Wednesday, July 20, 2005

When the Jews were the "Palestinians"

I often wonder whether the Israelis would have been better off naming their country "Palestine" instead of Israel. This might have weakened the efforts of anti-Zionists to delegitimize Israel's very existence and put a dent into the belated emergence of an Arab-oriented Palestinian nationalism.
Until the UN partition of Britain's mandated territory into separate Jewish and Arab nations, the name Palestine was probably associated as much, if not more, with Jews, who had no independent country of their own, as it was with Arabs, who inhabited nearly 20 nearby Arab countries.
In eastern Europe, anti-Semites would traditionally taunt Jews: "Go back to Palestine where you belong!" On a more empathetic note, pre-1948 Zionist projects were invariably linked to the name Palestine. In 1939, the Nazi nightmare inspired the organization of the American Friends of a Jewish Palestine, followed by the Committee for an Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, and the American League for a Free Palestine.
In the United Kingdom, the British League for a Free Palestine was created. In France, local Jews organized the Ligue Francaise pour une Palestine Libre. Earlier in the 1930s, a Palestine Economic Foundation was set up in the U.S. to finance the development of Jewish industrial projects. The aim of all these efforts was, as the American League proclaimed, the "reestablishment of the Hebrew nation in an independent Palestine."
In Palestine itself, what is now the Jerusalem Post, Israel's leading English-language daily newspaper, began publication in 1932 as the Palestine Post. Four years later, what is now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was founded as the Palestine Philharmonic by the famed Polish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, who persuaded Jewish musicians to flee from Europe and settle in Palestine. Arturo Toscanini conducted its first concert.
During World War II, a Palestine Brigade served with the British Army in Europe. The troops were all Jewish volunteers. On a personal note, while briefly stationed at a British air base near Bombay, India during that war, I met Royal Air Force men who wore a small shoulder patch on their uniforms bearing the word "Palestine." They were not Arab volunteers.
Why do I raise this issue? One reason is to strengthen the legitimacy of an independent Jewish state in territory that was ruled by the Turks from the early 1500s until World War I and by the British until 1948. Another is to argue that Palestinian Arab nationalism is a synthetic concept that was inspired, ironically, by the very success of Zionism.
The Turks ruled the territory that is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as part of "Greater Syria." Before the Turks conquered the territory, it was governed by a Muslim caliphate that encompassed much of the Arab world. And during all those centuries, while virtually all Jews were dispersed elsewhere, there was always a Jewish population--albeit a tiny one--living and praying in the Holy Land.
From 1948 to 1967, Jordan ruled the West Bank and Egypt governed Gaza. During this period, the Palestinian Arabs never asked for an independent state, nor was there any clamor for Palestinian statehood from the Israel-bashers who now demand it. There never was a unique, historic concept of Palestinian Arab ethnicity or nationality. The Palestinian Arabs belonged to a so-called "Arab nation," sharing a history, language, culture and religion (excluding a small Christian minority) with the Arabs in the surrounding countries.
From the collapse of the Jewish state under the Romans until the start of British rule, the area now identified as Palestine was never a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries. That was the case until the establishment of an independent state that the modern Jews called Israel, a name restored from Jewish antiquity.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Mr. Bush: Where is your family in wartime?

As the situation in Iraq continues to spiral out of control and American casualties mount, I find myself wondering whether the three men most responsible for the war--President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld--have any personal and intimate stake in the war. Do any of them have children or other close relatives directly exposed to the dangers created by our presence in Iraq?
I doubt very much whether Bush and Cheney, both of whom managed to avoid Vietnam, have any close kin folk in Iraq. I'm sure that if Bush did have close family members serving in the armed forces, the White House publicity department would have made it very well known.
As recruitment and reenlistments decline and personnel shortages hamper military operations, one would think that this would be an opportune time for our "war President," as he likes to call himself, to encourage his two daughters and his horde of adult nephews and nieces to step up and serve their country. Perhaps only then could Mr. Bush appreciate and share the apprehension that plagues the families of our young men and women stationed in Iraq.
A personal note: My wife and I now have a grand-nephew in the Air Force, a grand-niece in the Coast Guard, and a grand-nephew who was recently in training to become a Navy SEAL.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Thoughts on the London terrorist attacks

The July 7 terrorist bombings in London remind me of how the U.S. helped create training grounds and recruitment centers for Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. The role in Afghanistan was unintentional. Our aim was simply to bolster the Afghan struggle to oust the Russian invaders during the 1980s.
It was all part of the cold war against the Soviet Union. So the U.S. supplied hundreds of millions of dollars worth of modern weapons, notably anti-aircraft missiles, and provided training in military tactics for the forces fighting the Russians. Unfortunately, those forces included Arabs and other Muslims who had come to Afghanistan to conduct an Islamic holy war against the Russian "infidels."
Among them were Osama bin-Ladin and his followers who subsequently used what they had learned in Afghanistan to bring their Islamic holy war to the U.S., Madrid and now, apparently, to London.
President Bush now acknowledges that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the world's terrorist center. But it was his own decision to invade Iraq that turned that country into a training ground and recruitment center for Islamic terrorists. It was the most irresponsible foreign policy action undertaken by an American administration in my lifetime. Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, was clearly a tyrant worthy of being overthrown. But in terms of our much-heralded "war on terrorism," his secular regime was unwittingly a barrier against the Islamic religious fanatics in nearby Afghanistan.
I suppose I ought to be more careful about labeling such terrorists as Islamic. I was amused to read that some Muslim community leaders in London resent that the perpetrators of the subway and bus bombings were quickly identified as Islamic terrorists. They had to concede that the perpetrators were terrorists. But they objected to the religious labeling, disregarding the proud religious declarations of those who were taking credit for the attacks against "infidel Christians and Zionists."
I am always astonished at how "Zionists" are always featured in Islamic enemy lists. Considering the vast numbers of "Christian crusaders" against whom Muslim terrorists are waging their holy war, Israelis and their foreign Jewish sympathizers are indeed a puny lot.
I am also astonished how, in the midst of the critical war against Islamic terrorism, some main-line Protestant leaders in the U.S. are focused on efforts urging major corporations not to invest in Israel. This is to demonstrate their opposition to what they regard as nasty Israeli behavior against the Palestinians. They refuse to recognize that any unpleasantries that the Israelis are imposing on Palestinians are the result of Israel's own battle against terrorism.
And now, perhaps, after his own city's tragic exposure to Islamic terrorist bombings, London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, who has made a fetish of Israel-bashing, will have a greater appreciation of what the Israeli people have been living with for decades.

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