The following is a
message I sent to Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun
magazine (see <http://www.tikkun.org/>).
Lerner sent me (and many others) an e-mail asking
if we would "Strategize with" Tikkun to
bring about peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.
What I replied to him is reprinted below, and it
speaks for itself.
Thank you for your e-mail with the subject line "Strategize with us." Sorry for the delay in my answer: I have taken some time to reply to it, and I do apologise. And I am afraid my reply is rather long. But I think it is quite important, so I hope you will read every word.
I read through your e-mail (re-quoted below for ease of reference) with quite a bit of interest. I have also been reading with great interest your articles and debates on the Web (as for instance with Dr Abu-Sitta regarding the "Right of Return", at <http://www.al-awda.org/tikkun.html>). And of course I regularly read whatever I can find in Tikkun Magazine <http://www.tikkun.org>.
But in reply to your e-mail I would like to say that although I greatly sympathise with your goal, namely a real TIKKUN (as you yourself have called it, "the Hebrew word for healing, repair and transformation", or what I would call "Setting the world right"), I'm afraid you are not going to achieve it. This is because you are forgetting the main - and in my view, the most important - problem in the Holy Land: the fact that the State of Israel sits on land, the rights to nine-tenths of which accrues to people who are not Jewish. And this is true both legally and even, I'd say, morally and spiritually. Indeed the majority of its inhabitants were driven away by terror and force.
The fact that the legal rights to nine-tenths of the land on which Israel sits accrues to people who are not Jewish is not something that is denied by any serious historian of the Holy Land - even most Israeli historians and scholars. Most of them, in fact, just don't mention it. But some do: as for instance the "New Historians" of Israel such as Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal.
But even those scholars - whether inside Israel or outside it - who don't mention these facts, don't deny them either. Even the book Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, formerly published by AIPAC, no less, and recently updated and published by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, says "By 1947, Jewish holdings in Palestine amounted to about 463,000 acres." The area of the State of Israel in 1948 was 8,473 square miles or 5,422,720 acres (there are exactly 640 acres to the square mile). So the area of the Jewish holdings was only about 8.5 per cent of the territory that became the State of Israel in 1948.
So this is not propaganda: it is an admitted fact. It is not seriously denied by anyone - not even by the most extreme right-wing Zionist Israeli settler.
Let me make it clear that even though I am not Jewish, I am nevertheless a staunch Zionist. Indeed I am perhaps more so than most people, even Jewish people. (And I know a great many, having lived a total of nine years in Israel, a 100-page account of which period of my life can be found from my Web site, at URL <http://ardeshirmehta.com/KIBBUTZ-March'01.html>). As a Zionist, I not only believe that the Jewish State has a right to exist, but also that it has a duty to exist. And I base this opinion not only on Herzl's arguments as expounded in his pamphlet The Jewish State, but also on the elementary maxim of the universality of moral principles. This is a maxim all of us learn right from our days in nursery school: namely, if something is right for someone, then it has got to be right for everyone. And conversely, of course, if something is wrong for someone, then it has got to be wrong for everyone.
Thus if the French people have a right to their own state simply because the majority of them want it; if the Polish people have a right to their own state simply because the majority of them want it; if the Japanese ... the Spanish ... the Iranian ... the Egyptian people have a right to their own state simply because the majority of them want it, then so do the Jewish people. And contrary to Herzl's arguments (and similar arguments made by many others), the existence or non-existence of anti-Semitism has nothing to do with it. For even if anti-Semitism had never existed, the Jewish people would still have a right to their own state. That's simply because to deny them this right would, by the maxim of the universality of moral principles, imply that no people have a right to a state of their own: meaning, a state in which they can decide their own affairs as they see fit, unfettered by outside influence. (Provided, of course, that they do not trample upon the rights of others while doing so.)
The overwhelming majority of Jewish people do want their own state; so the Jewish State has not only a right, but a duty, to exist. For if it were not to exist, the majority of Jewish people would not be able to obtain that to which they are justifiably entitled. This is elementary logic, and simple morality and justice. Anyone with any brains can easily understand it, and anyone with any decency will readily agree with it.
But this is not to say that a Jewish State has a right to exist on someone else's land, now is it. Prior to 1948 less than one-tenth of the land which in that year became the State of Israel was actually owned by Jewish people. So it rather obviously means that the rest of it belonged to, or was in use by, someone else!
A lot of these people, in fact, were expelled from the lands they owned or used by terrorising them into leaving. Israel's own "New Historians" are at pains to demonstrate this fact. There's lots of documentation of the period supporting this conclusion: most of it indeed released from Israel's own archives. In the opening pages of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Benny Morris offers an outline of what happened: using a map that shows the 369 Arab towns and villages in Israel (within its 1949 borders), he lists, area by area, the reasons for the departure of the indigenous inhabitants. In 45 cases he admits that he does not know. The inhabitants of the other 228 localities left under attack by Jewish troops, and in 41 cases they were expelled by military force. In 90 other localities, the Palestinians were in a state of panic following the fall of a neighbouring town or village, or for fear of an enemy attack, or because of rumours circulated by the Jewish army - particularly after the 9th April 1948 massacre of 250 inhabitants of Deir Yassin, when the news of the killings swept the country like wildfire.
By contrast, Morris found only six cases of departures at the instigation of local Arab authorities. "There is no evidence to show that the Arab states and the AHC wanted a mass exodus or issued blanket orders or appeals to the Palestinians to flee their homes (though in certain areas the inhabitants of specific villages were ordered by Arab commanders or the AHC to leave, mainly for strategic reasons)." (From The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 129). On the contrary, anyone who fled was actually threatened with "severe punishment". As for the broadcasts by Arab radio stations allegedly calling on people to flee, a detailed listening to recordings of their programmes of that period shows that the claims were invented for pure propaganda purposes.
And this is putting it relatively mildly. Norman Finkelstein (see his bio at <http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/>), in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, writes much more graphically: "By 1948, the Jew was not only able to 'defend himself' but to commit massive atrocities as well. Indeed, according to the former director of the Israeli army archives, 'in almost every village occupied by us during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres, and rapes' [...] Uri Milstein, the authoritative Israeli military historian of the 1948 war, goes one step further, maintaining that 'every skirmish ended in a massacre of Arabs.'" Note that these are all Jewish, and indeed for the most part Israeli, accounts of what happened, so they cannot be dismissed as "Arab propaganda".
This violent expulsion and expropriation of their property, the event called by Palestinians al-Nakba or "the Disaster" (with a Capital D, as it were), is the very origin of the continuing violence in the Holy Land. This is precisely what before 1948 they feared would happen. As Benny Morris writes, "[Arab opposition to Zionism stemmed from] fear of territorial displacement and dispossession". And this is why they resisted the expropriation of their property with armed force in 1948.
This fact is clearly demonstrated by the fact that on March 22, 1945 the Arab states of that time issued the "Alexandria Protocol", which stated:
"The rights of the Arabs [of Palestine] cannot be touched with prejudice to peace and stability in the Arab world. [... the Arab states were] second to none in regretting the woes which have been inflicted on the Jews of Europe. [...] But [...] there can be no greater injustice and aggression than solving the problem of Europe Jews by [...] inflicting injustice on the Palestine Arabs." (From Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, p. 172.)
This is the very source of the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land. And until this problem is solved, nothing else - not the ending of the occupation, not the establishment of a viable and secure Palestinian State, not what you call a "progressive middle path" on the Middle East - will bring peace to the region. How can it, if the issue of large-scale land expropriation and expulsion, which has lasted now over half a century, is still unresolved?
I'm sure you must have read Herzl's pamphlet The Jewish State, which is available at <http://ardeshirmehta.com/thejewishstate.html>. You will have noted that it was never his intention to establish the Jewish State on land militarily expropriated from its former inhabitants, from which they had been expelled by a powerful Jewish army. Indeed he did not envision a need for a powerful Jewish army at all: and certainly not one which would be indispensable in establishing the Jewish State. From his pamphlet we see clearly that his idea was that the Jews, in the process of establishing their State, would do it by peaceful means. That is, in brief, they would come to some sort of amicable and mutually-satisfactory agreement with those living in Palestine, and also with those who ruled the state in which Palestine was at that time situated (which was the Turkish Empire).
He even envisaged that it would all be legally accomplished, for he wrote: "The movement [of the Jewish people from other countries to Palestine] will [...] only be inaugurated with absolute conformity to law". Note the words "only" and "absolute".
This, however, was in fact never actually done. Indeed it wasn't even seriously attempted. The effort spent by the Yishuv on reaching such an agreement - a genuinely mutually-acceptable agreement with the people who owned the land there at that time - seems to have been minuscule. At least it was minuscule compared with the effort spent at developing a capacity for armed resistance. This armed resistance, in fact, was organised not merely to defend the Jewish State. It was even - and indeed as the New Historians show, primarily - developed to counter the quite justified objections the Palestinians (and in fact the Arabs in general) exhibited. And why did they exhibit this resistance? Obviously, to having the land the Palestinians had owned, used and/or inhabited for generations taken away from them!
As I said, nobody denies that the land was not owned by the Jews. However, the Arabs have always claimed that this land was stolen from them, yet most Israelis have always denied stealing it.
But this dispute arises from a confusion as to how land is normally owned all over the world. This is little realised by both Jews and Arabs, though once it is made clear it seems as if it ought to be obvious. The problem is that we all know the following, and yet almost all of us - Jews as well as Arabs - forget it when discussing Israel.
But it's as well to remind ourselves that all real estate belongs to, and control over it may by rights be exercised by, not just one entity but at least two, and often more. In the first place, real estate belongs to any individual who has legal title to it, and a certain degree of control over that land may be exercised by him/her. But in addition it also belongs, though of course in a different sense, to the state which has sovereignty over it. And in the case of what is called "commons", or land which is used in common by many people without it necessarily belonging to any particular individual, its ownership, control and rights of use vest with all the people who use it, as well as the state, if any, which has sovereignty over it.
(This last way, in fact, is the way we all use the atmospheric air and most of the ocean's waters even today. And this was the way land too was used for millennia in most parts of the world, until private ownership of land became the norm - which did not happen until fairly recently in the majority of the less-developed regions of the world.)
To give you an example of how ownership of land accrues to two entities: I live in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, situated in the Province of Ontario, on the border with the Province of Quebec. My father-in-law, who resides in Ontario, owns land and real estate in Quebec, as is the case with many other Ontarians. As you know, for quite some years there has been a fairly strong popular movement in Quebec to separate itself from the rest of Canada. And the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled - very wisely in my opinion - to the effect that if a clear majority of the people of Quebec wish to separate from the rest of Canada, they may do so and form a sovereign state of their own.
This of course has not happened so far; but it could happen some time in the future. Now it is clear that were it to happen, the land my father-in-law owns would belong to the sovereign state of Quebec, and no longer to Canada. However, that does not mean that my father-in-law, a Canadian citizen, would himself lose ownership of, or title to, his land! He would still continue to own and be entitled to use it, of course. Only this time he would do so as a citizen of the sovereign state of Canada owning land in the sovereign state of Quebec.
Likewise, if an American buys land here in Canada, that land belongs to an American in one sense, but in another it still continues to belong to Canada - it does not become part of America. And vice versa: if a Canadian buys land in America, that land belongs to its Canadian owner, no doubt, but does not thereby cease to belong to America. Change the words "American" and "Canadian" above to "German" and "Swiss", or to "French" and "Belgian", the same principle still applies.
As I said, we all know this - or as any schoolboy might say, "Duh!" - but every time we speak of Palestinians owning, or having once owned, land in Israel, we conveniently forget it! We argue that if sovereignty is exercised over a portion of land by the Jewish State, all that land must also by rights belong to the Jews.
But no: most emphatically NO. The same principle of land ownership applies in Palestine. When the first Zionists arrived in the Holy Land, it was part of the Turkish Empire. Any Zionists who bought land there became the legal owners of that land, no doubt; but that land also belonged, although in that other sense, to the Turkish Empire. Even if all the land in Palestine had been legally purchased by the Jewish people, they could still not have by rights set up a state of their own on it without coming to some sort of mutually-satisfactory agreement with the Turkish Empire, now could they?
It would be as if a group of Japanese individuals and/or corporations were to buy up all the land in Rhode Island. Could they then claim the right to decide to make Rhode Island a "prefecture" of Japan - or even to declare Rhode Island their own independent state - without the US having any say in the matter? Good heavens: of course not! Such a claim would be considered ludicrous by everyone, and quite rightly so.
To put it in a nutshell: rights to ownership or use of a piece of land is a totally separate right from the right of sovereignty over it.
When the Turkish Empire disintegrated after World War I, the Great Powers of the time, mainly Britain and France, decided to carve up the land the Turkish Empire had previously owned into several Arab states. The European Powers intended these Arab states to become their protectorates. However, Britain had already promised the Jews, in the "Balfour Declaration" of November 2, 1917 - about a year before the end of the Great War - that His Majesty's government would approve the setting up of a Jewish "national home" in Palestine.
Let's remind ourselves what the Balfour Declaration stated:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Let's re-read the words: "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". Note especially the words "civil [...] rights". These rights naturally include rights to ownership and use of land.
So the Balfour Declaration did not promise that the British government would "give" the Jews any land in Palestine: after all, it was not theirs to give! On the contrary, it expressly stated that nothing would done to prejudice the civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. These rights clearly included the Arabs' rights of ownership or use of the land there, individually or as "commons".
To a large extent basing itself on the principles outlined in the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations decided to make Britain a custodian of Palestine. Thereby Palestine became a British Mandate. But just because this happened, the rights of use and/or ownership of land in Palestine did not change, any more than it did when the Balfour Declaration was issued! Not even the British, at that time masters of the greatest empire in the world, claimed that title to the land belonged to them: any more than the Turkish Empire had claimed before them. Even under the British Mandate, ownership of all the plots of land in the Mandate territory remained with the Palestinians, Jews, Christians and others who owned them, individually or as "commons".
And when the UN finally voted in favour of a division of the land that had been brought under the British Mandate into two states, a Jewish State and a Palestinian State, that also was not a "gift" of the land designated as the Jewish State to the Jewish people, individually or collectively. The member-nations of the UN had no right or authority to bestow such a "gift" either, any more than the British government had: none of them owned that land in the same sense that my father-in-law owns land in Quebec. It was simply an acknowledgement by the international community of nations of the obviously just and equitable principle that the Jewish people are entitled to a state of their own, as all other peoples are.
In other words, what the Balfour Declaration at first, and later the UN, did was simply grant Herzl's wish: "Let sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves."
Sovereignty over the land was legitimately granted to the Jews, first by the British who held sovereignty over it after the disintegration of the Turkish Empire, and then, after World War II, by the UN when the British Empire was also disintegrating, and it was clear that the British too no longer wished to be there, and that no one else, other than the Jews and the Palestinians, wanted sovereignty over it anyway. Note that the UN General Assembly, in a fair and equitable decision, gave sovereignty over the land not exclusively to the Jews, but to the Palestinians as well, who had not even formally demanded it at that time: at least not as stridently as the Jews had.
But neither the British nor the UN granted the Jews title to all the land in the Jewish State. It just wasn't theirs to give!
So when Herzl wrote the words "the rest we shall manage for ourselves", he did not envisage that the Jews would carry out expropriation of the land over which sovereignty had been granted to the Jewish State! Quite the contrary, he wrote: "... then the [Jewish] Society will enter into negotiations for the possession of this land." Note especially the words "then", "negotiations" and "possession". The UN declaration gave the Jewish State an international right to exist on "a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation". But that still left the Jewish people, whether individually or collectively, with the necessity of entering into negotiations for the possession of that land - as Herzl has spelled out in so many words.
To give an example: just because I reside in and am a citizen of Canada, it does not grant me a legal right to possess, or even to exclusively use, all the land in it - not even to possess or exclusively use any of the land in it. I can only do so if I acquire such a right by some fair and legal means. (Such a right is of course generally acquired via a negotiated lease or purchase. But land can also be legally transferred by other means: as a gift or as an inheritance, to give just a couple of other examples).
Likewise, just because the Jewish people in Palestine resided in 1948 in the territory of what the UN declared could become the Jewish State, that fact by itself did not grant the Jewish people, individually or collectively, legal rights to possess or even exclusively use all the land in it. Indeed that mere fact did not even grant the Jewish people the rights to possess or exclusively use any of the land in it. The ownership of a major portion of that land still accrued at that time, in fact, to Arab individuals. And the rest of that land was land which had been used as "commons" by Palestinian people for generations. Rights of use to even the "commons" part of that land did not accrue exclusively to the Jewish people. And as to the rest of the land, such rights did not accrue to the Jewish people at all. It still remained for the Jewish people to negotiate acquisition of their rights of ownership and/or exclusive use with respect to all this land!
As I said, we all know this, and yet we all forget it when discussing Israel. Herzl, to his credit, clearly recognised the necessity for the Jews to acquire the land from both its rightful owners: (i) the individual people who held title to it or had been using it as "commons" for generations, as well as (ii) the state to which it belonged, which in his day was the Turkish Empire. He even says in his Introduction: "I shall [...] explain everything connected with rights of property very fully", and then indeed proceeds to do so.
But Herzl's undeniably correct approach was totally neglected by the other Zionists, the ones who actually founded Israel. In 1948 the Jewish State just took most of this land and gave it to Jewish people, individually and collectively, making them the "owners" of it. This is something which in any civilised country would be called stealing - and rightly so.
The Israelis make the following counter-claims to try and show that they did, in fact, have a right to expropriate and use virtually the entire land of what became the State of Israel, and that what they did cannot, therefore, correctly be called "stealing". But I put it to you: do you find these claims justified? Please examine them for yourself and answer me honestly.
(1) It has often been claimed by Israel that most of the Palestinians who fled the territory of what became the State of Israel in 1948 did not own the lands they worked on: that the land was owned in fact by absentee Arab landowners who lived in other places, and only visited their properties infrequently. But how does that make it right for Jewish State to confiscate such land for itself and its Jewish inhabitants?
Would it be okay for Germany, say, to confiscate land belonging to Jews who owned land in Germany, if those Jews did not actually live there, and went there only infrequently? Would it be okay for the German government to take away such land and give it to Germans for their exclusive use, and not allow its Jewish owners to return to it? Come on, now.
(2) And it is also claimed by Israel that much of the Holy Land was vacant, and not inhabited or worked by anybody. But that too is hardly a justification for the Jews simply laying claim to and taking the land, now is it? A lot of the land north of where I live is vacant, and not inhabited by anybody. But if a bunch of Americans were to come here and simply lay claim to it and take it, I'm sure all Canadians would be totally outraged - and very justifiably so.
In the Middle East, in fact, a lot of land used to be - and even today is - vacant and uninhabited. That's because the Middle East is in an arid or semiarid part of the world, and a lot of the land there is unsuitable for cultivation. Why would anyone want to own it outright? That might only create headaches for the owner. But people might still want to use it occasionally. So land such as this was - and even today is - considered to be a kind of "commons". By ancient custom one may travel over it, and maybe on occasion pitch one's tents on it for certain periods of time, provided one respects other people's rights to do the same. Land that is used in common in a similar manner is to be found, in varying amounts, in almost every country in the world. Legal rights to its use are usually determined not by statute but by custom. Elementary principles of justice do not permit the land to simply be confiscated by an individual - or group of individuals - without any consultation with those who have been using it as commons for generations. Nor do the principles of justice permit those people to be expelled from that land, or prevented after a certain date from using it as a commons, simply because someone else doesn't like them!
(3) And then it has been claimed by the Jews that the Palestinians attacked Israel in 1948, and that was the reason they were expelled from their lands and homes by Israel and not allowed to return to them. In other words, the claim is made that this was an act of self-defence on the part of Israel, and thus morally justified.
This argument is both blatantly false and blatantly invalid. It is false because it was not, by and large, the inhabitants of Palestine who attacked the fledgling Jewish State, but the armies of the surrounding Arab states. The inhabitants of Palestine were mostly unarmed non-combatants or, at most, lightly-armed. And at that time the surrounding Arab states were not even acting in the Palestinians' interests, but in their own: they did not want a Palestinian State to come into being, which the UN declaration had also called for - and quite equitably called for, as I already said.
Or in other words, the Arab states of the time rejected the UN partition plan, because they objected to both a Jewish State and a Palestinian State coming into existence in the Holy Land, all of which territory they wanted to grab for themselves. The Palestinian people can hardly be blamed for what other Arabs did to prevent them from getting what was due to them. And they themselves were at that time far too disorganised to have any coherent or informed say in the matter at all.
But even if this had not been the case, such an excuse would also be blatantly invalid. Just consider the situation from an objective viewpoint:
(i) Party A tries to forcibly occupy and take over party B's homes and land;
(ii) B, being weaker than A, maybe appeals to its neighbours for help, or maybe its neighbours see an opportunity to grab something for themselves, but whatever the case, together with B they forcibly resist this attempt on A's part to steal B's property - which you will surely agree is B's right;
(iii) An armed clash follows, in which some members of B along with some of its neighbours are killed by some members of A, the rest of its neighbours flee, and the rest of B's families, employees and servants are thrown out or frightened out of their properties by A.
Can A then turn around and claim that B got killed, and B's families, employees and servants were thrown out, in "self-defence", and will not be allowed by A to return to the property they inhabited and worked on, which A will henceforth expropriate, because members of A fear for their very lives?
Certainly party A has every right to defend itself from party B, if party B attacks members of party A without provocation; but that per se does not give the members of A, whether jointly or collectively, any right to B's property, now does it. I mean, how ludicrous would such a claim be? It would be like claiming that if my neighbour and his family try to kill me and my family, we have not only a right to prevent them from killing us - even, if necessary, by killing them - but also to take over their home and call it ours ... which in fact was our intent right from the start, and was the very reason we were attacked by our neighbour in the first place!
If we go into a person's home to rob it, and if the owner tries to protect his property with weapons, and we kill him before he can kill us, we can't claim that we killed him in "self-defence", now can we. What court in which civilised country would accept such a ridiculous excuse from us? They'd say that we should not have gone there to rob his home in the first place. Would not such a defence be laughed out of court even before the trial starts?
(4) Then there is the "International Socialism" argument. According to this view, the right of the Jews to the Holy Land rests on their capacity for developing it. For instance, in 1930 Ben-Gurion declared:
"We do not recognize any form of absolute ownership over any country. Any group of diligent persons, every industrious people, is entitled to enjoy the fruits of labor, and do with its talents as it pleases. It has no right to prevent others from doing the same, or to close the doors leading to nature's gifts in the faces of others. The five million inhabitants of Australia have no right to close the gates of their continent [...] and so exclude the masses of desperate people seeking a new place to work. This is the principle behind the right of free migration, championed by international socialism." (From p. 37 of the book Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, From Peace to War, by one of Ben-Gurion's official biographers, Shabtai Teveth.)
Now this is actually not a bad argument ... but it cuts both ways! For if it be accepted as being a good reason for Jews to immigrate and settle in Palestine - and that too, if necessary, against the wishes of the indigenous population - then it is just as good a reason for Palestinian refugees and other Arabs, and even the Chinese and Japanese if they so wish, to immigrate and settle in Israel: and that too, if necessary, against the wishes of the Israelis! Remember that over 85% of Israelis live in under 14% of the land, and that Israel has the highest ratio of urban dwellers in the world. There's plenty of room in the Holy Land for both the Palestinians and the Jews: this is shown by the fact that millions of them live there even today, most of the Jews on less than a quarter of the land, and the Palestinians squeezed into a tiny Ghetto, also less than a quarter of the area of the land. The Israeli government even considers the Galilee and the Negev to be "under-populated". So if the "international socialism" argument is valid, why can't the largely empty land be settled by Palestinians and, if there's yet more room, others as well? What right does Israel have to "close the doors leading to nature's gifts in the faces of others", in the words of Ben-Gurion?
Obviously, we have to admit that this argument, if sound, is as sound for the goose as for the gander. Or else, if we reject it when it favours the Arabs, then it must also be rejected for the Jews when it favours them.
A variant of this argument is that although the Palestinians indeed were, and are, "a group of diligent persons, [...] industrious people, [...] entitled to enjoy the fruits of labor" (in the words of Ben-Gurion quoted above), they did and do not develop the Holy Land as much as the Jews did and do, and so the Jews had - and have - a right to dispossess the Palestinians. By this token, if, say, a Japanese zaibatsu or industrial conglomerate were to come to Israel and put up even more modern and high-tech factories there, they would be entitled to dispossess the comparatively more primitive kibbutzim, whose factories, even where they exist, are not quite as advanced as those of the Japanese! Like, we're supposed to take such arguments seriously.
(5) And then of course there's the "Divine Right" argument, which claims the Holy Land is the birthright of the Jews because it was given to them by God, and which thereby lays all the blame for the Palestinians' misery on the LORD. If one believes in the words of the Bible, the fact that the LORD gave the Promised Land to the Children of Israel is true enough: devout Jews, Christians and Muslims all accept it: even the Qr'an, itself obviously relying on the Bible, says: "We [Allah] chose them [the Children of Israel] knowingly, above all other people [...]; and […] We assigned unto the children of Israel a most goodly abode [...]" [Qr'an, (Asad), 44:32, 10:93]. But if we are to rely on the Bible to justify ourselves, should we not rely on its moral and ethical - indeed spiritual - code as well? Those who blatantly disregard God's morality and spirituality which expressly commands the Jews, saying "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself", "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt", "Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob [him]", "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country", and "Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee" - those who disregard such clearly-worded Commandments are hardly the kind of people we can trust to be God's official spokespersons ... now are they.
Remember what the LORD said to the Children of Israel through Moses: "If ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; [...] I will scatter you among the nations, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste" (Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 14 and 33 - in fact, read the whole chapter.) The LORD did not give the Promised Land to the Children of Israel unconditionally: this gift is conditional upon them following the LORD's Commandments, including the ones noted in the paragraph above this one, and many more: especially the moral and ethical ones. The LORD does not excuse, as Israeli author Meron Benvenisti puts it, the Jewish State's "failure to distinguish between the moral right to exist and the moral obligation to behave decently".
A circumvention of the above argument relies in the interpretation given to Biblical texts by Orthodox Judaism. The Orthodox, for instance, relying largely on the Talmud, interpret "neighbour" in "Love thy neighbour" as only a Jewish person, never a non-Jewish person. Thus, for example, a meeting of rabbis in Israel once ruled, as recently as 1965 or '66, and relying on a passage in an authoritative compendium of Talmudic laws, that it was okay according to Judaism to prohibit the use of the phone on the Sabbath to call an ambulance on an occasion when a non-Jew had collapsed and whose life may have been in danger! (see the Introduction of Prof. Israel Shahak's book Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years.) Prof. Shahak writes, "I reported the incident to the main Hebrew daily, Ha'aretz, whose publication of the story caused a media scandal."
Likewise, the term "stranger" in the commandments "Thou shalt not vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt", and "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country", is interpreted to mean a non-Jew who has previously converted to Judaism. With such racist interpretations of Judaism, any form of evil becomes "justified". I am sure decent Jewish people don't want to go down that route: for if racism were justified when propounded by the Jews, then it would have to be justified when propounded by the Nazis too!
I have to admit that there is a problem here, especially in Israel, for the Orthodox will not budge an inch from their interpretation of Judaism. As Prof. Shahak writes: "Many Jews in Israel (and elsewhere), who are not Orthodox and have little detailed knowledge of the Jewish religion, have tried to shame Orthodox Israelis (or right-wingers who are strongly influenced by religion) out of their inhuman attitude towards the Palestinians, by quoting at them verses from the Bible in their plain humane sense. It was always found, however, that such arguments do not have the slightest effect on those who follow classical Judaism; they simply do not understand what is being said to them, because to them the biblical text means something quite different than to everyone else." But here it is the duty of all decent Jews to rise up and loudly condemn the Orthodoxy's sin of using the very Bible to justify racism and inhumanity, as being contrary to the LORD's Commandments. Remember that the Bible says, "thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him".
(I am very familiar with such rigid distortions of the original texts of religion, for by birth and descent I am a Parsi, a scion of Sassanian Persians, Zarathushtris [Zoroastrians] by religion, who fled Iran after its Islamisation and found refuge in India. A dominant feature of such methods, widely prevalent in both Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Zoroastrianism, is deception - deception primarily of God, if this word can indeed be used for a Being so easily deceived by rabbis and priests, who think they are cleverer than Him. And a second dominant feature is that they are in large part rather obviously motivated by the desire for profit. Since the Babylonian Talmud saw its creation in the Sassanian Empire, it is very likely that there were frequent contacts between the Jews and their Persian neighbours and rulers, since similar traits of distorting the original words of the original sacred texts exist in the Orthodox Zarathushtri or Parsi community - as I have had occasion to point out in my book Zarathushtra, the Introduction and first six chapters of which are available from my Web site, at <Zarathushtra-Ch.1-6,Draft.pdf>.)
And in addition to the above claims, Israel makes some much more ludicrous ones. For instance, Israel claims that if the previous inhabitants of these lands - or their descendants - were allowed to reclaim their property, they would have access to the territory of Israel, and if they had that, they could destroy Israel from within. This argument conveniently forgets to mention that the majority of Palestinians, most of whom live in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, and a huge minority in Israel proper, have already had access to the territory of Israel ever since June 1967.
Or Israel claims that after 1948, Jewish properties were confiscated by several Arab countries, some as far away as Morocco and Yemen; so Israel has a right to confiscate Arab properties in Palestine. Israel tries to lay the blame for the crimes of the Moroccan, Yemeni, and other Arabs on the shoulders of the inhabitants of Palestine. In other words, the Palestinians are supposed to be guilty of other people's misdeeds! Yeah, right, as my two teenage sons might say.
I am often amazed, in fact, that the Jewish people, who are by and large highly educated and intelligent, and have perhaps the highest number of Nobel Prize winners of any people in the world, not only propound such ludicrous arguments, but actually believe them.
The most ludicrous argument, of course, is that since time immemorial, in an armed conflict, "to the victor go the spoils", and "woe to the vanquished" - so if the Palestinians don't like the expropriation of their property, well, tough. Even Ben-Gurion said as early as 1936: "There is only one thing that everyone accepts, Arabs and non-Arabs alike: facts. […] these days it is not right but might which prevails. It is more important to have force than justice on one's side." (Shabtai Teveth again, p 191.)
It's a wonder that people - especially Jewish people - don't see the absurdity and even the counter-productivity of this kind of argument: for if it were truly valid, the expropriation of Jewish property by the Nazis, and indeed the very Holocaust, would actually become justifiable! Does it make sense to you to actually justify the argument "If the Jews don't like going to the gas chambers to be slaughtered, well, tough"? Why, it was precisely to prevent the victors of future wars trying to justify such horrors committed by themselves, that the nations of the world decided upon international laws and conventions, as for example the Geneva Conventions, regarding what's allowed in war. These make it clear that no longer is anything and everything permitted in an armed conflict: and that some things, like the expropriation of a defeated people's property, or their expulsion from their homes - what has come to be called "ethnic cleansing" - are just not going to be tolerated any more, even in war.
The difference between what's right and what's wrong, as everyone knows, is that what's right ought to be done, while what's wrong ought not to be done; while the difference between might and the lack of it is about what can be done or not done. If the principle that "might is right" were accepted, then whatever can be done - because one has the might to do it - would also become right: or in other words, it would become what ought to be done. So if, for example, one can catch a Jew unawares and gas him to death, one ought to do it, because the Nazis, when they were able to do it, did it: so it must be the right thing to do! Do the Jewish people really want to reason thus?
And yet, though the argument that "might is right" is patently ludicrous - and is hardly "good for the Jews", since it justifies all the persecutions of the Jews over all the centuries, including all those that might occur in the future - it is essentially the only argument Israel and many Jewish people actually use, in deeds at least and at times even in words, to justify Israel's expropriation of Palestinian property and expulsion - and even worse - of Palestinian people.
One argument Israel makes to justify what it did in 1948 which does make sense - but makes sense only to a very small degree - is that when the very survival of the European Jews was at stake (i.e., after the rise of Nazi Germany in 1933), Jewish immigration to Palestine was a matter of life or death for the Jewish people (and for Zionism too). For example, Ben-Gurion stated in the early 1930's:
"The Jews of Germany must be gotten out of there, and if it's impossible to bring them to Palestine, then they will go somewhere else, and Palestine will become the hobby of enthusiasts. [...] If Zionism over the coming years does not provide an answer to the calamity which has befallen the Jewish people, then it will disappear from the Jewish stage." (Shabtai Teveth once again, p. 154.)
You yourself propound such an argument on the Tikkun Magazine website:
"Palestinians need to acknowledge their own role in helping create the conflict by their armed resistance to Jewish immigration to Palestine in the years when Jews were being annihilated or when Jews were crawling out of the death camps and crematoria of Europe."
The trouble with this argument is that even in 1948 it was already invalid, and later of course it became totally ludicrous. Yes, it was a matter of life and death for millions of Jews during World War II; but that war ended three years before Israel was founded. No more Jews were being massacred by the Nazis when the Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes and lands! This very fact takes away any justification for the Yishuv having visited The Disaster upon the Palestinians, based on the argument that millions of Jewish lives were at stake in Europe.
And during World War II, when the Jewish lives were at stake, it was not, by and large, the Palestinians who had put their foot down and violently refused to allow any refugees into Palestine - the "Arab Revolt" of 1936-39 had already come to an end - but rather the British government, whose "White Paper" restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine had been issued in Great Britain's own interest.
It is to be recalled that the "White Paper" of 1939 was issued after the British held consultations with both the Palestinians and the Jews in the so-called "Round Table Conference" of that same year. The Palestinians were led by the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, and included the more moderate party of the al-Nashashibi family. In addition to Palestinians, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, and Yemen were also represented. On the Jewish side, both Zionist and non-Zionist groups within the Jewish Agency attended, organised under the leadership of Chaim Weizmann. So it was not as if the Jewish side did not have a chance to make its point to the British before the "White Paper" was issued. The British, who at that time were the nation responsible for the Palestine Mandate, made its ruling, not in the interests of the Palestinians or the Jews, but in its own. It would be the height of injustice to lay the blame for the "White paper" at the feet of the Palestinians, without laying even greater blame at the feet of the British, who were the party who really called the shots at that time.
Also, bear in mind that some realistic resettlement plans for saving the Jews who were then in mortal danger were actively opposed by the Zionist movement itself! John Quigley, in Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice, writes: "In 1938 a thirty-one nation conference was held in Evian, France, on resettlement of the victims of Nazism. The World Zionist Organization refused to participate, fearing that resettlement of Jews in other states would reduce the number available for Palestine."
Even David Ben-Gurion's sympathetic biographer acknowledges that Ben-Gurion did nothing practical for rescuing the Jews in danger from the Nazis, devoting his energies to post-war prospects. He delegated rescue work to Yitzak Gruenbaum, who stated: "They will say that I am anti-Semitic, that I don't want to save the Exile, that I don't have a varm Yiddish hartz [...] Let them say what they want. I will not demand that the Jewish Agency allocate a sum of 300,000 or 100,000 pounds sterling to help [save] European Jewry. And I think that whoever demands such things is performing an anti-Zionist act." (See Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life.)
And as Israeli historian Tom Segev writes in his book The Seventh Million: "[Ben-Gurion stated] 'If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second - because we face not only the reckoning of those children, but the historical reckoning of the Jewish people.' In the wake of the Kristallnacht pogroms, Ben-Gurion commented that 'the human conscience' might bring various countries to open their doors to Jewish refugees from Germany. He saw this as a threat and warned: 'Zionism is in danger.'"
Ben-Gurion himself saw the saving of the Jews - by any other means than their coming as refugees to Eretz Yisra'el - as a threat! And as Israeli author Boas Evron says in his book Jewish State or Israeli Nation?: "The Zionist movement [...] interfered with and hindered other organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, whenever it imagined that their activity, political or humanitarian, was at variance with Zionist aims or in competition with them, even when these might be helpful to Jews, even when it was a question of life and death [...] Beit Zvi documents the Zionist leadership's indifference to saving Jews from the Nazi menace except in cases in which the Jews could be brought to Palestine [...] [e.g.] the readiness of the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, to absorb one hundred thousand refugees and the sabotaging of this idea - as well as others, like proposals to settle the Jews in Alaska and the Philippines - by the Zionist movement [...]
"The obtuseness of the Zionist movement toward the fate of European Jewry did not prevent it, of course, from later hurling accusations against the whole world for its indifference toward the Jewish catastrophe or from pressing material, political, and moral demands on the world because of that indifference."
If the blame for not saving the Jews of Europe is to be laid at the Palestinians' feet, it must also be laid at the Yishuv's. It would be hypocritical not to do so.
Besides, the great majority of Jews in Europe were not Zionists and did not even try to emigrate to Palestine before 1939. How does one welcome a "refugee" who does not want to be welcomed to the Holy Land? And before we glibly say that these Jews were in a sense short-sighted and stupid - for after the start of the war, as the Nazis occupied various countries, they refused to let the Jews leave, making emigration virtually impossible - we ought to remember that "hindsight is always 20/20".
And in any case, how does any of this history justify the Jewish State expropriating Palestinian property at gun-point? Remember that at the time the Jews were really in mortal danger, virtually all other nations - including the USA and Britain, and even "humanitarian" Switzerland - were turning back Jewish refugees by the thousands. Canada too. The available Nazi-era private documentation from our then Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, and our government make it abundantly clear that European Jews were as unwelcome here in Canada as they were in Britain, Switzerland, and the US. The refugee ship St. Louis was turned away from Canada as well as from the US. If the Palestinians refusing to take in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust is to be advanced as justification for Israel permanently expropriating Palestinian lands, then it ought to be equal justification for Israel permanently expropriating American, Canadian, British and Swiss lands as well! Obviously such a conclusion is ludicrous.
Thus it is clear that none of the Israeli and Jewish arguments attempting to establish that the Jews do have a right to all these 5,422,720 acres that became the State of Israel in 1948, stand up to serious scrutiny: why, any impartial person can see that. As regards over nine-tenths of the land which is included inside the borders, as they stood in 1948, of the State of Israel, there is absolutely no way the Israeli Jews can establish an exclusive right to it: at least not in the sense in which the Israeli Jews actually use that land.
And this, in other words, clearly means that the land was stolen from its former inhabitants. What else can we call "taking property for one's own exclusive possession and use when it actually belongs to someone else"?
Now you are a Rabbi: you know, therefore, as well as I do that stealing of property and real estate, especially on such a huge scale (five million acres or thereabouts!) is an absolute no-no in the spiritual way of life - and indeed in the way of life of any decent person, even if he or she does not aim at living a spiritual way of life.
Then why is this fact not acknowledged by the vast majority of the Jewish people, even by those who are working for peace in the Holy Land, including the Tikkun community? Why focus on the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, which took place only after 1967? Brutal, inhuman and criminal though it is, it is not as if the occupation is the only - or even the first - wrong perpetrated by Israel upon the Palestinian people. Even if the occupation were to end tomorrow, the enmity between the Palestinians and Israelis would not come to an end: not until "The Disaster" (with a Capital D) of the Palestinians is set right.
Indeed focussing only on what happened after 1967, and claiming that if Israel withdraws to the pre-June 1967 borders and a Palestinian State is established in the rest of Palestine, then everything will be hunky-dory, is just a sly way of legitimising the land grab and "ethnic cleansing" of 1948. It's no wonder many Palestinians are strongly objecting to such an approach to setting right the wrongs that have been committed in the Holy Land.
So this brings us to our common aim of Tkkun Olam or "Setting the World Right". Surely you agree that the main thing we have to do to "set the world right" is to set right what is wrong with it. And isn't stealing wrong?
And in setting right what's wrong, who better to start with than ourselves? Until we set right what's wrong with ourselves, how can we expect others to do likewise?
Now I am a strong believer in the fact that we cannot set right what's wrong with ourselves if we do not first of all acknowledge that we've been wrong in what we've done. Wouldn't you agree? Isn't that what Yom Kippur is all about - acknowledging at least once every year what we've done wrong, and thereby making it possible for us to set it right?
But by not acknowledging their responsibility in bringing about The Disaster, which is beyond debate, which is not denied by any serious scholar of the Middle East, which took place on such a grand scale, and which continues to this day with Jewish support without any prospect of coming to an end, the vast majority of Jews have become incapable of setting it right.
Not only can they not set it right, but by not acknowledging it, they have also done the Jewish people in general a terrible disservice: they have rendered condemnation of the vast majority of Jews entirely justified. How can one can fail to condemn people who wholeheartedly support armed robbery of land, especially on such a large scale, and even make excuses about it, indeed try to defend it? What would Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel - just to name four of the Prophets - have said? Would they have kept quiet, or approved of this large-scale Israeli theft of land, had they been alive today, and known about it?
Remember that when the Jewish people were sinning against both God and man, nobody ever condemned them in more scathing terms than the Prophets did. Why, not even the most rabid anti-Semites over the centuries ever expressed themselves more censoriously and in stronger language toward the Jews than the Prophets did, and indeed than the LORD God Himself did, concerning what would happen to the Children of Israel if they "will walk contrary unto" the LORD: "[...] And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat" (Leviticus, Chapter 26, verses 23 and 29). It makes one's blood curdle just to read these words, especially if one is a parent.
And I am sure also that as a Rabbi, you know what one has to do if one has wronged another human being, and if one truly wants to set the wrong right. Why, we even teach it to our kids from the time they are toddlers. You know: say you're sorry, apologise, make amends, give back what was stolen, and something more by way of compensation for the pain and suffering you have caused, promise never to do it again, make sure your apology is accepted, and if not, offer the wronged party yet something more, and keep on offering more until your apology is accepted, and until both of you are able to find it in your heart of hearts to make up and shake hands as genuine friends.
For if we do not make friends with our enemies, how can enmity between us ever end? It is utterly irrational and unrealistic to expect it to do so. Would you not agree?
If the other party has wronged us, of course we have a right to expect, and even demand as our right, the same from them. But if the resistance which they - and their neighbours - initially put up against us was resistance to having their property expropriated by us, we surely cannot expect them to begin the process by apologising to us! After all, it was our actions which provoked their reaction, and not vice versa. It is for us to first apologise to them: only then can we expect an apology from them, if any is indeed called for. Otherwise rancour between them and us will linger forever: surely with your experience as a Rabbi you can see that.
I realise that a lot of time has passed since 1948. But that is hardly an excuse to refrain from righting past wrongs, now is it? After all, some of the people who were alive then are still alive. And as for those who aren't, their children and grandchildren are, and they know quite well what happened to their parents and grandparents. They will hardly find it in their hearts to forget and forgive.
And in any case, better late than never, what? Otherwise in what possible sense can our actions be justified by the noble phrase Tikkun Olam or "Setting the World Right"?
Admittedly a lot of killing and maiming has since been perpetrated by both sides on the opposite side. But in this matter, there is, in your own words, no "moral equivalence". Aside from the fact that even one person murdered or tortured or oppressed is one too many, here we have a situation in which a heavily armed and well-trained militia - namely the Israelis - have attacked and trampled upon an unarmed or at best lightly-armed people, namely the Palestinians. When it comes to a straight fight between the Israeli army on one side against the armies of the neighbouring Arab states on the other, some degree of parity may validly be argued, and the Israeli army commended for having defeated a larger (though not better-trained) foe. But this can surely not be argued when the Israeli army fights against Palestinians, who have never had an army of their own, have no serious military training and never possessed any heavy weaponry.
Of course there is no equivalence, moral or otherwise. It is as if an 18-year-old, 180-pound bodybuilder were to try and steal something from an 8-year-old kid or from an 80-year-old lady. This is just plain bullying. Even if the kid or old lady were to try and fight back as best they could, how can we say that the teenager was not the one to blame in the first place? How can we say that he is not the one responsible for by far the majority of the resulting harm?
Thus it is abundantly obvious, at least to any rational and impartial person, that unless and until the Jewish people as a whole, and especially the Israeli nation as a whole - which is by far the stronger of the two parties in the fight "Israelis vs. Palestinians" - begins a genuine peace process, namely by doing all these things outlined in brief above, the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis can never end.
So, since you asked me, this is the strategy we ought to adopt if we want a genuine TIKKUN. This is the crux of my argument, and I think it's a completely cast-iron, irrefutable knock-down argument. If Israel wants peace, it has got to apologise to the Palestinians for visiting The Disaster upon them, and follow up with the apology's logical consequences. Otherwise Israel will never have peace. Rancour will linger in the hearts of the majority of Palestinians, no matter what document their leadership may be persuaded to sign. And long-term peace for Israel with rancour lingering in the hearts of the majority of Palestinians is an obvious impossibility.
And it is all the more important because we can always control what we do, but we can't always control what others do. Indeed most of the time we can't control what others do at all. The Jewish people can control what they do, and the Palestinian people can control what they do. Those who are Jewish can, therefore, do whatever is needed to be done by Jews to promote peace, but they cannot control the Palestinians, or make them do what they need to do to promote peace. Only the Palestinians can do that.
And of course also vice versa. So why demand anything from others? It makes sense only to demand something from oneself.
I, as a staunch Zionist and firm supporter of The Jewish State's right to exist, and indeed to flourish with what Herzl presciently - and correctly - called "its superior institutions", have to demand from myself that I speak out against this awful injustice, even if it greatly annoys and disturbs - and even at times alienates - my Jewish friends when I do so: for how can I possibly bring myself to support, even with silence, a state which flouts virtually every major spiritual and ethical principle I know?
Of course I cannot - and will not - demand from you that you do the same. However, you can demand it from yourself, can't you? For if you can't or won't, how will you be able to sleep at night, or provide spiritual counsel to your people by day?
Surely it is in Israel's - and the Jewish people's - best interests for most if not all Jews, in and out of Israel, to at first acknowledge, and then speak out against, this terrible injustice the Jewish people and the State of Israel has perpetrated on the Palestinian people for over half a century now. For as I said, the way things are going, if that doesn't happen, then Israel can never have peace.
Worse still, under these conditions, condemnation of the vast majority of Jews becomes genuinely justifiable. And how can that be good for the Jews?
Some people to whom I have made the above argument have vehemently protested, saying essentially that what I am proposing here would mean the end of the Jewish State. This, if you will pardon my French, is bullshit. You will remember the example I have given above regarding Rhode Island. Even if nine-tenths - or even if ten-tenths - of the land in Rhode Island were owned by non-Americans, it would not make Rhode Island any less an American state. Likewise, even if legal - as well as moral - rights to nine-tenths of the land of the Jewish State were to accrue to non-Jews, that fact per se still would not make the Jewish State any less a Jewish State. Indeed that precisely is the case at present, though this fact is simply ignored or swept under the carpet by almost all Jewish people, whether inside or outside Israel.
Moreover, from a demographic point of view, if the vast majority of Jews from all over the world would actually go and make the Jewish State their home - and if they don't, then why do they want a Jewish Sate in the first place? Doesn't that make the Jewish State kind of superfluous, and take away much of its justification for existence? - then even if all the Palestinians who owned land there before 1948 were to return, along with all their offspring and their offspring's offspring, to reclaim their lands and if need be rebuild their homes on them, that would still leave the Jewish population a distinct majority in the Jewish State. After all, there are about 16 million Jews world-wide, but far less than half of them actually live in Israel. And even the most generous estimate of the number of Palestinians world-wide is only 8.5 million. So if the vast majority of Jews did go to Israel and make it their home, the Palestinians in it would be a distinct minority in it, even if they all stayed in Israel and did not emigrate to the Palestinian State (which latter is much more likely to happen than the former ... but only, of course, if there is a Palestinian State for them to emigrate to!)
And title to individual plots of land can change over time, without any military force ever being used, and without any changes whatsoever to the borders of the Jewish State. It all depends on who wants to live there more, and is willing to put his money where his mouth is! Why, this was the original Zionist idea to begin with - "Zionist" as in Herzl's public pronouncements, and not, say, Jabotinsky's. For example, the Jewish community could offer the non-Jewish owners generous amounts of money for their plots of land. Remember that no matter how generous the offers, they would nevertheless almost certainly amount to a total sum smaller than the cost of all the ongoing military weapons, operations and infrastructure in Israel today: so it's not as if Israel would be losing much money by taking this approach. If the offers were generous enough, many Palestinians might eventually want to accept the Jewish offers, willingly sell their plots, and go an live in the Palestinian State: to which they are eminently entitled by exactly the same argument which demonstrates that the Jews are entitled to a Jewish State.
And even if all or most of the Palestinians were to initially refuse to sell their lands in perpetuity at any price, the Israelis might still be able to persuade them to rent or lease their land for limited periods of time: provided, again, that generous and mutually-acceptable prices were negotiated. Over a long peaceful period of time, if the Palestinians will have realised, judging from the very actions of Israel, that it is no longer Israel's intention to steal their land or to subjugate them by brute force the way Israel has done for over half a century, they might be much more willing to arrange outright and permanent sales of their land, and go and live in their own State. Of course it could take a lot of time, perhaps even a century or more; but in matters of state, as long as there is peace between them, time is the one thing both states would have in abundance.
Mind you, this is not to say that I am necessarily advocating a division of the Holy Land into two parts. Such a solution is only one of several workable ones. My very favourite solution is the one proposed by Israeli creative thinker Deb Reich in her article Beyond the Onion of Blame - Parallel Sovereignty for Palestine/Israel - see CounterPunch, Oct. 30, 2002, at <http://www.counterpunch.org/reich1030.html>. Her "innovative and ultramodern" suggestion - which in brief is, that Israel and the Palestinian State could exercise sovereignty in parallel over the entire Holy Land - would definitely work, because as I have already explained in this e-mail (and as we all have known all along), rights of sovereignty over, and rights of ownership of, land and real estate are two separate rights. As she argues - and correctly:
"'If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before,' wrote [...] Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman, 'we must leave the door to the unknown ajar'. [...] Nowhere is it written that there must necessarily be a 1:1 ratio between a given sovereign nation and a given land area. It's a longstanding assumption, but it's not a law of nature. If we so choose, we can dispense with 'exclusive sovereignty' in favor of 'non-exclusive sovereignty' or 'parallel sovereignty'. [...] In terms of how people subjectively view the world, parallel [sovereignty already] exist[s]. (Ask any Israeli what this place is and be told: Israel; ask any Palestinian and be told: Palestine.) Rather than struggling to unify the two by force, [...] let us simply acknowledge the existence of the two realities. Let them exist in parallel, on a basis of absolute formal equality, creating massive new synergies. [...] One supreme advantage of the idea is that, having adopted it, reasonable and moderate people from each of the two warring nations can thereafter think of themselves as being on the same side, in the framework of this novel and creative solution. [...] Who would dare imply that the prophets of old, had they been alive today and given the opportunity to learn what contemporary [science] is learning about the world, would have failed to welcome the great goodness that [this] concept bestows on all the people of this region?"
Heck, as a philosopher and a thinker, I wish I had thought of the concept! If it were actually put into practice, it would be worthy of a Nobel Prize. It could even be applied elsewhere: as for example in Kashmir. Reich's article, indeed, should be required reading by all those who are even the least bit concerned about Israel. Besides, her solution strikes a very strong echo in me personally, since I have lived on kibbutzim for a total of over six years, and have seen first hand how property - both moveable and immovable - can easily and advantageously be occupied and used "in parallel". If Reich's proposal were adopted, it could become yet one more of what Herzl called "The Jewish State's superior institutions", of which the rest of the world might stand in envy and awe, and learn something from. Not to mention that neither Jews nor Palestinians would lose sovereignty over one single solitary square inch of the land they both claim - and justly so - as their Homeland.
One objection levelled against the idea is that a sovereign state needs to have control over its natural resources, but how would two states having sovereignty over the same resources decide how to divide them between themselves? The answer however is to be found in the solution itself. The Holy Land's natural resources, fortunately or unfortunately, are virtually non-existent: it has no oil, no gas, no gold, no diamonds. Indeed its only natural resources - not counting its people - are sunshine, which is abundant, and water, which is scarce. But if the State of Palestine were to exercise sovereignty over the entire Holy Land in parallel with Israel, other Arab states - particularly Egypt - might much more willingly consider diverting some water to the region: for a price of course, but such a sale would benefit both parties. Consider the enormous amount of Nile water that at present is emptying into the Mediterranean. Even a fraction of this water, if piped to the Negev, could make the desert bloom well beyond Ben-Gurion's wildest dreams.
Of course making this vision a reality will not be easy. It will take a directed effort, good leadership, and willingness to change entrenched theories. There will also need to be some major transformations in Israeli and Palestinian hearts and minds. We have got to move past nationalism, which in the 21st century is appearing to look more and more like an archaic system (as feudalism began to appear in the 18th and 19th centuries), and start thinking instead in rights-based terms: in terms of equality, justice and mutually beneficial coexistence. This also requires thinking in terms of the near-impossible task of forgiving, thereby introducing a spiritual dimension into politics. But all this did happen to some extent in South Africa. So it is possible in Israel-Palestine.
True, the list of opponents of such a vision would be long: opportunistic and short-sighted politicians, both Israeli and Palestinian, who benefit politically from the conflict; extreme racists and religionists on both sides, who couldn't care less about anyone else's point of view; and of course the US government and military-industrial complex, which needs some level of instability to keep things boiling and arms sales going.
Still, I find this idea, not so much a fantasy, as an opportunity to try something new, something magnificent, something worth trying. Wasn't the notion of a Jewish State exactly in the same league when it was first proposed? Wasn't it a fantasy too?
There are, however, other good solutions too: such as that proposed by Gush Shalom (see <80Points.html>) and the one by Yoram Sade in his article Over the Next Hill, also published by Gush Shalom, besides several ideas proposed by Arabs. In the final analysis, of course, it is for the people living there to decide which solution they want to adopt.
But whichever solution is eventually adopted, it is now abundantly clear to all decent people all over the world that it must be based on two things, both of which must be given equal billing: Justice and Peace.
Or in other words, why don't all Zionists return to the original published Zionism of Herzl - who never advocated, or even envisaged, an unjustifiable or military solution to what he called "the Jewish Question" - rather than large-scale armed robbery of holy land, with which the word "Zionism" has unfortunately come to be synonymous?
(I do appreciate the fact that Herzl privately held less noble views, for he had written in his diary, circa 1896, as follows: "We shall spirit the penniless population [Palestinians] across the border [...] the process of expropriation and removal of the poor shall be carried out discreetly and circumspectly". Nevertheless this was not his published view, and even though this passage shows that the methods he thought of adopting were quite far from being morally - let alone spiritually - kosher, in public at least he wrote: "We shall not take others unawares or mislead them, any more than we shall deceive ourselves." And neither in public nor in private did he ever advocate using armed force to expropriate most of the Palestinian lands when establishing the Jewish State, as the founders of Israel actually did - and as can be confirmed by visiting the various links on the Web page http://palestineremembered.com/Acre/Famous-Zionist-Quotes/Story637.html).
Anyway, as I already wrote at the beginning of this message, I take the position that the Jewish State not only has a right, but a duty, to exist; and that anti-Semitism has nothing to do with it. In that sense I am even more of a Zionist than Herzl was, since his argument was based almost exclusively on the fact that anti-Semitism exists, and in his view it was that which required the necessity of the establishment and existence of a Jewish State.
(Historically, Zionism was born both as a reaction to anti-Semitism and as a conservative alliance with it - for although many Zionists, like other European conservatives, did not and still do not fully realise that it was an alliance, Herzl did in fact write about it, and even allied himself with the notorious Count von Plehve, the anti-Semitic Minister of Czar Nicholas II - but none of the early Zionists, not even Herzl himself, realised the true nature of those with whom they were allying themselves. In this respect even Herzl's type of Zionism is, I'm afraid, justly to be censured and shunned. Perhaps the most shocking example of this phenomenon is the delight with which some Zionist leaders in Germany welcomed Hitler's rise to power, because they shared his belief in the primacy of "race" and his hostility to the assimilation of Jews among "Aryans" - see for instance the 1934 book Wir Juden ["We Jews"] by Dr Joachim Prinz, a Zionist rabbi who subsequently emigrated to the USA, became vice-chairman of the World Jewish Congress and a leading light in the World Zionist Organization, as well as a great friend of Golda Meir, and who had written that book to celebrate Hitler's so-called "German Revolution" and the defeat of liberalism, without of course realising where that movement - and modern anti-Semitism generally - was leading. But equally, many people at present do not realise where Zionism as it has become today - the movement of which Dr Prinz and Golda Meir were honoured figures - is tending: to a combination of all the old hates of Orthodox Judaism towards non-Jews and to the indiscriminate - and ahistorical - excuse of using all the persecutions of Jews throughout history to justify modern Israel's persecution of the Palestinians.)
Anyway, I'm also more of a Zionist than most Jews living outside Israel, for if I were Jewish I couldn't imagine myself making my home anywhere else but in Israel. (I certainly can't understand why most of the Jewish people want their own Homeland but don't want to make their home in it - what's the point in having a Homeland, then?)
So, as a Zionist, far be it from me to suggest anything that would be in any way detrimental to Israel.
In 1948 the international community of nations, in the form of a UN resolution, declared that the Jewish State had a right to exist in the Holy Land. And it is on historical record that the PLO too has accepted this principle ever since 1976 (if you will read the relevant historical documents you will see that I am correct in saying so.) That was over a generation ago. The neighbouring Arab nations - Egypt and Jordan in particular - have already accepted, and that since quite a few years, the Jewish State's right to exist; and Syria is also willing to do the same, provided Israel returns the Golan Heights, which Israel could easily do, since that is so tiny an area that it would make very little real difference to the size of Israel if it were returned. No neighbouring Arab state is now calling for the destruction of Israel, and the only Arabs who are doing so are fanatics who don't have a realistic capability to bring about such an outcome anyway. The destruction of Israel is just not going to happen in the near future, no matter how profusely and sincerely Israel apologises to the Palestinians: and we all know it.
Indeed - and almost ironically - it is most likely the lack of such an apology for visiting The Disaster upon the Palestinians, and (naturally) of the Jewish actions that must logically follow as a consequence, that could end up destroying Israel. For then Israel will gradually lose the support of all decent people, and eventually of the Almighty as well. And then what will Israel's vaunted military prowess and armaments be worth? And even its nukes, which Israel has made veiled threats to use if it finds itself in an unwinnable showdown, as the ultimate "suicide bomber"?
As Ann Pettifer, a freelance writer at the University of Notre Dame and the publisher of Common Sense, an alternative newspaper published at that university, wrote recently: "I still recall the chilling response from an Israeli rabbi - a visiting scholar in the Notre Dame Theology Department - during an energetic discussion of the Occupied Territories. The rabbi insisted they [weapons of mass destruction] were necessary for Israel's security and went on to warn that should Israel ever feel threatened, it would not hesitate 'to bring down the whole Temple.' His threat, not in the least veiled, was made in the context of Israel being a nuclear power." (I mean, how much more evil can one get. And one is supposed to call such a person a Theologian?!?)
Remember that historically speaking, the LORD God has already denied the Children of Israel their own State - and that too, not just once, but twice. He could, if He were again wroth with their flagrant disregard of His Commandments, deny them their State yet a third time in as many millennia. Is that what the Children of Israel want?
Remember also that it's just a matter of time before the Arabs smarten up and realise that the most powerful weapon in their arsenal is the truth. Once they realise that, and put their oil money where their new-found realisation is, they could start a world-wide media blitz so unrelenting and so persuasive that few people in the world would be able to ignore it. Indeed this trend has already begun, with Web sites like Ali Abunimah's "Electronic Intifada" (see <http://electronicIntifada.net/new.shtml>.)
As things exist, the mainstream media is so unreliable and untruthful that I wouldn't touch the New York Times, CNN or the BBC with a barge-pole: I'm never sure what they're leaving out. As Gore Vidal succinctly puts it: "The New York Times is the principal dispenser of opinion received from corporate America." (That's in print, of course; CNN does the same on the boob tube. And the BBC does for the Brits what CNN does for US.) If the oil-rich Arabs buy up some big newspaper chains and TV networks and finally get them to really print and show all the news that's fit to print and show, and that too without distorting it in any way, they'd win so many converts around the world that no one else would be able to compete. The pressure on Israel to behave decently will then become incredible.
Even now there is a growing disenchantment of decent Jews the world over with Israel - and they include many Israelis themselves. If Jews outside Israel withdraw their support from Israel in disgust, and Israelis emigrate in increasing numbers - as seems to be actually happening - because they do not want to be citizens of a thieving, lying, murdering Jewish State, then Israel might simply collapse under the weight of its own sins, and disappear from history. Even though that is not what you, I and the majority of decent people want, it might nevertheless happen if Israel does not mend its ways.
For as even Martin Buber said in 1961: "Only an internal revolution can have the power to heal our people of their murderous sickness of causeless hatred [...] It is bound to bring complete ruin upon us. Only then will the old and young in our land realize how great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought here from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we robbed we put up houses of education, charity, and prayer, while we babble and rave about being the 'People of the Book' and the 'light of the nations' [...]".
Let us particularly pay attention to his opening words: "Only an internal revolution can have the power to heal our people". In other words, the only threat to Israel and Judaism arises today, not from what Arabs might do, but from what Jews are doing and might continue to do! So what I'm proposing could well turn out to be, far from being the end of Israel, the only course of action that in the long run might save it.
What I am proposing would only result in the end of Israel's discriminatory laws and practices which have resulted, for over fifty years now, in Israel trampling on the rights of non-Jewish people - and which laws and practices are contrary to Jewish teaching anyway - and not the end of the rights of the Jewish people to their own State, or to live in peace and safety in it. Surely you will agree that the Jewish people, in the process of establishing the Jewish State and maintaining it, are entitled to these rights only conditionally upon allowing everyone else the same rights to which they lay claim themselves. Otherwise where's the justice, where's the morality, where's the spirituality, where's the Judaism in such a Jewish State? Does it not make a mockery of the term "Jewish State" for Israel to perpetuate for so long the terrible injustice of visiting such a huge Disaster on another people, and to follow it up with even more horrible and sinful acts?
Even Albert Einstein, who was certainly a great humanist, had prophetically written in his book Out of My Later Years, which was published in 1950: "I should much rather see a reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain." Einstein may not have been right about Relativity (if you will go to my Web site, especially to the section entitled The ABZ of Relativity at <Relativity.html>, you will see that I have published 26 arguments against that Theory, which I argue is logically and mathematically faulty); but he was certainly right about what he wrote above. The inner damage Israel has already inflicted upon Judaism has indeed been great. We can only hope and pray that it isn't irreparable.
Of course there are those who argue back against me, saying that Israel apologising to the Palestinian people - whether profusely or otherwise - let alone following up with the apology's logical consequences, isn't going to happen either: "and we all know it". But pardon me: we don't all know it. For now it is Israel's very survival that's at stake. That's one powerful incentive to do what must be done. And there seems to be no question now that it must be done, at least from a spiritual and moral point of view: for as my late father, a staunch supporter of the Jewish State and the founder of the Society of Servants of God (see <http://societyofservantsofgod.com>), used to say, "those who steal commit sin; [and] those who permit stealing commit greater sin". Either the Jewish people apologise to the Palestinian people now, and by doing so save Israel, or they may have to do it after Israel is no more, as the whites in South Africa did to the blacks there after the Apartheid regime fell. After all, repentance, truth and reconciliation cannot be put off for ever.
Besides, in this case we have some control over the situation. Those of us who are Jewish, and to a lesser extent those who, like me, are not Jewish but nevertheless wholeheartedly sympathise with and support Israel - can make it happen. We can make it happen by (a) doing it ourselves, and (b) encouraging our Jewish friends to see the light, and do it too. If enough of us do it, maybe the rest of the Jewish community, both in and out of Israel - most of whom are, I'm sure, quite decent people at heart - will see the light as well ... and then, as Herzl correctly said, "if you want it, it won't be a fantasy" (im tirtzu, ayn zu agadah).
The real test facing both Israeli and Diaspora Jews now is the test of self-criticism, which must include a detailed critique of the Jewish past, especially the Zionist past. The extent of the discrimination against and persecution of Palestinians inflicted by the "Jewish State" with the support of Diaspora Jews has been - and still is - enormous and indeed hideous. This huge evil must come to an end: for if it does not, the Jewish State itself will come to an end. Why, in all but name the Jewish State has come to an end already - indeed it never came into existence to begin with - for it never embodied true Jewish spiritual values, not even at its foundation. Israel does exist, but Israel - as it exists today, and as it has existed for the last half century and more - is not a Jewish State, not in the sense you and I, and the Prophets of old, ever regarded what it means to be Jewish: "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God". Calling Israel a "Jewish State" makes a veritable mockery of the term "Jewish", if by "Jewish" we mean what we think we mean, namely to do that which is spiritually - or even ethically - right and good. The only people who believe the Jewish State exists in any sense other than as a vacant phrase are those who are either so totally evil as to distort the very words of the scriptures to suit their own nefarious purposes, or who are blind because they don't even want to see: who don't care to search out and analyse the vast amount of information that is readily available to virtually everyone, especially due to the Internet, and to open their minds to critical analysis. (I have to add a mea culpa here: I myself was one such blind person until about a year or so ago, when a friend living in India, an ex-Indian Air Force fighter pilot by the name of Joe Thomas, opened my eyes by sending me via e-mail material to read.)
everyone with any decency - and especially those,
like you and me, to whom the idea of a Jewish
State is dear - has always been dreaming of a
Jewish State that behaves decently towards
all people, just like any normal civilised state
is expected to behave: that is to say, one which
does not steal, does not murder, does not lie,
does not covet. Why, the most important Jewish
document of them all, the Ten Commandments or
Decalogue, has these principles written clearly
and unambiguously in black and white, and in
Hebrew to boot (so that all Israelis, including
the soldiers of the army and the members of the
Knesset, can read them.) If the Jewish State
itself will not follow these principles, who else
can be expected to do so?
Shalom ve kol tuv,
My Home Page: <http://www.ardeshirmehta.com>.
PS: I am
sending a copy of this e-mail to a few friends
too. Indeed I hope you will as well. The more
people we persuade the better, and the sooner a
genuine Tikkun Olam can take place - what?
original e-mail, for ease of reference]: