Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land

As an alternative background to the escalating I am currently reading "Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land" by David K. Shipler. It's not a political treatise but a portrait of two peoples locked in a lifetime of misunderstanding and conflict. As Shipler says in his introduction:

Both peoples are victims. Each has suffered at the hands of outsiders, and each has been wounded by the other.

I am reproducing, without permission, part of the introduction which outlines the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict. It is a history with deep-set roots for which there are no easy answers, at least not for us who are half a world away with our own problems. Always, the first step is understanding.

From the book:

According to Genesis, this was the land that God gave to Abraham and his seed, and some of the Jews of modern Israel have articulated their biblical claim by returning to the Old Testament names of the places they now control: the West Bank Arab city of Nablus they called "Schechem"; the nearby Jewish settlement they call "Elon Moreh"; the West Bank they prefer to see rendered as "Judea and Samaria." Those Jews who rely on the biblical deed to the land take their history from the ancient period of 4,000 years ago, skipping easily over the centuries of Muslim rule that followed; thos Arabs who regard history as their ally tend to begin with the Muslim conquests in the seventh century A.D., blithely ignoring the Jewish kingdoms that existed here 2,000 before Muhammad made his appearance....

...The Crusaders murdered, enslaved, or ousted the Jews of Jerusalem, but Jews began to return to the city under the Muslims, and during most of the intervening centuries between ancient and modern Israel, Arabs and Jews lived intermingled or in their own neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius, Safed, and other towns...Not until Zionism evolved as a movement in the nineteenth century -- largely in reaction to pogroms in Russia -- did significant number of European Jews begin to migrate to Ottoman-controlled Palestine. By 1845, Jews formed the largest single community in Jerusalem, the vanguard of an influx that gathered momentum after Great Britain endorsed the creation of a Jewish homeland through the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The migration gained urgency as Hitler came to power, promulgated anti-Jewish laws in Germany in the 1930s, then rounded up Jews in Germany and in the expanding sphere of German-occupied countries...

...Local Arab resistance to the Zionist enterprise began well before the formal creation of the Jewish state. As more and more Jews came to Palestine, a communal war commenced. Conducted from Arab towns and villages against nearby Jewish settlements, it fragmented the early Arab-Jewish relationships.... By the mid-1930s, Arabs in Palestine had endorsed the principle of "armed struggle" and in 1936-39 conducted the "Arab revolt", a futile series of riots and killings aimed at breaking the bonds of the British Mandate to block the coming of Israel.

...The Jewish Agency, as the precursor of the Israeli government, expressed its willingness to settle for only half of the land. It was prepared to accept a division of British-ruled Palestine west of the Jordan into two states -- one Jewish, the other Arab. The Jewish Agency's partition plan of 1946, followed by the United Nations plan of 1947 internationalizing Jerusalem and drawing boundaries between a Jewish and an Arab state, was less generous to the Jews than the final armistice lines that followed the 1948 war. If one looks today at the map of that Jewish Agency plan, it is a striking lesson in the fickle nature of compromise, recalcitrance, and history. Had the Arabs accepted partition, Israel would have ended up with considerably less territory than it gained through their rejection.

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