BRONZE-AGE SQUABBLE THAT LIVES ON TODAY
by Timothy Jones, 18th March, 2018
Palestine in 1948, Encyclopædia Britannica
You could be forgiven for thinking that the trouble between warring factions in the middle east is a modern phenomenon.
Didn't America and the British dump an invented nation called Israel in a land already owned by the Palestinians? That can't have been fair.
I have a copy of the 1949 Encyclopædia Britannica, which shows in its map section the area around Israel with a footnote saying, "The sub-districts in Palestine bear the same names as their administrative centres." and, as Israel as a country is not mentioned, "The final status of boundaries for the State of Israel and Arab Palestine have not yet been determined."
No shalom, Sherlock! That is still a moveable feast.
But it was in the aftermath of the Second World War, in 1947, that the United Nations decided 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, including the United Kingdom, to the formation of Israel in the land hitherto known as the British Mandate of Palestine, with an Arab state in the remainder. A special case was made for Jerusalem where the nations would share control.
No sooner had the ink dried than a civil war broke out in the region, making the British withdrawal problematic.
Let's look at the origins of the two warring sides and try to untangle the reasons for conflict.
Israel - the Centre of Interest for Jews
Merenptah Stele - Cairo Museum
The earliest mention of Israel in the archæological record so far discovered, is on the Merenptah stele from around 1,205 BC. Pharaoh Merenptah was the son of the famous Rameses II who is described as subduing the tribes in the area, mostly Canaanites, finishing with the words,
"The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe: Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured; Yano'am is made non-existent. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not."
From this as well as the pictures carved at the same time at the Temple of Karnak, the people of Israel seem to be lowland dwelling Canaanites.
Whilst many have tried, there is no evidence for Hebrews, Israelites or Jews prior to this. The stories of Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, the twelve tribes, the enslavement by Egypt, the exodus led by Moses, and the victorious conquering of Canaan, complete with horn collapsing Jericho walls, appear to be a series of fables told in the Old Testament.
Ancient Egypt chronicled its affairs, but nowhere is there any reference to slavery of any sort, much less of Hebrews.
It seems that the Hebrews branched out from the Canaanites, making the distinction of a single god, rather than the multiple deities of the region. The Hebrews centred their worship on Yahweh, although it seems there was a hard struggle to suppress the cult of Ba'al.
There were tribal clashes over centuries. The citadel of Jerusalem in the highlands proved a difficult target. The incumbent peoples had a civilisation of fifteen hundred years or so, the invading Hebrews had no siege machinery. The Hebrews eventually infiltrated by assimilation, learning the government, trade, industries, writing, and religion of the Canaanite townspeople.
This was the time when they forsook their nomad life to settle in houses, wear fine clothes and become indistinguishable from the Canaanites. The changes did not proceed everywhere at the same rate. In the less fertile south the Hebrews clung to the tent life. The wandering nomad shepherd on the Judean hills could be seen from the walls of Jerusalem.
The first Hebrew king in around 1,000 BC, Saul, a nomad from the south, was a disaster. The perennial enemy of the time was the Philistine tribe from Crete who had landed in Gaza with conquering intentions. Saul's attempt at subduing the Philistines ended in defeat. Seeing the rout of his army, Saul knew his time was up so committed suicide.
His successor, David, did a little better, gaining popularity in both the north and the south. It was David who managed to secure the ancient fortress on the steep hill of Jerusalem. He led a unified army to see off the Philistines. He had a long and prosperous reign, as did his son, Solomon.
It was during Solomon's reign that the Hebrews became merchants. He entered into a partnership with Hiram, the Phœnician king of Tyre, and managed to marry a daughter of the king of Egypt. To further cement his influence, he built a permanent temple for the holy objects that earlier had been carted around in a waggon and tent.
Historical evidence shows that the kingdoms of Israel in the north and southern Judah were active from 900 BC and 700 BC respectively. Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar for Babylon in 586 BC, an assimilation that lasted, albeit later as an autonomous region of Persia, until Roman rule took over in 63 BC.
The sack of Jerusalem depicted on the Arch of Titus, Rome
The Jeweish-Roman war of 70 AD culminated in the defeat of the Jews and the destruction of the Second Temple. The Romans taxed Jews from this point. It was during this time that the split between Jews and Christianity occurred. The Pharisee movement, led by Yochanan ben Zakai, made peace with Rome and survived. The Christians avoided the new tax by gradually giving up the Jewish customs. Ritual circumcision was the first to go, followed by a realignment of the day of high worship. The Judean Jews tightened the requirement for circumcision and observance of festivals.
The Roman province of Judea was the site of a number of revolts by the argumentative Jews against the Romans, ended only by the Roman exercise of genocide in 132 AD. The Jews, already dispersed throughout the Mediterranean region were either removed from Judea or killed in their thousands.
Jewish settlements in the wider region declined from over 160 to 50 by the time of the Muslim conquest of 638 AD.
In 1099 the crusades began, with the English conquering Jerusalem and the surrounding area for the Christians from the Persians. However this was not to last. In 1291 the English were ousted from Acre.
The Ottoman Empire, a rising force in the region, took control in 1517 until 1917 when the British conquered the land during the collapse of the Ottomans during the First World War.
Theodor Herzl, visionary of the Jewish State.
The British ruled the area from the west of Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean, and from Syria in the north to Egypt in the south. Most of the land was barren, only the main towns and cities flourished.
In 1922 The League of Nations decided that the land would be held as a Mandate, in that the British would oversee the rule, but control would pass to Jews and Arabs later on. The League named this the Mandate of Palestine, a variant of the name of the troublesome tribe of Philistines from centuries before.
The British decided that the Jews should not have control over the territory to the east of the River Jordan, an area renamed Trans Jordan. Jewish immigration was restricted during the 1930s, and Jewish acquisition of land was curtailed by the Land Transfer Regulations of 1940.
Britain's reneging on the agreement of 1922, and its own Balfour Declaration of 1917, caused unrest in the area and concern in other nations, in particular America. Sporadic guerilla campaigns were undertaken by radical Jews against the occupying British.
Since 1880, European Jews ready to fight for the acquisition of a homeland, gathered around Theodor Herzl who founded the movement known as Zionism, named after the prophesies of Shivat Tzion.
This developed into a national liberation movement, advocating violence in establishing a Jewish-only state.
So it was, in 1947, The United Nations disbanded the Mandate of Palestine after much acrimonious discussion concerning the borders of the newly created State of Israel for the Jews, and Palestine for the Arabs. The British withdrew, Jewish immigration increased, and within a few years the new State of Israel was thriving amidst the barren wastes around.
The politics of Israel has oscillated from far left to far right Zionist factions, the former favouring a more secular administration, government control of the economy, and land for peace trades with the Arabs; the latter being in favour of religious control of the state, no land deals, and a free market economy.
During the years since 1948 Israel has been the target of hostile land grabs, military attacks, and guerilla warfare. It has formed a highly motivated conscript army, with weapon aid from so called Western Nations, notably Britain and America.
Israel's policy allows Arabs or Muslims to reside within, it has no State sponsored Arab hate policy, but it does maintain a vigilant watch on its borders and entry points.
On the one hand it is an agrarian and commercial powerhouse in the region, with peaceful intentions, but on the other it feels under siege from hostile neighbours. Is it any wonder, in such a tinderbox, that some Israelis become jumpy; some with guns noticeably so?
Palestine - the Centre of Interest for Muslims
Not long after the death of Justinian, the 6th century Eastern Roman Emperor, a remarkable, gifted, man was born in Mecca, Arabia. His name was Mohammed. As he grew up he believed, like so many Semitic teachers, that a commanding voice spoke within him as he wandered in the wilderness.
He felt compelled to communicate these messages as teachings from a god he called Allah. Despite many setbacks, by the time he died in 632 AD he had established a new religion called Islam, meaning "reconciliation". The followers were called Muslims.
After Mohammed's death, his devout followers collected his teachings in the form of a book, called The Koran, the Bible for the Muslims.
The Spread of Islam
Within a few years the Muslims took control of Egypt and Syria from the feeble successors to Justinian, reducing the Eastern Empire to little more that the Balkan peninsular. At the same time, the Arabs crushed the empire of the Persians, bringing the Sassanian line of kings to an end.
Eventually, Baghdad became the finest city in the east. The caliphs extended their power eastward to the frontiers of India.
Only two generations after Mohammed, the Muslims crossed from Africa into Spain. However, their encircling march around the Mediterranean was halted at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD.
Since those tumultuous years, Arabs have been followers of Islam, with succeeding generations interpreting the teachings to fit their circumstances and aspirations. The one characteristic running through the centuries is domination over infidels.
Islam maintains strict rules concerning the subservience of women, the organisation of society around sharia law, and at its extremes, a violent medium for rejectionists and radicals.
The UN Partition of 1947
As we have seen, the region that we call Israel and Palestine today has yo-yoed from one dominant culture to another. It seems that the Assyrians and the Persians have been there the longest. However, any consideration of Palestine as a nation, a newcomer to the party, cannot ignore its population and leaders being predominantly Muslim.
The day that Israel was formed, by order of the UN. the Arab League announced a single Arab administrative state throughout newly formed Palestine. Also, on the same day, 14th May, 1948, the Arab military attacked Israel.
The original partition was not to anyone's liking, with the de facto boundaries later becoming almost the inverse of the UN proposals. During the all out war, the Arab League established the All Palestine Government on 22nd September, 1948. Whist this body was supposed to have jurisdiction over the whole of the previous Mandate territory, Including that occupied by Israel, it was only effective in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, in Trans-Jordan, King Abdullah was installed, then promptly invaded the West Bank outlawing the terms Palestine and Trans-Jordan. All citizens of the former Mandate, he said, would be citizens of the newly enlarged Kingdom of Jordan.
In 1959 the All Palestine Government was absorbed into the United Arab Republic, coming under Egyptian control. Egypt renounced any claims to Palestinian land. The All Palestinian Government was widely discredited as it had become a department of Egypt.
The factions simmered in dissatisfaction. Arabs looked forward to a time when they could "return" to the land then taken (as they saw it) by Israel, whilst Israel was left holding the runny end of the stick from the 1948 partition. Its territory consisted of poor, infertile, rocky, leftovers, whilst the "promised land", the ancient Judah, with its priceless crown, Jerusalem, was in others' hands.
In June, 1967, Israel captured the remainder of the previous Mandate. taking the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Following military threats, Israeli forces went into action against Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
As a result of that war, the Israel Defence Forces conquered the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula bringing them under military rule. Israel also pushed Arab forces back from East Jerusalem, which Jews had not been permitted to visit during the Jordanian rule.
This surprise action took six days in all, giving the episode its name.
The Arabs were blind sided by this fury of fighting, but recognised that the might of little Israel was due to the American and British helpers in the background. You can imagine the Arab leaders fuming in defeat.
The previous Arab control of the territory was scrappy and part-time. There was no cohesive nation of Palestine. It was invented as a concept in 1948, yet had still to emerge as a reality.
There followed a number of high profile conferences at which the Arabs tried to win back some control over some parts of the territory they claimed had been illegally occupied by Israel. Although some concessions were granted, the Arabs were not satisfied. A period of intifada, or Holy War, started, with Muslim suicide bombers, rocket attacks, and armed incursions.
Israel conceded land for peace, but to no avail. The Muslims, feeling displaced and driven from what they saw as their own land, became ever more militant.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation had been formed in 1964 as an offshoot of the Arab League, to regain the "Palestinian homeland" by armed struggle against Israel. The core belief was that Zionists had displaced Palestinians under the false pretext of historic and Jewish ties with the location.
The PLO charter said that the boundaries as per the British Mandate of Palestine were the right and proper ones, and there was no cause for it to be divided. Israel was an illegal occupation that had to be driven out.
It further went on to say that the Balfour Declaration, and any other intention to give territory to the Jews was null and void.
The PLO claimed to represent the estimated 5 million Muslim people under occupation.
Yasser Arafat, founder of Fatah
Yasser Arafat was a Cairo born, charismatic politician who formed the Fatah movement with broadly similar aims to the PLO in the wake of the Suez crisis of 1956. Arafat believed that the solution lay with the Palestinian people rather than the United Arab nations or even international diplomacy. He encouraged the local people to take up arms against Israel at every opportunity.
Fatah and the PLO combined to carry out decades of tit for tat killings, bombings, and attempted land grabs against Israel that continue to this day.
Despite the actions of Fatah and the PLO, there was still no cohesive state called Palestine. The word described a situation that arose in 1917 and was a term invented by the League of Nations in 1922.
Hamas was formed from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 as an Islamic resistance movement. It is based in Gaza. Its aim is to establish a Muslim state in the area now known as Israel, including the occupied regions of the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
The military wing of Hamas has carried out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers, describing them as retaliation for some perceived previous wrongs. Tactics include suicide bombing and rocket attacks.
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority
In January 2006 Hamas won elections and ousted Fatah as the ruling party in the Palestinian National Authority. Combined international pressure was applied to make Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel, and enter peace talks. Hamas refused, so American, Russian, United Nations, and European aid to the Palestine cause was curtailed. Hamas is principally funded by the Arab nations.
Hamas also obtains money from corporations, criminal organisations and financial networks that support terror, as well as engaging in tobacco and drug smuggling, multimedia copyright infringement, and credit card fraud.
The Hamas Charter of 1988 is anti Semitic in tone, accusing Israel of Nazi like cruelty, and vows to remove Israel from the map, by force and destruction. It does not favour a sharing of the land, despite smiles and friendly gestures that might lead ex-US Presidents to think otherwise.
The convoluted reasoning goes thus: Hamas might attend international conferences where dual sovereignty and partition will be discussed. It might agree to certain principles, but the recognition of the State of Israel lies with the people of Palestine who will vote in a referendum to rid the region of Jews.
A selection of quotations from the Hamas Covenant of 1988 will indicate the character of this organisation.
"The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: 'O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him"
"The HAMAS regards itself the spearhead and the vanguard of the circle of struggle against World Zionism... Islamic groups all over the Arab world should also do the same, since they are best equipped for their future role in the fight against the warmongering Jews."
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
So there appears to be no likelihood of an outbreak of peace any time soon. The Palestinian National Authority, set up in 1994 as a five year interim body to hammer out a solution, lives on as a umbrella for the Muslim forces intent on destroying Israel and its Jews. It is based in Ramallah in the West Bank, although the largest city under its control is Gaza.
The Muslims in Israel woke up one day in 2006 to be told that they were Palestinians, although the Arabic language does not have an equivalent to the letter P. I doubt that the new name conferred greater unity, but I expect that the combination of Islamic indoctrination with decades of political posturing has spawned a dangerous situation for Israel and the Jews.
Epilogue for Just Causes
Arab woman argues with Israeli border guard
Israel has gained international recognition, although some find it difficult to accept the result of the Six Day War. Some Arabs fly in the face of established international law and UN decisions, clinging to their Islamic expansionist intolerance.
Both sides claim their god tells them what to do, those gods of peace, harmony, and brotherhood. Although the god Yahweh from the Old Testament was more likely to strike down thousands in fireballs, floods, and massacres than go for the simple life.
In legal terms, a state's territory is inviolable. Land cannot be taken by force under any pretext, and any land so acquired will not be recognised.
The Israelis have said that the Six Day War was waged to ensure the state's survival. Hostilities were started by the Arabs, Israel had to fight and win to ensure sovereignty and safety. Lands acquired are legitimately held for security and to deter belligerence.
The Arabs see it differently. The war in 1967 was an unprovoked act of aggression aimed at expanding the boundaries of Israel, and the territories captured during this war are illegally occupied.
Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan have reached agreements on the de facto situation, it is only the groups allied to the Palestine National Authority that continue the conflict. Under international law these Free Palestine groups never were a state, had no territory to be taken, therefore can have no grievance.
Israel has found a way to live peacefully with its neighbours, but maintains a state of high alert because of warlike terrorists, freedom fighters, resistance warriors, whatever the current term might be, plotting total annihilation at whatever cost.
Of course, two wrongs never make a right, and some of the retaliations carried out by Israeli troops are contrary to common sense and the law. It is not difficult to see that when one has a gun pointed at one's head one's urge is to shoot first. It is harder to find in favour of arbitrary and summary executions of unarmed men and women.
The rockets will fly in from Gaza for so long as there remain Islamic terrorists, thinly disguised as dispossessed so called Palestinians.