Tuesday, August 08, 2006

1930s Palestinians and Current UN Policy

The U.N. avoids defining terrorism. It has member-states belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which excuses terrorists whom it sees as "engaged in so-called 'struggles against colonial domination and foreign occupation.'"

This linguistic issue is one aspect of Israel's current war. The issue is actually about historical revisionism.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, anyone living in "Palestine" was called a Palestinian. For example, the Palestine Post contains many references during these decades of "Jewish Palestinians" and "Palestinian Jews", as well as the equivalent phrases with Arabs. The U.N. General Assembly Resoultion 181 (November 29th, 1947) even speaks of "the two Palestinian peoples".

It is true that during those decades the Arab Palestinians outnumbered the Jewish Palestinians. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Intermediatearticle on Zionism, in 1914 there were about 90,000 Jews in the land, by 1925 there were 108,000, and in 1935 there were 300,000 (of which 100,000 were in Tel Aviv). Compare this with Justin McCarthy's records which have 1914 total populations of the land as 657,000 Muslims Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs, and 59,000 Jews. But these figures are only estimates and not very trustworthy.

What is surely known is:
  • After the Romans re-named the land Palestine (as a snub to the Jews there), Jews had continual presence in the land. (One small example.)
  • In the years before 1948, there was no such nationality as either "Israeli" or a "Palestinian". The land was part of the Ottoman Empire and then the British Mandate, and was inhabitied by people whose nationalities and ethnic identities had names other than "Israeli" or "Palestinian".

The earliest occurance I can locate of the term "Palestinian" being used to refer to only Arab Palestinians is the Fatah Constitution, from the early 1960s. Why did this change go uncontested? In 1948 the Jewish population of the land jumped on the chance to remove the Roman snub and call the land Israel again. Notice that Israel's Declaration of statehood never uses the words "Palestine" or "Palestinian" even though these applied equally well to Jews in 1948. It thus seems this Jewish population did not care about being disenfranchised when Fatah decided that "Palestinian" should refer only to Arabs: at the time it fit Israel's own political agenda, although in the decades since it has caused great public-relations damage.

(Israelis have commited other public-relations blunders. The word
yashav can be translated as "sit, settle, or reside". The Zionists' pride in turning malaria-infested swamps and barren land into arable farmland prompted the English translation "settlements". If only the word "residences" had been chosen instead!)

Before 1948, the Zionists bought the land they lived on. Often they had to pay two or three effendis (Moslem land-owners) who all claimed ownership. The originally peaceful relations between Zionists and effendis turned sour in the early 1900s as the region's felaheen (Moslem serfs) found Zionist villages and cities better places to live and work and gain education. Any land-owners losing serfs face trouble.

The 1917 Balfour Declaration, although much spoken about, did not specify the land to be given to Jews. The equivalent promise from the British to the Arabs in 1915 was similarly vague. Although neither Jews nor Arabs were promised anything concrete, let alone all of Palestine, both populations began pressings claims. Thus the two vaguely conflicting British promises sparked further ill-will among the two communities.

(Britain's problem-making continued as oil was discovered in Arab lands. Its favoring of the Arabs cummulated with Britain's notorious "White Paper" of 1939, which, in violation of the League of Nations mandate, crippled Zionist efforts and doomed millions of Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe by preventing them from making aliyah.)

A specific promises of land to the Zionists happened at the Peace Conference of San Remo (1920) but this territory was later reduced by the League of Nations (1922) and then the United Nations (1947).

By 1948, the parts of the land that thrived did so because of Jewish effort on land paid for by those Jews. If the Jews of Israel did "take" land from anyone in 1948 when they were given a state, it was the British who were the previous owners (and gave it as a gift). But since the land actually given to the Jews in 1948 was comparatively worthless to what they had themselves established, and the actual gift was much smaller than the original promise, it would be more accurate to say that Britain took land from the Zionists.

The "Palestine Refugees" (from all I can find, a group not called "Palestinians" for another decade and a half) have become a complex issue since 1948. The only point this essay has made is that an accurate consideration of history shows they are facing neither "colonial domination" nor "foreign occupation."

The myth that claims they are facing such oppression is what allows the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and thus the U.N., to avoid defining what is a terrorist. Thus that myth is what protects these terrorists from fiercely toothless U.N. threats.

More significantly, that myth is largely responsible for creating an unfair bias against Israel in many of America's Democrats and in many otherwise fair organizations and news agencies.

(For broader and more-or-less accurate historical summaries, see MidEast Web and thus DU post. For an example of Zionist extremism as unhelpful as the Arab myths, see here. The site Palestine Facts is too big for me to proof-read all of its contents, but it seems accurate from what I have read.)

(Israel has been both generous and harsh to these refugees. I am not claiming these refugees have not been mistreated by pretty much everyone. But realize that Israel was prevented from integrating the refugees into normal society, and historically the refugee's leaders have been the worst factor in why the huge amount of financial assistance and UNRWA business helps the refugees so little.)