Saturday, March 16, 2013

Palestine and Israel


Palestine and IsraelOne State, Two States or ????

Palestinian boy

 فلسطين   ישראל 

            Rockport’s History Book Club meets monthly at Rockport Public Library.  If you live nearby, we invite you to join us.  Next month we’ll read and discuss books on modern history of Mexico and Central America.  For details, see the end of this post.

"To move back from the edge of this abyss, (Israeli and Palestinian) leaders and their societies alike must now begin to acknowledge that the writing of their own unfinished story depends, in great part, on the ability of the other society to continue writing its story."—Kimmerling and Migdal, The Palestinian People, 2003.
      On February 27th, Rockport’s History Book Club met to discuss Israel and Palestine in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Following are reviews of books that members read. 

Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian People: A History, 2003.Harvard University Press

            The Israelis we know.  Some of them have strong Jewish roots in the Zionist movement that began in the 1880s.  Others were Jews who came to Palestine from all over the world after World War II, determined to establish an internationally recognized Jewish homeland after the terrible years of the Holocaust.  By well-planned force of arms, they carved out the Jewish state of Israel which has become a vibrant democracy with a strong economy.
            But who are the Palestinians?  What are their roots?  Are they a nation, too, as their leadership forcefully contends?
            These questions and many more shape an important and highly informative book, written by two highly regarded teachers and scholars of the politics, sociology, and history of the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The authors are the late Baruch Kimmerling, Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the time of publication, and Joel S. Migdal, currently Robert F. Philip Professor of International Studies at the University of Washington who has also taught at Harvard and Tel-Aviv University.          
            On the highly contentious question about Palestinian nationality, Kimmerling and Migdal disagree with the conventional interpretations repeated by both Palestinian and Israeli historians.  Palestinian historiography takes the position that Palestinians have always been a singular people whose solidarity and cohesion date back to the Fertile Crescent.  Conversely, Israeli scholars assert that no self-identified Palestinian people ever existed until the Arabs living in the region's villages and cities began to struggle against Zionism and Jewish settlement.
            No one could have presented this historical perspective better than Golda Meier, prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974.  She said:
            "There was no such thing as Palestinians.  When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state?......It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them.  They did not exist."
            In response to the Israeli and Palestinian interpretations, Kimmerling and Migdal construct a strong argument from recent scholarship that Palestinian identity began to emerge at a grassroots village and city level in the early years of the nineteenth century when the region's Arab populations began to encounter European market society and government administration.  Later in the century this identity became stronger in reaction to Zionism and Jewish settlement.
            In taking a strong position against established Israeli historiography, Baruch Kimmerling was considered one of the New Historians of the last quarter of the twentieth century in Israel.  The New Historians not only questioned the official historical narrative of the Israeli state but most importantly became outspoken critics of government policy toward the Palestinians.
            In finding the roots of Palestinian identity in the nineteenth century, Kimmerling and Migdal open their presentation with several well-crafted chapters on Palestinian society and economy in the nineteenth century.  The Ottomans controlled Palestine except for a brief period in the 1830s when an upstart Egyptian governor overran the region and allowed his son to rule with a heavy hand that brought rebellion by the Palestinian population, a revolt that is still seen as a formative time of Palestinian identity because of the atrocities committed by the Egyptian forces in curtailing the opposition.
            After the Ottomans reestablished control of Palestine in 1840, the Palestinian peoples prospered for the rest of the century, according to the authors.
            "Palestine on the eve of the Great War scarcely resembled the country of a century earlier.  It was now a land connected to Europe by railroads, shipping lines, and a telegraph network.  It joined Europe, too, through the increased number of Europeans, both Jews and gentiles, now appearing on the docks almost daily; by the cinema; and by the European plays that began to be staged in 1911.  More and more, the notable Arab families sent their children to foreign schools in the country, or even abroad.  Life in Jaffa, Haifa, and Gaza resembled that in other Mediterranean cities---Marseilles, AthensBeirut, and Alexandria---more than the towns of the Palestinian hinterland."
            Kimmerling and Migdal tell us that while the empire of the Ottomans may have been crumbling elsewhere, in Palestine there were no wars, no major revolts, and much less internal violence.  Then everything changed with the war to end all wars.  British troops arrived to replace the Ottomans after the war.  Very little would go right for the Palestinians in the twentieth century.
            During the interwar period the British mandate was harsh.  Increased Jewish immigration brought growing ethnic friction.  Arab rebellion against British rule in the years 1936 to1939 was severely suppressed by thousands of additional British troops.  The authors also mention that the increasingly capable Jewish leadership mobilized 15,000 armed militia to protect Jewish settlers.              Palestinian leadership was demoralized and decimated.
            When Jewish forces mobilized to take control of Palestine in 1948, the Palestinians were unable to respond.  The Jews won Palestine.  Thousands of Palestinians were herded into refugee camps that still exist today, more than sixty years later.  Hundreds of Palestinian villages were deserted.  The British left.  The new state of Israel was born.
            The telling of this history by Kimmerling and Migdal does not glorify or condemn either Palestinians or Israelis.  Their ambition is not to support either side's interpretation but to offer their own.  They are critical of leaders on both sides for their inability to understand the suffering of their opposite, the other.
            What they want to do is to challenge the too-easy answers inherent in the national myths told by both Israelis and Palestinians.  They want to change the relationship between the two peoples in order to find a way Palestinians and Israelis can accept each other on the tiny piece of earthly space that each has claimed for itself.
            The authors approach this well-written, extraordinarily detailed work as historians using the tools of sociology and political science and not as partisans for one side or the other.  They conclude:
            "To move back from the edge of this abyss, (Israeli and Palestinian) leaders and their societies alike must now begin to acknowledge that the writing of their own unfinished story depends, in great part, on the ability of the other society to continue writing its story."
            Kimmerling died a few years ago.  Migdal has moved onto other projects in international studies at the University of Washington.  Tragically, Israelis and Palestinians still cannot talk to each other.  They cannot hear the other's historical narrative.  Without recognition, there can be no peace, no future for either people.
                                                                                                --Rick Heuser

 Tyler, Patrick, Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country, and Why They Can’t Make Peace. 2012.

            Patrick Tyler has spent 30 years as a journalist in many overseas assignments, first for the Washington Post as their Near East reporter and then for 18 years as bureau chief for the New York Times in Moscow, Beijing, Baghdad and London.  Fortress Israel is his third book on international relations and history.  Tyler’s thesis is that a peaceful solution to the Palestine/Israel situation has failed because harsh military force was preferred to diplomacy by Israel leadership, which has always been dominated by hard-liners.
            Westerners have been encouraged to view Israel as a tiny besieged democracy in a sea of Arab hostility.  Israel’s leaders have preached that their dominant national focus is the pursuit of peace.  However, Moshe Sharett, the Jewish state’s second prime minister, documented in his journals: military ambition too often smothered moral aspirations so coveted by the founding Zionists.
            Today Israel has formidable constituencies in the free world, lending economic and military support to encourage “shared values” in less than a decade.  Under the strong armed leadership of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister, Israel fielded the most powerful army and air force in the Middle East.  Then, with the help of France, it secretly became a nuclear power.  By the time the United States got deeply involved in arming Israel during the late 1960s, Israel had already defeated the Arabs in two rounds of war.
            After the Six Days’ War in 1967, any thoughts of relinquishing hard-won occupied territory was a moot point for the cabinet and military.
            The Israelis had good cause to be unforgiving in settling claims with any Arab foe.  From the outset, Arab leaders, with few exceptions, displayed a deep hatred towards a Jewish homeland and Zionist dreams. The Muslim leaders rejected Palestinian a United Nations partition plan in 1947 and showed no sympathy for a people almost annihilated in Europe.  The Jews stood alone, hated by all their neighbors.
            This book seeks to explain how Israel’s militarily dominated society has ruined many chances for reconciliation with neighboring foes.  Only Egypt was able to secure a peaceful solution to the chaos in the Sinai.  Israel had the solid opportunity to build on this great success but the unremitted distrust within the Israeli power brokers stalled any other peace accords.
            Jordan was ready to accept new borders and thousands of refugees.  The United States guaranteed the Golan Heights as a neutral zone, allaying all impediments to a pact between Syria and IsraelLebanon was battered by war on three fronts and desperately wanted a solution to the political nightmare.  Years passed, the borders remained scenes of carnage.
            After seven wars and hundreds of terrorist attacks, over 60 years, the same military elitism dominates all political decisions in Israel with no end in sight.  This military force has worked for the Jewish state.  The real question, according to Tyler, is whether diplomacy instead of force would have yielded better peace solutions with the Palestinians.
--- Richard Varrengia

Palestinian schoolchildren at Jenin

Gerner, Deborah L., One Land, Two Peoples: The Conflict Over Palestine, 1991, Westview Press.

            Deborah Gerner is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas, and a lecturer on U.S. foreign policy in relation to the Middle East.  Her book is one of six in  a collection, Dilemmas in World Politics, written for introductory classes at the college level.  The text is augmented by an extensive chronology, maps, photos, charts, tables and five discussion questions per chapter that serve to direct the reader’s attention to key issues.
            Gerner describes the conflict over Israel and Palestine as one of the most significant and difficult dilemmas facing the international community. She lists a dozen fundamental concerns, among which are national identity, self-determination, the role of non-state powers, the impact of violence in conflict resolution, strategic location, natural resources and religion in politics.  Four of these factors provide the themes that run through the four long chapters that make up the book.
            Search for National Identity and Self Determination.  Israelites ruled the area intermittently beginning with Abraham around 2000 BCE, and were finally driven out, first by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCED and then by the Romans in 135 CE.  They’ve lived in other parts of the world, but they’ve retained their religion and culture and continued to view Palestine as their homeland.  Late in the 19th century a Zionist movement began, which inspired European Jews to migrate back to Palestine.
            The Palestinian Arabs occupied the land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean continuously since the 7th century, although ruled by a succession of subjugators, and never as an independent nation.  By the mid-15th century in Europe people began to shift from loyalty to the church to formation of nation states, e.e. political unites with fixed territory and population.  However, people in the Levant, under control of the Ottoman Empire were slow to join this change.  When the British succeeded the Ottomans in 1918 they kept a tight lid on the Arabs, even forcing their leaders into exile in Tunisia.  In 1948 when the Americans and British cooperated to allow the Jews to emigrate to Palestine, many Palestinians were forced from their homes, often into squalid refugee camps, in Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
            Pressures by External Powers that have manipulated the conflict to enhance their own interests. Britain, the U.S., France and Russia, over the years, have been involved in this debate for many reasons.  Oil, strategic alignments, Cold-War side-taking,  socialism, military, economic factors are among the pressures.
            Domestic factors within each side that influence attitudes and actions and make efforts to resolve the conflict so complicated.  Gerner lists eight political organizations that the PLO has to deal with and Israel had 14 smaller political groups.  Then there are dissenting religious groups, especially among the Jews.
            Efforts of international interest groups attempting to mediate the conflict and the failure of their involvement to bring about a lasting solution.  Participation by nations and organizations has contributed to the extreme violence, especially in supplying arms and money, but international actions have also played constructive roles.
            In Gerner’s view, no solution will work but the Two-State Solution.  In 2013 it looks like she’s right, as over 60% of members of the U.N. have accepted Palestine as a non-member observer state, an upgrade over being labeled an “entity”.
                                                                                    --Beverly Varrengia

Israeli children

Morris, Benny, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, 2009, New Haven, CTYale University Press. 240 pp.

            Americans have followed the drama of Israel since its creation in 1948, and Benny Morris does a good job of filling in some of the blank spots, at least in this reader’s understanding. 
            Although Morris wants us to get an impartial view, this Professor of History at Ben Gurion University in Israel does not give us anything which might approximate the Arab point of view.  I have had Arabs and friends of Arabs try to give me their point of view before, and I was unable to take it on board.  I found that the whole matter of deciding upon a place for a home for the Jews was one that was doomed to cause conflict no matter where it ended up.
            Arabs don’t agree, but the Jews have a pretty solid prior claim to the Land of Milk and Honey, going back over 6000 years.
            Morris tells about the first gathering of Zionists in 1882, which began the drive to find a national homeland. The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 set off a wave of pogroms in Russia and led to the idea of a Zionist organization. Alexander had been a very liberal tsar, freeing the serfs and allowing Jewish merchants in certain areas (that is the “Pale of Settlement”)  to join guilds, and some Jewish children could attend schools.
Alexander was assassinated by an anarchist, atheistic group called “The People’s Will”, but one of the assassins had Jewish heritage.  
             After centuries of being abused and murdered, with large and small pogroms, the Jews were fed up with always being a minority in any setting. 
            The Arabs in Palestine first developed a national consciousness as Palestinians in the early 1920s.  Up to then, the Arabs who lived in Palestine were simply Arabs.  They were the majority in a land with a significant minority of Jews (800,000 to 160,000 in 1928).
            The extermination of some 6,000,000 Jews by Hitler in World War II created an international impetus to find a home for the Jews.  Britain, which had captured Palestine in World War I, had been leaning toward Palestine as a national home for the Jews since then.  The final decision to bring Jews displaced from Europe fell to President Harry Truman, with agreement of Great Britain, and approval of the United Nations. 
            The central question in this book is whether the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean which was set aside for the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs would be One Nation or Two, whether there should be a Jewish nation alongside a Palestinian nation, or one nation, partitioned. 
            That is the question that has swirled about since 1948.  The Jews knew what it was like to be the minority.  They had done that for ages, and they would not permit that.
Being a Jewish minority with a majority of Arabs?  They would be exterminated.
            The Arabs bitterly resented having the Jews land in Palestine, and they fought it, resisted it, hated it, in every way, from the start until now.
            Could there be a Palestinian state existing in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israel?  Palestinians have bitterly objected, and have never relented in their demand for ejection of the Jews and “the Right of Return” to the homes from which they had been removed when the Jews arrived. 
            Morris details the many discussions and agreements, or semi-agreements or non-agreements that have tossed around various peace arrangements.  There was the United Nations General Assembly partitioning of November 1947;
The Six-day War of 1967 which resulted in huge loss of territory by the Arabs;
The Allon Plan of 1967-68 giving back some land to the Arabs, but retaining a strip along the Jordan;
            And there was the infuriating meeting hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000, that ended with Yasser Arafat not agreeing to anything. 
            The Palestinians have steadfastly opposed any plan that gives them land, including part of Jerusalem, most of the West Bank, etc., etc. as long as the Jews are still around. 
            The British and Americans did a heroic think in making the way for Jews to build Israel.  I’m sure all Muslims, especially Arabs, think that move was Satanic.  Some Americans think it was, as well.
            As I finished this book, I asked myself: What will it take to have peace between Palestinians and Israelis? 
                                                                                    -- Samuel W. Coulbourn

            Also attending this meeting was Beth Ingram, who did not report on a book.  We welcome interested persons, even if they have not read a book on the subject we are discussing.  We had a lively, interesting exchange.  But we did not achieve a recommended solution.

NEXT MONTH:  We will meet at Rockport Library on Wed. Mar. 27th at 7 p.m. to discuss Mexico and Central America in the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Please join us! 

 April 24th:  In April, we’ll read about Africa, from 1900 to 2013.  Any subject—the independence movement of the 1960s, Rwanda, the Congo, Zimbabwe and Mugabe, South Africa and Mandela, Idi Amin and Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Angola, Tunisia, Algeria  ---- your choice!  

 In May we’re looking at BRIC-- four big, powerful countries all in a similar stage of advanced economic development:  Brazil, Russia, India and China.   We’ll meet May 29th.

Wed. June 26:  Women's Suffrage and other Women's Movements from 1900 to 2013.
OR, Female oppression from 19th cent. on.  Your choice!
Wed. July 31:  Labor Movement in America 1900-2000. Eugene V. Debs, Triangle Shirtwaist, ILGWU, the Wobblies, CIO, AFL, John L. Lewis, David Dubinsky, more.
Wed. Aug. 28:  America and its wars or near wars with European powers, viz.:  France, Spain and England.  Starts with the French and Indian War.  Takes in the Monroe Doctrine.  Could go all the way to the Spanish American War.
Wed. Sep. 25:  History of political revolutions and their commonalities
Wed. Oct. 30: History of the North Shore.  That opens the way to looking at the rich history of the Gloucester fishing industry, Essex boat building, the fashionable summer resorts in Manchester and Magnolia at the end of the nineteenth century, etc.
Wed. Nov. 27:  The Industrial Revolution in America.  [You might wish to home in on the textile industry in New England in the 19th c.]
December-- no meeting.
Next topics:
History of life changing inventions
Tribalism in the 20th-21st cents.
Political corruption and its effects on government

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