Sunday, June 6, 2010


As the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is in the news, I thought it would be a good time to point out some of what shapes my views, which is not the normal fare. I view the conflict as fundamentally simple: two peoples want the same land and are fighting over it.

[NOTE: if I've got any facts wrong, please correct me.]

Thought Experiment

Consider the following thought experiment. Suppose the Isreali Jews destroyed all their weapons and absolutely refused to fight at all, starting tomorrow. What would happen? My prediction: within a month or two there would be very, very few living Jews in Palestine. Why? Because many, many Palestinians hate the Jews, and for good reason. Their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents lost their land as a direct result of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, not to mention oppression, occupation, and humiliation since then. For example, some years ago a couple Israeli reservists took a wrong turn, ended out in the wrong part of town and were killed. I saw a picture in the press of two well-dressed young Palestinians showing the photographer their blood drenched hands. They were beaming with pride and joy. Another example, Afafat's wife was once quoted as saying (paraphrased), "I get invitations to parties and events from Jewish women all the time. I refuse all of them. I hate the Jews."

Now suppose the Palestinians destroyed all their weapons and absolutely refused to fight at all, starting tomorrow. What would happen? My prediction: within a year or two there would be a Palestinian state with, more-or-less, the pre-1967 boundaries. Why? If the Israelis wanted to kill all the Palestinians they have the firepower to do it. The don't because they don't want to, either due to moral considerations or all but certain international condemnation. Furthermore, the Israelis have repeatedly traded land for peace and removed settlements. A vigorous Palestinian non-violent protest movement would, I believe, be more than sufficient to gain a Palestinian state, although not one from the river to the sea, an unlimited right of return, or control of Jerusalem. For that, only violence has a chance of success.

Why Create Israel?

Here's a story. It is supposed to be true, but I don't really know. Shortly after the 1948 war a pregnant Jewish woman was killed in a kibbutz near the Egyptian border. The tracks of the killers led straight to an Arab village in Egypt. A young Israeli officer was sent to follow the killers. It's not clear what happened, but by the next day a lot of the villagers were dead. There was a storm of condemnation for Israel in the international press. The officer went to the prime minister, Ben-Gurien, and said (paraphrased) "This is terrible. We are being portrayed as monsters." Ben Gurien said, "Not at all, this is great." The officer was aghast, "What do you mean?" Ben Gurien explained: "For two thousand years killing Jews has been easy and painless. The international press is telling the world those days are over, from now on killing Jews will be difficult and very, very painful."

The March Towards Peace

Many people despair of the Jews and Palestinians ever living peacefully side by side. These people are either ignorant of the major facts or aren't seeing the pattern. The fundamental pattern is simple: one by one Arab countries and other organizations are giving up trying to destroy Israel and making peace. Consider:

  1. Israel was created by the U.N. in 1948. On the day it was created, five large professional Arab armies invaded the new nation. The Jews had no army, navy or air force; only a couple of terrorist/guerilla organizations and some veterans of the British Jewish Brigade that fought in World War II. Almost all knowledgeable observers believed the Jews would be wiped out, and they nearly were. Only a shipment of Czech arms enabled them to push back the Egyptian army marching up the coast. By the end of the war the Jews had defeated all five armies and established what are now called the pre-1967 borders. These borders are very hard to defend. Israel was only 17 miles wide at one point and nearly all of pre-1967 Israel is within artillery and/or rocket range of Arab land. After the war, Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt put Gaza under military rule.
  2. In the days leading up to the 1967 war Arab leaders claimed they would destroy Israel. However, the 1967 war demolished the Arab armies, established Israel's military superiority, and gave Israel physical control of the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights (high ground in Syria on 1967 borders). Israel subsequently annexed the Golan Heights. The new borders were far, far easier to defend.
  3. By 1979 Egypt, which had done most of the fighting and dying in the Arab-Israeli wars, not only in '48 and '67 but also in '56 and '73, had had enough. They made peace with Israel. Israel evacuated the entire Sinai peninsula (an area much larger than Israel proper) and dismantled the settlements they had established there. This peace has held without major incident for over 30 years.
  4. In 1964 the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was created to destroy Israel ("prohibit... the existence and activity" of Zionism), but not to create a Palestinian state, presumably since Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan the West Bank. It wasn't until 1974 that the PLO began calling for a Palestinian state. In any case, by 1991 the PLO had had enough and recognized Israel's right to exist in exchange for partial control of parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel also dismantled a number of settlements. Eventually, the PLO removed the clause in their charter calling for the destruction of Israel. The 'peace' between Israel and the PLO has been marred by frequent violence, but after the death of PLO leader Yassar Arafat this seems to have pretty much petered out. Today the PLO controls much of the West Bank and there isn't a lot of fighting, at least at the moment. This is, in part, because Israel built a very long wall between most of the West Bank and Israel and around Gaza, which seems to have mostly ended the previously frequent suicide bombing.
  5. In 1994 Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. This is the only peace treaty Israel signed that did not involve giving up physical control of land, although the previous peace treaty with the PLO, which did involve land, was an important precursor. As part of the treaty, Jordan gave up their claim to the West Bank. Since the peace treaty, there has been little or no violence between Israel and Jordan.
  6. In recent years most Arab nations, which once clamored for the destruction of Israel, have indicated they might accept a permanent Jewish state within the pre-1967 borders.

Note that between Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO, most of Israel's borders are, more-or-less, at peace. Today, Israel is still at war with Lebanon (including Hezbollah), Syria, and Hamas, which controls Gaza all the way to the pre-1967 borders. After 6-7,000 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, Israel invaded Gaza with great destruction and loss of life. The frequency of rocket attacks has subsequently been greatly reduced. There was a similar fight with similar results in Lebanon (Israel invaded and controlled much of Lebanon for years). Although Hamas' charter still calls for the destruction of Israel, they are de-emphasizing it at least when speaking in English. It would be interesting to analyze Hamas' statements in Arabic to see if the same pattern holds. In any case, there are signs that Lebanaon, Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas are all at some point on the path Egypt, Jordan and the PLO have already completed: giving up on the destruction of Israel as too hard and too painful, and making peace. The problem for Israel is to determine if they are really ready to give up; or will they use the territory Israel typically concedes in these deals to try, once again, to destroy the Jewish state?

I recently sang in the choir at a concert. One of the songs, a call for peace, was originally recorded by Arab and Jewish musicians. It smokes. Watch the video ( It will be awhile, but peace is coming. Hang in there.