With respect to the ongoing imbroglio in the Holy Land, one may plausibly wonder whether bad history may not be rewriting itself. When Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, put the Palestinian rebellion of 1936 on partial hold following the British promise of a Royal Commission, no effort was made to disarm his guerrillas and the period of relative calm was exploited by the Mufti to train, reorganize, unify and rearm his forces. Nothing much changes in the Middle East and what was true of the Mufti was also true of his lineal descendant Yasser Arafat and continues to be true of the current players on the scene, Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Mashaal, Ismail Haniyeh and their proxies.
Co-founder of Hamas, Abdul al-Rantisi, defined a hudna, or tactical cease-fire, as the first phase in the plan “to liberate all our land.” As he put it, “the hudna would however not signal a recognition of the state of Israel.” Even before the recent eruption of the conflict, the terrorists’ intentions were made abundantly clear by Abu Musaeb, rais of the Northern Gaza al-Aqsa Brigades, when he announced that the cease-fire of the moment was “nothing but the fighter’s repose, used by Palestinian forces to rearm, regroup, regain strength…When the conflict is renewed, we’ll return fortified as never before, with new methods and new weapons.” I suggest we believe him. Future conflict under improved conditions, after all, is the purpose of a hudna.
This cannot be described as a process of arbitration—except, perhaps, in the Arab mind. Anti-Zionists routinely denounce Israel for labouring to create a “Greater Israel,” but the ironic fact is that the revanchist Palestinian parties are working by every possible means, from outright terrorist sorties to subtle propaganda techniques, to establish a Greater Palestine, aka Israel. “We in the Hamas government,” confirmed spokeman Osama Hamdan on Lebanese television on April 2, 2007, “will not accept any solution that would…detract from our principles…I will not accept an agreement saying that at the end of the day, Haifa, Jaffa and Acre are Israeli cities…Seeking peace is a waste of time…a true solution will lead to an end to the existence of this [Zionist] entity.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri, in a Gaza City interview with the National Post for June 13, 2005, adumbrated the terrorists’ approach to negotiations: “There’s no problem with a step-by-step solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict,” Zahri confided. “We can now accept Gaza and the West Bank and in the future, all of Palestine.” As the popular expression has it, go figure!
It will take several years before the jury returns its verdict on the on-again off-again peace negotiations; at the moment, given the fragmentation and ongoing violence in the region, the process is ahead of the curve of its premises. This is obvious with respect to the original Palestinian and European desire to “fast-track” the road map—the new buzzwords are “political horizon” and “shelf agreement”—which is nothing but a transparent attempt to override Israel’s legitimate concerns and neutralize its bargaining counters. Israel is exhorted to continue making concessions as if a holographic Palestinian state which exists nowhere but in the projection machine were an actual national entity in geopolitical fact. For it is moot whether “Palestine” is anything more than a self-constructed fiction whose only real claim to our attention is its expertise in perfecting the twin techniques of modern terrorism and fiscal extortion.
The likelihood of a just and lasting peace remains slender: the Palestinians will see to that. Neither has it ever been satisfactorily explained why Israel must conclude a peace on terrorist terms or submit to the pressures of the surrounding Arab states which launched the wars they subsequently lost. Since when do culpable losers call the shots? As the late Abba Eban, former Foreign Minister of Israel, wrote after the war of 1973, “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.”
Is there a single country in the world which moves to return territory taken in wars started by another country? This strategy of folly might be thinkable only if negotiations could be expected to bear genuine fruit, as was to some limited extent initially the case with Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula—a reversion now considered in many quarters, and for good reason, as irresponsible. Recall, too, that Israel withdrew from Lebanon and was rewarded with an armed Hizbullah entrenched on its northern borders and conducting regular incursions, kidnappings and shellings, eventually provoking the war of summer 2006. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, it reaped a continuous barrage of rocket and mortar attacks on its southern villages and cities, continuing to this very day. Land captured in a defensive war does not usually revert to the aggressor, yet with respect to the “Palestinian territories” Israel is constantly seeking for a way to enact this peculiar transaction and to give up the overwhelming measure of that which, in the circumstances, it has legitimately captured and may legally retain.
More to the point, only a minority of the present Palestinian population claiming title to segments (or all) of Israeli territory and to the West Bank may be considered as indigenous, the majority having arrived from the neighbouring districts and countries during the early part of the last century, with many of these immigrants having been vilayetted by the Ottoman Turks as a bulwark against raiding Bedouin tribes, to be tallied in future as local inhabitants. But the tenurial claim of the Jewish people is an indefeasible one, based on a founding scripture, a three thousand year hereditament and a continuous presence.
The record clearly indicates that during the British Mandatory dispensation, Arab migrating tribes were pouring into Western Palestine from the surrounding Arab countries without having to produce passports and visas and without having much to fear from the operation of border controls. Quoting prolifically from British internal documents and chancellory correspondence, Joan Peters in her in her groundbreaking book, From Time Immemorial, draws our attention to a memorandum which specifies that these newcomers were to acquire, in the words of this document, the status of “indigenous native population since time immemorial.” The official intent was twofold: to give a blatantly false idea of population densities and to misrepresent the Jews as displacers when the opposite was the case. The post-Balfour Arab intruders were transformed overnight into pre-Common Era householders.
Moreover, the historical facts—the rigged population censuses over the years, the British control of both arms and immigration flow to favour their Arab clients and harm the Jews, the yeasted-up refugee problem, the Arab wars of aggression—put the Palestinian brief in serious question as they do the probity of the international community and the objectivity of the media. Indeed, the claim bruited by Arab propagandists, Israeli revisionist historians and the anti-Israeli contingent of academics, political commentators and public intellectuals today that the Palestinian refugees were driven out by Israeli forces during the War of Independence is more than likely invalid.
Even Sir John Glubb of “Glubb Pasha” fame, the British general of the Arab Legion who conducted a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the newborn Jewish state, wrote in the London Daily Mail for August 12, 1948 that “The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war.” And Glubb cannot be described as a friendly witness; he was one of Israel’s most devoted enemies.
Many Arab public figures and news sources of the time were equally scathing; for example, Emile Ghoury, secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee, interviewed in the Beirut Telegraph for September 6, 1948, stressed that “these refugees [are] the direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state,” the Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station in Cyprus reminded its listeners on April 3, 1949 that “the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees’ flight from their homes,” the Jordanian daily Falastin in an article for February 19, 1949 blamed the “Arab states which had encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes,” and the Syrian prime minister at the time, Khaled el-Azm, confessed in his 1973 memoirs that “it is we who made them leave,” among a surfeit of such affidavits.
As for the current situation, this hardly qualifies as an “occupation.” Gaza is an autonomous statelet under Hamas, and Fatah presently controls 94% of the West Bank. In the most fundamental sense “Palestine” is not occupied by Israel but by its own terror organizations, which under Arafat actually impeded the formation of an independent state, opting not to build a country but to destroy another. The devastated economy of the Palestinian area is owing directly to the autocratic rule of its leaders. Kleptocrats and tyrants whose archetype was Haj Amin al-Husseini, they have thoroughly indoctrinated their people through the state-run media and curricula, imposing their war aims upon their subjects while reaping the benefits of brute power and the opportunities for stanchless embezzlement which it affords. Relatively speaking, the Palestinian economy flourished when Israel was in control of the territories. Now that it is occupied by its own rulers and their servant militias, “Palestine” can survive only on international life support.
The term “occupation” is thus a multivalent one and, in reality, signifies something far different than does its current acceptation. But the situation is even more complex. According to Palestinian-American comedian Ray Hanania, Palestinians suffer from yet another form of “occupation,” which may be described as a condition of inner immobilization, a cathexis on the past that amounts to a kind of psychological occupation that prevents them from coming to terms with things as they are. Returning from a tour of the West Bank and reflecting on his experience, Hanania said that “Palestinians are suffering from several layers of occupation, and one of them is a self-imposed oppression that has become an excuse for their failings,” a desire not for peace but for revenge and an inability to “accept the damage to their pride that compromise would entail.” Palestinian leaders from all factions “are against anything that might allow Palestinians to start thinking outside of their self-imposed imprisonment,” and it is this which erodes their capacity to form their own state.
For Hanania, the real barrier that curtails Palestinian life and movement is the “mental bondage” in which they are enmeshed; the real fence that inhibits their liberty is “the wall of ignorance constructed by their own foolish failure to see through the rhetoric and the hatred of the past to the reality of today.” The word “occupation” clearly has more than one valence. The Palestinians are imprisoned in a deadlock of their own making; the irony is that those from outside Palestine who would alleviate the situation are imprisoned in the Palestinians’ own imprisonment.
Meanwhile, in seeking to delegitimate Israel, media outlets around the world strive to garner our support for the new Hamas pseudo-state by insisting that, at between 3,823 and 4,118 inhabitants per square kilometer (estimates vary), Gaza is the most densely populated region on the planet, thereby deserving of political and economic compassion at the expense of Israel. While this is certainly an alarming figure, we might recall that Paris’ 11th arrondissement gives us 41,053 and Kowloon (the former Hong Kong) 1,900,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, which may put comparative densities in a more sober perspective. Indeed, my own home town, the city of Montreal proper, comprises half the total land area of the Gaza Strip (185 as opposed to 370 square kilometers) but its population exceeds that of the Strip by several hundred thousand residents. At last report, Paris, Kowloon and Montreal were doing rather well.
The status of Jerusalem, of course, remains an especial sticking point. At this moment of writing, Israel stands accused of jeopardizing the current round of peace talks by constructing additional housing units in the Har Homa neighbourhood in the southeastern part of the city, that is to say, of building in the city which is the actual capital of the country and on land which is 75% owned by Jews. The Palestinian owners of the remaining 25% were offered compensation under the law of eminent domain—a law invoked by many other democratic countries and, indeed, even in my home province of Quebec in which an area of privately owned farmland approximately equivalent to the size of the entire Gaza Strip was expropriated to build Mirabel International Airport. Har Homa, it is true, stands just over the Green Line; the latter, however, was never considered a border demarcation but an armistice line subject to eventual adjustment, now more than forty years overdue. (The folk etymology of the term “green line” can be discerned by glancing at a satellite image of the Holy Land: where the green ends is Israel, where the ochre begins is Arab-controlled.)
Various religious denominations, NGOs and “social rights” groups have also jumped on the anti-Israeli bandwagon, parlaying their ignorance of history as ethical rectitude and aligning their efforts with radical Muslim organizations, such as CAIR in the United States and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in the U.K. Rooted in moral pharisaism and political illiteracy, the charade gives no sign of ever tapering off. Thus the historical delusion is maintained, the real facts airbrushed out of the picture, the fabricated Palestinian identity reinforced, Arab guilt in exploiting their “Palestinian brothers” for political purposes banished from the record, the complicity of Western political institutions as well as the United Nations in perpetuating the ignominy resolutely ignored or effaced from public documentation, and the prospect of war or prolonged disquiet rendered more or less inevitable.
Five Arab armies in 1948 were unable to obliterate the fledgling Jewish state. Three Arab armies in 1967 were also crushed by a chiefly reservist army as were the combined forces of Egypt and Syria in 1973. Having failed militarily, the Arab side of the dispute (with Israel’s and the West’s myopic compliance) decided upon a new and presumably more effective strategy, which goes by the name of the Oslo Accords. In exchange for territorial withdrawals, Arafat and the PLO pledged to put an end to terrorist activities, but subsequently reneged on the Declaration of Principles (September 1993), the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (May 1994), the Interim Agreement (September 1995) and the Hebron Agreement (January 1997) while accepting cost-free Israeli withdrawals from most of Gaza and seven West Bank cities.
The failure of the Camp David summit and its tepid Annapolis clone, then, should have come as no surprise. For the mentality in question, sharing is not a viable outcome. Rather, the motivating factor is a famous hadith from the Bukhari collection, regarded as the most authentic Islamic book absenting the Koran itself. Hadith 4:52:176 reads: “Allah’s apostle said, You will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide begind stones. The stones will give them away saying, O Abdullah, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come, kill him.”
There should be no mistake about this. Whether the “negotiation process” is merely a subterfuge intended to whittle away at Israel’s borders, leaving it vulnerable to even short-range rocket attack, or an actual effort to establish a secure territorial base from which to launch a protracted and coordinated assault on the country, the proposed creation of a Palestinian state is the brainchild of Arab diplomacy in its never-abandoned plan to destroy Israel. The same is true, as we have seen, of the controversial refugee issue and the Palestinian insistence on the Haq al-Awda or “right of return,” which would lead in short order to the demographic subversion of Israel as well as posing the imminent threat of its being simply voted out of existence.
The fundamental issue is clear. The Arabs are not interested in Palestine as such and never were, but in the Trojan Horse it can wheel up to Israel’s borders under the pretext of a “peaceful,” intercessory solution to the problem. Ultimately, Palestine is, and has been since the second half of the last century, the preferred Arab feint and gambit for bringing down Israel, at whatever cost to the Palestinians themselves, deluded or collusive as they may be. Truth be told, it is this which explains the endless preoccupation with Palestine on the part of the Muslim world, the United Nations, the NGOs, the so-called peace movements, the liberal press and many Western governments.
I do not know if this strategy will work in the long run, but in the short term it will undoubtedly cause the Israelis immense and unnecessary suffering. In a poem entitled “State of Siege,” Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish described Israel as a speciously “old state/beneath the ruins of a future Troy.” Perhaps the current historical epic will have a different conclusion and the new Trojans will succeed in expelling the invaders. But fires will burn in the city.