Sunday, June 14, 2009

Middle East

Most Arabs with whom I have discussed the Arab/Israeli conflict claimed that Jews started it in 1948 and stole the Palestinian land. They add that the "generous Palestinians" had been perfectly willing to share Palestine with the Jews, who as European foreigners, had invaded their lush green oasis of Palestine, stolen their orange groves and and destroyed acre upon acre of Olive trees. Often, Arabs claim that these Jews were not only an invading force of foreigners, but that Jews were also far more powerful than the poor unarmed, peaceloving Arabs. This of course ignores the fact that although many Jews were exiled from Israel by invading forces in the past, some Jews always managed to stay. Jews are not foreigners, but are the indiginous inhabitants of Israel who fought to regain control of their native land for 1800 years. Those Jews who returned in the late nineteenth cetury/ early twentieth century returned to a neglected wasteland full of malaria infested swamps and desert. The accusations of unprovoked violence against Arabs by these Jews is a false claim. It is now time to set the record straight on who threw that first stone.
In every Century since the we lost control of Israel to foreign conquerers, there has never been a time when diasporah Jews did not return to Israel. From 1880 however, we see the first stirrings of Arab nationalism and therefore after this point, the regular occurance of Jews returning from exile is suddenly portrayed as a new and evil situation. The situation these returning Jews found was not the "lush green oasis" of current Palestinian claims.
"With a gradual decline in the quality of Ottoman rule, the country was brought to a state of widespread neglect. By the end of the 18th century, much of the land was owned by absentee landlords and leased to impoverished tenant farmers, and taxation was as crippling as it was capricious. The great forests of Galilee and the Carmel mountain range were denuded of trees; swamp and desert encroached on agricultural land".1
The land the returning Jews lived on was purchased legally. It had not been stolen. The following evidence was given by Haj Amin Al Husseini at a British Royal commision on 12 January 1937.
SIR L. HAMMOND: His Eminence gave us a picture of the Arabs being evicted from their land and villages being wiped out. What I want to know is, did the Government of Palestine, the Administration, acquire the land and then hand it over to the Jews?
MUFTI: In most cases the lands were acquired.
SIR L. HAMMOND: I mean forcibly acquired-compulsory acquisition as land would be acquired for public purposes?
MUFTI: No, it wasn't.
SIR L. HAMMOND: Not taken by compulsory acquisition?
SIR L. HAMMOND: But these lands amounting to some 700,000 dunams were actually sold?
MUFTI: Yes, they were sold, but the country was placed in such conditions as would facilitate such purchases.
SIR I HAMMOND: I don't quite understand what you mean by that. They were sold Who sold them?
MUFTI: Land owners.
MUFTI: In most cases they were Arabs.
SIR L. HAMMOND: Was any compulsion put on them to sell? If so, by whom?
MUFTI: As in other countries, there are people who by force of circumstances, economic forces, sell their land.
SIR L. HAMMOND: Is that all he said?
MUFTI: They were not prevented from selling the land, and mostly the country was in such economic condition as facilitated the sale. If the Government had the interest of these poor people at heart they should have prevented sales and these people would not have been evicted from their land. A large part of these lands belong to absentee landlords who sold the land over the heads of their tenants, who were forcibly evicted. The majority of these landlords were absentees who sold their land over the heads of their tenants. Not Palestinians but Lebanese.
Accounts from the first Aliya mention not only the harshness of the land but also the constant violent attacks by arabs. Those Jews who came to Israel in the first Aliyah were not in a powerful situation as they were struggling just to survive. Those of us who returned to our homeland in this period were not more powerful than our arab neighbors.
"from 1870 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 — every Jewish town, neighborhood, moshava (village), farm, moshav and kvutza (cooperative and collective settlements, respectively), faced the necessity of protecting itself. At the time, protection was necessary mainly against local Arab thieves, individuals and organized gangs". 2
Attacks by Arabs against Jews were a common occurrance, but rather than detailing every single Arab raid here, I have decided to cover four of the better known outbreaks of Arab violence toward Jews.
1. Tel Hai 1920
2. Bloody Passover 1921
3. The Hebron massacre 1929
4. The Arab Riots 1936 - 1939
Tel Hai - 1920
Former settlement, now a national memorial, in Upper Galilee, northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. One of the first Jewish settlements in northern Palestine, it was intermittently inhabited from 1905, and permanently settled as a pastoral camp and border outpost in 1918. The name (Hebrew: “Hill of Life”) is an onomatopoetic derivation from the former Arabic name, Talha.
According to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Great Britain and France (1916), an expanded Lebanon, including all of eastern Upper Galilee, was to come under French rule after World War I. This satisfied neither the Muslims, who desired an independent Arab Greater Syria, nor the Jews, who preferred British rule. After the war the Muslim Arabs began attacks both on the Christian villages of southern Lebanon and on the isolated Jewish settlements of Upper Galilee. Tel Hay and adjacent Kefar Gil'adi were determined to defend themselves, and Tel Hay was reinforced from Jerusalem by members of Ha-Shomer, the Jewish workers' protective organization, under the command of Joseph Trumpledoor, Zionist pioneer and former hero of the tsarist army. On March 1, 1920, the settlement was attacked by a large band of Arabs; six of the defenders, including Trumpeldor, were killed. The resistance of Tel Hay not only became legendary throughout Jewish Palestine but also was an important factor in the final determination (December 1920) of the northern boundary of mandated Palestine. 3
Bloody Passover - 1921
In May 1921 an outbreak of violence in Jaffa was followed by large scale attacks on Rehovot, Petah Tikva, and other places. 47 Jews were killed and 140 wounded. Arab casualties were 48 dead and 73 wounded, mostly due to action by British troops. The disturbances demonstrated the ability of the Arab masses and revealed the relative weakness of the yishuv. The High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samual, began to backtrack: he ordered a temporary halt to (Jewish) immigration and entered into negotiations with the Arab Executive Committee. The outcome of these negotiations was the White Paper issued by Churchill on June 1922.4

The Hebron Massacre of 1929

by Shira Schoenberg

For some time, the 800 Jews in Hebron lived in peace with their tens of thousands of Arab neighbors. But on the night of August 23, 1929, the tension simmering within this cauldron of nationalities bubbled over, and for 3 days, Hebron turned into a city of terror and murder. By the time the massacres ended, 67 Jews lay dead and the survivors were relocated to Jerusalem, leaving Hebron barren of Jews for the first time in hundreds of years.
The summer of 1929 was one of unrest in Palestine. Jewish-Arab tensions were spurred on by the agitation of the mufti in Jerudalem. Just one day prior to the start of the Hebron massacre, three Jews and three Arabs were killed in Jerusalem when fighting broke out after a Muslim prayer service on the Temple Mount. Arabs spread false rumors throughout their communities, saying that Jews were carrying out "wholesale killings of Arabs." Meanwhile, Jewish immigrants were arriving in Palestine in increasing numbers, further exacerbating the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Hebron had, until this time, been outwardly peaceful, although tension hid below the surface. The Sephardi Jewish community in Hebron had lived quietly with its Arab neighbors for centuries. The Sephardi Jews (Jews who were originally from Spain, North Africa and Arab countries) spoke Arabic and had a cultural connection to their Arab neighbors. In the mid-1800s, Ashkenazi (native European) Jews started moving to Hebron and, in 1925, the Slobodka Yeshiva, officially the Yeshiva of Hevron, Knesset Yisrael-Slobodka, was opened. Yeshiva students lived separately from the Sephardi community, and from the Arab population. Due to this isolation, the Arabs viewed them with suspicion and hatred, and identified them as Zionist immigrants. Despite the general suspicion, however, one yeshiva student, Dov Cohen, still recalled being on "very good" terms with the Arab neighbors. He remembered yeshiva boys taking long walks late at night on the outskirts of the city, and not feeling afraid, even though only one British policeman guarded the entire city.
On Friday, August 23, 1929, that tranquility was lost. Arab youths started throwing rocks at the yeshiva students. That afternoon, one student, Shmuel Rosenholtz, went to the yeshiva alone. Arab rioters later broke in and killed him, and that was only the beginning.
Friday night, Rabbi Ya’acov Slonim’s son invited any fearful Jews to stay in his house. The rabbi was highly regarded in the community, and he had a gun. Many Jews took him up on this offer, and many Jews were eventually murdered there.
As early as 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Arabs began to gather en masse. They came in mobs, armed with clubs, knives and axes. While the women and children threw stones, the men ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single police officer in Hebron, the Arabs entered Jewish courtyards with no opposition.
Rabbi Slonim, who had tried to shelter the Jewish population, was approached by the rioters and offered a deal. If all the Ashkenazi yeshiva students were given over to the Arabs, the rioters would spare the lives of the Sephardi community. Rabbi Slonim refused to turn over the students and was killed on the spot. In the end, 12 Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered.
A few Arabs did try to help the Jews. Nineteen Arab families saved dozens, maybe even hundreds of Jews. Zmira Mani wrote about an Arab named Abu Id Zaitoun who brought his brother and son to rescue her and her family. The Arab family protected the Manis with their swords, hid them in a cellar along with other Jews who they had saved, and found a policeman to escort them safely to the police station at Beit Romano.
The police station turned into a shelter for the Jews that morning of August 24. It also became a synagogue as the Orthodox Jews gathered there and said their morning prayers. As they finished praying, they began to hear noises outside the building. Thousands of Arabs descended from Har Hebron, shouting "Kill the Jews!" in Arabic. They even tried to break down the doors of the station.
The Jews were besieged in Beit Romano for three days. Each night, ten men were allowed to leave to attend a funeral in Hebron’s ancient Jewish cemetery for the murdered Jews of the day.
When the massacre finally ended, the surviving Jews were forced to leave their home city and resettled in Jerusalem.. Some Jewish families tried to move back to Hebron, but were removed by the British authorities in 1936 at the start of the Arab Revolt. 5
The Arab Revolt - 1936 - 1939
Violence again erupted in Palestine in April, 1936. In that month, six prominent Arab leaders overcame their rivalries and joined forces to protest Zionist advances in Palestine. The Arab High Command, as the group was known, was led by the Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini, and represented Arab interests in Palestine until 1948.
The Arab High Command began their protest by calling for a general strike of Arab workers and a boycott of Jewish products. These actions swiftly escalated into terrorist attacks against the Jews and the British. This first stage of the "Arab Revolt" lasted until November, 1936. The second stage began in September, 1937, shortly after the Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine. In this second phase, clashes with the British forces became much more severe, as did the attacks on Jewish settlements. 6
In conclusion, we can see that the Arab claim that "Jews were more powerful and started the violence" is not correct. Those Jews who returned to the Holy Land after 1880 purchased barren land at inflated prices. They were not living on stolen land. The Jews cannot therefore be accused of having stolen the land and thus provoking the violence. They struggled just to survive and therefore were not in a powerful position. They also had to fend off constant Arab attacks.
When we consider the current Arab/Israeli conflict, we must take into account that from Tel Hai 1920 to today, there has not been a break in the violence. It has been a constant conflict from the Arab raids after 1880 to the larger flare ups of Tel Hai 1920, Jaffa 1921, Hebron 1929, The Arab Revolt 1936 - 1939 leading through to the further escallationsr of the War of Independance 1948, The Sinai War 1956, The 6 Day War 1967, The War of Attrition 1967 - 1970, The Yom Kippur War 1973, The Intifada 1988 - 1992, Al Aqsa Intifada 1999 - Present. All these conflicts are a continuation of the violence started by the Arabs after 1880. It was Arabs who threw that first stone.
3. Enclyclopedia Britanica
5. Sources: Arutz Sheva, Interview with Rabbi Dov Cohen. August 1, 1999. Ben-David Calev. "To live and die in Hebron," The Jerusalem Post, July 23, 1999.


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