last updated 12/14/2003

Joseph S., who inspired the first Israel essay, writes again on the subject of Israel and some of his points demand a response, so I offer one. He also writes at excessive length on periperhal issues so rather than have my readers read his letter first, I'll start with my response and allow readers to then scroll down and check out his words.

Mr. S starts with the lie, often put forward by the more odd-ball pro-Israel fanatics (and unworthy of Mr. S, who, for all his faults, does not come across as one of that ilk), that Palestine was empty before the Jews came. Accepting this canard is a classic psychological device: believing something is true because you want it to be true. Some Jews feel that it makes them look bad to say that they stole Palestine from the Arabs, so they therefore argue that there weren't any Arabs there. It reminds me of my Kansas grandmother telling me that it was ok that her ancestors took the land from the Indians because there weren't really very many Indians and they weren't doing anything with the land anyway. Can you say "rationalization"?

Mr. S, like many other pro-Israel polemicists, uses Mark Twain of all people as a source. Twain travelled briefly through the Middle East and said that the land of Palestine was barren and empty. Uh huh. Mark Twain, fiction writer, a reliable source justifying Zionism. That is rather funny. Even ignoring the silliness of using Twain as a source, I have to point out that Mr. S leaves out the fact that Twain also refered to "swarms of beggars" in his writing, so the emptiness must have been relative.

Using slightly more historical sources, I refer Mr. S to Benny Morris' well respected Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999), who in turn references Justin McCarthy's The Population of Palestine: Population History and Statistics of the late Ottoman Period and the Mandate (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990). According to Morris, a Professor of History at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, Palestine contained about 450,000 people in 1881, before the Zionist mission got under way. About 400,000 were Muslims, mostly Arab; another 40,000 Christians, mostly Arab; and about 20,000 were Jews. Not as full as it is now, true, but hardly empty.

Beyond using reputable historical sources, one might also use common sense.

It's common sense to ask that if Palestine was empty of Arabs, why are there so many there now. It is absurd of Mr. S to suggest that the region suddenly acquired a massive influx of Arabs just because the Jews arrived. Picture an empty desert. Suddenly the Jews sashay in. Arabs in neighboring countries say to themselves "Say, there must be something to this place! Achmed, let's load up the pickup truck and head for Tel Aviv!" Doesn't sound very likely, does it?

Mr. S asks how can I suggest that the Jews were planning to take the Arabs' homes? Well, they knew the Arabs were there, and they knew they (the Jews) wanted a home in the same place, so how exactly did they hope to get a homeland? By osmosis?

There is plenty of evidence that the Zionists knew in advance that the Arabs would be a problem. Morris quotes Zionist leader Theodore Herzl saying: "We must expropriate gently...We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country." Gently, but still expropriate. And the actual process was hardly gentle. Is Mr. S familiar with the story of Deir Yassin? An Arab village wiped out, men, women, and children killed, all as a means of scaring many more Arabs out of the country during the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli War. The plan worked. (And yes, this was not official Israeli policy, and many honorable Israeli Jews were horrified by what happened at Deir Yassin. But it still happened.)

Next, Mr. S says he thinks that a people have a right to a country. Perhaps, although many persecuted peoples do not have such countries and are unlikely to have them in the future. The United States has been very selective in which peoples rights it chooses to support. For example, the nationalist aspirations of the Kurds living in Turkey, a group who are certainly persecuted, haven't been defended by American politicians. (We support Kurds who happen to live in Iraq, but that's just to annoy Saddam Hussein.) Even if, for the sake of argument, I grant the Jews' right to a homeland, how can I support their right to take it at the expense of another people? Sure, I know, the usual twin responses are: (1) it's not really an Arab homeland since they only arrived here recently (a lie), or (2) the Arabs have lots of other countries that they can go to. Semi-true, but a rather weak argument. One might as well argue that we should empty England to make room for the Kurds because the English have plenty of other English speaking countries they can go to. What if the English don't want to go? What if the other English speaking countries don't want to take them in? This is the predicament of the Palestinians.

Any sane and open-minded observer cannot deny these facts:

1 - The Zionist Jews (not all Jews) wanted a homeland in a place where they were a tiny minority of the population.

2 - They knew there were Arabs there.

3 - They knew that something would have to be done about this "Arab problem."

There are arguments one could offer in defense of the Zionists. There is the very real fact of vicious anti-Semitism in Europe. There is the fuzzy-minded thinking of some Zionist settlers, who didn't actually plan a conquest, but who just tried to pretend the problem would be "solved". Some settlements, particularly the leftish kibbutz, tried to get along with their new Arab neighbors. And many Zionists seemed to truly believe that they could give Arabs a respected place in this new, Jewish, state. But we can't get away from the ugly fact that the Jews went to grab a homeland that wasn't theirs.

Just like the Pilgrims and the Puritans and the Virginia colonists. And just like the Israelis, we Americans face a similar, if far less pressing, problem. In a just world, we shouldn't have been allowed to steal the Indian's land, but we did, and that's done. Now we owe it to them to make the best possible moral deal given the impossibility of us all packing up our suitcases and leaving the United States.

So now the Israelis owe it to the Palestinians to give them what can be given. I don't ask them to give up their own new homeland, but they need to let the Palestinians have some decent piece of land to call their own. And I deplore any attempt to deny history or historical crimes in an attempt to justify current practices. Of all the things Mr. S wrote in his letter, this is the one I find the most abhorrent.

As for Mr. S's suggestion that most of the violence comes from the Arab side, does he know what the casualty figures are in the current intifada? According to a Thomas Friedman article (which I attach at the bottom of this page), more than 700 Israelis and 2000 Palestinians have been killed. That's about a 3 to 1 ratio.

Of course suicide bombing is wrong. But so is firing missiles into crowded apartment buildings, as the Israeli army has done. So is bulldozing buildings because they belong to suspected Hamas members. So is firing bullets at children throwing stones. Are they all equivalently wrong? I don't know. But until both sides admit that there is guilt to spare for all, peace will be very difficult to achieve. Or maybe impossible. I refer you again to Thomas Friedman's article at the end of this page. I'm no big fan of his but I think he paints a fairly accurate picture of possible futures as well as condemning the kind of Israeli violence which just inspires further Palestinian violence (and vice versa).

Mr. S. suggests that Arabs as a people don't really want peace. Does Mr. S understand how twisted this sounds? He condemns an entire people as universally opposed to peace. Is he somehow suggesting the Arabs are inherently hateful and unreasonable. Not some Arabs, or Arab leaders, but all Arabs. Mr. S goes on to "double dare" me to find a site where Arabs agree "Jews have been subjected to persecution, we understand why they need a country, let them have their country and let us work together for the betterment of all." That exact wording may be a bit difficult to get, but if Mr. S. (and others) want some web sites that are inspirational in their attempt to bridge hostilities between Arab and Jew, I suggest he check out: MidEastWeb and Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace. I'm sure there are many more sites, these are just the two I picked up in a brief Google search. Which is not to say I don't think Mr. S's point, late in the letter, that there are not enough Arabs working for peace is invalid. He's right, as a number of Arab commentators have themselves agreed. The Arab world could and should be doing much more than it is to advance the cause of peace. There are stronger peace movements in Israel than there are in the Arab states.

Mr. S suggests that part of the problem is that Arab states, unlike Israel, are not democracies. I strongly agree. But I will also point out that Israel is not a perfect democracy, and it is getting worse. The millions of Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories are not allowed to vote. Israeli Arabs can vote but are shunned in political coalitions by other Israeli parties, making them political second class citizens. I think Thomas Friedman may be right when he suggests that Israeli democracy is currently in danger. Mr. S says that "One current issue in Israeli politics is whether two Arabs who want to allow all Arabs the right of return to Israel should be allowed to run." I am amazed that this is an issue at all. A committee of Israeli parties forbids two men from running for office because of their political opinions? This is indeed a troubled democracy. (Luckily the Israeli Supreme Court overruled the committee.)

By implication, Mr. S, you seem to think it acceptable that the two Arab politicians be excluded because they may advocate a Palestinian right of return. Why is this so evil? Here is one of the deepest conflicts inherent in the Israeli experiment: Is Israel a Jewish state or a democracy? Right now it is both, sort of. But current demographics suggest future difficulties. What would happen if all Palestinian violence ceased immediately? Would Israel allow the West Bank, along with its Jewish settlements, to become independent? Or would that be too threatening to the Jewish state's safety and borders? Would they declare the West Bank and Gaza to be a part of Israel? But if that happens, current demographic trends say that Arabs will soon outnumber Jews in the region. They could democratically vote Israel out of existence. Will Israelis allow that? Perhaps they need to start imposing some kind of eugenics program for Arab families.

Mr. S says "You simply don't understand how critically important it is to have a homeland." Why so important? Do I have a homeland? I am ethnically German and Jewish but culturally American (to my grandmother's lasting dismay). By your definition of homeland, it seems as if I should return to my ethnic roots in either Germany or Israel (strange thought). Does everyone need to live in a special racially pure homeland? No Jews in America, no Lapps in Finland, no Karen in Myanmar, no Ainu in Japan, no Sikhs in India, get my point. Many people lack a homeland. Sometimes this leaves them vulnerable to murder and mayhem. Many people with a homeland are also vulnerable to murder and mayhem. I think the blind nationalist drive for homeland is often more of a problem than a solution. Look how much it's done for the Germans. The Jews right to a homeland has less meaning to me than the right of one Palestinian child to receive decent medical care. Or one Jewish child, or American child, and so on. The rights of one people should not trump the rights of another, or be allowed to trample over the rights of any individuals.

I am not saying there are any easy answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I do think that any solution requires honesty on both sides. It requires suppressing one's own prejudices and paranoia. I don't think Mr. S, and those who think like him, are truly being open-minded and honest. I encourage them to challenge their assumptions.

For a final example, I offer this quote from Mr. S: "As for Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, this visit had been cleared with the Moslem authorities, the Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews and the Infatada had been planned in advance of his visit." All the reliable reports I've read say that the Muslim authorities protested the visit and that many Israeli officials expected trouble. Take this report from the Los Angeles Times:
Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzhaki recalled in an interview Wednesday that he and Vilk met with the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, days before the visit and agreed that there would be trouble if Sharon went through with it.
After all, Yitzhaki said, "it is the most sensitive place in the world."
But only Barak could have stopped Sharon's tour, Yitzhaki said.
"How do you say no to 15 members of the Knesset?" Yitzhaki said. "How do you say that you shouldn't go to the Temple Mount, not today and not another date?"
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright subsequently issued a statement saying it was Sharon's visit that "caused these tensions."
The Temple Mount is holy for both Jews and Muslims, although I sincerely doubt Sharon went there for religious reasons. As for the suggestion that the intifada had been planned before his visit, I am curious how Mr. S knows this. Does he have a hidden source inside the Palestinian Authority? All the sources I have read blamed Sharon for triggering the events with his reckless tromp through the Mount. Certainly his visit served no purpose other than to reassert Israeli claims to have suzeraintity over the Mount, and thereby to excite Muslim anger. (Remember, there have been attempts in the past to blow up the Al Aqsa mosque by Israeli extremists, and some Israeli politicians speak openly of tearing down the Muslim mosque and rebuilding the ancient temple of the Jews.)

From: "Mr. Joseph S.
To: "Carl"
Subject: Re: Israel

Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003


I took my son to Kansas City last summer to see a baseball game. While there we went to the Negro Baseball League Museum. I was reading an article written in the early 1900s when Clark Griffith was looking at some Cuban baseball players. The author wrote that it was important to find out whether the players were Negro (small n in the original) or Spanish, for while as "Negroes could sing in minstrel shows, but certainly not in opera, so they could barnstorm but not play in the Major Leagues." I pointed out to my son that some amazingly ignorant things could be written, then repeated as if they were really true and ultimately accepted as gospel. I told him that it was his job as a student to question all the purported facts that were thrown at him. The same is true of the proprietor of a web site. You say that Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th essentially targeted the homes of the Arabs. Upon what do you base that statement? Mark Twain was there and wrote that the land was vacant, that there was nobody there. Charles Doughty visited at the same time, wrote a book called "Travel in Arabia Deserta" and said the same thing. The land was barren. It was only after the Zionists arrived and made the desert bloom that suddenly there were people there. Jerusalem had been occupied, but was as much Jewish as anything else.

You said that I am a hard liner. Not true. Not close to true. The hard liners, including the fundamentalist Christian right, want to throw all the Arabs out of Israel, Judea and Samaria. Their view is that the Arabs are incapable of living in peace with Jews and should be tossed out. If you look at the map you provided, you will notice that the boundaries between Israel and the West Bank are almost impossible to defend, but the boundaries between Israel and Jordan are much easier to defend, having a natural border of the Dead Sea and Jordan River.

I do believe that Jews have a right to our own country. I believe a people has a right to a State when they are an identifiable group, subject to persecution, with nowhere else to go. Jews fit my definition perfectly.

You said there were wrongs on both sides. Quantrel's raiders massacred the peopel of Lawrence, Kansas. But I'm sure they had their reasons, after all there are wrongs on all sides. Moral equivalency can be quite noxious. Massacre is never to be excused. Suicide bombings are not the same as failure to treat workers with sufficient deference.

My view is that it would be best for the region to live together in peace, working together for a better economy for everyone. The problem is that the Arabs simply are not interested. You talk about the peace movement in Israel, find a peace movement among the Arabs. I dare you to find an Arab web site that says something like, "Jews have been subjected to persecution, we understand why they need a country, let them have their country and let us work together for the betterment of all." I double dare you to find such a site. The odd thing is that Gaza could be the Hong Kong of the Middle East if their interest was in better living rather than more dying. The reason for this, I believe, is the lack of any meaningful democracy in the Middle East, outside of Israel.

A true democracy requires three things, free elections, free judiciary, and a free press. As the form prime minister said, "Democracies tend to peace, dictatorships tend to war." I would go further and say dictatorships rely on hate, that is why hatred is so prevalent in the Middle East, it is easier to control a population when they are fixated on the hatred of others rather than on their own condition.

You relate your own background, that your grandfather was Jewish, but apparently you don't identify with the Jewish people. You simply don't understand how critically important it is to have a homeland. Right now the religious right is supportive of Israel and Orthodox Judaism. But they are expecting a mass conversion of the Jews so that Christ can return. What happens when there is no mass conversion? Will they turn on us again? What happens when the next depression hits? You may think this is the hysterical ravings of a paranoid mind, but history suggests that it is very easy for a culture to turn on the Jews when things start to go bad. Where do we go then? Where do my children go?

We have a president who is eager to attack Iraq, but no because it is a dictatorship, but because of oil. Why isn't he as upset with Syria, which has just as vicious a dictatorship? I believe true liberals favor democracy and oppose all dictatorships. We should view all dictatorships as terrorist states, yet you seem to sympathize with the Arab dictatorships, rather than the Israeli democracy. One current issue in Israeli politics is whether two Arabs who want to allow all Arabs the right of return to Israel should be allowed to run, not whether Arab-Israelis should be allowed to vote. Of course the Arab-Israelis can vote. Israel, as I pointed out is a democracy.

You also said that Barak's proposal to Arafat was inadequate. Ok, I disagree and so does Clinton, but suppose you're right. What was Arafat's counter proposal? The real sticking point is the right of return, which Israel will never agree to, indeed, cannot agree to if it wants to maintain a Jewish state. As for Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, this visit had been cleared with the Moslem authorities, the Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews and the Infatada had been planned in advance of his visit.

Israel is not perfect, there are many legitimate grievances, not only by the Arabs, but by the Sephardim. But a democracy can address those issues. There is a Jewish candidate in Israel visiting the Druze community and publicizing the need for better roads in that community.

And I would like to point out that while Israel has taken in not only Eastern European Jews, but the Falasha of Ethiopia and even some 1000 Bosnian Moslems. How many of these refugees were taken in by the ArabĘcountries?

There are problems, and there are solutions. But to have solutions there must be an honest desire for solutions. As I said before, find me one Arab web site that represents a left wing view equal to the peace movement in Israel. Find me one movement that represents the equivalence of the Israeli peace movement.

To have peace, Israel needs a partner, find me that partner.

Joe S.

Now on to Friedman's article.

The New York Times
January 15, 2003
The New Math


You can understand everything you need to know about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict today through a simple math equation offered by Danny Rubinstein, the Haaretz newspaper's Palestinian affairs expert. The equation goes like this: Suppose Israel discovers that 10 Palestinians from Nablus are planning suicide attacks. Israel says: If we can kill at least two, that will be progress, because only eight will be left. The Palestinians, by contrast, say: If you kill two, four more will volunteer to take their places, and you will be left with 12. So for Israel 10 minus 2 is 8, and for the Palestinians 10 minus 2 is 12.

And that explains why Ariel Sharon's all-stick-no-carrot crackdown over the past two years has failed to improve security for Israelis. When Mr. Sharon succeeded Ehud Barak, roughly 50 Israelis had been killed in the Palestinian uprising; today the number is more than 700 Israelis dead, and over 2,000 Palestinians. When I asked an Israeli defense official why all the killings and arrests of Palestinians had had so little effect, the official said: "It's like we're mowing the grass. You mow the lawn one day and the next day the grass just grows right back." Then why is Mr. Sharon still likely to win the upcoming Israeli election? Two reasons.

First, because as futile as the Sharon strategy has been, the Palestinian strategy has been even worse. The Palestinians still act as if they believe they can get more out of Israel by making Israelis feel insecure rather than by making them feel secure. After a while, you can't call this a mistake. After a while, you have to ask whether it reflects a conviction that a thriving Jewish presence in the middle of the Islamic world is simply not acceptable to them. Sure, the only thing Mr. Sharon knows how to do is cut the grass. But the only thing Yasir Arafat knows how to do is grow the grass -- to sacrifice one generation of Palestinians after another to the fantasy of a return to all of Palestine.

The second is the failure of Israel's Labor party to develop an alternative to the Sharon policy. The problem for the Labor candidate, Amram Mitzna, an enormously decent former West Bank commander, is not that he is advocating what 70 percent of Israelis want -- separation from the Palestinians and giving up most of the settlements. Rather it is that he has not persuaded Israelis, on a gut level, that he and his party are tough enough to bring this about in a safe way.

As a Haaretz essayist, Ari Shavit, explained: "I compare it to open-heart surgery. Israelis know that if we don't do it, if we don't separate, we will die. But if we do it in a rushed or messy way, we will also die. So when Mitzna calls for separation, 70 percent of Israel agrees. But when he says he is ready to do it unilaterally, if necessary, or to negotiate with Arafat, or even to negotiate under fire while the Intifada goes on, most people refuse to go along. It feels wrong to them in their guts. So they want a left-wing surgery to be carried out by a right-wing doctor. The problem is, Sharon won't carry out that surgery. He is so committed to the settlements that he built, he appears to be paralyzed."

Indeed, Mr. Sharon benefits from the people's desire to see him implement the Mitzna separation. But instead of really trying to do that, Mr. Sharon manipulates the public's fears to stay in power and maintain the settlements -- while winking to the Americans that one day he will really make a deal.

As a result of all this, the conflict is entering a terrible new phase: the beginning of the end of the two-state solution. Under Mr. Sharon, the Jewish settlers have expanded existing settlements in the West Bank and also set up scores of illegal ones. The settlers want to ensure either the de facto or de jure Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And with no credible Arab or Palestinian peace initiative to challenge them, and no pressure from the Bush team, and no Israeli party to implement separation, the settlers are winning by default and inertia. Winning means they are making separation impossible.

But if there is no separation, by 2010 there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel and the occupied territories. Then Israel will have three options: The Israelis will control this whole area by apartheid, or they will control it by expelling Palestinians, or they will grant Palestinians the right to vote and it will no longer be a Jewish state. Whichever way it goes, it will mean the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy.
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