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The Arab Side of the Jewish Question

The best explanation for the persistent hostility between Arabs and Israelis, in painfully cynical terms, is the absence of a powerful Arab lobby in the history of the American political machine. The academic answer is far more complex, but it is this peculiar distinction that must be credited, not with the origin of the Arab/Israeli conflict, but certainly for the tragically resilient blood feud narrative into which the conflict grew, and the international conspiracy which not only sustains the crisis, but literally thrives upon it. The declaration of Israeli Independence on 14 May, 1948, condemned generations of Jews and Arabs to a life of violence and brutality. The powerful irony, however, is that the Zionist movement, upon which this new state was formed, began as an altruistic attempt to save a seemingly doomed race of mercilessly embattled European Jews from inhuman atrocities committed by and/or under the unconcerned eyes of their neighbors, police, soldiers and rulers, who mostly viewed the Jews as Christ-killers, and worth little more consideration than that.

Scholars and historians are prone to look to the Dreyfus affair and the Herzl commentary as the beginning of the Zionist movement, and therefore as the natural point of departure for an exploration of Zionism and it's controversial effects in the twentieth century. To do so is not wrong, so long as one intends to proceed under the banner of the Jewish narrative, which is very sincerely and accurately one of tremendous historical persecution, and perhaps less so, a story of fulfillment of scriptural prophesy concerning their triumphant vindication. To see Jerusalem whole again in one's own lifetime, especially after the atrocities of Hitler, to be fair to members of the Jewish faith, must have seemed an astonishing thing to comprehend , let alone to realize. Perhaps no other event in history since the great flood has better defined the Jewish people, and therefore characters such as Herzl and Weisman and Ben Gurion and Menecheim are worthy topics for exploration. But what is missing, as evidenced by Ben Gurion's view of Jewish national history as recorded in Simon Peres' biography, for example, always seems to be (to western audiences, at least) the Arab side of the story. For this purpose, while it certainly helps to be familiar with the Jewish narrative, it is far more effective to begin in Lausanne in 1923, where Atta Turk left off, on the deathbed of the Ottoman empire, and the West's last substantial imperialist competitor in the middle east after centuries of intrigue and engagement.

Kamal's rebellion against the Greeks and Italians, who were trying to claim and to occupy western Anatolia, forced the European powers to revise the Sevres arrangement, which might otherwise have settled the European-Ottoman conflict. At Lausanne, however, the birth of present day Turkey is only a by-line to this story. Lausanne is the origin of the mandates issued by the League of Nations, assigning Britain control of Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and Palestine. Here is where the real problem emerges. The decisions of the League of Nations, retrospectively, had shelf-lives. The promises made by the British, who were the principle invading forces in these lands in particular, ought to still be treated as solvent, considering that unlike the Leage, the British are still around. Among those broken promises one may find a fascinating bit of perspective. The superseding of the Mcmahon-Faisal agreement by Psykes-Picot, which partitioned Arab territories among European powers, angered the Arabs. An ensuing land race between the British and the sons of Sharif Husayn prompted Faisal to rebel. He assembled forces and captured Damascus for six months, until he was defeated by the French in 1920. Inspired, Abdullah, his brother, leads another rebellion.

This process, as modern events illustrate, can go on forever. Russia realized this in Afghanistan, and so did George Bush and Barrack Obama. So too did the European powers, sans America. France and Britain both very clearly understood that suppression was impractical. So they conceded. Abdullah got Trans-Jordan. Faisal was given Iraq. Palestine, then, was all that remained of the demonstrably unenforceable League mandates for Britain. This incarnation of Palestine, however, was not even Palestine. It was an attenuated version of what Arabs and Jews would have understood. This is what remained of British Palestine, which to the Arabs was an unnecessary but diplomatically pragmatic concession. The British assertion of supremacy in Arab affairs had failed. Their glittering prize for all their hard work and effort in the region was some extremely contentious seaside property along a short stretch of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was a rump-state, no better than what Kamal got in regards to what the Turks and Brits each set out to manage.

The great historical error, then, is the failure to understand Palestine in this context. Perhaps the first Zionist in the first few aliyas understood that they were just trying to move to better neighborhoods, but subsequent Zionists treated the Arabs as though they were their imperial protectors. Arabs had good reason to view the British with severe distrust and resentment for sublimating hard fought concessions of honest war to a displaced, deep-pocketed band of drifters. At the time of the Balfour declaration, the Arabs in the region concerned outnumbered the Jews ten to one. By the time of the Peel Commission, in 1939, the Balfour decision had resulted in three major outbreaks of outright hostility between Arabs and occupying Jewish forces, in spite of its express condition that the Arabs not be alienated as a result of British-sponsored Jewish migration. While some Arabs sold out their kinsmen for handsome ransom, others correctly felt betrayed by the outside world. The Jews had accumulated half of Palestine, and were spilling into Arab communities at an overwhelming rate.

It is no surprise then, that the British decided to wash their hands of the whole affair. The Jews that didn't want to work found plenty of opportunities for violence. The Arabs that had once welcomed them now wondered how they had been selected to inherit a European problem. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem. It was the Jews who nurtured the Prophet Mohammed when he was just a refugee fleeing political exile. Both Arabs and Turks are historically remembered as tolerant of the “people of the book,” at least when compared with Christians. Where each of these two branches of civilization failed, apparently, was when they trusted the British. Both parties seriously over-estimated what they could or should expect from the English, or the western world for that matter. However, instead of appealing to Arabs for reasonable accommodations, or for settling for what lands they could purchase in the free market, the Zionists appealed to the British, and it is not unfair to suggest that they did so on the assumption that the British had a much stronger claim than they did.

As Ben Gurion himself describes, the second major wave of Jewish settlers did not arrive with the intention of building a foundation, of tilling unturned land into sustainable crops, or of construction or roads or anything else a settlement requires. These arrived, he said, from the cultural and ideological centers, from business, colleges, and other post-development environments. They weren't farmers or carpenters, which is what was needed. They idled during valuable day-hours, contributed to food shortages, and looked with disdain upon the Arabs, who they began to treat as a kind of servant class. For those whom there was no readily available opportunity, gangs and militias worked like sponges. Conditions for the Arabs deteriorated rapidly, as this conflict boiled over, it evolved into an epic ideological contest between east and west. Where at least the Jews could appeal to Britain, or blame them, as circumstances dictated, the Arabs had only each other.

In 1939, the British declared they would be gone from a free and independent Palestine within ten years. The British were openly conceding those territories gained at Lausanne. Had the Jewish National Agency not mobilized the American Zionist Lobby to take up the cause, rescinding the British Mandate would have left the Jews to negotiate directly with the Arabs, and would have either spelled the end of Jewish migration into Palestine, or migration under the context of Arab stipulation. But they did, and when Israel declared independence in 1948, they were backed by the United States government, in spite of the King-Crane commission which had attributed to them the origins of this conflict in the early twenties in its report to Woodrow Wilson. With the valve open, Palestine was primed to absorb all the Jewish holocaust refugees neither Europe or America would even consider, almost as if the whole thing had been planned this way from the start. Had the Arabs had any kind of representation in the US at all, it is highly probably that American politicians might not have been so easily swayed, and that this option might also have been closed to the Zionists.

Hypothetical histories aside, when the UN convened in November of that year, the five principle Arab nations concerned decided to abstain from the vote to recognize Israel. They understood that to accept any ruling from this body whatsoever would be to grant it legitimacy, and therefore would force the Arab population to live with this decision. Had they voted against it, they still would have been outnumbered by ten votes. And there was no way they were going to vote for it.
With this, Israel gained international legitimacy via recognition, while the Arabs settled in for a long fight. To this day, Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are all hotbeds of turmoil. The US has sent close to 140 billion dollars in aid since Israel was established. The American religious right views the survival of Israel as a divine mandate.

The men who lead Israel seem to share that opinion. The Jews in America, now more than ever, are an intractable influence on local, state, and federal decisions in many of America's largest cities. Conversely, the US, often with the support of its European brethren, but also often on its own, has launched many invasions and military campaigns, ironically out of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, into Iraq and Afghanistan in the years that followed. Since the last World War ended, Americans have employed every dirty trick in the book to prop up their martyred occupation, from assassination, bribery, conspiracy, and even treason. Doing so promotes instability in the region, which seems to keep oil prices low as a result of a constant demand for revenue that typically follows regional instability.

According to some estimates, over a million people in Iraq died over the course of a a decade as a result of US economic sanctions. When the Kurds started low-balling the Iraqis on the price of oil, it threatened to bankrupt Iraq. Saddam's effort to nationalize those fields was treated by Americans as an example of authoritarian overreach, and so American soldiers fought and died in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom thinking they were on a noble crusade to remove a monster and save a civilization. Once the American public realized it had been duped, however, the US had already replaced them with machines who would fight the wars from then on. Exxon mobile continues to produce record stock prices.

The American economy has recovered. The burners on those wars have been turned down low, so that the American public is not disturbed by constant images of floods of dead Americans in body bags. Stories of drone strikes lost their popular novelty after about three weeks, and now Americans are rarely disturbed with the images of dead Arab children. They set clips taken from Predators to pop-music, and tap their feet as hellfire missiles destroy homes, vehicles, and wedding parties. To the Israeli government, even the friendly Arab is a second class citizen. It is unlikely at this point that the Muslim world will succeeding in humanizing itself long enough for the American public to comprehend what it has done. For the Jew, such a concession would immediately undermine the validity of the entire state.

So everyone is locked in. And no one is watching.

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