Question: A land without a people for a people without a land. Neither is Palestine nor are the Palestinian people a historical entity and thus have no claim to a nation state on the territory. The land is therefore free for the Jews who have a long-standing historical claim to the land.
A land without a people for a people without a land; this saying was the battle cry for the Zionist movement from the beginning clear till the present day. This phrase is one of the most common used phrases in the literature of Zionism and perhaps also the most problematic. It is true that Jews were a people without a land and had been since the Diaspora (Yiddish for exile) in 135 CE. The Diaspora were the several forced migrations of the Jews from Judea starting in the 8th – 6th century BCE with the destruction of the first temple and gradual expulsion of the population into slavery; the Diaspora came to a climax in 135 CE with Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Romans. Since that time Jews have lived in all corners of the world and assimilated into European and Arab societies with periodical instances of anti-Semitism.
With that being said the Diaspora of the Jews from Judea did not mean that the land was barren and uninhabited; neighboring populations moved into the area and started to make lives for themselves. Not only was migration a factor, but there was also a local population to Judea that was not Jewish while the Jews lived in Judea. The terrain of Judea kept it from becoming a massive center for culture in the Middle East, but cities like Jerusalem and Joppa remained relevant and continued to survive. Agriculture was a major business in the region as well as trading. Tourism from the pilgrimages to Jerusalem and through the area to Mecca and Medina brought income in as well.
One of the major reasons that the area of Judea never fell into complete obscurity was that Jerusalem is the most holy city for Jews and Christians, and the third most holy city in Islam; the three major monotheistic religions of the past and today. Over the span of time many people paid in blood to control this land, the shipping lanes, trade, and everything else that goes with it. Judea is also at the cross roads between Asia and Africa making it a vital area to control or at the least to have as an ally.
So the second part of the statement we need to analyze is that “Neither is Palestine nor are the Palestinian people a historical entity and thus have no claim to a nation state on the territory. The land is therefore free for the Jews who have a long-standing historical claim to the land.” The following essay will evaluate each side of the argument, from the Jewish Israeli point of view as well as the Arab Palestinian side.
The Case for Jewish Israel
There are many ways in which one can defend the Israeli control of some former Palestinian territories as well as the concept of the state as a whole. The first issue I would like to discuss is the most logical and the “horse before the cart” so to speak and discusses the creation of Israel. Does the nation of Israel have the right to exist?
As mentioned above, the Jewish people have a historical connection to the land Judea. As Charles Krauthhammer said:
"Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store."(1)
The Jews were once the ancient inhabitants to the land today known as Israel. Ancient history dates the Jews in Israel at the latest 1208 B.C.E when a reference to their defeat to the Egyptians is wrote in Hieroglyphics. (2) If this was one of the first mentioning’s of the Jews, they would have obviously had to have been there before hand to be worth mentioning in the Egyptian chronicles of war. The Bible and Torah date the settling by Abraham and his descendants of the land called Israel in between the 17th – 6th (3) century B.C.E. Once the Jews fled Egypt, they remained in this land till the year 135 C.E when the final blow of the Diaspora sent the remaining remnants of the Jewish population into slavery with Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Romans. This ancient connection to the land is one of the reasons the Jewish people have a claim to Israel.
Another reason the Jews can call Israel their rightful home is the mass wave of migrations back to Israel that have occurred over time. At the beginning of the Zionist movement the Jews were without a homeland to call their own; the concept of nationality was in its infancy and Jews all over the world wished to have a land that they could call their own. Judaism is different from most religions in the sense that Jews see themselves in the same manner that an American or Syrian sees themselves. The Ottoman Empire, the ruler of Palestine from 1516 CE – 1917 CE were friendly to Jews and encouraged them to migrate to their kingdom while protecting them during times of Western anti-Semitism such as the Spanish Inquisition. The policy of the Ottoman Empire created a healthy environment where Jews and Muslims lived at peace. Jews have been re-migrating back to Israel since the early 1800’s. Most of these early settlements ended in failure which was the result of the immigrants being unfamiliar with the area, crops that should be raised, no tolerance to local diseases, and no employment opportunities. The first Aliya which occurred from 1881 – 1882 and attracted estimated 25,000 – 35,000 Jewish immigrants. The First Aliya was the first massive group of immigrants who came to the land of Palestine with the idea of turning the land into a national home for Jews. Since this time massive amounts of Jews have migrated to Israel, some have succeeded whereas some have failed.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 is a treaty that is commonly used to defend Jewish Israel. The Balfour Agreement was a formal statement of policy in which the British government stated that:
“His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” (4)
Although many have argued over time whether a “home for Jewish people” meant a Jewish state of Israel or just a place for them to migrate to; the intent of the document is unclear and will probably never be settled one way or the other. I believe that the best way to look at the Balfour Declaration is to not use it solely as a reason for a Jewish Israel, but a factor in a long list defending a Jewish Israel.
Another aspect that needs to be taken into effect is United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine. On November 29th, 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 nations not voting, in favor of a Partition Plan that created the State of Israel. This resolution called for the end of the British Mandate of Palestine and the creation of two separate states in Palestine; one state under Jewish control and one state under Arab control and was to take effect by August 1st 1948. Also under this resolution the areas of Bethlehem and Jerusalem would be under special international protection. This resolution was sought to address two sides to an argument, the Arab Palestinian and the Zionist movements. This was within several months of the Partition of India / Pakistan so this was not exactly a revolutionary concept. The following is an excerpt from Resolution 181 (II):
“Part I: Section A: Issue 3; Independent Arab and Jewish States and the special International Regime of the City of Jerusalem, set forth in part III of this plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948. The boundaries of the Arab State, the Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem shall be as described in parts II and III below” (5.)
The British relinquished their temporary control over Palestine in 1948 as planned. Nearly as soon as the British pulled out of Israel war broke out between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. The war soon was between much of the Arab world and Israel as other Arab nations came to the aid of the Palestinians. The nations of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria, Egypt, and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan fought; as well as several different groups like the Holy War Army, the Arab Liberation Army, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The war was relatively quick and within a year an armistice was signed between Israel and her neighbors. Armistice was signed with Egypt on February 24th, Lebanon on March 23rd, Jordan on April 3rd, and Syria on July 20th.
With the fore mentioned information this brings me to my last case for the Jewish state of Israel; “to the victor belong the spoils” (6.) This very phrase was coined by New York Senator William L. Marcy in 1831 and embodies a vital aspect of human behavior in regards to military conquest. The Jewish state has fought many wars with its Arab neighbors; the results in many of these wars were treaties which recognized Israel as a state. The following are some of these military engagements and what was achieved in its treaties.
1948 War for Independence (1948 Arab – Israeli War)
The basic overview of this war was listed earlier; peace was made with various Arab nations and Israel on different dates but the result of the war was clearly in favor of the victorious Jewish state. Before the 1948 Arab – Israeli war the land that the U.N. proposed for the state of Israel constituted at a 50 / 50 split between Arab and Jewish land; after the war the land was divided at 70 / 30 (7) rate in favor of the Jews. The cease fire lines of this war are commonly referred to as the “Green Line.” The land which is today called the West Bank would be under control of the Jordanian state and Gaza would be under the control of Egypt. Jerusalem would be split into the East and West, with Arabs ruling the West bank and the Jewish state ruling the East Bank.
The Sinai War
The peace between Israel and her neighbors was very short lived. Israel was under constant attack on her borders and goods traveling to Israel often never made it there. The Straights of Tiran were also blockaded by the Egyptian navy cutting Israel of from the Red Sea and transit over Egyptian airspace towards Israel was forbidden.
In July of 1956 President Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and all of its assets. Britain and France were the primary stock holders of the canal, and responded to the nationalization by sending military vessels to the Mediterranean Sea. In October of 1956 Israel attacked Egypt and within four days Israeli forces reached the Suez Canal. British and French troops also aided Israel but faced international pressure from the U.S, the U.S.S.R, and the U.N and they eventually pulled out their land forces. In March of 1957 Israel withdrew from the Sinai with the arrival of U.N troops. Although no real territory was ultimately gained from this war by Israel, their shipping lanes where now open and they gained a boost in moral from the relatively quick success.
The 1967 War (The Six Days War)
The 1967 Six Days War was the third major war in the Arab – Israeli conflict. This war came about for several different reasons; U.N troops were expelled from the Sinai Peninsula by Egypt and again, the port of Eilat was blockaded. Under international law this is a casus belli, (8) or act of war on the part of the Egyptians. The war was chiefly fought by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt on the Arab side against Israel. The other Arab states as well as international powers played smaller parts to try to influence the outcome.
The 1967 Six Days War broke out on June 5, 1967; Israel was faced with a force of approximately 465,000 lands forces, over 2,880 in tanks, and 810 aircraft. Without going into much detail of this war like the others previously mentioned, the war was very quick and only lasted, 6 days (as the name alludes to.) When all the smoke had cleared Israel captured an additional 42,000 square miles of territory (7) gaining the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai from Egypt; Israel also accomplished this with much fewer causalities than its Arab counterparts.
The War of Attrition
The War of Attrition was a limited war, it wasn’t a cold war but it never really escalated to full on battle. This war was a war composed of terroristic tactics, counter insurgency, and small skirmishes. The war started after the 1967 Six Days War and continued up to 1970. In many ways it could be seen as a continuation of the Six Days War since there seemed to be virtually no stop in the violence between both sides. Hostilities continued until August of 1970 and ended with a cease fire and the borders remaining the same. It is hard to say exactly how many casualties there where but the effects of the War of Attrition were felt more by the Arab fighters in regards to casualties.
The October War (the Yom Kippur War)
The October War or The Yom Kippur War took place from October 6 thru the 25th. Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal and established beachheads on the Israeli held East Bank. At the same time this was happening in the Sinai Syrian forces pushed through territory lost in the 1967 Six Days War. All of these things happened on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish year.
Within two days Israeli forces were fully deployed and blocked Egyptian and Syrian advances; by the time of the cease fire on the 25th Israel had already gained most of the territory that it lost and like in previous wars, gained more territory against their aggressors. Again official figures that were published in regards to casualties are not exactly reliable but it is believed that the Arab side suffered far more causalities than the Israeli side.
First Lebanon War
In July of 1981 the PLO who was located in southern Lebanon opened a heavy artillery barrage on territory within northern Israel. A cease fire took effect on July 24th of 1981 but terrorist attacks continued against Israeli targets. The 1982 Lebanon War began on June 6th 1982 when Israeli forces invaded southern Lebanon. The final straw that drew Israel into war was the assassination attempt on Shlomo Argov, Israel’s foreign ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Lebanon then and now is a much divided country. Some of the military aspects in Lebanon came on the side of Israel whereas some fought against Israel. Syria has long had an interest in Lebanon and views the country as a key ally and buffer in between them and Israel. The war ended in September of 1982; the PLO withdrew from southern Lebanon and a buffer zone was created between the two countries to help prevent the two nations from warring against each other.
Second Lebanon War
The Second Lebanon War was fought between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. The conflict started on July 12th, 2006 and ended with a U.N brokered cease fire on August 14th. The engagement didn’t formally end until September 8th when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon.
The Second Lebanon War started in much the same way the first one did. Rocket attacks came from southern Lebanon and rained down on the cities of Zar’it and Haifa. When two Israeli soldiers were captured by Hezbollah, Israel crossed into Lebanese territory trying to re-capture the prisoners. The war ended with the armistice and was probably the most indecisive war that Israel has fought in; who won is hard to say. Israel had fewer casualties but it was still unsuccessful in bring any sort of peace to southern Lebanon.
The Case for the Palestinians
Although it is debatable where the current Palestinian people came from and how they fit into the early history of Israel but the question should be asked is this issue even relevant? Whether the Palestinians were in Judea at the same time as the Jews or were transplants after the Diaspora, they called Palestine their home for almost two millennia. The atrocity of the Jewish Diaspora is a shame, a tragedy even; but is it any different than the tragedy laid on the people of Palestine when they were ripped by force from their homeland? One may say that too much time has passed to give back land that was unfairly taken from the Palestinians, I would argue that not enough time has passed to look at this issue in reminiscence; the plight of the Palestinians is alive today! As long as Palestinians live in tent cities in neighboring nations, as long as inch by inch Israel claims what little is left of Palestine, as long as Palestinians are considered second class citizens in their own home land this issue is not of the past but very much of the present.
The first topic to look at would be who has more of a historical right to the land. It is true that Jews lived in the land of Judea almost two millennia ago and were forced out of the area by slavery and persecution; it is terrible that the Diaspora happened but why should the Palestinians be punished for something they didn’t even do that occurred almost 2,000 years later? There seems to be a flaw in the logic of claiming a land to be your home that you have not known personally since 135 CE. Will Native American tribes ever receive all their land back, what about Australian Aborigines or the Maori of New Zealand? The answer to that question is no because time has moved on, the native people who were forced to move are dead and so are their direct descendants; it would be unreasonable for Native American tribes to reclaim the Island of Manhattan; they have never known that land to be their own in their lifetime or even in recent memory. The same cases can be made in New Zealand or Australia or any land for that matter where the native peoples are many centuries removed from what was once theirs.
Palestinians on the other hand are not centuries removed from Palestine; it has only been 60 plus years since they suffered their Diaspora. Many of the Palestinians today who live in slums of the West Bank or Gaza, who live in make shift houses in Jordan or on the other side of the world in Chile or America may have lived in and owned property in what is now modern day Israel. To make the argument that Jews had a claim to Palestine after 2,000 years of exile; do Palestinians have the same right to the land or at least the ability to live in harmony with the Jews after 60 years of exile?
The statement of “A land without a people for a people without a land” is wrong to speak mildly and egregious to common sense to say the least. Palestine was not a land without a people. The land which is Palestine has had human inhabitants in it since man became man, however you believe it happened. The first Prime Minister of Israel Ben-Gurion even admitted that Palestine was not empty and went so far as to say the following as early as 1918 in an article:
"Palestine is not an empty country . . . on no account must we injure the rights of the inhabitants." (9)
If Ben-Gurion believed this as well as other Jews of his time then why did the Zionist movement portray Palestine as a barren wasteland? The truth of the matter is that if one was to admit the existence to the world community of the Palestinian people how could a Zionist in good character defend the creation of the state of Israel? The answer to that question is because then you couldn’t defend the uprooting of a native population in good conscience. The Zionists fabricated a lie that Palestinians were almost non-existent, that open land was abundant in the region and that Jews were the largest demographic of the area. The truth of the matter is that all of those statements are totally and completely false.
Another major issue in the Arab – Israeli Conflict is what were the Palestinians supposed to do if Jews do have a historical claim to the land; where were they expected to go? Jews who migrated to Israel where not roaming around the world lost for 2,000 years, they had established themselves all over the world. There were large Jewish populations all over Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East that had assimilated well with the society around them. To take a land that is inhabited with people and turn around and hand it over to people who already have land, are you not creating a refugee issue? The Jewish people have suffered a great deal over their long history but are we being fair to reward Jews land at the expense of another people? If one was naïve enough to believe that it is fair to give the Jews Palestine then what are the Palestinians expected to do; doesn’t this just create a domino effect of refugees? Again, what the Jewish people suffered over time is truly wrong, but punishing the Palestinians just makes a bad situation even worse.
Treaties were made on behalf of the Palestinians to help secure their home land. These treaties were later ignored by the West and the Zionist movement was able to establish itself. The first example of the west reneging on their word was with the Husayn – McMahon Letters. These letters were written from July 1915 – January 1916 (7) and were the correspondence between Sharif Husayn of Mecca and Sir Henry McMahon the British High Commissioner in Cairo. In these series of letters several things were wanted from each side. McMahon wanted the Arab peoples to rise up and revolt against the Ottoman Empire who ruled the majority of the Arab world at the time and in return Husayn wanted to establish an empire for himself. Through these series of letters it was established that if the Arabs would revolt against the Ottomans the Arabs would then receive the backing of the British Empire. A tentative kingdom was drawn out for Sharif Husayn and in this tentative plan included Palestine.
The reason that the British wanted an Arab revolt was because of WWI. During WWI the Ottomans and the British were fighting against each other and the war was turning into a stalemate. If the Ottomans were to suffer civil unrest this very unrest hoped the British would be enough to weaken the Central powers and help bring the war to an end. In the end the English failed to keep their word and the Sykes – Picot Agreement and nulled the vows in the McMahon – Husayn letters.
While researching this essay I have been pulled in various different directions. I can see where each side can make a case for themselves. As for a solution to the problem I am not sure if I have one. I think a lot of people have drawn up possible peace deals over the year; some of these deals have been good, some bad, and some in between. Drawing up a peace plan is a good start, but peace cannot be achieved until both parties want peace. The one thing I am sure of is that the conservative base of the Israeli, as well as the Palestinian side are not yet ready to negotiate, until this changes only small steps can be made in bringing a lasting peace to the region.
Orlinsky, Harry Meyer. Ancient Israel. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1954. Print. (3)
Smith, Charles. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. (7)