As this Middle East
continues, with all its complexities and prejudices, we have been receiving
very many reactions
from readers. Most are supportive of this type of dialogue, but there are
some who are upset and even livid. And from one extreme to the next. "How
can you give any legitimacy to terrorists?" question some readers. "With
all your good intentions, you ultimately have provided a platform for anti-Semites."
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that argue that the conversation
is not balanced. Jeff's arguments are far stronger than Evelyn's, and Evelyn
is not presenting the strongest possible Palestinian position. Some are even
suggesting that Evelyn is a fabricated character simply meant to provide Jeff
with a platform to make his case.
Our response to both
aisles is this: The best way to address an issue is not to be frightened to
hear both sides of the argument, even if one side repulses you, as long as
everyone is presenting facts and not just voicing rhetoric and spouting propaganda.
We do not want to silence any voice simply because we don't agree with it.
To those that feel that Evelyn's arguments aren't strong enough we invite
you – and challenge you – to send us the strongest arguments you can find
for her position, and we will present it to Jeff and Evelyn and try to have
it included in this dialogue, as long as it is supported by substantiated
evidence. Finally, we assure you that Jeff and Evelyn are very real people,
in a true conversation being facilitated by Rabbi Jacobson.
But when dealing with
such emotionally fraught issues, it is inevitable that the heat of the moment
will make it very difficult to continue such a conversation and make everyone
To everyone we suggest:
please try to suspend judgment, please withhold your initial reactions and
let us allow the dialogue to play itself out. Perhaps we will all learn something
Evelyn: I was thinking
about what you were saying. Though I can't deny and surely will not defend
the troubled history of anti-Jewish feelings in the Arab world, I am still
troubled by the fact that after all is said and done, we Jews are perpetrating
atrocities against the Palestinians as they were once perpetrated against
Today Israel is the more
powerful force, with a far stronger army and the ability to protect itself.
So it's one thing when Jews were being persecuted and had no one to protect
them. But now that we have our country and army, we should be showing an extra
measure of benevolence, particularly due to the sensitivity that we developed
through our own hardships.
Jeff: I feel the same
as you. But after giving this serious thought for many years and researching
the issues – beyond the rhetoric and propaganda from both sides – I came to
realize that benevolence can only be shown once we have all the issues open
and clear on the table. You cannot begin to be kind to someone who wants to
kill you, and use your every kind gesture against you. The kindest thing you
can do then is to protect the innocent, to expose the enemy, and to do all
it takes to defang him.
Evelyn: What you're basically
saying is that there is no hope. By returning to the past you simply do not
allow any peaceful initiative to arise.
Jeff: You have it absolutely
backwards. As long as the Arab/Muslim world lives in the past and drags us
all back there with their refusal to recognize Israel, or allowing the authorities
in power to maintain their call for Israel's destruction, we have no choice
but to approach this as we would approach an enemy, not a friend.
Once a power declares
war on you, you are in a state of war, And in that state it is utterly ridiculous
and folly to declare that we shouldn't look at the past declaration of war
(a declaration that remains standing), and say let's just look ahead.
Evelyn: And we thus doom
all the peace-loving Palestinians, those that simply want to be allowed to
freely go to work, move about and not be constricted in a pen?!
Jeff: No, we are
not the ones that doom them. Their so-called leaders whom they elected, and
their overall opposition to the existence of Israel, are what doom them.
Evelyn: And we should
cease showing compassion to them, and instead bomb them, causing them to become
even more hostile?
Jeff: I don't believe
that I am – and for that matter, the Israeli army is – any less compassionate
than you. I simply feel that once we see the facts our compassion has to be
directed in getting the Arab world to reeducate their children and learn to
accept Israel, and truly look ahead instead of back. As Golda Meir once said:
"We will only have peace with the Arabs when they learn to love their
children more than they hate us."
Evelyn: There is still
one important matter that we never fully addressed.
Jeff: What is that?
Evelyn: The fact that
the Palestinians have lived on this land for centuries and have been displaced
by Jewish immigrants who have just recently settled in Israel. The Palestinians
are essentially indigenous natives to the land and they are resisting Israeli
occupation of their Palestinian land. Wouldn't you do the same if someone
was trying to displace you from your native home?
Jeff: Didn't we already
discuss this point, that according to this argument all of Israel is occupation? And didn't
we both reject that?
Evelyn: I am not discussing
now all of Israel. Yes, I agree that the Palestinians will have to accept
Israel and cannot lay claim to the entire land. But since they are natives,
at the very least shouldn't they be allowed to retain some portions of the
land – namely Gaza and the West Bank, which were captured and occupied by
Israel in 1967? Instead we find that Israelis are building settlements in
this occupied territory, and not allowing the Palestinians to have independence
and control their own destiny in their native land? At the minimum shouldn't
they be allowed to have the land (or part of the land) given to them after
the UN partition in 1947?
Jeff: I admit that I used
to think as you do, until it was pointed out to me that this whole concept
of "Palestinians" as an indigenous population, living in their own
land, is a myth conveniently fabricated to justify their war against Israel
and make it sound as if Israel is the "aggressor" and imperialistic
"occupier" of foreign land?
Evelyn: Give me a break…
Jeff: So in addition to
the fact the Arabs continue to claim all of Israel and not just a piece of
the land, which exposes their true intentions, even their claim to be "Palestinians"
is simply false!
Evelyn: This is ridiculous!
Now you're going totally overboard. What right do you or anyone have to deny
them a name they chose for themselves?
Jeff: They may have a
right to call themselves by any name they choose, but that doesn't make them
Palestinians. Actually, if there were true Palestinians it would be the Jews,
who have lived in this region for thousands of years...
Evelyn: This is the heart of the problem: Your
position of questioning the very identity of Palestinians completely invalidates
them and effectively prevents any intelligent dialogue between Jews and Arabs.
I find your view extremely disconcerting and dangerous. In my view, it is
an opinion that is designed to absolutely and ultimately delegitimize any
opposing viewpoint, and indeed a whole people. Once you negate the identity
of the entity you are speaking with there is no room for peace. It is extremely
hurtful to the partner you are supposed to have a dialogue with, it undermines
all respect, trust, hope and all other good things that people living in the
same region should share with one another. What do you think is going to happen
if you keep denying the identity of another people? Do you honestly believe
anything good is going to come out of this?
Jeff: May I speak?
Evelyn: You had your chance.
No allow me to voice my position. I truly find your words preposterous and
painful. How can you say that the Palestinians are not a people?
That is completely wrong.
Read up on your history. Both Jews and Palestinians were living in the British
mandate of Palestine at the time the modern day nation of Israel was founded.
There was no Israel before 1948. Jews took the name Israel. They should at
least have the courtesy to allow the Palestinians choose their own name as
well, a name, mind you, which reflects the name of the region prior to 1948.
I cannot see how your denial of these facts will lead to anything positive?
Isn't more likely to breed more resentment, hatred and absence of normal relationships?
I really wonder what you think it going to happen with this continued denial.
Do you think Palestinians are going to simply say: Yes you are right, we don't
exist, we will stop demanding our fair share?
Jeff: May I finally speak
and make my case?
Evelyn: Go ahead.
Jeff: Let me begin with
a direct quote from a PLO executive. Way back on March 31, 1977, the Dutch
newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization
executive committee member Zahir Muhsein, who said: "The Palestinian
people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means
for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity.
In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians,
Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak
today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests
demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose
Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined
borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I
can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the
moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute
to unite Palestine and Jordan."
Evelyn: I don't believe
Jeff: Go ahead and check
out the sources for yourself.
Evelyn: But the fact is
that prior to 1947 the area was called Palestine and both Jews and Palestinians
were living there.
Jeff: No, both Jews and
Arabs were living there.
And no, Palestine was never a country or a nation, not now, not in 1947 and
not anytime in history. Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton, an eminent authority
on the region, stated "from the end of the Jewish state in antiquity
to the beginning of the British rule, the area now designated by the name
Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries;
it was a group of provincial subdivisions, by no means always the same, within
a larger entity."
Evelyn: So which Arabs
were living in the region prior to 1947?
Jeff: Jordanians, Egyptians,
Syrians and others. The British Palestine mandate was a short-lived entity
established in 1922 by the League of Nations after the fall of the Ottoman
Empire in World War I, and lasted until 1947 – some 25 years. There never
was – not before 1922 and not after – a Palestinian state.
Evelyn: But then came
the UN partition in 1947, dividing Palestine into two states, one Jewish,
Jeff: And the Arabs rejected
it outright and went to war with Israel. And even after that war, the Arabs
countries did not establish an independent state for Palestinian Arabs. According
to Wikipedia: Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1949 Armistice Agreements
between Israel and neighboring Arab states eliminated Palestine as a distinct
territory. With the establishment of Israel, the remaining lands were divided
amongst Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The Arab governments at this point refused
to set up a State of Palestine. In addition to the UN-partitioned area it
was allotted, Israel captured 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan
River. Jordan captured and annexed about 21% of the Mandate territory, Judea and Samaria,
known today as the West Bank. Jerusalem was divided, with Jordan taking the
eastern parts, including the Old City, and Israel taking the western parts.
The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt.
Then from 1948-1967 Jordan
and Egypt each pushed hundreds of thousands of their citizens to move to the
West Bank and Gaza, such that by 1967 half of the people in Jordan lived in
the West Bank. They were not there in 1948. Many chose to return home after
1967, when Israel reentered the West Bank. This does not make them refugees.
It makes them returnees.
I should add: Those Arabs
who chose to stay in Israel had the choice to become citizens or not. Those
who chose citizenship are today the only Arabs in the entire Middle East who,
regardless of family ties, religion, or wealth, may vote and run for office.
They are the only Arabs in the entire Middle East who enjoy freedom of speech,
of religion, of conscience, and freedom of the press. They are the only Arabs
in the Middle East who may choose to settle disputes in either a secular court
or an Islamic one.
If you interested in an
honest look at these issues read From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters. She
was hired by Yasser Arafat to write a book showing the Arab connection to
the land, but five years into her research could no longer hide from the fact
that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, under international
law and historically it is Jewish land.
The real occupation of
the West Bank was from 1948 to 1967, when the Kingdom of Jordan occupied it
and filled it with half of the population of their kingdom. The real occupation
of Gaza was likewise from 1948-1967 when it was under Egyptian occupation
and became filled with Egyptians eager to take over the possessions left behind
by Jews who fled in 1948, and by Egyptians who simply sought to live as far
from Cairo and its corrupt government as possible.
Evelyn: Well, frankly,
even if there never was a Palestinian state or people, the fact is that now
there are millions of people in the region who call themselves "Palestinians."
So who cares about the past? Just because that region never had an identity
of its own and has been occupied by every empire in the book doesn't mean
that there are no people living there that have emerged today calling themselves
"Palestinian." Nations are often created out of people living in
a region who identify themselves in a particular way. I also find it interesting
to note that the creation of the modern Jewish state had the side effect of
intensifying the identity of the Arab non-Jews living in the same region,
causing them to derive their identity from the land as well. You should read
Herbert Kelman who has written extensively on this topic.
Jeff: That all sounds
nice and good if these people were not calling for the destruction of Israel.
If they had simply accepted the UN partition in 1947, today there would have
been an independent state for the Arabs in that region. But they did not;
instead they went to war. If today, they simply stated that we want to live
in peace with Israel in this region, all hostilities would end immediately.
If the Arab countries, which abandoned these people in the first place, would
absorb them back into their populations that too would solve the problems.
The problem is that their
leaders and the surrounding Arab countries insist on calling them "Palestinians"
with a claim on the entire land of Israel (or part of it).
That is why the issue
whether the "Palestinian" entity is real or not is extremely relevant
to the issues at hand. Because it's quite possible, as Muhsein explicitly
stated, that the entire notion was created as a smokescreen to conceal the
true agenda of annihilating the entire State of Israel. No one is arguing
that the Arabs living in these territories should be mistreated. This is true
whether they are called "Palestinians," "Arabs," Jordanians,"
"Egyptians" or any other name. But why is it so important to create
a new entity called "Palestinians" if not as an excuse to maintain
the war against Israel?
Evelyn: No, to give them
some measure of self-respect. I am not denying that the Arab countries, promoting
their own agenda, betrayed their fellow Palestinian Arabs. I just feel that
Israel, with our higher standard of fairness, should allow them the honor
to have their independence.
Jeff: Your intentions
are noble, Evelyn. But there is the "small" problem of the Arabs
continuing to call for Israel's destruction, as explicitly stated in the Hamas
charter (democratically elected to rule Gaza). How can Israel negotiate with
an entity that has declared war on it?
Evelyn: So, what are you
suggesting is the solution? As I asked you earlier, do you think Palestinians
are going to say: yes you are right we don't exist, we will stop demanding
our fair share?
Jeff: What I think, Evelyn,
is that if the world would call them on their game and admit their true intentions
we would achieve far more progress than maintaining the charade of an "occupied
Palestine." If the world would acknowledge that 80% of the Palestine
mandate has already been given over to Jordan whose population is 90% of the
same ethnic subgroup as those who call themselves Palestinian, and they thus
have a country of their own, the conflict would end.
Why is this Israel's problem
and not the Arab world's problem? It was they that rejected the partition
and countless attempts at peace. Whether I can find a solution or not doesn't
change the facts. One thing is for sure: To live with a myth of a distinct
"Palestinian" entity is surely not the solution. The real betrayal of
these people is by the Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians and entire Arab world.
Let them learn from the Jews: When the Jews were expelled from the Arab countries
– we're talking not a handful, but almost one million souls – Israel took
them in with open arms. Why don't the Arab/Muslin countries do the same for
their people, instead of leaving them hanging dry?!
Why don't you protest
And while we're at it:
Jews were living for over a thousand years in the Arab countries they were
thrown out of. Why was and is there no uproar of them being expelled from
their ancient land?! Why is it only about so-called "Palestinians,"
many of who are just recent residents of the region?!
Is there something wrong
Evelyn: Why are you attacking
me? I thought we were having a peaceful conversation.
Jeff: I am deeply upset
that an intelligent and compassionate like yourself, and so many others, have
bought into myths that continuously turn Israel into the aggressor.
Evelyn, read these words
from Joseph Farah, an Arab-American journalist: "Isn't it interesting
that prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, there was no serious movement for
a Palestinian homeland? 'Well, Farah,' you might say, 'that was before the
Israelis seized the West Bank and Old Jerusalem.' That's true. In the Six-Day
War, Israel captured Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. But they didn't capture
these territories from Yasser Arafat. They captured them from Jordan's King
Hussein. I can't help but wonder why all these Palestinians suddenly discovered
their national identity after Israel won the war.
"The truth is that
Palestine is no more real than Never-Never Land. The first time the name was
used was in 70 A.D. when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed
the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on,
the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. The name was derived
from the Philistines, a Goliathian people conquered by the Jews centuries
earlier. It was a way for the Romans to add insult to injury. They also tried
to change the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, but that had even less
"Palestine has never
existed -- before or since -- as an autonomous entity. It was ruled alternately
by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, briefly,
by the British after World War I. The British agreed to restore at least part
of the land to the Jewish people as their homeland.
"There is no language
known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has
never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians
are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians,
Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of
the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the landmass.
"But that's too much
for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting
in Israel is about today. Greed. Pride. Envy. Covetousness. No matter how
many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough."
Evelyn: I want to research
this more before continuing our discussion.
Jeff: By all means.
Part V – continued next