In America, the most common explanation for the conflict between Israel and Palestine is that Jews used to own Israel. Therefore, it’s their land by birthright, and Palestinians are terrorists who launch missile attacks on civilian market places. So it’s only fair that Israelis defend themselves.
You don’t need to take too many history classes (or even read more than a few Wikipedia articles) to discover why this explanation is oversimplified to the point of being misleading.
To understand the whole truth, you need to begin by reading the Torah’s history of Israel. According to the Bible, the Israelites escaped from Egypt, wandered in the desert for 40 years. Then, one day, Abraham was wandering around looking for a place to raise his goats, when, according to Genesis 13:14-17, this happened, :
“The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
Then Abraham kills a few people and sacrifices a goat and two birds to God. Then, in Genesis 15: 18-21, “… the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Over the course of the Bible, the Israelis slaughtered, enslaved, or drove out everyone living in The Promised Land. It’s debatable how many events in the Torah actually happened, but even if Israel’s bloody conquest of the Middle East is a total myth, it still sends a strong message to those who believe it’s the unerring word of God.
Israel grew and prospered until it was conquered by the Babylonian Empire in the 7th century BC. Not only did the Babylonians destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, they also exiled the Jewish people across the Middle East.
200 years later, Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to Israel. So a lot of them came back and built a second temple in Jerusalem.
Israel had a lot of internal conflicts over the next three hundred years until Rome conquered it in the 1st century BC. At first, the Romans let the Jews keep most of their religious institutions and traditions, but Judaism was simply incompatible with Roman authority. The Jewish people revolted the entire time they were under Roman control. Eventually, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, sold a lot of the Jews into slavery, and (possibly) invented Christianity.
Ultimately, the Jews weren’t able to defeat Rome. Many did stay in Israel, but they weren’t allowed to have their own government. Rome finally fell 400 years later, but by that time many large Jewish communities had established themselves across the Middle East, Europe, and Northern Africa.
After the fall of Rome, Isreal became the Christian nation of Byzantia until the 6th century. Then it became a Muslim province of the Arab Empire until the 10th century. Then it bounced back and forth between Catholics and Muslims during the Crusades. Eventually the Mamluks (Syrians) got ahold of it. Napoleon held it for a second. Then the Ottomans (Turks) took it until WW1, when they lost it to Britain.
Britain didn’t really want it though. So they made it a temporary state that would allow the Jews to have some kind of “national home” in Palestine, but they didn’t specify exactly what that meant.
Throughout the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to the non-Jews living in Israel as Palestinians or Arabs. But in a sense, those labels are arbitrary. For most of these people’s history, they were neither Palestinian, Arab, or even Muslim. They were Philistine, Canaanite, Babylonian, Roman, Byzantium, Ottoman, etc., etc., and over the centuries, they followed a slew of other religions, sects, and cults.
The vast majority of them didn’t have any involvement in exiling the Jews. They were just farmers making a living in the land their ancestors were born in.
If we’re going to honor the argument that Jews deserve to own/rule Israel because their ancestors were there first, then the descendents of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites have a stronger claim of birthright. Inevitably, there must be some modern day Palestinians who can trace their blood line back to the original inhabitants of Israel.
It’s also worth acknowledging that the Jews who had been living in the Middle East for generations look more Middle Eastern than those living in Europe. This is obviously due to a certain amount of cross-breeding. So the difference between an ethnic Jew and an ethnic Arab is a matter of degrees, not black and white.
Getting back to the history lesson, in the late-1800’s, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, a movement called Zionism was gaining popularity among Jews around the world. Its goal was simple and inevitable: Jews should return to Israel and create a new Jewish state just like they’d done after the Babylonian exile.
Even before WWII, Jews were already migrating to Israel in droves. The Holocaust gave them even more motivation to have their own state, and loose British control of the region gave them the freedom to do so.
In an alternate universe, the Jews could have just bought land in Israel and lived there under a secular, democratic government, sharing power with their Muslim neighbors. But, per the commandments of God in the Torah, the goal of Zionism was to create a Jewish Theocracy.
In 1945, Zionists began attacking British personnel in Israel, attempting to drive the foreign ruler out of the Promised Land. Between 1945-1947, Zionists killed 103 British law enforcement officers. Wanting a quick way out of this quagmire, the United Nations passed a new resolution to split Israel into two states and let Britain step off the stage.
The Zionist leadership accepted the proposal, admitting that is was a temporary first step towards total control of Israel. The Palestinians rejected it for that reason, and also because the proposal would give their best farm lands to Israel and force over 200,000 Arabs to move from high income areas to low income areas.
In the weeks following the vote on the proposed partition, Arabs protested across the country and workers went on a three-day strike. Tensions escalated and quickly turned into violence.
Neither side had a full-fledged government at this point, so this wasn’t officially a war yet. It was civilians killing each other with rifles and improvised explosives. By all accounts that I could find, the Arabs fired the first shots, but innocent men, women, and children were killed by both sides on a weekly basis.
Foreign sympathizers sent weapons and troops to both sides of the conflict, escalating the informal skirmishes and pop-shots into regulated military operations.
As the death toll rose, the Zionists held their ground, committed to their cause, and in 1948, Israel officially declared itself an independent nation.
That same year, Palestinians began fleeing the conflict zones en mass. Some left because it’s common sense to get out of a war zone. The Arab leadership also ordered many evacuations, and Zionist troops were destroying entire towns and forcing people to flee their homes.
It’s debatable but likely that the Israeli leadership wanted to remove as many Arabs from Jewish-controlled territory as possible, and the exodus wasn’t just a collateral consequence of war, but a premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing. By 1949, 700,000 Palestinians would become refugees.
At least 10,000 Jews also fled their homes in Palestinian-controlled war zones, and many more living in other Arab nations chose to immigrate to Israel because they were being harassed by local Muslims sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
In 1949, Israel defeated the Egyptian and Yemen forces aiding the Palestinians, ending the war, but this wasn’t the end of the conflict. It was more like a never-ending truce that neither side completely honored.
Since then, Israel has continued whittling away Palestinian territory and absorbing it, destroying homes, and replacing them with Jewish settlements.
Between 1994-1996, Israel constructed a wall around the portion of Palestine bordering the Mediterranean Sea, known as, Gaza. The official reason was to stop weapons from being smuggled into Gaza, but it has effectively turned the area into the world’s second largest open-air prison (North Korea being the largest). In 2008, Israel established a mile-wide no-go zone around the fence and shoots-to-kill anyone attempting to escape.
Life inside Gaza is a living hell comparable to the Jewish ghettos in Nazi Germany. According to Wikipedia, “In January 2018, it was reported that 97% of the territory’s tap water was undrinkable because of sewage pollution or high salinity levels, forcing Gazans to purchase water from local desalination facilities at excessive prices. The Palestinians are unable to pay Israel for the electricity it provides and, as a result, Gazans receive electricity for roughly four hours a day, as of 2017, which impairs the functioning of Gaza’s health services. The Gaza Strip’s unemployment rate reached 44% in 2017 (71% for women, 36% for men). It is reported that 40% of Gazan children suffer from anemia and malnutrition.”
That’s just scratching the surface. There have been countless documentaries and news clips made about life in Gaza that you can find on Youtube.
Israel justifies its harsh actions towards Gaza as necessary and justified to protect Israeli citizens from rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists. It’s true that Palestinians have been guilty of killing Israeli citizens for decades by lobbing rockets over the border. While I absolutely can not condone these attacks, Israel can’t feign surprise or claim the moral high ground after taking away almost everything the Palestinians have to lose.
It’s also oversimplifying the situation to say Israel is merely attacking Palestinian military units in retaliation for military actions. Israel has a long history of shooting unarmed protesters and continuing to destroy Palestinian homes.
Israel could end the violence by tearing down the prison walls, allowing Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes, and sharing political representation with non-Jews. But that’s never going to happen, because the goal of Zionism has always been complete control of Israel in accordance with God’s commandments in the Torah and its clear precedent of using murder and intimidation to ethnically cleanse The Promised Land.
This conflict can only end one of three ways:
- The State of Israel is dissolved and the Jewish people share their land.
- The majority of Palestinians are killed
- The majority of Palestinians leave
In this context, the best solution is the lesser of three evils, which is for other Arab nations to open their borders to Palestinians and allow them to relocate to their countries. I know this is literally supporting ethnic cleansing, but it’s the only option that doesn’t include mass murder.
This may not even be the best option for Israel. Once it becomes a total Jewish state, then Israel’s enemies will have less reason to withhold their anger towards a government that has been persecuting Muslims for almost 100 years now. If Israel ever loses America’s military protection, those countries may invade anyway… assuming America’s military actions around the Middle East have left any countries stable enough to fight a war against Israel.
I believe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is ethnic cleansing, and I believe the Torah is mythology, but I don’t hate Jews. It’s common in America to label anyone who criticizes Israel as being anti-Semitic, but the two positions are not mutually exclusive. I believe every major religion is mythology, but I don’t hate Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Scientologists, or Hindus. You don’t believe in all of those religions either, and you don’t hate everyone who is different than you. It’s like that.
I wish Jews and Palestinians could agree on a two-state solution, but that’s not possible until one side lowers their weapons. The Palestinians have crimes to answer for, but the side that should stand down first is the one running a concentration camp.
If you believe Palestinians deserve to continue to endure the conditions they’ve been living under, then you could be accused of being prejudice against Palestinians, and isn’t that morally equal to being anti-Semitic?
One thing I’m certain of, is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t end until the rest of the world takes a louder and more objective stance on the issue.
However you felt about this post, you’ll probably feel the same way about these: