Monday, August 27, 2007

"Wiping Palestine off the Map"

Coming posts for the Magnes Zionist include a continuing series of responses to arguments on behalf of the Law of Return. I promised that two weeks ago, and I have yet to get back to it, but I will.

But first, a reply to a comment to A Talmudic Precedent for a Just Solution to the Israel Palestinian Conflict that was posted when I was recently stranded in cyberspace.

I wrote in that post

"...even though one hundred years of Zionism teaches us that the Palestinians have much more to fear from the Zionists than vice-versa. Only one side has ever actually wiped the other’s country off the map – and it wasn’t the Palestinian side."

I am glad to take the opportunity to clarify what I meant by the assertion that Israel wiped Palestine off the map. I was not trying to compete with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who said that Israel should vanish from the pages of time (which apparently did not mean that the Israeli people should be obliterated. He seems to have been speaking, Reagan-like, of regime change that would replace the current state of Israel with another state. As far as I know, he did not call for the death or expulsion of Israeli Jews.)

What I meant was that the State of Israel, during and after the 1947-8 war, deliberatedly changed the map of Palestine when it systematically destroyed Palestinian villages, renamed existing Arab place names with Hebrew names, and diminished the Palestinian presence in Palestine by expulsion of Palestinians and mass immigrations of Jews.

What I did not mean was that Israel nuked Palestine or mass-murdered Palestinians. "To wipe a country off the map" means simply that one country is totally (or almost totally) replaced by another country. And indeed, if you examine maps of Palestine before 1947 and maps of Israel after 1952, say, you will find radical alterations.

Presumably, part of the reason why the Zionists erased the Palestinian presence was to present Israel as a state that arose, if not ex nihilo, than out of a desert, with only a few picturesque native villages. That way, the natives who had been expelled would have no claim to places which no longer existed, and Zionists could argue that there never was a significant Palestinian presence in Palestine.

Now, it is true that many states wipe their predecessors off the map when they become independent and conquer territory. Lviv was Lwow, and before that, Lemberg, and before that Lwow, etc., depending upon who was in charge. And states do that mostly for the same reason that Israel did; to obliterate the immediate past. Israel went further than this and literally obliterated villages and neighborhoods, but other states have done this, too. I am not, obviously referring to all of Palestine, but only to that part of mandatory Palestine that was under Israel's control by virtue of the armistic agreements.

Of course, not only were villages destroyed, but sites were renamed with Hebrew names. Sometimes, the official Hebrew names never stuck. Few people even in Jerusalem know that the official Hebrew name of the neighborhood of Baka is "Geulim", and that the post office there is called the Geulim post office. Everybody refers to it as Baka, perhaps because the original Arab neighborhood was used to settle Arabic-speaking Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

As for the claim that there was no country of Palestine -- well, that is really silly. There was no modern state of Palestine, but the peoples of Palestine (including the small Jewish communities) had every reason to expect that in time there would be a state, and that given the principle of self-determination, that state would have the character of the majority of its inhabitants. This happened throughout the middle east, and indeed, throughout the world, with the breakup of empires.

Anyway, for those interested in pursuing this subject beyond the information on Palestinian websites, one can consult Meron Benvenisti's Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, and Salman Abu Sitta's Atlas of Palestine 1948, if you can get a hold on it.

And please look at the website of those Israelis who are trying to bring to the Israeli consciousness the tragedy of the Nakba, the Israeli organization Zochrot. One of their activities is to go around the country posting signs with the old Arabic place names, sometimes in English and transliterated Hebrew.

8 comments:

GBacharach said...

As for the claim that there was no country of Palestine -- well, that is really silly. There was no modern state of Palestine, but the peoples of Palestine (including the small Jewish communities) had every reason to expect that in time there would be a state, and that given the principle of self-determination,

Then why did so many of them say they considered their country part of Syria?
As for Israel "taking" Palestine off the map, its a 2 way street. Jordans desecration of holy sites during its control of east Jerusalem, Arabs constantly denying that the Jewish temple ever exsisted etc.

You say that you only focus on Jewish crimes because your Jewish and it is a Zionist blog, but every criticism leveled at Israel should be made in comparison to other nations. Otherwise its racism.

btw why didn't you respond to my last e-mail?

Jerry Haber said...

1. The Greater Syria folks thought that Palestine was part of Syria. Had there been a referendum and they won, then they would have been joined Syria. That's called self-determination.
However, I was not claiming that the Palestinian people before the nakba had the same national consciousness as they did afterwards. Ditto for the Jewish people, a minority of which had a Jewish national consciousness before the Holocaust.
Your point about the Jordanians is well-taken; as I wrote, that is what states do. No doubt, had Arabs achieved hegemony in Palestine, they would have tried to reverse the effects of Zionist immigration. But they didn't.
response will be forthcoming. I just got email back today.

Peter H said...

Jerry,

You might enjoy this article by Haim Gerber, a Professor at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, about Palestinian History in The Journal of Palestine Studies. I no longer have access to JSTOR (I assume you do, as a university professor), but as I remember it, Gerber argues that there were manifestations of Palestinian consciousness & awareness of Palestine as a distinct territory well before the emergence of Zionism. He also discusses the Greater Syria movement, which he says, IIRC, died by the early 1920's in Palestine.

Also, as Rashid Khalidi points out in Palestinian Identity (a book which I highly recommend), after World War I nation-state nationalisms were emerging in other parts of the Middle East - Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan - without a Zionist challenge. So, even without Zionism, a Palestinian nationalism would have probably emerged, albeit in a very different form. Really, all nationalisms are constructions that build on pre-existing loyalties and reshape & re-construct them to build new identities.

Jerry Haber said...

Khalidi makes a similar comment in the Iron Cage. Anyway, thanks for the references. I am not an expert in the question of Palestinian national identity -- not being familiar with folks other than Khalidi and Kimmerling and Migdal.

DC Doc said...

I am "anonymous 2" who asked you to answer a number of questions about the "country" you say the Zionists wiped "off the map." You have chosen to answer none, so let me remind you of them:

*****
"Exactly which 'country' do you contend was 'wiped...off the map' by the 'Zionists'? 'Palestine'? If so, would you tell us: in what year (or era) the 'country' of 'Palestine' came into being and when exactly it ceased to exist; the location of its capital; and what were its established or claimed boundaries? Did the 'country' of 'Palestine' ever border on the newly created states of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan? Was all or some of Gaza part of the 'country' of 'Palestine'? Who last governed the 'country' of 'Palestine' before it was 'wiped...off the map,' was it the 'Palestinians'? And who previously held the reins of government as the penultimate ruler of that 'country,' was it 'Palestinians' then, however long ago their reign began? If neither the last government of 'Palestine,' nor the one before it were truly 'Palestinian' ones, then how far back in history must we go for the last truly 'Palestinian' government of 'Palestine,' before it was 'occupied'(?) and ruled by other than 'Palestinians'?"
*****

Rather than answer any of those straightforward questions, after 8 paragraphs of rhetorical digressions and evasions of various sorts, remarkable enough in their own right, you say, "As for the claim that there was no country of Palestine - well, that is really silly." (: TMZ, not just "silly," instead it is "really silly"?) This is the way a serious person goes about engagement with those who take exception to their pontifications? I am frankly nonplussed by such a response, or rather non-response pretending to be a response.

You boldly and unequivocally asserted, "(O)ne hundred years of Zionism teaches us that the Palestinians (sic) have much more to fear from the Zionists than vice-versa." In support of that provocative claim, you then continued, "Only one side has ever actually wiped the other's country off the map - and it wasn't the Palestinian (sic) side." Now, challenged to back that up, you resort to slight of hand, telling us it is "really silly" to "claim that there was no country of Palestine," because you maintain that while "there was no modern state of Palestine," [DC Doc: nor an ancient one in the way historians and political scientists understand the concept of "state"] "the peoples of Palestine (including the small Jewish communities) had every reason to expect that in time there would be a state, and that given the principle of self-determination, that state would have the character of the majority of its inhabitants. This happened throughout the middle east, and indeed, throughout the world, with the breakup of empires." So, in your view, while never in the course of ancient or modern history was there a sovereign entity "Palestine" for Zionists (aka Jewish Palestinians) or anyone else to wipe "off the map" the Arabs living in those parts "expect(ed) that in time there would be a state" there and it would be exclusively theirs, another Arab state in addition to the other 22 Arab states, all of them products of "the principle of self-determination"?

Was Iraq, like the United States, the product of that "principle of self-determination"? Did the Hashemite dynasty come to rule what was Tranjordan, later Jordan, through "self-determination"? And that wobbly concoction known as Lebanon, it too came into being as a state with "the character of the majority of its inhabitants"? In what year did the Kurds, descendants of the ancient Medes with a distinct language, culture, and identity, get the state they expected and were at different times promised by various countries? (We won't leave the immediate region to ask about the Kosovars (Albanians?), the Basque, the Catalonians, the Corsicans, the Tibetans, etc. and their expectations.)

In 1977, a PLO executive committee member (Zahir Muhsein) was interviewed for the Dutch newspaper Trau. He told the paper that "the creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese." Statements like that one, and the many more like it, supports your (a)historical synthesis?

TMZ notes approvingly the Israeli organization that goes "around the country posting signs with the old Arabic place names, sometimes in English and tranliterated Hebrew." Does it disturb you that those Arabs who describe themselves as Palestinians, something few did before 1948, have tried to obliterate archaelogic evidence of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, even destroying Judaism's holiest sites, though those Zionists you so disdain have respected Muslim and Christian holy sites? Or do you like Nadia Abu El-Haj, the Columbia professor whose bid for tenure is being protested, "understand" the Arab desire to deny the Jewish past?

OK, I would love to take up more of the tendention you have packed in here, e.g., Ahmadinejad who you are satisfied does not think "the Israeli people should be obliterated," because you think the anti-Zionist Juan Cole is an entirely reliable authority on this, notwithstanding considerable counterevidence, like Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah's war against Israel, Hamas's war against Israel, and terrorism against Jews around the world. Ahmadinejad, in the manner of Ronald Reagan(?!) having in mind only to "replace the current state of Israel with another state."

TMZ advertizes itself (yourself) as "Self-Criticism From An Israeli, American, And Orthodox Jewish Perspective"? In the interest of truthfulness, you should drop the "self." "Criticism," yes, but TMZ shows precious little evidence of "self-awareness." And lacking "self-awareness", as it/you surely does/do, there can be little if any "self-criticism," though much narcissism and intellectual arrogance.

Jerry Haber said...

To DC doc,

Sorry if I touched a few nerves. I doubt if anything I can say will make you feel better. But a few points. I won't respond to the ad hominem attacks, which you said "be-idna de-ritha"...I can sure sympathize there!

First, if you prefer "region" to "country" -- I take it you wouldn't object to calling Palestine a region, then I have no problem in saying that Israel wiped the region of Palestine off the map.

I repeat: compare the map of Palestine -- mandatory Palestine, if you will, with the map of the Israel from 1953 on, and you will see that almost an entire country has been wiped off the map. Maybe you think that Israel had the right to do it as the sovereign state. That's not my point.

"Self-determination," the way I used it, did not mean necessarily the formation of a democratic government, although this is what Palestinian Arab leaders called for in the pre-state period; it certainly did not exclude the fact that the map of the middle east was made in the main by colonial powers. But the Arab leaders of Palestine time and time again appealed to various mandatory and international bodies to allow it to set up a representative parliament, which the Zionists rejected because that would leave them in the minority.

As for the Palestinian national consciousness, well, that is the subject for a different post, but you can see from Peter's comment, and my response, that a specifically Palestinian national consciousness had developed among many segments of the population during the mandate, if not earlier. Needless to say, vast numbers of Jews and Arabs didn't, and don't, have a national consciousness. I, for one, think that there is an Israeli nation, but Israel disagrees. All this is best left for another day.

My main point was that Palestinians looked around them and saw Arabs throughout the Middle East gaining independence as states. Considering that Palestine was predominantly Arab in people and in culture, they have every reason to hope -- if not to expect -- that Palestine would gain independence, the way that other countries had achieved independence. Instead, the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine were denied a state. They were not the only people denied a state, to be sure, but, as you point out, many others were not.

Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire and wished for its extinction -- according to his supporters, he did more than just wish. His wish was granted. The Soviet Union is no longer.But Reagan did not wish for the mass murder of Russians. The Allies went to war destroy the Third Reich. They did not want to commit mass murder of the Germans or Japanese, even though millions of civilians were killed -- and many were killed as part of the war effort.

The killing of civilians to advance a political aim is wrong and immoral, but it is not the same as actively seeking the extinction of a people. If it was, then Israel would be guilty of genocide, which I don't believe it is.

As for Jordan descecrating synagogues, etc., read my post, "Are You a Moral Zionist."

Or better yet, I have a deal for you: For every synagogue destroyed by Jordan I will give a dollar to the ZOA, if you give a dollar for every mosque destroyed by Israel to the human rights organization, Be-Tzelem.

Guess which organization will get more money?

Jerry Haber said...

My answers aren't satisfactory to DC Doc, who leaves very long posts that make me wonder whether he is really trying to understand my posts.

So let me just repeat my assertions, which he clearly feels are incorrect, and try to explain my position, trying, the best I can, to articulate his objections.

I wrote that Israel radically altered the map of Palestine in a way that I called "wiping the country of Palestine off the map."

What DC Doc objected to was calling Palestine a "country." Apparently, he felt that in doing so I was suggesting that the Palestinianian people had sovereignty in Palestine somewhere prior to 1948. I never made that claim. They did not.


DC Doc said absolutely nothing about my main point, which was that the new state of Israel -- like many other states -- radically transformed the map of mandatory Palestine, eliminating around 500 hundred villages and renaming others. They did that partly to eliminate the Palestinian presence. This is what conquering people do. I mentioned the case of Lemberg, Lviv, etc.

I will be willing to admit that I was wrong when DC doc produces a pre-48 map of Palestine that does not say "Palestine". If that diminishes my point in his eyes, well score one for him.

DC Doc also asked:

"Does it disturb you that those Arabs who describe themselves as Palestinians, something few did before 1948, have tried to obliterate archaelogic evidence of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, even destroying Judaism's holiest sites, though those Zionists you so disdain have respected Muslim and Christian holy sites?" I had in mind the Palestinians sacking of the Joseph's Tomb and their efforts to obliterate the remains the archaelogic trace of Jews on the Temple Mount before a mosque was built atop it. Your response is that Israelis have destroyed more mosques than Jordanians destroyed synagogues?"

Answer
Yes, it does disturb me, just as it bothers me that Israel did the very same thing that Jordan did (the reference to a Palestinian mob is irrelevant), only with more thoroughness and many more times. Read my post on "Are You a Moral Zionist", and the reference to the Haaretz article quoted therein, where Israel in the early years of the state deliberately destroyed mosques of archaeological value over the protests of an Israeli archaeologist.

Jerry Haber said...

I would like to say that those people who want to contact me privately need only look at my full profile, where I list my gmail address as jeremiah.haber@gmail.com
That goes for you DCDoc1! Contact me there, and I will reply to your last post. But at some point you and I will have to agree to disagree, I think.