Regular and valued commenter at this blog, Joanne, asks an agonizing question:
The simple story that the Jews were largely (though not completely) European newcomers to a land that was undeveloped but still with a people there, a land that had belonged to the Jews only in the distant past, and remained Jewish only in the imagination of the Jews…. Well, it’s not a syllogism I want to believe. But it’s one that’s hard to argue against when I’m talking to non-Jews, especially when one doesn’t have hard numbers at hand about population statistics.
To one friend who said that the Palestinians got a raw deal, I tried to explain that it was made gratuitously “raw” when the British lopped off 85% of Palestine, an area that, together with their part of the remainder, would have given the “Palestinians” the lion’s share. The argument simply did not register.
It’s frustrating: I sense that there were so many aspects of the reality back then that have since been lost. But I don’t know how decisive those aspects really are. In other words, I want the Jews to have been in the right, but I’m not totally sure we were.
There are many ways to respond to this, and I welcome further comments. But here’s my immediate response.
There are 10 million people now living rather well in a territory that once held less than a million who had no sovereignty and the vast majority of whom lived at the very margin of subsistence. There was, therefore, room for all, and sovereignty for those who wanted it.
The Jews came, not as the European colonialists in other parts of the world, after conquest, but without warfare, by offering their neighbors advantages that many appreciated. This included the large number of Arab immigrants to Palestine during the first half of the 20th century, and those who took the side of the Jews in the war of Independence.
Only in a remorselessly zero-sum universe are the Jews interlopers. As one Arab rioter in 1936 responded, when asked by the Peel Commission why the Arabs rioted against the Jews, when the Jews had so obviously improved the economic situation for everyone:
“You say we are better off: you say my house has been enriched by the strangers who have entered it. But it is my house, and I did not invite the strangers in, or ask them to enrich it, and I do not care how poor it is if I am only master of it” (Weathered by Miracles, p. 207).
Zionism stands as exceptional in the history of “colonization,” one that begins in peaceful, positive-sum relations. Of course supporters of the Palestinian Arabs insist this was all done as a planned invasion to subvert Palestinian rights. Aside from the fact that there were no “Palestinian rights” — no sovereignty, no constitutional right to organize, much oppression — this argument is a classic case of projection.
If you want an example of the kind of “demographic warfare” that the Arabs accuse the Zionists of conducting, try what’s going in in Eurabia today. And when Muslims establish sovereignty, don’t look for a document about equality before the law for all citizens, like the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
As for Jewish association with the land, it was far more than merely their imagination — which is a strange word to use for a religion whose very liturgy makes Jerusalem and the land of Israel a major focal point of identity and future hope (something that cannot be said about Islam, whose sacred Qur’an never mentions Jerusalem once). There was a continuous jewish presence in the land from ancient times, despite ethnic cleansing by both the Romans and the Arabs.
When people give you a hard time about the intrusiveness of the Jews in Israel/Palestine, try invoking the parable with which the prophet Natan rebuked King David about Bat-Sheva:
There once was a king who had everything (say 300 million Arabs with 5 million square miles/14 million square kilometers, 22 Arab Muslim nations, and vast oil wealth) who had a poor neighbor (say 5 million Israeli Jews, with 8 square miles/20 square kilometers, one nation, and no precious few natural resources) who had a precious lamb that he loved above all else (Jerusalem).
Note also, if you wish, that the king (Islam) owed his very origins to the beliefs of his tiny neighbor, whose stories the king had liberally adopted to his own glory. Indeed the neighbor’s land and precious lamb (Israel and Jerusalem) were only important to that king because of his neighbor’s beliefs.
And yet that king, rather than (at the very least), leaving his neighbor alone, or at best, showing him honor and appreciation, insists on having his neighbor’s lamb for himself and driving the small man from his home. And when that small neighbor resists, the rest of the world screams at him for daring to resist the just demands of the king.
And this is justice?
Let me know how they argue that this is a bad analogy.