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The Tragedy of Palestine, part 1

August 4, 2014

Jewish Family in Mt. Zion

 

Since the conflict between Israel and Gaza first started 28 days ago, it seems like both mass media and social media have little else to talk about. However, throughout this conflict, I have seen far too many misrepresentations of the truth, too many fingers pointing, too much ignorance of the situation, too many assumptions, and too much hatred.  In order to hold a more educated discussion of the situation rather than spread more hatred and ignorance, let’s start from the beginning.

 

Theodor Herzl

 

Zionism

For most people, the root of all evil is Zionism. I’d like to know though, how many people actually understand zionism?

Zionism, or the dream of a Jewish homeland, is often accredited to Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian Jew, who, in response to the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, who wrote Der Judenstaat in 1895. In his book, Herzl called for European Jews to leave Europe and migrate to Israel (or Argentina). Later, in 1902, he wrote another book Altneuland, in which he described zionism and outlined his aspirations for the state of Israel (or Argentina).

Despite was most people think, the idea of zionism was not the creation of a religious state based on Judaism, nor was it a call for the eradication of all non-Jews from the land of Israel. Actually, the original zionist beliefs were for a nation where everyone (regardless of religion or gender) could live as equals in a society that was a blend of capitalism and socialism and cared for its citizens, much like the original kibbutzim in Israel. Sadly, all that most people are aware of regarding Zionism is the much darker, racist side that arose as part of Jewish Nationalism movements.

 

Sharif Hussein bin Ali

 

Palestinian stamp

 

Arab Nationalism

Ironically, there is not much mention in the news these days of the Arab Nationalism movements. After centuries of foreign rule, Arabs desired to have a land of their own in which they were joined by a common language and culture, could return to “true Islam”, and were not dependent on Western powers.

In 1916, the British encouraged Sherif Hussein bin Ali to lead a revolt against Ottoman rule so that  the Ottoman army would be distracted and allow the British to gain control of the Suez Canal.  In return for their support, Lord Kitchener promised Hussein an Islamic caliphate. It is this spoken promise, in addition to the letters exchanged between the British High Commissioner Sir Henry McMahon and Hussein and his two sons, Abdullah and Faysal, that many Palestinians use when claiming that the land on which Israel sits is rightfully theirs. However, when the British promised the caliphate, they left the borders undetermined, and never actually promised the region of land now part of Israel. It is also important to note that Abdullah and Faysal did later became the rulers of Jordan and Syria.

 

A Brief Summary of the History of Palestine in Relation to the Jews

Another question that is often raised, is what right did Jews have to create the State of Israel in Palestine? Well, let’s look at the history of the region of Palestine. If you want to have a look at ancient history, you can see that the region has undergone many name and border changes, in the 8th century BCE, there were even two states, Israelite and Philistine, which existed side by side. Regarding the historical (biblical) land of Israel, that’s best saved until I discuss the Settlement Movement… For now, I will only focus on the more “modern” history.

 

Historical map of Israel/Palestine

 

Palestinian Jews and the Ottoman Empire

Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1516 until 1917/8. Under Ottoman rule, Jews living in Palestine were fairly well treated, apart from the Egyptian/Arab revolts from 1831 – 40, during which time Jewish populations were attacked by Palestinian Arabs. In 1840, European countries came to the aid of the Ottoman Empire and the Egyptians retreated. Following this, the Ottoman Empire introduced some reforms and enacted the Land Law in 1858. The Land Law, among other things, promoted land ownership and agricultural enterprises. These two factors are important as they paved the way for Jewish agricultural settlements.

 

Edmond de Rothschild visits Eretz Yisrael settlements prior to 1900

 

Jewish Land Purchases in Palestine

Under the Ottoman Land Law, most of the land that comprised Palestine was transferred to wealthy families outside of Palestine, who did not live near the land that they now owned. While Jews were not actually permitted to move to or purchase land in Palestine, Jewish organizations and wealthy Jewish benefactors, such as Baron Rothschild, still managed to purchase the land from the wealthy landowners who were not partial to whom they sold the land. Additionally, some land was also purchased from poor Arab farmers (fellahin) who needed the money to repay debts.

Most of the land purchased by the Jewish organizations was sparsely populated and undesirable to farmers since it was less fertile. Research into the land purchases has shown that more than half of the land was purchased from non-Palestinian landowners (absentee landowners), and, of the remainder, less than 10% was purchased from peasant farmers.

Could land purchases by the Jewish population have been the original trigger? In 1931, large tracts of land supported much smaller populations of Jews than they had Arabs, and the ongoing land purchases left a number of Arab tenant farmers landless and without a future income. Given that a lot of the Palestinian Arab culture is tied to the land and that the land was the only source of income for them, this would be a very good cause for them to dislike the Jews, even before the creation of Israel.

While this may have been an instigator, the claim that the Jews took “too large a portion of the arable land” and left many Arabs landless, is not entirely correct. In fact, out of 3,000 claims of dispossession, the British Mandate found that less than 80% were valid. Most of the land was barely settled (not including the Bedouin), let alone farmed, at the time of purchase. It was only after the Jewish agricultural settlements that the once infertile land (sand and swamp) was successfully cultivated. Furthermore, Jewish landowners employed Arab farmers, so, although in some cases they were now landless (some never owned land to begin with), many Arab peasants still had a source of income.

 

A fellahin family group from Siloam

A fellahin family group from Siloam

 

Population Statistics Prior to 1948

Regarding the population statistics during the Ottoman empire, I have not come across any definitive numbers due to the following reasons: foreigners living in the region were not counted, people who were evading taxes and military service were not counted, women and children were not always counted, under the Ottoman Empire there was no administrative district of Palestine, only smaller districts in the region. However, even knowing that it is difficult to come up with an accurate count, one can positively say that the number of Arabs exceeded the number of Jews in the region, although there were enclaves were Jews significantly outnumbered non-Jews; for example, in Jerusalem.

The population of Jerusalem according to the Turkish 1844 census:

Jews – 7,120

Moslems – 5,000

Christians – 3,390

Under the British rule, the numbers are also not definite, although one can clearly see the increase in the Jewish population as Jews began to flee the anti-semitism that spread across Europe. Not often mentioned, there was also an increase in the non-Jewish Arab population that occurred in the early 20th century. Most of the new Arab immigrants came to Palestine due to the increased job opportunities and higher wages that were available. Considering when they arrived in Palestine, I wonder, should these more recent immigrants be counted as refugees of the 1948 war since Palestine was not their original home?

 

In conclusion:

1. Zionism is a racist Jewish movement against the Arabs. FALSE

Zionism started as a peaceful, secular movement that desired a state where all members were equal. It was only later that Zionism began to be equated with terrorism, which I will discuss in the next section.

2.. There were no Jews in Palestine before Israel. FALSE

While  Zionism and anti-semitism encouraged more European Jews to migrate to Palestine, there was already a population of Jews living there.

3.. The Jews took all of the land from the Arabs.  FALSE

Jews were restricted from purchasing land, and when they did purchase land, it was mostly land that, until then, was unfarmed (swamps and sand). Furthermore, most of the land was purchased at high prices from wealthy landowners, many of whom did not live on the land, and only a small portion was purchased from peasant farmers. The increase in the number of landless Arabs was due more to the increase in their population size (there were no restrictions on  Arab immigration) and an increase in live birth rates than it was due to the Jewish people buying their land.

4. Arab Nationalism played, and still plays, a large role in the ongoing conflict. TRUE

I will discuss this more in the next section.


 

If anyone has any information that they feel I have missed, please leave a comment. However, only constructive criticism is accepted. Unlike the Mass Media, I am not trying to start a fight between people who are Pro Israel or Pro Palestine because I don’t believe there is a need to choose sides Believe it or not, or perhaps wait until my later posts, but I actually support both sides and am only trying to uncover the underlying reasons for this ongoing conflict as well as to disprove commonly held beliefs.

 

 

Top image Jewish Family in Mt. Zion

Image of Herzl from Wikipedia

Image of Hussein from Wikipedia

Image of stamp from livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.co.il

Map from usu.edu

Image of Baron Rothschild from Isracast.com

Image of Fellahin Family from Palestine Exploration Fund

 

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Racism Sucks

January 26, 2014
A kind neighbor's "you're not welcome" to the neighborhood message

A kind neighbor’s “you’re not welcome” to the neighborhood message – I cleaned a big chunk of mud off  before this picture.

Growing up in a middle class European (aka “white”/”caucasian”) American family, I never thought that I would experience being the target of racism. I had heard personal stories from friends, and I had read plenty of other stories in the news, but I had never actually experienced racism firsthand.

And then, I went over to my soon to be new house this morning, and got my first taste of what it’s like to be a minority amongst a dominant, racist majority.  Someone had gone out of their way to take a handful of mud (not from the yard – there isn’t any in the yard; they had to bring it with them) and had shoved it into the key hole and smeared it all around leaving a nice wad stuck on the outside of the keyhole and a bunch of smear marks around the door handle.

I was in shock. I was only moving down the street. I knew most of the neighbors, or at least I knew the ones that knew I was moving into that house with my husband. They all had been happy to hear we were moving in. That is, I guess, until they found out I wasn’t Jewish.

Living in Israel has never been easy for me. There are too many barriers. Too many divisions and too many bridges to cross. If you’re a non-Jewish immigrant, be prepared for a lot of paperwork and hurdles. Even once you’re legally allowed to stay in the country, good luck getting to know people. Nobody seems to trust anybody unless you somehow know someone who they know. People are impatient, rude, arrogant. You wait in the line at the supermarket only to be shoved out of the way by someone who claims they had left a package of soap there to mark their place. You go to the doctor’s office and just because you stand a little bit to the right, the old man behind you decides you aren’t really in line and as you take a step forward he rams you with his walker and screams at you that you’ve cut in front of him. And he doesn’t stop screaming until you’ve left the doctor’s office after your appointment.  You ask someone for help in broken Hebrew only to be lectured about how can you live here if you can’t even speak the language. But, back to the point of my rant – a non-Jew living in a semi-religious neighborhood in Israel. Heaven forbid.

I know this country was founded to help “save” the Jewish race/religion by providing them with a land of their own where they couldn’t be persecuted, and I agree with its creation. But how quickly some turned into the persecutors. The reason for the creation of the State of Israel was valid at the time, but is it still so necessary in this day and age to maintain a Jewish majority? And is racism against non-Jews still so common that it really is important for a woman convert to Judaism “for the sake of her children”.  Personally, I want to say, “If it was so important to God that I be a Jew, I would have been born a Jew.” And, actually, next time I have to listen to a lecture about converting for the sake of my children, maybe I will actually have the courage to say it.

I know that my examples are so petty and small compared to what so many others experience. But, like I said, never in my life would I have expected to be the target of racism, and not in a country that was founded to protect its population from racism. This morning was an eye opener for me. I can only hope this was the only thing I will experience, and, if nothing else, it has given me even more motivation to continue working with nonprofits for peace in Israel.

Captive: The Sex Slave Girl

February 6, 2013

As a follow-up to my last post, I just watched a documentary on a girl held as a sex slave in a rural Pennsylvanian town for ten years. “Captive: The Sex Slave Girl” is a film that interviews many of the people involved in a case of grooming and sexual abuse in a small town and presents the facts in a very unbiased manner. As the story progresses, we meet the parents of the young woman, the neighbors and associates of her captor, the social worker who helped her and the lawyer who represented her in court and later co-authored her book: “Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid.” While watching the film and listening to the people involved, one can easily pick sides and find support for their beliefs both in the words of the people speaking and their actions, or lack of, with respect to the events that occurred.

In my opinion, this is the sad story of yet another young woman let down by society in every way. A 13 and 14 years old, children are still very vulnerable and easily manipulated. They are still learning who they are and where they fit into society. What happened to Tanya is a cumulation of unfortunate events and sadly, it still seems like she is being manipulated by those people whom she trusts; for example, the lawyer who saw dollar signs and co-wrote her book, but then insists he won’t go down with it if they get sued.

What we need to learn as a society is to look out for the warning signs and to put aside our own selfish needs and recognize when a person is looking for help. It is wrong to sell a young girl into marriage and it is wrong to allow a relationship to develop between a minor and an adult. Just because a girl is married to a man does not mean he has the right to abuse her, and just because Tanya went willingly with her abuser does not mean that he had the right to groom her and take advantage of her vulnerability. Sadly, her story is not the only one, and there are thousands of young women and children in situations like hers and even worse. Hopefully, by presenting her story, people will learn to recognize the signs of abuse and will not hesitate to act on it.

 

 

I was Worth 50 Sheep

February 5, 2013
screen shot from the webpage for "I was worth 50 sheep"

screen shot from the webpage for “I was worth 50 sheep”

I Was Worth 50 Sheep” is an hour-long documentary film about the dire conditions for women and young girls in Afghanistan. In a country torn by war, women have few rights and most are tucked away into the corners of society, hidden from view by their blue burqas and tall mud walls of their prison homes. This documentary follows one family’s struggles to protect their daughters while trying to beat poverty. What begins as their struggle to save the elder daughter from an abusive marriage to a much older man, ends with the younger daughter being handed over to face a similar situation. The younger daughter’s reply when asked how she felt before being handed over, “I was worth 50 sheep.” She was twelve years old.

With the Arab Spring, many women are joining the revolution in the Middle East and Central Asia to demand equal rights and equal treatment, but change does not come over night. It was not so long ago that our “Western” society was also denying women their equal rights. However, with modern technology and globalization, we are becoming more aware of the events in other regions of the world. Places we might not know about if it weren’t for television and the internet (and even with them, I am sure there are a large number of people who couldn’t place a single Middle Eastern or Central Asian country on a map). Rather than continue to allow this systematic abuse of women around the world, we must act to change the underlying reasons for the abuse. It is apparent in the movie that although the girl’s father wishes to help her, he is poor and seems unsure of how to resolve his agreement with the man to whom he promised his young daughter. He is uneducated and incapable of seeing beyond the traditions that have told him that it’s ok to sell your daughter. While viewing from afar it is easy to point fingers, but we must recognize that to help women around the world to have a better future requires changing centuries old traditions. It requires the education of both the men and the women. It requires providing the families with opportunities to enhance their lives and helping them find a way to get out of poverty without selling their daughters.

For people interested in women’s rights, I recommend watching this film. With a journalistic approach, the film shows viewers the poverty and difficult circumstances which many Afghan families face. With little education and the inability to find an alternative solution, many fall back on their traditions and sell their daughters. It is a depressing documentary, but hopefully it will help to spread awareness of the situation and to bring some positive change to the region.

The film ends with the haunting message that neither her family nor the women’s shelter know where Farzaneh (the  youngest daughter) is. Sold to a husband and moved to a Taliban controlled region of Afghanistan, the younger sister has fatefully followed in her older sister’s footsteps. Perhaps this film can raise enough awareness of her plight that she too can be rescued from a life of servitude and abuse.

 

Save Susiya

February 5, 2013

I visited Susiya in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank of Palestine one weekend last November. The purpose of the visit was not only to increase awareness of the living conditions of the Palestinians in Susiya and other regions of Area C in Palestine, but also to learn how the restrictions placed on the communities has led them to become incredibly self-sufficient and eco-friendly.

To fully comprehend the situation in Susiya and other Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank of Palestine requires actually visiting these sites, speaking to the people and listening to their stories. Only by listening to their words and placing yourself in their shoes, can you see how important it is that the construction of  more illegal Jewish settlements needs to end and at the same time, existing Palestinian villages need to be given equal treatment – water and electricity access and financial retribution for forced evacuations – as the Jewish settlements.

Imagine, that one day, after living for generations without hassle, someone comes along and tells you that you have to move, that this location has been deemed an area of historical significance and that you are living there illegally. Never mind that you were born there and that your family has called this place home for several generations. Never mind that your grandfather and his family lived there before the State of Israel even existed.

But, what can you do when an army of soldiers and a mob of angry settlers surround you and demand that you leave? So, you leave. You and the other families pack up your few belongings and move to another location several hundred meters from the newly discovered archaeological site. You receive  no compensation for your loss. No financial assistance to build a permanent home for your family or school for your children. Nearby, another settlement is being evacuated, but this one is an illegal Jewish outpost. The inhabitants of this settlement are being rewarded for their efforts, although their outpost was, even by their own government’s laws, illegal.

You watch as yet another settlement is built, this time with government assistance, on the top of the hill on the other side of a valley. You watch as the building materials are unloaded and the houses begin to rise up. You watch as the electricity poles are erected and the water pipes are laid down. While the settlement on the other side of the valley has a swimming pool,  you are denied even a single drop of water. Never mind that the electric lines and water pipes run across your land or that you offer to pay a higher premium for the utilities. Since your new village has also been deemed illegal, the government will do whatever they can to force you to evacuate once again, even if that means denying you access to the most basic human need: water.

On the other side of the valley, you watch as the people move in and the presence of the army grows larger. You notice that the boundaries are changing. Several your water cisterns in the valley below are destroyed and a newly created buffer zone, to protect the illegal settlement on the other side of the valley, now limits your access to several of your remaining water cisterns and even to some of your fields. Now, you have to buy water from the city at much higher rate than the settlers pay for their stolen water on the other side of the valley.

You’re a simple farmer, how can you afford to buy enough water for drinking, let alone irrigation for your farm? And as if the situation was not bad enough, thanks to an old Ottoman law, you will also lose part of your land if you are not able to farm the fields and plow the land. Soldiers are sent to ensure that this happens. They deny you access to your own land, and in three years, if you have not managed to plow it, the settlers will take that from you as well.

In your region, nature is not kind. In the winter it is freezing and without a permanent home, you and your family struggle to stay warm in a canvas tent with a metal frame. Your animals live in a shelter created from discarded materials and plastic sheeting. An environmentalist would reward your for your ability to reuse material previous marked for disposal.

The two most prevalent elements that nature sends, wind and sun, are harnessed to bring some relief. An Israeli scientist arrives with a plan and, with time, he manages to bring electricity to your village by using an intricate network of batteries powered by windmills and solar panels. Some of the families even receive cooking gas through a bio-fuel converter set up by an international group of environmental students. It’s slowly evolving into an environmental scientist’s dream village. But, with constant threat of demolition, even these small improvements cannot bring peace.

I am writing this article, because these are real people, their suffering is real and it is preventable. We must continue to raise awareness of the situation in Area C of the West Bank. The international community cannot ignore the plight of the villagers in this region. This is where the foundations for peace without politics can be constructed. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine because I am pro-peace. Just as not every Isreali is an anti-Palestininan zionist, not every Palestinian is an anti-Jewish/anti-Israel terrorist. It’s time to stop labeling people and grouping them into categories. It’s time to for the people of this region to get to know their neighbors and recognize them as equals and hopefully also as friends. People who deserve equal treatment and equal access to water, electricity, employment and education.

If you would like more information on the region, please visit these websites:

Breaking the Silence

B’Tselm

Comet

UN Humanitarian Affairs

 

Water tank

Water tank in front of two makeshift shelters

Olive grove

One of the olive groves – in the distance is the illegal Jewish settlement

Solar panels with electric lines running behind them

Solar panels with the electric lines running less than 100 meters behind them

Rockets and Missiles

November 18, 2012

It’s been awhile since I wrote in this blog. But, now after three months living in Israel, I feel the need to write about the current situation with Gaza.

I guess that now, living through this current situation is like a true welcome to life as an Israeli (I am not an Israeli, I am here because my boyfriend is). I am not scared when the air sirens go off or the loud explosions rattle my ear drums. Why? Because Israel has the Iron Dome defense system and the rockets from Gaza are not terribly accurate or destructive – even the 3 Israelis that were killed could have been safe if they had been in the hallway and not on the balcony watching the rockets. On the other hand, what protection do the Gazans have?

I wonder, do they have reliable air sirens? Do they have safe bunkers? Are they really given enough advance notice before a missile attack and are Israel’s missiles really that accurate?

And even if the missiles are accurate, Hamas and the other organizations firing rockets often plant them in civilian locations. The fact that Israel knows this makes me wonder, why then do they bomb them? Israeli is able to withstand a continuous rocket attack with minimal damage thanks to its defense system, so why go ahead with full-scale missile attacks? Why do they continue to take the bait and in doing so continue to draw the wrath of the international community? When will they learn?

Another part of my welcome to Israel is the hypocrisy of this whole situation. Last weekend we were in the West Bank talking to Palestinians and learning about their lives and talking about what it would take to have peace. And this weekend. Well, two days ago my boyfriend was called up for the reserves. Now he’s gone to “fight” the Palestinians.

In reality, the situation in the West Bank is very different from the situation in Gaza. In the West Bank, there is a chance for peace. If only Israel would stop the ridiculous land grabs, stop planting radical, racist settlers in illegal settlements and start prosecuting the settlers when they attack the Palestinians rather than arrest the Palestinians when they complain. If Jewish people want to live in Palestine, it should only be with the invitation of the Palestinian community.

On the other side of Israel, Gaza is a different story. A few years ago, the settlers there were finally removed as well as the soldiers. So Gaza is not technically “occupied territory”. But, Israel blocks access to Gaza, so the people there have very limited supplies, unreliable electricity, few jobs and no room to grow with their exploding population (nearly half of the people in Gaza are under 18). What do you get when you have a large youthful population with nothing to do? Anyone can tell you. A lot of disenchanted, bored, people with a lot of pent-up frustration and aggression and seemingly nothing to live for. In essence, trouble.

The problem with Gaza is also that no one really wants to help them. If the Egyptians really cared about the people in Gaza, why don’t they provide them with land in Sinai and more access to supplies through the border crossing at Sinai? And with all of the enemies of Israel using Gaza as a front, Israel is not likely to loosen their blockade given the number of trojan horses that attempt to enter Gaza every day with weapons hidden amongst medical supplies and humanitarian aid. If these other countries actually felt any remorse for the Palestinians, they would stop exacerbating the situation with Israel by providing more weapons and instead find ways to help the Palestinians living there to actually improve their lives. The sad reality is that the Palestinians of Gaza are pawns caught in a never-ending war between two opposing governments and their respective allies.

Not to be a bible quoter, but maybe what the people in this region need is a lesson or two from Jesus, like Matthew 5:38 – 42 and Luke 6:27-31. (I remember learning these in Sunday school)

 

Return to Reality

May 16, 2012

Several days ago I returned to civilization having just spent six weeks on a kibbutz in the middle of the desert. It was a harsh return. Back to the honking cars, pushing and shoving, and general stress of city life. I watched TV, something I generally prefer not to do, and indulged myself in the current events around the world. Or at least what the news channel decided were the most important events currently happening. No matter where you go, the news always seems to focus on crime, human suffering, and pro sports.  Is this our replacement for gladiator games and public punishment for accused criminals? If so, has human nature really evolved in the past 2000 years or have we just become more technologically advanced?