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