The world, however, is not interested in context when it comes to Israel, its “illegal occupation” of the West Bank, and its “disproportionate” and “unjustifiable” responses to acts of violence and terror hurled against it, such as this week’s military operation in Jenin, which involved air strikes and ground troops. It was the most violent operation Israel has launched in the West Bank since the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. The last drone attacks in the region were in 2006.
The attack early Monday morning was in response to the at least 15 recent attacks on Israeli citizens launched by terrorists based in Jenin, which they consider a “safe haven.” This includes the June 21 murder of four Israelis at a gas station about 25 miles from the refugee camp. They were among the 27 people Palestinian terrorists have killed since January 1.
I, too, am critical of Israeli actions when they go too far. I am heartbroken by the country’s radical turn, which has allowed two avowed racists with genocidal tendencies — Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir — to hold any portfolios in Israel’s government, much less the critical ones they do have. I abhor Israeli extremism when it rears its head, but I do understand the why of it all and I also understand who ultimately is to blame for it.
The world, however, is not interested in the why of it all. It focuses instead on Israeli extremism, while it ignores what fuels that extremism — the history, distant and immediate, of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In so doing, the world must share some of the blame, as well.
One example of what the world chooses to ignore is the refugee problem, considered to be the deal breaker in any attempts to broker peace.
Israel, many in the world arrogantly insist, must agree to the return of the Arab refugees and their descendants (estimated today around five million people) to the homes in Israel they abandoned — for the most part voluntarily — in 1948.
Yet little is ever said about compensating in some meaningful way the estimated 850,000 Jews who were forced to flee their homes in Arab lands during this period and their millions of descendants. The silence about them is deafening.
In the immediate years before Israel came into being, Jews living in Arab lands faced increasing acts of hostility, violence, and discrimination. Various Arab governments restricted their rights, confiscated their property, revoked their citizenship, limited what jobs they could take, and even limited their ability to travel.
They also encouraged often deadly riots. The most violent one occurred in Baghdad in June 1941, with an estimated 180 Jews murdered, hundreds of others injured, and thousands of Jewish homes and businesses looted or destroyed. Other significant riots took place in Cairo (January 1942, in which an estimated 100 Jews were murdered), in Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya (November 1945, in which an estimated 140 Jews were murdered), in Aleppo in Syria (December 1947, in which an estimated 75 Jews were murdered) and in Aden in Yemen (December 1947, in which an estimated 80 Jews were murdered). There were also hundreds of Jews injured in these riots, and property losses are estimated at $150 million.
The world’s blinders are even thicker when it comes to the history of the conflict itself and even to the realities in the region that help perpetuate it. Arab states generally support their Palestinian brethren, but their own national interests and foreign policy priorities take precedence.
Those national interests are why Egypt and Jordan today have peace treaties with Israel, why the Abraham Accords came into being, and why Saudi Arabia is considering signing on to those accords. It suits their needs of the moment. Meanwhile, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Kuwait, among several others, use the conflict to deflect their citizens’ attention away from serious domestic matters that could topple their regimes.
There also are the political divisions among Palestinian Arabs themselves that stand in the way of any peaceful resolution, such as the longstanding feud between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.
Most important, however, is the one reality the world chooses to forget entirely: The United Nations authorized a Palestinian Arab state on November 29, 1947. From that day until June 10, 1967, when the Six-Day War ended, the Arab states could have created that Palestinian Arab state. Instead, seven Arab states chose war.
Despite all odds, Israel won the first Arab-Israeli war, and even expanded its borders. There nevertheless remained a huge parcel of land on which to create a Palestinian Arab state. Instead, Jordan occupied the West Bank, Egypt occupied Gaza, and Syria seized the Golan Heights, and they forced the refugees to live in inhumanely disgusting camps. None of them, however, recommended turning those territories into a Palestinian state.
Rivalries among Arab states top the list of why they did not do so.
Jordan, under the leadership of King Abdullah I and later his grandson King Hussein, so feared having a Palestinian state sitting next door that Jordan formally — and illegally — annexed the West Bank in 1950. (Only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized that annexation.)
Egypt administered Gaza without formally annexing it. It had more serious concerns, especially internal conflicts that eventually led to an open revolt in 1952 and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s seizing power in 1954.
Nasser was much more focused on creating a single Arab nation — with him, of course, at its head — than whether the Palestinian Arabs had a state of their own. His pan-Arab vision was also seen as a challenge to the traditional Arab monarchies, especially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Because Jordan had a significant Palestinian Arab population who were being ruled by non-Palestinian Hashemite rulers who annexed territory the Palestinian nationalists wanted for their state, Egypt vigorously championed such a state. It did so, however, more as a way of weakening Jordanian influence in the Arab world and destabilizing Israel than anything else.
Jordan, albeit quietly, preferred a negotiated settlement with Israel. Egypt, on the other hand, favored military confrontation — the Sinai war in 1956, the Six-Day War in 1967, and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 all were Egypt-driven. It also allowed Palestinian guerrilla activity to be launched from its own territory.
Understanding how Jordan came to be is essential to understanding all of this.
Until the early 1930s, different Arab clans ruled different parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Hashemite family ruled the Hejaz region in western Arabia. The region included Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest cities. The Hashemites claimed the right to rule the Hejaz because they were directly descended from the prophet Muhammad, and perhaps more significantly, from Muhammad’s grandfather and Hashemite founder Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim. He is revered by Muslims for having miraculously rediscovered the Well of Zamzam in Mecca in the mid-6th century. Islamic tradition believes that is where Hagar found the water to revive Abraham’s son Ishmael, ancestor of the Arab people. Early in the 20th century, the Hashemite leader Sharif Hussein bin Ali ruled the Hejaz.
Enter Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Saud, known commonly as Ibn Saud. In 1890, his uncle, Abdullah bin Faisal al Saud, expelled him and his family from Riyadh in central Arabia. In 1902, Ibn Saud took Riyadh by force and began a series of wars to unify Arabia under his rule. He was aided, beginning in 1916, by T.E. Lawrence and the British. In 1925, he seized the Hejaz, forcing the Hashemites into exile. In 1932, he established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with himself as its first king.
After losing the Hejaz, Sharif Hussein fled first to Cyprus, and later to what was then known as Transjordan. The British installed his son, the Emir Abdullah, as Transjordan’s governor. He became King Abdullah I when the renamed Jordan gained its independence in 1946.
This is where the Hashemite fixation with controlling all things Palestinian comes in.
To the Palestinian nationalists, the Hashemites were non-Palestinian interlopers from western Arabia. Abdullah himself was believed to be a Zionist collaborator who was engaged in secret peace talks with Israel. For this, he was assassinated inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque during early morning prayers on July 20, 1951. His eldest son, Talal, briefly succeeded him as king, but soon abdicated in favor of his son, Hussein ibn Talal.
King Hussein, as inclined as he may have been to live in peace with Israel, was ever mindful of the threat posed by the Palestinian nationalists. That is why he joined Nasser’s war against Israel in 1967.
His fears were justified. In September 1970, the PLO launched an almost month-long civil war designed to unseat the Hashemites and establish a Palestinian state on both sides of the Jordan River. The revolt, known as Black September, failed, and the PLO was forced to relocate in Lebanon.
This is something else the world ignores when it espouses the Palestinian cause: The nationalist vision for a state includes not just Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, but all of Jordan.
The world also ignores Israel’s many attempts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians — at the White House in September 1993, at Oslo in 1993 and 1995, and at Camp David in July 2000. At that historic Camp David meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat nearly 90 percent of what the PLO leader was demanding, including Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state. To Barak’s dismay and President Bill Clinton’s everlasting disgust, Arafat refused. In September, Arafat launched the Second Intifada, with its deadly consequences.
The world also ignores how the Palestinian Authority financially rewards terrorists and their families and honors these Jew-killers by naming public buildings and thoroughfares after them. It ignores, too, the Palestinian textbooks and children’s TV programming that inculcate hatred of the Jews.
As long as the world keeps its blinders on and continues to coddle the Palestinian Arab side while demonizing Israel, true peace has little chance of ever breaking out there.
Israel has been radicalized, that is true, and it appears to becoming ever harsher in its responses to acts of Palestinian Arab violence and terror, yet the world damns Israel while ignoring what it was that radicalized Israel.
Shammai Engelmayer is a rabbi-emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.