Early in his presidency President Obama reaffirmed that we have an unbreakable bond with Israel, spiritual as well as political. And I completely agree. The Jewish people have given us our religion and our Savior, a debt we can never fully repay. We must always remember that Jesus was born, lived and died a believing, practicing Jew. But Israeli PM Netanyahu, his Likud Party and AIPAC, the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington, interpret Obama’s words as a blank check for their sole possession of the entire former Palestinian territory to the exclusion of Palestinian rights. This includes the West Bank territory taken from Syria in the 1967 War.
Although the Israeli Jews claim this territory as their rightful homeland today, for nearly 3,500 years of history they have exercised sovereignty there for less than 500 total years, 13% of the time. The last Jewish sovereignty in Palestine before 1948 was 134-63 BCE under the Hasmonean Dynasty, 2079 years ago. In 1900 less than 10 percent of the Palestinian population was Jewish, and that centered mostly in Jerusalem.
In 1879, shortly after Zionism’s emergence, a Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland proposed a Jewish homeland in Palestine under either Turkish or German rule. But no disposition for the 360,000 Arabs already living there was even mentioned. This disturbed the Palestinian Arabs and the ruling Ottoman Turks and led to resistance to further Jewish immigration following World War I.
For their aid in World War II Britain and France promised the people of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine post-war self-determination. But earlier, in return for financial support during World War I by Jewish bankers, the British had issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 stating the British Crown would look with favor on a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But no sovereign Jewish state was mentioned and the Declaration clearly stated that the rights of the people already living there would not be compromised.
Although restricted by the British who exercised a mandate over Palestine after World War I, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased. Facing financial insolvency at home and bloody Jewish anti-British terrorist attacks in Palestine, in 1946 Britain declared Palestine ungovernable and returned their mandate to the U. N.
Immigration mushroomed, and in 1948 the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel which President Truman officially recognized the next day. Fighting broke out and after early losses the Israeli Army completely routed the Arab forces. Israel now held most of the former Palestinian territory. After more fighting in 1967, 1973 and beyond, Israel also holds formerly Syrian land on the West Bank.
Much of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is basically psychological, therefore probably unsolvable at the bargaining table. Both sides are products of long-existing narratives of victimhood. And victims assume the moral high ground is exclusively theirs and rarely feel the necessity to make concessions. Though not Holocaust deniers, the Palestinians can’t understand how this tragedy with which they had nothing to do gives the Jews the right to take their land. But many Jews contend this land has been rightfully theirs since Old Testament times.
Today Israel refuses to return the Palestinian and Syrian land taken in the wars or to allow Arab refugees to return. And the Palestinians refuse to even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Where do we go from here?
Israel reminds us that they are the only real friends we have in the Middle East. Maybe. But before Israel came on the scene we had no real enemies there.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.