Friday, June 5, 2009

The History of Israel

I often speak with people who express their disappointment with the conservatives and United States foreign policy support for Israel. The objection generally seems to be their belief that the creation of the state of Israel was in itself an immoral act, subsequently compounded by Israel's immoral treatment of the Palestinians.

Having had this discussion many times, I think I know the problem. Most of these people have virtually no idea what the history of the region is. I would suggest that most Palestinian supporters are ignorant of what led up to the present dilemma, and what really is going on now. There is no fair minded person who could possibly condemn Israel, much less draw a moral equivalency between the parties (as most leftists do), if he knew the history of the region and the reality of the current events. Unfortunately most of what anyone hears is what the liberal press elects to convey, which is generally radical left propaganda.

The commonly held belief by these anti Israel Americans is that The United Nations created the State of Israel in what was there to fore Palestinian territory. The fictional narrative is that with the creation of Israel the Jews threw the Arabs off the land, forcing the them into camps outside of its borders. Many even believe that the "occupied territories" came into being because of Israel's aggression. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Here is the Cliff Notes version of the history. The Zionist movement began in the early 20th century with Jews from all over the world immigrating to what is now Israel. It was then part of the Ottoman Empire, but with Turkey's defeat in WWI, the Allied Powers forced Turkey to relinquish the territory, giving Great Britain the job of protectorate.

Partly due to the horror of the Holocaust, and partly due to the fact Jews had been settling in the region for decades, the United Nations created the state of Israel. The UN mandate was for two states. It was envisioned that the Palestinian state would be created when the proper political structure was in place. To this day that has not happened.

The Palestinians were basically nomadic, although many had settled throughout the area, and most had lived in the region for centuries (Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Ottoman Empire, or what is now the Palestinian territories). At one point King Hussein threw them out of Jordan (then Transjordan) because they were a destabilizing force on his monarchy. They emigrated to Lebanon, the Paris of the middle east, and effectively destroyed the state politically and its culture. But the important point is that they never had any claim to the territory other than that granted to them by the UN, exactly the same claim Israel has.

The UN created the country of Israel, it did not give them territory that was owned by Palestinians. Public lands were transferred to the new state, but private property remained private. Much of the land comprising Israel was already owned by the Jews, having been purchased from Turks and Arabs alike before and after statehood. There is property that belonged to Arabs who stayed in Israel after independence, and they either own it today or voluntarily sold it. Currently almost 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs.

With independence coming, the surrounding Arab states told the Arabs living in the proposed state of Israel that that after independence they would drive the Jews into the sea. They advised the Arabs living there to leave, saying their property (if they owned any) would be restored after the upcoming victory. When independence was declared in 1948, the Iraqis, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and some troops from Sudan attacked the newborn state. They were defeated. Bloodied but unbowed the defeated states promised to return, and urged those Arabs that had left to not return until after the Jews had been removed. Refugee camps were established along the border, and have remained there ever since.

There is a legal concept subscribed to by most societies called constructive abandonment. If a property owner abandons his property, after a period of years he loses all rights and title to that property. This is what happened to the land that belonged to those Arabs who left and never returned.

Many Arabs argue that they have a claim to some of the public lands because they owned it and lived there prior to independence. The history of the region contradicts this. In 1858, 90 years before the creation of Israel, the Turks ordered the Arabs living in these areas to register their land, or lose any claim of ownership. Little if any ever got registered, even though the Turks tried many more times before losing it themselves in WWI. The Arabs now claim it was not registered because the Turks would have taxed them, or drafted them into the army if they complied. That may or may not be true, but it is a weak claim at best, and even if has some basis, the Turks were the offending party, not the Israelis.

The other claim is that the Israelis arbitrarily took towns and land they falsely deemed to be necessary for the state's defense. Certainly defense is a reasonable government action and a proper use of eminent domain. I don't know what really happened, but if land was taken under a false pretext, or not fully paid for, there are many venues for redress (unlike any Arab country).

Claims of current Israeli improprieties are as bogus as the historical claims. Israel is far from perfect, and many tragic decisions have been made, but to suggest that they remotely approach the cruelty and indifference their neighbors show to them is delusional. I will deal with this in a future blog.

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