Israel and Palestine – Part III

Taking off from Stewart Mills (of Australia)’s comment #6 on “Israel and Palestine – Part I,” in which he documents that the UN Security Council chose in March and April, 1948 NOT to follow the General Assembly Resolution of Nov 1948, the “Partition Plan with Economic Union” (I haven’t checked every link, but did skim his blog entry on the subject and it looks plausible — he’s relying on the same document collections I am):

The fact is, Jews (primarily European) had been looking for a political solution to their “outsider” status and disenfranchisement for 80 to 100 years before 1948. The World Zionist Organization had started to function like a government in exile at the turn of the 20th century. And while it’s true that Jews had been a minority population in Palestine/the Land of Israel for centuries, and that there had never been a Jewish government for two millenia, AND, as he said in his blog, for 500 years prior to THAT Jewish self-government had mostly been under the oversight of foreign rulers … Despite all this, from a Jewish point of view, we no more forgot our homeland than the Tibetans scattered around the world right now have forgotten that they’re Tibetan, and where Tibet is on the globe. Or the Palestinians who are outside Palestine have forgotten. But no other exiled people (as far as I know) has yet survived 2,000 years of exile (during which time foreigners ruled their territory and they gradually became a minority in their own country). So there’s just no precedent to follow! Jews and Israel are sui generis in this way.

So while I agree that history is neither excuse nor justification for persecution and oppression, I have an emotional commitment to the necessity and desirability and importance of the existence of Israel, right where it is. There is no other place in the world that could have become the Jewish homeland, because there is no other place in the world that ever was the Jewish homeland, AND THEREFORE no other place in the world that Jews have been thinking about and dreaming about and praying about and facing toward in prayer and making journeys to and sending money to support their brethren and sistren in for 2,000 years. Which we have been doing! From our point of view, it’s the only possible place we had a claim on, and the only one that had a claim on our hearts.

Theodore Herzl considered suggesting Argentina (as if there were no indigenous people there!). He rejected the idea himself. But at the 6th Zionist Congress (1903), Herzl urged delegates to consider Britain’s offer of Uganda (part of modern Kenya) as a temporary alternative to a homeland in Palestine. According the account in Joseph Telushkin‘s book Jewish Literacy (entry #138), Herzl’s proprosal came in response to an outbreak of pogroms in Russia, particularly the Kishinev Pogrom of April 1903. Herzl always saw the “Jewish problem” as a political one, in need of a political solution; here, he saw, was a temporary political solution which would provide a refuge for Eastern European Jews.

But the proposal was opposed fiercely by the very Russian Jews whom it was designed to help. Even the delegates from Kishinev voted against the proposal. They saw it as a betrayal of their ideals.

So while it’s interesting that the UN Security Council apparently backed off from the Partition Plan, it’s no surprise that Jews did not back off. The UN’s interest was international peace and security, and the language of all the proposals and resolutions that I’ve read over the past few days emphasize that that’s what they were trying to achieve. International peace was their reason for proposing the partition, not concern for the Jews.

But Jews, on the other hand, had (and have, of course) a vested interest in Jewish self-determination. Because it was 1948, the priority of being able to protect our fellow Jews was probably higher than ever. Wait LONGER? When there were Jews piling up in British detention camps who had nowhere to go after the Shoah (“catastrophe, whirlwind” — a Jewish name for what’s otherwise called the Holocaust. See the Glossary for why I prefer to call it the Shoah.) Wait LONGER? When they had been preparing for 50 years, politically, economically, communally? Wait LONGER, when they had finally had gotten international agreement? Wait LONGER?

Note that in the original General Assembly Resolution of November, 1948, the Trusteeship Council (whatever that was) was supposed to be responsible for Jerusalem and environs. In March-April of 1948, the UN Security Council was apparently proposing a 10-year international Trusteeship for the entire area of the British mandate (see Stewart Mills’s blog for links to the documents; extremely interesting is this statement by US Ambassador to the UN Warren Austin, on March 19, 1948). But the British had announced that they were pulling out.  Would it have been possible to have the necessary Trusteeship and its security forces up and running by May?

In any case, I cannot imagine the Jews whose European horror had ended less than 3 years prior accepting a tenuous promise of international oversight of their safety. Remember, there had been Arab attacks on Jews in Hebron and Jaffa and Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s. Not just on “new Jews,” young immigrants of the early 20th century; in Hebron in 1929, for instance, also on Orthodox yeshiva students whose families were as “Palestinian” as any Arab’s.

Britain had not been able to secure Jewish safety. Enough was enough. Remember, I’m trying to get into the mindset of the Jewish leaders of the Yishuv, the state-within-a-state that had been functioning under the British Mandate for more than 20 years, and longer than that under the Ottoman Turks.

But clearly there’s more to the UN part of the story than I was taught in Sunday School or had learned since then. OK. While speaking clearly and carefully about history is important, history can not be determinative of our path forward. How far back into history do you want to go?

The best solution is still one that will bring peace and security to people. And I still believe that two independent states is the only thing that will work at the moment. Jews will settle for nothing less than independence and self-determination. Palestinians will settle for nothing less than independence and self-determination. There you have it. “All the land” is not the highest value. Being in control of those you are afraid of is not the highest value. Independence and self determination are. It’s a conflict of political (and religious and emotional) values; and I know which one I choose.