Part I of this frank conversation about the Arab-Israeli conflict evoked, predictably, a large number of responses, from one extreme to the other. We now continue with Part II.
Jeff: So Evelyn, how would you identify the roots of this conflict?
Evelyn: I think it’s quite straightforward. Palestinians are resisting Israeli occupation of their Palestinian land. Seeing that they are making no progress in regaining their land, they are resorting to desperate measures – albeit many which we don’t agree with – to regain their independence and their territory.
Jeff: Before I reply, let me understand what you are saying. When you refer to “Palestinian land” what exact land do you mean? All of Israel, including Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Lod, Beersheba, Jerusalem and so on, or some particular area?
Evelyn: I am referring to Gaza and the West Bank – the areas occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War.
Jeff: But the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of the entire Israel? How do you explain that? They claim that all of Israel is “occupied territory.”
Evelyn: Well, I don’t agree with that. I definitely disagree with their call for Israel’s destruction.
Jeff: I don’t understand your logic. Prior to 1948, did the Palestinians you refer to live only in Gaza and the West Bank, or also in other cities across Israel?
Evelyn: They lived everywhere.
Jeff: So why do you justify their right only over a portion of the land and not all of it? Why are only Gaza and the West Bank considered “occupied” and not all of Israel?
Evelyn: That’s the compromise that they must accept. They must recognize the 1947 UN partition, which created two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
Jeff: But they never accepted that partition. As soon as it was implemented in 1948 the Arab world went to war against the new Jewish state, insisting on one and only one Arab state. And after the Arabs lost that war, the Israeli boundaries expanded further. It didn’t stop there. The Arab nations would wage several more wars against Israel, all with the same thing in mind: Never accepting a Jewish state in this part of the world.
So, Evelyn, though your intentions may be noble in “respecting” the 1947 UN partition, you must know that the Arab world does not accept your thinking. And once they rejected it back in 1948 and so many times after that, you can’t simply wind back the clock and say: Hey, let’s just divide the land into two states. 60 years have passed since then, and Hamas, and for that matter the PLO as well as other Arab nations, continue to call for Israel’s complete destruction, maintaining the same Arab position they did from back in 1948: No Jewish state period.
This is the reality on the ground. What do you say to that Evelyn?
Evelyn: The Arab world will have to change their position on that.
Jeff: And if they don’t change that position, what do you suggest Israel should do? Exercise restraint? Which brings us back to the present war in Gaza. If the rocket attacks would have been an isolated incident, maybe you could have argued that let’s try to negotiate and redress their grievances. But Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction – echoing the call for over 60 years. And thus, the incessant rocket attacks against Israel, which incidentally came after Israel withdrew from Gaza and after Hamas was elected there, only reflect the unwavering Arab position from day one, that Israel has no right to exist. G-d forbid to even think what the situation would be like if the entire Arab world felt confident that its armies could successfully attack Israel today. This is the real picture Israel is contending with.
Evelyn: That still doesn’t justify killing innocent civilians.
Jeff: No one likes when innocent people are killed. But this is the ugly side of war. War is war. Innocent people will tragically die because not such innocent people don’t really care, and will perpetrate crimes in total disregard to innocent citizens. How many innocent people were killed in World War II? These are the consequences of not reining in tyrants early on, when many deaths could have been prevented. Additionally, as I already argued, when a nation elects and tolerates crimes, they too are culpable.
Do you know, Evelyn, how Jews behave when people, even guilty ones, perish?
Evelyn: Please tell me.
Jeff: When the murderous Egyptians, who perpetrated a deliberate enslavement and genocide against the Jewish people – which they also “justified” by saying that the Jews are multiplying and will soon be too strong for us and may conquer and drive us from our land – finally were vanquished and were drowning in the Red Sea, the celestial angels began singing praise for justice being served against such cruel people. G-d rebukes and silences them: "My creatures are dying and you are singing praise?!"
We cry even when murderers meet their destiny. We cry for the fact that human beings created in the Divine Image could have chosen to fall so low and become so destructive that they had to die in order to protect the innocent. This is the quintessential Jewish response to cruelty: We always choose peace over war. We prefer prayer and negotiation to bloodshed. But when all else fails and war is necessary as a last resort, forced upon us by an enemy, we are decisive and determined. And even then, we don’t sing; we cry.
Evelyn: So what do you think will solve the conflict?
Jeff: I am not sure I have a solution, as long as one side wants to decimate the other. But I do know that part of the solution is clarity and truth. Not to allow these issues to be clouded behind smokescreens of propaganda. Let us establish the true facts, let us expose the real enemies, and we will be a long way toward finding a solution.
Evelyn: Since we’re talking about the roots of the conflict, let me bring up one more important thing. Arab rage is rooted in their feeling that the occupation of their land goes back many years, from the time when the Zionists devised a deliberate plan to expel the Palestinians from their land.
Jeff: One minute here. Are we going back to the “occupation” argument?
Evelyn: In the name of open dialogue we haven’t frankly addressed that issue. We discussed that the Arabs chose to reject the UN Partition, but I would like to talk about the issue of occupying their land on its own merit.
Jeff: Now you’re talking about the entire area, all of Israel?
Evelyn: Yes. But I am not advocating that Israel cease to exist. Rather, the issue of Israel’s right in the first place to establish a state in Palestine.
Jeff: I am not sure where you are going with this. But essentially this claim – which I absolutely reject (as we shall discuss) – that from the outset Israel is a Jewish occupation of Arab land is used to “justify” any acts of terrorism against Israel, in the name of “freedom fighters defending” themselves against “Israeli aggression.” This is exactly the Hamas argument and position. They do not accept your attempt at slicing the land into parts, one being Jewish. So, Evelyn, if you accept that argument, are you then also accepting its conclusion, that Israel must cease being and give up the entire land to Arab control?
Evelyn: No, I don’t accept that conclusion. Firstly, we must consider the facts on the ground: Israel is now a sovereign state in the region with over 6 million Jews. Secondly: Something inside of me feels very strong that Jews do belong there and should have an independent country, not under Arab control.
Jeff: You say that even if you feel that Jews “occupied” Arab land to establish the state of Israel?
Evelyn: I don’t accept that all of Israel is “occupied” Arab land. Jews have always lived there and trace their presence in Israel all the way back to Abraham. But I do want to address the Arab claims that the Zionists followed a pre-planned strategy to expel Arabs from the land.
Jeff: Who makes that claim? And how do you know that it’s true, and not part of biased propaganda?
Evelyn: The Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi, makes that argument, as well as some other scholars.
Jeff: Hmm, a Palestinian historian. Many scholars have refuted this argument as a fabrication to justify the rejection of Israel as an independent state. They explain that the primary reason most Arabs left the area in the 1940's and on was in compliance with “the Arab League issuing orders exhorting the Arab residents of Palestine to seek temporary refuge in neighboring countries, later to return to their abodes in the wake of the victorious Arab armies and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property” (this quote is from a report from The Research Group for European Migration Problems in its Bulletin for January March 1957). A May 3, 1948 Time Magazine article states: “The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by orders of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city. More than pride and defia nce was behind the Arab orders. By withdrawing Arab workers, their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa.”
Let me give you a few more quotes that I gathered together: The Jordanian publication 'as-Difaa' (Sept 6, 1954) wrote vehemently: “We were masters in our land, happy with our lot, but overnight everything changed. The Arab Governments told us: ‘Get out so that we can get in’ - so we got out but they did not get in...” A broadcast from the Near East Broadcasting Station on April 3, 1948 stated: “As early as the first months of 1948 the Arab League encouraged the refugees' flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem and that certain leaders have tried to make political capital of their miserable situation...”
These scholars make the point, that though there were a few incidents of violence upon the Arab residents during the heat of battle, but on the whole, Jewish leaders urged the Arabs to remain in Palestine and become citizens of the new State. The Assembly of Palestine Jewry issued this appeal on Oct, 2, 1947: “The Jewish People extends the hand of sincere friendship and brother-hood to the Arab peoples and calls them to cooperate as free and equal allies for the sake of peace and progress, for the benefit of their respective countries.”
It was also emphasized on the day of Israel's Proclamation of Independence (May 14, 1948): “In the midst of wanton aggression, we call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and to play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representations in all its bodies and institutions, provisional or permanent.” To the extent, that
in February 1962, Salim Joubran, an Arab citizen of Israel, told the American television viewers his story: “The Arab High Command asked us to leave the country for two weeks to make the battle easier for hem, 'leave the country and you will come back victorious'. I heard the Haganah (Jewish Defense Forces) microphone asking the Arabs to remain and live peacefully with their Jewish brethren. The Histadrut, our trade union, was distributing leaflets, urging the Arabs not to leave. I remained and today I live in peace with my Jewish neighbors. I still have that leaflet.”
Evelyn: So we have two sides to the story. Maybe both are true. The Israelis wanted the Arabs gone and the Arabs leaders also were responsible for their leaving.
Jeff: Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. I was simply replying to your statement that the Zionists drove out the Arabs. Either way, no one argues with the bottom line fact that the Arab world unanimously rejected the partition and declared war against Israel, not once but consistently. And as a result of these wars many Arabs did leave the land. That was one of the casualties of war perpetrated by the Arab nations. So they only have themselves to blame for it.
Evelyn: And Israel and Jews are completely absolved of any responsibility?
Jeff: No, we have much responsibility to act fair and just, and also to protect our innocent citizens from attack.
Jeff: But there is something much more fundamental that we need to address.
Evelyn: What is that?
Jeff: The entire myth of an entity called “Palestinians,” “Palestinian homeland,” and “occupation.”
Evelyn: You call that a myth? These people have been living there for many years.
Jeff: It’s not that simple.
Part III – continued next week.