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Behind the news: The great crime

The very existence of Israel is based on a refusal to treat the Palestinians on fair or equal terms, writes Arthur Goodman

February 8, 2009
5 min read

Israel is obviously willing to kill and wound thousands of people, including large numbers of children and the elderly, in order to destroy Hamas.

This single-minded ruthlessness goes back to the very beginning of Zionist settlement in Palestine, from 1882 to the early 1920s. The Zionist project was to create a specifically Jewish state in Palestine, not merely to establish themselves there. That stemmed from the centuries-long history of European persecution of Jews – fluctuating but often murderous. The immediate trigger was the three waves of pogroms in Russia between 1882 and 1920, each worse than the last. Thousands were killed. There was a cause for Zionists to want a Jewish state.

However, the population of Palestine in 1882 was roughly 95 per cent Palestinian Arab and only 5 per cent Jewish. When the Treaty of Paris created the British Mandate in 1919 with the express purpose of facilitating the creation of a Jewish state, the Jewish population had only increased to about 8 per cent. Therefore the Palestinians, not the Jews, were the natural inheritors of the land. The Mandate legitimised the Zionist goal, but it didn’t eliminate the contradiction with the rights of the Palestinians. The Zionists single-mindedly pursued their goal of state building, realising – and accepting – that they would eventually have to fight the Palestinians for dominance.

Partition

In 1947 the United Nations general assembly resolution 181 partitioned Palestine 55 to 45 per cent in favour of the Zionists, despite the fact that the Jewish population had still only reached one-third of the total. The Holocaust and the plight of the displaced European Jews played a critical part in this decision, motivated in part at least by the reluctance of western nations to take in large numbers of Jews. The Palestinians could not accept the partition plan, and a vicious civil war erupted immediately, followed by an ill-planned, ill-executed invasion by Arab armies.

The Zionists had prepared well and were victorious. They expanded the area under their control to 78 per cent of Palestine, which was later cumulatively legitimised by three further crucial UN resolutions.

They also committed what has rightly been called Zionism’s great crime. They expelled more than 700,000 Palestinians (according to a 1950 UN report), often at gunpoint or after massacres, and razed some 500 villages so there would be nothing to return to. Those Palestinians and their children and grandchildren are today’s refugees. Before the expulsions, there was a majority of Palestinians in the 78 per cent of Palestine that became Israel. Afterwards there was a large Jewish majority (700,000 Jews to 90,000-plus Palestinians). That crime made the specifically Jewish state possible.

In 1967 Israel attacked Egypt, which started the “six-day war” with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel has assiduously cultivated the myth of a justified pre-emptive war, but major Israeli leaders of the time later said they knew Israel was not about to be attacked, and that they went to war by choice. Following its victory, Israel occupied the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza), now called the occupied Palestinian territories, and commenced settling them with Israeli settlers, of which there are now nearly 500,000. Both occupation and settlements are considered illegal by the entire international community except Israel. Even the International Court of Justice has pronounced them illegal.

Bitter pill

After more than 20 years of carrying out terrorist and other armed acts in the vain hope of regaining Palestine, in 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organisation declared its acceptance of Israel within the internationally legitimate pre-’67 war borders. It was a bitter pill considering the historical circumstances and the fact that Palestinians still comprised half the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River despite the years of Jewish immigration. Yet none of that seems to matter to Israel. It has never, even once, accepted that 78 per cent is enough. It wants more, and that has destroyed every peace negotiation since.

There is a deep-seated Israeli unwillingness to treat Palestinians as equals. Israel obviously believes it has the right to what it wants of the occupied territories, and it expects the Palestinians to take what it is prepared to give. When they decline, Israel says there is no partner for peace. When they resist settlement expansion in unarmed demonstrations, the IDF responds with rubber bullets and tear gas. When some of them resort to terrorism, Israel says it’s because they hate Jews, not because of its own policies.

If Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas, the long-term result will not be peace on Israel’s expansionist terms, but rather the growth of violent Salafist groups that will be unlikely to accept Israel on any terms. During the pre-state period, there was a small group called Berit Shalom, dedicated to cooperating with the Palestinians to create a bi-national state. It was ignored by other Zionists. It is now but a silent witness to what might have been.

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