I posted this brief history in response to a question about Israel, “Who is Occupying Whose Land?” I was then asked to post it as a blog because it might be helpful to others discussing this issue. In my opinion, that answer is a little more complicated than one might first believe. This article, which brings us through the last major exodus of Palestinians, is part of a series on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I will start by saying that we do not really need to determine who is occupying whose land. There is enough room for everyone if people can overcome fears and prejudices. Therein lies to secret to peace in the Holy Land.
The region of the world we now call Israel has been the subject of a disputed claim of entitlement for thousands of years. For the Jewish people, the land of Israel is the promise land given to Moses and the Israelites by G-d around 1250 BCE. Israel did not always remain under the control of the Jewish people though there has never been a time when Jews were not in Israel since the recorded first arrival. Proof of the Jews in Israel has been found in archealogical digs dating back to 900 BCE.
In 578 BCE Israel was invaded by the Babylonians and came under the control of the Persians. The Jews were taken into captivity and removed to Babylon where there remained until the reign of Cyrus the Great, who returned Israel to Jews and gave them passage from Babylon to Israel. Alexander the Great conquered this Israel in 333 BCE which brought it under the government of the Greeks. In the year 165 BCE the Jews reclaimed Judea though within one hundred years the land had been conquered by the Romans. During this period the second temple was built in Jerusalem. In 70 CE the Jews revolted but were subdued and during this revolt the second temple was destroyed. In 133 CE during another revolt the Jews were banished from the land and taken into slavery. This was the beginning of the modern Jewish diaspora.
In the year 638 CE the Muslims conquered Jerusalem. Approximately 20 years later Omar, the second caliph of Islam, built the al-Aqsa mosque which is considered the third holiest place in all Islamdom. Other than in the years 1099-1187, the brief period when Jerusalem came under control of the Crusaders, the area we today call Israel remained under Muslim control until the 20th Century when it was reclaimed by the Jews. However, even during the period it was under Muslim control there were always Jews in Israel.
In the late 1800’s European anti-semitism was on the increase. Jews were subject to various forms of persecution and were often deprived of basic opportunities of life. As persecution became increasingly intense a decision was made that the time had come to reclaim the land originally given to the Jews at the time of Moses. Impetus for this migration was largely a response to a book by Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl, written in 1896, called Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). In light of this desire to secure a Jewish state, Jews began migrating from Europe to Palestine (today known as Israel) and by the beginning of the 20th century there was an estimated 25,000 Jews living in Palestine. As 1915 approached, that number had increased to over 70,000. These early immigrants became known as the Zionists. In 1917 British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Zionist leader Lord Rothschild which became known as the Balfour Declaration. In this letter, Balfour assured the Zionists that Britain would support the establishment of Palestine as the national home of the Jewish people.
By 1935 the number of Jews in Palestine had reached 300,000 which was nearly half the number of the native Palestinians living in the region. Some Palestinians welcomed the Jews and saw this as an opportunity to enrich their culture and commerce and to benefit from the Jewish connections to Europe. Others however, who did not wish to see the Jews moving into their homeland, sought to prevent them from immigrating to Palestine. Some believed for religious and others for ethnic reasons that the Jews were not entitled to live in the land that had been the home of Islam for over a thousand years. It is here that the seed of disharmony was planted hand in hand with ethnic discrimination in both the Arabs and the Jews.
On the side of the Jews at this time there were the secular Zionists and the religious Zionists. Many of the secular Zionists felt that the land had to be cleansed of all non-Jews in order to avoid the threat of persecution that was experienced in Europe. And many religious Zionists were of the belief that the Oral Torah precluded the possibility that non-Jews should be permitted to live in the reformed land of Israel.From 1920 until 1947 Britain had governed Palestine. In an effort to remove itself from the enigma of governing such a tumultuous region, Britain surrendered its control to the United Nations in 1947. In an effort to address the conflict, the United Nations proposed two separate nations, Palestine and Israel. Under this plan 56.47% of Palestine was to be given to the Jews and 43.53% was to be given to the Arabs. Jerusalem was to be treated as international territory. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Jews were fleeing Europe to immigrate to Israel.
Over time Arab resistance to the immigration of Jews began to increase. Much of the Arab resistance to Jewish immigration was the result of the actions of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammed Amin al-Huseini. Al-Huseini who was born in the 1890’s. He was the son of the Mufti of Jerusalem who was a member of one of the most powerful families of Palestine. Muhammed Amin al-Huseini studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo and the Istanbul School of Administration. He quickly became known as an extremist whose instructions were to slaughter all Jews. The Palestinian High Commissioner from Britain was heavily influenced by anti-Zionists in Britain and he appointed Muhammed Amin al-Huseini to serve as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1922, despite his known hatred and violence toward Jews. As time passed the Grand Mufti became extremely powerful. He issued an edict called “Izbah Al-Yahud” which means “slaughter the Jews.” But it was even worse for Arabs who would not support his plan. They were tortured and killed by the thousands until there was almost no one left who opposed the Mufti except those who remained silent for their own safety. With the support of Britain, Muhammed Amin al-Huseini was simply too powerful for anyone to oppose and his murdering of the Jews grew increasingly difficult to prevent.
In April of 1936 six very powerful Arab men formed an organization called the “Arab Higher Committee.” This organization was created to oppose the immigration of Jews into Palestine and to oppose those in Britain who had begun to turn their support toward the Zionists. In that year Arab revolts broke out all over Palestine and many Jews were killed along with Arabs who had befriended the Jews. The Grand Mufti joined forces with Adolph Hitler in 1937 appealing to Hitler’s own hatred of Jews. Although the record is unclear it has been alleged that the Grand Mufti was an influential figure in persuading Hitler to begin the concentration and extermination of the Jews in Europe in what we today call the “holocaust.” The plan was that if Hitler succeeded in Europe he would take his armies to Palestine to kill all the Jews there. Eventually, the “Arab Higher Committee” was declared a terrorist organization by Britain after assassinating the British Inspector General of Palestine and killing scores of both Arabs and Jews.
The Grand Mufti Muhammed Amin al-Huseini was forced into exile in Syria then in 1941 he moved to Berlin where he worked closely with Adolph Hitler in the concentration and extermination the Jews. Muhammed Amin al-Huseini never returned to Palestine after his 1937 departure and he died in 1974 in exile from Palestine which by then had become known as Israel. During his life he was in strong opposition to the Hashemite family of Jordan and in 1951, he arranged the assassination of King Abdullah of Jordan because he had given the title of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to another person. In 1969 the organization of Muhammed Amin al-Huseini, which became known in 1964 as the Palestine Liberation Organization, was taken over by his nephew Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini, better known as Yasser Arafat. Until his death Yasser Arafat still referred to his uncle as “our hero al-Huseini.”
Jewish forces and Arab forces were in constant clash with the Israeli forces showing the greatest success. On April 9, 1948 the Irgun and Lehi malitia groups massacred hundreds of Arabs at the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. On May 14, 1948 Israel officially declared itself to be a nation and the Declaration became effective on May 15, 1948. On that same day, armies from five Arab nations, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq attacked Israel but were defeated. Subsequent to this confrontation, Egypt retained control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan retained control of the area today called the West Bank. Tension between Israel and the Arab nations continued to grow until June 5, 1967 at which time a major military conflict ensued which became known as the Six Day War because it only lasted six days. The attack was intended to be a secret attack by the Arab forces against Israel but Israel learned of the plan and issued a preemptive strike against Egypt disabling the Egyptian Air Force. By the end of the conflict Israel had seized control of Gaza and Sinai from Egypt and Golan Heights from Syria in the north. Jordanian forces had also been forced out of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As a result of the Six Day War, Israel’s territory of control nearly doubled and the United Nations estimated that over 500,000 Arabs had been displaced from their homes.
Copyright 2008 DW Duke
I have interviewed Palestinians and Jews who lived in Israel at the time of first exodus of Arabs. There is dispute as to what actually took place. Some say that the Palestinians left voluntarily out of fear and others say they were forced out at gun point. We will probably never know. But in my view they should not have been forced to leave regardless of the motivation. The fact remains that they have left and whatever is done to resolve this situation must look forward and not backward.
The United Nations has proposed a two nation state which has been the theme of all peace efforts between the Palestinians and the Jews. Indeed, Oslo was designed to implement the two nation plan. Oslo and the two nation plan is doomed from the start because it is based on religious and ethnic discrimination. In the next segment of this series, we will see how Oslo violates numerous provisions of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The secret to peace in the Holy Land lies a deep change in attitudes of the people. It is only by overcoming religious and ethnic prejudices that the crisis in Palestine and Israel will be permanently resolved. It ironic that the fight over who is entitled to the Holy Land, the land of the three major religons who share the same G-d, is based upon religious and ethnic discrimination and prejudice. What do you suppose G-d, whose primary message in all three religions is love and forgiveness, would say about the hatred and prejudice that spills so much human blood on this Holy Land?