1. The Jewish Problem and Its “Solution”
ZIONISM is a national liberation movement, identical in most ways to other liberation movements that leftists and progressives the world over — and in virtually every case but this one — fervently support. This exceptionalism is also visible at the reverse end of the political spectrum: In every other instance, right-wingers like Patrick Buchanan oppose national liberation movements that are under the spell of Marxist delusions and committed to violent means. But they make an exception for the one that Palestinians have aimed at the Jews. The unique opposition to a Jewish homeland at both ends of the political spectrum identifies the problem that Zionism was created to solve.
The “Jewish problem” is just another name for the fact that Jews are the most universally hated and persecuted ethnic group in history. The Zionist founders believed that hatred of Jews was a direct consequence of their stateless condition. As long as Jews were aliens in every society they found themselves in, they would always be seen as interlopers, their loyalties would be suspect and persecution would follow. This was what happened to Captain Alfred Dreyfus, whom French anti-Semites falsely accused of spying and who was put on trial for treason by the French government in the 19th Century. Theodore Herzl was an assimilated, westernized Jew, who witnessed the Dreyfus frame-up in Paris and went on to lead the Zionist movement.
Herzl and other Zionist founders believed that if Jews had a nation of their own, the very fact would “normalize” their condition in the community of nations. Jews had been without a state since the beginning of the diaspora, when the Romans expelled them from Judea on the west bank of the Jordan River, some 2,000 years before. Once the Jews obtained a homeland – Judea itself seemed a logical site — and were again like other peoples, the Zionists believed anti-Semitism would wither on its poisonous vine and the Jewish problem would disappear.
Here is what happened instead.
2. The Beginnings
In the 1920s, among their final acts as victors in World War I, the British and French created the states that now define the Middle East out of the ashes of the empire of their defeated Turkish adversary. In a region that the Ottoman Turks had controlled for hundreds of years, Britain and France drew the boundaries of the new states, Syria Lebanon and Iraq. Previously, the British had promised the Jewish Zionists that they could establish a “national home” in a portion of what remained of the area, which was known as the Palestine Mandate. But in 1921 the British separated 80 percent of the Mandate, east of the Jordan, and created the Arab kingdom of “Transjordan.” It was created for the Arabian monarch King Abdullah, who had been defeated in tribal warfare in the Arabian Peninsula and lacked a seat of power. Abudllah’s tribe was Hashemite, while the vast majority of Abdullah’s subjects were Palestinian Arabs.
What was left of the original Palestine Mandate – between the west bank of the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea – had been settled by Arabs and Jews. Jews, in fact, had lived in the area continuously for 3,700 years, even after the Romans destroyed their state in Judea in AD 70. Arabs became the dominant local population for the first time in the 7th Century AD as a result of the Muslim invasions. The Arabs were largely nomads who had no distinctive language or culture to separate them from other Arabs. In all the time since, they had made no attempt to create an independent Palestinian state west or east of the Jordan and none was ever established.
In 1948, at the request of the Jews who were living in Palestine, the United Nations voted to partition the remaining quarter of the original Mandate to make a Jewish homeland possible. Under the partition plan, the Arabs were given the Jews’ ancient home in Judea and Samaria – now known as the West Bank. The Jews were allotted three slivers of disconnected land along the Mediterranean and the Sinai desert. They were also given access to their holy city of Jerusalem, but as an island cut off from the slivers, surrounded by Arab land and under international control. Sixty percent of the land allotted to the Jews was the Negev desert. Out of these unpromising parts, the Jews created a new state, Israel, in 1948. At this time, the idea of a Palestinian nation, or a movement to create one did not even exist.
At the moment of Israel’s birth, Palestinian Arabs lived on roughly 90 percent of the original Palestine Mandate – in Transjordan and in the UN partition area, but also in the new state of Israel itself. There were 800,000 Arabs living in Israel alongside 1.2 million Jews. At the same time, Jews were legally barred from settling in the 35,000 square miles of Palestinian Transjordan, which eventually was renamed simply “Jordan.”
The Arab population in the slivers called Israel had actually more than tripled since the Zionists first began settling the region in significant numbers in the 1880s.The reason for this increase was that the Jewish settlers had brought industrial and agricultural development with them, which attracted Arab immigrants to what had previously been a sparsely settled and economically destitute area.
If the Palestinian Arabs had been willing to accept this arrangement in which they received 90 percent of the land in the Palestine Mandate, and under which they benefited from the industry, enterprise and political democracy the Jews brought to the region, there would have been no Middle East conflict. But this was not to be.
Instead, the Arab League – representing five neighboring Arab states – declared war on Israel on the day of its creation, and five Arab armies invaded the slivers with the aim of destroying the infant Jewish state.During the fighting, according to the UN mediator on the scene, an estimated 472,000 Arabs fled their homes to escape the dangers. They planned on returning after an Arab victory and the destruction of the Jewish state.
But the Jews — many of them recent Holocaust survivors — refused to be defeated. Instead, the five Arab armies that had invaded their slivers were repelled. Yet there was no peace. Even though their armies were beaten, the Arab states were determined to carry on their campaign of destruction, and to remain formally at war with the Israeli state. After the defeat of the Arab armies, the Palestinians who lived in the Arab area of the UN partition did not attempt to create a state of their own. Instead, in 1950, Jordan annexed the entire West Bank.