A short history of Palestine

By Craig Westcott
November 3, 2023 Edition

The other night I watched Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.

There is a scene in the two Borat movies called “The running of the Jew” featuring a person in a giant mascot suit depicting a Jew being chased and beaten by crowds. Borat describes it as a favourite annual pastime of his country, Kazakhstan.

It’s made up of course, but chilling and hilarious, because you know that like much fiction it contains a truth. In many Muslim countries, hatred of Jews continues to run rampant, more than 80 years after the Holocaust.

Indeed, while the Arab world is riven by deep tribal and religious cleavages – Sunnis and Shias hate each other and inside those two main divisions there are numerous smaller groups, including Islamic State-style fanatics –one thing unites many Arab and Muslim countries; hatred of Jews.

That’s not good for Israel, of course, because it is a tiny enclave in a huge region of Muslim kingdoms and dictatorships. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and as such, is our principal ally in that part of the world.

Journalist and historian Tim Marshall described the state of many Arab countries in his excellent 2015 history, Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World.

“The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds, of which average Westerners know so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes,” wrote Marshall. “We are aware of our prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East. The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Antisemitic cartoons that echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.”

Coincidentally, the day before I watched Borat, a mob of angry Muslims stormed an airport and runway in Dagestan, in Russia, even climbing up onto the wings of a plane, because there had been a rumour that Jews were onboard from Israel. Had they captured any Jews, what would have been their fate?

In the past week, there have been mob scenes around the world of Muslim immigrants along with students and others on the woke left, tearing down posters of Israeli children and civilians who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists during their attack on October 7. Hamas murdered some 1,400 people that day, raping and torturing many of them first. The ripping down of the posters is supposed to express the protesters solidarity with Hamas, which claims, falsely, that its attack on Israel was against soldiers and not civilians.

Given the uneducated state of these woke Hamas sympathizers, a brief history of how the world got to October 7 might be helpful.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Palestine, the Holy Land of several faiths, is a special place for Jews.

To quote Martin Gilbert in another book worth reading, The Jews in the Twentieth Century, “Palestine – known to the Jews by the biblical Hebrew name Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, had been the historic homeland of the Jews until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans nearly 2,000 years earlier.”

After the Romans, Palestine was overrun by a succession of Muslim armies and factions and warlords a thousand or so years ago. Many Jews left, washing up in cities throughout Europe, where they were often mistreated, and in Russia especially, killed and harassed in pogroms. The Muslim conquest of North Africa and the Middle East eventually evolved into several centuries of rule by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Some Jews remained, of course, especially in Jerusalem, their holy capital.
In the late 1880s and 1890s, as the pogroms in Russia ramped up and persecution elsewhere increased, more Jews started moving “back” to Palestine. By the early 1890s, a Jewish journalist from Hungary, Theodor Herzl, was gathering support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1897, he organized a Zionist congress, which called for the creation of a Jewish state. Herzl even held a series of negotiations with the Turkish Sultan trying to get his backing for the cause.

“There had been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since 1870,” noted Gilbert. “Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, and Armenian Christians lived in their respective quarters in the crowded Old City. But beginning in 1870, the Jews of Jerusalem had also built a growing number of suburbs outside the city walls.” Herzl traveled Europe pressing the case for a Jewish homeland “and to urge that it should be in the Biblical land with which the Jews had been so intimately associated for many years, the land of their patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their biblical kings, including King David.”

Herzl envisioned a country that would enjoy good relations with the Arabs and that would offer protection for Christian Holy sites. Herzl died in his 40s, long before the Jewish state would be realized. But the dream did not die with him.

The first world war changed things. It left the Ottoman Empire defeated and two of the victorious Allies, England and France, responsibe for Palestine. Jews, meanwhile, kept coming to Palestine and friction grew with the Arabs. Terrorist groups, sprung up on both sides, with some Jewish terrorists even attacking the British administrators in the hope it would drive them towards establishing a Jewish state and leaving Palestine.

Then came Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany. Its atrocities drove thousands more European Jews towards Palestine.

By war’s end, with the fresh evidence of the Holocaust and the concentration camps laid bare, support grew for the Zionists’ call for a Jewish state. Indeed, it was among the first orders of business for the newly created United Nations, whose goal was to prevent future wars and atrocities.

The U.N. proposed a partition of Palestine, much along the lines of a plan earlier envisioned by the British, with two independent states, one for the Jews, the other for the Palestinians.

“Although the details of the partition scheme gave the Zionists much less than they had wished, they accepted it, but the Palestinians held to their total opposition, as did their Arab allies,” noted historian T.G. Fraser in The Middle East, 1914 – 1979, which along with a history of the area is a collection of key documents highlighting the events of the period.

The U.N. scheme involved a complex arrangement, with six distinct zones, three for the Israelis and three for the Palestinians, including an international regime for Jerusalem, and a shared economic union.

“Given Arab determination to frustrate the whole idea, perhaps it was never realistic,” allowed Fraser. The state of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. “The following day, the first Arab – Israeli War commenced when troops from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon attacked Israeli positions… The first Middle Eastern war, waged unsuccessfully on their behalf by the armies of the neighboring Arab states, brought the Palestinians nothing but ruin… Not only had Israel survived the war, but she had done so with territories considerably larger than those encompassed by the United Nations resolution.”

The Gaza Strip, meanwhile, passed to Egyptian control while Jerusalem and another fragment of the proposed Palestinian Arab state on the West Bank of the River Jordan were annexed by the King of Jordan.

What followed was years of bloody attacks by Palestinians, with support from their Arab neighbours, against Israel, with equally bloody reprisals by the Israelis.
The 1967 war, which came after two intense years of attacks and provocations against Israel by the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours, resulted in even larger territorial gains for Israel.

“Most Israelis were relieved that the new frontiers they had gained gave the appearance of greater military security, while many saw the occupation of the West Bank (of the Jordan River) as the opportunity to expand into territories they viewed as part of the historic land of Israel,” said Fraser.

The usual cycle of terror resumed, led by Arab groups in Palestine and Lebanon who attacked Jews in Israel and around the world.

That was the situation in the leadup to the 1973 Arab— Israeli War, when on Yom Kippur, one of the holy days in the Jewish calendar, armies from Egypt and Syria invaded again. By now though, there was an important change in the equation; many of the Arab kingdoms and dictatorships were rich thanks to their prodigious oil deposits and the west’s growing need for energy. Israel suffered heavy casualties in the early battles but made a comeback and within months new peace treaties were signed.

By the late 1970s, Israel struck a peace deal with Egypt, but “at the cost of surrendering all her military and civilian positions in Sinai and promising to negotiate on the future of the West Bank,” Fraser noted.

Most of the fighting since then has been between Israel and terrorist groups in Palestine and Lebanon. There have been two wars with Lebanon, a country that was originally mostly Christian but eventually taken over and controlled by a more rapidly growing Muslim population.

One feature of the decades of war has remained relatively unchanged. While the Arab countries have fought Israel, they have not welcomed Palestinian refugees into their own territories. They have accepted some, reluctantly, but have not granted them citizenship. Even the children of the refugees born in the Arab countries retain refugee status. With that policy still holding, there is a cockamamie scheme being floated by some people to send the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza to Canada, because Canada has the loosest immigration system in the world. Let’s hope Trudeau doesn’t buy into that.

Two things are important to consider in the leadup to Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on October 7. The first is that Israel had been growing close to securing new security and trade deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. That was the last thing that Hamas, and Hezbollah – the terrorist group in neighboring Lebanon, and their backers in Iran want. So, the attack may have been an attempt to derail that deal before it could be signed.

The other important factor is the growing influence of Israeli settler groups who have been aggressively moving into some of the Palestinian lands captured in previous wars, at times moving out the Arabs living there. Previous Israeli governments, under pressure from the United States especially, managed to limit that activity. But for the past couple of years, Israel has been governed by an aggressive coalition of political parties, some of whom are full supporters of the Settlers. As a result, there have been growing Palestinian terrorist attacks on the Settlers, including ambushes and murders, followed by rapid and angry responses by the Settlers. Throughout it all, the Palestinians have continued to fire rockets into Israel, as part of their harassment of Jews.

When Hamas massacred 1,400 people on October 7, its leaders knew full well Israel would have to retaliate. And because the Hamas tunnels and weapons are strategically hidden under densely populated areas, including public buildings and refugee camps, the terrorist leaders knew thousands of Palestinian civilians would be killed. They banked on that, knowing they could use it as propaganda against Israel.

Some of those top Hamas leaders, remain safely ensconced in Qatar, far from the carnage in Gaza. A report this week documented how a number of them have compiled billions of dollars in net personal worth from the billions of dollars that flow to Hamas in Gaza. What’s not siphoned off for personal profit, is spent on tunnels and armaments, instead of providing basic services in Gaza, where even before the war, 12 per cent of childhood deaths was due to dirty water. Remember, Hamas is the government of Gaza.

Typical of Hamas’ dishonesty is their claim that the October 7 attack was solely against Israeli army positions and no civilians were targeted. When reporters have tried to ask about the women and children who were raped and beheaded – in one case Hamas terrorists cut the baby out of a pregnant woman and beheaded it before killing her too – Hamas spokesmen have ended the interviews. Hamas killed so many civilians on October 7, that about 200 still haven’t been identified because their bodies were so badly mangled and burned. Among the more than 200 people they kidnapped and brought inside Gaza as hostages was a 22-year-old German woman, whom they raped and paraded around unconscious on the top of a truck for their Palestinian supporters to jeer. Earlier this week, the young lady’s head was discovered and her death finally confirmed for her loved ones in Germany.

When the people attending demonstrations in Toronto, St. John’s, London and around the world in support of Hamas chant, “From the River to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they are calling for the removal of Israel from Palestine, effectively another pogrom, or Holocaust, if you like, whether they realize it or not. Certainly, many of the Arabs who have moved to the West and are organizing and attending these demonstrations know it. The phrase refers to all of Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. That is all of Israel. A leading Hamas official admitted this week that the goal is to remove Israel from Palestine and that they will keep trying no matter the outcome of this war.

The bottom line is that the Jews have as much right to Palestine as the Arabs do. The Palestinians have had chances to have their own state. They have refused, wanting all of Palestine for themselves. They have allowed a terrorist group, Hamas, to take control of their government. Israel is the only democracy in the region and is our ally. It is an ugly and regrettable war, started in this case by Palestinian terrorists. The hands of the Israeli Settlers and the current Israeli government are not entirely clean. But make no mistake; it was Hamas that started this war, and it is Hamas that is responsible for using innocent Palestinians as human shields. Their goal was to so inflame public opinion by the deaths of so many children and innocent civilians that the rest of the Arab world would join the attack on Israel. It is unsettling, to say the least, to see so many people in our country buying into, and actively supporting, the terrorist cause.

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