The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
The Delaware Valley's Progressive Alternative
Volume 1 - Number 2 - August 2005
|Stephen M. Asbel is an attorney in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also a frequent columnist on Arutz Sheva and the writer of the Israel news weblog Yeshayah 62:1.|
One of the main justifications put forward for turning over Gaza and northern Samaria to the Arabs and expelling the
Jews from there is that Israel must define for itself boundaries in which it can maintain a stable Jewish majority. Two different demographic studies show highly different results. One study, based on figures of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, concludes that even with adjustments in existing figures, Jews are now 51 percent and will be a 47 percent minority in the Land of Israel between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River by 2020. The other study, published at pademographics.com, concludes that Jews actually comprise 60 percent of the population in this area and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
Under either scenario, there are causes for concern. Assuming the more optimistic scenario is correct, 60 percent is not a huge majority. On the other hand, there are clear and enormous security dangers to Israel in creating a 23rd Arab state in the heartland of the country, which will put all of Israel's major cities in range of artillery and rockets; not to mention the very clear indications, based on statements Arab Palestinian leaders make to their own people, that such a state will never be satisfied with just part of the country, but will have irredentist demands for it all.
This would seem to be quite a dilemma - a choice between borders that can provide security from attack, but in which the country would cease to be a Jewish state, or a Jewish state that remains vulnerable to attack.
The problem with these analyses is that they are premised on the notions that this conflict must be settled now and that everyone who lives within the borders is entitled to become a citizen of Israel.
When the idea of creating a national home for the Jewish people began to receive serious attention, Jews were a minority in a sparsely populated country. When Britain was awarded the Mandate by the League of Nations, it was specifically charged with promoting Jewish immigration into the country so that it would eventually achieve a Jewish majority and be the national home of the Jewish people. At that time, the consensus in the world was that the boundaries of this Jewish national home would include land on both sides of the Jordan River (remember, Gilad was an integral part of Israel for millennia). Subsequently, the British sliced off the territory east of the Jordan River to create an Arab state within the territory of the Mandate of Palestine; today, we know that state as Jordan. Britain further reneged on its promises by choking off Jewish immigration, particularly during World War II, when Jews were desperate to escape from the Nazis because London felt it more important to appease the Arabs.
There had been every reason to believe that a solid Jewish majority in all of the Land of Israel, at least west of the Jordan River, could have been achieved. However, the great potential for Jewish immigration from Europe was destroyed. It was destroyed by the Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust. It was destroyed by Britain which, under Arab pressure and with its own pro-Arab/anti-Jewish sentiments, failed to allow Jews to enter the Land of Israel while the Nazis were still thinking along the lines of expelling Jews and not yet about exterminating them. It was destroyed by the collaboration of large portions of populations in Nazi-occupied countries in rounding up Jews for slaughter. It was destroyed by the US and Britain refusing to take reasonable military action to either stop or slow down the Holocaust such as bombing the railroads and the death camps. It was destroyed by the Arabs in the Land of Israel by their violent opposition to Jewish immigration which led to British anti-immigration policies and their leaders such as the Mufti Amin al-Husseini who directly demanded that Hitler exterminate the Jews of Hungary rather than letting them emigrate and who organized Muslim paramilitary forces in Europe that aided the Nazis.
When Britain then decided to abandon the Mandate and to turn the problem over to the United Nations in 1947, the Yeshuv - the Jewish community in the Land of Israel - had been stunted in its growth. By the time of independence in 1948, there were 600,000 Jews. Had Britain facilitated free immigration during the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish population would quite likely have been several times larger and would have constituted a solid majority in the entire area between the river and the sea. Had such a Jewish majority been achieved, there would have been no talk of partition and Israel would have started out with much more secure borders and there would be no demographic issue today.
Now, nearly six decades later, it is Israel that is again being asked to pay the price for the actions of the West in creating this mess, by chopping itself in pieces and exposing itself to attack. Ariel Sharon admitted at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he is pushing ahead with this plan not to enhance security, not to address demography but because there will be pressure from America and Europe if he does not.
Abba Eban years ago said that Israel would never go back to "Auschwitz borders." He was referring to the fact that the 1949 armistice lines are virtually impossible to defend. However, in a very real way, because the Holocaust rendered Israel’s Jewish population so much smaller than it should have been, the borders to which the world wants Israel to return are "Auschwitz borders" because they were created by what happened at Auschwitz and the failure of the West to act to save the Jews of Europe when it could have done so.
It is time for Israel to stand up and say "No!" "No!" to Auschwitz borders. "No!" to appeasement. "No!" to an illusory and disastrous "peace in our time." Israel is in this predicament because of the actions of Western powers, so the West is obligated to correct its historical wrongs by supporting Israel in a process to achieve the Jewish national home that was promised after World War I.
What to do?
Much of what will be described below is in the plan put forward by Knesset member Benny Elon.
First, Israel and the West must give up their fixation on the idea of a quick settlement. It is never going to happen. The Arabs, at the core of their culture, cannot accept a non-Arab sovereign state in the Middle East. The treaty with Egypt has only held because of the government being paid off with huge grants from the US and by Israeli military deterrence. The treaty with Jordan holds because Israel is the guarantor of the safety of the Jordanian royal family.
Second, Israel needs to accelerate populating the territories with more Jews, not expel them. Jews always lived in these regions and the repopulation process was going on until 1948, when invading Arab forces destroyed the Jewish towns in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. So, having Jews move into these areas is not a recent innovation
Third, areas that have a Jewish majority or only have small Arab population should be immediately annexed to Israel - this would include the major blocs of Israeli communities and the surrounding areas, as well as the Jordan Valley. Other areas would remain in territorial status for the time being (recall that the development of the United States involved areas that remained territories until meeting the criteria to become full states). As Jewish population centers grow, they would be fully annexed to Israel.
Fourth, the notion of an Arab Palestinian nation must be abandoned. There never was a Palestinian Arab nation. Prior to 1948, if you called an Arab in the Land of Israel a "Palestinian" he would have been insulted, because "Palestinian" was a designation referring to a Jew. The Arab Palestinian state, as such, is Jordan. Jordan was created in 1922 for this purpose. Most of its population considers itself "Palestinian". The Queen of Jordan considers herself a "Palestinian". The Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza should therefore have their citizenship in Jordan. (Note - King Abdullah I, the current king's great grandfather, after 1948 wanted to call his kingdom "Palestine", but was pressured not to do so.) They could vote in Jordan. Israel would facilitate travel to Jordan, or anywhere else in the Arab world, so that this Arab population should not feel isolated from their Arab brethren. This Arab population would be permitted to live and work right where it is now, so long as they are law-abiding, peaceful residents.
As for the "refugee question": the Arab side in 1948 created two refugee problems. It launched a war against Israel in which Arabs either fled at the instigation of Arab governments or, in some cases, were displaced by ongoing battles. Meanwhile, a Jewish refugee problem was created, which Israel solved itself by absorbing those Jews. It is time for the Arabs to own up to their responsibility and absorb their fellow Arabs into new homes. The cost of this ought to be shared by the West, again because of its role in creating and aggravating the conflict, along with the oil-rich states that can afford it (plus the Arab states that confiscated all the assets of the Jews who had to flee).
As a matter of justice, the West should support Israel implementing such a plan as a partial redress for its role in the destruction of one-third of the world Jewish population, as well as for deliberate actions that prevented Israel from achieving the Jewish majority it should have had. One might see this as a plan of "affirmative action" to redress these historical wrongs done to the Jewish people. Even if the West refuses to act justly, Israel should still proceed with this program. Israel's right to exist and to be strong and secure is not conferred by the West. Israel exists today as a state today because of the faith and courage of the people who built it. There would be no State of Israel today if the Jewish people had waited for the West. While Western support is desirable, it cannot be a condition for Israel protecting its own interests.
Finally, there is one more group that has a role to play in enhancing the solution - Diaspora Jews. If most of the Jews of France and Britain move to Israel, because of their increasingly precarious situation, and a substantial portion of American Jews move to Israel, as well, Israel can achieve a much more solid Jewish majority. Israel, for its part, needs to promote the internal reforms in economics and religion-state interaction that will make it more attractive for American Jews to live there (perhaps a chicken and egg situation - if a couple million American Jews made aliyah, the political balance would push reforms forward). American Jews should perhaps consider that for centuries Jews have prayed for return to the Land of Israel. Now that it is possible to go home to a reborn independent Jewish nation, it may be time for American Jews to ask what they are waiting for.
None of this can happen quickly. There will, unfortunately, not be peace - in the sense of a treaty that, at a certain
time, ends the conflict. Terrorism will no doubt continue, but, as we have seen, Israel gets more security for its people by effective security measures than it gets from empty promises from the likes of the Two Abus in Suits. By following a course of strong and effective security measures, Israel can achieve
de facto, if not de jure, peace.
It took over 100 years from Theodor Herzl's calling the first Zionist Congress and 57 years since independence to reach this point. We should expect that it will take a long time more to evolve to a more stable situation. The Tanach (Bible) gives us precedent for this. It took over two centuries from the time of Joshua until a strong state was achieved under the early Kings Saul, David and Solomon. The modern State of Israel has made amazing progress in a comparatively short time. We need to take the long view. The government of Israel and the Jewish people need to be brave and need to be patient.
"Be strong and of good courage;
do not be afraid, nor be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9
Copyright © 2005 by Stephen M. Asbel
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