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US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Began When
the First Jewish Colonist Came to Palestine in 1882
By Uri Avnery
CCUN, February 21, 2017
The first map from the
left shows that the vast majority of lands (the green area) in
Palestine were owned by Palestinian Arabs until 1948.
The second map from left shows Palestine in
green and Israel in white colors, according to the 1947 UN Partition
resolution 181, which was absolutely unfair for the Palestinian
people, as it gave most of the country to Jewish immigrants who
did not own it.
In 1948, Arab armies entered the Palestinian territories of
the Arab State of Palestine, according to the 1947 Partition
resolution: Gaza (the south west green strip), the West Bank (eastern green
area), and the Galilee (northern green area). They wanted to keep
these Palestinian territories in Arab hands.
By the end of
the 1948 war, most Palestinian lands were annexed to Israeli by
force, in violation to the 1947 UN Partition resolution (third map
from the left).
The fourth map from the left shows the
currently-owned Palestinian lands, which ahve been reduced to the
small area of Gaza Strip (west) and scattered and disconnected
villages and towns of the West Bank (east).
How Did the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Start?
Last week I tried to describe the 1948 war, starting from the shooting at
a Jewish bus on the morrow of the UN partition resolution. Some readers
dispute the timing. They insist that the war started on May 15, on the
morrow of the founding of the State of Israel, when the armies of the
neighboring Arab states entered the country.
I have seen this many
times. Every serious debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raises
the question: "When did it start?" Each side has its own date, proving
that the other side started it.
The Arabs started it, the Zionists
assert. The conflict started with the "invasion" of the Arab armies.
("Invasion" in quotation marks, since they entered the territories
allotted by the UN to the Palestinian Arab state, though their declared
aim was to crush the new Jewish state right at the beginning.)
Jews started it, the Arabs assert. They began to drive the Arab population
out, leading to the Nakba ("disaster").
The Arabs started it,
reply the Zionists. Why did we have to evict the Arab population? It was
because you shot at our villages after the UN resolution of November 29,
The Jews started it, retort the Arabs. It all started with
that atrocious resolution. The UN, consisting at the time mainly of
Western and Communist states, gave a country that did not belong to them
to the Jews, who did not belong to it.
Yes, say the Jews, but it
really started with the White Paper issued by the British in May, 1939,
which in effect closed the doors of Palestine to the Jews just when the
Nazis were planning the Holocaust.
We had no choice, interject the
British. In 1936 the Arabs started a revolt in which Jews and our soldiers
were killed all over the country.
But why did we have to do so?
cry out the Arabs. Because masses of German Jews were coming to Palestine
after 1933, when Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany. We had to stop it,
even by violent means, to prevent Palestine from turning into a Jewish
Really, retort the Jews, but you started it long before,
in 1929, when you organized riots all over the country, killing lots of
We had no choice, assert the Arabs. The British government
of Palestine favored the Zionists and allowed them to settle all over.
That was our right, say the Jews, enshrined in the Mandate conferred
by the League of Nations on the British.
Who gave the League of
Nations the right to confer a Mandate on anybody? ask the Arabs. The land
belonged to its inhabitants, almost all of whom were Arabs. That's how it
But the Arabs attacked the Jews in 1919, showing how
much the British were needed.
The British had no business being
here, answer the Arabs. The whole mess really started in 1917 when the
British published the Balfour Declaration, promising to establish a Jewish
"national home" in Palestine, which belonged, at the time, to the (Muslim)
The Ottoman Empire was dying, say the Jews, and
the Zionist movement, which was founded in 1896, had already proclaimed
its right to Palestine.
But at the same time the modern Arab
national movement was born, which had an indisputable claim to Palestine
and all the Arab countries.
God has promised…
And so on.
I HAVE my own theory about when and
how the conflict started.
In 1904 Theodor Herzl, the founding
father of the Zionist movement, died. Herzl did not like Palestine very
much, and started his ideological quest with the idea of founding a Jewish
state in Patagonia, an Argentine territory which had recently been
Herzl did not like the Turks or the Arabs, but events
convinced him that the Jews would go nowhere but Palestine. In his book
"Der Judenstaat", the Bible of Zionism, he declared that the Jews would
serve in Palestine as an outpost of Western civilization against the
barbarians of Asia – i.e. the Arabs.
One can argue that it was
here that the conflict really started – right at the beginning of the
Zionist idea. But I have in mind an even more precise moment.
FEW years before World War I, the Ottoman Empire showed signs of breaking
up. A modernizing movement, led by army officers, assumed power in 1908.
They called themselves "the Young Turks".
Among the restless Arab
population, too, revolutionary groups emerged. They dared not yet talk
about independence, but instead put forward a plan for the
"de-centralization" of the Ottoman Empire, giving its various nations some
A group of Arab members of the Turkish parliament, led
by Raw'hi al-Khalidi (member of a
Jerusalem family even now prominent in Palestinian affairs) had a
brilliant idea: why not approach the Zionists and offer them an alliance
against the Turks in the fight for this idea?
representative in Jerusalem hastened to submit this offer to Max Nordau,
the new president of the Zionist organization. Nordau had inherited
Herzl's post after the death of the founder.
This was a historic
moment, one of those moments when history holds its breath. A totally new
vista opened up: an alliance between Arabs and Jews! a joint liberation
Nordau, a famous German-Jewish intellectual, did not
dream of accepting this offer. He must have considered it crazy. The Turks
were the masters of the country. They could give Palestine to the Jews.
They could be bribed. The Arabs were powerless. They could give us
So the moment passed. Nordau mentioned the idea to the
Zionist Congress in Hamburg, but nobody took any notice.
people know about this episode. It is described in the authoritative book
by the late Aharon ("Aharonchik") Cohen.
The possibility existed
only in theory. History is made by real people, whose consciousness is
formed by the realities of their time. For Europeans of the early 20th
century, the idea of such an alliance with the natives against an imperial
power was close to lunatic.
IN RETROSPECT, this idea could have
changed history. We would have been born into a different world.
In the autumn of 1947, when I was just 24 years old, I published a booklet
called (in Hebrew) "War or Peace in the Semitic Region".
It was an
almost exact repetition of the ideas in the Nordau incident – which I knew
nothing about at the time.
It opened with the words:
"When our fathers, the Zionists, decided to set up a 'safe haven' in this
country, they had the choice between two paths:
appear in West Asia as a European conqueror, who sees himself as the
bridgehead of the 'white' race, a master of the 'natives', like the
Spanish conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonists in America. This is
what the Crusaders at their time did in this country.
path was to see themselves as an Asiatic people returning to its homeland
– who sees himself as an heir of the political and cultural tradition of
the Semitic race, and is ready to lead the people of the Semitic Region in
the war of liberation against European exploitation."
exception of the terminology, which belonged to its time, I subscribe to
every word even today, almost 70 years later.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began
when the first Jewish colonist came to this country in 1882,
even before the official founding of the Zionist movement. It began as a
clash between two great national movements which were totally ignorant of
each other. This ignorance persists, in large part, to this very day.
The past cannot be changed.
But perhaps, perhaps, we can learn
from it and draw some conclusions.
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