At the start of September, Israel announced that it was appropriating nearly 1,000 acres of private Palestinian land near Bethlehem. The seizure, the largest in 30 years, was condemned by Palestinians, the United Nations, and criticized by the United States.
Israel has said that the move is retaliation for the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Appropriation of Palestinian land, however, has been a consistent policy of every Israeli government since Israel became a state in 1948. In the West Bank alone, close to 250,000 acres were appropriated since 1979.
The recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza resulting in the deaths of some 2,200 people, 64 of which were Israeli soldiers, has again brought to the world’s attention the frustrating illusiveness of any lasting peace in the area. While the problem is complex, it is important to recall the actual history of Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian land.
In his book, “Blood Brothers,” author Elias Chacour gives an excellent summary of this history. Chacour grew up as a Palestinian Christian in a small village in Galilee when his family were evicted by the Zionists and lived as refugees in their own country. He became a priest of the Melkite Church and is a Noble Peace Prize Nominee for his work towards trying to realize a peaceful coexistence between Jews and Palestinians.
The history he recounts is as follows:
In the early 1900s, the Palestinian people were a downtrodden people under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire. When World War I ended the empire crumbled and the Palestinian people felt the first winds of freedom. The League of Nations bore their hopes aloft further by proposing a plan that would help ‘subject peoples.’ Larger, powerful nations would assist weaker nations in establishing their own independent governments. This was known as the Mandate system.
The British, who desired a foothold of power in the Middle East, saw in the Mandate system a great opportunity. Secretly, they made a proposal to Palestinian leaders: The British would help oust the Turks; in return, they would set up a temporary Mandate government in Palestine with the promise that they would slowly withdraw, leaving an established, independent country governed by the Palestinians themselves. In desperation, the Palestinian leaders agreed to this strategy. Freedom was in sight – or so they supposed – and little notice was given to the tiny Jewish agricultural communities that were sprouting in a seemingly scattered fashion across the landscape.
Immediately, the British met in secret with the French and Russians to divide the Middle East into “spheres of influence” with Palestine to be governed, not by the people of Palestine as promised, but by an international administration. The secret agreement was uncovered several years later, in 1917, when the Bolsheviks overthrew the czarist regime and could not resist making public such “imperialist” duplicity. Palestinian leaders were dismayed at this news and at once sent delegations to the British to protest. They chose the diplomatic route while an elite group, whose sights were set on Palestine, had already begun influencing British bureaucrats.
The year 1917 will forever be scarred with the brand of infamy for the Palestinian people. The Zionist movement had aligned themselves with Great Britain’s Christian Restorationists, a group that believed they might bring to pass – by manipulating the world events and reestablishing the nation of Israel – the second coming of Christ. The Zionists ignored this view, but the benefits of such a plan for them were obvious. They saw in Britain’s new hold on Palestine their secret inroad to the Middle East, and so began a strange marriage between Zionist and Restorationist. It was in 1917 that the British Lord Arthur Balfour made his famous declaration – not in public at first, but privately in a letter to the powerful Lord Rothschild.
Lord Balfour wrote that the cabinet “viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. And in the same letter, with a stroke of the pen, he reclassified the people of Palestine – 92% of the population – as ‘non-Jewish communities.’ Not only did this renege on the promise of independence, but it effectively handed over Palestine to the Zionists. The prime mover behind the British decision was the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann.
At once, the Palestinian leaders were dismayed. For the next 16 years, they continually presented their fears to the British through diplomatic channels, appealing continually to royal commissions while unrest grew throughout Palestine. And the Zionists, funded by international money collected by the Jewish Agency, rapidly settled kibbutzim in a clear and clearer pattern throughout Palestine, slowly forming the skeletal outlines of the land they meant to declare as their own homeland.
Throughout the 1920s, European Jewish immigration to Palestine rose dramatically and the Zionist leaders became less and less guarded about their plan. Weizmann told an American secretary of state that he hoped “Palestine would ultimately become as Jewish as England is English.” And thereafter, another Zionist leader told British officials, “There can only be one National Home in Palestine, and that a Jewish one, and no equality in the partnership between Jews and Arabs, but a Jewish predominance as soon as the numbers of that race are sufficiently increased.”
Increasingly, many Zionists themselves were ill at ease with those who insisted on Jewish ‘predominance’ in Palestine. Yitzhak Epstien, an agriculturist, had warned an international congress of the Zionist Party that they had wrongly consulted every political power that held sway over Palestine without consulting the Palestinians themselves. He feared the fact that Palestinian peasants had already lost so much land as a result of Zionist purchases from absentee landlords, and that this loss was sure to breed resentment. He argued that since the incoming Jews were bringing with them a higher standard of living, they ought to help the Palestinians to find their own identity, to open to them the new Jewish hospitals, schools, and reading rooms that were already in existence or in planning stages. And when institutions for higher education were established, the Jews could strengthen their old fraternal bonds with surrounding Arab nations by opening these schools to their students as well.
Unfortunately, Epstein was staunchly opposed. His detractors shouted, “To give – always to give, to the one our body, to the other our soul, and to yet another the remnant of the hope ever to live as a free people in its historical homeland!”
And though Epstein’s vision of unity between Arab and Jew was overlooked by the Zionist main body, others would take up his cause until Zionism itself was riddled with factions. At the end of the 1920s, a group calling themselves Brit Shalom split from the Party because they could no longer go along with the tactic of disenfranchising the Palestinians from their land in order to set up a Jewish homeland. Sadly, this group was also largely ignored.
By the 1930s, with the influx of European Jewish settlers rising like a floodtide, with no intervention by the British, and with the plan to displace the Palestinian people in motion, what were their leaders to do? Diplomatically, they might as well have been mute. No one was listening. In 1935, in port cities like Jaffa, anti-immigration demonstrations erupted into violence and bloodshed in which both Jewish immigrants and Palestinian peasants died.
The following year, 1936, Palestinian leaders again tried a peaceful means of protest, calling for a general strike. Throughout Palestine, office and factory workers, taxi and truck drivers disappeared from their jobs for a full 6 months, crippling commerce. But violence, which had already crept into the conflict, increased. The powerful Histraduth trade Union, established by the Zionists and led by David Ben Gurion, terrorized Jewish shop and factory owners who dared to employ Palestinians. Here and there, Jewish women were attacked in the marketplaces for buying from Palestinian merchants. Palestinian fields and vineyards were vandalized. Orchards were guarded to keep out all but Jewish workers. At the end of 1938, the protests were finally crushed.
By that time, the Zionists had behind them an overwhelming swell of world sympathy. This was true for 2 main reasons: first, Western nations were little concerned with events in the Middle East because they were fixated on the horror that was spreading from Nazi Germany; second, they were appalled at the insane hatred for the Jewish people propagated by Adolf Hitler. Rightly, the Jews needed somewhere to escape from this madman.
But if Western consciences were troubled, it did not translate into action. Throughout the 1930s, while Hitler’s pogroms thrived, no major Western nation increased its quota of Jewish immigrants. Was the tiny land of Palestine really expected to absorb millions of European Jews, its inhabitants giving up land and jobs while the large Western nations were comfortably silent?
These terrified masses of Jewish immigrants were never to blame for the Palestinian tragedy. They were dazed by fear, pathetically desperate to escape the heinous death camps. In this, they were to become the pawns of the Zionist leaders. Upon their arrival in Palestine, they were quickly indoctrinated against their so-called new enemy – the Palestinians.
Increasingly, the Zionists controlled all news emanating from Palestine. With the tongues of the Palestinian leadership silenced, it was easy to mold Western opinion through the press, obscuring the real issues. The protests of 1936-38 were renamed “The Arab Rebellion.” Palestinians, who in any other country being overtaken by a foreign force would have been called freedom fighters, were “terrorists” and “guerillas.” Hence, the widely used term “Palestinian terrorist” was ingrained in the Western mind.
Proof of the Zionist power hold in Palestine came in 1939. Suffering some belated pangs of conscience, Britain issued its ‘White Paper,’ instructing its Mandate government to bar further land purchase and immigration. Immediately, the Zionists decried this move as a betrayal. Unfortunately for the British, they had effectively trained a strong Zionist underground – the Haganah – in special brands of violence that were now turned against British soldiers and government workers in Palestine. British General Wingate had trained the Haganah in the use of large, destructive barrel bombs and how to force Palestinian men to ‘confess’ by shoving fistfuls of sand down their throats. Should it have surprised the British when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel, killing almost one hundred people?
World War II forced a lull in the struggle for Palestine. But for Zionist leaders, the outcome was never in question.
Following the war, Zionists shifted their power push from Downing Street to the White House. Primarily, the British, who had now shown themselves reluctant to impose a Jewish state on Palestine, had been severely weakened. It was unwieldy and expensive to continue governing Palestine, and the Zionists had gained all but total control of munitions factories and industries there. More importantly, the United States had emerged as the new leader in determining the future of the free world. And in America a strong lobby of new Zionists supporters had emerged. What happened then, in the closed conference rooms of the White House, was no less scandalous than the British betrayal.
While President Roosevelt was in office, he had resisted the pressure of Zionists, unwilling to see the Palestinians displaced from their homeland. He felt tremendous compassion for the half million survivors who were expected to emerge from the Holocaust, but he had in mind a wonderfully humanitarian plan. He intended to open the free world to these pitiable victims, offering them passage to any free nation that rallied to his relief effort. However, when his emissary Morris Ernst was sent to sound out international opinion, Ernst was shocked to hear himself “decried, sneered at and attacked” as a traitor by Zionists who by then had raised $46 million to lobby for their own plan.
When Truman took office after Roosevelt’s untimely death, the lobbyists had a fresh opportunity, pressuring the new president. They argued vehemently that admission to Palestine was “the only hope of survival” for the Jewish people. Could this have been true when millions of Jewish people had been sheltered and protected by free nations during the war? When, in fact, Jewish people throughout the free world moved easily in their societies, enjoying high standards of living in Western countries without discrimination? Nevertheless, when Truman was confronted by Arab leaders, the Zionist lobby had already done its job effectively. Truman’s response: “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands of those who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”
Thus the vast majority of the Holocaust victims were never given a choice as to where they would live; only 20,000 were admitted to large, free countries like the United States in the 3 years following the war. Thus the exhausted British found themselves pressured by the most powerful office in the world, the White House, even as they watched their Mandate government in Palestine be blitzed by a campaign of terror. Guns, grenades, bombs and tanks – all manufactured in factories the British themselves had built – were now used against them.
In April 1947, war-weary and unwilling to lose more young men to defend Palestine from the Zionist underground, the British announced the plan to surrender their Mandate in one year. They were beaten and humiliated. Relinquishing Palestine was their only solution to the double-dealings they had begun 30 years before.
And as the British washed their hands of the Palestinian people they had promised to protect, violence spread unchecked. To the world, the Zionists proclaimed that they were fighting a “War of Independence.” And the world, now penitent about the Holocaust, applauded. (From Elias Chacour’s, “Blood Brothers” pp. 121-129)