|The Biblical Background behind these Musings||Early History up to King Herod||The Roman Period||The Byzantine Period||The Muslim Conquest and Claims||The Crusades||The Ottoman Empire|
|Zionism||The Mandates and the Balfour Declaration||The Hebron Massacre||The United Nations Resolution||The Siege of Jerusalem||The Refugee Camps||The Outcome of the War of Independence|
|The Suez War||The Six Day War||Results of the Six Day War||Munich 1972||The Yom Kippur War||Lebanon and Beyond||Beyond the Repetitions|
This is a series of observations that I posted on my blog in the spring of 2010. I will now say more precisely than I did when the series started that it was actually prompted by my reading some utterly ignorant remarks concerning Israel in the student newspaper of a nearby college. At least I'm presuming that the purported information expressed in the piece of which I'm thinking had its basis in ignorance; if not, the author would have been deliberately lying, which I doubt. As I point out below, not everyone can be an expert on the Middle East, and I don't claim to be one, though my academic studies in this area are supplemented by some personal and experiential connections. Given a number of comments that I received along the way, I know that I did bring up a few items of which at least some of my readers were unaware.
Here in the United States we live in a society based on a virtually unlimited amount of freedom of expression. We can say, print, post on-line, or broadcast almost anything. When I made such a statement to my landlord quite a few years ago , having returned to Germany on a sabbatical, he retorted immediately, "Freedom implies responsibility" (Freiheit bedeutet Verantwortlichkeit). This is true, but in our society the responsibility is primarily to ourselves, to our fellow-citizens, and to God; only rarely do we (or should we) allow the government to interfere with our freedom. In contrast to other societies, we do not (or should not) think of freedom as something that the government grants to us, but something that is ours simply by virtue of being a human person. Our government's role is (or should be) only to limit the exercise of our freedom insofar it affects the welfare of all. (E.g., not shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater or not intentionally harming another person by conveying libelous information.) It is not illegal to lie (except under oath), but it is immoral, and it is up to us as individual citizens to make sure that we tell the truth and not falsehoods. Furthermore, our common understanding is that when we tell the truth, we represent things as they really are; we do not believe that something is true simply because we have stated it numerous times, or because it fits in well with our perceptions.
Consequently, we live with the fundamental assumption that, unless we have reason to believe to the contrary, when people convey information or an opinion, they are stating matters as they think they conform to reality, even if they are mistaken. (More on that topic below.) Returning to our starting point, then, when people address issues that lie outside of our day-to-day world, even if they are not experts, we assume that they have done what they consider to be sufficient study to entitle them to the opinion that they are expressing. How much study that is will, of course, depend on both the subject matter and the social circle in which the statement is made. Thus, in contrast to Lord Clifford, of whom probably no one would be aware any longer, if he hadn't made such a wonderful foil for Alvin Plantinga, I'm not saying that we may only hold to beliefs for which we have irrefutable evidence. I am merely describing a basic assumption in our society: If someone should seek to persuade us of a certain point of view, we expect that he or she has met some minimal requirements to get the facts straight. Unfortunately, such is not always the case, and the topic of Israel is a stark case in point.
I hope that this compilation will contribute to correct this deficiency. My own take on the situation will become apparent as I address the topic. If you should catch a factual error, you can let me know if you want to, but--much more importantly--I am pleased that you are engaging the facts and not just repeating rhetoric.
The Biblical Background behind these Musings
If you are a reader of my blog, you know that, unless I digress into a series such as this one, a typical entry contains a biblical reference and some comments thereon. At the time, we were going through 1 Kings, and I had already made a few remarks on this passage. Other than correcting a number of typos and a few infelicities, what follows is directly transcribed from the blog entries:
KINGS AND KINGDOMS
Bible Reading: 1 Kings 20:26-34
|V.34 Then Ben-hadad said to him, "The cities that my father took from your father I restore to you, and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, like my father set up in Samaria." (HCSB)|
I am still sticking with this passage because I am going to pursue another line of thought to which I alluded the other day. Israel, by which I meant the northern kingdom that lasted from the time of Jeroboam's rebellion (c. 940 B.C.) until the destruction of Samaria (ca. 722 B.C) continued to be a part of God's people. It does not matter that Jeroboam had instituted the worship of golden calves, and that Ahab had turned the worship of Baal into the state religion. Human beings had no say in the matter. They belonged to God, and God demonstrated his ownership in drastic measures. The same thing applies a forteriori to the combined Hebrew tribes, including the southern kingdom of Judea. They began with Abraham through his son Isaac, and they are continuing in this status, thousands of years later. The apostle Paul says (Romans 9:1-5 HCSB),
For that matter, there will come a time when Israel will recognize Christ as Messiah and return to the one who has never let go of them. Later on, Paul says (Romans 11:25-26 HCSB):
I need to clarify here that I find the interpretation according to which "Israel" in v. 26 refers to the entire church, to be singularly unconvincing. The entire passage has been concerned with the distinction between Israel and the Gentiles, and the notion that somehow all of a sudden in v. 26, "Israel" includes both Jews and Gentiles makes no sense to me. That verse is clearly a prediction of the eventual conversion of ethnic Israel.
One small part of that process by which God is bringing Israel back to him includes their physical return to the Promised Land, to which we shall refer as the restoration. In terms of interpreting biblical events and prophecy, then, we need to maintain verbal distinction between the return from the exile, which occurred in ca. 540 B.C. and the restoration of national Israel, which started seriously in the late nineteenth century.
The reason why I decided to spend some time on this matter (and it'll take several entries) is that I'm continuing to hear and read opinions expressed concerning Israel that curl my toes. I'm sure that Dr. Hoffmann at Taylor is doing a great job of in his class on the Middle East, but only so many students can take his course. By and large, there seem to be two main camps within Christian opinion concerning Israel. One is that, on the basis of the verses that I cited above, we must support Israel at virtually all costs, thereby implicitly endorsing policies by whoever constitutes the government at the time, even if they are highly controversial in Israeli politics themselves, and even if from all normal perspectives they should be considered to be wrong.. That makes no sense; Israel was God's people back in Ahab's day, and yet his policies were anti-Yahweh and (quite literally) self-defeating.
The other option is to swallow naively the Palestinian propaganda, which likens Israel to an invading power that has come over to Palestine and stolen the land that had previously belonged to the local population and is continuing to pursue the same imperialistic policies, which are destroying the formerly peaceful, contented Palestinians. Israel, according to this view, has robbed them of their national identity and will not be content until it has subjugated or, worse yet, eliminated all Palestinian people. The former view, to which I shall refer as the fideistic approach has this much going for it: At least it is based on its advocates' interpretation of the Word of God, though it can be highly unrealistic in its application. The latter view, the Palestinian propaganda interpretation, seeks to apply justice and mercy to all people. Unfortunately, it drips with ignorance of both the historical roots of the current situation as well as a highly oversimplified assessment of the realities of the international politics.
There is a semantic issue of how to refer to the land in question. The word "Palestine" is derived from "the land of the Philistines," and it used to be a fairly neutral term since the Philistines qua Philistines are long gone. "Palestinians" used to refer to anyone residing in the area, regardless of ethnicity and religion. However, since the Arab population of the area adopted the term "Palestinian" as self-designation with a political agenda after 1967, its neutrality is gone. Still, since the only other term that I can think of, "the Levant," includes too much territory, namely Lebanon and Syria at a minimum, I shall use the term "Palestine," but by-and-large restrict it to the previous geographic meaning.
Early History up to King Herod
So, let's start out by going back to the very beginning. No, not the late 1970's, nor 1948, not 1872, nor even 70 A.D., but the very beginnings, somewhere late in the third millennium B.C., the time of Abraham. Let me mention once again, as I have in the past, that, based on what we know of ancient history today, the idea of the "fertile crescent" can be somewhat misleading. The designation originated at a time when the civilizations of Asia Minor, particularly the Hittites, were not yet known, and nobody dreamed of any powerful empires on the Arabian peninsula. In the light of present knowledge, we should be thinking in terms of an "X" or a cross, which finds Palestine pretty much at the intersection of a number of civilizations and constantly a passageway for traffic back and forth. Even though on my map the actual intersection is located a bit further east, that's only because I decided to work with two straight lines (it occurred to me that if I actually traced the routes, I would be drawing a swastika, which I don't care to do). The point where the two arrows intersect is the huge Syrian desert. The actual traffic route would have been further west in, as I'm trying to say,Palestine.
A land situated in that way pretty much has only one of two options as to the mode of its existence. It could become a center of control. It is located in such a way that, if someone strong dominates the area, they can regulate all flow between the other areas. To the best of my knowledge, that happened only once, under David and Solomon, though the Philistines and Egyptians came at various times, and it is clear that Alexander the Great was extremely aware of the need to establish a base of power there. The other option for such an area is for it to become the corridor for anyone to trample through and for other countries to exercise hegemony over it. For most of its existence, that has been the fate of Palestine.
We know appallingly little about the early days in Palestine. ---Okay, who am I to say "we"? Theoretically, there is a huge fund of knowledge of which I just haven't heard. But I'm pretty sure there are a whole lot more mysteries than clear information about the really early times there. ---The foundations of a tower in old Jericho have been dated to around 8,000 B.C, which utterly amazes me. That's incredibly early, a good four thousand years prior to the civilizations of which we have greater knowledge: Egypt, Sumer, Harappa, the Rhineland. Way back then, if there should have been any McDonald's already, their signs would have said, "None Served Yet," and Native American tribes were congratulating themselves on how much time they would have before Columbus would show up.
So, we can start with the time of Abraham, and by then the major civilizations had established themselves, though we wouldn't be able to find any central government in Palestine. It was made up of numerous small city-states, each of them lead by a person called a "king." That doesn't mean that they had delusions of grandeur; they couldn't help it that later on the word "king" took on a much larger meaning than the ruler of a minor city-state. Jerusalem was already standing, governed by Melchizedek, who was also a priest of El Elyon, the highest God (which in the Bible without further qualifications means the one true God). Thus, even though idolatry was flourishing, original monotheism was also persisting to a certain extent. As far as I can tell the various kings were maintaining a political equilibrium by living in constant warfare with each other. No one got the upper hand on the rest because, from what we see in Genesis, alliances could be formed and broken pretty quickly so that no single king could make himself supreme. The Canaanites were Semites, loosely related to the Akkadian culture of Babylon, the Phoenicians, the Aramaeans, and the Philistines. It is telling for the lack of a central authority that Abraham was free to roam around and establish a residence wherever he wanted to go. Furthermore, he could divide the available pasture land with his nephew Lot, but he had to purchase the burial facility for Sarah. Things did not change drastically during the times of Isaac or Jacob. On the whole, ownership of the land was based on whoever claimed it and had enough power to support that claim.
By the middle of the second millennium B.C., the time of Israel's conquest of the land under Joshua, this ad hoc arrangement had become wobbly. The city states had apparently attempted to take greater control of their surrounding areas, but simultaneously there was a considerable influx into the area. Furthermore, at least on clay or papyrus, Egypt was claiming to be in charge of the area.
One constant factor throughout the history of the human race is that people migrate. (I am reminded of Nero Wolfe's assessment on observing traffic in New York to the effect that nine out of ten of the people in cars are going to places that aren't any better than the ones from where they came. Nevertheless, they go to the trouble of traveling there.) There are many causes for these migrations;
People always have migrated, are doing so now, and in all probability will continue to do so. The reason I'm making a deal out of this is that a number of anthropologists are asking us to ignore the history and migrations of so-called indigenous people in their present locations, which means to ignore a very important factor in understanding their culture, as far as I'm concerned.
In any event, in keeping with its location as the crossroads of the ancient world, the land of Canaan was beset by numerous groups of people taking up residence and making elbow room for themselves as necessary. They were collectively called Habiru, and the "worst" of them were the Israelites, two million of them, coming to take over the land after spending several hundred years as slaves in Egypt. Canaan was nominally under the oversight of Egypt, but Egypt was having internal troubles, which culminated a little later with Pharaoh Akhenaten trying to redo all of its religion and culture, perhaps influenced by the fairly recent presence of the Israelites. He built a brand new capital city, Amarna, which was razed again after his reign, preserving a library of correspondence between a number of Pharaohs and the kings of Canaan, who were ineffectively pleading for the Pharaoh's assistance against the Habiru.
Since I'm painting with a pretty broad brush here, let me just ignore the exceptions, such as the Gibeonites and the Jebusites and state that Israel took over the land and exterminated the Canaanites. They did so because God had commanded them to do so. I have a serious revulsion at the idea of genocide in general, and, even though I could engage in lengthy speculations as to why God had Israel act that way, for purposes of this quick survey, I shall leave that issue to the side. At the time, Israel had a direct mandate from God to take the land and kill its residents, and since that mandate came from God that fact trumps whatever reservations I would have otherwise or any speculations that would help alleviate the reservations.
The tribes of Israel set up a very loose confederacy on both sides of the Jordan. Now, here is an interesting point about their conquest. It came with clear boundaries. God did not tell them to take over the world, but only the specific territory he outlined for them. Not that it wasn't a sizeable chunk of land, but there was a definite limit. As it turns out, the only time that Israel actually held all of that land was under David and Solomon. After the tribal confederacy had shown itself to verge on anarchy, the Israelites chose to live under a monarchy, but the kingdom split into two under Rehoboam, Solomon's successor. Both kingdoms had to undergo numerous struggles, internally and externally. There were several invasions from Egypt, followed by the Assyrians, who put an end to the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., and concluding with the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 567 B.C. Both the Assyrians and Babylonians carried away much of the population, but--again I'm oversimplifying---they eventually returned. However, when they came back, things had changed. No longer were they an independent country, but they were a part of a Persian satrapy.
Eventually Alexander the Great came along. One of the first items on his agenda was to punish the Persians for the damage they had done in their earlier ineffectual attempts to conquer Greece. By 330 B.C. or so, he had taken over the Persian empire and Egypt. From there he and his troops marched east right into India, crossing the Indus river and finally stopping around the banks of the Ganges when his troops were tired of fighting, traveling and never stopping at motels with swimming pools. Since Alexander had to withdraw from India no sooner than he had taken over a part of it, he can hardly be thought of as exercising a lot of political control there. Still, a small Greek population chose not to make the long trek back. They remained in north-west India and had a certain amount of cultural influence. A sizeable number of them adopted Buddhism as their religion, and the first statues of the Buddha, created several centuries after the life of Gautama, show Greek influence. But I need to return to my main topic.
Alexander's army fought in compliance with ancient practice. A city that put up resistance would be utterly destroyed, all the men were killed, and women and children became slaves. The city of Tyre, half of which was located on an island, made it particularly hard on Alexander, and when Alexander finally took it, he rewarded all the men of Tyre by having them crucified. Apparently Alexander was not particularly interested in Jerusalem, and the residents of Jerusalem welcomed him without putting up a fight. Consequently, they remained unscathed. Alexander left a fascinating legacy, though. We all know that, when Jesus and the Pharisees were chatting about whether to pay taxes, that the coin in question carried the image of the Roman emperor, "Caesar." But a totally different coin was used at the time to pay the annual half-shekel temple tax, which was not rendering unto Caesar, but unto God's temple. The coin for this practice was a coin stemming from Alexander the Great. Alexander, as is well known, thought fairly highly of himself, and--whether he really believed it himself or not--expected others to treat him as deity. After he had conquered Egypt, he decorated himself with the horns of the God Ammon and declared that he was Zeus-Ammon. On the front of the coin you see him with the horns of Ammon in his curly hair, and on the reverse is a picture of Zeus with a falcon. Presumably the custom of paying the temple tax with this kind of coin began under the Seleucids (see below), and it continued right through the time of Jesus.
The coin you see in the pictures is one that I bought from a Palestinian (in this case, in the contemporary sense) gentleman in the little town of Silwan just south of Jerusalem. It is supposedly home to Job's well and the field of blood where Judas hanged himself. Legends aside, it is also located in such a way that rain storms, bringing water down from Jerusalem, continuously wash up archaeological artifacts. The late and much-missed Chuck Newman and I were walking around the Pool of Siloah, when Mr. Muhammad Abdullah saw us and invited us to his home to drink some of that fabulous Arabic tea with mint leaves and to chat. At one time he had worked for various archaeologists, including the magnificent Kathleen Kenyon, and he had a very interesting collection of artifacts, some of which he shared with me for free and some for a price. But I'm getting into another one of those stories that I'm reserving for the future when the time is more suitable. I just want to add: TR, wherever you are, it was fun going back there with you four years later.
Alexander may have been great, but he was also short-lived. After his death his generals fought for various portions of his empires. After a short time of being under the government of Ptolemy, who had appropriated Egypt for himself, Palestine came under the rule of the descendants of Seleucus (the Seleucids), who were headquartered in Syria. The Seleucids did their best to try to turn the Jews into Hellenists, and a number of them complied (early Reform Jews?), but when Antiochus IV turned the Jerusalem temple into a temple for Zeus and sacrificed a pig on its altar, that was too much. The sons of the priest Mattathias, led by Judas Maccabeus, effected a successful revolt against the Seleucids, and for the first time since Solomon, there was a united Jewish kingdom again. It did not last more than a hundred years or so.
If you are a fan of Shakespeare, the next events carry a lot of familiar names: Julius Caesar, Pompey, Mark Anthony, and Octavian all took an interest in Israel in their squabble for power. Specifically, Mark Anthony (carrying a bag of ears on loan from his Roman friends, I understand) was responsible for installing a non-Jew, the Idumean Herod, on the throne as puppet king. Herod engaged in a lot of building projects, including a thorough renovation of the temple. He built the fortification Massada down by the Dead Sea specifically to protect himself against the Jews in case of a rebellion, and against Cleopatra, should she have any ambitions to come north and take "his" country from him. As we all know, eventually Rome took complete and direct control of Palestine.
So, what's my point so far? It is this: As you consider looking at the history of ancient Palestine you may need to take a Dramamine tablet first. "Who's in charge?" begins to resemble "Who's on first?" Furthermore, the back-and-forth claims to ownership continue. Whose land is it? If you address that question to human beings, it depends on whom you ask at which particular time.
The Roman Period
The Romans and the Jews id not get along very well. For some reason the Jews did not appreciate the Romans taking charge of their country and making up rules for them. King Herod, the puppet king whom they had installed, tried to earn the Jews' favor with all kinds of building projects, but his main concern was for his own welfare. He was convinced that everybody was out to rob him of his unearned throne and kill him, which probably was not too far from the truth because people got pretty sick of his method of holding on to power. In his own way he anticipated Descartes' "methodological doubt": If a statement can be doubted, treat it as false. In his case it was: If a person's loyalty can be doubted, treat him as a traitor. Case in point: his own wife.
Skeptics concerning biblical history often point out that an event like the slaughter of all the children under two years of age in Bethlehem should have received a lot of attention in the historical chronicles of the time. What chronicles were those, by the way? We do not have day-by-day newspaper accounts of what all happened back then, even if it may have been pretty significant. Regardless, in this case the real problem is that such an occurrence, which would probably have involved no more than a couple of dozen or so infants (not that that's not bad enough!), was just a normal day in the life of King Herod. Herod decreed in his last will and testament that upon his death every member of the San Hedrin should be killed, thereby trying to make sure that there would be plenty of mourning at the time of his passing. Fortunately no one enforced that request.
When Herod died, the Romans divided up the area of his kingdom among his sons and heirs and placed a tighter grip on Judea, the area of Jerusalem and surroundings, by installing a procurator who should keep the people in line. The most famous among those office holders was Pontius Pilate. Given their potential for destructiveness, the Romans were relatively indulgent, trying to give in to the Jews whenever possible so as to avoid provoking a riot or rebellion. They established a solid rapport with the Sadducees, who for the most part were priests, and who led the San Hedrin. However, just as the modern colonial powers had to learn, people really don't like to have foreign authorities looking over their shoulders all the time and threatening them with the "big stick." The party of the Zealots gained numbers of adherents and increasingly defied the Romans with acts of terrorism. They had a relatively difficult time, however, getting to the Romans, who were soldiers and looked after their own safety, so the Zealots chose the next best available people as their targets: Jews whom they considered to be collaborating with the Romans. You see here a good example of the difference between terrorism and acts of war. An act of war would have been if the Zealots had formed an army and attacked the Roman soldiers. An act of terrorism is directed against those who are not prepared to defend themselves on the presumption that their loyalties are with the enemies. Terrorism, to have any rationalization at all, requires mind reading; apart from that capacity, it's just an act of violence to call attention to yourself and your cause.
Well, as we know, the Romans only put up with the Zealots for so long and then made all-out war against the Jews to suppress any further antagonism. There's no need for me to rehearse the details: the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 under General Titus (who eventually became emperor), the destruction of the temple, the last stand at Masada. It was all just a matter of time before the Romans had thoroughly crunched the Jews. By the way, our main source of information concerning this war is, of course, Josephus, who had been a leader of the Jewish forces until fairly late into the conflict when it occurred to him that he had meant to be on the side of the Romans all along, and was awarded an endowed chair in history by the Romans subsequently. The Jewish people were scattered, but many were able to reestablish themselves in Palestine. Jerusalem was considered a total loss; the Jews by themselves were unable to resurrect that city.
Then along came emperor Hadrian, who in A.D. 130 decided to reaffirm a more cordial relationships with the Jews. As a special treat he was going to rebuild Jerusalem for them, which really got the Jews thoroughly pleased and deeply gruntled. Well, to a certain extent Hadrian fulfilled that promise. However, instead of reconstructing Jerusalem of old, he planned instead to build a more modern city in the most progressive Roman style, complete with a forum and a shopping mall. Really. This is not one of my intentional anachronisms. The most up-to-date towns had a centralized main street, called the Cardo Maximus, which was lined with shops wall-to-wall on both sides. Hadrian liked the idea of making this town thoroughly Roman so much that he thought the city should have a Roman name as well, so he called it Aelia Capitolina and dedicated it to Jupiter. Of course, if the city was offered to Jupiter, it should have a temple to Jupiter, which Hadrian built on the old temple site. Finally, since he was pretty sure that, given the new plan, the Jews would be displeased and disgruntled, he decreed that Aelia should be inhabited only by Roman soldiers and that it was off-limits to Jews. The pictures of the Cardo Maximus show some of the reconstructions as well as how a part of it has been reimplemented as shopping area. They come from the website: http://www.welcometohosanna.com/JERUSALEM_TOUR/aeliacap.htm.
Needless to say, the Jews were quite unhappy with this development (nice little play on words, Win!), and besides, they were once again getting really annoyed with the Romans. If only the Messiah would come now and get the Romans of their backs once and for all! This would be a really good time for the Messiah to appear. And so he did, or at least many people thought so. His name was Simeon bar Kokhba, and from A.D. 132-136 he led another unsuccessful rebellion. This time, the consequences were even harsher because the Romans expelled a large number of Jews from their homeland. Many of them moved to old Babylonia and for several centuries maintained a flourishing Jewish culture there under the revived Zoroastrian kingdom, but we can't follow them now. Our concern is with the land for the moment, not with the Jewish diaspora.
So, Palestine was thoroughly integrated into the Roman empire with Jerusalem existing no more, except as the pagan Aelia Capitolina. But the Roman empire was going to go through some major changes that would have a direct effect on Jerusalem. Before we get to these, it is important to recognize that not all Jews left after the Bar Kokhba fiasco. Many stayed, and a number of them returned, thus maintaining a continuing Jewish presence. Much later, during the beginnings of the restoration, these people became known as the "Sabras," a particularly stubborn variety of cactus that is extremely difficult to uproot. There were Jewish towns and synagogues in Palestine, the most prominent of which was the town of Safad on top of a mountain in Galilee. I might mention that I've been to Safad, which became a center of Jewish mysticism during the middle ages, and you can understand why when you get up in the morning and look down on the clouds below you. However, even though it is often shrouded in mist, this city on a hill nonetheless cannot hide its light by night; which is to say that Jesus was probably referring to Safad when he used that analogy.
The next major event in the life of the land was the conversion of Constantine to Christianity. Constantine was a skilled commander of his army and a truly inspired administrator. As a theologian he was a total dunce. Dan Brown has laid all kinds of charges at the feet of Constantine; the truth is that, purely factually, Constantine was not responsible for what Brown attributes to him, e.g. being the first person to declare that Jesus was God incarnate. But, furthermore, he really did not know enough Christian theology that he would have been able to make those kinds of pronouncements. Still, when Constantine realized that the Christians were squabbling amongst each other concerning the deity of Christ, the administrator in him led him to convene the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325). Constantine also realized that the Roman empire had become too huge to be governable by one man, and so he divided it into two halves, East and West, leaving himself in charge of the East, which also became known as Byzantium. Thus our little segment of geography was now a part of the Byzantine empire. Constantine celebrated the new world order by issuing coins commemorating the founding of Rome and of Constantinople, his new capital city, by issuing coins featuring each. It just so happens that I have one of each. You can see the coin for Rome, which has Constantine on one side and Romulus and Remus being suckled by wolf one the other, and the coin for Constantinople, which has Constantine on one side and a representation of his victories on the other.
So, theoretically at least, with the Christianization of the Roman empire, Palestine now came under the government of the Christian Byzantine emperor. But,of course,that was not going to last for very long either.
The Byzantine Period
Since this series is going to go on for a while, I decided that I needed to come up with a logo for it, and there was one obvious choice to use as a background. As you can see, it's a map of Israel, but it's most likely unlike any map of Israel you've ever seen before, unless you've studied this topic in greater depth than usual, which--I regretfully contend--is not hard to do since most people these days haven't studied it at all. As I said earlier, it appears to me that on the whole evangelical Christians either just support Israel unquestionably because they believe that the Bible commands us to do so, or they've aligned themselves with the propagandist view that paints Israel as a nation who has invaded and conquered Palestine and is now slowly eliminating its peaceful indigenous population. This map shows the UN proposal of 1947. The light blue areas are water, the darker blue ones are the proposed Jewish state, the yellow ones are the proposed Arab state (or additions to already existing Arab states), and the green ones are the surrounding Arab states. The red is Jerusalem, which, according to the plan, was to have been considered an international area, governed directly by the United Nations. It'll be quite a while before we get to that point, but I thought that it might be a good idea for you to get used to the bizarre set-up that the UN had suggested.
Last time, we left off with geographical Israel as a part of the Roman empire, which, due to Constantine's restructuring, automatically metamorphosed into a part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine, empire. Tonight I'm merely going to add some more information of what transpired during the Byzantine era, which came to an end with the Muslim conquest of A.D. 638. The picture on the right is of an oil lamp stemming from the Byzantine era. I know that the dating of this artifact is accurate because the store where I bought it gave me a piece of paper certifying its authenticity.
I also mentioned last time that Constantine, though calling himself a Christian, was not much of a theological dynamo. Apparently he never could entirely distinguish between the Unconquered Sun (sola invicta), a common Roman object of worship, and the Son of God (filius dei), though, as you can see, in Latin "son" and "sun" are not homophones, as they are in English. He also insisted that he would not be baptized until right before his death so that he could be sure that all the sins of his life would be forgiven. On the other hand, his mother Helena, eventually designated as St. Helena, was a seriously dedicated Christian. She came to Jerusalem in A.D. 326, and, supposedly guided by the Holy Spirit, designated particular spots as ones where specific events in the life of Jesus took place. The most significant among those locations were the hill of Calvary and the rock tomb in which Jesus was buried, which were close enough together that a single humongous church could be built over both of them, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A lot of people have sneered at her process of identifying those places, but, if you think about it, by the time you put together the fact that traditions can be pretty reliable, and that there are only so many possibilities in a relatively small area, there is pretty good reason to believe that Helena's designations are, for the most part, plausible. It is really too bad that the British General Charles "Chinese" Gordon felt the need to create implausible Protestant alternatives, which Jerome Murphy-O'Connor justifiedly has called "pious frauds." See JMO's book on archaeology of the Holy Land for a description of Gordon's incredible methodology, which makes Helena look like a scientific archaeologist.
Now that there were officially recognized sacred places, and that Christianity had become a religio licita, Jerusalem became a popular destination for pilgrimages, thus providing a pretty decent income for a number of the residents of Jerusalem. Those residents included Jews, by the way, ever since A.D. 438 when the Empress Eudora lifted the ban on Jews entering that city. I already mentioned last time that there had been a continuous presence of Jews in the land, with some of their other principal cities being Safad, Tiberius, and Hebron. With the demise of the Philistines and the slow withering of the Roman presence, a number of the surrounding people, viz., the Semitic descendants of Abraham through Ishmael whom we now call "Arabs," also took up residence in the area. Everyone lived together in relative harmony for a little while, and up until the late twentieth century, all of them, regardless of ethnic descent or religion, were called "Palestinians."
Then in A.D. 614 Jerusalem was devastated once again by invaders. The Persians had become a serious power once again, called the "Sassanid" kingdom after the name of their ruling dynasty. They were Zoroastrians, and--even though they were not particularly tolerant of people of other religions--they had been hosting a thriving Jewish community for several centuries. Jerusalem just happened to stand in the way as they were headed all the way down to Egypt to reestablish the Persian empire of old. However, by A.D. 629, they were beaten back to their own country, and, as it turned out, neither they nor the Jews in Palestine were able to withstand the Muslim conquest just a few years later.
The Muslim Conquest and Claims
No sooner had Jerusalem made it past the sacking by the revived Persian kingdom, when the Arabs came in the name of Islam and took it over in A.D. 638. There are two points here that need clarification: the Muslim conquest of the Middle East in the seventh century and, specifically, their claim to Jerusalem as their third holiest city.
A. The Muslim Conquest
1. The Version Expected by Most Muslims Today. As you may remember, a few years ago there were several incidents when someone intimated that Islam was prone to elicit violence from its followers. There was the unfortunate occasion when the Pope quoted a source linking Muhammad with violence, and there were the tactless remarks by some Danish journalists questioning whether Islam was a religion of peace. In each case, Muslims in faraway places around the globe reacted with gratuitous acts of violence. Muslims do not appreciate being linked to violence, and they will aggressively fight such insinuations. Consequently, by and large, they have rejected the notion that Islam was spread by the sword. Instead, they tell us that almost everywhere their army proceeded, they were welcomed with open arms by people who were delighted to become liberated from the oppressive regimes of the Byzantines and Persians. Keep in mind that Islam in its ideal form is never just a religion, but also a political community, the umma, so that back then conversion to Islam also implied switching your political allegiance from your previous government to the rule of the Caliphs (the political successors to Muhammad).
Consequently, there were times when a local government or community objected to someone in their locality giving up loyalty to their previous rulers and took action against what they considered treason. In those cases the Muslims felt obligated to defend their new converts, and the Islamic army would spring into action to prevent the newly-converted Muslims from being persecuted. At that point they would take the city or village by force, but only because they had been pushed into it; we are supposed to think of these incidents as defensive measures on behalf of new converts, not as acts of aggression. Still, they would not expect everyone to convert to Islam, because the Qur'an says explicitly, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." (2:256) However, they would levy a tax (the jizyaon all non-Muslims. This was only fair because, after all, even though they did not join up with Islam, from this point on they would be allowed to live under all of the advantages of a Muslim community. As the Qur'an states in Sura 9:29 (Yusuf Ali translation):
|Fight those who believe not
In God nor the Last Day
Nor hold that forbidden
By God and His Apostle,
Nor acknowledge the Religion
Of Truth, (even if they are)
Of the People of the Book,
Until they pay the Jizya
With willing submission
And feel themselves subdued.
Thus, according to Muslim apologists today, the expansion of Islam in its early days was due to a highly successful teaching-and-preaching mission, which did include being prepared to defend with arms anyone who might be threatened by an adversarial government after conversion, but which was not an actual military conquest, even if it appeared that way.
Dr. Hammudah Abdalati, late professor of sociology, tried to clear up the misconception. Speaking of the early Muslims, he said, "Now they had, by order of God, to make Islam known to the outside world, but there was no telecommunication system or press or any other mass medium of communication. There was only one course to take, namely, personal and direct contacts, which meant that they had to cross the borders. But they could not do that in small or unarmed groups. So they had to move in large and protected groups which must have appeared like an army, but was not an army in the real sense." (Hamudah Abdalati, Focus on Islam (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1975), p. 149.)
2. An Alternative Muslim Version. If the above perspective on the matter sounds somewhat forced or contrived to you, you are not alone. Some radical Muslim writers take exception to it as well. For example, Sayyid Qutb (Milestones), the brilliant mind behind such groups as al-Qaida, contended that such rationalizations are signs of a sell-out of apostate Muslim scholars to a non-Islamic way of thinking. To be sure, Qutb did not advocate the conversion of individual people by force. He was as aware as anyone of the Qur'anic statement "Let there be no compulsion in religion." (2:256) People should be free to make up their own minds whether to accept Islam or not, and whether to practice the duties that Allah has commanded or not.
But how can potential converts make significant decisions if they are enslaved to a society that places human beings or ideologies ahead of what has been clearly revealed by Allah? Thus, the first step in converting people to Islam is to provide an environment in which they are free to do so. That step cannot be taken meaningfully unless governments based on human preferences are eliminated and are replaced by Islamic government, although doing so will most likely involve killing people in the process. Thus Qutb and his present-day followers promote that, first of all, Muslims have an obligation to establish governments based on the Qur'an by any means available, including outright warfare. Only then, when a person lives in a society that grants him total freedom to practice Islam, can he or she make a meaningful decision whether to convert. Thus, Qutb maintained that the early mission of the Islamic army was an aggressive one, not just defensive, let alone the contrived defensive action, as today's mandated explanation holds. And furthermore, true Islam today ought to return to the same "dynamic method" as was practiced by the early caliphs.
3. A Further Consideration. The scenario described by Abdalati is intended to convey an impression of the early Muslims as a thoroughly peaceful group, who would only resort to violence if it were absolutely necessary to protect a new convert from evil oppressive governments, and then only reluctantly. This description does not seem to be entirely congruent with the fact that immediately after Muhammad's death, the early Muslims started to split up into groups and pretty soon killed each other. Muhammad's own son-in-law, Ali ben Talib (the initial Imam of the Shi'ites and the fourth caliph), was killed by some Kharijites because he refused to do battle with the Umayyads, led by his rival Muawiyah. Al-Husayn, Ali's son, and thereby Muhammad's grandson, was executed by Sunnis at the Battle of Karbala. That does not sound like preachers on a mission of conversion, carrying weapons only to protect themselves against marauders and local authorities who did not recognize the intrinsic peacefulness of their ways. Are we supposed to believe that they would kill each other for the sake of furthering their cause (whether the cause was Islam or personal ambition makes no difference), but that they were too principled to kill non-Muslims who stood in their way? The same reality could lead one to be skeptical of Qutb's idea that once Islam has been imposed by force on an area, there will be peace, order, and freedom for everyone. (For more details, see my collection of blog entries on Groups of Islam.B. The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem
1. The Basis of the Muslim Claim
Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, right after Mecca and Medina. As Muhammad learned about God, his sources included Christians and Jews, for whom Jerusalem carried a lot of significance. For the Jews it had been the site of the temple and their capital city. Since the time of the empress Eudora, they had regained access to it, even as it was a part of the Byzantine empire. Even though they were spread all over the world by this time, a small population of Jews had resettled in Jerusalem, some of them migrated to Jerusalem in their old age so that they could be buried on the Mount of Olives, facing Jerusalem right across the Kidron Valley, and everyone was starting the practice of ending the Passover Seder with the call, "Next Year in Jerusalem!" For the Christians it was the place where Christ, the Son of God incarnate, had suffered on the cross for our sins, been buried and resurrected. Jesus, according to the Christians, had ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and would eventually return to the same location. For the Muslims, Jerusalem was holy because this is what Muhammad had learned from Jews and Christians and passed on to his followers. Early on he had exhorted the new Muslims to face Jerusalem when they prayed, but later on he changed this instruction to pray in the direction of Mecca instead. In fact, he made obedience to this new commandment a test of faith (2:142).
Furthermore, Jerusalem is the place from where Muhammad made a temporary ascent into heaven, called the "Night Journey." It is alluded to in Sura 17:1.
|Glory to (God)
Who did take His Servant
For a Journey by night
From the Sacred Mosque
To the Farthest Mosque
Whose precincts We did
Bless, --in order that We
Might Show him some
Of Our Signs: for He
Is the One Who heareth
And seeth (all things).
[For anyone unfamiliar with the Qur'an, note the oscillation between third person singular ("He," "His") and first person plural ("We"). Both pronouns refer to Allah, so in the "we" cases, Allah is speaking directly using the pluralis majestatis; whereas in the "He" cases, Muhammad is speaking of God--though what he is saying is still supposed to be directly revealed. Also, despite some issues, I continue to use Yusuf Ali's translation in popular writings because it continues to be the one that mosques hand out and to which many Muslims in America refer. Still, Ali's rules of capitalization are a mystery to which we must get used without necessarily understanding them, and, whereas most translators and their readers take it for granted that often a word needs to be translated by a phrase, Ali insists on enclosing clearly implied words in parentheses. We should recognize, however, that those words are integral parts of the translated text and not just optional clarifications.]
We see in this verse a quick allusion to a supposed event, expanded on the later hadiths (e.g., Bukhari 5:227), in which Muhammad was supernaturally transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, raised to heaven, received revelations, (according to some versions) bargained with God as to how many times a day people should pray, descended to earth, and was miraculously brought back to Mecca again--all in one night. The specific place of his ascent was to have been the big rock on the temple mount. Thus, when the caliph Umar took over Jerusalem, he declared the site to be sacred and started to build a mosque over it, which later on turned into the "Dome of the Rock."
2. Evaluation of the Claim
Anytime that countries dispute over who "owns" a certain piece of land, there is going to be a lot of ambiguity. Ultimately, nobody can own any land; it's just there. The better question is who has the right to control what happens on the piece of real estate in question. Since almost all of these cases involve people who are living on the land, the question becomes even more pointedly, "who controls the lives of the people who live on this land?" I must say frankly that I find the Muslim claim at that time to Jerusalem as their holy city pretty hollow. Let me show my hand here and reveal to the world the very unsurprising fact that I do not believe the story of Muhammad's Night Journey. But even if I did, it would be a long way from there to the idea that, therefore, Muslims are entitled to consider Jerusalem as their holy city, taking precedence over whatever claims Jews or Christians might have. Clearly it comes down to Muslims claiming it by divine right because there certainly is no human justification that makes sense.
Now, I can't argue with people who claim to own things by divine right. The Maasai tribe of East Africa believes that God (Engai) has given them all the cattle in the world. I cannot disagree with them that they may sincerely believe this to be true; but their seriousness does not make it actually true, and if I had a cow I would not give it to them.
My point is this: "Ownership" of land by a nation is a tricky business in general. Does the People's Republic of China own Taiwan? Definitely not. Does Argentina own the Falkland Islands (aka the Malvinas)? Most likely not. Does Denmark own Greenland? Things get cloudier. How can Russia own Alaska and then sell it to the United States without anyone compensating the Tlingit? Ambiguity builds on ambiguity, and--like it or not--might, reinforced by popular opinion, often makes right. Consequently, I want to tread very carefully here, limit myself for the moment to the seventh century A.D., and say that Islam's claim to Jerusalem at the time was a highly theoretical and subjective one. But Muslims did take over Jerusalem, and that's the reality. How far this ownership extends in time is a separate question, to which we need to return in a while. Suffice it to say that early Muslim governance of Jerusalem was highly tolerant, continuing explicitly to permit Jews to live there, and to give Christians access to their holy places. Then the Fatimids came along . . . . .
And then the Fatimids came along. . . .
That's how I ended the last entry, tracing the history of Palestine. So, who were those Fatimids and what did they do? I highly recommend that you go back to my series on Groups of Islam. Specifically, to help you recollect the identity of the Fatimids, you need to read the section on the Ismailites. To give you a condensed version of their identity: They are a group of Shi'ites, also called the Seveners or Ismailites, who referred to themselves as Fatimids after Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, who was the wife of Ali and the mother of al-Husayn. Thereby they stressed their alleged direct descent from the prophet. Most of the time the caliph (the successor to Muhammad) belonged to a Sunni dynasty. However, for a time, the dominant caliphate belonged to this Shi'ite group. Actually, there still was a Sunni Caliph of Baghdad (of the Abassid) dynasty, but he had lost most of his power. There even still was a caliph of the Umayyad dynasty in Spain. However, for a short time in the early eleventh century A.D., the Fatimids reigned supreme in Islam.
In the earlier description of the Fatimids, I mentioned the caliph Imam al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah, who at times considered himself to be God Himself, and who eventually got killed or, as the Druzes maintain, went into occultation. This great figure of history took it upon himself to change the previously tolerant attitude of the Muslims in Jerusalem. Whereas both the Umayyads and Abassids had allowed Jews and Christians to reside in Jerusalem and to give both groups free access to their synagogues, churches, and holy places, al-Hakim expelled both groups and said that Jerusalem belonged to Islam alone. Well, as you know if you were a good student of this blog and either remembered or went to look up the link above, the Fatimid dyanasty's day in the sun did not last very long. Out of the steppes of the Asian plains came the Turks, who initially became servants of the Persians, but eventually took control under a leader named Seljuk. Thus they became known as the Seljuk Turks. Having taken on the Sunni version of Islam, they not only ended the Abassid dynasty for good in Baghdad, they also wrested control of Palestine from the Fatimids. Unfortunately, they continued al-Hakim's strict closed-gate policy for Jews and Christians in Jerusalem.
Okay, if you know any of the history of the holy land at all, you know that in a minute or so we're going to talk about what a regrettable episode the time of the Crusades was. But before I'm going to write censorious words concerning the Crusades, please let me pause a moment and raise the question of what conceivable right to the territory the Seljuk Turks had. Here we go: What conceivable right to the territory did the Seljuk Turks have? In the last post I raised the ambiguity concerning the Islamic take-over of Jerusalem and Palestine. There's no ambiguity whatsoever concerning the Seljuk Turks; they were purely pursuing an imperialistic agenda. They happened to be Sunni Muslims, but surely that fact is not sufficient grounds to say that, therefore, they were free to take the land from other Muslims and to forego the supposed Qur'anic tolerance towards People of the Book.
And now to bemoan the Crusades. The worst part about the Crusades is how often they are brought up by people of various world views as evidence against Christianity, even though most people know next to nothing about them. The next time somebody brings up the Crusades, ask them how many there were and what the outcome of each one was. They have become a convenient code word to sling around. Chances are that most people know little more about them than that a group of so-called Christians killed a lot of Jews and Muslims, which is both true and regrettable. But it makes a lot of difference whether this is a habit of which Christians just can't cure themselves, or whether this was something that European adherents of the church tried at a specific point in time, failed at, gave everyone a bad name, and then stopped pursuing it. Of course, to make that a meaningful gesture, you need to know that information yourself. Here's a nice website to help you get started: The Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
At the request of the Byzantine emperor, a so-called Christian army of Europeans moved to the holy land to liberate Jerusalem. But, if the emperor had any notion that they would then hand the land back to him, he must have been bitterly disappointed. Instead, the Europeans set up the "Kingdom of Jerusalem." The rest of the story is essentially how this kingdom eroded pretty rapidly, hung on as nothing more than a European presence in Acre (Akko) for the last few decades, and was gone within two hundred years. Some of the more interesting aspects (mostly negative) include:
It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so sad, when in October of 2001 a leading Muslim in the United States spoke to my world religions class and assured us that the only thing that linked Islam and 9-11 was that the terrorists happened to have Islamic names, while encouraging us--twenty-first century Americans--to take responsibility for the Crusades.
The Ottoman Empire
There's no need to go into all the details of how "ownership" of Palestine was switched back and forth between various Muslim groups during and after the Crusades. By 1517, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Turks, headquartered in what once was Constantinople, but now was called Istanbul, took possession of Jerusalem. For the next four hundred years, he and his successors ruled over an extensive empire that included Palestine.
There is a site called Look-Lex, where you can click on various dates to see the map of the Ottoman Empire at that time. It is hard now to imagine how large and influential the Ottoman Empire was at one time. I guess that, nowadays, when most of us hear the word "Turkey" (note that I'm capitalizing the word; therefore, I could not be referrring to the Thanksgiving bird), we think of Asia Minor and that tiny strip of land across the Bosporus that accommodates Istanbul. As you can see by the map, there was a time when Turkey was the largest empire in the West. Needless to say, by the nineteenth century, the various European powers (including Russia) were trying their hardest to help themselves to slices of it. The empire was falling apart. I don't know if I've ever heard it stated this way, but it seems to me that the very factors that had turned the Turkish empire into a practically ungovernable territory also made it hard for the Europeans to get their share of "Turkish Delight." The Turkish Sultan (the Padishah) and his Pashas and the Khedive (his viceroy in Egypt) were in charge, but really, who can actually consider himself to be in control of the of Nomadic Bedouins, the Kurds, the Arabian tribes, whatever disease-ridden people made a living charging confiscatory prices for brackish water at isolated oases, let alone the slave-traders who made their own rules carrying off the losers in sub-Saharan tribal conflicts. Don't get me wrong. I do not consider being "governable" an intrinsic virtue, particularly in a case like this where, if they actually held elections, the only name on the ballot would be that of the Sultan. But ungovernable the Ottoman empire had definitely become. A common nineteenth century reference to it was as "the sick man on the Bosporus."
Suleiman set the pattern of how to govern, and his successors would attempt to follow his style to the best of their ability. I've mentioned before on this blog Camilla S.L's dictum that it is easier to laugh than to choke someone. This almost universally accepted piece of wisdom does not, however, apply to Sultans, who, with a quick flick of one hand, could command the staff-in-attendance to decapitate whoever was irritating their nerves. Such, for example, was the fate of the two gentlemen who were the architects of most of the present walls around the old city of Jerusalem. If you've ever been to Jerusalem, it may have struck you as odd that Mt. Zion, where King David's tomb is supposedly locdated, is not contained within the old city walls. That's certainly how it came across to Suleiman who had expected Mt. Zion to be included in the protected part.
As of the late 1980's at least, if you entered the old city of Jerusalem by the Jaffa Gate, you would notice that it is much wider than the other gates, and that a road leads straight into the city without the usual zig-zag. That part goes back to a visit by the German emperor, Wilhelm II in 1898, whose trip to Jerusalem strengthened ties between Germany and Turkey, The emperor rode in on a white horse, with his wife's carriage right to his side, and the gate had to be rebuilt in order to facilitate that piece of pointless swaggery. But I'm stacking again. Sorry.
Let's get back to the point I was making about the architects of the walls. Say, you are entering the old city by way of the Jaffa Gate, and you're not the German emperor. On your immediate left is the staircase that takes you up to the ramparts so that you can walk around the old city on top of the walls, an experience that I highly recommend. But this isn't the time for walking on the ramparts either. Just a little further on, still to the left, even prior to the stores surrounding the rest of the plaza, there are two dilapidated-looking Muslim graves (identifiable by pointed head-and-foot grave markers). Buried there are the bodies of the two architects who had compromised Suleiman's magnificence ever-so-slightly by not extending the walls around Mt. Zion. He had immediately decapitated them, and then buried them right there at the main gate, whether as a sign of respect despite that one little flaw. or as a warning to anyone else to follow the Sultan's wishes (whether expressed or implied), I don't know.
The Sultan's power was challenged in 1665 when a young man named Nathan of Gaza declared that his teacher, Sabbatai Zevi, was the Messiah. Sabbatai, who was undoubtedly suffering from bipolar disorder, took such compliments attributed to him seriously and gathered a small army that would take over Istanbul, from where he would govern his Messianic empire for a time. Despite the lack of technical facilities, news of the Messiah's appearance rocked the Jewish communities all over, from Egypt to Sweden. The Sultan, of course, was annoyed when Sabbatai showed up with his little army. He had Sabbatai arrested immediately, and--without applying any additional pressure--allowed Sabbatai to choose between two options: convert to Islam or lose your head. This was a no-brainer for Sabbatai, and, thus, in 1666, the supposed Messiah converted to Islam. Most Jewish people were startled and disappointed when they got word of these events, but some of his followers reasoned that it was apparently incumbent on the Messiah to suffer by accepting another religion, and that it might speed up the actual initialization of the messianic kingdom, if they joined Sabbatai in his outward apostasy. Sabbatarian movements, based on this bizarre notion, actually continued right into the nineteenth century.
To return once more to the point at hand (a task that seems to be presenting quite a challenge tonight, though I'm not sure why) up until 1917 Palestine was under the nominal political rule of the Ottoman empire. It was populated by small groups of resident Jews, Muslim Arabs, and Christian Arabs. The actual ownership of tracts of real estate was for the most part in the hands of absentee landlords in Istanbul and Baghdad. The titles to the land had passed on from generation to generation, and nobody was bothering to develop the countryside. In the middle of the nineteenth century a small trickle of Jewish immigration was starting, consisting mostly of refugees from various places of persecution. The Arabs, except for the few living in small town like Lod, had enough sense not to bother with trying to wrench a living out of this inhospitable area, given the far more productive areas east of the Jordan, and particularly east of the Syrian desert.
By the way, as we are now closing in on developments in the twentieth century, let me encourage you to read some of the autobiographical works written by important figures for our story, such as King Hussein of Jordan, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Golda Meir of Milwaukee, and so forth. They can be much better sources than third-person narratives because they reveal attitudes in addition to facts.
ZionismThe quotation on the right comes from the writings of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the so-called father of modern Zionism. I'm saying "so-called," because Zionism was developing in the nineteenth century, Herzl or not. He did not come up with the idea of a renewed homeland for Jews, nor was he particularly keen on such a place being located in Palestine. What he did was to
You cannot possibly understand Zionism if you don't realize how deeply Jews were integrated into Western Europe in the nineteenth century. "My" synagogue, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, the Reform temple to which I have taken students over many years, used to display a tapestry, which was made, if I remember correctly, shortly after the Franco-Prussian war. It commemorated a worship service held together by German Christians and Jews after a military victory. For that matter, keep in mind that Alfred Dreyfus, the French military officer who became the target of anti-Semites and was falsely convicted of treason, was, after all, a French military officer. That is to say, his culture, loyalty, and character were French. The Dreyfus Affair could not have happened if Jews at the time were confined to the ghetto. And yet--
It is precisely the fact of Jewish amalgamation into European society that gave rise to formal Zionism. I am supposing that Zionism would have remained at most the trickle of immigration of East-European Jews into Palastine if
a) Jews were continuing to live apart from West-European society and culture. As was the case in Russia and Poland, they would have seen themselves as aliens in their home countries, subjected to persecution, but retaining their identity in their stetls under their Rebbes.
b) being totally integrated into West-European society meant that they were protected from anti-Semitism in general and persecution in particular. Many Jews had converted to Christianity, had changed their names to fit in with German, French, or British society, in short, were essentially undistinguishable from their neighbors. But none of that prevented the persecutions to come up again and again.
The story is that Herzl, a journalist at home in the Austrian empire, was in Paris covering the Dreyfus affair when he became convinced of the point I was trying to make above. Regardless of how much Jews were at any time fitting into their present society, they would never be safe from persecution until they had a country of their own. And so Herzl became the leader among those who had similar convictions. As I pointed out above already, Herzl was not particularly stuck on Palestine as the one and only place where a Jewish state could be reestablished. In fact, he did meet with the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, who told him,"If one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land."
The Islamic state did fall apart, thirteen years after Herzl's death, but unsurprisingly Abdul Hamid did not cede Palestine to the Jews at that time. For one thing, by that time, he had been deposed by the "Young Turks" who installed Mehmed V as temporary puppet Sultan; for another, Muslim ideology would have prevented him from keeping such a promise made to an infidel. For a third, apparently Abdul Hamid could not envision being alive while his State would fall apart. Since his promise included the premise that he would be dead by then, the Sultan would not have been in a biological position to dispose of Palestine in any way. Just to make sure we're clear on this: I'm not for a moment thinking that Abdul Hamid's statement should be taken seriously; what I'm saying is that, even if it could be taken seriously, it would still be meaningless.
For a time Herzl advocated an area of what is now a part of Argentinia as the best location; when that didn't work out, he switched to East Africa, the so-called "Uganda Plan." However, the majority of Zionists were convinced that Palestine, the original homeland of the Jews, would be by far the most appropriate place for the new homeland. In the meantime, the trickle of Jewish emigration to Palestine continued to grow stronger anyway. Then, when in 1917, the British took over control of Palestine, it became possible to make official gestures in that direction. Regardless of how much flesh the Sultans preferred to have cut out of them, they were no longer in charge. The Ottoman Empire had joined forces with Germany in the first world war and lost.
Theodor Herzl was long gone by then, but his dream was coming closer to reality. Oh wait! It was not a dream, given the above quotation with which we started. A dream is an illusion. If I understand Herzl correctly, he wasn't advocating some kind of will-power magic, but he was saying that if you are working toward some goal, whatever you are trying to achieve has reality, at least as your goal, and so it cannot be an illusion. So, let me rephrase that sentence: Theodor Herzl was long gone by then, but his goal was coming closer to reality.
The Mandates and the Balfour Declaration
At the end of World War 1, the League of Nations, predecessor of the U.N. in terms of wisdom and effectiveness, put France and England in charge of certain portions of the Middle East. France was given charge over Lebanon and Syria, England over most of the rest of the lands south of those two countries. The French left Lebanon as a smoothly functioning democracy, more Mediterranean European than Middle Eastern in style from what I can tell, with a majority of Christians. These "Maronite" Christians have since reaffiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, but have been allowed to retain some of their distinctives in details. During World War II, when France was occupied by Nazi Germany, the Lebanese people took advantage of the situation and declared their independence, setting up a republic on the basis of a principle, which they called "confessionalism." The idea was to earmark leadership positions in the government in proportion to how any particular religion was represented in the population-at-large, as explained below. However, once France had been liberated, they reasserted their dominance over Lebanon, the idea being, I guess, that it's bad for France to be occupied, but not so bad for Lebanon. Nevertheless, it only took them a short time to recognize that what is sauce for France is also sauce for Lebanon (Algeria required a few more years), and they withdrew in 1946. One significant move they made was to expand Lebanon by a few more areas, in which the population was predominantly Muslim, thereby setting the "confessionalist" constitution on the road to eventual imbalance. This was the ranking of population groups when the Lebanese constitution was drawn up:
Thus, the president was always supposed to be a Christian, the prime
minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the lower house a Shi'ite. Certain
other offices were vouchsafed for the Druzes. However, after fifty or
so years after the implementation of this constitution, the population distribution
had drifted dramatically. I am not positive whether there still are more
Christians than Sunni Muslims, but that's not important compared to the fact
that now all Muslims combined hold the majority over the Christians, and among
the Muslims, the Shi'ites are in the majority. So, now the descending
order is Shi'ite
Muslims (who, together with Sunnis, put Muslims in the majority),
In the meantime, England was trying to add to the territory over which it would have control by also taking over the Arabian peninsula. It had a strong ally in the Sharif of Mecca of the Hashemite clan, but was, nonetheless, unsuccessful. Remember that the Arab tribes further north had also cooperated with England in the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, under the guidance of "Lawrence of Arabia." So, England took care of some of its responsibilities under the League of Nations mandate rather efficiently. It rewarded the Arab tribes by creating two independent states and gave the Sharif of Mecca a consolation prize by installing two of his sons as kings over them: the Hashemite kingdoms of Transjordan and Iraq. You realize, of course, that Iraq eventually disposed of their king thanks to the revolution of the Ba'ath party under the ever-so-popular Sadam Hussein, while the Kingdom of Transjordan persisted and became the Kingdom of Jordan when it granted itself ownership of the West Bank of the Jordan in Palestine in 1948.
Palestine, however, was a much more serious problem for England. For one thing, Jewish immigration was continuing. For another, now that the British were in charge, and because between their efforts and those of the Jews, a decent infrastructure was becoming established, Arab immigration was taking place as well. Many decades later many Arabs would claim that their families had resided in Palestine for many centuries, but it is clear that all of such claims added together cannot stand up to population figures. A tide of Arab immigration, however, is easily demonstrable. I know this sounds negative, though I don't intend it to be such at this point, but I am essentially describing a part of Arab culture that one has to understand in order to relate wisely. An Arab theory of truth frequently tends to include intent as much as correspondence to reality. I will let you decide to what extent this feature is unique to that culture, whether it is only a little more obvious, or whether I'm singling out Arab culture and ignoring that other cultures or subcultures, e.g., that of American politicians, also share that trait equally.
The Jews did not waste any time trying to stake their claim in Palestine. Chaim Waizmann, later to become the first president of Israel, mediated through Baron Walter Rothschild the request to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The response was a letter, whose content was first established by the British cabinet, revised slightly several times, and ultimately formulated by Foreign Secretary James Arthur Balfour:
Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment
in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish
people, and will use their best endeavours to
facilitate the achievement of this object, it
being clearly understood that nothing shall
be done which may prejudice the civil and religious
rights of existing non-Jewish communities in
Palestine, or the rights and political status
enjoyed by Jews in any other country.'
should be grateful if you would bring this declaration
to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Many words, much ink, and even more blood have been spilled over the exact meaning of each word in this declaration. Additionally there are questions concerning the differences in the intent of the Cabinet, the various revisers of the letter, and Lord Balfour's own interpretation of what the letter said. One of the biggest issues is whether a "national home" is equivalent to a "state." It is clear that the British government did not intend merely to support the establishment of one more Arab state, which would somehow be unusually hospitable to Jews. Since they were setting up nation states for Transjordan and Iraq, and were treating Palestine differently, that could not have been in their minds. Many Jews were (and are) saying that, insofar as the declaration had any intention toward an Arab state, Iraq and Transjordan were fulfilling that part, and thus the intent must have been that all of Palestine would be under Jewish governance.
This declaration is an interesting instance of the more general problem of how to interpret a potentially ambiguous document or statement. Here's a suggestion: Two good tests are, of course, first how those to whom the words are directed interpret them, and, second, how scholars with perhaps a broader historical overview and additional data interpret them. But a very powerful test is also to see how those who were opposed to a statement or document interpreted it.
Logically, I can't dismiss the possibility that everyone back then could have been wrong, and that only subsequent interpreters might have correctly understood the message of the Balfour Declaration. That would no doubt be an odd phenomenon, but odd phenomena do happen from time to time. It might also seem just a little arrogant to claim that a person almost a century removed from the Declaration has a better understanding of it than its contemporaries, but again, these things happen, though it is highly unlikely and not at all acceptable if it moves beyond interpretation to revising data. However, when one sees that both Palestinian Muslims and Christians at that time immediately started to protest, and that their object of protest was not the Jewish interpretation of the document, but the document itself, then that fact seems to weigh heavily in the direction of the Jewish interpretation. In more general terms, when Group A understands statement P in a particular way, and Group B, who opposes statement P, interprets P in the same way, even though they strongly object to it, then--all other things being equal--it appears that group A's interpretation is the correct one. So, another important step in the direction of the Jewish homeland has been taken.
The Hebron Massacre
It's been quite a while, though not as long as the life of Dr. Who, but back in the eighties, when I had the opportunity to make quite a few trips to Israel (thanks to Taylor University and Wandering Wheels), people would frequently ask me which was my favorite place there. That's one of those questions for which any number of answers could be accurate, depending on what category of locality was dominating my mind: archaeological sites, interesting stretches of roads to bike, outstanding falafel stands, colorful towns, places where little Arab boys would be less likely to pelt you with stones just for the fun of it1; it all depended on the standard I would choose for making the assessment.
When it came to towns, one of my favorites was Hebron. You may remember that I included Hebron a while back among the towns in Palestine that pretty much maintained a constant Jewish presence over the millennia. Its basic character was Arab, partially because the long-term Jewish residents there had adjusted themselves to an Arab cultural way of life. Hebron contains the only place in the world where Jews and Muslims worship in the same building, the Caves of Machpelah, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried, along with their wives, Sarah, Rebeccah, and Leah. By the 1920's, the permanent Jewish population of Hebron had been supplemented by a slow trickle of Sephardic Jews, which took several centuries, and then much more recently by Ashkenazi Jews, who established a yeshiva there. (A yeshiva is a Jewish college or seminary, particularly intended for, but not necessarily limited to, the training of rabbis.) Hebron was the home of Abraham for a time, David's first capital city, and the location that catalyzed the inevitable destiny of Palestine due to the infamous "Hebron Massacre."
First some clarification of terminology. The term "Sephardic" is usually contrasted with "Ashkenazi," though there are other alternatives, say, "Yemenite." The latter of these three terms clarifies itself; it obviously refers to Jews who had lived in the Yemen for a long period of time. Sephardic Jews are the descendants of Jews who had lived in Spain at one time. Spain had become the next place of a flourishing Jewish culture after the time in Persia had come to an end. I mentioned in an earlier post that, subsequent to the fiasco of the Bar Kochba revolt, many Jews moved to Persia, where they were tolerated by the Zoroastrians. For a while, they maintained a thriving community there, as evidenced by the "Babylonian Talmud," which stems from that time and place. However, when the Muslims took over Persia, the tolerance ended. Many of the Persian Zoroastrians themselves fled from their home country to India, where they became known as Parsis; there is still a significant Parsi community around Mumbai (Bombay) today. Those who remained were officially designated as "jabbars" (infidels), not recognized as "People of the Book" despite their possession of the Avesta, and severely oppressed. The Jews, though "People of the Book," did not fare any better, and many of them eventually wound up in Spain, which became the next great center of Jewish culture.
In the case of Spain, it was the Christians who put an end to Jewish security there. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, best known as the venture capitalists underwriting Christopher Columbus, had unified Spain under their rule as a Christian kingdom, which spelled the end of the Muslim Umayyad presence there. Also, in 1492, the same year as when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, all Jews were expelled from Spain. Some of them moved to North Africa; most of them found new homes in various parts of the Ottoman empire; a portion joined the Jewish population of Palestine. Their every-day language is called Ladino, which is closely related to Spanish, though written with Hebrew script. These are the Sephardic Jews.
Ashkenazi Jews were Jews who had settled in Northern and Eastern Europe. Their vernacular language was Yiddish, a variety of German written with Hebrew characters. By the early 20th century, many of them were Hassidic, while others were Marxists and not particularly religious. In either case, they provided an unmistakable contrast to the Middle Eastern Sephardis when they moved to Palestine. In fact, the Ashkenazi were better educated than the Sephardis and quickly moved into leadership roles among Zionist immigrants, even before the British mandate. David Grün (who changed his name to David Ben Gurion), Golda Meir, Chaim Azriel Weizmann, and Menachem Begin, to mention just a few, were Ashkenazi, and they were not particularly religious. Consequently, the Sephardic Jews carried a certain amount of resentment of the Ashkenazi, but not so much as that it would override solidarity with them against persecution. So, when some Arabs of Hebron came to the Sephardic head rabbi of that town and proposed to leave all other Jews there alone as long as they could kill 70 Ashkenazi students of the local yeshiva, the rabbi courteously declined the generous offer. But I'm getting ahead of my story.
Remember my statement in the last entry that in order to understand Arab culture, one must accept the fact that truth in that context is often governed by intention. A promise or a prediction are as good as a reality, and a present-tense statement may carry a yet-unfulfilled future objective. Please keep in mind that I don't mean this portrayal in a pejorative manner, but as a matter of reality without which one cannot fully understand Arab politics or rhetoric.
German readers of this blog may be familiar with Karl May's character Hadschi Halef Omar (al-Hadji 'Alef Umar), who came from a long line of forefathers, each of whom gave himself the title of "Hadji" (someone who has been to Mecca), even though he never completed the pilgrimage Halef also called himself "Hadji" based on his intention before he actually did so, but in his case, contrary to family precedent, he actually fulfilled the requirements (See Karl May, Durch die Wüste).
Thus, I am leading up to the point that, even apart from visible evidence, to this day, a statement by some Muslim authority that the Jews are about to desecrate the sacred places of Jerusalem (the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque), ipso facto carries some believability, not because it is actually occurring, but because from the observer's point of view it seems inevitable that it should occur.2
In August of 1929, a group of Jews held a demonstration asserting ownership of the Western ("Wailing") Wall. In the minds of local Arabs (more specifically, in the propaganda book of the Mufti of Jerusalem, whom we will discuss later), this assertion turned into a statement by the Jews that they intended to destroy Haram-al-Sharif, the temple plaza with its two mosques. This message then spread across Palestine and caused deadly riots in Hebron and Safad. In Hebron sixty-seven Jews were killed, a sizable number for a time when genocide in the millions was not yet a part of common awareness. A new era had started. Mutual dislike between Jews and Muslims from now on would carry an edge of violence. The Jews established the hagada, the ancestor of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force. The British wound up killing a number of Arabs in the process of putting down the riots and from now on would have to endure physical harassment from both Jews and Arabs. It is impossible not to notice the similarity between events here and in India, and in both cases, by the time that the goal of independence had been reached, partition would have to be a part of the result.
1For what it's worth, I can't say which area was the best in that respect, but without a doubt, the worst was the supposedly Christian city of Nazareth. These children definitely needed something to do other than lining the road hurling fist-sized rocks at us bicycle riders. Remember that when I recently criticized the statement about sticks and stones, I objected to the notion that words could never hurt one; there is no doubt that stones can break one's bones.
2A side light: These mental conventions tend to be the kinds of things that cause genuine culture shock, a term that we often misuse when someone suddenly encounters a new and different culture and has a hard time finding their way around at first. The adjustment may or may not be easy, but in and of itself is not dangerous. After all, one has one's brain; one can learn the language; one can memorize the roads; and so forth.
However, the phrase has real applicability as a clinical issue after someone has been in a culture different from his own for quite a while, when it becomes a real psychological condition that often puts a person into a seriously debilitating depression. True culture shock sets in when the novelty has worn off. It is not usually caused by the fact that people wear different clothes and eat different food with different manners, but that people have different attitudes and different ways of thinking, which seem interesting at first, but start to feel enslaving after a while. For example, the so-called "lack of punctuality" in certain cultures can drive me bananas, while residents of those countries are utterly befuddled by the fact that we let our lives be governed by a clock rather than by the needs engendered by interpersonal relationships. As Americans we love convenience, while people of other cultures set a high premium on tradition, even if it makes life more cumbersome or laborious. We tend towards egalitarianism in the work place and feel free to ask questions of our superiors; other cultures are far more hierarchical, and a simple request for information can be seen as insubordination.
Culture shock usually sets in when a person has become outwardly adjusted, but feels inwardly totally trapped. The person is frustrated because nobody seems to understand that there is another, better, way of solving a problem, or that one can save time by doing things differently. Nobody even seems to want to listen, let alone do anything about any of the unnecessary barriers. This condition has nothing to do with nationalism; it's a matter of feeling like you've been thrust into a psychological jail by the other culture. You get caught up in a vicious circle of feeling isolated that leads to greater isolation, and pretty soon you can't function at all any more. I've seen it, and it's not pretty; it can totally change a person's personality. And, if you're a missionary, your psychological conflicts are, of course, interpreted by others (and likely even yourself) as spiritual deficiency. Please, please let's have everyone repudiate that notion wherever we may run across it. The last thing any people struggling with emotional issues need is to have some presumptuous prince of pietosity pass judgment on them.
Oftentimes just knowing that you're going through a common, temporary, experience provides a sufficient basis from which to start to emerge to normality again, but sometimes good counseling is necessary.
I used to tell my undergrads before three-week trips abroad: You will not experience real culture shock, but be prepared to minister to some people who are, and who will latch on to you simply because you're American and, therefore, supposedly understand what is "right."
The United Nations Resolution
Forgive me if I'm repeating myself. The book to read about the time period 1947-48 leading up to the formation of the state of Israel is O Jerusalem! by Larry Collins and Dominic Lapierre. It's been recommended to me by both committed Zionists and militant Arab Palestinians as telling the "real" story. There is no way I can even begin to cover everything contained in that book. In my paperback edition it's about 1,100 pages, but it reads like a novel. It's one of my major sources for this section.
Conventional wisdom may hold that there might not have been a state of Israel if it had not been for the Holocaust. If so, conventional wisdom is perhaps overstating matters, but there is no question that the massive extermination of Jews during World War II contributed to the sympathy of the world toward the Zionist cause. When the details of the Holocaust first came to the attention of the world, the Arab nations applauded what the Nazis had done. (Remember the scenes of joyful dancing on 9-11!) Then, when it became apparent to them that it contributed to the sentiment in favor of a Jewish state, the Arab media rapidly changed their mind and started to deny that the Holocaust had ever happened. I'm not sure, though, that whatever the Egyptian press said had a lot of impact on the rest of the world one way or the other.
In November of 1947, the United Nation passed the resolution as depicted in the map that I'm using as logo for this series. The blue area would be a Jewish state, the yellow Arabic, and the red in the middle, Jerusalem, would be an international city under the direct governance of the United Nations. The reactions among the various affected parties varied. The Jews were rejoicing. Not that this was everything that they had been waiting for, but they were willing to accept it. On the other hand, the Arabs were unhappy with it right from the start. When I say Arabs here, I'm not just referring to the Arab population of Palestine. All over the Middle East, from Damascus to Cairo, Arabs immediately prepared themselves, and the head of the Medresh in Cairo, the Sheik-al-Azar, declared a jihad on the Jews. In Palestine itself, it was Haj Amin Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem who exercised the leadership. He had already distinguished himself earlier in 1929 as the person who had been the catalyst for the Hebron massacre, spreading the word that the Jews were about to destroy the Muslim holy places. He had spent much of World War II in Germany, being hosted by the Nazis. But he came back to Jerusalem just in time to give his charges the direction they were looking for. Haj Amin is credited as being the originator of the slogan, "We will drive the Jews into the sea." Twenty years later, King Hussein echoed the same sentiment, declaring that, just as it had taken two hundred years to get the Crusaders out of Palestine, so, regardless of how long it would take and what measures would be necessary, eventually all Jews would get expelled out of Palestine.
Now, you may be thinking, "Good thing the British were still there. They would not leave until May 14 or so, and until then they would surely keep order." Well, I'm afraid that in the next entry a reality check is waiting for you. None of this is a pretty story, but the next installment is as ugly as the Holocaust had been.
The Siege of JerusalemSo, the United Nations had passed the resolution: there would be a Jewish state in Palestine, intertwined with an Arab state, and Jerusalem would be an international city right in the center of what would become the Arab territory. Now, if you look at the map, you may notice that Jerusalem is not at all connected to the Jewish portion (to which I shall refer prematurely as "Israel" from this point on.) Of course, there were Jews as well as Arabs living in Jerusalem, just as the population was intermixed in both larger territories.
I need to take one moment to point out that not everyone in Palestine, aside from the British or, for that matter, the Druzes, were either Jewish or Muslim. There was a fairly sizable population that called itself Christian, then as now. The cities of Bethlehem and Nazareth have traditionally had a nominally Christian majority population. Jerusalem was home to a patchwork quilt of Christian confessions, denominations, and sects whenever the political powers allowed them to reside there, so that they could engage in their usual squabbles. (To this day, the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is held by a Muslim because none of the Christian groups trust each other to provide fair access to the premises.) On the whole, though, as I mentioned already in connection with the Balfour Declaration, the Christians were right there alongside the Muslims protesting against the possibility of a Jewish state, and that alignment had remained during the period under consideration and has continued to this day. Not all, but quite a sizeable number of Palestinian Christians in leadership positions continue to espouse hostility toward Israel, rationalize the dictatorial measures practiced by the Muslim leadership, and trivialize Palestinian terrorism. I am making this statement based on my own observations, experiences, and conversations. I will supply details if pushed, though I don't particularly care to do so. Nevertheless, I thought it's a sufficiently significant part of the total picture, that it warrants mention.
Now, remember that the British had a long-standing affinity with the Arabs in struggle against the Ottoman Empire. This preference made itself felt, even as they were withdrawing from Palestine. Keep in mind that all of these events happened right on the heels of their withdrawal from India, during which the original chaos led to even greater chaos and slaughter, and so perhaps they felt that they needed to support one side just to maintain order. Not that they weren't subjected to terrorist attacks from both sides. One famous example was the bombing of the King David Hotel, headquarters of the British, led by Menachem Begin, future prime minister of Israel, who was heading up the group called the Irgun. But the British were harassed by the Arabs as well. Nevertheless, when it came right down to it, there is no question that the British supported the Arabs in setting up for partition and independence. Here are a few examples. (Actually, this is hardly a disputable "claim"; the only reason I'm making a deal out of it is because there's a good chance that contemporary readers may have a hard time seeing England in this light. I know I would. But having spent all my life with the reality of what happened in the country of my birth, I have no interest to cover up for anyone else.)
"Whoever controls Latroun, controls Israel." Other than the name of this location at the bottom of the road leading up to Jerusalem, which may have changed from time to time, this saying has been true for thousands of years. If you look at the fortifications installed by Solomon, you will see that he was aware of this principle. Jerusalem was the capital; there was only one functional road up to the city; whoever controlled the entrance to the road controlled the city and, thereby, governed the land from there.. A medieval tradition locates Emmaus there, though given the distance mentioned in the New Testament, the true Emmaus must have been closer to Jerusalem than that. Richard Coeur de Leon erected a fortification there, and those of us who were on the '84, '86, or '88 Wandering Wheels trips through Israel spent a night sleeping in his stable. Today there is a large monastery there on one side of the road and on the other side a quasi-monastic brotherhood of German Christians, our hosts for the evenings, whose property included some of Richard's installations, such as the stable.
To return to 1947, the British gave in to the wishes of the Arabs and closed the single road to Jerusalem. Thus, it was impossible for the Jews up in the city to receive any supplies. By that I not only mean that they would receive no weapons, but also no food or anything else to keep life going. Occasionally someone would sneak through, but certainly not with enough provisions for hundreds of people. The rabbis in Jerusalem counseled their charges to maintain morale and hope by attempting to live a normal life, which included sitting down together at the table at mealtimes and say the regular prayers, though without any food. Thus, we can refer to this measure as a "siege" of Jerusalem, but the meaning of the word "siege" in this case is different from the meaning it carries on most occasions. "Normally" (what a weird use of this word!), the siege of a city comes with the undesirable provision that, when the residents are out of food or water, they can open the gates and allow the enemy to enter, preferring the possibility of slavery for at least some of the people to death by starvation for everyone. But the siege of Jerusalem of 1947-48 had only one intended outcome: for the Jews to die of starvation without the option of capitulation.
The soon-to-be Israelis found a way of dealing with the situation that required a great amount of effort as well as the kind of conspiratory silence that one does not encounter very often. During World War II, the Allies had built a secret road in Burma to transport supplies, though under somewhat less precarious circumstances. Now the Israelis followed the same tactic, but with much greater danger. They built a road to the other side of Jerusalem, a very rough and steep road. They could only work at night and needed to be as quiet as humanly possible. But they brought it off. Vehicles were able to get to the city to bring food and--let's not be naïve about it--weapons. The siege had been broken, and the lives of the Jews in Jerusalem had been saved. --- For what it's worth, on the aforementioned bicycle trips, we would take the "Burma Road" out of Jerusalem. It has since been improved and paved, but still provides one of the best opportunities for coasting down a steep curvy road one could ever ask for (though I also remember a few unfortunate skids by some inexperienced riders who left some impressive layers of skin on the road).
The Jews were getting ready for the coming all-out war. So were the Palestinian Arabs, as well as the surrounding Arab states with Egypt, Transjordan, and Syria taking the lead. In subsequent revisions of history, such as one written by Tamara Sonn,1 we get the picture of mighty Israel, with the support of Europe and the United States, easily crushing the weak Arab armies, who were severely hogtied by the United Nations embargo. This characterization is so obviously contrary to the facts, that the only way in which one can accept it is by first ignoring all of the other events leading up to the actual conflict, and even then closing one's eyes to the realities as they took place during the conflict itself, such as the fact that the Britisher, Glubb Pasha, was still by the side of King Abdullah, leading his army. The point is that, given the way things were lining up, observers at the time gave Israel virtually no chance of survival; the idea of Israel crushing its would-be-exterminators due to greater support and resources is insupportable.2 What they did have was the motivation of staying alive, a more sophisticated sense of strategy, and a smaller agenda. They also had the support of individuals in England and the United States, but not of the countries. However, if I were to elaborate on this point any further now, I would be running ahead of the story. We shall leave it with the preparations, and carry on from here next time. Before the actual war started, the refugee camps sprung up, and we need to talk about those first.
1"The Arab-Israeli Conflict"in Charles Wei-hsun and Gerhard E. Spiegler, eds., Movements and Issues in World Religions: A Sourcebook and Analysis of Developments Since 1945 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), p. 28.
2I want to say "ludicrous," but I keep reminding myself that an understated argument is often more forceful than one stated with all of the force it deserves. The notion is ludicrous, but I will simply say that it is "insupportable."
The Refugee CampsThere is a certain amount of ambiguity concerning a part of tonight's topic, but other aspects are clear.
This much is clear: Prior to the departure of the British from Palestine and the ensuing war, the Arab leadership was exhorting the Arab population living in what would become Israel to vacate the area as quickly as possible. They did so via radio broadcasts and over PA systems in which they drew lurid word pictures of how they would be maltreated and tortured once the Jews were in charge. There is also no question that in the course of the later warfare some of the Arab population was displaced, as were some of the Jewish residents, but the great flight that led to the establishment of the refugee camps took place before the all-out war started.
Furthermore, there is no question that the official Israeli leadership did not want the Arab residents to leave. Their "manual," as it were, Theodor Herzl's book, New Old World, outlined a state in which Jews would be safe because they would be in charge, but that was far from exclusively Jewish; anyone desiring to live in a country based on fairness and equality was welcome. Golda Meir describes in her autobiography how she stood next to a stream of Arabs leaving their homes calling to them and asking them to change their minds and stay. "Please don't go; we need you!" Arabs who remained in Israel became citizens with full voting rights and representation in the parliament, the Knesset, though they have not been allowed (or should that be "have not been forced"?) to join the Israeli military.
The ambiguity comes up on the intermediate level. The Israelis had three military groups: the official Haganah, which, as I mentioned before, turned into the Israeli Defense Force upon independence. Its leader, by the way, reporting directly to David ben Gurion when he became prime minister, was the archaeologist Yigael Yadin, who became famous later for his excavations on Masada, among other sites. But I have also alluded to two terrorist organizations, the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, and the so-called Stern Gang. Most of these two groups' activities were directed against the British, and to what extent they carried out terrorism against Arabs is a matter of great dispute. The Arab leaders claimed that there was a lot of it and used the alleged instances to motivate the people to abandon their homes. The Israelis denied these claims. Perhaps the most famous of these points of controversy is about the Arab village of Deir Yasin. Collins and Lapierre detail in O Jerusalem! how a contingent of Jewish terrorists allegedly destroyed the village, killed the men, and maltreated the women. For their data they used interviews of surviving villagers, carried out quite a while later by representatives of the Red Cross. When the interviewers had a difficult time getting the women to reveal what had been done to them, they blamed the Arab sense of modesty according to which a woman may be severely punished for getting raped, even if she had no control over the matter. That explanation could be reasonable--assuming that the events actually occurred. Another reason could be, however, that the women could not or would not divulge details because there were none to divulge.
The Israeli government undertook an official investigation into the Deir Yasin allegations and announced in 1965 that the supposed events never took place. If that sounds a little contrived to you, it does to me as well, making me think of the Nixon government running an investigation into Watergate. However, we cannot dismiss the government's conclusion quite that easily. First of all, the analogy works better if we think of the Democrats running the investigation into Watergate because we know that they were not interested in promoting a cover-up. The Israeli government at the time was constituted by the labor party, while the former terrorists, such as Menachem Begin, were affiliated with the Likhud party, and there was little love lost between those two groups. A drastic case in point was the so-called Lavon Affair, which involved the allegation of Egyptian Jews setting off terrorist bombs in Egypt, supposedly at the behest of the Israeli government. Israel would expose its own scandals. The Lavon Affair cost David ben Gurion much of his immediate reputation, his leadership role, and his friendship with Golda Meir. So, it cannot be said that Israel would naturally and automatically cover up all wrong-doings by Israelis.
My larger point is then that I, for one, cannot come to a firm conclusion on Deir Yassin. The data used by Collins and Lapierre are objective, but not necessarily reliable, and, despite the qualification I made above, I cannot bring myself to consider the Israeli government's report as the final word on the matter, though I cannot dismiss it a priori either. Another factor to consider is that, even if the Deir Yassin event, as it was publicized by the Arabs, did not take place on the scale they claimed, similar actions, on a smaller scale may have occurred there or in other places.
Regardless of the degree of reality behind Deir Yassin, the Arab leadership used a worst-case version of it, created a number of others, each one depicting the greatest degree of cruelty imaginable, to motivate Arabs in soon-to-be Israeli territory to depart. I mentioned above that Collins and Lapierre accept the reality of the Deir Yassin event, but they also agree that most of the "information" conveyed to the Arabs on the radio and by loudspeakers was fictional rhetoric (or rhetorical fiction). Those who left, took up life in refugee camps in Arab territories, such as just outside of Jericho and on the Gaza strip, even before there was out-and-out war.
Staying on topic, but getting ahead in the story a little bit, for the next twenty years those camps remained under the control of Arab governments, Jordan and Egypt respectively. The refugees lived in miserable conditions, most of them in tents made of thin canvass supplied by the U.N. until they built themselves huts of rocks. There were no utilities or sewage. The Arab nations did nothing to improve the camps or the lots of the people living in them, but used them as propaganda exhibits of the harm caused by Israel. Israel, of course, inherited these camps in 1967, at which point the Arab states wasted no time in scolding Israel for allowing their inhabitants to live in such inhumane situations. However, they themselves had let them deteriorate and fester for twenty years.
The Outcome of the War of Independence
The British left Palestine. Israel had declared itself to be a state, with Benjamin Waizman as president and David ben Gurion as prime minister. . . . The Palestinian Arabs had declared themselves to be an independent state as well. . . . No, they hadn't. . . . . You see, if anything went wrong with regard to those people whom we now call "the Palestinians," it was right here. Since this was still prior to my birth, I can't speak from memory on the point that I'm about to make. My older brother was born in 1947, so maybe I should ask him, but he probably doesn't remember either. Nor have I read anywhere of anyone who at that time was seriously discussing the point (though that may be purely a deficiency in my reading.) The point, to which I should come pretty quickly now lest you lose control of your blood pressure, is that an independent Palestinian Arab state was not something that was seriously considered, let alone debated. King Abdullah had negotiated with the British that the territory allocated to the Arabs would become a part of his kingdom, and--to the best of my knowledge--this arrangement was being accepted by the people living in that territory as much as by all of the other Arab nations. The territory in question is, of course, the area West of the Jordan, to which we routinely refer now as the "West Bank."
So, as you can see from the larger map, these are some of the outcomes of the 1948 war, which actually did not attain an armistice until 1949:
a) Israel has created an access corridor to Jerusalem.
b) Jerusalem was a divided city. The more modern Western part, where Hebrew University and the Haddasah Hospital were located, belonged to Israel. The larger portion, including the entire Old City, viz. the city prior to expansion beyond its walls in the late nineteenth century, belonged to Jordan. The Old City had traditionally been divided into four sectors (though geometrically they were not exactly one fourth in size each): the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters.
The Old City was in Muslim hands in its entirety. As we pointed out before, the Christians had aligned themselves on the whole with the Muslims, and so they were relatively safe. The Armenians had sided with the Jews, but at the last possible moment they expressed sympathy with the Muslims, and thereby saved a lot of lives. The Muslims utterly devastated the Jewish quarter, both the people and the buildings, including some venerable and important synagogues. (If you're so inclined, you may wish to compare this approach with the care with which Israel has respected the Muslim holy sites, not only the ones on the temple mount that came into its hands in 1967, but also others that were inside of Israel before then, such as the Mosque-al-Jazzar [the "butcher's mosque"] in Acco. That particular mosque, though not well known to the outside world, is supposed to contain some hairs of Muhammad's beard.)
c) Since Jordan owned Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Old City, it did well for itself in collecting money for Christian tourism. Furthermore, they immediately decreed that they would not accept any tourists whose passport carried an Israeli stamp or visa, thereby attempting to ensure that any tourist's trip to Israel was most likely going to start with a stay in Jordan, even if its main destination was going to be say, the Sea of Galilee.
d) The Gaza strip was under Egyptian control, as was the Sinai peninsula.
e) And there was peace throughout the land. At least if you take a very narrow view of "peace." The refugee camps, left to fester by the Arab countries, bred terrorist groups. Particularly well known at the time were the Fedahin, who operated out of the Gaza strip. Bombings were a frequent occurrence. Furthermore, whenever the Syrian soldiers got bored, safely ensconced on the Golan heights on the north-eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, they fired a missile or two into Israel. In short, the "peace" was a poorly kept truce.
f) One Arab leader was getting tired of the situation. King Abdullah of Jordan was interested in greater stability, and so he actually indicated that he might be willing to entertain peace talks with Israel. When the other Arab nations, now calling themselves the "Arab League," indicated that they were highly unsympathetic to the idea, King Abdullah let it be known that he might just try to find a way of establishing a peace treaty just between Israel and Jordan. Shortly thereafter, in the company of his grandson Hussein ibn Talal, he went to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where he was promptly shot by people unsympathetic to his interest in peace, let alone the notion of unilateral peace talks. To this day, if you visit the mosque and look at the second column on the left from the entrance, you'll see marks left by the bullets of his assassin. Hussein took a bullet also, but his grandfather had insisted that he should wear a certain medallion, and the bullet reflected off it. Husssein's father took the throne, but since he suffered from a mental illness, he very soon thereafter retired on disability, and Hussein became the seemingly sempiternal King of Jordan.
The next major event in the history of Israel has become pretty buried among the multiple wars in which the country has been engaged over the decades. However, it became determinative for how Israel would comport itself subsequently, including the aftermath of the six-day war.
The Suez War
I am convinced that you cannot understand Israel and its actions unless you view it through the lens of the so-called Suez War of 1956. Consequently, since I would guess that very few people remember, let alone understand, the Suez War, Israel must be a mystery to them. Then again, when was the last time that any public discussion of Israel and Palestine has made reference all the way back to 1956? Why would the average person even think of looking for information on it, and where would he or she find it? The furthest back anyone normally goes is to the six-day war in 1967 (these days under the heading of "The Occupation of Palestine"), or maybe to 1948, but most likely skipping 1956. At best, if you hear 1956 mentioned, it is most likely merely as an unfortunate occurrence spreading ill will all around the Western nations, which almost drew the Soviet Union into the conflict, and gained Israel, though victorious in its military actions, nothing.
However, it is precisely the utter ineffectiveness of the entire scenario that is the reason why Israel acted as it did later on in, say, 1967.
1956 is an important year in the history of the world. Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States; the ebullient John Foster Dulles was his Secretary of State. Charles DeGaulle was, as always, posturing in France, and Arthur Eden was prime minister of England. Eisenhower and Dulles publicly paraded their commitment to fight Communism or Soviet influence wherever it showed, but in 1956, when there was an attempt in Hungary to throw off the chains of Soviet Communist domination, they did nothing. My guess (and it can be nothing more than that on this point, though we are now at a time of which I have personal memory in reading and listening to the news) is that, after having done a careful cost-benefit analysis of the Korean war, they realized that there was nothing to gain by taking on a certifiably losing cause in Hungary. No matter how principled and hawkish one may be, one still wants to fight the wars that one can win, right? [Once again, I don't know if I need to add a tongue-in-cheek marker or not.] Seriously, despite their inaction in Hungary, President Eisenhower, Secretary Dulles, et. al. were primarily concerned with the threat of Communism.
Great Britain was having a difficult time of it in the Middle East. Its relationship to the Sa'udi kingdom continued to be poor (whereas at the time the United States was getting on famously with Sa'udi Arabia). England had enjoyed some nominal influence in Egypt for a time, supporting King Farouk. But in 1952 Farouk was overthrown by Abdul Gamal Nasser and his compatriots. Nasser did not care that much for the West in general, and Britain in particular, and so Britain tried with some clever maneuvers to gain Nasser's good will, which did not work too well, and eventually England concluded that Nasser was a tyrant without whom the world would be best off. A thwarted attempt to assassinate Nasser, though I don't believe that England was involved in it whatsoever, provided good material for Nasser's anti-British rhetoric. However, by that time Britain's attempts at playing nice with Nasser, though ineffectual, had managed to alienate the Hashemite kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan, though both of them had been created by England. In the early 1950s, King Hussein finally sent his British military advisor, the peculiar "Glubb Pasha" back home. So, England's eyes were focused on the Middle East, while the United States was keeping a careful eye on China and the Soviet Union, and, other than France, England did not have many friends left in the world at the time. (Okay, that statement ignores the Commonwealth, quite a huge oversight, but not in terms of remaining a significant factor vis-a-vis the threats of the day.)
What kept France and England together at the time was their claim to have free use, not to mention oversight, of the Suez Canal. I'm skipping some complexities here that it would take a lawyer to sort out, but, if I called on one to help out, it would have to be pro bono work, which would not be worth their time, so we have to leave it with my generalizations. Suffice it to say that both England and France maintained that they were entitled to use the Suez Canal on their own terms when and how they preferred to do so. This connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea was an incredible time- and money-saving device. Look at the map and think away the Suez Canal. How do you get from Europe to the Indian Ocean? There are only two ways. Either, you sail all the way around Africa, or you transport your cargo overland to a port, say, at the city of Elat, located at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba which you can only access by passing through the Straits of Tiran. The latter method, you may remember, was an idea that King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre implemented together, which brought them immeasurable wealth. However, even more helpful would be the construction of a canal that directly linked the waters of Europe and North Africa with those of Asia, and the Suez Canal was just the thing. It was built by an alliance of Egypt, France, and England, and was completed in 1846. The King of Egypt (the khedive) was nominally the viceroy of the Ottoman Sultan, and King Farouk was the last of the line, having survived the collapse of the Ottomans thanks to the British. Due to inevitable financial problems about thirty years later (after all, it was the time of the Ottoman empire), England and France took control of the Canal, and England placed a huge garrison there.Gamal Abdal Nasser, President of Egypt, was extremely popular among his people at first, having overthrown the king and limiting British influence, but--as I remarked before--the besetting problem for revolutionaries is that their popularity is dependent on keeping the revolution going, and so Nasser needed to find further outlets to keep the people behind him against a perceived common enemy. In other words, his power and acceptance at home was riding on his being nasty enough to the West, so that the West would react unfavorably to him, and he could demonstrate to his people that the West was a threat to them. Nasser had a number of opportunities to act on that principle, and he availed himself of them. Most importantly, he had already had a longstanding policy of attempting to keep Israeli ships from going through the Suez Canal. Now, he totally clamped down on them. Furthermore, he also "nationalized" the Canal, viz. he dismissed any claims to ownership or oversight by the British and the French, and closed it off to them as well. Furthermore, he blockaded the Straits of Tiran, so that Israel would have no more access to the Eastern seas. All three of these countries depended on the Suez Canal to transport oil, and so they were quite miffed.
But, like Lucy and Ethel, England and France had a plan, in which they involved Israel. Nasser's actions were problematic for England and France, but they were putting a stranglehold on Israel, which had been put into a position to need to fight for its life. England and France suggested that Israel would invade the Sinai Peninsula. Then, when the Egyptian military would be preoccupied with warding off Israel, England and France would take the Suez Canal and its immediate surroundings by force.
The big question mark was how the United States might react to this ploy, but there seemed to be good reason to believe that the U.S. would, if not favor it, then at least remain neutral about it. Among Nasser's several recent moves to annoy the West was his official recognition of the Peoples' Republic of China, a gesture that had made Secretary of State Dulles so angry that the United States withdrew any further money promised to help fund the Aswan Dam. Furthermore, the events of Hungary had shown that the U.S., all rhetoric aside, was apparently not willing to go too far out on a limb with its actions.
The plan was a success. Now keep in mind here that we're talking about a war, not just diplomatic maneuvering or a game of chess. There were casualties on both sides beyond the removal of a few figures from a checkered board, and the procedure took longer than is usually allowed for a normal chess match. But victory appeared in the grasp of the three allies. Israel had control of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and England and France were in the mopping up stages of securing the Suez Canal.
But then the U.S. intervened, and it did so in a surprising way. As I mentioned above, Nasser had already declared his sympathy with what we back then called "Red China." Egypt was receiving weapons from the resources of the Soviet bloc; in fact, the Soviet Union itself declared that it might step in directly on behalf of Egypt. And so, the U.S. once again calculated and decided that, as committed as it was to fight Communism, an all-out war between the West and the East was in no one's best interest, and President Eisenhower ordered Great Britain to cease fire at once. And, without even informing, let alone consulting, either France or Israel, the British forces ceased fighting, which then forced France to do so as well. Israel had no choice but to return the Sinai and to retreat to its previous borders.
How could the U.S. president exercise that much power over Great Britain? With money, of course. To simplify things so that I can understand them, Britain still was working with capital provided by the United States after World War II, and if the U.S. had actually pulled it, England would have been in the economic disaster of a lifetime. And thus, after a quirky, but successful, action by the three countries, the United States ordered everyone to return matters to status quo ante.
Now, here is why these events are so important for Israel in its future actions:
So, when we look at the events of 1967 next time, keep in mind what Israel had learned in 1956. If it did not look out for its own interests, nobody would, and concessions appeared to gain nothing.
The Six Day War
|Note: If you navigated here before reading the previous section on the Suez War, please go back and do so first. It is not possible to understand the outcome of the Six Day War apart from the Suez War.|
************We were sitting in a circle late at night in the town of Ramallah, talking with a Palestinian leader.
"Before you condemn us as terrorists," he was saying, "please ask yourself what it is that is driving us to perform these acts of terrorism." Silently I asked myself, what he could mean by "driving us." There's a big difference between having a motivation or a reason and being "driven." For that matter, there's another big difference between having a reason and being morally justified. (By the way, long-time readers of this blog may recognize his statement as one of the fifteen or so propositions that constitute my top-ten list of things I never want to hear again.)
"We Palestinians are not Arabs. We are descended from the Philistines, the Sea People." Back then he couldn't have known that a number of years later genetic studies would definitively refute that theory. Then again, he never did have a basis for the Philistine myth--another example of the phenomenon that in his culture intentionality is an important criterion for truth.
"The goal of the Israelis has been to drive all of us Palestinians out of their territory." This assertion was patently inconsistent with the facts. As I mentioned before, the Arabs who remained in Israel in 1948 became Israeli citizens; they have had the right to vote and are represented in the Knesset. Speaking of the intentionality criterion, however, the Arab goal to eliminate Israel continues to be operative, and so it is natural, once again, that they would ascribe this intention to Israel.
"The Six-Day War wasn't a war. The word "war" means that both sides are fighting. This was a one-sided action by Israel; they didn't meet with much resistance." Correct! Now that's a statement with which one has to agree. Not that the Arab League intended it that way, but as it turned out, that's pretty much as how it was. It was only a few hours before Israel had air supremacy, and much of the action on the ground, though not totally without resistance, was a rout.
There's an unbelievable amount of controversy concerning the Six-Day war, much of it manufactured, and even more of it irrelevant, I'm afraid. I remember watching the U.N. Security Council debate on TV subsequent to the war. The representative of Egypt repeated the statements, "Israel is the aggressor; Israel fired the first shots;" over and over again. Nowadays the issue is being framed in terms of to what extent Israel's action was preemptive, and to what extent a preventive military action can be justified. If you happen to look at the Wikipedia article on the war, you'll get a good solid taste of that discussion. Of particular interest in that article are the statements attributed to various Israeli leaders that make Israel's actions look virtually like gratuitous aggression. That's why I have recommended before that you should read the autobiographies of the principals involved. I can't think of a better way of cutting through contemporary ideological filters. Once you're read the exposition by King Hussein of Jordan on how the Arab states deliberately created a situation so that Israel would have to fight and, thereby, give the Arab states reason to eliminate Israel permanently, the question of how "preemptive" Israel's actions on a particular date were, vanishes in the larger picture.
As I've mentioned before, in the case of Israel, the word "peace" as applied to the period between officially designated "wars" is a highly idiosyncratic use of the term. After the Suez War in 1956, the Fedahin kept up their terrorist actions, joined by the Fatah and various other spontaneous organizations. Syria continued to shell Israeli villages and attempted to keep Israeli farmers from plowing their fields. Israel instituted a policy of "reprisals," which earned them a great deal of criticism. Let's say that one day, three Israelis were killed by Arab terrorists. The next day, the IDF would send a contingent into Jordan (i.e. the "West Bank") and destroy some houses, back then frequently making sure that they were empty at the crucial time. On the third day, UN delegates would almost fall over each other rushing to the microphone to condemn Israel's reprisals, while either diminishing or not mentioning at all the acts of terrorism that were the catalysts for the reprisals.
Although Eisenhower had twisted the collective arm of England, France, and Israel in 1956 to undo their exploits, Gamal Nasser did not come out looking all that wonderful at the time either, and to say that he was acting as spitefully toward Israel after 1956 as before, in collaboration with other Arab leaders, is surely an understatement. In the months before June of 1967, he expelled the UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai, and he did his best to unify the Arab armies in order to deliver the final blow to Israel. One of the pretexts he used was that Israel was about to divert the waters of the Jordan river, something that the Syrians and Jordanians were actually doing, and which, therefore, on the basis of the "intentionality criterion of truth," Israel must be planning. Arab armies were amassing all along Israel's borders. Nasser once again closed the Suez Canal and blockaded the Straits of Tiran.
These dire straits are actually located at the entrance to the gulf and are, as the name implies, pretty narrow. So narrow, in fact, that the two adjoining countries on their sides (Egypt and Sa'udi Arabia) claim them to be territorial waters over which they have jurisdiction. And so, this is the area through which Nasser did not allow any Israeli or Israel-friendly ships to pass, just as with the Suez Canal.
So, Israel was surrounded all along its land borders by armies of various Arab countries. There was a special contingent of the Egyptian air force in Jordan. Nasser had blocked Israel from receiving vital materials. As I said above, in this context the notion of "preemptive strikes" is irrelevant. If Person X has pledged to kill you and is holding a gun to your head, and you knock the gun out of his hand, if X would then go before a Council and accuse you of starting the violence, I'm afraid that X would not have a lot of credibility. But if X went on whining about the incident for forty years, and few people had the time to study what actually happened, after a while he might just get a lot of sympathy.
The Egyptian planes were fueled, ready to take off. The commander of the Egyptian air force was going to take one last reconnaisance flight (according to King Hussein, which makes me naïvely think that maybe some aggression was planned). He informed everyone that he would be in the air, so that, if they saw a jet or two, no one should fire because it would be he and his aides.
Sure enough, a short while after he had taken off, Egyptian ground control saw jets in the air. True to their order, they let them approach unmolested. In just a few moments the Israeli fighters had wiped out the entire contingent of the Egyptian air force stationed in Egypt. It was only a couple of hours later, that the same thing was true for the planes in Jordan.
As I said, our Palestinian host was right. The so-called Six Day War can hardly be called a "war." It was over pretty much when it started. But, as I shall describe next, this time Israel remembered what had happened eleven years earlier and applied the lessons it had learned from the Suez War. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Results of the Six Day War
In a short 6-day engagement, Israel took control of the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the entire West Bank, which--you remember--was a part of Jordan at that time. And, of course, it took hold of Jerusalem in its entirety.Remember that the Arabs had utterly devastated the Jewish quarter of the Old City, making no distinction between sacred and profane. In order to get to the Western Wall (aka the "Wailing Wall") and the little plaza in front of it, you have to come down from the buildings on a hill facing it, and the Arabs had filled the entire area with so much rubble that it was not easy to recognize. Richard, our guide on tours later on, knew his way around the ruins of the Jewish quarter of the Old City, don't ask me how; he was a somewhat unusual person--a German Jew with a home and a wife in America who lived in Jerusalem on a Swedish passport. Although not a member of the IDF at the time, the Israelis had put him into their service because of his skills. He personally led General Moshe Dayan to the sacred site. "We are at the wall!" his transmission went out to his troops, to Israel, to everyone who was following the events. Millions of Jews and Gentiles around the world couldn't help but get shivers. The Jews were in charge of Jerusalem again; prophecy was being fulfilled before our eyes.
Unfortunately, some Christian teachers at the time, such as Hal Lindsey, took this event as a point from which to calculate how much longer it would be before Christi returned. They were wrong.(1) I think it best to leave things with Christ's own words: Mt. 25:13: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour." (HCSB) Also many Christians were pretty sure that it would not be too long before Israel would rebuild the temple. Doing so would, of course, require that the Muslim holy sites on the temple mount (Haram-al-Sharif), which includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, would need to be taken down first.
Israel did nothing of the kind. Very quickly it turned Haram-al-Sharif back to Muslim Arab control. Although there is no law against it, Jews are discouraged from even visiting the temple mount. The reason is not so much political as religious: Since no one knows for sure where the Holy of Holies was located, orthodox Jews think that there is a chance that someone might unwittingly step into the area that was absolutely taboo for anyone but the High Priest, and, thereby, incur ritual defilement. Best to stay away from the site. By the way, even though there are some Jewish organizations that advocate rebuilding the temple and, at least according to urban legend, have all of the material already set aside somewhere, the prevalent opinion among Jews in and out of Israel is that the temple can wait until Messiah comes. For those Jews who don't await a personal Messiah, there is not a whole lot of interest in the temple either. So, at least the last time I was in Jerusalem, one accessed Haram-al-Sharif by going to the Western Wall and walking up the entry stairs, where at the top there was a gate with a uniformed Palestinian guard, who asked to see one's tickets and subjected one to a quick search. I suspect that the search is a whole lot more thorough now. Then, as we visited the mosques, there were other armed Palestinian guards around the plaza. However, off to the sides, there were also Israeli soldiers with machine guns, embuing the whole area with a somewhat unsettling feeling. For what it's worth, I've been through moments in Israel that were a whole lot more unnerving, but we can't go into those now.
What would Israel do with the acquired territory? You see, this is where the Suez War is so important. Israel had returned all of the buffer territory, and it gained them nothing. What's the point of sacrificing lives for something that gives you no advantage? So, Israel held on to the territories this time. Let me get ahead so as to get some of the more peripheral areas out of the way. Israel eventually returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. It actually annexed the Golan Heights, so that they became a part of the country of Israel, but then eventually returned them to Syria. That basically left the occupied territories: the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. There's still a lot more to the story worth telling, but, as I'm sure you know, those areas still don't have a final disposition.
Now that Israel was occupying the area that formerly belonged to Jordan and Egypt, it also became responsible for the refugee camps. They have been a thorn in its side. They had been festering for two decades with the Arab nations in charge, but global gossip immediately pointed its rhetorical finger at Israel for letting these people live in such subhuman conditions. On the other hand, public opinion would not improve if you would just order people to leave the camps, when they would have no place to go. Neither Jordan nor Egypt (nor Syria, nor Sa'udi Arabia, nor Iraq, etc.) had any interest in a large influx of Palestinians (more on that later), nor were there a whole lot of opportunities on the West Bank. Turning the clock forward, Israel has slowly made improvements on these sites, though there have been a lot of premature disclosures that the camps no longer exist.
Still looking ahead, after some time, Israel also decided to allow Jews to establish settlements in the West Bank (as well as shutting down again a few of them even later). These settlements have become a major hindrance in the process of giving autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank. Or, to look at matters the other way around, they are definitely a weapon that Israel is using in controlling the Palestinians. As long as they are thinking of getting Israel to leave the occupied territory, they are going to be less inclined to think of getting Israel to disappear into the Mediterranean.
But there's still another side to the settlements. One of the more disputed ones is the one in Hebron, right in the middle of the city. It surrounds the "Abraham Synagogue," and it, in turn, is surrounded by lots of barbed wire and IDF soldiers. I won't mention how we wound up there now, but it's not exactly where you want to be. Anyway, my point here is that we're talking about Jews living in Hebron, and this location is really not so much a settlement as a resettlement. Do you remember the Hebron Massacre of 1929? Rightly or wrongly, on the one hand this settlement is certainly a gesture of defiance toward the community that killed the Jews back then; on the other hand, it definitely is asserting that, just because the enemies of the Jews killed them and drove them out, the situation does not have to remain that way for perpetuity.
It was the fall of 1972, the first of a number of hard times for June and me in our life together. Theoretically, I should have been finishing my M.A. thesis for Trinity. Practically, I was doing what I could so that June and I could subsist. Leaving out the details that took us to this point (and ultimately I am certain that the Lord had not let go of us and was guiding us, just as I am sure of it now), in September of 1972, after our first year of marriage, our income consisted of what I was earning as substitute janitor in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, school system. That hadn't been too bad during the summer, but as the school year was starting, the only opening left on that rather miniscule career path was the night shift at the local high school. I would get to work at 11 pm and come home as the morning sun was rising at 7 am. I very quickly found a way of relating to the required sleep pattern and maintained it with unfortunately rigid consistency, namely, by not sleeping. I didn't sleep at night because of the job, and I didn't sleep during the day because my body had been brought up with the old-fashioned notion that sleeping is something you do at night, not during daylight hours. In short, I just didn't sleep; I was consistent. Going without sleeping wasn't interfering much with my work. Let's just say that the work ethic of the custodial staff was ultimately governed by the need to observe the proper break times, and alertness was not a particularly prized faculty. But during the day, pursuing the fruitless efforts to sleep and dealing with the obstacles of life, I was becoming an emotional basket case.
Things can always get worse. The Olympics started, which meant having Howard Cosell's voice permeate our small upper-story flat. Someone had given us an old black-and-white TV that would function for about an hour, after which the picture went diagonal, but the sound was still there, and we would hang a cloth over the screen and continue to listen. "You gotta give the American boxers credit," Cosell intoned right after a West German boxer had decisively defeated an American. I was confused. Since then, whenever I've heard people, such as MK's at Taylor, talk about what it's like to live without a firm national or cultural identity, my own thoughts go back to those days when my green card was still in process. I also know now, though I began to suspect it at the time, that, whatever used to come out of Howard Cosell's voice, although it deceptively simulated the English language, really wasn't. But for someone who was flirting with total emotional collapse, that rationalization didn't help any. What did help was seeing Munich put on a glorious exhibition by hosting the first summer Olympics in Germany since Berlin in 1936, which had been Adolf Hitler's showcase.
And things can get even worse. The Black September group struck. It was a part of the Fatah, headed by future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yasser Arafat. I cried. I don't have a whole lot of inhibition about mentioning that I cry from time to time, and this time I wept long and bitterly. The terrorists had invaded the Olympic village, abducted and killed eight members of the Israeli Olympic team, and, even though some of the perpetrators lost their lives, others managed to exit alive. Subsequently the Mossad prevented most of the others who were involved either directly in the action or in planning for it from doing any further harm, but that fact in no way lessens the monstrosity of what they did. Terrorism is always monstrous because--in contrast to wars--it is not only violent, it is insidious. Are aereal bombings of cities carried out by the armies of nations good? Of course not, but they are a part of modern warfare--which is also not good. Nevertheless, until we get rid of the latter, the former will show up again and again. In contrast, terrorism is violence apart from open warfare. It tends to be cowardly, not to mention stupid in the case of suicide terrorists, and its whole point is to unleash violence specifically against the people who often have the least power to do anything about the situation that supposedly constitutes the reason for the action.
The only way in which any human society can function is on the heuristic of presumptive trust. Oh, we get disappointed a lot over a lifetime, and that's why it is a heuristic (provisional), not a law. People lie; people deceive; people violate the trust that others have in them. Nevertheless, in most cases, the next time that somebody tells them something their basic inclination will be to believe them, at least to the point that they accept that the other person is telling the truth as he or she understands it. If you don't accept what they're saying, you most likely think that they are mistaken. Inferring that they are deliberately lying comes in as a distant third in everyday living. It is impossible to function as a human being without that heuristic. Unless there's a reason to the contrary (good reason, some reason, strong reason, a suspicion of reason--I don't know how categorical one can be), when X tells you that he has a headache you believe him, and when the sign in the store says that item Y costs $3.95, you assume that this is correct. (I think this is a broader and less formal version of Swinburne's principle of credulity.)
Dare I express this notion with a conditional?
(1) If you are human you accept the heuristic of presumptive trust.
Even cultures like that of Richardson's Peace Child, who valued treachery against strangers, assume that they can trust each other in their own villages, not to mention maintaining faith in the ritual of the "peace child."
But if statement (1) is true, then so must be its contrapositive. Since I don't want to question anyone's humanity, I'll mitigate my contraposition:
(2) If you violate the heuristic of presumptive trust, you are acting on a subhuman level.
There are always some controversies in the Olympic Games. But they are usually about judges' scoring and possible favoritism. Even in gymnastics and ice skating (the two sports best known for their controversies), the arguments come down to nothing more than who gets the medals. Undoubtedly you've never heard it said quite this way, but one aspect of the Olympic Games is to celebrate the heuristic of presumptive trust. Friends and enemies walk into the stadium side-by-side and compete on equal footing by the same rules, certainly in theory and, controversies and occasional cheating notwithstanding, overwhelmingly in practice.. It is precisely at this celebration that the Black September Gang made its appearance, violated the fundamental heuristic, and made a mockery of what it means to be human. My tears were not just for Munich and the Olympics, not just for the Israelis, not just for Howard Cosell having another opportunity for grandstanding in his interview with the Bavarian Chief of Police, but for humanity.
"Before you condemn these people as terrorists, ask yourself what it is that drove them to commit these acts!" Okay, I will, and here is my answer: "They were driven by the deepest, darkest, and vilest forces of the universe." So were a lot of other people in the twentieth century, and I won't make excuses for them either. But take note: The aim of the Black September Gang was trying to get terrorists released, some of whom, such as the two notorious Germans, Bader and Meinhof, did not even have a direct connection to them. Guiding the growing Palestinian terrorist movement wasthe world's attention to their situation under Israeli occupation was not their primary goal, though it is easy now for revisionists to call that intent their priority, though it wasn't. Their goal was to cause disruption and to create fear and intimidation. Sadly, as the inhumanity of the action has faded from people's memory, what was monstrous then is now more and more considered an unfortunate excess of expedience. (The same lame line that is slowly working its way into people's minds concerning 9-11.)
One might object that I'm putting too much weight on this event in the over-all history of Israel and Palestine. However, when confronted with a general situation that, at least for a lot of people, seems to be filled with ambiguity (and the Middle East surely is one of them), one has to look for certain key events that provide moments of disclosure. Munich in 1972 was one of those; so were the gratuitous destruction of the Jewish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 and, not 9-11 per se as horrible as it was, but the spontaneous celebrations by people around the Muslim world on that day. We get glimpses of a reality here that goes beyond national identity, religious affiliation, or legitimate ethical concerns; we get a direct view of the portion of humanity that has no clue on how humans can live side by side with other humans. The saddest part of all is that we could easily come up with many, many more examples. The solution surely is not to answer monstrosity with monstrosity, but to teach Humanity 101.
What's on the syllabus of Humanity 101? I wouldn't presume to try to write up all of it, but I'm quite sure that the required reading includes all sixty-six books of the Bible. Ultimately, for Humanity 101 to be an effective part of the curriculum, it must have a cognate requirement of Theology 101.
We're far from the end of the story. In fact, there were some glimpses of hope before we get to the present day, and hope continues. But--I'm sorry to say--things would get worse before there was even a tiny chance that they might get better.
In case you're wondering what happened on the personal side: After a short time, I hung up my dustmop, and June and I decided that we needed to take a few days to clear our heads. I put in some job applications, and then we took off with the objective of camping for a couple of days--only to find ourselves on the edge of a funnel cloud that night. Upon our earlier-than-planned return, I took up selling a certain brand of household products door-to-door, which was not much of a success. By Thanksgiving I was working as orderly in the local Catholic hospital, and June joined me there as nurse's aid. And, oh yeah, I also got my M.A. thesis done and graduated from Trinity that spring.
The Yom Kippur War
Do you remember the debate a few years ago when the United States was actively bombing Afghanistan and the month of Ramadan was coming close? Certain American politicians were going into a tizzy advocating that it would be a terrrible thing for us to carry out acts of war during the Muslim time of fasting, prayer, and meditation. Theirs would have been a reasonable and sensitive position to hold if Islam considered the month of Ramadan to be a time of mandatory peace. However, even though there is a basic exhortation to be peaceful during this time, it actually only applies as long as it is expedient for Muslims. One of Muhammad's crucial victories over the Meccans was facilitated by the fact that he carried out a surprise attack on his enemies during Ramadan, which apparently had roots prior Muhammad's teachings. For that matter, the war in October of 1973, commonly referred to as the "Yom Kippur War," is called the "Ramadan War" in the Arab world. Just to be clear on this matter, this war was definitely a war of Arab aggression; there can be no question of them being forced to defend themselves. The religious leaders in Egypt were recruiting soldiers by advertising that one had a particularly good chance at an instant entry into paradise if one were killed on jihad during Ramadan.
The map had not changed since the truce following the 6-Day War. I have highlighted the three particular areas that were of special interest during the war of 1973: the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. Jordan was not directly involved in this war; it was Syria trying to regain the Golan Heights and Egypt intending to get back the Gaza strip and the Sinai peninsula. In the end, neither of them succeeded. In fact, the IDF was getting close to Cairo, capital of Egypt, and Damascus, capital of Syria, when they stopped advancing and agreed to a truce. Nevertheless, Anwar Sadat, now the president of Egypt claims that he won that war. In his autobiography he lists the official objectives of the war. They include invading Israel and doing as much damage as possible, but they don't say anything about holding on to the territory gained or keeping his troops from retreating, so, technically, he could be right.
Sadat is remembered now for the agreement he ultimately reached with Menachem Begin, which cost him his life, thanks to the Muslim Brotherhood. This change of heart was triggered by a personal note he received from U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He never revealed the content of that note; as far as I know, only Presidents Carter and Sadat knew what the note said. Up until that point, he was as incendiary toward Israel as his predecessor, Gamal Nasser.
In the meantime, even though Israel wound up coming out ahead in this war, it didn't look that way for the first few days. A lot of people point to the fact that the Arab aggression took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Israel was not prepared for an attack. But if Sadat could figure out that this would be an easy time to catch Israel unawares, so could Moshe Dayan. Prime minister Golda Meir was furious with him. There was, in fact, a breakdown in intelligence, and better communication could have prevented the early losses. Israel came out ahead in the end, but this war was quite demoralizing to the country.
The Yom Kippur war also left its imprint on the Western world. Israel had won with arms and supplies from the United States and Europe, and the Arab League decided to pressure Israel's supporters by withholding oil from them. This is one of those moments in time that all of middle-aged Americans look back on. "Remember back during the oil crisis when we all had to wait in line for gas? And then there was a limit of $2.00 or so?" Of course, two bucks would still get you around five gallons. The price of gas increased slowly over the years. When that particular crisis was over, it settled in around fifty cents a gallon for a while before it rose again. The notion that it would eventually go to over a dollar was unfathomable. Western countries started to change their attitudes in order to keep the oil coming.
In her autobiography, Golda Meir entitled the chapter on the Yom Kippur war, "We Are All Alone." That's not a very comforting place to be.
Lebanon and Beyond
We need to move back and forth in time a little bit to try to keep things from becoming too cluttered, though I realize that all of this gets more and more complex.
A while ago, when I talked about the League of Nations mandates, I mentioned that Lebanon and Syria had been under French supervision right after World War 1, and that France had left Lebanon as a functioning democracy.* A part of the arrangement was that national offices would be allocated in proportion to the distribution of religions in the country, as they stood in 1941. Thus, the president would be a Maronite Catholic Christian, the prime minister would be a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of the house would be a Shi'ite Muslim, and special places were also reserved for the Druzes. By 1975, the population had changed, with Muslims in the majority (possibly Shi'ites ahead of Sunnis), Christians were in a minority, and the Druzes were still trailing. This shift in distribution was causing a certain amount of instability in Lebanon. Okay, enough of the understatement, a civil war broke out (though it's apparently a mystery what precisely catalyzed it), which was to last until 1990.
The various events of the 1940s had also caused a massive shift in the population of what was Transjordan and became Jordan. Palestinian Arabs had become the overwhelming majority among Jordanian citizens ever since 1950, the year in which Jordan made the de facto outcome of 1948, namely the annexation of the West Bank, official. During their flight from Israel in 1948, many of the Palestinian Arabs had crossed the Jordan river and constituted about half the population of what was then still Transjordan. The newly-admitted Jordanians on the West Bank amounted to about the same number, so that the total population of Jordan had become one third original residents, one third Palestinian refugee residents, and one third West Bank residents. They all became citizens of Jordan, but the original one third and the new-comer two thirds did not always get along very well, and King Hussein for a time entertained serious doubts about whether his kingdom could survive the change. Then, the Six Day War in 1967 exacerbated matters even more.
Yasser Arafat had been heading up a coalition of a terrorist groups, including his own Fatah, called the Palestine Liberation Front (the PLO). Prior to 1967, of course, the various Fedahin groups had operated out of the West Bank, which belonged to Jordan, and out of the Gaza Strip, under the Egyptian government. When Israel took over those areas, that arrangement became inconvenient, and what was to become the PLO joined the many other Palestinians on the east side of the Jordan river, and established its headquarters in the unoccupied part of the country of Jordan. As we said above, they were still Jordanian citizens.
Now, as we all know, Robert Frost said that "good fences make good neighbors." Apparently terrorists don't. Or maybe the PLO would have been a good neighbor to the people of Jordan if there had been a fence between the two. Many Palestinians were disregarding the laws of Jordan and the police that was supposed to enforce them. By 1970, there was serious violence between original Jordanians and the Palestinians. (And, by the way, this conflict marks the beginning of the career of the infamous Carlos the Jackal, who shortly thereafter would be a guiding force behind the Munich atrocity.) Although King Hussein could hardly expel the entire Palestinian contingent, he was fed up with the behavior of the PLO in his country and evicted them. So, from 1971 to 1975 the PLO was shopping for a new location.
The easy answer was Lebanon. With the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, it was not too hard for them to move whatever essentials belonged to a well-outfitted terrorist headquarters across the northern border of Israel, and they set up shop to carry out their day-to-day activities in southern Lebanon. In 1978 Israel crossed over and tried to put them out of business. Whatever success they had did not last, and in 1982 they came calling again. Oh, the outcry over Israel's aggressiveness! And the expressions of pity expressed for the poor Palestinians being kept from launching their missiles and preparing bombs! The second time the Israeli forces had cornered Yasser Aafat and would not let him escape until he had acknowledged U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. As I recall, he scribbled on a piece of paper that he consented to all relevant U.N. resolutions, and that got him off the hook. For a brief moment, people were actually talking about Arafat's retirement from the terrorist business, but that was not to be. As soon as he was free, he picked up where he had left off.
A quick word about Resolution 242. This was an exhortation passed by the U.N. Security Council right after the Six Day war, and it still sets the agenda for what is supposed to be happening in the Middle East. It calls for:
If I may engage in my usual redundancy, the perspicacious reader of this blog will recognize an immediate problem with the resolution, which really comes out in the fourth section. At the time when it was passed, the West Bank still belonged to Jordan. There was no serious thought yet about a Palestinian state or recognition of the Palestinian Arabs as a separate entity. However, over the last ten years, to the extent that the various terrorist groups have not interfered, the implementation of Resolution 242 is behind the slow efforts by Israel to turn over sections of the West Bank to the Palestinian authority. There is hope.
*Actually, when France was occupied by Germany in 1941, Lebanon took advantage of the situation and declared itself independent. But after World War 2, France came back and arrested the new government. They did not stay very long, but left again in 1946, after having added further Muslim territory to the country, thereby sowing the seeds of the change in population.
Beyond the Repetitions
In my official description of this blog, I mention that it contains unfounded opinions. You are welcome to classify this entry under that heading. You'd be wrong, but that's just my opinion.
Believe it or not, this is going to be my last entry on the topic of "Musings on Israel." I think we've done it about as much justice as it deserves, and I'm getting weary with it. I can keep on piling up the details of various events, but I'm not sure that my faithful readers (the usual reduncancy) are maintaining interest, and I can't do any more in order to make my point. If you've read everything that I've written, and you still think either that Israel can do no wrong or that the Palestinians are innocent victims of Israeli imperialism, I must have made some serious factual mistakes. Either that, or you're letting your mind be guided by various emotional or polemical appeals towards which there can be no rational response. Let me draw together a number of points, some of which are predictive, though as always I disavow any prophetic qualifications.
*Why didn't I include Israeli Jews in that sentence? Because that's not the point of the statement. Of course everyone--Muslims, Jews, and Christians--should promote peace and righteousness. But I'm particularly concerned with the Christians in Palestine who go along with the Muslim rhetoric, no matter how skewed it may be, rather than taking a stand for what is true and right. Please recognize that this is another "if-the-shoe-fits" kind of statement. If my assessment strikes you as wrong or unfair, it may just not apply to the Palestinian Christians you know, or--for that matter--I'll be happy to receive some solid evidence to refute my generalization. Extremely happy.