by Bernice Lipkin, December 21, 2017

The Children of Israel became a people when they left Egypt and settled on land ranging down from the Mediterranean Sea and extending over a large swatch of land on the east side of the Jordan river. The Romans eventually destroyed the Jewish Kingdom and various conquerors added the land to their domains over the centuries. But the territory was never again a sovereign homeland to any people until modern times, when the Jews, who had always maintained a presence there, were once again able to redeem their Land, a land they yearned for during the two millennia of the Diaspora.

THERE HAD BEEN ATTEMPTS THROUGH THE CENTURIES TO REESTABLISH ISRAEL but none came to fruition. Under the Ottomans, the area was called Palaestina (Palestine) and was the southern segment of Syria, a province of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had ruled the Middle East since 1453, when they captured Constantinople. But by the eighteenth century, the Empire was in decline and the population in all of Palestine in 1850 was (estimated) at 250,000 to 350,000. Palestine was barely viable economically, filthy and unsanitary physically and constantly disrupted by interminable warfare between the various clans.

In the last quarter of the 1800s, when Jews began returning in increasing numbers to their homeland, the population was a hodgepodge of ethnic groups. The Bedouins, weaving their way from one place to another, ensuring that any greenery was soon swallowed by their herds of goats, were Arab. Most of the other Arabs were new arrivals, the majority arriving after 1900. As Martin Gilbert wrote, "From the years from 1890 to 1945 about 500,000 Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi and Eastern Palestine [Jordan] Arabs settled into West Palestine..."[1] Joan Peters pointed out, "Among the people who have long been counted as 'indigenous Palestinian Arabs' are Balkans, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Afghans, Sudanese, Algerians, and Tartars."[2] The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica noted that in the 20th century some fifty languages were spoken in Jerusalem.[3] These are the people we now lump together and call Arabs. Or even more artfully they have become Palestinians.

The end of the Empire came about in World War 1 (WW1), when the Ottomans picked the wrong side, siding with Germany against the Allies: England, France, Russia until its Revolution and eventually the USA. World War 1 made the pre WW1 global maps of the world obsolete.

Before the war ended in November 1918, the likely winners prudently began to consider how to handle the vast Ottoman territory they were likely to acquire. Most of the Middle East would be ruled by prominent Arab families. Difference schemes were suggested, from creating a single humongous state to splitting the territory into multiple states. How England and France would divide their administrative roles was yet to be firmed up.

ONE PROJECTION WAS PARTICULARLY SIGNIFICANT FOR THE JEWS. It was being seriously proposed that the land that had been the ancient homeland of the Jews — an area that was much much less than 1% of the Middle East — would be returned to them. Specifics were yet to come. But a 'binder' was written. While the war was still going on, Alfred Balfour, Foreign Minister of the British government sent a letter to a head of the Jewish community in England that

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

For centuries, religious, administrative and economic changes in the Middle East had been snail-slow and minimal. Population growth stagnated because of poor sanitation, sparse economic opportunities, a corrupt and inadequate government, high infant death rate, and internecine warring among clans. But by the end of the 19th century, things had began to change. Dramatic changes in the economy and people's life styles were taking place. Much of the new energy, organization and focus was clearly due to the Jewish immigrants.

The Balfour Declaration too was forward-looking and was broadcast at the beginning of the large and rapid economic, political and technical changes in Palestine. For the Muslim leaders, the end of the Empire had left a vacuum. Who would control what would be decided in part in the traditional ways: warfare, assassinations and slaughter of inconvenient civilians. But now the various groups also needed to figure out what else it would take to convince/win over/manipulate the new guys in charge, the Europeans. For the Jews, it was early confirmation that the effort to reestablish a Jewish homeland had the blessings of powerful European and American politicians. Equally important, it encouraged the Jews to believe that this time their efforts would succeed. It was in this way that the Balfour Declaration was a significant benchmark in the formation of today's Israel.

By the time WW1 ended — a year after the Declaration was issued — Palestine was under the administrative control of Great Britain, the Jews who lived there were called Palestinians and many of the local Arabs considered themselves Syrians — it was an insult to be called a Palestinian. The British were readying a proposal for the soon-to-be-formed League of Nations to help the Jews rebuilt the infrastructure for a sovereign state.

The number of Jews coming to redeem their land was growing, but the Jews were still a minority except in a few places such as Jerusalem. In Europe, in World War 1, Jews in Germany had fought as Germans; Jews in France had fought the Germans as Frenchmen. But there was a strong Zionist consensus among Diaspora Jews. Americans on the whole were for a Jewish state; President Woodrow Wilson agreed with Britain's plans. The League of Nations was formally inaugurated January 10, 2020. By April 1920, at San Remo, the entire assembly of the 51 nations then in the League of Nations unanimously agreed to the return of Jewish land to the Jews in legal binding terms. (See here.)

At San Remo in 1920, the Middle East was reorganized by way of three Mandates. In one, where the Arabs were gifted with enormously large chunks of land, English would become the language of the administrative class in Arab countries that were yet to be created and whose boundaries were yet to be drawn. This was mirrored in a second mandate, where other large land patches were to be given to the Arabs, and the French would be in control. And then there was the curious document called the Palestine Mandate, which decreed that specific land was to be given in an irrevocable trust to the Jewish people. Unlike the land donated to the Arabs, much of the land bequeath to the Jews was theirs in ancient times. It was there the Jews developed the moral code that was to serve as the moral and spiritual foundations of what would become the Western countries. While this area — land on both sides of the Jordan river — was less than 1% of the Middle East, it was unique in that San Remo acknowledged the unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and their homeland.

THERE WAS MUCH TO COME BEFORE THE REBIRTH OF THE JEWISH STATE would become reality. Before the League could sign off on the San Remo document. which it did in 1922, Great Britain cut out the area on the east side of Jordan — some 78% of the agreed-upon Jewish territory — and placed it in the hands of the Hashemites. Today it is called Jordan.

A decade later, the British issued so-called White Papers, which restricted Jewish immigration and land acquisition. They ignored the entry of Arab 'economic immigrants' — Arabs coming to look for jobs from the neighboring Arab countries. Members of this cohort, given that they were in Israel by 1946 and given that they fled when Israel was invaded in 1948, qualified for all the benefits given the Arab refugees. Their descendants and the descendants of their descendants are still living off UNRWA welfare.

Two decades later, England, which had at San Remo contracted to help develop a viable Jewish State, was blocking the entry of Jews desperately trying to enter Palestine to escape death at the hands of the Nazis. The Jews in Palestine did what they could but rescue had to be done illegally and was far less than what they would have done, had Britain not been perfidious and ignored its contractual obligations.

When finally Israel was established in 1948, it immediately would need to fight a defensive war against invasion by the neighboring Arab states. Israel survived the onslaught but it couldn't prevent Jordan from taking Samaria and Judea and the eastern part of Jerusalem.

In 1964, Yasser Arafat decreed that the locals who lived in Israel were the Palestinian people, and excluded those living in Samaria and Judea under Jordanian rule. Israel was again attacked by its neighbors in 1967. But now, it was strong enough to take back Samaria and Judea (fancifully renamed the West Bank by Jordan). Arafat in 1968 expanded the definition of who was a Palestinian. The locals in Samaria and Judea became Palestinians. Once those who still thought of themselves as Syrians (harking back to Ottoman times) quieted down, and a new generation was raised ignorant of the actual demography, the pro-Palestinian backers spoke as one that the disparate locals were a single people, the Palestinian people. This faux people have yet to settle on a history. Mahmoud Abbas recently asserted they were Caananites. They have spoken of themselves as Philistines, as natives of Israel and/or the Territories, as the original Egyptians, whatever was useful at the time.

When the Arabs decided they could not rid the Middle East of Jews in battle, they took to what is called an asymmetric war. They would play by no rules. They would kill Jews one at a time, ten at a time, military, civilians, old men, babies, whoever, whatever and wherever. But the attacks would never stop. They were joined by Jew-haters around the world who watched their back. The Press made up a large component of these fellow-travelers. The media invented praiseworthy reasons for the slaughter. They claimed to see nothing wrong in Arab society creating a death cult. Parents taught their children to hate and to kill. They boasted of their dead children, who had died while killing Jews.

We are still in the phase where Israel is buffeted by suicidal Arabs and their sympathetic media. What has changed is that Israel has more resources to defend itself. And the Arabs who practices their peculiar war on the Jews have now expanded their horizons. Resurgent Islam is on the attack globally. Some Americans and Europeans now understand they can learn from the experience Israel acquired so painfully. Other Westerners follow the strategy of feeding the crocodile to stave off themselves being eaten.

THE PALESTINIAN-JEWISH CONFLICT IS SAID TO BE A FIGHT BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE. Jews certainly are a people. The Palestinians? Not even maybe. They were not and are not a unique people; they don't differ in foundational history, geography, religion or culture from other Arabs. There has never been a Palestinian state. In fact, as noted above, it is only since 1964 that the Arabs have consistently begun insisting the Palestinian Arabs are a people, not inhabitants of the Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire or immigrants from neighboring states.

Suggesting the Balfour Declaration contained the seeds of a Palestinian State is an ideological and historical anachronism. It's hogwash. Yes, there was concern for the non-Jews who were living in the area in the early 1900s, but these were civil and humanitarian concerns; they were not political. There was no suggestion that the Arabs would or should have voting rights in the projected Jewish state. Equally important within Balfour's brief letter was another concern: Jews that had finally found a (often precarious) perch in different European countries. Some of these Jews feared they would be told that Jews must now leave their homes for a barren, rocks-and-sand desert that the world had decided was their 'homeland.' The Balfour declaration had humanitarian concerns and left much to individual decision. It was firm on one point: there was a small area in the Middle East that had been Jewish for thousands of years and it was time for the Jews to live there as an independent people once again.

The legal claim of the Palestinians can be simply stated: the Jews are occupying their land. As the self-styled indigenous, the Palestinian Arabs claim Samaria and Judea. In reality, Israel lost control of Samaria, Judea and eastern Jerusalem for just 19 years, from 1948 when Jordan invaded the new-born Israel until Israel reclaimed them in 1967, when Jordan again attacked Israel. This Jewish land was in Arab control for just nineteen years, but that was enough time for the Arabs to assert thereafter that the land was theirs. It may be unfair of me to sneer at how little time it takes for Arabs to claim ancient ownership of a piece of land. It seems to be a Muslim thing. Once the Muslims have controlled an area, it's theirs until eternity. It isn't a joke that Muslims anticipate take back Spain, once they have ousted the Jews from Israel.

Land Area, 1000 BCE, 1920 and Today

By international law, Samaria and Judea, Israel, Gaza and much of the Golan belong to the Jewish people. An irrevocable trust was established at San Remo in 1920 and confirmed by the League of Nations as the Palestine Mandate in 1922. When the League was dissolved, the trust was taken over as is by the United Nations. For nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967, Samaria and Judea were in Jordanian hands, The Palestinian Arabs made no effort to create a state during that time, yet they call losing this land to Israel Nakba, a disaster. They see it as an injustice that a fight the Arabs started didn't end as they expected.

They blame everyone and everything associated with Israel's establishment as a state and its survival. Thus, they blame the Balfour Declaration for not setting up a structure to develop a Palestinian State, ignoring that there was not (and are not) a Palestinian people. There was not even such a thing labeled as the "Palestinian people" until 1964.

They also see it as a telling point that Britain didn't consult the local Arabs when the Balfour Declaration was issued during World War 1. But, as Martin Kramer asks,[4] "[W]hy was that a failure?"

THE BRITISH HAVE SHOWN THE JEWS TWO FACES. Most of the time, they have worked against what they helped set up, namely, a Jewish state. But at a critical time, when the Jews needed reassurance that their back-breaking effort at nationhood would come to fruition, the British Foreign Secretary declared for the Jews. And at San Remo, the Jewish State became not just a dream but a project.


[1] Martin Gilbert, Churchill, vol. 5, p. 1072.

[2] Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial

[3], Volume 20, "Palestine" Population.


Bernice Lipkin is managing editor of Think-Israel.

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