Page 4, 28th September 1973

28th September 1973
Page 4
Page 4, 28th September 1973 — Zionism, Arabs and the pace of history

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Zionism, Arabs and the pace of history


A challenge often thrown out to the Zionist movement is: Why Palestine? The basic reason is Well known. It was this country that knew a thousand years of Jewish statehood, until the final ext i n ct ion of Jewish independence in the latter half of the first century A.D.

The Jews, in their wanderings, never forgot their national unity, nor did they forget their ancient homeland. Their sacred books describe lite there, and a glance through a Jewish prayer-book will show constant references to the Holy Land.

The country contains all the important holy sites of the Jews — the tombs of the Patriarchs and, most sacred of all, the Western (Wailing) Wall.

But the reader will ask: "Does not the Christian or the Moslem have the same connection with the Holy Land as the Jew?" On one level they do, but on another they do not. They have the same connection on the strictly religious plane. For the Christian Palestine is the country of the Ministry of Christ, and contains the holy places of Christianity, thus it is also the Hol,y Land of Christianity,

For the Moslem it is somewhat less important. The main holy land of Islam lies in the Hejaz, in Saudi Arabia, But the Moslems call Jerusalem el Quds, meaning the Holy City.

It was here Mahomet went up to heaven for a night and tethered his horse el-Burak, and this became a holy site for Islam, such that one of the first Ummayad Caliphs Abdal-Malik oullt two magnificent mosques there. Thus Jerusalem became, after Mecca and Medina, the third holy city of Islam.

The plane on which the connection is different is on the national -level. Judaism, unlike Christianity and -Islam, but like Hinduism or Shinto, is a national religion, and the Jews a distinct people with their own national tradition.

It is this factor that made Palestine the only possible place for a Jewish National State. Theodor Herzl himself, the main architect of early Zionism, at first was not interested in the country until he discovered that the Jewish masses would look at no other.

It should also be realised that all territories in the world are claimed and counter-claimed by different peoples, and even if there had been a choice other than Palestine open to the Zionist movement, there would still have been a clash with somebody.

The independence of most nations is nearly always accompanied by some sort of serious disturbance such as the bloodshed and violence accompanying the emergence of the world's most recent new state, Bangladesh, serves to indicate.

Before examining the Arab counter-claim to Palestine, it might be as well to look at the political and national condition Of Palestine and the Middle East before the First World War. During the thirteen centuries of Moslem rule Palestine barely existed as a separate entity.

After they conquered it in the seventh century the Arabs made Palestine a separate army command (hand) and Jerusalem a holy city, but Damascus was their first capital. After the fall of the Ummayyads in 750 the capital was moved to Baghdad. During the 400 years (15171917) of Ottoman rule Palestine had no separate existence whatsoever and was merely part of the province of Syria. The various sub-divisions of the province into vilayets and eyalets did not correspond in any way to the territory that was to become Palestine after the First World War.

It was in fact the British and French who created Palestine as a political entity, when they cut Syria in half in 1917, with Southern Syria going to Britain, and being called Palestine. Then, in 1922, Britain cut Palestine in half again, handing over the eastern part of the country to a prince of the Hashemite House and calling it the Emirate of fransjOrdan.•

The Ottoman Empire was a very mixed country racially. Anatolia itself was inhabited by Turks, Greeks and Armenians. To the South, along the Levant coast and in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Arabs were clearly the majority people. But several other peoples also lived in these regions, notably Kurds. Assyrians and Jews, as well as such smaller groups as the Circassians, Chechen-Ingush and others.

Traditionally under the Moslem Empires the nonMoslem, that is Christian and Jewish population, enjoyed a second-class, but protected, status. They were regarded as being Ahl el-Kitab (The People of the Book) and given the name of dhimmi (protected person). The hangover from this dhimmi status is one of the factors why Moslem countries find it so difficult to recognise the independence of non-Moslem former subject peoples.

It took ihe Turks over 100 years to recognise Greek independence. The Greeks became free in 1822 and Turkey established diplomatic relations in 1923 after winning a war against Greece, which was followed by an agreed exchange of populations.

In Considering the question of national self-determination, the important factor to be taken into account is that the issue is one or the self-determination of peoples, not land. This is especially significant when discussing the Middle East.

It is fairly clear that its various peoples have the right to self-determination. The Arabs, as the majority people, have the right to the bulk of the land, and in 1915 they issued the Damascus Protocol which declared that they wished for the whole of the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula to become a United Arab Kingdom after the First World War.

The king, incidentally, would have been the Sherif Hussein of Mecca, the great-grandfather of King Hussein of Jordan. This ignored the existence of the other people's rights. Thus today, although no United Arab State ever came into being, the Arabs are still fighting the Kurds and the Jews,

It is, of course, perfectly true that at the time of the First World War, in Palestine itself there were more Arabs than Jews — that is except for Jerusalem, where the Jews had been a majority since 1875.

It should also be remembered that at this period Palestine, with a total population of under 600.000, was a largely uninhabited country. With regard to landownership in the area covered in 1948 by the State of Israel, /3.6 per cent of the land was Jewish-owned, and about 20 per cent Arab-owned.

The remaining 70 per cent was State land — in other words land that passed from Turkish to British to Israeli control. Thus the Arabs neither lived in. nor owned the greatest part of Palestine. There was in fact plenty of room for both peoples to live side by side.

This becomes all too clear when one examines the growth in the Arab population during the British Mandate. As a result of the Zionist economic development of the country, wage scales began to rise sharply compared with those in the surrounding countries, bringing about a not inconsiderable Arab immigraaion.

Thus in equity, while the Arabs had the right to the bulk of the land, some part had to go to other peoples. Thus the Jews had every right to part of Palestine while the Kurds had the right still not properly conceded. to North-East Iraq.

The United Nations, in its Partition Resolution of November 1947, recognised the rights of both peoples to Palestine and divided the country. This resolution was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Arabs, who launched a war to prevent Israel coming into being.

This war. like all wars, caused a large number of refugees. Arabs fled from Israel to the Arab countries and Jews fled from the Arab States to Israel.

Israel, from the beginning, has fully recognised the existence. as an integral part of her population of the Arab national minority, and in this regard has made Arabic an official language of the State alongside Hebrew.

As a result of being chief victims of the fighting in the region and having fallen out with the Jordan regime, the Palestine Arabs began in the late fifties to develop an identity of their own. At the beginning of the Mandate, Arab nationalists in Palestine had complained bitterly about the British and French cutting Syria in .half.

The situation today is that the Arabs on the West Bank would like to make an accommodation with Israel. But the Arab States are not so keen on seeing such an accommodation. In the spring of 1968 two West Bank leaders went to see President Nasser, and asked him to back them if they could achieve an agreement with Israel.

President Nasser replied that he did not care if all of them became refugees; the future of the Arab nations was at stake and their job was to resist the Israeli occupation.

The terrorist elements which primarily operate from, Lebanon were not elected by the Palestinians and have become part of the international revolutionary Left, which has no interest in a settlement. Rather it sees continuing violence as the best hope for world revolution.

Israel's position is that as far as the refugees are concerned, an exchange of population has taken place, but in spite of this she is prepared to pay full Colnpensation and help with the rehabilitation of the refugees.

With regard to a Palestinian State, she feels that a West Bank State would not be viable, and would be merely a puppet of either Israel or Jordan. But if Israel withdrew from the West Bank after a peace treaty, then Jordan would have an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and there is nothing to stop Jordan becoming the State of Palestine.

In looking to the future one can take again the GrecoTurkish situation as parallel. It took the Turks a century to recognise that Greek dhimmis had the same rights as themselves, and when they did so they exchanged populations, and the Turks even accepted that the birthplace (Salonika) of their leader .Kemal Ataturk went to Greece.

As the pace of history is now speeding up it should take less time for the Arabs to make peace with the Jewish dhimmis. The late eighties or the early nineties should probably see a final peace.

But anything that people of goodwill can do to encourage the Arabs to realise that there is nothing shameful in signing a peace treaty should be done, so that the suffering that conflict brings may be ended.

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