Monday, June 04, 2007

Matt 24 Watch 22: Supplement on Modern Israel's History

It is unusual to do a double post on any given day, but given the intensity of the poisonous atmosphere on the subject being discussed, the Middle East situation, it is appropriate to note again a few balancing points on the history of modern Israel, and invite dialogue:



By the late 1800’s, the geographic region of Western/Cis-Jordanian Palestine was largely ruinate land. From the 1893 Ottoman Census and Vital Cuinet’s independent 1896 Geographical work, Syrie, it also had a relatively light population: ~ 92,000 “Arabs” (including significant numbers of non-Arab Muslims and Christians[23]) in the ~ 8,000 sq. mi. areas that became modern Israel.[24] The rest of Cis-Jordanian Palestine had another 300 – 400,000 “Arabs.” At this time, there were also ~ 60,000 Jews in the area West of the Jordan[25]; who had their own established communities and had recovered Hebrew as their mother-tongue.

The resulting overall situation, circa 1902, has been summed up by Sir William Ramsay, a main founder of the disciplines of Biblical Archaeology and Geography:

The scenery, more especially in the central and southern regions, is . . . devoid of the rich beauty of high cultivation and productiveness. The hills as a rule are bald, bare and featureless. The terraces by which in happier times the soil was supported on the slopes have almost everywhere been destroyed, and the soil has been washed down into the hollows, where it impedes the outflow of the waters and produces marshes [NB: malarial]. Thus the land is desolate and unattractive. In general the slopes and hillsides are a wilderness of stones and rocks, where a few scanty shrubs can barely find a hold, and the glens a wilderness of marsh, with a scanty rim of cultivable land above the level of the bare rocks, just sufficient to grow food for the miserable and scanty population. [1981, p. 78. Explanatory note on Malaria and italics added.]

This sad spectacle had been created by centuries of misrule, debt- and disease- ridden tenant farming operated by absentee landowners, and a resulting largely landless and migrant peasantry preyed upon by their overlords and semi-nomadic bandits from the deserts to the East.

The transformation to the land we now see was in the main due to the Zionist resettlement from the 1870’s on, whereby Jews bought land that often had largely been dismissed as useless (at highly inflated prices) from the wealthy absentee Effendi landowners -- then restored it to agricultural production. In the process, they injected large quantities of capital and skill, thus creating employment opportunities that attracted waves of Jewish, Arab and other immigrants from the region and globally. This process was then accelerated by the post World War I collapse of the defeated Ottoman Empire; which led to the creation of the League of Nations Mandate Palestine[26] (i.e. the British Mandate), which was intended to promote Jewish immigration without prejudice to the existing Arab population. [Cf. Peters, 2002, pp. 137 – 359.]

Associated with this League Mandate[27], Dr Chaim Weizmann [later, first President of Israel] and Emir Feisal Hussein of the Hejaz (S.W. Arabia) had negotiated a Versailles Treaty side agreement[28] to promote mutually supportive Jewish and Arab nations that would help modernize and develop the region. However, in the Hejaz, the al Husseinis were defeated by the Saudi family; and in Palestine, the aggressive, violently anti-Jewish policy of the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem prevailed. So, by 1926 – 29, Abdullah Hussein had been settled as ruler of the eastern ¾’s of the Mandate in Transjordan (a 38,000 sq, mi. region; from which Jews were banned) and Feisal as King of Iraq. Sadly, violence also swept the land, leading to the massacres of the ancient Jewish populations of Jerusalem and Hebron.

Consequently, over the next twenty years, Jewish immigration was significantly hampered [in the teeth of the rising anti-Semitic tide of Hitler’s Germany] and unofficial Arab immigration was a strongly material demographic trend in the now truncated Mandate Palestine. [Cf. Peters, pp. 196 – 412.[29]] As one result, the Middle East was deprived of the talent and treasure of many of the Jews who subsequently perished in the Nazi death camps. Then also, when the British surrendered the Mandate in the late 1940’s, Transjordan became the nation of Jordan [briefly, “Palestine”] in 1946 and the UN in 1947 proposed a partition of the cis-Jordanian region into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem and environs being an International city.

The Jews accepted, and the Arab League rejected the UN vote; declaring intent to annihilate the Jews. Thus, within 24 hours of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, the 600,000 Israeli Jews faced invasion from five Arab armies, some of them much better equipped than the Haganah, the Jewish part-time militia. However, contrary to expectations, Israel survived. As a result of the conflict, there was an exchange of refugee populations: 400 – 600,000 Arabs [under a unique criterion that 2 years of settlement in Palestine qualified one as a refugee], and 620,000 Jews from Arab lands who were resettled in Israel.[30] [An additional 200,000 oriental Jews settled elsewhere in the world.]

The Jewish refugees were welcomed and absorbed by Israel, becoming the largest single sector of the population today. However, the Arab refugees in the main were not similarly accepted by the Arab countries [with the major exception of Jordan], and provided the nucleus for today’s Palestinian refugee population.

Three major wars, terrorism and two uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza (and the two Gulf Wars) have dominated the subsequent history:

--> In 1956, Nasser closed the straights of Tiran to Israeli shipping, inducing Israel to make common cause with the British and French (who undertook a military response to the Egyptian leader’s seizure of the jointly owned Suez Canal). The Sinai was captured in a 4-day campaign, but was handed back under a US-led, UN–sponsored settlement.

--> In 1967, again after a buildup of tensions, and accompanied by declarations of intent to drive the Jews into the sea, the straights were again closed by Nasser, who also instructed the UN peacekeepers in the Sinai to leave. The Israelis undertook a pre-emptive air strike and ground campaign in June, that in six days retook the Sinai, captured the Golan heights [handed over to French Mandate Syria by the British in the 1920’s] plus Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip.

--> On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked the Israeli positions, and made significant progress that threatened the survival of the Jewish state. Reportedly, Egypt had access to Soviet nuclear weapons, and the Israelis assembled several nuclear bombs; the Superpowers came to the brink of a global confrontation as well. However, Israel soon recovered the military initiative on the ground, in part due to the American decision to resupply them with key weapons.

--> Thereafter the uneasy situation was broken through when, after back-channel contacts, Egyptian President Sadat made a dramatic peace overture; and in 1979 the Camp David peace accord was reached between Egypt and Israel. For this, Sadat paid with his life, being assassinated while reviewing a military parade.

--> Then, in 1986, Israel and Jordan reportedly almost completed an agreement to jointly manage the West Bank towards an eventual settlement. However, a street uprising broke out in the disputed/occupied territories, the first Intifada.

--> In 1991, after the first Gulf War (during which Arafat backed Saddam Hussein), an opportunity for a settlement seemed to arise, and what became the Oslo peace process was initiated. However, in 1995, Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist, and by 2000 the unprecedented deal put on the table by US President Clinton and agreed to by Barak of Israel, was rejected; a second Intifada followed. (At least one Palestinian leader has publicly stated that the Sharon visit to Temple Mount was the excuse, not the cause.)

--> Currently, in the aftermath of the second Gulf War, the Americans and the EU are sponsoring a Roadmap to Peace framework. It seems to be facing very similar roadblocks to those that have frustrated every other effort to date.

The timing of the two Intifadas is therefore highly suggestive: they have both happened when a compromise peace more or less along the lines of the 1947 UN partition has been on the table. That is, they are not simple “spontaneous uprisings” of an oppressed people; but rather reflect a shift in Arab strategy post-1973, to the fostering of a Palestinian national identity and state, towards fulfilling the policy intent that has dominated the Arab world since the 1920’s[31]: the unacceptability of a Jewish -- thus Dhimmi-ruled[32] -- state in the Middle East.[33]

Currently the United States has intervened strongly in the Middle East, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks by Arab Muslim extremists. The underlying policy appears to be that the US not only wishes to root out the bases for the terror networks that have attacked it[34] (similar to the Barbary Coast anti-piracy naval wars of the turn of C19), but also it aims:

1) To block the emergence of an Islamic Nuclear power (e.g. Iraq, Iran, possibly Syria), probably on the grounds that that would make a regional nuclear war all but inevitable; and

2) To foster democratization, economic development and liberalization across the region; in the hope that these globalization-linked forces would help to drain the pool of resentments that lie at the root of the region’s instability.

Such a goal will prove to be difficult to achieve at best, and may well prove unsustainable in the long run, as Islamists (and a great many more moderate Muslims) view all three policy aims as incredibly hostile to the global mission and dignity of Islam. But, the US is probably encouraged by the success of its similar interventions with Germany and Japan from the 1940’s on, and the outcome of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

However, in the background of the headline-grabbing diplomatic and military events, Israel has undergone a dramatic and exemplary economic transformation in the past 120 years that is an object lesson not only to the Middle East but also to the whole world.

For, the initial Kibbutzim[35] created an agricultural powerhouse out of what had been largely ruinate land, farmed under unsustainable systems of tenure. Then, with the traditional Jewish focus on education, from the 1930’s on a world-class university system has been created; which now serves to underpin one of the leading high-tech economies in the world. For, arising from the need to develop its own armaments industries the Israelis have spun out an impressive array of inventions and industries, ranging from drip irrigation to cutting-edge aerospace systems and a strong software sector.

The net result has been that in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the per capita income in the early 2000’s was US$ 10,600. In Jordan, it was $ 4,200; in the West Bank, $ 1,000; in the Gaza, $ 625. And, in a resource-poor State of Israel that has had to devote a major part of its resources to the military, it was $ 20,000. [36]

In conclusion, it is evident that the underlying deep-rooted hatreds in the Middle East have frustrated every seemingly reasonable attempt to bring about a positive change and a betterment of the people of the region as a whole. This underscores the importance of the issues raised in the main body of this paper; for, unless reconciliation is found in the arms of the Prince of Peace, there will be no lasting positive settlement of the Middle East situation. (And that is exactly what many leading expositors infer from the relevant prophecies in the Bible.)

Let us pray for the peace of the hitherto ironically named City of Peace, Jerusalem. END

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