Here is a way of looking at the history of the so-called Israeli occupation of so-called Palestinian land: History is narratives. Narratives are stories. Stories have beginnings, middles and endings. Human history has no end in sight so nobody knows how this story of our sojourn on Earth is going to end, or even if it will end. Many theories abound, all of them faith-based whether or not they incorporate God or Gods, or Holy Spirits, or vapours or black holes or nano-particles.
We have stories about how it all began and these stories are also faith-based. Every religion and every science has its story of human beginnings on Earth.
And, of course, there are stories within stories.
Israel versus Palestine is a story within the larger Middle East story. It used to be Israel versus The Arabs and then by the late 1980s this turned into Israel versus Palestine. So anyone born after 1980 probably sees the problem with Israel — let me call that the PWI — as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wonder how many of us born in the 1960s and earlier remember how the PWI used to be the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is merely a matter of punctuation.
By punctuation I mean where we put our full stops, how we divide up our paragraphs and where we consider the story to have begun. (I know the latter two items are not considered punctuation for all you grammar geeks, but allow me some poetic license here, okay?)
Below is a list of possible punctuation marks in history. I think it becomes obvious how that changes the entire narrative.
If you only started paying attention to the story beginning in the late 1980s, when everyone really starting going on about Israeli occupation of Gaza, The West Bank, and East Jerusalem, then you believe that Middle East peace requires Israel to end an occupation. You may think that Judea and Samaria was always called The West Bank. You also think that there was once an Arab country named Palestine and an Arab people who were always called Palestinians and that they are indigenous to that country that you think once existed.
If you only started paying attention to the story, or believe it began shortly after the 6-Day War in June 1967 that saw Israel regaining control over Judea and Samaria, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, when the stage was set to invent the phrase “land for peace”, then you believe that if Israel would just relinquish land recaptured in that war, there would be peace in the Middle East. You might know there was never an Arab country called Palestine and that most Arabs would never countenance being called Palestinians before the mid-1980s. Then again, you might have known it once and since forgotten that fact.
If you think the story began in 1948, with Israel’s declaration of independence and recognition by the UN, then you believe that the UN created the State of Israel, and that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. You may believe that peace requires that the Arab world simply accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
You see the conflict as Israel against the entire Arab world, or more to the point, the whole Arab world against Israel. You know that the name Palestinians referred to the Jews before the declaration of Israel’s independence. You know that Jordan was created out of over 70% of the British Mandate of Palestine and that the Jews were supposed to build their nation on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. You know that the Arabs rose up in protest against that and so the UN offered to partition the part of Palestine still left to the Jews and offer more than half of that to the Arabs as another Palestinian Arab state; and you know that the Arabs rejected that, meaning that the modern State of Israel was still supposed to have been between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. And that is what it would have been had all the Arab countries not risen up and invaded the nascent modern state.
You probably think that the armistice lines drawn at the point the war ended were borders and yet you may recognize the fact that Jordan illegally annexed East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, renaming the latter the West Bank, and forcefully exiling all the Jews from that land, those they did not kill, that is. Similarly, you may know that Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and forcefully exiled all the Jews living there. You probably think the solution involves negotiations over the disputed territories, or, if you recognize that they only became disputed because the Arabs refused to accept sovereign Jews in their midst, you may believe the solution is for the Arabs to admit that they tried to defeat Israel, they failed, and life goes on so get over it already!
If you believe the solution is turning the clock back to before 1948, let us say to 1946 or 1947, then not only would the modern State of Israel cease to exist, but so would independent countries freed from the Soviet Union, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kuwait, North Korea, Pakistan, and others, and the following countries would no longer be sovereign but would return to their former colonial status: most of the current African sovereign states, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Brunei, Cambodia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Granada, Guyana, Jamaica and the other Caribbean island states, India, and more. If you are turning the clock back on one country, you need to do it for all countries. Otherwise, it just looks like pure antisemitism.
If you think the story began sometime after World War I, then you may be confused. But I will make it simple. In 1922, a legally binding memorandum was signed by the League of Nations in which sovereignty of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was recognized as belonging to the Jews. The only Palestine that existed then was the British Mandate of Palestine and the land under this mandate was divided into Israel and Trans-Jordan. Palestine of that time was a geographic and not a political region.
Had there been no PWI, in other words, had the Arabs not complained about having independent Jewish neighbours, then there would be Jordan on the east side of the Jordan River and Israel on the west side of it and peace would have reigned. However, while some Arabs have been pretending that history began in 1947, when they were offered the partition that they rejected, others are claiming it started with Balfour’s (cursed) letter. So if they want to go back to 1920-22, or even 1917, the year of the Balfour Declaration, then it is true that there would be no modern State of Israel. There would also be no Lebanon, Jordan, Syria or Iraq. There would also not be many other currently independent countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Tibet would still not have been occupied by China. I doubt the world is prepared to set the clock back for any but the Jewish country, and as mentioned above that is antisemitism. Shush! Don’t tell anyone. Don’t want to upset people by calling them antisemitic when they think they are just being anti-Zionist.
If you think the story began about the year 600 CE, then you will know that Israel, or rather the Kingdoms of Judea and Samaria, had fallen to Rome so at that time there was no independent Jewish state (which means that you know that they existed). You will also know that there was no Islam at that time; Mohammed was born in 570 and apparently only began recording his prophesies at the age of 40. When he escaped Mecca for Medina in about 620, the latter was then a cosmopolitan center called Yathrib. The entire world at that time was a system of tribes, some nomadic, some sedentary, some peaceful and some warlike. Jewish tribes wandered freely and were settled extensively across the Middle East and parts of Asia.
There were few countries in the world then, none in the region of interest here, more a fluidity of changing boundaries and identities of kingdoms and empires as territories were won and lost. It was between 650 and 800 CE that the Muslim Conquest claimed most of the Middle East, southern Europe, northern African and stretched into Asia. So if you want to go back to 600 you can clear that slate and give the indigenous tribes of all those regions another chance to rewrite their histories to favour their own sovereignty. This means, of course, that Europe returns to being a collection of tribal kingdoms and there is no Canada, United States, Australia, etc etc etc.
Are you game to push the reset button to that period of Middle East and global history?
Wherever you want to begin telling the story of the Middle East, or from whatever perspective you want to view the PWI, just know that within most of known human history, you can find recognition of an independent Jewish entity that predated almost all countries in the world and therefore is decidedly not a UN creation but a UN-recognized ancient sovereign nation. And absolutely nowhere you look will you find a Palestinian Arab entity by that name or any other, other than the modern state of Jordan that decidedly is a UN creation.
So now let us start talking about occupation and the right to exist!
[This article originally appeared in Israel Diaries.]