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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

History Lesson- Middle East

In thinking about the reaction to the "new" statements on settlements coming from Washington and American perceptions of the US-Israel relationship and knowledge of the Middle East in general, I am struck by the vast differences in perceptions.

One the one hand, there is a history of dispossession, lies, broken promises and others deciding your fate and on the other there is the account that Arabs were given generous offers many times, but chose violence instead each time due to their intense hatred for Jews, so Israel had to defend itself.

Which is right? I guess that's up to each reader to decide. Here is one version- not without my own commentary- that is likely different from the one Americans tend to want to believe :

Palestinians (and Arabs in general, at first) have really gotten the short end of the stick more often than not. Arabs (Hashimites) teamed up with the British in WWI after negotiating that they would be independent after they help remove the oppressive Turks from power. Sounds good. While they are doing this, Britain is promising France Lebanon and Syria and planning to keep the rest for themselves. Oops. After some shuffling of Arab rulers by France and Britain, Abdullah requested that Transjordan and Palestine be merged. Churchill said no go. Balfour had plans for a Jewish national home in Palestine, which was chosen over Uganda and Argentina due to the influence of the ultra religious Zionists in the bunch. In 1920, the League of Nations makes Britain's Mandate official. Jews begin arriving and the Jewish National Fund begins "buying" land from absentee landlords in Syria and Lebanon out from under Palestinian farmers. In the 30's, Jews come in droves with a goal of owning it all rather than sharing. An Arab revolt is suppressed by the British in 1934-36. Since conflict continued after WWII due to more illegal Jewish immigration, the British turned the area over tho the UN, whose members wanted to partition it into an Arab and Jewish state with an international Jerusalem. There was also a proposal to keep it whole, but this lost out by 2 votes. Arabs storm out at the ridiculous notion that one third of the (rather new and partly illegal) population who owns 6 percent of the land (all of which was originally promised to Arabs by Britain if they helped throw out the Turks) should now get 55% percent of the land because the West says so. What we might call the Israeli War for Independence (or al Nakba) starts at Deir Yassin. This village had a peace pact with it's Jewish neighbors, but the terrorist forces of Irgun and Stern Gang (some of Israel's most senior officials were members, along with our own Rahm Emanuel's infamous father) went house to house massacring families and blowing up houses. This started the Palestinians seeking temporary refuge elsewhere until it was safe, but they haven't been allowed back or compensated for lost land to this day despite UN Resolution 194). There was back and forth fighting, but these forces were not as organized or prepared as the group that took on the Ottoman Empire, so Israel ended up with 78% of the land- considerably more than they should have gotten or the UN gave them. A current Palestinian state will be small consolation and a tiny fraction of this remaining land, so these settlements become a no-brainer in this context. Israel needs to get rid of them, give Palestinians their independence and compensation, and stop the whining. They got more than they deserved from the beginning- be it land or support. Palestinians have been wronged and back-stabbed at every turn. Not just by Britain and the international community, but of course by Arab leaders and prominent figures (i.e. terrorists hijacking the plight for their own personal gain). Our support for Israel makes even less sense in context. The British should have stepped up long ago and fixed what they broke.

And since this month was an anniversary of this conflict, the 1967 war:

You can find the Israeli account everywhere in the US, online at Israeli and Jewish sites of the 6 Day War started when terrorists suddenly attacked us in 1965 and kept on until 1967 and Egypt for no reason closed the Strait of Tiran, etc, so Israel HAD to strike. If nothing else, the account below will fill in some very obvious blanks in the account that Americans generally swallow without objection- Arabs bad, Jews good; Arabs always attack, Jews seek peace always; Arabs reject generous agreements, etc. Possibly it is more factual than the account you usually hear. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. All but the 3 quotes in the middle is basically Queen Noor’s (Arab American Queen of Jordan at the time) impression of the situation (or my recollection of it). Her book is really interesting, BTW. It has the right mix of personal and political content to appeal to a variety of people.

Anyway, whether you take or leave the account, you should at least consider it:

In 1965, Israeli settlers plowed land between Israel and Syria to provoke an attack. This is not just Arab spin, as it might sound like. Moshe Dyan in the NYT : "If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. "And then we would use artillery and later the air force also." After one of Syria's predicted responses to Israeli provocation, Israel launched a planned offensive in April 1967. Hmmm. Their strategy hasn't changed much. They did this exact thing in Lebanon and Gaza recently.

IDF put forces on the Syrian border. Egypt prepared itself since it had a defense agreement with Syria. Israel promised Jordan that it wouldn't attack if they were neutral. Jordan didn't really believe it- probably since Israel had attacked a West Bank village not long before (Resolution 228 censured Israel). Hussein knew Arab forces couldn't compare, but didn't want to risk Jordan's security for not joining with Egypt and Syria.

June 5, 1967 Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt's planes while they were still on the ground, then attacked the ground forces. It is said it was all over before it began.

Some interesting quotes about what Israel knew about Egypt:
"Nasser didn't want war. The two divisions he sent to Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war He knew it and we knew it." (Yitzhaq Rabin, Le Monde, February 28, 1968).

"The Egyptian layout in Sinai and the general build up there testified to a militarily defensive Egyptian set-up, south of Israel" (Levy Eshkol, Yediot Ahronot, October 16, 1967).

"In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him." (August 8, 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, New York Times, August 21, 1982)."

There was then a (now puzzling- was it propaganda, pride, was Israel involved) radio announcement of an overwhelming Egyptian victory from the Commander in Chief- details of wiping out 75% of air force and ground troops and even that they had moved into Israel. Egypt ordered the scant Jordanian forces to the already lost war. They made one run and had to refuel; Israel wiped them out while on the ground. Israel was then able to fire on Amman because the Egyptian and Jordanian air forces were gone.

King Hussein went to the UN for a cease-fire 24 hours into the war on June 6. Wording the resolution delayed it another 24 hours. During that time, Israel grabbed land like in 1948. On June 7, the cease-fire finally was announced via radio all over Jordan and the territories, though Israel still fought Jordan for control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank after that point. Israel also ignored the Syrian ceasefire on June 9, grabbing the Golan Heights hours after it was announced.

Israel bombed our USS Liberty in Gaza June 8. It was a communications ship that was listening to Israeli preparation to invade Syria despite the ceasefire, leading many involved to conclude that this was no accident- as Israel would claim (and the US would officially accept).

On November 22, the famous and oft (partially) ignored Resolution 242 was passed- "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" (also in UN charter). Also in there is the stipulation of the withdrawal of Israel to pre-1967 borders for acknowledgement of territorial integrity and political independence of all states, right to live in secure boundaries. Jordan agreed to this "land for peace" deal on the assurance of the US Secretary of State who said Israel would certainly return most of the land in 6 months, max.

Also in Queen Noor's book is the Jordanian reaction to Camp David. Coincidentally, I read Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid the week before. Of course, Carter put forth Camp David as the foundation of all peace agreements, a major breakthrough, etc. He does mention the Geneva Initiative, but doesn't mention, as Queen Noor does, that the Geneva Initiative involved more parties than just Egypt, Israel, and Arafat or that Camp David kind of interrupted and sabotaged the Geneva effort. Camp David didn't make solid provisions for a Palestinian state, but rather focused on peace between Egypt and Israel. In taking the Egyptian military might out of the picture, Arabs were left without deterrence for Israel's advances and enforcement for continued violation of international law. That was an interesting perspective and one I hadn't thought about before, really.

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