- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Since its birth in 1948, the Jewish state has not known a day of peace, while the plight of Palestinians whether exiled or living under occupation has tormented the region. Israel's borders have changed over the decades through wars and in the search for peace. They remain uncertain. What land does Israel need to give up for a lasting settlement? And how much can it afford to hand over without endangering its security?

In 1896, the father of modern Zionism, Hungarian Jew Theodor Herzl, published "Der Judenstaat" ("The Jewish State").

"The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish State," he wrote in the introduction. "The world resounds with outcries against the Jews, and these outcries have awakened the slumbering idea."

The call for the restoration of the Jews to the Promised Land has for centuries formed part of the Jewish daily prayers. But in the late 19th century, the notion of a Jewish state was regarded as outlandish, and Herzl was derided by his Western contemporaries as insane and a false Messiah.

And yet within five decades of the appearance of his pamphlet, through a unique conjunction of events and historical forces, the state of Israel was created in the teeth of violent Arab resistance that continues to this day.

The first Arab-Israeli war of 1948 known to Jews as the War of Independence and to Palestinians simply as al-Nakba, the Catastrophe created a haven for persecuted Jews emerging from the ashes of the Holocaust, but also led to the displacement of the vast majority of Arabs who had been living within the borders of the new state.


The burden of history

Such is the weight of the history of Israel and Palestine, from the biblical stories to the modern epic struggles, that the country and its people often seem larger than life. In fact the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is but a sliver of territory, no more than 85 miles wide by 290 long, and an area roughly the size of Wales [or the state of New Jersey].

Most of the cities that are the center of the television and newspaper headlines Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin are within two or three hours drive from each other.

Herzl's pamphlet was written in response to the trial in 1895 of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer arrested on trumped-up charges of betraying military secrets to Germany. Herzl, a thoroughly assimilated Jew working as the Paris correspondent of Vienna's Neue Freie Presse, concluded that anti-Semitism was an incurable evil that would follow Jews wherever they sought refuge. The answer was Jewish sovereignty.

For Herzl, it did not much matter where the state would be. "Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage ourselves," he wrote. Herzl suggested two possibilities: Palestine, "our ever-memorable historic home," or Argentina, "one of the most fertile countries in the world."

With time he would also consider Cyprus, Sinai and even Africa, anything to provide a shelter for persecuted Jews. But once the power of the idea of Jewish sovereignty was released, most of Herzl's followers believed that the Jewish state could only be established in one place, the biblical land of Israel, "Eretz Israel."

Herzl had little idea that similar ideas had been circulating for years among Jews in Russia, where disparate Jewish study groups known as Hovevei Zion, or "Lovers of Zion," were modelling themselves on other European nationalist movements. They offered semisecret courses in Hebrew language and Jewish history, and organized self-defense groups. Some began to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in Palestine.

The assassination in 1881 of Czar Alexander II by an anarchist group that included some plotters with Jewish names sparked off anti-Jewish pogroms through Russia. Under Alexander III, Jews lost freedoms they had gained under his father. This caused a vast migration of Jews seeking to escape poverty and discrimination.


Before World War I

Between 1881 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, some 2.75 million Jews are estimated to have migrated, mostly from Russia, but also from the eastern regions of Austria-Hungary and Romania. The vast majority went to the United States, followed by Canada and Argentina.

Only a small proportion about 2 percent or 3 percent of the migrants went to Palestine. Still, it was the largest influx of Jews to the Holy Land since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Between 55,000 and 70,000 Jews migrated to Palestine in two main waves. Many among the early immigrants went to the traditional holy cities to lead a life of religious dedication.

Many others left, disappointed by the physical and economic hardships of living in Palestine. The remaining group were the hard core of pioneering founding fathers of Israel.

Russian Jews were the main participants at the first Zionist Congress convened by Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, which called for the establishment of a Jewish "homestead" in Palestine.

A few days later, Herzl wrote in his diary: "Were I to sum up the Basle congress in a few words, which I must guard against uttering publicly, it would be this: In Basle I founded the Jewish state. If I said this aloud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will agree."

It was an astonishingly bold and accurate prediction, but Herzl was mistaken in other crucial regards. He maintained that the creation of the Jewish state would be of such self-evident benefit to the Arabs that they would welcome it, and the Jewish state would have little need for an army.

Instead, modern Israel has lived by the sword throughout its existence. The central contradiction of Herzl's plan for the liberation of Jews from oppression was that it would require the colonization of another people.


Arab-Jewish tensions

Herzl had been given an early warning of the likely response of Arabs, in the form of a letter from Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, a veteran liberal member of the first Ottoman parliament and former mayor of Jerusalem, who wrote to Herzl through the chief rabbi of Paris, Zadok Kahn, in 1899.

He said Zionism was, in theory, a just idea. "My God, historically it is certainly your country," he wrote. But al-Khalidi said the reality was that Palestine was venerated by hundreds of millions of non-Jews. Their opposition was inevitable.

"By what right do the Jews demand it for themselves?" he asked. Al-Khalidi said wealth could not purchase Palestine, "which can only be taken over by the force of cannons and warships," and predicted a popular movement against Jews.

He concluded: "For the sake of God, leave Palestine in peace."

By then, a sprinkling of Jewish agricultural colonies had been established in Palestine. Rishon Le-Zion, the first colony built by immigrant Russian Jews, was founded south of Jaffa in 1882, and within five years nine Jewish colonies had been established. Disputes with Arabs, sometimes leading to deaths, cropped up almost immediately. By 1907, Jews in Palestine formed self-defense groups.

At the turn of the century, the Zionists had found supporters in the British government. The Zionist movement was torn, for instance, by a dispute in 1903 over whether to accept a British offer to establish a Jewish homeland in Uganda.

With the outbreak of World War I, Turkey allied itself to Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire a mistake that hastened the final dismemberment of the "Sick Man of Europe." In the carve-up of the Ottoman empire named for the Turkish dynasty Britain took a band of territory from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.


The Balfour declaration

On Nov. 2, 1917, with British armies advancing into southern Palestine from Egypt, A.J. Balfour, Britain's foreign secretary, issued a short but momentous declaration that read:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

A month later, Gen. Sir Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem.

Britain had issued conflicting promises to the Zionists, the Hashemite dynasty which had declared a revolt against Turkish rule in Arabia, and France. The San Remo conference in 1920 endorsed the Balfour Declaration and awarded Britain a "mandate" to rule Palestine and Mesopotamia. France was awarded the mandate over the territory covering today's Lebanon and Syria.

As unrest seized much of the Arab world around 1920, the French expelled the Hashemite prince, Faisal, from Damascus, dashing his hopes of ruling over a united Arab kingdom.

His brother, Abdallah, marched north with 2,000 armed tribesman to support him. But Britain, seeking to avoid a crisis with France, appointed him in 1921 to rule a new territory that became known as Transjordan. It was created by lopping off the land east of the Jordan River, about three-quarters of the original mandate of Palestine. Faisal, meanwhile, became king of Iraq.


Unrest after the war

In the face of periodic unrest by Arabs in the reduced mandate of Palestine the most serious episodes took place in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936 Britain repeatedly tried to limit Jewish immigration. The Zionist movement, nevertheless, developed a kind of autonomous self-government within Palestine, including a defense militia known as the Hagana. On the eve of World War II, the Jewish population had grown to about one-third of the total population of Palestine.

The Arab Revolt of 1936-39 against British rule and Jewish expansion was harshly put down by the British, with the help of the Hagana, using measures ranging from the demolition of Arab homes to the use of Arab civilians as human shields and the exiling of Palestinian Arab leaders. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and the most prominent Palestinian figure, escaped to Syria.

With the approach of World War II, Britain feared losing support in the Arab world and issued a white paper in 1939 that severely curtailed Jewish immigration for five years, even for Jews seeking to escape Nazi persecution. Thereafter, further immigration would be dependent on Arab consent. The British also held out the promise of independence for a majority Arab state within 10 years. This amounted to the end of the Jewish dream of statehood, but even these concessions were not enough for the Arab leaders, and the exiled mufti allied himself with Hitler.

It was the Jews' turn to riot and go on strike against the British. The Hagana and other Jewish underground groups began to organize ships carrying illegal Jewish immigrants.

In the spring of 1941, with Britain's position in the Middle East threatened by a massive German pincer from Greece and North Africa, there was a period of renewed military cooperation between Britain and the Jewish community.

But after the German rout at El Alamein in October 1942, the threat to Palestine receded. Britain reverted to its fear of inflaming Arab passions, and drove the Hagana underground once again.


After the Holocaust

In early 1944, with the horror of the Holocaust increasingly apparent, two underground groups, known as the Irgun and the Stern Gang to the British authorities, unleashed a new offensive against the British. In an attempt to remove the British occupiers, they blew up government and police offices, raided British armories for weapons and assassinated Lord Moyne, the minister of state for the Middle East.

The mainstream Hagana at first helped British forces hunt down the Jewish extremists. But after the end of the war, when Britain's newly elected Labor Party repudiated its pro-Zionist platform, the Hagana joined the dissidents. The Jewish militias unleashed wholesale attacks on bridges, railways, police stations and airfields, while illegal ships carrying refugees from Europe tried to run the British naval blockade.

In February 1947, Britain threw up its hands and asked the United Nations to decide what should be done with Palestine. In November of that year, the U.N. General Assembly voted for Palestine to be partitioned into a Jewish state (comprising about 55 percent of the territory) and an independent Arab state joined in economic union, and with international trusteeship for Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Arab states furiously rejected the vote as invalid.

In 1948 followed the birth of Israel and a Palestinian exodus.

Violence broke out in Palestine almost immediately after the U.N. partition vote. It started with rioting, escalated to sniping and bombs and quickly grew into local battles for cities, remote Jewish outposts and, above all, roads. Arab attacks threatened to cut off Galilee, the Negev settlements and Jerusalem from the Jewish population centers around Tel Aviv. The fiercest fighting was for the road to Jerusalem.

As the Hagana steadily gained the upper hand, Jewish forces created a continuous area of control including the main coastal cities of Jaffa, Haifa and Acre, and large parts of Galilee, including Tiberias and Safed.

Waves of Palestinian refugees streamed out of Jewish-controlled areas, especially after reports of a massacre of Palestinian civilians during fighting for the village of Deir Yassin, outside Jerusalem.

As the last British soldiers left Palestine, Israel declared independence and faced the invading armies from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

To be continued next Wednesday.


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