the right answers.

Likewise, ordinary people and celebrities, who consider themselves part of ‘the international community’ and who speak out about the Middle East, have the great opportunity and responsibility to discuss and verify the views they express on this subject, for the benefit of everyone.

The Holy Land 2012 550Next time, I will be looking at some of the interesting and, to me, surprising recorded history of the Middle East, and its relevance to the question with which I began.

To play us out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ1BKSAMFS0

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THE TWO SIDES OF THE STORY

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Thursday, 23 May 2013

THE TWO SIDES OF THE STORY:

An important thing I have noticed in my personal interest in the Arab – Israeli conflict, and it has taken about two years to get to it, is that the two sides of the story are kept very separate. It is almost as if neither side is interested in the other side’s tale of woe, or victory. [One very obvious example is the way that the British are portrayed as picking on one side, and favouring the other; whereas I have come to the conclusion that the Europeans as a whole were equally fickle, and basically out of their depth, all the way through their involvement in the Middle East. But that has been dealt with elsewhere.]
In My Middle East, the two side sides of the story, which I think can be represented to a considerable extent by the two books pictured above, are needed to get a complete story.
If you confine yourself to one side or the other, then it seems that you will fill yourself with a story of bravery, defiance, and above all, justified violence and killing, no matter which side you choose.
Reading the stories of Leon Uris [Exodus, and The Haj] I have been inspired by the tenacity, resolve, and brilliance of the Jewish men, women, and children often escaping from deadly situations in Europe and Asia, and trying to set up what seems a rightful place to dwell in a land to which, over the centuries, they contributed many of the people who make it today The Holy Land; with all the connotations of great human concerns the term conjures up.
And all the while, in these stories, these Jewish refugees, are returning to the land in which they belong; but they are rejected, harassed, murdered, and defiled by a technologically vulnerable people who claim eternal rights to the same plot of land, and their own ancient way of life.
But reading Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, I get the picture of a cold-hearted Jewish invader, dominant in military strength, financial aid, with an instinct for almost gratuitous cruelty. In short, a sadistic and heartless bully who is picking on, and taking gross advantage of, a gentle, welcoming people.
Surely if one were exposed only to one or other of these views, you could not help but, at the very least, feel a certain distaste for one side of the other. And so the virus would perpetuate, from generation to generation.
Reading from both sides however, I am left with what you always get when both sides of a war are exposed – a story of horror, and above all the depths of behaviour to which people on both sides can be driven when they lack the motivation, the opportunity, or the ability to work out the truth of a situation. [There are also individual tales of great bravery, empathy, kindness which emerge from this and most other wars].
At the top of this page are pictures of two books which, when taken together, I think, provide a picture which renders all bias misleading and irrelevant in terms of history; yet they provide huge insight into the Middle East conflict.
Here is an example of what happens when we get one side or the other, and then what happens when we look at both sides together:
In The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe mentions the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, seven times in the index. Besides being the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini was also the leader of the Arab Higher Committee, and head of the Supreme Muslim Council. He was also the proposed leader of the planned Palestinian government. He was probably the most powerful man in Palestine, and he had followers in most villages. In none of these seven times however, does Ilan mention the idea that Haj Amin Al Husseini studied with Hitler and other Nazis, and, having been exiled from Palestine by the British, helped out with the Nazi cause against the Jews in Europe. Below is a picture from Wikipedia, which also contains a history of Haj Amin al Husseini, showing a meeting between Hitler and Husseini.

There are other sites which tell of Husseini, and there are books, and other photos, plus some film on You Tube which also seem to confirm quite strongly that Husseini was friendly with the Nazis. There was a saying at the time – popular but dubious logic:  The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Among these other books is O Jerusalem! pictured above. An impressive thing about O Jerusalem! for me is the very detailed listing of sources used in researching for the book. In more than one chapter, including Chapter 3 on the life of Haj Amin al Husseini, one source is ‘the Mufti himself’. The writers interviewed Haj Amin al Husseini on several subjects, and he was pleased to talk with them.
There are many other sources listed throughout O Jerusalem!, including the man who hosted Husseini’s last lunch in Berlin. There are many people interviewed who played major roles in the events around and leading up to and beyond 1948, plus references to many books and some government papers, several concerning the actions, philosophy and whereabouts of Haj Amin al Husseini from 1937 onwards. Ilan Pappe mentions that Husseini had been exiled from Palestine by the British, in 1937, and had lived in Cairo since then.
Does this mean that Ilan Pappe’s well supported history about Ben Gurion’s soldiers evicting Arabs from their villages, and sometimes killing civilians is worthless? No. Although in my own personal understanding of the situation, as I have mentioned previously, I do not see Ben Gurion’s perceived need to get all Arabs out of Israel as – the yet (in 1948) to be coined – Ethnic Cleansing; I do see it as an understandable response to the perception of clear and present danger that he was fighting a people, led by a man, who fully backed what had only recently happened in Germany. That is, the Holocaust. The Holocaust, which was about Genocide, is generally regarded as the most inhumane act of one people against another in the history of the world.  And of course this was a catastrophe from which the survivors were still reeling about in a world at large, which seemed bent on rejecting them.
Leading up to the 1948 war, Husseini’s cousin Abdul Khader Husseini had proclaimed that he would “strangle Jerusalem”, while others promised to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. Both of these ideas carry the threat of what is today called Ethnic Cleansing, and/or Genocide very clearly. Haj Amin is quoted as calling for people to ‘kill Jews wherever you find them’ in a radio broadcast in Berlin.
Surely, coming so quickly on the heels of the Holocaust, the presence of another man comparable to Hitler, if only in his desire to get rid of Jewish men, women and children, it is understandable that Ben Gurion would be terribly concerned at what the Arab people, led by the Husseini family, might be persuaded to do to Jewish people in Palestine.
If Ilan Pappe had given us a bit more about Husseini in his book, I feel that the claim about Ethnic Cleansing upon which his book rests would seem hollow. Basically, I think the book is just the one side of the story. It seems to me like saying that Muhammad Ali was a vicious bully the way he punched and taunted Sonny Liston, without mentioning that Liston was at the same time trying to annihilate Ali.
The very term Ethnic Cleansing suggests the complete domination of one race over another. If The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine was to represent the sum total of a person’s reading and research into the subject of the Arab – Israeli conflict, then, just as reading Exodus or The Haj, I think a person would end up with an incomplete and perhaps dangerous view of the situation. Often, when I read, or hear contemporary views on the subject of  the Arab – Israeli conflict the lack of, and even the desire for, a balanced view is very clear.
Fortunately, alongside The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the book O Jerusalem! exists.
O Jerusalem! when read on its own, the reader will still find out about Jewish people blowing up Arab men, women and children in the middle of Jerusalem; alongside Arabs doing exactly the same thing to Jews. You will hear about Deir Yassin and Kfar Ezion. Heroes and villains on either side. There is also mention about the deal made with Jordan. From this I feel sure that had all the government papers been available to the authors, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, they would have included all that Ilan Pappe has in his book. But the reality is that Ilan Pappe’s book is essential in order to debunk lingering myths about Israel fighting a war while being blameless and free of atrocious acts. Paradoxically, Ilan Pappe’s book could, if read in isolation, create exactly the same myth about the Arab side of the story. Certainly currently, it seems fashionable to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, depending on the gullibility of the audience and their succesptibility to, or even eagerness for extreme language. I heard this taking place in a youth hostel in Jerusalem last year.
The lesson is not who was the nicer, the more blameless: The horror of war is not only what it can ‘make’ people do, but also how people might use, or even create war to satisfy a need for violence and cruelty, or gain, in thought or in deed, quite separate from the actual realities of a situation. When both sides of a war are out in the open in all their horror, the need for a determined effort to get at the real truth of a situation, and to achieve fairness, no matter how difficult it might seem to be at the outset becomes the only sane path to follow.
Perhaps because humans seem to be prone to choosing one side or the other in any conflict, the important findings by what are termed “the new historians” such as Ilan Pappe, are widely considered to be a re-writing of history. But to my mind, these new findings are more the completion of the history.
Next time: We must face the only real question that I can see at the bottom of all of all of this: Do the Jewish people actually have a right to live in the area of the earth presently called Israel?
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”  Aeschylus. (525 – 456 BC) This is an old saying which gets quoted all the time. But there must be a second half to this saying implied by the first, which would go something like this: Only by finding, acknowledging, and publicising the whole truth can there be Peace. Or as a great citizen of the area once put it, more succinctly : “The Truth will make you free.”

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MY MIDDLE EAST Part Two: T E Lawrence

“Yet I cannot put down my acquiescence in the Arab fraud to weakness of character or native hypocrisy: though of course I must have had some tendency, some aptitude, for deceit, or I would not have deceived men so well, and persisted two years in bringing to success a deceit which others had framed and set afoot.  I had no concern with the Arab revolt in the beginning.  In the end I was responsible for it being an embarrassment to the inventors. Where exactly in the interim my guilt passed from accessory to principal, upon what headings I should be condemned, were not for me to say. Suffice it that since the march to Akaba I bitterly resented my entanglement in the movement, with a bitterness sufficient to corrode my inactive hours, but insufficient to make me cut myself clear of it. Hence the wobbling of my will, and endless, vapid complainings.”

From TE Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom”, Chapter C.
When one is dubious as to which historian to trust, it may be helpful to listen to those who experienced day to day events. TE Lawrence was ideally placed between the Arabs in the middle east, circa 1916 – 1918, and the British government who were glad of the help of the Arabs in overthrowing the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, who occupied such places as Palestine, Syria, and parts of Arabia at the time, and who were allied with Germany in World War 1.
Lawrence knew, and liaised between, the leaders of both the British and the Arab command. And, clearly, from the above extract, he also knew, before the end of the war, that the promise made to the Arabs – that they should get Syria for their trouble in helping England against Turkey – was not going to be fulfilled.
In seeking a satisfactory explanation in my own mind for the generally termed “Arab – Israeli Conflict” I made myself aware, last year, of what seem to be the broad brush strokes – the difficult to refute facts of the matter, such as the actuality – which is not to say the wisdom of – of the Balfour Declaration, The Paris Peace Talks, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and Winston Churchill’s ultimate decision to try and honour the earlier promises, in 1922.
It is very clear above that Lawrence was becoming mentally and spiritually scarred by his being caught (Charlie Chaplin – like) in the brutal machinations of the politics of his time. He was caught between a soldiers patriotism and duty to his country; and his admiration for the Arab people he helped to organize into what he thought was a fighting force which would ultimately reward them with their independence.
The psychological make-up of Lawrence makes the reading of his book very interesting, and was probably a strong factor in David Lean and Robert Bolt’s decision to tell the story in film. Initially, “Lawrence of Arabia” does seem to be the study of a complex man against the background of events in the desert. But, after several viewings, I have found ample material within the film to justify the authors’ gleeful claim in their retirement that they “…got away with it!” They in fact told the story of the fraud about which Lawrence speaks above, greatly helped by committed and excellent performances by Alec Guinness, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, and the rarely acknowledged but very important Claude Rains.
In My Middle East therefore, if the Arab people should have been annoyed with anybody at the time, it should not have been the Jewish people. The Jews arrived in the area grateful that a tract of land had been allotted to them by the strong powers of the world during this rare window of opportunity. And the Arabs “…should keep for their own, the territory they conquered from Turkey in the war. The glad news circulated over Syria.”
Judging by Lawrence’s comments, germinated right on the scene, and written up only a few years later, the Arabs should have properly been annoyed with the French and the English governments for the fraud Lawrence speaks about.
“Fortunately, I had early betrayed the treaty’s [Sykes – Picot] existence to Feisal, and had convinced him that his escape was to help the British so much that after peace they would not be able, for shame, to shoot him down in its fulfilment: while, if the Arabs did as I intended, there would be no one-sided talk of shooting. I begged him to trust not in our promises, like his father, but in his own strong performance.”
Another broad brush stroke of history makes it plain that Lawrence’s optimism was misplaced, and honour did not prevail. And so –
“When Feisal had gone, I made to Allenby the last (and also I think the first) request I ever made him for myself – leave to go away. For a while he would  not have it; but I reasoned, reminding him of his year-old promise, and pointing out how much easier this New Law would be if my spur were absent from the people. In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry.”
A visit to Clouds Hill, Dorset where Lawrence found refuge to write his books, and to try and heal his soul, evokes much of this narrative.
Maybe it is ironic that “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot extensively in Jordan, which did not exist as a country until 1922. But it is land over which Lawrence rode and fought for the Arab people.
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IN INDIA

A village appears, we drive in, stop, get out into warm stillness.  On the rooftops women watch and as we approach they run away! Afraid. The men come to us and Rangi introduces the scene…brought us to see this village, we’re from England, the West.

No electric light here, no running water – a Well though – no cars, no stores, makes you wonder why people are here at all. A tranquil lagoon, limpid, thick clear warm…water buffalo shoulder deep so slow and powerful, grey hide creamy curvy horns, big eyes, limpid…Peacock feathers around an ancient sprawling Bhodi tree, lush greenery fans out around the lagoon, soft beige dust to walk on barefoot – pufff — imprint. The girls find flowers to wear.

Later on we go back to the houses, out onto a roof under the night sky, and food is brought to us, dark green dhal, chapatis, mango chutney, peanuts, water, the whole village…the moon is full and strong enough to make shadows…a young man produces his flute and plays slow tunes and then some tricks with his fingers…fifty quiet gentle curious timid people watch us eat, everyone smiles, wishing well, gentle, kind, tranquil. Again! a boy is dancing to me! going crazy at me…so I dance to him, I dance like him, a friend, we dance his dance, now a variation of mine…he takes my hand and leads me to his house.

Standing in the doorway an incredibly! fragile old lady a ah so ah so…delicate she is, so OOOOOOLLLLLLDDDDDD oldy oldy oldy. I imagine her heart beats forty times a minute.

She lives in this village, has always lived here, and this dancing boy respects her so much he will bring me especially to meet her, to be in each other’s presence, he knows that this favour is immense, his gift for me.

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IN AFGHANISTAN (Part 4)

The Marco Desert. Shimmering on the horizon.  A lake which is not there! Jagged mountain peaks red, blue, green, brown, and grey hold up this plateau,  the sun sinking over the edge, a big red falling ball. For miles and miles there is not a body in sight, just us in the landrover with humming tyres. A straight concrete road all the way.

Over to the right three enormous vultures sit thirty feet from the roadside but they fly off low, we stop anyway, and find the remains of some kind of desert cat. Later, a shack approaches. In the brown garden specked, with white stones, a man has laid out his prayer mat, and is in the act of bowing to his God.  He doesn’t turn his head as we go by.

Nestling between low rolling hills, those black tents, and a string of camels heading towards them. They’re still using them. The camels coming from Kabul where we will be tonight.

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MY MIDDLE EAST

The Middle East is like a Chinese Puzzle. A real challenge, though ultimately simple..When people get frustrated they sometimes, like now, get out the pliers and bend the whole thing out of shape.   I put a question asking if it was a good idea for Netanyahu and Abbas to have a discussion on live tv, with history/geography researchers available, and was deluged with two replies in a week, both doubting that anything good could come of it….not even good relative to the present horrendously vague and violent situation.

I was at a New Years dinner a few nights ago with ten other people, and I asked if anyone liked Netanyahu’s speech at the UN as much as I did. One person answered, and said that Netanyahu was very bad for Israel, was a crook, and was wrong about the situation in eastern Israel. When I asked this fellow if he knew that a random area of eastern Israel (just look at the shape of the so-called “west bank”) had been snatched and occupied by Jordan in 1948 and taken back by Israel in 1967. He told me that was irrelevant.

I started researching the history of the Middle East Conflict in July 2010, when I was planning a trip there, and people kept on mentioning “the middle east crisis”.  I soon came to: http://www.mideastweb.org/history.htm    The first thing I discovered was the Balfour Declaration, and the Sykes/Picot Treaty, circa 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The names of Prince Feisal and Dr Weismann, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. The agreement to divide the Ottoman Empire up, originally with Palestine for Jews and Syria for Arabs. That was the Balfour Declaration. The Sykes/Picot treaty betrayed this by agreeing with France that France instead of Prince Feisal and the Arabs would get Syria.

It seems to me that these “events” are not easily subject to mis-interpretation, they are broad brush strokes covered from many angles in history. There are many opinions about these events of course, but who denies these things happened? Certainly there are many places on the web where you may read abusive ill-informed language, but the mid-east website provides copies of official documents. However, all I will claim here is that it seems bona fide to me. This is just my take. And it is available simply because blogs are available, and, writing it out for public reading has helped me to try to make it accurate and sensible, for my own benefit. Next I began to read “A Peace to End All Peace” by David Fromkin, which explores the same era 1914 – 1922 in more detail. Nothing was contradicted, but was elaborated. I think it is important to acknowledge here that, after the Ottoman Empire there was a large area of land from the Mediterranean Sea to where Iraq is today, that was called Palestine. The area had been known as part of several empires through history, the last being the Ottoman Empire. In my research, I found out about the creation of Transjordan from 75% of Palestine, by Winston Churchill in 1922, given to those of the Arab faith, and the remaining 25% of Palestine given over to those of the Jewish faith with a view to having a Jewish state of Israel there. It was an effort by Churchill to honour the broken promise of the Balfour Declaration. Incidentally, even the leader of the Arabs, Prince Feisal thought it was an excellent idea that the Jews should at last have their own homeland, back where they started, in Israel.

A salient point with regards to “The West Bank”, The Palestine Liberation Organization, and a projected Palestinian State on Israeli Land, is that when Palestine was divided into these two sections in 1922, there was no more a country called Palestine. That tract of land was named, and is now, Jordan, and Israel. And yet, the area of Israel often referred to as the west bank, is often, these days also called “Palestinian Territory”. There is a progression there. First, eastern Israel becomes the west bank; and then becomes a nascent Palestinian state. Surely this is a misnomer. Perhaps it is also an official sounding con for those who believe that history is irrelevant, or who are ignorant of the history.

In 1922, the area of the former Palestine between the actual West bank of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was given to the Jews.  On May 14th. 1948 Israel, which includes all the land which extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, was actually declared a state. On May 15th. 1948 several Arab countries attacked Israel. The war lasted until January 7th. 1949, and at the end of it, an area of Israel west of the Jordan River had been occupied by Jordan. So, the actual state of Israel, as set out in 1922 – including from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea – and before there was any mention of something called “the west bank” – had already existed for eight months. And part of it was now occupied by an invading country.  

If there is an issue, this is it. And it is an issue because people tend to forget, or ignore, that Israel existed irrefutably as a bona fide state for eight months, while having been immediately attacked, and efforts were being made to occupy her land. In 1967, attacked again, Israel merely took back her rightful land, that had been occupied by Jordan in 1948/9.  Furthermore, in Fromkin’s book, I found that Arab landowners were very happy to sell more and more of the land within the Jewish 25%  – and upon which the Arabs were free to remain,  to Jewish immigrants. This is not crucial to the argument, but may be supported by actual title deeds. These Jewish immigrants were desperate to build their homeland again, and, adhering to the initial agreements in the Balfour Declaration, they were ready and willing to enable Arabs who wished , to stay to live on their land undisturbed.  I’d love Netanyahu and Abbas to discuss all of this on tv for all to see and listen to. 

I visited Israel in January 2011 – hence the photos – which, to me, was simply The Holy Land, the Jewish people being the capable curators of this land, for the world.  A land of history and religion. Judaism and Christianity, have their centres in Jerusalem. And I understand that while Mecca and Medina are undoubtedly the main cities of Islam, Jerusalem has a more peripheral link with Islam. Is this not correct? The general idea is that Muslims pray to Mecca; Jews vow “Next year in Jerusalem”; and Christians like to visit the places where Jesus lived and worked.  I was therefore surprised to be advised by guide books to treat eastern Israel with caution, and especially Hebron. But I accepted this, because I knew nothing except the vague idea that there was an “Arab – Israeli” conflict, and much of it centred in the eastern  part of Israel. It was like someone saying don’t go to Harlem in NYC after dark. OK. Shit happens. But Hebron is a historical city associated with Abraham.  It is in the Holy Land. Why was it dangerous to go there?

In around May 2011 I began to hear for the first time much more about eastern Israel in connection with Israeli settlements on their own soil being illegal. And the desire of Arabs living in that part of Israel, to set up a Palestinian State. That is, a country of their own, but oddly enough inside another country called Israel.  A country within Israel, populated by Arab people who simply didn’t want to integrate with the country they were living in.  A kind of reverse colonialism. And I heard about Barack Obama suggesting to Israel that they basically forget the history of the area since 1914: and  forget that Palestine was divided in the ratio 75% – 25% between Arabs and Jews respectively back in 1922; and that Jordan occupied the random area, handily renamed “The West Bank”, in 1948, when several Arab countries attacked Israel as it was being born.  And Obama suggested that Israel should now give that part of their country to the people who had occupied it – and should call it Palestine, and make it yet another Arab and hostile country surrounding themselves. The suggestion seemed strange and alarming to my novice ears, and I had to specifically ask: Just what is the history of this odd looking shape in eastern Israel, called “The West Bank”.

So I made enquiries. Eventually I came back to Google and typed in The History of the West Bank.  This brought me to the following video, which is one of 4 on the subject:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oY0zU5Lc34   To me, this video (especially part 2) seems to want to make a very simple and clear outline of the political geography of the middle east since about 1914, and the end of the Ottoman occupancy. This timescale 1914 – 1922 seems to crop up regularly as critical to understanding the current situation in the middle east. If this account is correct, then Israel is certainly not occupying Arab Territory in the eastern part of Israel. The situation in eastern Israel is, if anything, a kind of civil war, conducted by citizens who really want to secede from the country of Israel and make that part of Israel their own country, which they will call the Palestinian State. An interesting ambition.

Even before I began to take a serious interest in the middle east, I did note that the conflict there was very often referred to as “The Arab – Israeli War” . That is, not a war between countries in the normal fashion, but a war between one country – Israel – and all of the countries surrounding it – the people of which, Arabs, sometimes unite under their supposed common religion – Islam.  And, much like the rest of the world who may well profess to share common beliefs, Arabs fight amongst themselves when there is no common enemy on which to focus. Any cursory glance at the last ninety years in the middle east throws up at least three major wars which were just that:  Arabs, from many countries, against Israel, and in all three cases the Arab countries were the aggressor. I don’t think that there is any argument about this.

Why, then, should Israel willingly bring yet another Arab country right into her bosom as it clutches a knife with which to stab her? Why should Israel yield up more of her hard-earned, and cultivated land to a people who have already been given the lion’s share in their original allocation? Why does Mr. Abbas go to the UN and talk about a virtual Palestinian state he is trying to make a political reality, in the middle of someone else’s rightful country? 

But, that gentleman at the Rosh Hashana dinner the other night  seemed to know about the history of the middle east, and he said it was irrelevant. And, this was a Jewish man. For sure, he is responding to what he sees to be happening in eastern Israel in 2011. And from what I can learn from the media, there is plenty of argument and anger about these Israeli “settlements” in eastern Israel. But, if the so-called “west bank” is part of Israel, why should Israelis not be allowed to build there? Why is that part of Israel referred to as Palestinian territory by some? It is not part of Jordan. And, even if eastern Israel was to be deemed a “no man’s land” then still, if anyone can have a house there, why not Israelis?  Why do so many people around the world seem to accept that Israelis are simply not allowed to live anywhere they want to in their own country? Another question: Is it the case that the majority of Arab people who live in eastern Israel do not want Jewish people living near them simply because they are not Arabs?

Clearly, both Arabs and Jews, particularly since 1948 have hurt each other terribly in the middle east. I am not sure that any politician, or indeed any activist bent on violence, is necessarily more intelligent, or less prone to emotional responses than other people in the world. And we have entered a time when the media can be used by any side in any argument, to justify many things which are indefensible. Propaganda is pretty much a way of life these days, at many levels. It is only advertising, with vested interests. And propaganda in pictures and words is aimed precisely to gain a quick and emotional response from, as the Arabs in eastern Israel have recently been saying, “the World”. To back their cause. But they are not merely the victims. We have, in no particular order, regular reports of: Rockets fired on Israeli citizens from Gaza. A huge wall around eastern Israel which makes it difficult for Arab families inside to maintain connections with Arab families beyond that wall. We have suicide bombers from eastern Israel and Gaza coming out of their enclaves to kill their fellow, but Jewish, citizens, which is why the wall and the check points were built. And then we have many more pictures and reports of skirmishes and mean-spirited deeds, throwing stones and killing trees, allegedly carried out by Arabs and Jews on each other.  What we don’t have is an equal response, by the world, to the atrocities committed by the Arabs and Jews in the conflict. The rockets from Gaza, the suicide bombings…and indeed, why from Gaza? Which on some maps is also represented as part of the west bank.

It seems to me that the Jewish people in the middle east are happy to live in the land of Israel that they eventually ended up with in 1922, side by side with the Arabs who are willing to live with them. Such as, for example, the Druze. Meanwhile, there are fundamentalists in every religion, who prefer to live separately, or perhaps rule the world. But it would be just as ridiculous for the ultra orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem to try to create another country for themselves within Israel, as it is for the Arabs, who simply see themselves as separate from the other Israeli citizens.

I don’t think, in reality, this is about borders. That is just a way of saying that, pre 1967, a sizeable chunk of the land of Israel was in fact some other country. Which is clearly not true. It was Israeli land occupied by Jordan. Begin the search for true Peace by being honest, go right back to the original agreed divisions of 1922. That is the modern era. There have been wars, and scuffles, bitterness, vengeance, and feuds, set in motion by the original broken promises; and continued by a catalogue of subsequent misunderstandings by people with no overall picture of the times. And perhaps with no wish to gain one. My own take, as neither and Arab or a Jew, but as a person interested in peace, and who likes a challenge to solve puzzles, is as follows: The Arab people in eastern Israel, under the spokesmanship of Mr. Abbas should immediately petition the Israeli government, and make it very clear to the Israeli people that they wish to be true Israeli citizens with all the benefits and loyalties that this brings. And they should behave accordingly. They should make this their feasible appeal to the UN. On the other hand, if they have changed their minds, and their national allegiance, these people should like anyone else, make arrangements to move to a country they find more attractive to their mentality. There are plenty all around them. To attempt to take over a part of the country in which they live, and then make their own country and live autonomously, is a very dubious proposition, and seems very greedy in the context of the middle east.

For all of these reasons, I would love to be able to watch and listen to Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas discuss the situation in Israel on live TV, broadcast around the world.  Mr. Netanyahu extended a similar invitation during his speech at the UN. The discussion needs to be on TV for the world to see, because the world has been treated to all manner of selective propaganda. Meanwhile, “Truth cannot be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.”  Wrote William Blake.  I want to see Netanyahu and Abbas find the truth, and tell it.

I have made frequent references to an area I call Eastern Israel. If you would want to argue with what I say here, and I hope you won’t, perhaps you can tell me if – and why – the area I refer to as Eastern Israel should be called something else.

For myself, I have undone this puzzle, without using pliers to twist it out of shape. I now put it back together again, for you to try for yourself.

And to play us out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUq0Qc7PNXA

Shalom!

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