Your Associated Press report on Israel’s celebration of her 60th anniversary (May 8) included controversial remarks that beg some clarification. The reference to Israel’s “41-year occupation of Palestinian territories” could be misleading. In the 1967 Mid-East war Israel was attacked by Jordan; as her last resort, Israel repulsed this attack only to find herself willy-nilly in control of Jordanian land — not the land of an Arab Palestinian state that has never existed.
Some two decades later Jordan “conceded” its claim for the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization (aka the Palestinian Authority). And although Israel has sought to trade this land for peace with the Arab Palestinians who live there, their leader then, Yasser Arafat, rebuffed a historic opportunity to achieve that by declining a reconciliation proposal that was brokered by President Clinton at Camp David in 2000; a proposal that Israeli premier, Ehud Barak was prepared to sign.
Arafat insisted that Israel must absorb millions of descendants — up to the current fourth generation — of Arab Palestinians who had resided in Israel but fled their homes during the 1948 war. This Arab Palestinian demand to exercise their so-called “right of return” has no legal precedent anywhere in the world, even as it seeks more than anything else to nullify Israel’s Jewish identity by changing radically the makeup of her population. Indeed, even the ‘moderate’ Arab Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who succeeded Arafat at the helm of the Palestinian Authority has said that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Your AP story also refers erroneously to “the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.” Sadly, it is the nature of most wars to produce displaced populations as it had happened in the Greek-Turkey conflict, or in the India-Pakistan conflict, not to mention during World War II. And so it was during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Wherever Arab troops captured Jewish settlements (e.g., the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, The Etzion Bloc region, Kfar Darom) the few surviving Jews were evicted from their homes. Similarly, nearly a million Jews who lived in Arab lands throughout the Middle East were also forced out, leaving behind property and other assets; many of them would soon arrive in Israel. Yet, no one has ever heard a peep about these Jewish refugees of the 1948 war because Israel has absorbed them all rather than wail for generations over their displacement and resulting economical dislocation. Sadly, Arab Palestinians persist to this day with their adamant refusal to accept the notion of a Jewish state; this refusal led them and their Arab brethren to wage a total war against nascent Israel in 1948, even when Jewish statehood was sanctioned by the U.N.
Israel did not have a policy of evicting Arab Palestinians living under her jurisdiction — to this day Israel’s population is comprised of a 20 percent Arab minority that was determined not to leave during the 1948 war.
Yet, most Arabs who fled their homes in Israel responded to calls from Arab leaders who urged them to do so in order to make the fighting easier for the invading Arab armies, or they had simply acted out of fear for their own well-being. Jews did not evacuate their homes in battle zones because they had no place to go. Only in a few sporadic instances where local Palestinian Arabs waged war and broke cease-fire agreements with Israel’s army, did Israeli troops place such hostile civilian population on trucks “moving” them to nearby Arab-controlled frontlines. All in all, neighboring Arab countries that received such refugees have refused to absorb them, keeping them to this day in squalid camps in order to (ab)use their plight to highlight the calamity (nakba in Arabic) that befell them when their own people’s ploy to liquidate an internationally sanctioned Jewish sovereignty over a small chunk of the land of the Bible (hardly one half of the size of Lake Michigan, or smaller than San Bernadino County in California) was foiled. The plight of the Arab Palestinians might end when and if they accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and recognize the validity and necessity of a genuine two-state solution; one Arab and one Jewish.
Mellanie Phillips of England’s Daily Mail has recently disputed the validity even of such an arrangement, as elusive as it has always been. According to her (and other bold thinkers), the only hope for reconciliation between the two peoples of Palestine is to recognize Jordan as the historical “state of Arab Palestine. This was the original two-state ‘solution’ back in 1921, when Winston Churchill unilaterally gave away three quarters of the original territory of Palestine to the Hashemite dynasty, creating what is now Jordan, with the remainder supposed to go the Jews.” It is within that “remainder” that Israel has offered a statehood to a second Arab Palestinian state (with Jordan being effectively the first post-Ottoman Palestinian state), only to encounter the Arab Palestinian insistence that Israel herself becomes effectively yet a third Arab Palestinian state.
Yossi Feintuch of Columbia is rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom.