THE ISRAEL REPORTJanuary/February 2001
MOURNING THE DEATH OF PEACEBy Alyssa A. Lappen
I am a Jew. I am a poet. I am heartbroken. Next to God and Jerusalem, the thing most central to Judaism is peace. But my people's fervent prayers for peace - embodied for millennia in every Jewish prayer - every one - again go begging, when they seemed at last so close to fruition. We find our homeland unwittingly immersed in another war, the sixth in Israel's short life.
The United Nations years ago equated Zionism with the basest human emotion. Yet my most beloved friend, also a poet, was an Arab. Chris Khattar gave me priceless encouragement to renew the poetic voice I had lost for 15 years. Before he died of Hodgkin's in 1992, I gave him a poem. I am also fortunate to count among my neighbors, colleagues, fellow-poets, like-minded parents and friends, other Muslims and Arabs, Christians, African Americans, East Indians, Native Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, Serbians, Japanese, and people who are disabled, sightless, gay - anyone, in short, open to mutual respect and willing to bless me with kindness, intelligence, wisdom. By this Jewish precept - respect - I strive to conduct all my affairs.
Last spring I felt great pride in learning that my first chapbook, The People Bear Witness, would soon appear in a journal published by Catholic theologians along with work by a Palestinian poet. Honored to be in his company, I wrote him an email, kindly forwarded by our editor. I was heartened by his praise for my work, but disappointed by his failure to return my salutations - in Hebrew and Arabic - of peace. I had high hopes for the Camp David II talks then in progress; he signed his note only, "Cheers."
Months later as violence erupted, I extended a hand again - a small gesture I nevertheless felt necessary: Jewish theology requires small acts of goodness. These in turn can save lives - and each life is considered as an entire world. His reply pained me: On the one hand, he accepted my sincerity. On the other, he questioned it: "The Jews demand, rightly, apologies and compensation from those who wronged them. These are not part of Israel's negotiating discourse. That is why, to tell you the truth, I find your signature at the end (Shalom, Salaam) too casual." For every gain his people might make , he said, "we will pay a terrible price." I wrote our editor, "When even poets cannot talk, we have a problem in Jerusalem." I had no idea yet how big.
A great deal more death and pain followed. I reconsidered the poet's reply. Towns, cities, a whole culture died with six million Jewish Holocaust victims. German and world debts incurred cannot be counted, much less paid. How unjust to compare a people - murdered throughout history simply for being Jews 1 - with one that intended in 1948 to conduct another genocide. In 1947, Arab League Secretary General Azzam Pasha promised "a war of extermination," "a momentous massacre" to be remembered "like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades." 2
Jerusalem Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini - who had spent World War II in Nazi Germany and was indicted for war crimes by Yugoslavia, though never prosecuted - declared a holy war. "Murder the Jews, murder them all," he cried. 3
Under Oslo, Israel negotiated in good faith to exchange recognition of a new Palestinian state for peace--despite the fact that Arabs already have 22 nations, including the de facto Palestinian state of Jordan, and 5.25 million square miles, roughly half again as large as the U.S. That is another reason I found the allegation--"Jews are not willing to pay"--offensive. Israel's offer of peace at Camp David II was so generous that most world leaders warmly congratulated Ehud Barak at the UN conference in September. How quickly memories fade. Barak's largesse afterwards grew--expanding under fire to include sovereignty over the most-cherished Jewish holy site--the Temple Mount. Several Israeli ministers resigned in protest and Barak's government collapsed. Still, Arafat said "no. Still, bombers and gunmen took Israeli lives - adding to more than 3,500 Arab attacks on Israelis, averaging more than 30 a day since September and more than 438 murders of Israelis since the Oslo accords were signed. Arab terrorism and intransigence alone account for Ariel Sharon's landslide victory on February 6.
Contrary to press reports, even Sharon supports peace: He served as a key negotiator at the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords with Egypt and as Defense Minister in 1982, dismantled two Israeli settlements - the first in Israel's history, against a backdrop of sharp criticism. Sharon supported peace with Jordan and negotiated increased water transfers to her. In 1998, Sharon was Israel's chief negotiator at Wye River. The result was the transfer, to full Palestinian Authority control, of 13 percent of Israeli controlled territories in Area C and 14.2 percent of joint Israeli and Arab lands in Area B. Shortly thereafter, Israel offered accelerated timetables to conclude negotiations within nine months. Then as now, the Palestinian Authority rejected the plan.
In historical context, Israel has done little except give and pay. To understand how much, let us retreat into history. In the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, a litany of Christian travelers - Siebald Rieter and Johann Tucker, Arnold Van Harff and Father Michael Nuad, Martin Kabatnik and Felix Fabri, Count Constantine Francois Volney and Alphonse de Lamartine, Mark Twain and Sir George Gawler, Sir George Adam Smith and Edward Robinson - found Palestine virtually empty, except for permanent Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Safed, Shechem, Hebron, Gaza, Ramleh, Acre, Sidon, Tyre, Haifa, Irsuf, Caesarea, and El Arish, and throughout Galilee towns - Kfar Alma, Ein Zeitim, Biria, Pekiin, Kfar Hanania, Kfar Kana and Kfar Yassif. They cannot all have been wrong. To stay, these Jews had submitted to innumerable conquerors, taxes, pogroms and degradation. But they stayed. But by 1799, Palestine was still so much in need of people that Napoleon Bonaparte championed a full-scale return of Jews.4
By the mid-19th century, up to 100,000 people lived in Palestine, including a high percentage of Jews, whose forebears had lived there for thousands of years. In 1882, roughly 200,000 Muslims lived in all of Western Palestine. 5 By 1918, the situation had not changed much: That was why Hussein ibn-Ali, Sherif of Mecca, and his son, King Faisal of Iraq, both endorsed and extolled the Balfour Declaration.6
Hussein wrote in Mecca's Al Qibla, in 1918, "The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain a hold on him.... At the same time, we have seen the Jews from foreign countries streaming to Palestine from Russia, Germany, Austria, Spain, and America. The cause of causes could not escape those who had a gift of deeper insight. They knew that the country was for its original sons [abna'ihi-l-asliyin], for all their differences, a sacred and beloved homeland. The return of these exiles [jaliya] to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their brethren who are with them in the fields, factories, trades and all things connected to the land." 7
In early 1919, King Faisal, then the only recognized Arab leader in the world, executed a treaty with Chaim Weizmann adopting the understanding of the Balfour Declaration. It outlined relations between Palestine and the Arab state, recognizing the former as a National Home for the Jews, in which they should quickly settle. He wrote, "We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our delegation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday to the Zionist organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper." (emphasis added) 8
The 1919 Faisal-Weizmann treaty provided a firm foundation for League of Nations ratification of the Balfour Declaration at the San Remo Conference in 1920. The proposals covered Palestine - from the Mediterranean through the entire Galilee, up to the Litany River, hundreds of miles east of the Jordan River through all of current day Jordan, and into part of the Sinai. The League assigned Palestine Mandate administration to Britain, entrusting it to establish the National Home for the Jews - a Jewish state. 9
Instead, the British grossly corrupted the Mandate's enforcement, planting the seeds of the current conflict. By 1923, they had illegally and unilaterally lopped off the territory east of the Jordan River--75% of the original Palestine Mandate--as a new kingdom for Emir Abdullah. They tore the northern Galilee from Palestine and gave it to the French as part of Lebanon. The northern slice of the Sinai, which remained under British administration, they gave to Egypt. 10
The Jewish people neither protested nor fought this whittling away of 75% of their Homeland. The Jews did not even raise arms when the British began in the 1920s to limit the Jewish immigration encouraged by the League of Nations Mandate, or when Britain instead allowed illegal Arab immigration from neighboring lands to benefit from the economic development of the Jewish communities. 11
What new land the Jewish people acquired, they bought - often in deserts or swamps. Hadera, for example, was the worst malaria-ridden swamp in Palestine when Jewish pioneers arrived from the coastal plain in 1891 - buying land at full price. 12 The British largely ignored their Mandate obligation to sell Ottoman state land to Zionists. This provided absentee Arab landlords a lucrative monopoly. Some 64% of Zionist land purchases through 1946 were from Syrians, Lebanese, Palestine Arabs or Egyptians - like the clan of Mufti al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat's uncle - who had bought it from Turkish sultans for a song. In 1944, Jews were paying $1,100 an acre for untilled land. Iowa farms then sold for less than $110 per acre. Another 27% of their land, Zionists bought from Arab farmers. 13
In 1921, the British appointed Jerusalem Mufti al-Husseini, who was already inciting hatred of Jews. A series of riots culminated in the 1929 massacre of 67 Jewish students in Hebron - and the expulsion of Jews from a town they had inhabited for 400 years. Husseini's vitriol ignited more anti-Jewish riots in 1936. Britain then turned League of Nations policy on its head. Its 1939 White Paper unilaterally cut Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine to a trickle - condemning six million Jews in Nazi Europe to death. 14
The false idea that Palestine Arab farmers had been displaced, first adopted in anti-Jewish propaganda in 1909, took on a life of its own. 15 "In fact, every square inch of land acquired from Arabs was paid for," writes Samuel Katz. This included settlements at Kfar Darom and Gush Etzion, bought from Arabs in 1930. When Arab attackers won them in 1948, Jews there - like the 100,000 in Jerusalem - were murdered or expelled. 16 In 1947, 70% of Israel's land came directly to the new government, as transferred former Ottoman government holdings from the British Mandate. None had ever been privately owned. 17
Jewish history has been one of paying, and paying, and paying--in cash, in land, in blood. My poetic colleague forgets, along with the rest of the world, that the 1947 United Nations partition plan provided for two states--one Jewish and one Arab. But Israel's Arab neighbors begrudged her even the little that was left of the original Palestine Mandate. Rather than accept a tiny Jewish state to live peacefully alongside yet another Arab one, seven Arab nations attacked the fledgling Israel in 1947. That war, in which Britain encouraged and joined Israel's Arab foes, took 6,000 Israeli lives--more than 1% of her population--equal to half, proportionately, of the devastating 620,000 U.S. losses in the Civil War, and three times the 400,000 U.S. losses of World War II.
I come back again and again to the history that brought us to this painful place, of which recent reports have been so devoid. As a woman with 25 years of experience on world class journals I find Middle East coverage Kafkaesque. Far from adhering to minimum standards of objectivity, reporters feed the flames of war.
They almost ubiquitously refer to the West Bank and Gaza as "occupied territory," obliterating in those words many critical facts: First, they were part of the original Palestine Mandate. Second, UN Resolution 242 recognizes Israel's pre-1967 borders as indefensible thanks to a four-nation attack on her. Third, Jewish settlements were reestablished on land Jews had purchased, from which tens of thousands were illegally expelled in 1948. Fourth, the Palestinian Authority already governs 99% of the Arab population there. Fifth, the PA would soon govern 95% of West Bank land had it accepted a settlement. Sixth, previous Egyptian and Jordanian occupations were illegal under international law but earned no approbation. Seventh, Arab occupiers failed to establish the new Arab state the UN called for. Eighth, Israel was ready to cede huge areas to parties which have not demonstrated willingness to be peaceful.
The press swallowed whole the claim that Sharon's Temple Mount visit provoked the conflict. Nevermind that Arabs began exploding bombs at Netzarim junction on Sun. Sept. 24--five days before. Or that David Biri, who died the day before, was an Israeli. (So was Ethiopian-born Yossi Tabaji, killed point blank by his Palestinian Authority patrol partner.) Nevermind that Sharon was investigating the Wafq' s removal and dumping of priceless artifacts from Judaism's holiest site--including a large stone fragment from the Triple Gate jamb dating to the Second Temple. While the PA had assured Sharon there would be no problem, at the Mount he was verbally assaulted by three Arab Knesset members, who egged rioters on.
In fact, Arabs planned the riots - having earlier carted in rocks to hurl on Jewish worshipers below. Tanzim and uprising leader Marwan Barghouti admitted to The New Yorker (Jan. 29), "The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse. He is a hated man." News reports let the error stand - and repeat it endlessly.
More than 3,500 attacks on Israelis, averaging more than 30 a day, and 350 attacks on Jews and synagogues worldwide since September, orchestrated by Muslims, have attracted little notice. Dozens of Israelis have been murdered by lynchings, sniper fire, ambushes, bombs and acts of war since September--and more than 438 Israeli citizens have been killed since the Oslo accords of 1993, at least a quarter more than Arabs have lost since September. Yet press sympathy for Israeli victims pales when compared with that shown for Arabs , who are dying only because they fight. Columnists recognizing Arab aggression - like George Will, William Safire, Jeff Jacoby and Joseph Farah - are exceptions. Most reporters, though, effectively bless the war on Israel and Jews as an understandable result of "frustration."
In its failure to examine a long history of Arab wars against Israel, 18 Arab claims - or even current evidence - the press promotes propaganda, making aggressors of victims, victims of aggressors. A recent column in Harper's, for example, reprinted from an Internet zine, makes the unsubstantiated claim that Israelis in 1948 marched Arabs out of their towns at gunpoint. No names, dates or specifics are cited. Readers are supposed to accept the assertion on its face. But in a fabulously well-documented book, Fabricating Israeli History, University of London Professor Efraim Karsh exposes such claims as largely baseless, malevolent alterations of fact. 19 Arab aggression created this tragic situation.
Arab leaders long ago acknowledged that refugees' flight in 1948 was not the result of brutal Israeli policy, but of their leaders' own war and encouragement to leave - rather than recognize Israel. Emile Ghoury, an Arab commander and Palestine High Committee secretary, in 1948 told the Beirut Daily Telegraph, "The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the actions of the Arab states, in opposing partition and the Jewish State. The Arab States agreed upon this policy unanimously, and they must share in the solution of the problem." (emphasis added) In 1948, acting committee chairman Jamal Husseini told the UN, "The Arabs did not want to submit to a truce.... They rather preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings, and everything they possessed in the world and leave the town. And this they in fact did." 20
Similarly, British General Glubb Pasha, who built the Transjordanian army, wrote in an August, 1948 London Daily Mail, "The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war." Even a victim of the Deir Yassin massacre noted in 1948 in Al Urdun, "The Arab exodus from other villages were not caused by actual battle, but by the exaggerated description spread by Arab leaders to incite them to fight the Jews." 21
British Palestine police in April, 1948 reported, "Every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open, and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe." 22 Mass Arab flight from cities like Haifa began before the UN Partition and snowballed when fighting began. 23 Many Arab, UN and British sources sound the same themes: Refugees left to make way for invading Arab armies, which lost the war.
Next, the number of refugees was wildly inflated, as the United Nations admits. Reporters routinely refer to "millions" of refugees. But in 1947, British figures show, only 561,000 Arabs lived in the part of Palestine that became Israel. After the war, 140,000 remained. No more than 420,000 Arabs can have fled Israel in 1948. Emile Ghoury then put the actual number at 200,000. 24 The inflation is akin to that of U.S. inner-city welfare rolls in the 1970s and 1980s. Welfare reform curbed the latter. But the UN has no incentive to curb either its own employment, or the number receiving its largesse. 25 Certainly some refugees still live in camps in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. A large number also claim such status simply because it pays.
Refugees are universally considered persons displaced from permanent residence by war. But in 1948, the UN recognized as refugees Arabs who lived in Palestine for only two years. Why? Before 1948, hundreds of thousands of Arabs from Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and even Morocco, migrated illegally into Palestine, unchecked by British police, who meanwhile blocked Jewish immigration into the land mandated to Jews by the League of Nations, with King Faisal's blessing. These illegal immigrants largely make up the people now ubiquitously called Palestinians. 26 Arafat himself is from Egypt. 27
Which brings us to the "right of return." Every Arab nation rejected UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948 to assist Arab refugees, because it excluded an automatic right of return. The resolution suggests that refugees may return - or obtain compensation - provided they accept Israel's right to exist and live in peace. This also covered 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands, leaving homes, businesses, land worth $30 billion, a point virtually everyone now ignores. 28 In any case, most Palestine Arabs still fail to meet the UN criteria for return: More than 75% of those recently polled support armed conflict against Israel's "occupation" - meaning all of Israel - some, even by children. 29 The latter defies at least six UN resolutions condemning military exploitation of children.
Most disturbing is the failure to object to state-sponsored Arab hatred of Jews. Arab religious, political and military leaders tell the West they want peace, but in Arabic call for Israel's destruction and wholesale murder of Jews. A Nov. 17 program broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic news channel, for example, hosted a debate on the future of the Intifada. PA Minister of Information Yasser Abd Rabbo, Deputy Hamas political bureau chief Musa Abu Marzuq and London-based Al-Hayat analyst Bilal Al-Hassan all argued for Israel's destruction, through war or negotiation (translated by MEMRI).
Weekly sermons broadcast by the PA (also translated by MEMRI) show the bloody intentions of Arab clerics - ideological heirs to Arafat's uncle, Mufti al-Husseini - calling the faithful to "kill" Jews "where ever you find them," to cleanse Palestine of Jewish "infidels." Arab "experts" declare the Holocaust a lie. Arab textbooks teach that Jews are base - and it is good to die killing them. Their maps show only Palestine in Israel's place. 30 The equal of this can be found nowhere in Jewish theology or Israeli government policy. In fact, Israel outlaws political parties espousing hate. 31
Such mass hatred of Jews, rivaling that of Hitler's Germany, cannot be ascribed to deprivation, or even oppression. It existed long before Israel was established. 32 It is a common albeit unfortunate theme on Arab websites. An Internet search for The Protocols of Zion, for example, provides more than 5,000 hits, many at Muslim sites which promote it as gospel truth. 33 As Hitler proved, hate greases war. Arab calls for violence now mirror incitements of 1948, when Arab leaders hoped to soon wash Israel "into the sea." For true justice, the world must recognize this hate and warmongering - and pray for it to stop.
As to oppression, Jews can speak with some authority. Deprived for centuries, ostracized, impoverished, forced to live in ghettos, expelled wholesale from numerous countries, murdered in the name of religion, murdered with no excuse, denied rights to vote, work, own businesses or land, Jews never spoke venomously against another people, or raised a hand of war. Not even now. Arabs have no right to do so, either.
The tragic situation of Arabs still living in refugee camps, 53 years after their first war on Israel, must be addressed. But as Commander Ghoury said in 1948, "The Arab states agreed on this policy [of denying Israel] unanimously and they must share in the solution." I would like my voice to be part of a solution. I would like to offer a hand of friendship to my Arab colleague and have it warmly accepted. I am like all Israel in this. Each life is a whole world, and too many worlds have already been extinguished. We mourn for the deaths of others as our own. 34 We mourn the death of peace.
Mourning, however, does not permit us to let our own light be extinguished. Israel, the Jewish state, is our home. Only when her Arab neighbors accept our state, can there be a just peace. Eliyahu (Elias) Sasson, the Damascus-born head of the Arab section of the Jewish Agency said it well, when in 1947 he begged Abd al-Rahman Azzam, then Secretary-General of the Arab League to say yes to peace:
"You and us stand today at the crossroads of history. It depends on you whether you are going to hamper our path or accept us as we ask to be accepted, as sons of the East.... Our work of reconstruction will proceed whether our neighbors wish it or not, but it depends on them what part our new Commonwealth will take in the revival of the Middle East. The choice is theirs. Let me end by quoting a passage from our Holy Bible. 'I have set before thee life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live'." 35
©2001 Alyssa A. Lappen
Alyssa A. Lappen worked on staff for 25 years for such publications as The New Haven Register, Forbes, Corporate Finance, Working Woman and Institutional Investor. Her poetry has appeared in more than 20 print and Internet literary journals, including International Poetry Review, Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Ruah, Blueline, Heart Quarterly, Out of Line, Touched by Adoption, ForPoetry.com, KotaPress.com, New Works Review, Kudzu and Neovictorian/Cochlea.
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