My Turn: Knowledge of Middle East helps combat prejudice

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2001

Out of the twin My Turn articles by Mr. Lisle Herbert and Mr. Rob Miller (Dec. 16), I did find one helpful thought: people should read their history. That inspired me to look into the history of the Mideast conflict, which I found very enlightening.

Knowing the historical facts allows us to form opinions without prejudice, to think critically and question the accuracy of statements we see or hear. For instance, some believe there was a nation of Palestine and the Jews took it away.

Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C., 2,000 years before the rise of Islam. In 586 B.C. Israel was overrun and the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Those Jews who were not killed or expelled rebuilt the Nation of Israel. In 70 A.D. the Romans invaded. Though many Jews were slaughtered or driven out, thousands remained. (The Romans gave the name Palestine, or Philistia, to the Judean-Israel territories. Prior to Israel's 1948 rebirth, the term Palestinians mostly referred to the region's Jewish residents.)

Various peoples ruled the region over the next millennia, but none built a nation of their own. The Ottoman Turks governed from the 16th century until the British conquest in 1917. Zionists started returning to the pre-state Israel in the 1880s, and began to rebuild the neglected land.

Britain granted the League of Nations' 1922 Mandate for Palestine, which recognized the grounds for reconstituting the Jewish national home. Britain created the Arab emirate of Transjordan on almost 80 percent of the area, leaving the rest for a Jewish homeland. While some Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany began arriving in 1933, Jewish immigration was severely restricted, especially after 1939. Throughout the period there were no restrictions on Arab immigration, while countless thousands of Jews were kept trapped in Europe, to perish in the Holocaust.

In 1947 the United Nations proposed the establishment of Arab and Jewish states in the area. The Jewish part was a small percentage of the land - 6,200 square miles, most of it desert. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs rejected it. In 1948 the State of Israel was established by the United Nations, and immediately Israel was invaded by the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, with the goal of driving the Jews into the sea. Over 6,000 Jews were killed during the war, nearly 1 percent of their population.

The invading Arab armies told the Israeli Arabs to leave so the Jews could be more easily purged from the land. But those who left were not allowed to integrate into the Arab nations, although the Arabs have 99.9 percent of the land in the region. Israel, on the other hand, absorbed over 600,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab countries or fled fearing persecution and death.

I looked into the assertion that Israel has a "goal of expansion." I discovered that Israel has returned over 92 percent of the "occupied territories" won while fighting for survival in defensive wars. What other nation has ever done that? I learned that after the 1967 war, the Israelis immediately offered to give back all the captured land in return for a treaty that would recognize the State of Israel, solve the refugee and border disputes, and establish a lasting peace. The Arabs refused.

I questioned the accuracy of the phrase "the land Israel took from the Palestinians in the 1967 war." I discovered that Israel did not capture the West Bank from the Palestinians, but from Jordan. Jordan had invaded the West Bank and occupied it since 1948. Israel and the United States had pleaded with Jordan not to join the 1967 war, but to no avail.

When a writer criticizes the hard-liner Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon while at the same time praising Arafat's Palestinian Authority, I wonder if he is referring to the same Yasser Arafat who turned down a comprehensive negotiated peace offer last year, opting instead to support an organized program of horrific terrorist attacks targeted against innocent Israeli citizens?

There is a lot of conflicting information available. For a balanced viewpoint I would recommend Mitchell G. Bard's books and Internet writings.

Susan Super is a Juneau resident.

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