That any nation could survive 2000 years of exile while spread over all the continents of the world, while the greatest of empires came and went, is nothing short of miraculous. That the land they belonged to could survive in parallel, while over 10 empires and dynasties, from the Assyrians to the Ottomans, washed over it, is even more miraculous.
For not only did no national entity arise in all that time to supersede Jewish claims, but in 1917 when the Ottomans lost the land to the allies, it was 80% Ottoman state land, land now ownerless. Not only was the land ownerless, but it was so sparsely inhabited so as to make setting up any governing body a virtual impossibility.
Britain and France sought to simply divide the Ottoman lands between their two empires, but America was adamant about the principle of self-determination, and that the land must go to the inhabitants. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were no great problem, but Palestine was. In 1920 it was decided by the League of Nations at San Remo that Palestine was to be the reconstituted Jewish national home.
All the factors, sparsely populated ownerless land, and an emerging Zionist movement of Jews willing to claim it, miraculously came together.
By 1924 the British had had a change of heart regarding the Jews, and felt they would have more influence with the Arabs. They partitioned Palestine giving 80% to the Arabs to become Transjordan. In direct contravention of their mandate obligation, they further planned for the rest to also become Arab, and set out to limit Jewish immigration to prevent a Jewish majority from emerging. This set the stage for the current violence and conflict.
Let me briefly examine some of the myths that have grown out of the conflict.
The first is that the Jews stole Arab lands. In 1947, local Arabs (“Palestinians” today) owned 3.9% of Palestine, in Israel today; Arabs own 3.3% of the land, so clearly there was no great dispossession. Neither are the Palestinians exactly lying.
To understand we need to understand the feudal nature of the Ottoman lands. Private title was recognised by the Ottomans, by the British and by the Israelis. Ottoman state lands were divided into three categories, outright state, leased, and something called ‘miri’ which parallels the feudal ‘freehold’ in which people could work the land freely, pass it on to their children, but could neither sell it nor leave it. If abandoned, it instantly reverted to the state. Clearly, after generations on land without seeing the clear documentation, many Arabs would believe they actually owned it.
Is it strange that 600,000 Arabs simply left? Too many judge things through our own lens without understanding other cultures. When Israel entered Lebanon in 1982, journalists quoted numbers of “refugees” leaving southern Lebanon at about 150% of the population.
Silly, but clearly the bulk of the population did move out. America’s threat to invade Afghanistan was enough to send 2 million Afghans rushing to the Pakistani border seeking to get in. Clearly these mass movements are part and parcel of that culture and should be seen in that context, and not as exclusive to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“Occupied territory”. More than 80% of the West Bank is still legally ‘Ottoman state land’, never allocated since WWI. The 1920 mandate makes Israel the best claimant to that land. However it is finally allocated, the one thing we do know at this stage, it does not, and has never belonged to the Palestinians, nor has it belonged to anybody since it belonged to the Ottomans … it is not “occupied territory”.
“Illegal settlements”. Jewish settlements in the West Bank have been built either on Jewish-owned and titled land like the Etzion Bloc, a piece of land purchased in 1930 by a man named Holtzman, on which 12 settlements stand, or on Ottoman state land. It is incongruous that Arabs should freely build on this land, but not Jews, and that is certainly upheld by Israel’s High Court. The only ‘illegal settlements’ are those not government-approved or those outposts illegally built on Palestinian land, and Israel dismantles them.
I know this only scratches the surface, but I hope that it is enough food for thought to interest people to delve further, perhaps even to advocate for the truth when the opportunity arises.