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Israeli-Arab Conflict – A History By J. Garry Kohn

Over eighteen hundred years ago, the Jews were forcibly dispossessed by the Romans, and the country was occupied thereafter by successive conquerors – Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottoman Turk: But the Jewish people never renounced the right to their homeland. During all these centuries of dispersion, the people hoped and prayed for return and for restoration of independence.

The uniqueness of Jewry’s link with Palestine has been recognized more than once. Jewish and Arab claims presented to a forum of the League of Nations in 1922 led to a mandate, making the British Government responsible for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine “through immigration: and “close settlement by Jews on the land”. On the 29th of November, 1947, having exhaustedly studied and debated the issues, the United Nations General Assembly re-affirmed that Jewish right to independence in Palestine by passing one of the most famous resolutions in its history – The Partition of Palestine.

The Arab State waged war against the resolution of the General Assembly: the armies of Egypt, Jordan Lebanon, Syria and Iraq invaded Israel on the very day, on which pursuant to a decision of the community of nations, she declared her independence. Thus it was that the Jewish State was born in conflict and combat, which still darkens Arab Israeli relations. It is a shadow that might have been dispelled long ago by peaceful negotiation, had the Arabs held to an agreement made in 1919 by their own King Feisal and Israel’s Dr. Chaim Weizman, pledging themselves to “the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab States and Palestine.

The partition, however, posed a refugee problem. The majority of the Arabs within the Israel partition boundaries were not prepared to accept the state and preferred to leave. Many of them joined the Arab armed forces preparing to attack the new State. Not all went willingly. There were also those who feared that if they stayed, the conquering Arab armies would brand them as “collaborators”. However, when the Jews defended themselves successfully, the local Arab leaders fled, and most of the remaining Arab population, bewildered and panic stricken followed their example. In vain did the Jewish leaders try to arrest this flight and to assure the Arabs that they had only to stay in order to remain in safe possession of their homes and lands.

But the refugee problem was a two-way migration movement. In their turn, some 800,000 Jews grievously persecuted, their personal security threatened, fled from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries and came to Israel destitute, all their possessions confiscated by the governments which drove them out. These people were settled in Israel, as soon as humanly possible, after their arrival in the new country.

The Arabs who did remain (and there are now over 800,000 of them) are citizens of the state, with citizen’s rights and duties. They vote for members of Parliament who are generally, but not necessarily Arabs, they send their children to schools where they are taught in the first place – Arabic; they enjoy equality before the law and for the most part own and till their own land. They are, in fact, experiencing prosperity unequalled in the past or present by any Arabs anywhere else. But it is not easy for these people to have peace of mind in an environment such as this, as they are treated as the enemy by all the neighbouring Arab Governments. These governments wage a constant covert war of border incidents, marauding and infiltration which forces Israel to take precautionary security measures in areas where Israeli-Arabs live. These Arabs who remained behind, and integrated into the fabric of Israel appear happy and exhibit little if any hostility towards the Jewish State.

What still seems far from fulfillment is the prospect of Israel’s harmonious integration as an independent sovereign state into a Middle East society where Arab countries predominate. The road ahead is still barred by Arab rancour, by memories of the conflict of 1948, when they were defeated in humiliation by a small Israeli underground force. The population at that time was 650,000 in Palestine as compared to some 30 million in the Arab state.

Israel’s view of the conflict is a straightforward one: she entered it to defend the lives and future of her citizens. She did so with regret, believing that it could have been avoided. She has no demand against her Arab neighbours, territorial or otherwise, accepts the situation as it is, and is prepared to put her seal to it in a treaty of non-aggression, of peace and cooperation. All she asks of her neighbours is to accept her as she is.

It is the Arab states that do not accept the situation as it is. They make demands that would give Israel only half the land she now occupies – leaving a measly 4,000 square miles; that she should take back the hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees who left on their own will during the War of Liberation; and that Jerusalem should be internationalized. Israel rejects these demands, as they are not justified on merits.

The question of the Arab refugees is really genuine and pressing. The Arab statesmen, for reasons of propaganda, refuse to re-settle the 700,000 or 800,000 human beings who fled Israel. Instead, they are leaving them in overcrowded villages and camps along the border, jobless and hungry, and living as no one in our civilization could possibly conceive. Yet, there are vast areas within Arab territory where these people could live and work comfortably.

The Arab attitude to Israel is only one symptom, if the most strikingly pathological, of a morbid side to Arab nationalism, the reverse of all the great advances made by the Arab peoples in the last half century. Not only in the Israeli-Arab conflict, but in other fields too, Arab leadership has lacked a constructive, rational approach to human, social and political problems. Israel’s strong sense of nationalism has been shown in her struggle to gain equality in the eye of the world, and in her vast progress in the last fifty three years.

What does this all boil down to? Negotiations – the way to peace, is the only answer. The refugee problem could be solved if the right Arab approach was taken. Arab fears of future Israel expansion are in part, fictitious, and where genuine, can easily be set at rest. Once the Arab states admit to themselves that they have lost the battle of 1948 and that they are only battering their heads against a wall by denying the right of Israel to exist, will it become suddenly clear that there are no true conflicts of interest between all or any one of the Arab States and Israel.

It is for the United Arab Republic to realize the importance of a peaceful Middle East and their hopelessness and senselessness to face the existence of Israel. The sooner they come to this realization, the better, for only then can progress begin towards Arab-Israeli cooperation and world betterment!


The Jews and the Arabs both trace their ancestry back to Abraham. The Jews trace their descent through Isaac, Abraham’s son, and the Arabs through another son, Ishmael, Isaac’s half brother. Isaac and Ishmael were rivals to inherit the land promised that God had promised to Abraham. Ishmael was older than Isaac was, but his mother was not Abraham’s wife. The Bible tells us that God told Abraham to make Isaac his heir.

Today the rivalry of the half brothers is reflected in the bitter tension between the Jews and the Arabs. Both groups claim Israel. However, the following points provide an interesting scenario regarding historical claim to the land:

1. Nationhood and Jerusalem. Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C.E., two thousand years before the rise of Islam.

2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 B.C.E., the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.

4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 C.E. lasted no more than 22 years.

5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.

6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.

7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.

8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.

9. Arab and Jewish Refugees: In 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.

10. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.

11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.

12. Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own peoples’ lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.

13. The Arab – Israeli Conflict: The Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won.

14. The P.L.O.’s Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them.

15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.

16. The U.N. Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.

17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.

18. The U.N was silent while 58 Jerusalem Synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.

19. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

20. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Jews make up about 85 percent of the people of Israel. Nearly 50 percent of the country’s Jews were born there. About 25% came from Europe, and the other 25% came from other Asian or Arab countries.

Arabs account for about 15% of the population. The law gives them the same social and political rights as the Jews. Israel gave the Arab women the right to vote before any Arab country did so. The Arabs are better off economically in Israel than in almost anywhere else in the Middle East.

Israeli law guarantees religious freedom and allows members of any faith to have days of rest on their Sabbath and holy days. Consequently, there are three Sabbaths in Israel. Friday (Muslim) … Saturday (Jewish) … Sunday (Christian). As a result, workweeks begin on three days, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. The laws of most towns and cities follow the rules of the Jewish Sabbath.

Israel has two official languages… Hebrew and Arabic. Both are used in court hearings, in government debates and reports, and on Israeli money and stamps. Many Israelis speak both languages. Hebrew is used in the Jewish schools, many of which teach Arabic and Arabic is spoken in the Arab schools, and Hebrew is taught beginning in the fourth grade.

Israeli law requires all children from the age of 5 through 13 to go to school. Parents may choose religious or non-religious schools for their children. Some Arab children attend the non-religious schools, and others attend Arab schools. Public elementary schools are free, but the high schools, both Jewish and Arab, charge low tuitions.

Israel has many universities and technical schools. The largest is the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Israeli Institute of Technology, the Technion, is in Haifa. The emphasis on education, the arts and sciences in Israel is unequalled anywhere in the world.

Israel is a democratic republic. There is no constitution, but one is being drawn up. It took its law from the British, and the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). The fundamental laws may be changed only by a two-thirds vote of the parliament.

There are so many political parties in Israel, that there has almost always been a coalition government. Parties include the far right to the far left (even communist), and many Arab members. The Knesset (parliament) has 120 members, elected for four-year terms elected by a system of proportional representation.

Israel is bordered on all sides by hostile nations. Directly on the borders, are Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The total population of these countries numbers 68,726,000. Additional hostile Arab nations, including: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, make up an additional population of 98,859,000. Israel’s population is 4,300,000 situated in an area of about 8000 square miles. As a comparison, this is slightly smaller than Vancouver Island. More than half of the country is still desert. In 1940, only about 20% of the land was green, or fit for farming and living, but in the last 40 years, the Israelis, through determination and technology, have transformed the desert into blooming, viable land.

The balance of armed forces between Israel and its eastern neighbours (not including Egypt, which is to the west) is 1 to 6 in troops, 1 to 4 in planes, and 1 to 3 in tanks. The Israeli army is an active force, men and women, of about 70,000, and almost 250,000 reservists can be called up in 24 hours.

One of the most obvious resentments that the Arabs in the West Bank, and particularly Jerusalem have, is that they now have to pay municipal and state taxes to support all the new services that Israel is providing, and which they did not have before the liberation in 1967, such as fresh running water, new sewers, better schools, transportation, new construction of public facilities. Perhaps there is some justification that they should more self-rule, but given the emotional situation, that may not be likely for some time.

As Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, it will be some time before the Arab nations can come to terms with themselves and Israel in true peace negotiations.


Jews bought the land from poor Arabs at bargain prices.

At the end of World War I, some of Palestine’s land was owned by absentee landlords, who lived in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. About 80% of the Palestine Arabs were debt- ridden peasants, semi-nomads and Bedouin.

Analyses of land purchases from 1880 to 1948 show that 70% of the Jewish plots were purchased from large landowners, not poor Fellahin. Most of the land purchased had not been cultivated because it was swampy, rocky, and sandy or for some reason, considered uncultivable. (Confirmed by the Peel Commission – 1937).

The Peel Commission stated that in only three years – 1933-35 Jews paid 4,202,180 pounds sterling ($20 million in 1936 exchange rates) to Arab landowners – equivalent of $1000. + per acre for arid or semi arid land. Rich black soil in Iowa was selling at that time for about $110. per acre.

At the time of the establishment of the state, 8.6% of the land now known as Israel, was owned by Jews, 3.3% by Arabs, who remained there, 16.5% by those who left, and the remaining 70% was owned by the British Government.

The Haganah, the Israeli defence forces at that time had no policy of terrorism. The Irgun was a splinter group that was responsible for what some considered terrorist attacks, but close examination of the areas of theses attacks, will reveal that they were primarily aimed at Arab military strongholds.

The attack on the King David Hotel, the site of the British military command was in reprisal for the British raiding the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, and confiscating large quantities of documents, and arresting over 2500 Jewish leaders from all over Palestine.

There can be no comparison of the acts of the Irgun (which were not condoned by the Israeli government), with the constant attacks by the P.L.O. on hundreds of civilian groups.

The drafters of U.N. Resolution 242 (the withdrawal of Israeli troops from land occupied during the 1967 war) is inadequate and should be amended because it refers to the Palestinian issue only as a ‘refugee problem’ and not as a problem of Palestinian – Arab nationalism.

The drafters of Resolution 242 showed little interest in promoting a Palestinian state in 1967 just as the Arab states had shown no interest for the previous 19 years.

The resolution drafters chose the word ‘refugee’ to indicate that there were two refugee problems. Arab and Jewish. About 800,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries since 1940 and were never compensated for their losses.

Israeli settlements have displaced thousands of Arabs and have taken thousands of acres of Arab lands.

As a matter of policy, most settlements are located in uninhabited or sparsely settled regions. They are basically built to provide safety and security from future Arab guerrilla terrorist attacks.

The Arab countries have done nothing to aid, educate, or re-settle the so-called refugees since 1947-48.

Total world contributors to Palestinian Arab refugees from non Middle Eastern countries was $985 million.

Total contributions in the same period from Middle Eastern countries was $31 million. Of that amount, over $5 million came from Israel. Oil revenues for 1974 from Arab oil producing countries was $75 billion.

While there are many Israelis who would give up most of the “occupied territories” (1967), they would only do so if there were a very definite guarantee of peace in the Middle East. Based on history, the P.L.O. charter, and constant terrorist attacks everywhere in the world, the likelihood of this coming about is rare. One thing that all Israelis agree upon is that the city of Jerusalem will never be given up. Israel is running it as though it were an international city, but in my opinion, it will always, in the future, be governed by Israel.

Israel does not have expansionist desires, but only wishes to live in peace within secure borders.

The Arabs, who stayed in Israel and the West Bank, are much better off financially and socially than most of their brethren in other Arab countries.

Arabs with the original borders of Israel, since 1948, have Israeli passports, and are accorded all the privileges of Israeli citizens. They do have their own members of parliament, but the one thing that they are not required to do is serve in the Israeli defence forces.

J. Garry Kohn

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