Tuesday, June 04, 2013

This is the second half of my long letter to Malcolm Levitt. You may have to go back to the previous post to start from the beginning.

Does permitting non-Jews to serve in parliament seem like a veneer? Does granting university places to Arab students in proportion to the Arab size in the general population seem like a veneer? Or perhaps you think that, at some future date, Arab graduates will have their brains sucked of everything they have learned? Or that all the votes that have been cast by Arabs will be taken back as if in a magic trick? What non-Jewish elements do you mean? Be precise, and demonstrate whether the severe discrimination you speak of is state-ordained or simply the sort of discrimination that one can find in any country.

No, it is in part state-ordained (see the list above)
I don’t disagree that there is a certain amount of state-decreed discrimination. Some of that will wear thin before too long, partly because the state has taken a lot of affirmative action projects in education and elsewhere, partly because many Israelis hate discrimination because they know how much damage it does to the society in which they live, and partly because many Israeli Arabs demand better treatment and do so in legal ways. But again, I have to ask why Israel’s state discrimination is seen as egregious. Egyptian state discrimination against Coptic Christians (who have been in the country longer than the Muslim Arabs) is obnoxious. Lebanese, Syrian (in the old days), Egyptian, Iraqi and other state discrimination against Palestinians has been and is deeply disabling. But Israel is always held to blame. Britain is now a mix of conflicts between fascists (BNP, EDL), the Left, and Muslims (of various stripes). Similar divisions exist in Hungary, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Israel is somewhere in between. Make a case of it by all means, but why do so many make it a special case?

Is Israeli discrimination more severe than that found in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Sudan, to give three examples?

See (1) above.
And see my response to that.

I think that last comment  – ‘for the time being’ – unnecessary and cynical. Israel has consistently improved conditions for Arabs, both Christians and Muslims, since 1948, and I am unaware of any sense in which circumstances for non-Jewish Israelis have gone into reverse in that period, in fact I know for a fact that they have improved to the point where Israel’s Arabs enjoy better livelihoods, working conditions, and general living conditions than their brethren in most other Arab countries. Do you really think that the countries responsible for the misnamed ‘Arab Spring’ or for the tyrannical regimes that preceded and succeeded those upheavals have anything, the slightest thing, to teach Israel about how to conduct its affairs and treat its citizens well? Egypt kills Coptic Christians, persecutes them, burns down churches; Libya is full of intolerance; Lebanon sees a widening rift between Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’is, while refusing Palestinians the right to work in over seventy professions; Syria piles intolerance upon intolerance. There is now a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East. But in Israel the Christian community is still growing after 65 years. Can you really say that any of this is evidence that Israel deserves to be criticized by you or anyone else, while a country like Iran, that allows the demands of religious extremism make life a misery for most of its citizens. In my earlier e-mail, most of which you have ignored, I drew attention to a key fact, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East (and as far afield as the Muslim world in its entirety) that not only tolerates the Baha’i religion but encourages it to the point of running its international affairs from Haifa and possessing beautiful buildings and gardens, while all Baha’i properties in Iran were turned to rubble long ago. Why would a country that stands out in so many ways be your choice to find fault with? If you truly care about human rights, why on earth aren’t you picketing the Iranian embassy, the Libyan embassy. The Egyptian embassy or (some years ago) the Syrian embassy or the Saudi embassy. Those are countries that really do make life impossible for their non-Muslim (and many of their Muslim) citizens. Their breaches of human rights are egregious and well known. Yet you bother about Israel, a country I for one would be more than happy to live in, even though I’m not a Jew.

See (1) above.
I really don’t think that is adequate. You have not made out a case (nor has Ben White) for holding Israel more greatly to task for imposing greater discrimination, let alone outright persecution against anyone that begins to match the doings of so many Muslim countries that are allowed free passage from the international human rights lobbies. The UN Human Rights Council is a disgrace, and bodies like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others fall severely short of balance in their accusations. Hatred of Israel has reached extraordinary heights in the past two decades, just as anti-Semitism has returned as a major plague in Europe and elsewhere for the first time since the Second World War. The two are closely linked, but just as Islamic calls for Israel to be expunged from the family of nations reach a crescendo, we find international rights bodies turning their faces from the truth that, if Israel were to vanish, it would only be a matter of time before the world’s remaining Jews were led to their deaths along quiet passages at the backs of our cities, by sad-eyed men dressed in black, armed with tasers and wearing dark glasses that would blur the ugly scenes and headphones that would play fine music to blot out the cries of anguish.

But you speak of Israeli government policy in the West Bank, and that it is this you find severely discriminatory. No doubt there is much to be deplored. Life in the West Bank cannot hope to be normal, given the very nature of the occupation and the sort of society that has been created there by political and religious leaders. But I think you miss something very basic in your portrayal of Israel and the West Bank – context.

Ah context!

Indeed, context is very important. And the most important context, in my opinion, is that Israel was created by an act of ethnic cleansing, in which approx 700k Palestinians were driven out of their homes, and shot if they tried to return to their homes or harvest their crops. You are framing the issue as one of confrontation between Israel and the neighbouring Arab states. But that is not the essential conflict. The conflict is between Zionist jewish immigrants (mostly arrivals during the 1900's) and the indigenous population, who have been there since time immemorial (and probably in large part descendants of converted Jewish populations in ancient times). Unsurprisingly, and entirely predictably, the indigenous population have resisted, and will continue to resist, the robbery of their land and resources. That is the context that needs addressing.
Let me start with your outrageous statement that ‘Israel was created by an act of ethnic cleansing, in which approx 700k Palestinians were driven out of their homes, and shot if they tried to return to their homes or harvest their crops.’ This simply isn’t true. Israel was created before any single Arab became a refugee. You’ll be aware that the Israeli historian Benny Morris pushed the ethnic cleansing line in his early work, but when he went back into the archives, he reached exactly the opposite conclusions. There was, he argued, no overall military plan to ethnically cleanse Israel of its Arab population. The Haganah’s Plan Dalet was a proposal on the use of military force when Arab armies invaded (as they did) and attempted to wipe out the Yishuv (as they tried). If a war was being fought, some villagers would have to step out of harm’s way when battle commenced (think of what would have happened in Britain if the Germans had invaded in 1940). In fact, this only happened in Lydda and Ramle. There is ample archival evidence that, as I have said elsewhere, the Arab Higher Committee and the Arab Liberation between them exhorted the Arabs to leave. Haifa is the outstanding example of a town whose Jewish authorities pleaded with the Arabs to stay, but where the Arabs, seduced by Arab officialdom, chose to depart. You have to consider incidents like that when casting wild claims that the Jews ‘ethnically cleansed’ their Arab neighbours. Morris’s research is supported by Efraim Karsh in Palestine Betrayed. It was the Arabs who invaded newly-fo0unded Israel, not vice versa. The Jews had been more than open to the idea of living cheek by jowl with their Arab neighbours. The whole naqba concept is ahistorical and shows a profound unwillingness on the part of the Palestinians to accept responsibility for their own actions, for the threats of death and destruction that were hurled repeatedly at the yishuv, and for the complete moral vacuum into which they have thrust themselves. I would like them a lot more if they hadn’t spent 65 years trying to kill as many Jews as possible.
You say the conflict is between Jewish settlers and the indigenous people. Of course, the Arabs haven’t been there ‘since time immemorial’. Most Palestinians (you can see it from their names) arrived in the region in the late 19th century, from surrounding countries such as Syria (don’t forget, British Palestine was previously southern Syria), Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and further afield. According to Ottoman statistics, the population of southern Syria in 1860 (a good year to choose as an example) was 411 thousand.
One topic is of considerable relevance to the creation of the modern state of Israel, and that is the above contention that Palestine in the late nineteenth century was severely underpopulated. What this means, of course, is that when Jewish settlers arrived in British Mandate Palestine they did not arrive in huge numbers and push the Arab population out, as is so often claimed. There was more than enough room for everyone, and the United Nations resolution 181 (1947) that adopted the UN partition plan (one of several partition plans) made it possible for both Jews and Arabs to have their own states. What happened in 1948 threw this plan into disarray, when the Jews created the state of Israel, the Arabs rejected their own option to establish a state, and several Arab countries invaded Israel with the explicit intention of exterminating the Jews and ‘purging’ the country.
James Finn was the British Consul in Jerusalem between 1846 and 1863, during the latter days of the Ottoman empire. He reported in some years to James Howard Harris, the third Earl of Malmesbury, who was twice British Foreign Secretary. In a report to Malmesbury dated 1 January 1859,[1] he wrote of the ‘thinly scattered population’ and declared that ‘the Mahometan population is dying out’. An earlier report dated 15 September 1857 was sent to George Villiers, the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In this, Finn wrote ‘the country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population’.[2]
A more poetic but for all that a more depressing account of the country is given by the American author, Mark Twain, who visited Syria in 1867. If one were looking for a dreary sort of solitude, he writes, ‘Come to the Galilee for that… these unpeopled deserts, these rust mounds of barrenness that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines.
‘Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes,’ he goes on. ‘Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists – over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead – about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour’s presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the “desert places” round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes. Palestine is desolate and unlovely.’
Norman N. Lewis was the author of a book on the Arabs of Syria, Nomads and Settlers, in Syria and Jordan 1800-1980. This volume was based on material gathered by the author over some forty years. Lewis made ample use, inter alia, of nineteenth-century consular papers from Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo ‘and other Syrian cities’, material which he catalogued at the British Legation in Beirut and later at the British Library in London.  concurs: ‘Travellers in the interior of Syria in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century were shocked by the “wretched” condition of the peasantry and by the frequency with which they encountered uninhabited villages and uncultivated fields even in fertile districts. Some of those who went far afield, to the Jazirah for example, were impressed by the vast expanse of obviously cultivable land which had evidently lain untilled for centuries.’
Why did this happen? Lewis provides some sound explanations:
‘Some of the reasons for the temporary or permanent abandonment of villages and of land were plain to see. Peasants fled rather than ‘entertain’ soldiers on the march or Ottoman grandees on a journey. Villages were sacked in the course of local civil strife, ravaged by soldiers or by ex-soldiers turned bandit, raided by Kurds or beduin. The state of public security in the countryside was abysmally low.

This picture may change our opinions about the early period of Jewish expansion in the Holy Land, but desolation only impinges on demographics and the context within which newly arrived Jews found themselves. The contrast between what the Arab and Turkish inhabitants of Palestine had done with the country over centuries and the agricultural achievements of the Jews in turning swamp to soil and desert to irrigated fields should grab our attention.
As for the make-up of those who inhabited this scarcely-populated land, we know that, in the 1830s, an Egyptian General, Ibrahim Pasha, conquered Syria (including most of modern Israel) from the Ottomans and held it for several years. When he departed, he left behind him ‘permanent colonies of Egyptian immigrants at Beisan, Nablus, Irbid, Acre, and Jaffa (next to modern Tel Aviv), where some five hundred soldiers’ families established a new quarter.’ It is also known that Circassian immigrants turned up in 1878, followed by a second wave in 1885. Before that, De Haas, whom we have just quoted, says further that ‘The Muslims of Safed are mostly descended from… Moorish settlers and from Kurds.’[3] In 1878, the small population that inhabited the barren tracts of Southern Syria attracted large numbers of newcomers composed of Circassians, Algerians, Egyptians, Druse, Turks, Kurds, Bosnians, and others.[4] According to Lewis, ‘Kurdish and Turkoman nomads were found in northernmost Syria’.
Lewis also stresses the late appearance of some of the more important tribes: ‘The most powerful tribes in Syria were relative newcomers. They included the Shammar… and a number of tribes of the ‘Anazah group, including the Wuld ‘Ali, Hasanah, Fid‘an, Sba‘ah, and Ruwala.’
But it would be a mistake to imagine that there was no Jewish population in nineteenth-century Palestine, or that Jews just arrived there after the First World War and stole the land from the Arabs, finally expelling them in 1948. By 1851, Jews formed the majority of the inhabitants of Safed and Tiberias, and in less than ten years, they were at least half of the population of Jerusalem. Muslims were only one quarter. And the Jewish presence was not just in the cities but on the land, where Jewish farmers ploughed the soil as they had done for centuries. The first Jewish colony of modern times was not a kibbutz but the town of Petah Tikva, founded in 1878 by religious pioneers from Europe and Jerusalem, and today a city of over two hundred thousand inhabitants. Changes were taking place for Jews and Arabs alike, and those changes were driven by natural processes like the barren and unexploited soil, the atmosphere of immigration, or human actions, like the Ottoman Sultan’s edict allowing Jews to buy land in the region.
Again, you say:
The conflict is between Zionist jewish immigrants (mostly arrivals during the 1900's) and the indigenous population, who have been there since time immemorial (and probably in large part descendants of converted Jewish populations in ancient times). Unsurprisingly, and entirely predictably, the indigenous population have resisted, and will continue to resist, the robbery of their land and resources. That is the context that needs addressing.
But the conflict is not between Zionist immigrants. Rather it is between two things: between the modern Western mindset and its theories of international law and human rights on the one hand and Islam and its theories of territorial possession through jihad, coupled with a centuries-old belief in divinely-ordained law and a rejection of human rights (only Muslims have rights in Islam: dhimmis have no rights to life or territory, save what Muslims choose to bestow on them). Had the Jews moved to almost any other place in the world outside the Muslim sphere, there would have been little trouble. Had Muslims moved to Palestine, as Norman Lewis’s Bedouin did, they would have been welcomed with only some friction. Had other Europeans moved to Palestine, there would have been the same attempts to expel them. The fault does not lie with Jews fleeing pogroms, prejudice, and a Holocaust to a country designated for them under international law, a country with space for new arrivals. It lies with the religious prejudice and the grudging defiance of international norms within a very short time of the creation of the Arab League as a token of the Arabs’ bid to be part of the world community.

Looked at without context, conditions in the West Bank must seem arbitrary and unnecessary. But the picture changes greatly once context is allowed to play a part in the argument. It would be absurd to believe that Israel, which strives hard to treat its Arab citizens well and to promote their well-being through education, the use of Arabic alongside Hebrew as a national language, the protection of Muslim and Christian Arab holy places, and the arrest of Jewish racists who harbour ill-will towards Arabs it seems absurd to think the same government would arbitrarily decide to treat West Bank Arabs harshly. That would make no sense at all, surely. The situation in the West Bank has brought much opprobrium on Israel and tarnished its reputation internationally. In the long run, Israel knows that the West Bank will in the end be given over to its Arab population as the basis for a future Palestinian state.

I disagree profoundly with that judgement. The clear evidence on the ground is that Israel intends to retain complete command of the useful bits of the West Bank (water resources and major historical sites). It is proceeding to do that by erecting settlements, walls, and Jews-only roads which divide up the country into small enclaves (essentially prison camps) in which a limited amount of self-government is permitted for non-Jews. There is no prospect of Israel permitting the formation of a viable Palestinian state. The situation in the West Bank is extremely harsh. A glance at some of the case histories documented by B'Tselem (http://www.btselem.org/) should be sufficient.
This is a big topic. I don’t think the West Bank is as bad as you paint it, though. The territory is largely under Palestinian Authority control. In Area C, Israel has no control over Palestinian civilians. Area A is under full PA control. And Area B is under joint Israeli/Palestinian Authority control.
Why is there a need for any control at all? Because the Palestinians have, since 1947, conspired against Israel, sent out terrorists to kill any Jews they find, used car bombs, suicide bombers and anyone else with a weapon to take terrible revenge on Israelis who have done nothing to harm them. Are little children and babies responsible for the sufferings of the Palestinians? In the West Bank, there is currently great frustration following the successful construction of the security barrier, which has prevented terrorists from inflicting death and injury on innocents. But in the West Bank, murderers are accorded the highest praise if they die, and are honoured everywhere; if they end up in an Israeli prison, their needs and the needs of their families are met by donations from various charities. Would that be tolerated for a moment here? Would Mark Bridger, who killed April Jones, gaze out of his prison window and see posters with his face celebrating what he did? I do not accord Palestinian terrorists any honour at all.
I fear the Palestinian position can best be summed up in these words spoken by none other than Fawzi Qawuqji, who was soon to be head of the Arab Liberation Army, the Arab League’s principal Palestinian armed force in 1948. He said this in the days leading up to the UN General Assembly vote on partition towards the end of 1947. If the vote went against the Arabs, he threatened, ‘we will have to initiate total war. We will murder, wreck and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American or Jewish.’ You need to contemplate this, for Palestinians and other Arabs and Iranians are still saying much the same thing today, 66 years later. It is scurrilous, infamous, and boorish. It is the language of a bully or a gangster. I am sure you do not disagree. But it typifies the Arab approach to this problem. The bullying tone has not once been renounced. Cooler heads have not stood up and been counted. Such threats can be replicated all down the years, in the mouths of hundreds of Arab and Palestinian leaders, in the sermons of imams, muftis, khuttab, ayatollahs, Maraji’, and other Muslim eminences. It is always spiteful, it has no regard for rights, it disavows democracy and civilized behaviour, it sneers at political settlement, it arrogates to Arabs and Muslims the only rights, including the right to political control, it denies even the most basic rights to other people. In shari’a law, a Muslim may not be prosecuted for killing a non-Muslim. Non-Muslims barely count as human beings. Islam itself needs to undergo as much of a moral and ethical shift as Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. But who is addressing that dilemma?
But while preparations for attacks continue, while militant groups march and train, why should Israel not impose security restrictions on the Palestinian community? There is an easy way to stop Israeli control: stop the violence.
As regards water: In 2008 Palestinian per capita daily consumption was 270 litres per day, Israel’s was 405, a factor of 1.5, not 4. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria consume about 5-6 times more water per capita than Israel. Israeli consumption has dropped dramatically due to the need to use water more economically after consecutive years of drought. (Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Israel Water Authority). The claim that the Palestinian water supply is beneath that recommended for basic living standards is entirely false. The Water Agreement (Oslo II, September 1995) determined that water supply to the Palestinians would increase during the period of that Interim Agreement by 28.6 MCM/yr, of which 5 MCM/yr would be supplied to the Gaza Strip and 23.6 MCM/yr to the West Bank. It was agreed that this quantity would be in addition to the quantity consumed by the Palestinians in 2005, namely, 118 MCM. In other words, it was agreed that water supply to the Palestinians during the Interim Agreement period would in the West Bank increase by 20%. This quantity of water would be part of the quantity defined as the ‘Future Needs’ of the Palestinians in the West Bank, ie about 70-80 MCM/yr, which would be provided in the framework of the permanent arrangement. In practice, during the 13 years that have elapsed since the Interim Agreement was signed, water supply to the Palestinians in the West Bank has been increased by 60 MCM/yr (not including Gaza), ie by about 50%.
I recommend the following paper, issued by the World Bank and the Israeli Water Authority, which should help show that the Israelis are not bent on stealing Palestinian water and actually help enormously in providing water supplies to the West Bank.
I agree that life for Palestinians in the West Bank cannot be comfortable. The enclaves you mention are areas caught between the green line and the security barrier, but they aren’t prison camps. But I don’t see the short-term solution. The long-term solution is relatively simple. The Palestinians must embrace speech, in word and in deed. They then need to start a long process to give Israel confidence that there will be no more terrorist attacks and that another international war will not take place. They have to invite teachers into their schools, from the UN, the UK, and Israel who can start the work of re-educating Palestinian children. They have to teach them that Jews are not apes and pigs, that killing innocent people is not praiseworthy, and that peace is always better than war. Once this has gone on for a generation or so and Israelis have confidence, the restrictions may be lifted. It is all harder work than fighting, but its consequences will be profound.

So why on earth wouldn’t it pull out now or at least be nice to the Palestinians?
It can’t pull out now. That would be suicide. Not so long as Israel is surrounded by forces (Palestinians, Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qa’eda, Fatah, Iran, most Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Somalis, Afghans [especially the Taliban], many Pakistanis, jihadi recruits from Europe and North America – the list is long) Israel cannot relax its vigilance. If it pulled out of the West Bank, it could expect exactly what it has received after leaving Gaza. I want to see a successful Palestinian state, but I don’t want to see it turned into an armed fortress, a ribat from which fighters from round the world fight a final jihad against the Jews. So what do we do if we want to see a Palestinian state that isn’t dedicated to the overthrow of its next-door neighbour? The world community has to get its act together, grasp the seriousness of what is happening, stop telling the Israelis how to behave except when they really merit censure, and accept that Palestinian fudging on peace and outright rejection of peace, Palestinian racism and threats of total apartheid, and Palestinian incitement to violence are all unacceptable, whatever the Palestinians deem to be provocation from Israel.
Well, Israel already is nice to the Palestinians.
Sorry, but that is a very ignorant statement.
I make it in the full light of understanding much of what goes on, not from ignorance. Please re-read the paragraph below, together with some additional comments after it.

You are wrong to imply that all Israeli treatment is severely discriminatory. Every year, Israel treats many thousands of Palestinians in its own hospitals. They are not discriminated against at all. They sleep on the same wards as Jews, they are operated on in the same operating rooms by the same surgeons, and for the most part they go home with very favourable opinions of the hospital staff, the first Israelis many of them will have met. Every year, Israel provides 30 million cubic metres of water to the Palestinian Authority (and 70 million to Jordan). Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children are given heart transplants through an Israel charity, Save a Child’s Heart. Under Israeli occupation, the West Bank economy has grown at a terrific rate, quite unlike the case in Hamas-occupied Gaza. Here’s something from a 2011 report by the Washington Institute:

‘Following the establishment of Prime Minister Salam Fayad's government in 2007, the West Bank witnessed rapid GDP growth each year through 2010, including a 12% spike in 2008, 10% in 2009, and 8% in 2010. The IMF attributes this growth to donor aid, improved security conditions, decreased Israeli restrictions on movement, and private-sector confidence due to good management by the Palestinian Authority (PA). In dollar terms (at constant 2004 prices), West Bank GDP climbed from $3.3 billion in 2007 to $4.4 billion in 2010, while per capita GDP went from $1,580 to $1,924, an increase of 22%. The growth looks even better when viewed over a longer period: in 2010, West Bank GDP was 50% higher than in 2000, and 124% higher than in 1994.’
Some other points need to be added. When Israel pulled out of Gaza, it left behind greenhouses purely for the benefit of the people of the strip, together with domestic and other buildings. The Gazans, out of pure spite, destroyed everything. That was definitely Israel and donors being kind only to see their kindness rebuffed. But every year since the withdrawal, Israel has sent in thousands of tons of aid to Gaza, from food, building materials, medical supplies and medicines, and seventy percent of Gaza’s electricity from Israel’s own national grid. Without Israel’s niceness, Gaza would collapse in days. Despite that, Hamas continues to smuggle hundreds of rockets for use against Israel. In addition to the two Israeli charities that provide heart surgery for Palestinian children, thousands of Palestinians are treated every year in Israeli hospitals. Just today, I read a news story about how the life of a ten-year-old Palestinian boy from a village near Hebron has been saved at the Schneider Medical Centre in Petah Tikva. The boy received a kidney transplant. The donor was an Israeli Jew. Yet you sneer when I say Israelis are kind to Palestinians. There are dozens of  schemes and projects that promote tolerance and goodwill between Arabs and Jews, or provide opportunities for the two sides to work together. They all involve Israelis being kind to Palestinians and Palestinians putting aside their grievances to cooperate with Jews.
The Alliance for Middle East Peace is made up by over 70 leading NGOs and has an independent international; fund for peace. Friends of the Earth Middle East brings together activists from the West Bank, `Israel and Jordan. It works, among other things, to promote the sharing of water resources. The Valley of Peace initiative for economic development brings together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Among other things, it runs fifty factories where Jews and Palestinians work side by side.
Friends of the Earth Middle East brings together activists from Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, and works, among other things, on ways of sharing water resources fairly. There are the Peres Centre for Peace, the Aix Group economic study team, the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, Givat Haviva’s Jewish-Arab Centre for Peace, found in 1949 by Ha’Kibbutz Ha’Arzi Federation, the Parents’ Circle, which brings together families from Israel and the West Bank who have lost family members in the struggle, founded by Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son Arik was killed by Hamas; Avi Levi, director of Green Action, works in the West Bank with Arab farmers to help them set up cooperatives; Olives of Peace (rather similar to Green Action) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian business that sells good quality olive oil (under the brand name Peace Oil, which I have used); since 1970, the Israeli Jewish-Israeli Muslim village of Neve Shalom has been a model of co-existence, organizing humanitarian projects, including yet more medical aid to Palestinians, two schools and a training facility called the School for Peace; the Hamidrasha Jewish-Arab beit midrash, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian men and women study together and learn from one an other; the Ir Shalem co-existence programme, run by the left-wing organization Peace Now; there is the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, of which you should know; the famous West-Eastern Divan, founded by Daniel Barenboim, whose orchestra brings together young Israeli and Palestinian musicians and tours them internationally; Middle East Education through Technology, which works with MIT and the Hebrew University and brings young Israelis and Palestinians; Hand in Hand, four schools for Arab and Jewish pupils, using both Hebrew and Arabic; the Institute for Circlework, founded by a Jewish German, Jalaja Bonheim, to empower Jewish and Arab women ­ and many, many more. Most of these are Israeli-initiated enterprises, others are Palestinian in origin. Seeing all this, how can you say that Israelis are not kind to Palestinians? That some soldiers and some haredi settlers treat Arabs badly is true, and it gives me cause for concern. But there are so many positive things about Israel and its treatment of an implacable enemy, that I prefer to engage with that than to play ball with the thoroughly negative, anti-peace philosophy of the Palestinian leadership, which offers nothing but hostility, Judaeophobia, a hatred of the West, of democracy, and international law.

Could that have been achieved under a policy of severe discrimination?
Answer: yes. Its not too surprising. All sorts of horrors, eg slavery,  are often quite good for the economic figures.
I find this cynical beyond belief. To speak of ‘horrors’ is ugly, and it is completely wrong to drag in slavery where it bears no relevance. Jews only ever played a very minor role in the Transatlantic slave trade, and there were many Jews who took part in the anti-slavery movements, such as Ernestine Rose (described by slavery supporters as ‘a thousand times below a prostitute’), Heinrich Heine, or Nathan Meyer Rothschild. Modern Israel is entirely free of slavery. Mauretania has about 600,000 slaves, some 20% of the population. The UEA, including Dubai, have an extensive quasi-slavery network, including child slaves and trafficked women.  Saudi Arabia has a large slave population. Sudan still has the largest slave population in the world. Rather than refer, however obliquely, to slavery in a context that implies Israel, might you not be better to involve yourself with one of the charities that works to free slaves and to end the cultural predisposition for slavery in Africa and the Gulf States?

But let’s get back to context. How familiar are you with the historical background to the present situation?
Very familiar, I would say.

You will, I’m sure, know all about the way Israel was created, how the United Nations awarded two states, one to the Jews and one to the Arabs.

This was done without consulting the local population and was a collosal mistake. A small minority of the population was awarded 50% of the land, without taking into account the views of the others. We live with the legacy.
As a matter of fact, the local population was consulted more than once, notably after the Peel Commission reported. Their rejection of every kind of compromise was based on attitudes that had no relevance for modern international law, based on Islamic intransigence in the face of legal moves not derived from shari’a law. You say a small minority of the population was given 50% of the land. That is not true. The original Palestine mandate was large, and much of it was made up of the stretch that became Transjordan (later Jordan), which was handed in its entirety to the Arabs. It forms 80% of the original area set aside for a Jewish and Arab homeland. The final UN partition plan gave 56% of what remained to the Jews, and 43% to the Arabs. But that’s not all. The Arabs already had the giant territory of Jordan, which is today a Palestinian state with a 90% Palestinian population. In the partition plan (if the Arabs had accepted it, the Arab state would have a 99% Arab and some other population, with 1% Jews. The Jewish state would have 55% Jews and 45% Arabs. The international sector would have had 49% Jews and 51% Arabs. Overall, the Arabs received 61% of the mandated territory and the Jews a mere 33%. One-third, not a half.
We live, not with the legacy of the partition, but with the legacy of the Arab refusal to give even an inch, combined with the readiness of the Arabs to have recourse to weapons, to prefer murder to round the table talks, to the Khartoum Declaration of ‘No negotiations with Israel, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel’, the Hamas Charter’s declaration that talks and negotiations are ‘a waste of time’ and that the only solution to the problem is through jihad. I do not give people who think like this the right to dictate how I or my friends should live or where we should live or if we should live. If they invade Israel or attack or kill Israelis, they should be hunted down and killed or disarmed. That is the moral thing to do. Otherwise, the Jews might as well have invited all the post-Reich Nazis to come to the Middle East (as so many did) in order to continue the Holocaust. Is there a difference? None that I can see. That is the legacy Israel still has to fight against.

Of course, the British had already given away a large tract of the future Jewish homeland when it created Jordan, but in the end it all boiled down to two states. Exactly the same thing as everybody’s ‘twin state solution’ today. The Jews took what they were given and were invaded by five Arab countries. The Arabs refused to establish a state unless it included the entirety of mandate Palestine. The rest is history. The Arabs have fought several wars to drive the Jews out of the region, they have openly stated (if we want to talk about explicit policies) a catch-all doctrine of ‘No negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel’. Would it make your life easy if your research partners adopted such a policy? The Arabs have turned down more generous peace offers down the years than any beleaguered people in history. And Mahmoud ‘Abbas still says there can be no Jews in a future Palestinian state, while insisting in Arabic that Israel will be wiped out and replaced by a greater Palestine. These are not easy conditions in which to work for peace.

Israel defines itself as a "Jewish state", and states that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel - an attitude calculated to enrage 1.5bn muslims. I am not sure of the situation now but partners in the previous Likud government advocated a greater Israel including all of present-day Jordan. I believe that the new star of Israeli politics (Benny something) runs on a popular platform that there will be no Palestinian state. The consequence of that is either permanent apartheid, or expulsion of the Palestinians. No, these are not easy conditions in which to work for peace.
Malcolm, Why should 1.5 bn Muslims be enraged if Israeli regards Jerusalem as its capital? What has it to do with them? Jerusalem was never the capital of any Muslim or Arab state. It is not particularly holy for Muslims. Muhammad originally made it the focus for prayer (the qibla) when he was living in Mecca. Some months after his arrival in Medina, he turned round 360 degrees to face Mecca instead, and that has been the Qibla ever since. Neither the Dome of the Rock (the Qubbat al-Sakhra) or the al-Aqsa Mosque was built in the time of Muhammad, and al-Aqsa is something like the fifth or sixth mosque built on that spot . The Temple Mount is, by contrast, the holiest place on earth to Jews, since it is where the Jewish Temple once stood. Why should Israel hand it over to anyone else? When the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they destroyed some 50 synagogues. In Hebron, the Ma’aret Ha-Machpelah, the second holiest place to Jews, is divided between Jews and Muslims, with a vastly greater portion in Muslim hands. Israel, on the other hand, does a fantastic job under its law for the protection of holy places to safeguard all Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i sites. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia almost every single site associated with Muhammad and his companions has been reduced to rubble in order to prevent pilgrims praying there, which would constitute polytheism. The 1.5 bn Muslims would do better to be enraged about the Al-Sa’ud dynasty that takes on itself the right to permanently dispose of Islam’s holiest places.
I really think you should ignore Israeli extremists, just as you would ignore British extremists like the EDL or BNP. Israel has offered a full state to the Palestinians since 1948 and well before, and no Israeli majority will go with the sort of expansionism you cite. Religious extremists do talk about the full recovery of Judaea and Samaria, but that is not at all likely to happen. If the Israelis tried it, they know a massive war would break out and that every country on earth would oppose them. They (including Likud) are realists., Israel was set up to be ‘a Jewish state’ from the beginning, and since there are dozens of ‘Muslim states’ and ‘Christian states’, I think it not unreasonable of the Jews to want a very tiny one of their own. The ‘Benny’ you refer to is probably Naftali Bennet, a former member of the Yesha Council, the principal organ of the settler movement. You’re right, he does have some offensive ideas. But you should be aware that Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned Bennet in the strongest terms.
All that prevents the Palestinians from having their own state is the Palestinians. Israelis have made the offers, done the pullouts, suffered the wars and the intifadas, put their children into uniform generation after generation, swallowed the rocket attacks, made more offers, given the aid, cured the sick, buried their dead, asked for respect, listened to the hate speech, swallowed the lies, prayed for normality, and faced contumely abroad. The Palestinians have rejected every peace offer Israel has ever made, and as a result they have lost thousands of dead, warped their culture, debased their children, pronounced again and again ‘The Jews love life, but we love death, so we will win’, as if this was to do with winning, and they have made conflict their raison d’être. They live in a miserable world, surrounded by a fence, posters of their dead on their walls, their children armed, their mothers singing how happy it makes them to know their sons are dead. It is a bizarre world, especially in Gaza, like 1984 or David Karp’s dystopia in One, and it is all their own doing.

But until the Palestinians agree to make peace with Israel (as Egypt and Jordan have done), Israel simply cannot pull out of the West Bank. It has already pulled out of Gaza, with disastrous consequences for both sides. Why would Israel wish further violence upon itself?

Because Israel cannot be a democracy (even in the limited sense of a Jewish state) if it continues to rule over another non-Jewish people against their will. So Israel has to make peace. Seriously. Not trying to get away with talk of peace while transparent land robbery continues. Everyone sees through the charade.
Israel does not rule over another non-Jewish people against its will. In Israel proper, everyone has a vote and a majority are happy to live in Israel, where their life prospects are much better than they would be in any Arab state. Israel did not choose to rule over Gaza or the West Bank, or, for that matter, Sinai, the Golan, or southern Lebanon. It pulled out of Sinai, Gaza, and southern Lebanon, and remains in the Golan. Prior to the 1967 war, Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, by Jordan. When Egypt, Jordan and their allies massed troops on Israel’s borders, with the intention of launching a massive attack, Israel had no choice but to counter that offensive. The Arabs lost and Israel came into possession of Gaza and the West Bank. If the Palestinians had come to their senses and responded to Israeli peace offers, both Gaza and the West Bank would soon have been free for the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, the Palestinians have preached fire and brimstone ever since, and Israel has been forced to remain in the West Bank to preserve some degree of security. Israel is visibly a democracy, but a democracy that faces widespread opprobrium and repeated attempts to destroy it or, in Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad’s words ‘to annihilate it’ (qal’ o qam’ kard). There is no ‘transparent land robbery’.  UN Resolution 242, with which you may be familiar, was drafted both to guarantee the Palestinians their state but to provide Israel with a strategy to avoid returning to the pre-5 June lines. Israel was required to withdraw, but not from all the territories. In accordance with this, various Israeli peace offers have specified land swaps in order to replace territories lost by Palestine. But the Israeli withdrawal was made contingent on Palestinian acceptance of peace, something that has not once been forthcoming. The offer of land is still there, but how often does someone have to bite the hand that feeds him before the hand gives up?

And it is the violence that lies behind the sometimes harsh conditions imposed on West Bank Palestinians. You cannot take the violence out of the equation. It is the overriding context. The Jews do not undertake their obligations in the West Bank lightly or gratuitously. Under the Balfour Declaration adopted in the San Remo Agreement, and also under the cession of sovereignty under Article 95 of the Treaty of Sèvres, there is a limitation on the political rights of the Jews. They are prohibited from impairing the civil or religious rights of non-Jews when they exercise sovereignty. But no nation on earth can give up its right to self-defence. Palestinian culture, on the other hand, will not give up its right to aggression. Calls for jihad, praise of ‘martyrs’ (i.e. suicide bombers), threats to kill Jews because they are beasts or viruses or cancers are a staple of Palestinian TV, of mosque sermons, and of political speeches in Arabic. And over the years since the 1920s, violence directed against Jews and Israelis has been fierce, regular, ruthless, and deeply destructive. The two intifadas killed thousands of Israelis and destroyed entire families.

Lots of violence on both sides, sure. But you surely know that Israel has killed approx 7 times as many Palestinians as the inverse.
A not negligible proportion of Palestinians have killed themselves, by using suicide vests or guns or other homicidal devices, knowing full well that they may be killed by IDF troops or agents of Israel seeking to find the killers of innocents. It is not surprising if the number of Palestinians killed is greater than the number of Israelis, given how often the Palestinians have thrown themselves recklessly against better armed opponents. That’s a shame, but it is how things have been. Sven times is, in any case, incorrect. The true figure is less than four time. From the beginning, 24,841 Israelis have been killed and 90,785 Palestinians. And it’s about twice for the wounded: 35,350 Israelis against 67,602 Palestinians.
Why not look at this table, which shows that the Israel-Palestine conflict is low down the list when it comes to fatalities.
Conflicts since 1950 with over 10,000 Fatalities (all figures rounded)
1. 40,000,000, Red China, 1949-76 (outright killing, manmade famine, Gulag)
2. 10,000,000, Soviet Bloc: late Stalinism, 1950-53; post-Stalinism, to 1987 (mostly Gulag)
3, 4,000,000, Ethiopia, 1962-92: Communists under Mengistu, artificial hunger, genocides
4. 3,800,000, Zaire (Congo-Kinshasa): 1967-68; 1977-78; 1992-95; 1998-present
5. 2,800,000, Korean war, 1950-53
6. 1,900,000, Sudan, 1955-72; 1983-2006 (civil wars, genocides)
7. 1,870,000, Cambodia: Khmer Rouge 1975-79; civil war 1978-91
8. 1,800,000, Vietnam War, 1954-75
9. 1,800,000, Afghanistan: Soviet and internecine killings, Taliban 1980-2001
10. 1,250,000, West Pakistan massacres in East Pakistan (Bangladesh 1971)
11. 1,100,000, Nigeria, 1966-79 (Biafra); 1993-present
12. 1,100,000, Mozambique, 1964-70 (30,000) + after retreat of Portugal 1976-92
13. 1,000,000, Iran-Iraq-War, 1980-88
14. 900,000, Rwanda genocide, 1994
15. 875,000, Algeria: against France 1954-62 (675,000); between Islamists and the government 1991-2006 (200,000)
16. 850,000, Uganda, 1971-79; 1981-85; 1994-present
17. 650,000, Indonesia: Marxists 1965-66 (450,000); East Timor, Papua, Aceh etc, 1969-present (200,000)
18. 580,000, Angola: war against Portugal 1961-72 (80,000); after Portugal's retreat (1972-2002)
19. 500,000, Brazil against its Indians, up to 1999
20. 430,000, Vietnam, after the war ended in 1975 (own people; boat refugees)
21. 400,000, Indochina: against France, 1945-54
22. 400,000, Burundi, 1959-present (Tutsi/Hutu)
23. 400,000, Somalia, 1991-present
24. 400,000, North Korea up to 2006 (own people)
25. 300,000 Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, 1980s-1990s
26. 300,000, Iraq, 1970-2003 (Saddam against minorities)
27. 240,000, Colombia, 1946-58; 1964-present
28. 200,000, Yugoslavia, Tito regime, 1944-80
29. 200,000, Guatemala, 1960-96
30. 190,000, Laos, 1975-90
31. 175,000, Serbia against Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, 1991-1999
32. 150,000, Romania, 1949-99 (own people)
33. 150,000, Liberia, 1989-97
34. 140,000, Russia against Chechnya, 1994-present
35. 150,000, Lebanon civil war, 1975-90
36. 140,000, Kuwait War, 1990-91
37. 130,000, Philippines: 1946-54 (10,000); 1972-present (120,000)
38. 130,000, Burma/Myanmar, 1948-present
39. 100,000, North Yemen, 1962-70
40. 100,000, Sierra Leone, 1991-present
41. 100,000, Albania, 1945-91 (own people)
42. 80,000, Iran, 1978-79 (revolution)
43. 75,000, Iraq, 2003-present (domestic)
44. 75,000, El Salvador, 1975-92
45. 70,000, Eritrea against Ethiopia, 1998-2000
46. 68,000, Sri Lanka, 1997-present
47. 60,000, Zimbabwe, 1966-79; 1980-present
48. 60,000, Nicaragua, 1972-91 (Marxists/natives etc)
49. 51,000, Arab-Israeli conflict 1950 – present (+ 8,000 to 15,000 Arabs 1948-49)

Hence the checkpoints, patrols, separate roads and the checks on a people many of whose young men and women are devoted to violence. I could continue at length in describing Palestinian terrorism, but I’m sure you don’t have that much patience, so I’ll focus instead on a single instance, from which you may draw broader conclusions.

In December 2004, Wafa al-Biss, a young Palestinian woman from Gaza was treated for severe burns at Beersheva’s Soroka Medical Centre. She remained in hospital till January 2005. In the following June, she had to return to the hospital for further treatment. On her way to Beersheva, she had to pass through a checkpoint, where she was found to be carrying a 22-pound bomb strapped to one leg. She tried to detonate it there and then, but was prevented. After several years in prison, she was released as part of the deal freeing terrorists for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Schoolchildren awaited her on her return home, and she said to them ‘I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs.’ That is fiendish beyond all human expectation. Wafa al-Biss planned to detonate herself among the doctors and nurses who had saved her life, and among as many children as possible. Do you think checkpoints are mere discrimination? Wafa is not the last Palestinian stopped wearing a suicide vest and planning to gain access to a hospital, to a hospital where Israel doctors and nurses treat ailing Palestinian entirely without discrimination. Checkpoints and other restrictions that are imposed on the denizens of the West Bank are entirely self-inflicted. It is all about security. Violence and security, twin contexts for restrictive treatment. It is surely obvious: stop the violence and the preaching of violence and you will be treated like anybody else. I can remember checkpoints vividly in Belfast. Just a short walk through town would take me through several checkpoints manned by the army or the police. It was a restriction, but I never grumbled because I knew why checkpoints were there. Once, almost my whole family was wiped out when a bomb exploded under their train. By pure chance, the train was travelling more slowly than usual. If further restrictions had been suggested, would I or my family have said ‘no’?

I appreciate the personal anecdote and I do understand the difficult situation Israelis are in. But Israel cannot get out of its mess by pretending that it is not to blame. Israel is continuously grabbing more and more land and water by settlements. Jewish thugs are entering Palestinian houses and turfing the family out on the street while the IDF stands and watches. Do you not know this? I do not know which side of the divide you were in N Ireland. But suppose you were a catholic. A protestant gang comes into your family house and throws you and your old mother onto the street. The police stand by and laugh. What do you do? Would you be immune to the call for violent retribution?

You seem to have a lot of time for identifying with the predicament of Israelis, but nothing whatsoever for the (much worse) predicament of Palestinians.
But Israel is not grabbing more and more land. The land swaps already on the table will produce 100% of what will be Palestinian territory. The UN has agreed to let Israel retain some of the West Bank in order to provide security for the Jewish side. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, what happened? Has Hamas’s response to freedom been at all helpful to the peace process? That is why Israel is reluctant to pull out of the West Bank too quickly, knowing that Hamas is geared up to take control of the territory.
Israel is providing greater and greater amounts of water to the Palestinians. It is completely in line with its requirements under the Oslo Accords, and currently supplies 30% more water than strictly required. 96% of Palestinians now have running water. Despite Palestinian claims, Israelis and Palestinians use almost the same amount of water. As of 2012, per capita water use is 150 MCM for Israelis and 140 MCM for Palestinians. However, Palestinian mismanagement of water resources has led to the loss of one-third of their own water. The Palestinians do not treat 94% of their wastewater, whereas Israelis recycle 75% of theirs. Palestinians get the highest amount of aid of any community in the world, so there should be plenty of money to cater for this.
Where Jewish thugs enter Palestinian houses I share your distaste. If IDF soldiers stand by, they should be court-martialed or disciplined in some other way. I do care about the predicament of ordinary Palestinians, but I have no sympathy at all for their disastrous leadership, which has got them into a succession of disasters year after year. And to the extent that many ordinary Palestinians support violent action against Israelis, praise murderers, listen to mosque sermons that heap the very worst abuse on Jews (and do note that, in Arabic it is much, much more common to speak of al-Yahud than al-Sahyuniyya), watch television shows that would be banned in any Western country, bring their children up like the children in Ishiguru’s Never Let Me Go, knowing they will die as they reach adulthood, hand round sweets on hearing of murders like the massacre of the Fogel family – that is to say, when them behave like reprobates  and scoundrels, then I cannot praise them or smile at them, because I know the next bomb will be for me or a friend of mine. Is it asking too much of them to behave like grown-ups, to act to give their children lives, to start businesses, to recognize that they live right next door to one of the most successful countries in the world, and to ask for help from Israeli expertise?

Further down you write that ‘since Israel maintains total military control of all of historic Palestine it should be viewed as a single unit’. Apart from the non-sequitur, this illustrates the gulf between us in terms of academic disciplines. The statement is nonsensical. Israel occupies only a part of what you term ‘historical Palestine’. Put simply, there was never any entity called Palestine between the Roman departure (when it was Syria Palaestina), the Byzantine period and finally the era of the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid empires and the creation of British mandate Palestine. Under the preceding Ottoman empire, it was regarded as essentially southern Syria, and it was as part of Syria that the Arabs in the 1930s and 1940s wanted to treat it. The British mandate area is the only one relevant to present claims. It is much smaller than the area of Syria Palaestina, which may be historical but is wholly irrelevant to modern international boundaries. A large part of it was the area handed to the Hashemite Arabs to form Transjordan (now Jordan). Israel is not in military occupation of Jordan. Gaza was at one point occupied by Egypt, but then fell into Israeli hands until 2005, when it was handed back to its Arab residents. Israel is not in military occupation of Gaza. Israel itself is not under military occupation, since it was legally established as a state through the San Remo conference, the League of Nations, and the United Nations. The only area under Israeli occupation is the West Bank, but things are not that simple.

Following the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel relinquished much of its control over the West Bank. The area is now divided into three sectors. Sector A is totally under Palestinian control and includes 55% of West Bank Palestinians. Area B has Palestinian civilian administration with Israeli security. It includes 41% of West Bank Palestinians. And Area C is under Israeli control but includes a mere 4% of West Bank Palestinians. What this boils down to is that Israel has military control over 4 per cent of all West Bank Palestinians and no control over 96%, nor any over all the Palestinians living in Gaza. So in what sense does it make sense to speak of ‘all of historical Palestine’ (whatever you mean by that) as ‘a single unit’.

Thanks for the history lesson, but it's all pretty irrelevant. The general understanding of the term Palestine is the area between the med and Jordan valley/Dead Sea.
Well, I’m the historian, and I don’t understand why you would consider all that irrelevant. The definition of Palestine you give is only the area used to define the British Mandate (and it goes right to the eastern border of Jordan if you take the original British Mandate area). There was no ‘Palestine’ prior to 1920, and only the Arabs and Palestinians use your definition today. But the area you mean was southern Syria, and in the lead up to 1948, there was considerable rivalry between Syria and Jordan, both of whom wanted it to form a Greater Syria (yes, even the Jordanians).

If you mean that the whole of mandate Palestine (minus Jordan) should become a single entity, in other words, one country then I must tell you that that would not only spell the end of Israel, it would almost certainly lead to a genocide of today’s 6 million Jews. Hamas alone have promised that task to themselves, and if you read their Charter, you will see the threat spelled out in stark language. That Charter is readily available online. Here’s a link to a translation (which I recommend) from Yale University:
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp. No-one who ha                                                                                                              s not read it (or any of the crucial documents included in the classic compilation, the Israel-Arab Reader) really has a right to make suggestions for the future of Jews living in Israel, however well meaning those suggestions may be.

See above about the situation in Gaza. The horrendous conditions has provided fertile ground for violent extremism there. But the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, including the majority from Hamas, are ready to make an accommodation with Israel. It will certainly not be easy, and a two-state arrangement is almost certainly necessary as an intermediate step. Unfortunately Israel has done everything it can, with its destructive settlement policy, to make a two-state arrangement even more difficult than it would have been.
Malcolm, I can agree with some of this, but not all. You blame the extremism on the ‘horrendous conditions’ in Gaza, but the truth is very different. The beginnings of Salafi Islam in its modern form go back to the 1920s with the work of a fundamentalist writer, Rashid Rida in Egypt. He was soon followed by Hasan al-Banna’, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, also in Egypt, modeled on the Hitler organizations on the 1930s. Later, the great Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, created the most extreme style of Muslim thought and wrote a seminal book, Ma’rakatuna ma’a’l-Yahud, Our Struggle with the Jews. Back in the 1940s, the Brotherhood engendered branches in other countries, one of which was the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, now known as Hamas. In India Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi became greatly influential in the Arab world after his anti-democratic, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish books were translated into Arabic.
Islamic terrorism has deep roots, and those roots have been as much in comfortable and prosperous cultures as in impoverished ones. Today, Gaza boasts luxury hotels and restaurants, its elite drives expensive sports cars, house prices are galloping up. Things are bad, but not so bad. That has not led to any diminution of attacks on Israel, any reduction in the hate speech directed against Jews, or any willingness to talk with an enemy who has offered and still offers benefits to the people of Gaza.
I certainly do not agree that ‘Israel has done everything it can, with its destructive settlement policy, to make a two-state arrangement even more difficult than it would have been.’ Read the Hamas Charter, as I suggested earlier. The Charter inveighs against peace plans of all kinds and insists that only war can solve their problems. How do you expect to get a two-state solution when one side sets its face firmly against such a solution and demands only what it wants and to hell with everybody else? These are people who threw their own Palestinian rivals out of windows in high-rise buildings. If not actually insane, Hamas fall little short of it and clearly suffer from personality defects that rule out a healthy nationalism, moderate religion, and a willingness to talk.

You say, moreover, ‘the fact that there is a fraction partitioned off in such a way as to have a local Jewish majority and which is favoured with a high degree of democratic rights is not highly relevant, in my opinion’. That is pure bigotry, and I don’t hesitate to say so.

Why this should be bigotry is unknown to me.
Perhaps I misunderstand you. But the implication is that a Jewish-majority entity, even with democratic rights, is not relevant to our discussion. What if it were an Arab-majority entity with democratic rights? Would that seem relevant? I would consider either to be relevant to any discussion of a two-state solution.

Israel was created  in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman empire as were Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, all of which had the same rights (though the Arabs dispensed with democracy pretty quickly). It was created as a home for the Jews, a people who were severely persecuted in Europe, killed in their millions, and treated as second-class citizens in the Islamic world. That was its raison d’être, and it has fulfilled its promise very well indeed. The fact that in this region only the Jewish state knows how to govern itself, functions democratically, provides full freedom for the press, gives opposition parties and anti-Israel NGOs the same rights they would have here is highly relevant. All the Arab states have had exactly the same chance as Israel to lead democratic lives and all have disintegrated into tyranny and religious extremism. That is a very good argument for saying that Israel, not any of its wanton neighbours, should be the model for government across the Middle East. But all the surrounding states spit nothing but the most vicious antisemitism and seek to destroy Israel, with all the good things it has done for mankind.

See above. The conflict is not between Israel and the Arab states, but between Zionist jews and Palestinians.
As I have said before, it is both of these and more. A majority of Jews support Israel. 75% of US Jews polled in 2010 said that caring about Israel is a significant part of their Jewish identity. So, most Jews are Zionists, and for good reason. But this is not mainly a conflict between Zionist Jews (or Zionist non-Jews like myself) and Palestinians, nor a clash between Israel and the Arab states. Many Arab states are not much involved in the conflict. Most important, and related to what I have just said about Islamic extremist, the rejection of Israel coincides with the emergence of a resurgent Islam and the growth of intemperate, fractious, and intolerant forms of Islamic belief and practice. Traditionally, Islam has never conceded much to non-Muslims, and this absolutism is rampant in the modern era. Why should Israel or Jews be held to blame for Islamic obstinacy?

‘Even these local democratic rights have some severe discriminatory aspects such as the “law of return” which is racially based and inhumane.’ The international community created Israel as the world’s only Jewish state.
True. But this was done without consultation, and against the wishes, of the inhabitants of the area.
That’s not true. I’m tempted to embark on another history, but I’ll try to restrict it here. Israel was not created ‘without consultation’. Endless consultations took place between the different parties involved before and following the UN partition resolution. It seems that the Arabs, however, were quite weak in their approach to lobbying, whereas the Jews were much better at it. The decision to create a Jewish homeland within or alongside an Arab state was made in the wake of one war and completed in the wake of a second, when the League of Nations and the United Nations dealt with the fragmentation of the Middle East, first after the total collapse of the utterly undemocratic, non-consultative Ottoman empire. There were numerous Arab organizations capable of negotiating with the British and members of the UN. The various members of the Arab League met regularly and were represented by the rulers of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, who talked with the British, Americans and others. There was no lack of consultation. You are quite to say that partition was against the wishes of the inhabitants of the area, but had they agreed to two states, it is highly likely that the outcome would have been to their benefit.
Today, as endless government reports and individual surveys will tell you, antisemitism has grown out of measure in Europe and the Middle East, to the point where Jews have fled or are fleeing countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Holland has gone into antisemitic overdrive. Belgium the same. Attacks on Jews are up everywhere. Even as a non-Jew I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. But in my childhood and youth I thought genocide of the Jews to be a thing of the past, buried in all our memories, never likely to come into the light again. I was wrong. Yet knowing that another Holocaust is no longer such an impossible thing, I read the words of a rational man, and I see him determined to weaken the one country in the world that can guarantee a safe haven for any Jew who seeks it. Jews have a right of return because Jews need the protection it affords.

Fine. I do not have a problem with that. But Palestinians who were expelled from that same place must also have a right of return. In fact they already have a right of return, enshrined in the Geneva conventions and numerous UN resolutions. The problem is that Israel and its supporters block its implementation.
The right of return issue is complex enough to take up the time of whole university departments. All the covenants and resolutions that bear on this subject have been analyzed, discussed, agreed with and disagreed with ad nauseam. It is arguable that the Palestinians who left Israel in 1948 and 1967 do not have a right of return. And I see no sign of a right of return or compensation for the roughly 900,000 Jews who were forced out of the Arab world post-1949. I do not like the idea of a right of return, not just for the 1948-49 refugees, but also for their descendants to the present day. I cannot see why Israel should bear the cost of repatriating people who were pushed out of their territory by Arab committees and armed forces. Given the subsequent behaviour of the Palestinians, I do not for a moment understand why Israel should allow into its territory people who have fought against it, agitated against it, boycotted it, and threatened it with extinction should they ever get a chance. Note that this privilege is never extended to other refugees from around the world. Those who were displaced after World War II were eventually given new homes and granted new citizenships, but the Arabs have refused citizenship for Palestinian refugees, kept them in camps, and demand they be returned to Israel, where they will, in all probability, cause disruption and renew violence. The abstracts cited by the Arabs bear no relationship to the ongoing for a Jewish safe haven in a world awash with anti-Semitism.

The result is that a Russian who can rustle or bribe through some papers stating 1/4 Jewish ancestory on his mothers side can arrive in Israel and claim citizenship, while my friend in Southampton, who has the keys and the legal deeds to his family's house in Majdal Askalan (now Ashkelon), cannot cross the borders.
Is your friend a British citizen? If so, he lives in a stable country, and no doubt his children are well educated and will have successful futures. If he is a British citizen or intends to become one, he can pass into Israel on the same basis as myself. This country is full of people from disparate countries, many of whom are asylum seekers and refugees. They are not given an automatic right of return to their homeland, simply because that ‘s not how the i

I do not challenge your right to criticize Israel. But you carry that criticism into irrational and prejudiced territory. I have asked you to examine real facts about Israel, but you come back to me with surmises and inaccuracies. Your profession drives you to do better than that. To visit Israel with open eyes. See fault by all means, but do not load your criticism with existential weight, do not call for the extinction of one of the best, most creative, most human rights focused countries in the world – for such I hold Israel to be.

I do not call for the extinction of Israel. On the contrary, I think that a wise Israeli government would immediately withdraw the settlements, agree to implement UN resolutions, allow the refugees to return or be compensated, and allow the formation of a truth and reconciliation committee on the S African lines in which the crimes of both sides will be aired and defused. A secure Palestinian state would be set up alongside a secure Israel. I think that is surprisingly likely. My experience of Israelis and Palestinians has made me realize that the two peoples are astonishingly similar.
I agree with some of this, but not all. If giving up the settlements would guarantee peace, I would agree to it. Removing settlements did help foster peace in Sinai. That included the struggle to take families from their homes in Yamit. But I don’t see any precedent for that, do you? Pulling out of Gaza did diddley squat for the prospects of peace, and actually worsened the situation. And just as you call for the Palestinian refugees to be restored to Israel, yet you refuse to let 350,150 Jewish settlers stay in the West Bank. A truth and reconciliation committee would, no doubt, be a good idea, but not if it resulted in reiteration of all the trumped-up charges against Israel. Crimes there have been, but most of what Israel has done has been legal. I’m pleased to read that you think two secure states side by side is ‘surprisingly likely’, though I confess that I’m less optimistic. If this were a straightforward political struggle, I’d agree. But the introduction of Islamic defiance at a period when Islamic is on the march and wants nothing to do with Western ways of doing things makes me skeptical about the likelihood of change. The two peoples are indeed astonishingly similar, but the two religions are poles apart.

In the fullness of time I would hope that the two states merge into a single democratic entity.
Malcolm, I’d like to look again and finally at this last statement of yours. I believe it is the most crucial thing and the truest signal to the nature of the dispute between us. It is easier for me to see, I believe, because I am greatly experienced in Islamic Studies. Your statement is – tell me I’m wrong if I misinterpret you – founded on your experience with European, North American Australian, Christian, and Jewish democratic understandings of the state, of treaty-based internationalism, of human rights, and of the multicultural society. If I thought that a future Jewish-Palestinian entity would be based on the Westphalian theory of international order, on the original ideals of the League of Nations and the United Nations, I might well agree that it would be the perfect solution, though I would remain cautious of a world that did not permit a Jewish state. Nevertheless, it is an ideal to aspire to, and I commend you for it.
But I must say that I think you are very wrong indeed in what you assume. The issue is not Western international law. It never has been. The core of this matter is Islamic law. A long lecture on this subject would take pages upon pages, and I have no desire to inflict that on you. I will concrete only on what is salient to this discussion. First, shari’a law is divine. Its basis lies first in the Qur’an, the unalterable word of God. No-one in over 1400 years has ever challenged this text. Its second basis is made up of six canonical books, the collections of the sayings and doings of Muhammad. These are not God’s word, but they are the next best thing to it and cannot easily be challenged. Finally, some shari’a is founded in the sira or biography of the prophet. The methods of modern historical science do not apply to either the hadith or the sira (or only for Western scholars and a tiny number of Muslims).
This means that the matters I am about to mention can never be challenged without a real risk of apostasy, which will be met with threats of physical violence and attempts on the writer’s life. A majority will always favour retention of laws derived from these sources.
According to Rudolph Peters, the world’s leading analyst of Islamic holy war, the Islamic law of nations is based, not on treaty obligations or the deliberations of international institutions, but on the law of jihad. It is as simple as that, and it works in a manner utterly different to the concepts of Western nations, all of which are negated by Islamic thinkers. The law of jihad states that Muslims are bound to spread the faith of Islam by preaching followed by physical conquest of non-Muslim territory. The early history of Islam (starting with the prophet) is one of continuous conquest, and later Islamic history is a story of further jihad accompanied by mercantile endeavours and open conversion. If a territory starts out as the abode of pagans or atheists, there will be a call to conversion, followed by mass killing. If (as happened in the early phase) the territory belongs to Christians (or, in theory, Jews, or, in Iran, Zoroastrians) the inhabitants will be fought if they fight back and may be killed in battle. But on conquest they may choose between death and the status of dhimmis or protected people, provided they pay the jizya or poll tax and observe various regulations that enforce their role as submissives (Islam itself means ‘submission’). This has taken place throughout Islamic history. It has been marked by the decline in Christian and Jewish communities, especially in the modern period.
The principle behind all this is that Muslims are regarded as the followers of God’s final revelation, possessors of his final word (with the Jewish and Christian scriptures dismissed as ‘corrupt’) and, as such have a permanent mission to bring Islam to the rest of mankind, by preaching where possible, but mainly through conquest by jihad. For the rest of the world, this is a threat, and one that has a present-day reality in the spread of violent Islam terrorism.
Should your unitary state ever come into being, I would count the lives of Israel’s Jews in days. Remonstrations from the United Nations, the European Union, and anybody else would be disregard. Because the Jews have fought against the Arabs (and, in a fashion, against the Iranians), the desire to drive them to condign punishment would override all other sentiments. They would be treated as Muhammad treated the Jews of Medina in his day. Killing them would be another Final Solution. The Western powers, recognizing the need not to antagonize the Arabs, newly come into possession of Israel’s shale oil and gas reserves, would not seek to rock the boat.
Naturally, the Jews of Israel (and others from round the world) would not want to let that happen to them, so the conflict would continue and perhaps the Arabs would be expelled for a second time. But there are dozens of Islamic countries, and the creation of a single entity would doubtless encourage all of them to send forces in order to root out the Jewish presence once and for all.
What would not happen is the happy home you envisage. Israel is not in the heart of Europe, and Europe has lost its love for Jews and the Jewish state.

In the end, I believe there is one hypostatic thing that separates us. This is a willingness on my part to accept as benign a democratic, law-based, rights-observant state, with many warts and blemishes, with repeated yet scarcely deliberate failures to live up to its own ideals and aspirations. I am willing to accept Israel as it is, with constant hope for improvement ­– something that has, in so many ways and by so many measures, already taken in place, albeit in part. This has happened against the odds, for no other country in human history has been so hated and so often threatened with extinction.
Whereas you, even though you know how much better Israel than most other countries, choose to exceptionalize it, seeing its faults to the exclusion of its merits and ignoring the far greater faults of those other nations whose inhabitants cry out for your support, and at the same time finding nothing good to say about the positive contributions Israel has made internally and internationally. It has saved lives all round the world, through its agricultural innovations, its medical inventions, its scientific discoveries, and its aid missions.
I don’t know what to do about this. I have been a confirmed lover of Israel (and I hope not a foolish one) for almost all my life, you have been an anti-Zionist, possibly for just as long. There is nothing I can do to help you adopt a more moderate position. What I do know is this. If you, the international Left, the Muslim world, and the Palestinians, along with millions of people who couldn’t care less about Israel succeed by whatever means, it will bring about, in months or years a second Holocaust. I am as certain of that as I am of anything. You say you do not hope for the destruction of Israel, and I believe you, but you do hope for a jolly reunited Palestine to which all Palestinian refugees will return, and not just the refugees from 1949, but generation upon generation of their descendants. That alone would spark off massacres of Jews, in fulfillment of eighty years of threats of genocide, threats that are still written and uttered to this. Think of the ‘Arab Spring’, think of Syria, think of the slaughter of Christians in most Muslim countries. The threats are directed at the Jews, and not just the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. The destruction of Israel would open floodgates elsewhere. And with the deaths of 6 million Jews in Israel, all the infrastructure of Jewish settlement would be destroyed. Think what happened in Gaza when Israel pulled out. There would be no more world-level science (censorship of science is endemic in the Muslim world, evolution is taught nowhere), no more Nobel prizes (Jews have some 200 out of a world population of 14 million, Muslims have 9 out of a world population of 1.6 billion), no  more ranking on the Nasdaq Index, no more significant work in medicine, restrictions on literature (much more censorship), and much greater loss across the board.
I have spent a lifetime studying Islam, and I believe the Muslim world contributed greatly to the sciences, to alchemy and hence to your own discipline of chemistry, to art and architecture, to poetry, to natural history, to the development of the astrolabe, to astronomy, to philosophy and mystical philosophy, to painting (mainly through the miniature form), to exploration, to trade, and much else. But today, all that is gone, and the Muslim world contributes very little indeed to the sciences or culture. Instead, modern Islam, from about the 19th century, has given us the culture of jihad, a continuation in places of slavery (and the Arab slave trade was the longest and most widespread form), and has bequeathed the Taliban, al-Qa’ida, Hamas, Hizbullah, the writings of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al-Banna’ and Abu’l A’la Mawdudi, daily car bombs and suicide bombings, beheadings, the oppression of women, gays, and religious minorities, the insanity of much of the Arab world, the madness of Iran, the craziness of Afghanistan, the ongoing bigotry and violence of Pakistan, 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, the endless bombings and massacres in Israel, Woolwich, the Bombay assaults, the Boston Marathon bombings – a tiny few from all the terror attacks worldwide. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of therse attacks: if you look at it, you will see a great swathe of Israeli flags, indicating the excessive number of individuals killed in Israel.
If Israel falls, that is what will replace it. Mindless terrorism. Hamas will kill anyone, Jew or Muslim, who stands in the way of an Islamist state. Hizbullah will move in, followed by forces from Iran. Fatah, Islamic Jihad and others will make their own bid for power. Now, you may think that ‘In the fullness of time I would hope that the two states merge into a single democratic entity. That is not how things would turn out, and I’m sure you know it. Mahmoud ‘Abbas has already declared that no Jews will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. Hamas want to kill all the Jews. Iran takes the same view. Most of the Islamic world believes that Jews are vermin who deserve to be eradicated. The last thing that will emerge from a merger of two states is a single democratic entity. There are no true democracies in the Middle East bar Israel. Take away the Jewish ethic that has created Israel as a real democracy and you will see the area revert to savagery. Why would you doubt it? There are too many anti-democratic forces at work in the Middle East to make it beyond belief that all the theocrats and dictators will give up their old ways and start embracing the Jews as their long-lost kin.

Thank you, Malcolm, for taking the trouble to read so far, and for your patience in engaging in what has become a protracted debate. If you want to take this further, I’m game for more. And if you think we have reached a point beyond which further discussion is pointless, as you have suggested, well at least we have both tried. Keep well and don’t inhale too many toxic substances.

Best wishes,


[1] ‘Past or Apprehended Disturbances’, p. 61.
[2] F.O. 78/1294 (Political No. 36) in A. M. Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem (In Relation to the Jews of Palestine, 1838 – 1914) 2 vols., London, 1939-1942, vol. 1, p. 249.
[3] Ibid. p. 425.
[4] Peters, From Time Immemorial, p. 196.

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