Saturday, September 14, 2013

Land of Israel

Those who claim only to want justice for the Palestinian Arabs either don’t know that they are historical latecomers to Israel, or do know but are simply motivated by hatred for the Jewish State. To some ears, it sounds more rational to deny Israel’s legitimacy by adopting a competing national claim, even one that is predicated on doctrinal anti-Semitism and historical revisionism. Whereas there is irrefutable archeological, ethnographic and literary proof that Jews have inhabited Israel since time immemorial, there is no similar evidence of an ancient, indigenous Palestinian people. To compensate for their lack of historicity, the Palestinian Arabs deprecate the Jewish connection to Israel with lies and distortions that are often repeated by their supporters on the left. They contend, for example, that the Jewish People originated in Europe and that the Temple never stood in Jerusalem. They claim that the Jews were complicit in the Crusades, although Jews suffered far worse than anyone else at the hands of the Crusaders. They argue that the archeological record, which is so rich in linguistic, cultural and architectural evidence of ancient Jewish life in Israel, is simply the product of Zionist propaganda. In so doing, they project their own lack of national bona fidesonto the only people with a continuous link to the land. When history fails they default to faith, attempting to lay superior religious claims that are not borne out even by their own scriptures. Despite the assertion that Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam, for example, it is not mentioned in the Quran and was considered an insignificant, provincial backwater during Ottoman times. The Jews’ ancient capital – the single holiest site in Judaism – became significant for Muslims only after the Jewish population began to grow during the early part of the last century, but this newfound importance was political, not scriptural. Islam’s modern claim to Jerusalem is a response to the success of the Jews in reclaiming sovereignty in a homeland that had been usurped through jihad and in which they were scorned by Muslims as a subjugated minority under Sharia law. An essential fact omitted from the Palestinian narrative is that the Arab population of Israel was not primarily an ancestral one, but rather was relatively insignificant and transient during the lengthy period of Ottoman rule. The Arab-Muslim population began to increase through immigration in the early 1900s in order to offset Jewish population growth. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Arab immigration continued under the watchful eyes of the British, who administered the Mandate until 1948 and who conspired to hold Jewish national aspirations in check. That much of the Arab population originated elsewhere is indicated by the definition of “refugee” employed by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which applied the term to those Arabs who established residency within Mandate territory between June 1946 and May 1948, but who lost their homes and livelihoods when Israel was attacked by the Arab armies after declaring her independence. Unfortunately, the truth is always the first casualty in any conflict; and those who denigrate Zionism have no justification for doing so in light of the Palestinian Arabs’ lack of history as compared to the Jews’ ancient – and well-documented – connection to their homeland. This dichotomy should raise a red flag for those who argue that anti-Zionism is not a form of anti-Semitism. If Zionism is the modern political movement through which the Jews achieved national regeneration, then to be anti-Zionist is to begrudge Jews the basic right of self-determination. Could one have denied Italians the right to exercise sovereignty through the Risorgimento, or the Germans through unification, without being accused of national or ethnic bias? If not, then singling out the Jews as the only people not entitled to national integrity is indeed a form of bigotry, particularly considering that the only independent nation ever to have existed in the Land of Israel was Jewish, not Arab or Muslim. It could be argued that the Jews are unlike any other people, and this may very well be true – though not in the way Israel’s detractors might think. After the Romans conquered the Kingdom of Judea, much (though not all) of the population was dispersed into exile. But rather than assimilate and disappear, the exiled remnants of Israel maintained their religious and national identity while living among hostile societies in the Mideast, North Africa and Europe. Because the Jews persistently clung to their heritage throughout their exile, they were seen as strangers wherever they sojourned. As a consequence, they were subjected to relentless persecutions, including confinement in ghettos, systematic harassment, expulsions, pogroms, and genocide. They lived everywhere but belonged nowhere. Through Zionism, however, they sought to reassert their national sovereignty and ameliorate their condition as a wandering, vulnerable minority. Therefore, rejecting their right to national sovereignty effectively constitutes a denial of their right to be free from persecution.

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