Volume 2, Number 41
3 April 2002

Palestine and Israel

Dear Friends,

Ariel Sharon has just declared that Israel is at war after the suicide bombing of March 31, just as George Bush declared the United States at war after September 11. Neither needed the approval of the legislature.

Here are my opinions (note opinions only). Together, Bush and Sharon are diminishing both their credibility and the Israeli state. The Palestinians have finally discovered a weapon successful against the powerful Israeli military: suicide bombing. They have an unlimited supply in their arsenal and continue to train more. Suicide bombers will destabilize Israel by making it less attractive to foreign investment and tourism, on which the economy depends, and by frightening Israelis into staying home instead of patronizing restaurants and malls. All except for the diehards, including political tourists.

Sharon acts out of ideology. Bush may be doing what he thinks is right, but he is also acting out of desire for power and reputation. Sharon thinks this war is like World War II, where we defeated Germany, reconstructed it, and went home. It is in fact more like the Vietnam War, with its unending guerrillas. Bush wants to go down in history as a great warrior on a par with Washington. Lincoln, and Roosevelt. He does not know that he would impoverish Israel in his wake.

The Palestinian position

We lived here for centuries as independent peoples. When Selim I defeated the Mamluks in 1517, we fell under the power of the Ottoman Turks. In 1858 the Ottoman Land Law established private property, under which agricultural settlements were formed by French, Russians, and Germans, many of them Jewish who — as a Zionist movement — hoped for a Jewish national state. This movement was given impetus by the British under the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

The Turks, who had allied themselves with the Germans, were defeated in World War I. The victorious powers promised the Arabs that the land would become theirs, but Britain and France made secret, conflicting arrangements to divide the former Ottoman (Turkish) Empire into their own spheres of influence. In 1922 the League of Nations declared us to be a British mandate. We have never had our own national state.

After World War II the Jewish people, suffering from Naziism, migrated massively to Palestine. At first the British tried to stop them, but the movement obtained such force that the British gave up and went away. The Jews landed, and Israel declared itself a national state in 1948. They say they bought all their property from the Palestinians in voluntary sales, but how can a sale be voluntary when massive numbers of armed immigrants frighten the people away? We have never had our own land laws, so if the Jews "bought" property, they did so under British or Israeli laws, not ours. They have taken our entire seacoast (except the Gaza strip), so a Palestinian state would (except for Gaza) become landlocked.. Those who fled were placed in refugee camps, where they and their descendents remain today, seething in anger and wanting their property back.

Israelis are now settling the West Bank, in territories previously conceded to us. We believe they want to settle the area from the present line to the Jordan River. With so many Israelis, how can Palestine be given back to us? Could the U.S. give California and Texas back to Mexico now?

This land is ours. While some of us are willing to make peace with Israel, others feel they are a usurping power and should be driven to the sea.

The Israeli position

God gave us this land. He directed Moses to lead the Israelis out of Egypt in Biblical times. We lived here for centuries until we were driven out by the Romans. Our temple was destroyed in 70 AD (only the West Wall remains), and the Jewish Diaspora (scattering) began. Since then Jews have been discriminated against everywhere we have settled — in northern Europe (the Ashkenezi Jews) and Spain and northern Africa (the Sephardic Jews). Sephardic Jews were tortured by the Christian Inquisition. We now deserve to have our own national state.

We have allowed the Arabs to remain in Israel if they wished. They have all the rights of Israeli citizens, even to sitting in Parliament, except that (for security reasons) they cannot join the army. But many Palestinians demand the "right of return" — that is, all refugees should have the right to come back. If they all did, then half of Israel would be populated by Arabs, and we would not be a secure state. We would like to live in peace with the Arabs, but they will not. The Oslo Peace Process (1993-2000) was intended to create a Palestinian state as part of a proposal by President Clinton in 2000. But Yasir Arafat was unwilling to agree, and the dispute continues.

Jewish settlements on the West Bank are essential for our defense.

The Arab position (continued)

The Oslo peace process began to break down in October 2000 when Ariel Sharon, not yet prime minister, led an Israeli delegation on to the Temple Mount, which is sacred territory to the Palestinians. He did it solely to aggravate us, because in his heart of hearts he wanted to undermine the peace process. This so angered the Palestinians that suicide bombings began to pick up. Now we will never make peace.

The opinion of a pacifist (me)

Bush wavers. He is strongly influenced by the Jewish vote, but he does not really know how the Jews in the United States feel about Sharon. At first, he backed Sharon because he found the suicide bombings to be similar to the attack on the World Trade towers. Then, as the situation became out of control, he tried unsuccessfully to hold Sharon back. The United States is rapidly losing influence in the Middle East.

Bush and Sharon both blame Arafat for destroying the Oslo peace process. In fact, Arafat has no power. Although he has arrested a few token terrorists, if he were to do so massively he would be immediately swept away. He cannot do what Bush and Sharon both demand that he do. As Uri Avnery of the Israeli Peace Movement said (International Herald Tribune, April 2, 2002):

"When a whole people is seething with rage, it becomes a dangerous enemy, because the rage does not obey orders. When it exists in the hearts of millions of people, it cannot be cut off by pushing a button. When this rage overflows, it creates suicide Bombers fueled by the power of anger, against whom there is no defense. A person who has given up on life is free to do whatever his disturbed mind dictates."

How should a pacifist feel about this? I have always refused military action, but my proposal is for police action (which Quaker pacifists have long allowed). The Israelis and Palestinians have had over half a century to settle their quarrel, and they have been unable to do so. The United States should request the United Nations to declare a Palestinian state and to set the boundaries, probably close to the present ones (not the original ones declared by the United Nations in 1949). The U.S. and NATO forces, as police, should defend that boundary.

Israelis settled in Palestine would be given the choice to remain and become Palestinian citizens, or return to Israel.

No state should be associated with a religion. There should be no Jewish state, no Christian state, no Muslim state, no Buddhist state, etc. Religious states were ended in Europe in the sixteenth century. Why? Because the Europeans were gradually becoming more interested in economic prosperity than in religion. Trade led to compromises whose resulting rules overcame the dominance of religion. The Arabs were also traders, but their trade was not strong enough to overcome religious rule.

We should revive a 1940s plan to pump water from the Mediterranean, desalinate it, and dump it into the West Bank, which is lower in altitude to the sea. The entire area would flourish with new agriculture. Then Israel and Palestine would be forced to cooperate.

We should establish American-run schools in Muslim lands, particularly Pakistan, to replace the madrasas where thousands of impoverished children are sent because only there can they get enough to eat. But they are indoctrinated as terrorists.

We should recognize (which we have not so far) that the Arab-Israeli dispute lies at the heart of the worldwide struggle against terrorism. We should ask the nations of the world to agree with us that any terrorist act (military action against civilians) is unacceptable anywhere, whether in, or originating in, Palestine, Israel, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Africa, or elsewhere). Anyone committing a terrorist act should be kidnapped and tried before the international court in the Hague.

We should make it clear that the United States, and indeed the entire world, suffers from a continuation of the war in the Middle East, and that the world must take action to stop it.

Readers' comments follow the chronology (below). Neither that chronology nor the present TQE should be considered a complete history. For more information, please consult your history books, the encyclopedia, or the web.

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

Chronology of the Arab-Israeli Dispute

  • November 1947: UN General Assembly votes to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into two independent states.
  • May 1948: British depart. Israel declares itself a state. 5 Arab armies invade Palestine.
  • February 1949: Armistice. The state of Israel acquires the borders, now called the Green Line, which defined it until June 1967. The West Bank and East Jerusalem were taken by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt.
  • January 1964: PLO was established to liberate their homeland.
  • 5 June 1967. Six-day war. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza were occupied by Israel.
  • 16 June 1967: Israel offers to withdraw from almost all conquered territory in exchange for a peace settlement.
  • 1 September 1967: Israeli offer rejected by Palestinians at the Khartoum Conference. "No peace, no negotiations, no recognition."
  • October 1973: Yom Kippur war. Israel almost defeated.
  • May 1977. Likud wins majority in Knesset. Begin elected as Prime Minister. He begins a policy of establishing settlements.
  • March 1979: Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Israel evacuates all of Egyptian territory.
  • June 1982: Israel invades Lebanon.
  • December 1987: Intifada begins.
  • August 1988: Hamas established. Calls for elimination of Israel.
  • July 1991: Rabin elected. Calls for peace with Palestinians.
  • January 1993: Oslo talks begin in secret.
  • 1995: Hamas begins terror campaign, including suicide bombing. Israel continues with Oslo.
  • November 1995: Rabin assassinated. Peres elected Prime Minister.
  • 1996: Peres defeated by Netanyahu.
  • December 1996: Amnesty International condemns Palestinian Authority for human rights abuses.
  • February 1997: Netanyahu and Arafat start working together.
  • May 1997: Human rights groups accuse Israel of torturing Palestinian prisoners.
  • May 1999: Barak defeats Netenyahu.Ê Resumes Oslo.
  • January 2000: Barak decides upon Final State negotiations with Arafat.
  • July 2000. Barak approves a plan to share administrative control of Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods.
  • July 2000: Camp David negotiations. No resolution.
  • October 2000: Ariel Sharon leads a delegation to the Temple Mount, upon which the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque stand.
  • 28 September 2000: Intifada II begins.
  • December 2000: Clinton offers bridging proposal.
  • January 2001: Taba (Egypt) negotiations.
  • February 2001: Sharon elected.

Readers' Comments:

Please send comments on this or any TQE, at any time. Selected comments will be appended to the appropriate letter as they are received. Please indicate in the subject line the number of the Letter to which you refer! The email address is tqe-comment followed by @quaker.org. All published letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Please mention your home meeting, church, synagogue (or ...), and where you live.

In recent years the Quakers I have known have sided, often stridently, with the Palestinians. They have warped history to make that seem plausible. I have grown more and more concerned because I see no Quakers who are seeking to understand and bring together both sides, Quakers who recognize the enormous pain on the part of both peoples, Quakers who are looking for ways that we can be instrumental in facilitating understanding and support to both as they struggle to find a balance. I am deeply uncomfortable with our taking one side against another. I sense a degree of anti-Semitism in such a one sided approach. I have been a Quaker since the day of my birth. But I believe we have changed. We have taken up positions. We have decided what shall be politically correct for all Quakers. The old method of sorting and respecting seems to have disappeared, as does the mission to have no enemies, but listen to all and seek to bring a light to the conflict.

— Nancy Summers, Warrington Friends Meeting, Wellsville ( PA).

Thanks for sending me TQE #41 — just what I am interested in. I am anxious to do more reading in The Quaker Economist; I need that kind of stimulating discussion.

— Howard Baumgartel, Oread Friends Meeting, Lawrence (KS).

Suppose a large group of little old ladies in Palestine were to march up to the Israeli tanks and just stand there? The group would have to be large enough so that the soldiers could not easily arrest them all. There is the memorable vision of the people of the Philippines swarming around Marcos's tanks when he tried to enforce his claim that he had won the presidential election instead of Corazon Aquino. The soldiers were given flowers and food, and they could not fire on their own people.

— Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.

Throughout the history of Israel there has been a very disturbing unwillingness on the part of the Arab states in the region to accept its existence. In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Landes tells a story of some liberal Israelis visiting an Arab country and talking about how if Jews and Arabs cooperate, they would be able to create great things, "make the desert bloom", etc. etc. The Arabs responded that the best path to prosperity would be to defeat Israel. Add to that the invasion right after the UN declaration, the unwillingness to normalize relations, and there seems to be an unwillingness to cooperate.

— Geoffrey Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.

I'm deciding whether I've got to leave my meeting over the bias of its members in the Middle East conflict — since I have a Jewish daughter with relatives in Jerusalem, Netanya, Haifa, and a few other places there. There seems to be no room for me in religion dominated by Political Correctness. I was much interested to learn from you that it has not always been this way.

— Bob Richmond, West Knoxille (TN) Meeting.

I really appreciate the work that went into TQE #41, and the results, too. I am about to post it on the Middle East Dialogue Group list that exists here in Atlanta. (started before 9/11!).

— Free Polazzo, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).

TQE #41 is badly needed. The Peace Testimony really does not permit us to ignore Palestine: For any of us paying taxes, we paid for a share (albeit small) of each of the tanks we see destroying towns.

— Will Candler, Annapolis (MD) Friends Meeting.

Many Arab states ban Jews as citizens and Saudi Arabia bans them from even entering. There were more Jewish refugees from Arab states (over 800,000) than Arab refugees from Israel (400,000-500,00). Israel absorbed and assimiliated its refugees, the Arab world (apart from Jordan) prefers the Palestinians as stateless sticks to beat Israel with. Many Palestinians are descendants of migrants attracted to Palestine by the economic revival the incoming Jewish settlers generated from the 1880s onwards (the 19th century population of Palestine, including Jordan, was only about 400,000 while Jerusalem was already a majority Jewish city in the mid 19th century). Palestinian notables — who sold land to Jews at high prices — started using terror as a weapon back in the 1920s because the increased wages and opportunities, plus the new Arab migrants, weakened their hold over the Arab peasantry. Anti-Zionism remains a tool of oppressive Arab elites.

— Michael J. Warby, Melbourne, Australia.

Violence is (of course) not in the best interest of either side. Israel is likely to create more martyrs than it prevents by invading with tanks and gunship helicopters. Palestine is exerting far too much of its resources to for retribution against Israel, rather than caring for the needs of its population. However, two things are clear: violence will only breed more violence, and the world is rapidly growing tired of the same old "we'll quit when they quit" stories from both sides.

— Beth Stevenson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, now living in Tulsa (OK).

"We should recognize (which we have not so far) that the Arab-Israeli dispute lies at the heart of the worldwide struggle against terrorism"

Perhaps so, but just as easily perhaps not. South America is full of ideological and drug-related terrorism having nothing to do with Israel. Ireland had nothing to do with Israel. Plenty of evidence exists that Al-Qaida cares little for Israel compared to their hatred of a certain lifestyle and set of values. Shall we talk about Indonesia, Somalia, Ethiopia (or most sub-Sahran African states), the Balkans, the Phillipines? The Arab-Israeli dispute may be the mother-of-all terrorist initiators but to accept your claim requires a certain intuitive leap.

— Milt Janetos, Agate Passage Friends Meeting, Bainbridge Island (WA).

I once thought the Israelis could defend themselves and should, but now I don't thinks it's possible. Only the U.S.A. can provide the solution, by admitting all Israelis eligible under the I.N.S. rules, which may need to be expanded. The hard core Meir Kahane element will not leave but probably will hole up in the hills, or the desert, for endless guerrilla action. We would tell them we would have nothing further to do with them. I know this creates all kinds of problems and there are a thousand reasons while people say it can't be done. More prayer, real soon, needs to be done.

— Maurice Boyd, Friends Meeting of Washington (DC).

You open TQE #41 with a statement that George Bush didn't need the approval of the legislature for his Afghan war (which he is trying to expand to virtually anywhere he alone sees fit). This may unfortunately be true in practice in the last 50 years but is constitutionally absolutely not true (see Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution). Only Congress can declare war in the United States ... except they have abdicated that responsibility ever since WW-II.

— Rich Andrews, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.

The PLO was founded in 1964 when West Bank and Gaza were Arab. Its aim: to destroy Israel for nationalist reasons. Hamas was founded in 1988. Its aim : To destroy Israel for Islamist reasons. First suicide bombing in 1994, one year after beginning of Oslo Peace Process. The Oslo negotiations failed because of Arafat's insistence upon Unlimited Right of Return of Refugees — a formula for Israel's suicide. How does one negotiate with a "partner" who wants either your immediate or your delayed death? I welcome comments at [email protected] aol.com.

— Arthur Bierman, Boulder, CO.

The Arabs decided that their fellow Arabs should be left to fester in horrible refugee camps. They did give them money, but this money has produced almost nothing in the way of an economy. It's probably in Swiss banks. Jordan has a majority Palestinian population, but the Palestinian refugees have not been invited to assimilate into the population. It is this situation which has created the despair of the Palestinians. They are hopeless — they indeed have no future in the hell holes in which they live. However, this is not Israel's fault: it is the fault of their fellow Arabs, who are using them as a political weapon in their eternal hope of destroying Israel.

— Judy Warner, Lutheran, with a Jewish father.

I have to commend you on your encyclopedic knowledge of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

— Dennis Bentley, Morganton (NC), No Friends Meeting in town.

Reply: It helps to look it up in the encyclopedia. — Jack


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Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board

  • Roger Conant, Mount Toby Meeting, Northampton, MA.
  • Caroline Conzelman, Boulder (CO).
  • Ann Dixon, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Merlyn Holmes, Boulder, Colorado.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

This newsletter was formerly known as The Classic Liberal Quaker.

Copyright © 2002 by Jack Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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