Renewed Empathy for Israel

Israel is an unlikely state. It was formed by the return of the Jewish people into an inhospitable land after centuries of the Jewish Diaspora. The Ottoman Empire had ruled Palestine from the sixteenth century. After World War I, the League of Nations made the area a protected mandate under British control. Improvidently, the British had made conflicting commitments about the future of Palestine. In return for help against the Ottomans in World War I, the British promised statehood to the Arabs. In return for Jewish support, the British in the Balfour Declaration promised at national Jewish homeland. After World War II, the weary British gave up and tossed the problem into the lap of the United Nations. Attempting to forge a compromise, the United Nations in 1947 divided Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas, essentially present-day Israel and Jordan. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence and the formal creation of the Israeli state. The surrounding Arab nations attacked, but were rebuffed in the Israeli War for Independence.

That was more than 50 years ago and the problems have lingered largely because of a persistent refugee problem. There are conflicting estimates as to the number of Arabs who fled Israel after the country declared independence. The numbers are less than 1 million, but certainly more than 500,000. A roughly corresponding number of Jews in Arab nations fled to Israel and Israel’s Jewish population swelled as European and other Jews from the West migrated to Israel.

The popular mythology of the Palestinian Arabs is that Arabs fled because they feared persecution by the Israelis. Israelis claim that Arab leaders urged fellow Arabs to leave to make it easier to exterminate the Jewish state. Whether or not the Palestinians should have believed the promises made by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, that Arabs in Israel would be granted full citizenship if they remained in Israel, the fact is they did not and fled Israel.

Jewish refugees that fled to Israel from other nations were welcomed as brothers and sisters and assimilated into the fledging state. Indeed, they have become the backbone of modern Israel. By contrast, surrounding Arab nations did not accommodate Palestinian Arab refugees. They were, instead, deliberatedly concentrated into refugee camps where their anger was allowed to fester.

In yet another attempt to seize the land of Israel, the Arabs initiated a new war in 1967. The war lasted six days, after which the Israel controlled the West Bank of the Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Through years of negotiation, Israel has gradually relinquished land back to the Arabs in the hopes of purchasing peace with land. Of course, the tragic irony is that if there had been no 1967 War, if the Arabs had accepted their half of the Palestine mandate, Israel never would have controlled the land occupied after the Six-Day War (or Jerusalem) and the Arab Palestinians would be negotiating with Jordan for the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

The price of independence and freedom for Jews in Israel has been to live in constant fear of war and suffering under scourge of deliberate terrorism. The Palestinian Authority encourages in its Arabic broadcasts and publications anti-Semitism and argues not for accommodation with Israel, but the destruction of the Jewish state. The real question is not whether Israel can accept an independent Palestinian state, but whether Palestinians are prepared accept the Jewish state.

The American response after years of duplicity on the part of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership, is to pressure Israel to be accommodating, to not respond to terrorist acts against civilians, and to stop “the cycle of violence.” All this, despite the fact that last year, Israel offered the Palestinian authority as much as it could hope for: control of the area outside of Israel proper and even partial control of Jerusalem. The Palestinian response was not a counter offer but increased civil unrest and terrorist attacks directed at civilians.

The attacks on the United States on September 11 made Americans victims of the same terrorist extremism and may have changed American attitudes and created empathy on the part of Americans to the predicament of the Israelis. In recent weeks, the Palestinian terrorist groups have initiated a number of devastating suicide bombings in Israel. In proportion to their relative populations, it would be as if the United State had lost 2000 civilians in terrorist attacks.

The United States has recognized the moral imperative of dealing with terrorism and states that protect and sponsor them. The United States could not very well initiate military operations to topple the Taliban government that sponsors anti-American attacks and not grant Israel the same right of self-defense. Rather than continual pleas for restraint to Israel not to respond, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “Israel is a sovereign government. Israel has a right to live in security.” It is amazing how such an obvious statement has come to seem remarkable.


Frank Monaldo — Please e-mail comments to

This page last updated on: 11/04/2002 21:04:22

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