Column: Israel’s history enables its self-defense


For the Valley News

Published: 03-25-2024 12:37 PM

Rashoman’s elephant is a tool to teach multiple perspectives. Several persons hold a part of an elephant and describe the animal. The person holding the ear … “It is soft, fluffy, cuddly.” With the trunk “it is powerful, maneuverable, dangerous.” With the tail “Oh no, it is light, fast, twitchy” and so on.

So it is with the Israel-Palestine situation. It depends on which part of the animal you are touching. Recently, the Valley News has published three columns excoriating Israel for the current conflict. Let me describe other parts of the elephant.

There is no denying the Jewish people’s historical residence and government of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea. Beyond biblical tracts, we have solid archeological evidence — the Temple Mount, excavations under Jerusalem finding ancient coins written in Hebrew, the synagogue in Gaza dated to the 500s with a mosaic of King David singing and playing the harp, with clear Hebrew writing of the name David. The arch of Titus in the Roman forum displaying in stone the Roman sack of Jerusalem, after which the Romans scattered the Jews to the corners of the known world.

The area has been a source of military conflict for millennia — Jews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Turks all fought over and/or conquered this territory. While I wish the world were not this way, the boundaries of nations are almost always the result of armed conflict.

The last conqueror of vast swaths of the Middle East was the Ottoman Empire. They had a huge province called Palestine consisting of today’s countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

A movement to restore Jewish settlement to the areas of their prior residence, Zionism, developed in Europe in the late 1890s for historical attachment and escape from persecution reasons. Jews have prayed “next year in Jerusalem” for 2,000 years.

During World War I, the government of Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, supporting a “national homeland” for the Jewish people in Palestine. Its genesis fills 22 volumes of documents. There is no single explanation for its issue.

The post World War I boundaries of the defeated Ottoman Empire were decided by the victors, primarily Britain and France, and by warfare among Middle Eastern leaders. For example, Saudi Arabia was created when Ibn Saud and his followers defeated King Hussein.

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The World War I settlements were influenced by the idea that ethnic groups had a right to their own states. The demise of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires led to the creation of many new states: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia etc.

Britain was given a mandate to govern much of the former province of Palestine. Jewish re-settlement of the area increased primarily by kibbutzes buying land from absentee Arab owners. There was also Arab in-migration to the area, as Jewish people planted trees and reclaimed desert. There were also Arab rebellions against the growing Jewish population.

Between the world wars, the Jewish population of the former Turkish Palestine grew. The Holocaust increased the need for a safe place for the remnants of the Jewish people. The land of their historical residence was the place. The U.N. took up the issue and decided that partition of the territory was the proper solution.

The original U.N. partition plan gave the Arab population the Galilee, the West Bank and Gaza, leaving a small territory to the Jewish people. Rather than accept this compromise, multiple Arab armies invaded. As part of this invasion, the Arab governments encouraged their citizens to evacuate and return after the Jews had been defeated. When the Arab armies were defeated, no Arab country offered these evacuees entry or a future. They and their descendants are the current Palestinian people.

Multiple attempts at a two-state solution — the 1948 proposals, the Camp David accords, the Oslo accords — have led not to peace but to Arab violence.

In 2005, Israel voluntarily withdrew from Gaza and dismantled settlements, supporting the formation of a Palestinian government. Elections took place between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Hamas won and then initiated a civil war, driving the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza. The Hamas constitution calls explicitly for the genocide of Jews. Rather than develop the Gaza economy, Hamas used billions of dollars and tons of concrete that should have gone into schools, hospitals and industry to build a tunnel system under Gaza bigger than the London subway system.

On Oct. 7, Hamas used this system to break into Israel, kill 1,200 people, take 250 hostages and commit rape as an instrument of war. The U.N. has investigated this charge and finds evidence for it.

Israel’s response has been war against Hamas with the goal of eliminating it and preventing it from ever perpetrating another Oct. 7. Their response is not genocide; it is self-defense. There is no desire to eliminate another ethnic group. The death toll in Gaza is horrible. No one wants to see women and children killed. But when an enemy has embedded itself in civil institutions, hospitals and schools with an interconnected tunnel system, it becomes very difficult to prevent civilian casualties. In World War II, allied forces killed approximately 500,000 to 600,000 thousand French and German civilians, slave laborers and POWs in Nazi facilities while destroying the Nazi war machine.

Israel’s responses are in part due to emotional outrage, and their tactics must become more discriminating. A large portion of the citizens of Israel also support more discriminating tactics. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has called for replacing the Netanyahu government in pursuit of this, a stance I agree with. But let’s not forget this is a war Hamas started knowing full well that the response would kill women and children and fully intending to use these deaths to influence world opinion.

We have two indigenous peoples here with competing claims to the land. Perhaps someday the leaders on both sides will say enough, refuse to send their sons and daughters to die and will forge a compromise solution. Let’s hope.

Philip J. Kinsler lives in Lyme.