Monday, August 15, 2011

Israel, Part III: Conflict and Violence

This is the third part of a series on Israel, to cover some basic history and how we got where we are. For Part I on Ancient History and Part II on Zionism, see last Thursday and Friday’s posts. Today we cover the conflict and violence that marked the decades prior to WWII. 

At the end of WWI, when the Palestine area came under British care, and Syria was placed under France, the local Arabs, rather than seeing this as a step toward independence and freedom, felt the world had betrayed them, eliminating the “protection” they had gotten under Turkish rule. 

Britain allowed the basically separated Jewish and Arab communities to essentially rule themselves. The Jewish community elected a self-governing representative body called the National Council, which implemented policies. And in 1922 they constituted a Jewish Agency to represent the Jewish people to the British authorities, and also to other foreign governments and organizations.  

City view taken by my niece during
this summer's semester abroad
During the next three decades, they developed agriculture, factories, roads, hydroelectric power, and tapped mineral resources. Cultural life abounded. Universities were formed. Art galleries and performance venues popped up, and there was lively discussion wherever people met to socialize. Also notable, the Hebrew language was revived as a living language, eventually developing vocabulary necessary for the modern world. Hebrew became one of three official languages, along with English and Arabic. 

Meanwhile, the Arabic people of the region resisted progress and felt threatened by both the influx of Jewish people and also the progress they instigated. 

Britain had additionally made commitments to the Arabs, simultaneous to the Balfour Declaration. Jewish leaders visualized a bi-national population, never meaning to limit the Arabs living in Palestine, but insisted that migration of Jews should never be restricted. The Jews put great effort into preserving Arab autonomy. In fact, at this beginning time, Arab leader Emir Feisal referred to Dr. Chaim Weizmann as “a great helper in our cause,” adding that he hoped “the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness.” 

World history would be different if this early working relationship had continued. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The first anti-Jewish riots broke out on April 4, 1920, and continued igniting steadily over the next two decades. 

From what I can ascertain, this date could identify the introduction of terrorism into the world. Also, from what I can find, every riot was instigated by Arabs against Jews, never the reverse. Nor was there retribution beyond trying to quell the violence and hold perpetrators accountable. 

Yesterday we mentioned a couple of the reasons: Palestinian Arabs wanted to return to the older status quo. And they were upset that the malarial swampland and wilderness they had sold got turned into valuable farmland—and was no longer in their hands. But there were additional reasons. While Arab Muslims viewed the Bible as a sacred book, they did not accept as fact that the Jews had any divine right to the area Palestinian area. 

And then there’s the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sacred shrines in the Muslim world. It happens to be located on the site the Jews recognize as the historic location of Solomon’s temple—which they intend to rebuild. Muslims consider this a threat to their sacred site. 

The Zionists continued efforts to discuss the problems and reach an understanding with the Arabs, but they were unsuccessful. The British, as guardian of the region, first recommended in 1937 a two-state solution, one of Jews and one of Arabs. Jewish leadership considered the idea and decided to allow the Jewish Agency to negotiate for the proposal with the British government. The Arabs, however, absolutely and completely rejected any plan for partition. 

During this period, underground movements developed among the Jews, a kind of defense militia: Haganah (founded 1920), Etzel (1931), and Lehi (1940). Some of their acts included retaliation for Arab attacks and sabotage, as well as demonstrations against British restrictions on immigration. The least restrained of these was Etzel. All were disbanded at the founding of the Israel Defense Forces in May 1948. 

How to quell the continuing riots and attacks was an annoying concern to Britain. The most notable response was the series of directives issued in May 1939, called the White Papers, which severely restricted Jewish immigration to Eretz Israel—coinciding with the desperate need for Jews escaping from German Nazis to have a place of refuge. Nor did these restrictions appease the Arabs. 

Zionists remained consistent on two fronts: continue Zionist goals without compromise, and continue loyalty to Britain and the free world, despite what appeared to be a lack of loyalty in return. At the onset of WWII, David Ben-Gurion (who later became Israel’s prime minister,” put it this way: “We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and the White Paper as if there were no war.”

Tomorrow, in Part IV, we should get to the forming of the state of Israel.

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