Now it can be told- Western historians are re-examining the troubled 20th century history of Israel and Palestine. Previously published revelations of Israel’s military strength and aggressive operations during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war remained confined to a select group of historians: (Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities and Ilian Pappe, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951).
Now, the established media is beginning to publish similar information. Washington Post editor, S. Rosenfeld, has published information that Israel’s former Defense Minister, Moishe Dayan, admitted to reporter Rami Tal that Israel provoked 80% of the border clashes between Israel and Syria and Syrian gunners on the Golan had only fired on Israel farmers who were illegally farming demilitarized lands( Israel and Syria: Correcting the Record, S. Rosenfeld, Wash. Post., Dec. 24, 1999).
As the Mid-East “peace process” approaches its final outcome, the American media and government are becoming aware that the deliberations may reveal a historical perspective that differs from a previously accepted perspective, and that an appreciation of this revised perspective may be essential in forming an acceptable solution to the Mid-East conflict.
The Jewish people, Islam, the American people, and all Mid-East countries have been continually affected by the daily events in Israel and the West Bank. An optimistic atmosphere for peace presently prevails. Unless the optimism translates into reality, the world may accept a longer term pessimistic scenario which predicts that,
- Israel will eventually not be able to successfully repulse the far greater numbers of its antagonists.
- Israel will be forced to use its full military capability to maintain its territory and could bring several countries into an atomic war.
- Israel’s safeguards and defense will propel it into extreme human rights violations of the Palestinians and result in their possible dissolution.
- The Jewish people, due to their consistent support of what the world could perceive as Israel’s tyrannical actions, will suffer greatly from antagonisms, almost to the point of extinction of Judaism as a strong religious force.
- The United States people will suffer from terrorism, war and economic upheavals.
- Islam will be forced to fight for its survival, especially for its holy sites in Jerusalem.
Famous Jewish luminaries have echoed these fears. The violinist Yehudi Menuhin, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset stated: Israel’s political intransigence and unwillingness to make concessions to the Palestinians will further suppress the old values of Judaism.
The philosopher Martin Buber wrote in the publication Thud’s Ner, 1961: The world is captured by the mid-east turmoil and yet is complacent about the eventual results. And those concerned have not been able to evolve a workable strategy to prevent the great shock.
One cause for the failure to evolve a workable strategy has been due to basing decisions on selective facts. The final stages of a welcomed peace process demands that the historical facts are correctly portrayed so that knowledge and reasoning can dictate an equitable solution. Since Israel has been the protagonist in the mighty drama, the country that has occupied stage center, investigators will focus on significant Israeli actions during the past 50 years. Major aspects of the investigations will be:
- The establishment of the state of Israel, leading to
- Israel’s population expansion, leading to
- The ignored UN Resolutions, leading to
- Some thoughts on the historical perspective.
- The establishment of the State of Israel
The United Nations, which voted on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine, might have wished they had more completely studied the situation and had appropriately prepared to respond to subsequent developments. The UN had a choice between recommending a bi-national state or partitioning the country into Jewish and Palestinian states.
Considering that 85% of the Jewish population remained confined to three urban centers and their surrounding areas, Tel-Aviv/Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem, and that the Jews constituted only 1/3 the total population in all Palestine, the partition plan had no acceptable means to award the Zionists a viable state in which they would be a comfortable majority in a large sized territory. By voting a partition resolution, the UN unknowingly invited “population transfers” of the Palestinians from the territory awarded to the Zionists so that the Jews in that state could be a majority.
The resolution, which required a 2/3 vote by the General Assembly, and only received the 2/3 by one vote, never had the power for compliance or enforcement. By not providing enforcement and safeguards to all parties, the UN action permitted the future to be determined by predictable crises. It was predictable that a resolution that created states that were not viable, would stimulate Israel to take action to assure its viability. It was predictable that the Palestinian community would become submerged by Israel’s actions and that adjacent Arab countries would react to any perception of aggressive Israeli behavior and territorial extension.
UN resolution 181 caused a more serious crisis than it attempted to contain. President Truman expressed anguish at the lack of an enforcement body and noted its possible consequences. (Statement on the United Nation’s recognition of Israel by President Truman, March 25, 1948, Truman archives).
The United Kingdom has announced its firm intention to abandon its mandate in Palestine on May 15. Unless emergency action is taken, there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Large scale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result. Such fighting would infect the entire Middle East and could lead to consequences of the gravest sort involving the peace of this nation and of the world.
The American president proposed a plan that has not been well publicized: The United States has proposed to the Security Council a temporary United Nations trusteeship for Palestine to provide a government to keep the peace…Trusteeship is not proposed as a substitute for the partition plan but as an effort to fill the vacuum soon to be created.
After Israel declared a provisional government on the day before Britain’s withdrawal from its mandate, Truman recognized the new state. Interestingly, the U.S. president changed several words in the original document. The document states;
This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the (Truman inserted the word “provisional”) government as the de facto authority of the new (Truman crossed out the words “Jewish state” and replaced them with the words “State of Israel.)
After the Zionists proclaimed a provisional government on May 14 and British troops withdrew on May 15 1948, events happened as Truman had pessimisticly predicted. The UN sent Count Folke Bernadette, a Swedish diplomat who had earned respect from his work during the war as vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross, to obtain truces between the combatants and ameliorate the situation. On September 17,1948, after Bernadotte had composed his report, and before he had the opportunity to submit the report to the UN, members of the Stern gang, an extremist Zionist organization, assassinated him and French air force officer, Andre P. Serot in Jerusalem.
Count Bernadotte’s Specific Conclusions (in his words)
The following conclusions, broadly outlined, would, in my view, considering all the circumstances, provide a reasonable, equitable and workable basis for settlement:
- Since the Security Council, under pain of Chapter VIII sanctions, has forbidden further employment of military action in Palestine as a means of settling the dispute, hostilities should be pronounced formally ended either by mutual agreement of the parties or, failing that, by the United Nations. The existing indefinite truce should be superseded by a formal peace, or at the minimum, an armistice which would involve either complete withdrawal and demobilization of armed forces or their wide separation by creation of broad demilitarized zones under United Nations supervision.
- The frontiers between the Arab and Jewish territories, in the absence of agreement between Arabs and Jews, should be established by the United Nations and delimited by a technical boundaries commission appointed by and responsible to the United Nations, with the following revisions in the boundaries broadly defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November in order to make them more equitable, workable and consistent with existing realities in Palestine. The area known as the Negeb, south of a line running from the sea near Majdal east southeast to Faluja (both of which places would be in Arab territory), should be defined as Arab territory; The frontier should run from Faluja northeast to Ramla and Lydda (both of which places would be in Arab territory), the frontier at Lydda then following the line established in the General Assembly resolution of 29 November. Galilee should be defined as Jewish territory.
- The disposition of the territory of Palestine not included within the boundaries of the Jewish State should be left to the Governments of the Arab States in full consultation with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, with the recommendation, however, that in view of the historical connection and common interests of Transjordan and Palestine, there would be compelling reasons for the merging of the Arab territories of Palestine with the territory of Transjordan, subject to such frontier realignment regarding other Arab States as may be found practicable and desirable.
- The United Nations, by declaration or other appropriate means, should undertake to provide special assurance that the boundaries between the Arab and Jewish territories shall be respected and maintained subject only to such modifications as may be mutually agreed upon by the parties concerned.
- The port of Haifa, including the oil refineries and terminals, and without prejudice to their inclusion in the sovereign territory of the Jewish State or the administration of the city of Haifa, should be declared a free port, with assurances of free access for interested Arab countries and an undertaking on their part to place no obstacle in the way of oil deliveries by pipeline to the Haifa refineries, whose distribution would continue on the basis of the historical pattern.
- The airport of Lydda should be declared a free airport with assurance of access to it and employment of its facilities for Jerusalem and interested Arab countries.
- The City of Jerusalem, which should be understood as covering the area defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November, should be treated separately and should be placed under effective United Nations control with maximum feasible local autonomy for its Arab and Jewish communities. In addition, there must be unconditional agreement on the protection of the Holy Places and sites, their free access and right to religious worship, irregardless of denomination
- The right of unimpeded access to Jerusalem, by road, rail or air, should be fully respected by all parties.
- The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return. This should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations conciliation commission described in paragraph (k) below.
- The political, economic, social and religious rights of all Arabs in the Jewish territory of Palestine and of all Jews in the Arab territory of Palestine should be fully guaranteed and respected by the authorities.
Bernadotte’s conclusions may have provided a basis for solution to the conflict. They were not seriously discussed. Israel eventually won the war and expanded its territory. The expansion, which is detailed in the following two maps indicates that Israel did not entirely fight a defensive war. It can’t be coincidence that Israel closed the gaps in the territory awarded to it by the UN proclamation, and linked Jerusalem and its territory. The Zionists emptied several hundred Arab villages of their unarmed inhabitants. They took the offensive and seized territory that increased Israel’s size by 50%, giving themselves more than 75% of the original Palestinian lands.
The Refugee problem and its significance
The war created 700,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom had lived in the areas that Israel absorbed. Almost all of them wanted to return to their towns, homes, factories, land and businesses. The refugees insisted that fear, violence, and destruction forced them to temporarily vacate their homes. Israel stated that the refugees had left their homes due to a message from the other Arab nations.
The message affirmed that they should leave, and after the Arabs punished the Zionists, the refugees would be able to return. This statement seems absurd, especially when considering that 1948 communications were still relatively primitive. The fact that Israel did not permit the refugees to return and also destroyed entire villages, erasing them from their maps, confirms that the scenario is not believable. This refugee problem created a disturbing history that exposed distinctive and troubling features:
- People from other lands have contributed finances, propaganda and assistance that have fueled a conflict which many perceive as oppression. Financial and other aid given to Israel have gained it a military advantage, allowed it to develop sophisticated weapons, and enabled it to create a force that serves to enforce the perceived oppression. Although settlements have been declared illegal in several UN resolutions, economic assistance has been provided to Israel for creating settlements and infrastructure in the West Bank.
- People have been transported over great distances from foreign lands to the Holy Land with the eventual result of replacing Palestinians and forcing them from their homes. Several nations have tacitly supported and refused to counter this catastrophic policy.
- People who had not been previously displaced, who already had homes, had established lives, and weren’t refugees, have, with support of other nations, displaced Palestinian people, made them homeless, ruined their lives and turned them into refugees. Bernard Avishai, in The Tragedy of Zionism, quotes Baruch Nadel, a journalist, in his definition of the Zionist approach: A movement of Western Jews to save Eastern Jews that built homes for Oriental Jews.
- Unlike previous human tragedies, that occurred hidden and at a time of much less effective mass communication, this tragedy is occurring in full view of the entire world and at a time when anybody can obtain the facts.
In 1967, another 300,000 Palestinians fled from the West Bank and Gaza, to Jordan (200,000), Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Of these, approximately 180,000 were first-time refugees (“displaced persons”), while the remainder were 1948 refugees uprooted for the second time. Estimates put the Palestinian population at approximately 6.6 million in 1995. In 1995, UNRWA data showed some 3,172,641 registered refugees in its “area of operation” (West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon), plus an estimated 335,000 non-registered “displaced persons”.
Did the Palestinians forfeit an opportunity in 1948 to recognize the UN partition plan and establish a state of their own?
- The Palestinian community owned the land for centuries and refused to recognize that an organization had a right to take it from them and give it to others. They had a valid reason not to do anything that might legitimatize the partition plan.
- The Palestinians organized themselves in communities and didn’t have a strong central administration to coordinate their activities and agree to any plan.
- The King of Jordan controlled the West Bank and the Palestinians had no opportunity to organize a central government for themselves.
- The UN Resolution awarded Israel the most valuable territory, fertile lands along the coast and the major seaport of Haifa. Although the Zionists owned only about 8% of the land and constituted 1/3 of the population, they received 50% of Palestinian land.
The shifts in the refugee population and social stresses on adjacent Arab countries, caused dislocations throughout the Mid-East, and havoc in Lebanon and Jordan. To the Arab countries, a part of the Mid-East that had been totally Arab for centuries, had been converted by Israel from an Arab land with some minor Western influence to a Western land with little Arab influence. The refugee problem became the principal impediment to a solution of the Mid-East conflict.