[Viewpoint] The land called PalestineThe Arab Spring is rife with violence as the Arab people strive to throw off the yoke of feudalism. Palestinian advocates would have us believe that the main issue prohibiting peace in the Middle East is the existence of the state of Israel; that the entire region is, and always has been, the province of the Arabs.
However, the facts are much different. Though the current demography was established less than a century ago, the Jewish population in the area has existed prior to the last millennium. The events leading to the current state of Israel shed a great deal of light on the situation.
When someone mentions the word “partition” most people immediately think of the 1948 division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. But there was another partition that occurred just a few months earlier: partition of the Indian subcontinent into the nations of India and Pakistan. The similarities are striking, as are the differences.
The creation of a Jewish state began with the 1917 Balfour Declaration and later the British Mandate, in 1922. These ambiguous documents promised that Palestine, a large area taken from the Turks at the end of World War I, would be the location of a Jewish homeland.
At the time, the land was home to about 100,000 Jews, a community that had lived there for centuries. By 1936, 30 percent of the population of Palestine was Jewish. The Jews were supporters of the allies in World War II; however, the Arabs, under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, were devoted to the Nazis. They strongly opposed any Jewish presence in the region.
In deference to the Arabs, the land east of the Jordan River was called Transjordan (later Jordan) and granted to the Hashemites. But it was never clear what should happen to the rest of Palestine. Just after World War II ended, the United Nations decided on a partition of this land between the Arabs and Jews, granting less than 7 percent of it to the Jews.
While the Jews accepted the UN partition readily, the Arabs violently opposed it. The day the partition took effect, in May 1948, Arabs on all sides initiated a war that the whole world felt would result in the destruction of the Jewish portion, now called Israel.
Just a few months before this event, a similar partition was occurring on the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of a Muslim state to be called Pakistan. This partition resulted in the migration of no fewer than 14 million people, half Hindus and half Muslims.
We all know of the animosity that has existed between India and Pakistan, but somehow this partition is recognized by most as a reasonable way to separate the antagonists. Not so in the land that was called Palestine. Here the Arabs want the whole thing, no Jews allowed. This, although the Jewish state has given citizenship, religious freedom and even participation in government to Muslims. In none of the Arab countries surrounding Israel does one find any of these niceties permitted to Jews; in fact even Christians have little religious freedom here.
We all know what happened in the war of 1948, called the war of independence by the citizens of Israel, and a time of infamy by their neighbors: the Arabs were subjected to a humiliating defeat against all odds. But this wasn’t enough to convince the Arabs that the sovereign state of Israel would continue to exist. They instigated two more wars, in 1967 and 1973, the results being two more humiliating defeats and the capture by Israel of some of the land granted to them in 1922.
In the years since then, Israel has relinquished almost all of the land captured in those wars. It has withdrawn unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The Arabs living in this territory show their appreciation for this independence by voting into power a group known as Hamas, a political entity that has vowed to continue wars with the state of Israel and to never recognize its existence.
The comparison of the results of the partition of Palestine with that of India is nothing less than astonishing. Wars have always ended with the displacement of large numbers of people.
Although the number of Arabs displaced from Israel in 1948 comes nowhere near the number of Muslims displaced in the partition of India, the displeasure of Muslims worldwide has been nothing short of outrageous.
World War II resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people, six million of whom were Jews. Is it any wonder that a large portion of the Jews remaining in Europe migrated to their ancient homeland? Furthermore, the Arabs displaced from Palestine were in large part paid for their property and had many opportunities for repatriation.
Yet the Arabs surrounding Israel continue their animus relations, seeking Jerusalem as the capital of a Muslim state, calling it their holy shrine. This is so even though they readily admit they have two holier shrines in Mecca and Medina.
Jerusalem is widely recognized as the ancient center of the Jewish people, site of the temple of Solomon, the “Temple Mount.” Under Israeli rule, Jerusalem and the surrounding area are open to all for worship and study. Under Arab rule, only Muslims were allowed into the area. Under Israeli rule, the area has been open to exploration; scores of priceless documents and artifacts from the period have been recovered.
To many in the United States, Israel is seen simply as a hindrance to peace and a drain on our government’s budget.
A closer look shows that it is a shining example of how a true democracy can thrive in the region. It simply makes no sense to return this land to the barbarism of the past.
*The writer is an Emeritus Professor at Georgia Tech. He is the author of the thriller East Wind.
By Jack Winnick