As this Middle East conversation 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 happy.
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 from it.
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 us.
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 that.
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, one Arab…
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 that?
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 here?
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 staying power.
“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 week.