How can anyone not sympathize with the Palestinian people? They’re second class citizens in Israel. They’re denied even a rudimentary infrastructure in the land on the West Bank of the Jordan that has been promised them, and they languish in refugee camps in Arab states from one side of the Middle East to the other. They’re deprived of basic amenities, political self-determination, and basic human dignity, so that one cannot look upon their plight without sharing their indignation. According to Jimmy Carter, they’re victims of Apartheid.
In today’s culture of feelings, most people look for nothing more before rendering judgment. The Palestinian people are clearly victims, and we love nothing so much as we love a victim. So much, in fact, that it often matters little whether we point the finger in the right direction so long as we can point it in some direction. The fallacy, of course, is that in doing so we ourselves become part of the problem, adding to the sum total of injustice in the world while doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the victims whose condition has ignited our wrath.
Before all else we should look to history. And so, before condemning the Israeli people and government as oppressors, will you not make the effort to know and understand the road both peoples have traveled to reach this point? Incline your ear, and listen to the instructive lessons of history.
Do you know that in 1937 the British Peel Commission devised the first plan for the partition of Palestine? Although its terms would have granted Israel much less than its 1948 borders, the Jews accepted its terms. Arabs leaders rejected it out of hand.
Do you know that in 1939 the British White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 per year and that, after 5 years, granted absolute autonomy over the region to Arab authority? The Jews, albeit under protest, accepted its terms. Arab leaders rejected it out of hand.
Do you know that in 1947, when the United Nations recognized the formation of the modern State of Israel, the Jews begged their Arab neighbors to remain in the country and live along side them as friends? The Mufti of Jerusalem, who had allied himself closely with Hitler during the Second World War, urged all Israeli Arabs to flee the country so that the Arab countries would be unhindered in their campaign to drive the Jews into the sea. More than two-thirds of Arab “refugees” fled Israel without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
Do you know that those same displaced Arabs, and their children and grandchildren, continue to live as refugees scattered among the Arab nations, the only displaced people ever to be denied repatriation by countries of their own ethnicity? In 1960, King Hussein of Jordan remarked that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner…. they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”
Do you know how many Arab leaders have never renounced their objective to destroy the Jewish nation? That the PLO formed in 1964, when Jordan still controlled the entire West Bank, as a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel? That before 1947 Arabs threw garbage down upon the heads of Jews praying at the Western Wall? That between 1947 and 1967 the Jordanians refused Jews access to their most holy site?
Do you know that Arab textbooks contain no reference at all to the State of Israel? That they deny that the Holocaust ever happened? That they repeat the blood libels dating back to the Crusades, claiming that Jews murder gentile children and use their blood to make matzah and wine?
Do you know that billions of dollars sent from around the world to Yasser Arafat to develop infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority never made it past the pockets of Arafat and his lieutenants, who have fattened their private bank accounts abroad while their people live in squalor? Do you remember when Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s offer to return of 97% of the occupied territories and recognize a Palestinian state?
And do you know that, while debate continues to rage in Israel between the hawks who demand open warfare and doves who promote unilateral contrition, every voice of peace and every suggestion of compromise among the Arabs is silenced by Arab assassins?
It may be true that Israel has not always been guiltless in its dealings with the Palestinian people, but how many options does Israel have in dealing with an enemy who refuses peace in any form, who has no desire except the annihilation of its neighbor? What hope for peace is there with a people who send out the own children to massacre innocents?
History should be our teacher in this, as in all things. Repeated acts of appeasement emboldened Hitler, as they emboldened Arafat, as they embolden Hamas today. It remains difficult to comprehend how the world’s indifference once allowed the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. It is with uncomprehending eyes that today’s Jews witness the world’s moral equivalency and wonder if the same thing could happen again.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light in May 2002.