Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Israel: Myths & Facts

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and repeated.” – JFK

I tend to avoid the topic of Israel because I simply do not have the energy for it. I mentioned it once before in a post entitled “The Fashion of Politics” – 17 June 2005. When discussing Israel-Palestine issues with almost anyone, the first thing I notice is that they do not have any idea what they are talking about. Almost everyone I have ever met has been duped by propaganda without even realising it. The Israel-Palestine conflict is extremely complicated and to really understand it a person has to have extensive knowledge of the history of the Near East, as well as an understanding of the cultures, religions, politics and ways of life that have prevailed there.

But thanks to the “anonymous” commenter on my previous post, I feel I am forced into writing about Israel. The first thing I will say is that if you really want to learn about the history, the best book I know, touted as one of the most thoroughly researched and objective books ever written on the subject, is Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, 1984.

The second thing I will say is that “anonymous” knows the history and politics of Israel and the Arab-Jewish conflict better than anyone else I know. I just wish he could express himself in a less offensive manner, i.e. without being a total asshole.

I am pro-Israel, meaning that I believe that Israel should and must exist.

I am pro-Palestinian, meaning that I think the Palestinians should also have their own state.

I am against a lot of the policies of the current Israeli administration, analogous to how I feel about the Bush administration.

I have lived in Israel and most recently visited there last Christmas; I probably know better than any of my regular blog mates what the day-to-day reality is there.

What I am going to offer you today is just a few historical points that most people have wrong. Again, I would like to emphasise that you must know the history before you can understand anything that is going on in that part of the world, just like anywhere else.

Myth: The Palestinians have always been in, and had an identity with, the land of Palestine.

Fact: In the late 1800s/early 1900s, Arabic-speaking migrants were wandering in search of subsistence all over the Middle East. Palestine was a wasteland. The Arabic-speakers who did end up in Palestine thought of themselves as Ottomans, Turks, Southern Syrians or simply Arabs, even despite the attempts of the Mufti and TE Lawrence to imbue them with nationalism.

Myth: Jews returned after 2000 years to displace the Palestinian Arabs.

Fact: Jews never left the land, even after the Roman conquest in 70 CE (AD).

Myth: In the 70 years or so leading up to the establishment of the modern state of Israel, the Jews stole the Arabs’ land.

Fact: Most of the Arab land in Palestine was owned by absentee landlords; the people that worked the land were penniless peasants. Jews tried to avoid purchasing land in areas where Arabs might be displaced. They sought land that was largely uncultivated, swampy, cheap and without tenants.

Myth: Palestine = Israel

Fact: The Palestine Mandate included areas both east and west of the Jordan River, i.e. all of Israel and all of the modern country of Jordan.

Myth: Only Jews immigrated to Palestine; Arabs have been there for millennia.

Fact: As an example, between WWI and WWII, the Jewish population increased by 470,000 while the non-Jewish population increased by 588,000.

Myth: Upon the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Arabs were expelled from the country.

Fact: Israel asked the Arabs to stay as full citizens with full rights. Some Arabs left earlier in anticipation of a war, the neighbouring Arab countries told the Arabs to flee so as not to be in the way of the invading Arab armies, and many Arabs simply left to avoid being caught in a war zone.

I know this is not much, but as I said before, this subject exhausts me. If you do have any specific questions, please ask. I will try to answer and do the research if I don't know something straight off the top of my head.


Monkey's Max said...


Anonymous said...

Let Anon start it, I've got a credit card and matches (and I'm not afraid to use either!)

Monkey's Max said...

Anon will be very busy today and may not have time to visit until much later. I also have reason to believe that he may make himself identifiable from this time forward.

Anonymous said...

Oy, I sure hope so! Got zol im bentshn mit dray mentshn: eyner zol im haltn, der tsveyter zol im shpaltn un der driter zol im ba’haltn!

Monkey's Max said...

Great, now we've got a Yiddish poet on board. This place is weird.

Anonymous said...

Zdayen li me ha-einaym! Im hayu samim et hamo'ach shelcha b'tarnegol, hu haya ratz yashar l'shochet!!

Monkey's Max said...

Oh, and now we've switched to Hebrew. Interesting.

Monkey said...

Nah, it's just Mossad trying to throw you for a loop.

Monkey's Max said...

Monkey, see you for chicken nachos in 53 minutes.

Monkey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Devastatin' Dave said...


Thanks for the quick history lesson. However, I still stick by my claim that it is shameful how Palestinians are treated. And let me get this out of the way for the sake of clarity:

I am not Anti-Semitic

I don't even like the term because, even though the term is used to imply that someone hates Jews, not all Semites are Jews. Anyways..

Also, I am anti-Israel, and anti-Palestine, only because I am an anarchist. I think the Jewish people would be better off following people other than the likes of Sharon, Begin and Netanyahu. Palestinians are better off not following the likes of Arafat and Hezbollah.(sp?)

Similarly, Americans are better off not following the likes of the Bushes, Clintons and Kennedys. It's the politicians that get in the way of peace.

And if I'm not mistaken, I think there is a Jewish sect that thinks the idea of a Jewish political state is apostasy. Max, maybe that's another blog topic for you.:-)

Monkey's Max said...

DD, I am not going to argue with you about the way Palestinians are treated. This post is just to provide some historical background. Glad to be of service.

If you want to get technical about the term "Semite", it should not even exist. The word "Semitic" was originally used only to refer to a family of languages, i.e. Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. Calling someone a "Semite" is like calling someone an "Indo-European". I happen to believe that Jew hatred should just be called Jew hatred. Why give it a nice name?

I have assumed you do not hate Jews because I know you love me.

As for Jewish sects that do not approve of a modern political Israel, they are weird ultra-religious Messianic types.

Anonymous A-Hole said...

Indeed, I will be busy today and do not have the time to be a "total asshole."

MM, just so you know, Peters' book, upon further review (and stricly in my opinion) is much less objective than first suspected. In terms of helping out DD, I'd be more eager to recommend One Palesting Complete by Tom Segev, anything by Bernard Lewis, or even Albert Hourani.

Peters' book is phenomenal but parts must be taken with a grain of salt. She's come under scrutiny for some of her research and, to some, her book is one-sided. I'm not necessarily quick to agree, but I do recognize what they're referring to.

Anyway, the A-Hole will return with more later.

Love the Yiddish and Hebrew postings. Fantastic

Anonymous said...

Watch out for the bamboo fighting sticks Anon-Hole!!!

And also...what is a 'Mensch' (probably not spelling this right). Heard the term used this way:

'Be a good Mensch and go help Robin (Williams) out. He is high on the coke again and needs someone to set him straight and tell him we still love him'

Devastatin' Dave said...


Ignore "dd is a bad ass". Please.

Anonymous said...

Again with the lull them to sleep...you are the Master of Disaster DD!!!

And someone, please...answer the Mensch question.


Skeeter said...

I'm curious why your "Post a comment" interface, MM, is not likes DD's...maybe its my settings.

Anyway very interesting stuff...

MM, please correct me, but I'd like to boil this down a little bit so I can better understand it, I admit I don't know much about it.... Jews and Arabs and their ancestors have been in that region of the world for so long, in one capacity or another, that basically both sides feel they have legitimate claims on the region, hence all the turmoil and violence.

Is that about right or is it too simplistic?

Monkey's Max said...

Bad Ass and Anon, "mensch" means simply person, but is usually used to indicate a person who does good things.

Skeeter, my comment interface is different because I set it up that way.

And you are right, it basically boils down to both sides feeling they have legitimate claims on the region.

I do dislike some historical arguments because they get blown out of proportion. I really think that it does not do much good to argue about the past unless it leads to coming to a solution for the present. People must understand the past, but they also need to be realistic and pragmatic about the current situation.

Now it's really time for me to go and meet Monkey for beers and chicken nachos.

See y'all later.

Monkey's Max said...

Oh my god, that was so Czenglish. Allow me to correct myself: "mensch" simply means person.

Lauren said...

I would like to contest the following:

Myth: Jews returned after 2000 years to displace the Palestinian Arabs.

Fact: Jews never left the land, even after the Roman conquest in 70 CE (AD)."

While there has been a continuous Jewish presence in said disputed area (although around the 11th century the number Jews in said area amounted to little more than 1,000), many Jews (estimated at over 100,000) were taken to Rome to be sold as slaves after the Roman victory in 70 CE. These slaves were sold throughout the Roman Empire, thus dispersing the Jewish population among various parts of Europe. After the defeat of the Jewish revolt in 135, more Jews were taken as slaves and dispersed throughout the Empire. And these are just two examples. Jews have been exiled from their "homeland" for thousands of years. During the final years of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Zionism (belief/movement that states the Jewish people constitute a nation and deserve a homeland in disputed area) gained momentum due to increasing anti-Semitism, mainly in Europe, and a desire to self-govern. A big thanks should also be given to Britain, for signing conflicting, confusing agreements regarding the fate of the disputed area. Between 1922 and 1931, 94,000 Jews 'returned' to the "homeland." In 1897, Jews composed 5% of the population of Palestine. By 1947, that percentage had grown to 30%.

So while there has been a continuous Jewish presence in 'Palestine,' the Jewish population in Palestine grew tremendously during the 1st half of the 20th century, leading the Palestinians to fear for what they, too, considered their homeland.

Anonymous A-Hole said...

Lauren, you go.

beamis said...

I agree with DD that these people should not search for political solutions to remedy social and ethnic conflicts. Economic cooperation acheived by very localized self-rule throughout this complex geographic culture region would be a good start.

By and large these are intelligent and enterprising people who call this region home, and share many of the same social and religous values and beliefs. Lebanon was a great example of this model before being torn assunder by the agressive use of centralized state military power by the Syrians, and then by the local American backed bully, the Israelis starting in the 1970's up till very recently. I hope this small country of minute and diverse elements makes a comeback. Let's hear it for the Druse in the mountains of the Anti-Lebanon, hiding behind a cedar tree pointing an AK-47 at your hot headed Hebrew/Muslim extremist ass!

The political process in this region is bankrupt and I say a pox on both of their houses! Secession into smaller more responsive local units of governanace is always an option that brings more accoutability into the process and promotes compromise and economic progress. It seems like this region was peaceful when this was the case in the past, before superpower intervention, and I see no reason to doubt it would again be the case in the future.

beamis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Monkey's Max said...

Lauren, you have been endorsed by Anonymous A-hole (aka Max's brother, believe it or not) - I won't bother adding any praise. And always good to see you so that we know you are still alive in Guayaquil.

Beamis, it is always enlightening to read your perspective.

Monkey's Max said...

Brother Arsehole - I have put the link to your blog back up, but not because you tried to blackmail me. And I have outed you. Ha ha.