By Tom Kando
The Jewish-Palestinian conflict is interminable. It has raged since before I was born, and it will not be solved by the time my grand-children are gone. It is what it is. It almost seems mystical. One of the world’s sine qua nons. Fate, or God, or something, has decreed that this problem must not be solved.
Many of the arguments on both sides hinge on who should own the turf, i.e. who was there first. So how far back do we go? Do we just look at 1948, when Israel became independent, or do we go back to Moses, 5,000 years ago?
Here are some historical facts you might consider:
1. Palestine’s Jewish population in biblical times is anybody’s guess, but it is certain that Jews were a majority. There were several million Jews in Palestine. King David’s census suggests 5 million - which may be inflated.
2. There were many diasporas, at the hands of conquerors. For example the Babylonian captivity in the 5th century BC and the expulsion of Jews by the Roman emperor Titus during the 1st century AD.
3. During the 1st century, Jews were the majority population in the region, Perhaps 2.5 million.
4. More than a millennium later came the Ottoman and British Mandates: Between the 13th and 16th centuries, the Jewish population declined to almost nil - maybe 5,000. Jews were now a minority, Muslims a majority, although all groups suffered decline, due to the black death and other Malthusian conditions.
5. By 1890, Jews were a growing minority of about 43,000.
6. In 1914, just before World War II and the Balfour Declaration, Jews were a growing minority of about 100,000.
7. By 1931, Jews had continued to grow as a minority, approaching 200,000.
8. In 1947, just before Israeli Independence, Jews were a large minority of about 600,000. Much of the increase was due to the massive post-World-War-Two immigration of Holocaust survivors.
So the current conflict is between two competing nationalisms. While Muslims outnumbered Jews before Israeli independence, there WAS a significant Jewish presence all along. Then in 1947 the surrounding Arab countries declared war on Israel, and they lost. As a result, Israel annexed (additional) territories. It also expelled many Palestinians, although many of those fled from their homes in anticipation of a victorious return, which never happened.
Israel’s history resembles that of many other countries, including the United States. Most countries have expanded at the expense of neighbors whom they defeated. Most international boundaries are the outcome of turf battles. How much territory did America take from Mexico? How often have France and Germany gone to war over territory? Or Hungary and Rumania? Or practically every other country? Not that this is justified, but it is reality.
In a way, Israel’s situation is MORE legitimate than that of most other countries: Israel has at least a plausible historical claim to Palestine, albeit a very ancient one. And its umbilical cord to Palestine was never totally severed. There has always been a Jewish presence there, fluctuating from millions to a few thousand, and resurging well before the 20th century.
Another mitigating feature of Israeli "imperialism," compared to others, is that it has often generously returned many conquered territories (for example the Sinai). If it is holding on to (parts of) the West Bank, that's because the old borders are impossible to defend. The country would have an 8-mile wide "neck."
Furthermore, Israeli “occupation” of much of its territory is more benign than the alternative would be. Areas such as the Negev would be wastelands if not for the irrigation, agriculture and other forms of developments brought there by a modern progressive state, the only affluent and democratic country in the Middle East.
So while I am of course for the two-state solution, compromise regarding the West Bank and all the other things the world has been talking about for almost three quarters of a century, there is one thing which should be non-negotiable: Israel’s right to exist. leave comment here
Friday, August 19, 2011
By Tom Kando