Roots of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians
March 15, 2002 | Page 8
THE MEDIA regularly characterize the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as an endless "cycle of violence," caused by centuries of mutual hatred. For every atrocity committed by one side, the argument goes, there's an equally brutal one committed by the other.
So it's no surprise that many people respond to the violence by condemning both sides--hoping at best that some outside force, like the U.S. government, will impose a solution. But this ignores the real history of the region.
For more than half a century, Israel has been the oppressor of Palestinians--and the U.S. has backed that oppression at every step. As ERIC RUDER shows, the only way to understand the conflict is in the context of the barbaric injustices committed by Israel--and the Palestinians' resistance to oppression.
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FOR 1,300 years, Palestine was inhabited by a Muslim Arab majority, living side by side with Jews and Christians. In 1882, Palestine had 500,000 Arabs and 24,000 Jews--a direct contradiction of the Israeli myth that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land."
But in 1947, when the United Nations (UN) partitioned Palestine, it granted 55 percent of the territory to the Jewish minority, which made up only 30 percent of the population. Nearly 400,000 Arabs--a number nearly equal to the number of Jews--were to live in the Jewish area of Palestine. The remaining 725,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews were to live in the other 45 percent of Palestine.
The partition plan wasn't at all fair, but it sailed through the UN, backed by the U.S., all the European countries and the former USSR. The chief reason for U.S. and European support was that Israel's founders had long promised to be an outpost for their interests in the region, in exchange for their financial and military support.
"Should Britain encourage Jewish settlement [in Palestine] we could have in 20 to 30 years a million Jews out there, perhaps more," wrote Jewish nationalist leader Chaim Weizmann to the Manchester Guardian. "They would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal."
But as unfair as it was, the UN partition plan didn't satisfy the Israeli thirst for land. "After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine," said David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.
A secret report, known as the Koenig Plan, went further: "We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population."
During the 1948 war to found Israel, the Koenig Plan was put into effect. Israeli paramilitaries demolished Palestinian villages and carried out massacres, driving 750,000 Palestinians from their land. At the village of Deir Yassin, commandos "lined men, women and children up against walls and shot them," according to a Red Cross report.
Nearly 500 Palestinian villages existed in the territory that came under Israeli occupation after the UN partition. In the next two years, nearly 400 of these were demolished.
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APOLOGISTS FOR Israel portray the war to found the country very differently--with the Israeli David fighting a defensive battle against an Arab Goliath.
In reality, the Arab countries that supposedly rallied behind the Palestinian cause mustered a mere 15,000 troops. Israel had 30,000 frontline troops, 70,000 support personnel and Jewish paramilitary forces such as the Haganah and Irgun.
In 1967, Israel once again portrayed itself as the victim of an Arab blitzkrieg. And once again, the reality was quite different.
In the year leading up to the 1967 war, Israel made a slew of threats and provocations. Just before a meeting in Washington that might have de-escalated the conflict, Israel attacked Egypt. "We were shocked and angry as hell when the Israelis launched the surprise offensive," recalled then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
But U.S. officials didn't stay "angry" for long. Israel's rapid defeat of neighboring Arab regimes firmly convinced the U.S. that it had a worthy ally.
As the spoils of its 1967 victory, Israel occupied further territory, including the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank, 55 percent of the land and 70 percent of the water were seized and handed to Jewish settlers, who were a tiny fraction of the population. In Gaza, 2,200 settlers controlled 40 percent of the land--while 500,000 Palestinians were confined in squalid refugee camps and slums.
This background explains why the "peace" negotiations begun with the 1993 Oslo accords never had anything to do with peace. The basic framework of the Oslo accords was that Israel would give land to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in return for peace.
But the negotiations were never meant to produce a viable Palestinian state. Even the supposedly "unprecedented" offer of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak--made at Camp David in July 2000--would have returned only 21 percent of Palestine to Palestinian control. And the millions of Palestinian refugees spread across the region would have been denied the right to return to their homeland.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlements and security highways would crisscross PA territory, cutting it into isolated pieces and ultimately leaving Israeli forces with the power to shut down travel and the flow of goods at will.
In 1998--in the midst of the "peace process"--Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb recounted the story of George, who was arrested by Israeli authorities on "administrative detention, which means he had no idea what charges were being brought against him."
"His hands were cuffed behind a chair 17 hours a day for 120 days," Gottlieb wrote in the Progressive. "While he was handcuffed, George had his head covered with a sack, which was often dipped in urine or feces."
Despite the brutality, George's story isn't so unusual. "Between 1,000 and 1,500 Palestinians are arrested every month, and as many as 80 percent of those undergo this form of interrogation, which falls under the category of 'torture' by all international definitions," Gottlieb said.
This barbarism explains better than anything the roots of the Palestinian uprising--or Intifada--that began 17 months ago. During this time, more than 1,000 Palestinians and about 300 Israelis have been killed.
But even these numbers don't capture the violence suffered by Palestinians. "With no shooting from the Palestinian side, and often little or no use of tear gas to disperse the protests, Israeli soldiers have repeatedly fired live ammunition into unarmed crowds," the Village Voice reported. "Thousands of young men and boys may become permanently crippled from bullet wounds suffered during stone-throwing protests against Israeli rule."
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TO VIEW the violence of "both sides" as the same in the face of these facts is plainly wrong. But this isn't just a factual question. It makes the prospect of finding a lasting solution impossible--because if both sides are equally bad, then the only possible outcome is that both sides will go on killing each other.
But by understanding that one side is the oppressor and one side the oppressed, it's possible to see why the conflict continues--and what can be done to end it.
This is especially critical to grasp in the U.S., because American military and economic aid is central to Israel's ability to continue its repression of Palestinians--so our organizing efforts against that support can be especially effective.
The only hope for a real solution to this violence is a secular, democratic state in Palestine, where Jews and Arabs have equal rights. Without real justice for Palestinians, there can be no peace.