I wrote an article on the protests and deaths on the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip last week, and I think I did a good job of contextualizing the events that took place through the lens of current events.
However, I realized since then that there’s stuff I don’t know anything about, and that’s basically how we ended up in this situation at all.
So, I started digging and quickly realized that this rabbit-hole runs deep.
In order to understand Israel and Gaza in 2018, you have to understand the problems experienced in the region in 1948. And in order to understand those, you have to go back to 1922. And in order to understand that, you have to go back to 1917, and ultimately, 1899. Let’s start there.
1899: This is the year that the Zionist Federation of the United Kingdom and Ireland is founded. The organization is a national-level organization that brings together local groups with the shared interest of creating a state for the Jewish people, which had been without a state to call their own for the better part of two millennia at this point.
1916: We’ll jump forward to the First World War. The Ottoman Empire is starting to collapse, and its enemies, including most prominently, France and Great Britain, start to eye its territory as possible spoils of war. This process is helped along by a revolt of Arab-ethnicity peoples in the region stretching from Syria to Yemen. While the revolt was not successful, Britain does commit troops and support to the revolt, and agrees to support Arab independence. It precedes to largely ignore this promise when signing the Sykes-Picot Agreement with France.
1917: Due in part to pressure from the Zionist Federation, Great Britain issues the Balfour Declaration, which declares support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
1922: The British Mandate for Palestine is passed by the League of Nations. Great Britain is given control over Palestine and “Transjordan,” with a mandate to set up self-governing democratic governments. The effort to create governments fails, due in large part to (probably correct) assumptions by the Arabs that Britain plans to favor Jews.
1936: Unsurprisingly, Britain’s failure to put a democratic government in place and broken promises to both Arabs and Jews leads to high tensions. Jewish immigration to the area has increased over the years, especially in the run-up to the Holocaust. Both Jews and Arabs are unhappy with the British, but they’re competing with each other for control. The tension spills over into violence in 1936, when some Arabs start a revolt against the British, and also attack Jews. It is brutally suppressed, but the violence also leads to the growth of underground Jewish militias. Britain clamps down on Jewish immigration to the region in an effort to ease tensions and starts drawing up plans to partition the area between the two groups.
World War Two: Taking advantage of the chaos caused by World War Two, Jewish terrorist groups, offshoots of the militias founded in 1936, kidnap and murder British Officials. At this point, the British have dealt with uprisings by both Jews and Arabs and are tired of dealing with the region. They want out but can’t safely leave until the end of the war.
1947: Things come to a head. Israeli militant groups stage a prison break at Acre Prison. Britain captures three of the conspirators and sentences three of them to death. Israeli groups capture two British sergeants and threaten to kill them if the sentences are carried out. Neither side blinks and both the sergeants and the conspirators are executed. This destroys public support for the British Mandate back at home, and Britain announces that it will be leaving Palestine no later than August 1948.
Britain puts the problem before the UN, which puts together the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. After studying the region, the committee developed a plan to partition the country into two countries, one that was 55% Jewish, 45% Arab, and one that was 99% Arab, 1% Jewish. Jerusalem and the surrounding areas were set aside as international zones. It was passed by the General Assembly in November, with 33 votes for, 13 against, and 10 abstentions, including Great Britain.
The plan may actually have been the greatest gerrymander of all time. Despite the fact that Jews made up roughly 1/3rd of the population, they would be a majority in one state, while the Arab vote in that same state would be heavily diluted, despite Arabs constituting 2/3rds of the region’s population. This problem would only get worse as more Jews moved into the Jewish country. Arabs rejected the plan because they felt that constituted a breach of the UN’s dedication to the right of self-determination.
1948: On May 14th, Britain pulled out of Palestine. The following day surrounding countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen sent in irregular forces to support the Arabs. The war lasts until March 10th, 1949. Inexplicably, Israel wins. As a result of the war, it expands its territory to include areas allotted to the Arabs by the UN. As a result of the war, around 750,000 Arabs are displaced. Some left voluntarily, but the majority were removed by Israeli forces or left in fear of Israeli forces.
An estimated 260,000 Jews left surrounding Muslim countries in the next three years, in a similar mixture of voluntary and compelled migration.
Most of the bad blood today stems from these forced migrations.
When those in Gaza say they want to go home, they’re really talking about things that happened to their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. I won’t deny that wrongs were committed.
Israel shouldn’t have forced people off their land.
But, also, the Palestinian Arabs should not have sought the assistance of foreign Arab governments in what was essentially a civil war.
Arabs never would have been expelled from Israel had other Arabs never attacked Israel. The expulsions didn’t happen before the war, they happened after Israel somewhat miraculously reversed their positions from the early part of the war where they got their butts kicked and were able to go on the offensive.
I have a real question for the people in Palestine.
Even if we decided that you had a right to go home, given that it was your ancestors that were moved, would you want to?
I say this not only because you’ve built lives of various sorts where you found yourselves, but also because if you went home, you would find yourselves in the minority in what essentially amounts to an ethnostate.
Would you want that?
Maybe so. And I see no reason to deny you that option as long as you agree to live by the laws of the land and in peace.
I don’t know how many people have that desire.
It seems that the general current is that Israel must be destroyed, which seems equal parts anti-Semitic and genocidal. For obvious reasons, that can’t happen.
So, what happens next?
I can’t tell you, but I can suggest that it might be time to look for some new goals. There’s not a lot of easy exits from this situation, but I think there’s always a way out. Figure out what it is, take a moment to reset, and then return to being a productive and peaceful member of the world.
Sure, Israel may be a bully. But bullies often prosper. Look at China. Or Cuba. Or Venezuela.
You can’t control them. But you can control yourselves.