The Israel-Arab Conflict: “Root Causes” and “Red Herrings”

The Context: Restoring Memory

Israel is continuously accused by its detractors of “occupying” Palestinian territory and “usurping” Palestinian land by means of an “expansionary settlement policy.”

“Occupation” and “Settlements” have thus become the buzzwords by which to denote, to decry and defame Israel’s control of the territories across the 1967 armistices lines. This prevailing custom is wildly at odds with the realities that forced Israel to seize these territories in an unequivocal act of self defense against threats of annihilation, in classic preemptive exercise of the right of “anticipatory self defense.”

A 2003 article “Jus ad Bellum: Law Regulating Resort to Force“, published by the American Bar Association, sets out the rather stringent conditions for the legitimate exercise of “anticipatory self defense.” It stipulates that the necessity for action must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” It goes on to quote a “recent edition of a leading treatise [which] states that [anticipatory] self-defense may justify use of force under the following conditions: an attack is immediately threatened; there is an urgent necessity for defensive action; there is no practicable alternative, particularly when another state or authority that legally could stop or prevent the infringement does not or cannot do so…”

There is clearly not doubt that these conditions were met in June 1967.

The declarations of Arab leaders, before Israel held a square inch of territory now claimed to be “occupied,” show irrefutably that “an attack was immediately threatened” and that there was indeed “an urgent necessity for defensive action.” Furthermore, there was clearly no practicable alternative, particularly when another state or authority that legally could stop or prevent the infringement did not do so…” (since the UN had, at Cairo’s behest, removed its troops from the Israeli-Egyptian border; and the United States and other maritime powers refused to remove Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and to honor their commitments to allow Israel the right of navigation in the Red Sea.)

On March 8th 1965, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser proclaimed:

“We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand. We shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.”

On May 18, 1967 the Cairo-based radio station Voice of the Arabs blared stridently:

“As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more. …. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”

Two days later, on May 20, 1967, Gen. Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s Minister of Defense, and later President, boasted: “Our forces are now entirely ready….to initiate the act of liberation itself and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland….the time has come to enter a battle of annihilation.”

On May 27, Nasser declared:

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”

And four days before the outbreak of war, on June 1, 1967, Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Ali (later killed by Saddam Hussein) threatened:

“The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.”

Therefore, it was not Israeli aggression but unequivocal Arab aggression that led to the events which precipitated Israel’s takeover of territories across the 1967 frontiers, an act of clearly legitimate anticipatory preemption of that aggression.

The Jordanian Factor and the Palestinian Element

On November 18, 1965, Nasser asserted:

“Our aim is the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.”

It should be recalled that at this time the entire “West Bank” (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, the territories that are now claimed for the establishment of a Palestinian state, were under full Arab control. Nasser himself ruled over Gaza and King Hussein of Jordan over the “West Bank.” Yet neither undertook any initiative to set up any kind of Palestinian entity in these territories. (Indeed, as we shall see, at that time the Palestinians themselves eschewed any aspirations of sovereignty over ‘West Bank’ and Gaza, which seem to have been totally irrelevant for “full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people,” both in the eyes of the Palestinians and in the eyes of the wider Arab world.)

So, as the Arab armies massed against it, Israel began to brace itself for the coming war, preparing mass graves in Tel Aviv and other cities in anticipation of large civilian causalities. On May 27, 1967, the then-chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Ahmed Shukairy, gloated, “D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation.”

The use of the word “liberation” is both interesting and revealing for, at the time, the notions of “occupation” and “settlements” had neither conceptual significance nor practical relevance. Consequently, they could not in any way account for this ferocious hostility towards the Jewish nation-state by the Arabs who clearly were not seeking “liberation” in Arab-ruled Gaza and the “West Bank.” Apparently impressed by this boastful bluster and bravado, and despite the bitter acrimony between Nasser and himself, King Hussein signed a military pact with Egypt on May 30, 1967, declaring:

“All of the Arab armies now surround Israel. The UAR (the United Arab Republic, the name by which Egypt called itself from 1958 to 1971), Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, and Kuwait. …. There is no difference between one Arab people and another, no difference between one Arab army and another”

In a premature flush of triumph, on June 1, 1967, PLO leader Shukairy crowed:

“This is a fight for the homeland. It is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive….We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.”

Here again Shukairy’s terminology is of interest. For quite apart from the explicit articulation of his bloodcurdling intentions, the use of “homeland” is instructive and illuminating. For it clearly did not refer to “West Bank” or to Gaza which, as previously mentioned, were under Arab rule and were certainly in no way targeted for “liberation.”

Cleary then, “the liberation of the homeland” must be construed as “the elimination of the Jewish state.” Indeed, how else could be construed? (That this was the Arab intention is made even more explicit a little later.)

This view is strongly endorsed by the text of the original formulation of the Palestinian Coventant adopted in 1964, before any “occupation” or “settlements” were ever part of the discourse, much less facts on the ground.

Thus, in Article 16, the covenant states:

“The liberation of Palestine, from an international viewpoint, is a defensive act necessitated by the demands of self-defense …in restoring the legitimate situation to Palestine, … and enabling its people to exercise national sovereignty and freedom.”

But, in Article 24, it specifically eschews claims to:

“any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan [sic] and Gaza.”

What more authoritative source could be imagined for exposing the Palestinian claims to the West Bank and Gaza as bogus than the Palestinian themselves? The source being their own “National Covenant” no less.

The Palestinian – Then and Now

So what, if anything, has changed since then in the motivations and objectives of the Palestinians? Very little, it would appear.

For when one looks at the founding documents of the major Palestinian organizations today, the same abiding animosity persists.

For example, the constitution of the allegedly moderate/pragmatic Fatah, adopted in 1964 and purposefully left un-amended in its 2009 Convention in Bethlehem, states as its “Goal” (in Article 12):

“Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.”

In the (still un-amended) Article 19, it details how this “eradication” is to be accomplished:

Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People’s armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.

This parallels closely the sentiments expressed in the currently valid (and accessible via the UN website) Palestinian National Covenant adopted in 1968. This document, despite promises to U.S. President Bill Clinton, still includes clauses calling for the destruction of Israel.

In this regard, Article 22 is quite specific stating that the “… liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence …” Article 19 of the 1968 version declares that: The partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time…” This echoes, almost verbatim, the language of Article 17 of the previous 1964 version of the covenant, and irrefutably underscores the unbroken, obdurate persistence of the Palestinians enmity towards Israel, and whose origins clearly pre-date any “occupation” or “settlements.”

Furthermore, should anyone opine that the vigor of the Palestinians’ genocidal – or rather “Judeocidal” – aspirations has receded, the Hamas Charter will quickly dispel such illusions. For the founding document of the largest Palestinian political faction, which sets outs its raison d’etre, proclaims:

Israel … will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors …Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam … The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, … there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him. (From the Preamble, Article 28 and Article 7)

Clearly then, Arab Palestinian enmity towards the Jews is not about borders but about being; not about Israel’s “occupation” but about Israel’s existence; not about what the Jewish people do but about what the Jewish people are; not about the Jewish state’s policy but about the Jewish state per se.

Indeed, should further evidence be required that “Occupation” and “Settlements” are merely an excuse and not a reason for Palestinian violence, the situation in Gaza provides the ultimate proof. For after Israel razed all of its settlements to the ground, evacuated all the settlers, removed any vestige of “occupation,” violence against Israel surged rather than subsided. And any suggestion that the continuing Palestinian attacks are due to the “blockade” should be swiftly dismissed since the blockade post-dated these attacks and is thus demonstrably a result of them not a reason for them, it is a consequence – not a cause – of Palestinian violence.

So, in the final analysis, in accounting for the enduring bloodshed in the Middle East, the claims that Israeli “occupation” and the Israeli settlements are to blame must be assertively repudiated.

August 4, 2010 | Comments »

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