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From Time Immemorial

By Joan Peters

Review prepared by Sidney Laibson


Although "security" and "defensible borders" are basic to the survival of the State of Israel, the alleged "Rights of Palestinians" has raised questions and uncertainties in the complex equation of the Palestinian problem. In this review, we will explore the claim that Arab-Muslim Palestinians were emotionally tied to their own plot of land in Palestine based upon a presence on Arab land for thousands of years -"From Time Immemorial." Is it myth or fact?

After the Roman conquest of that region, to eradicate all traces of its Jewish history, the land was renamed "Palestinia", a derivative of the ancient Philistines.

From the end of the Jewish State to the beginning of British Rule, the area now designated as Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries. Palestine never was an independent nation. There was only an extraordinarily short period of time - far much less than a century - when any Arabs ruled Arabs on that land.

Conversely, Jewry and the land of Israel are interwoven into the religious and historic memories of its people. A Jewish presence has been continuous from the second millennium B.C.E. up to modern times.

From 70 C.E. to 628 C.E.
The Romans conquer Jerusalem. Jewish revolt to end foreign rule. Palestine becomes part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Persian conquest.
From 633 C.E. to 750 C.E.
Conquests by various caliphs, principal of which were Omayyad - Caliph of Damascus and Abhassid - Caliph of Baghdad.
From 878 C.E. to 1080 C.E.
Conquests by Turks, Egyptians, and Byzantines.
From 1099 C.E. to 1303 C.E.
Conquests by the Crusaders, the Kurds, Egypt, and the Mongols.
From 1516 C.E. to 1918 C.E.
Conquest of Palestine by the Ottoman Empire.
From 1918 C.E. to 1923 C.E.
Balfour Declaration granting Jewish Homeland internationally approved. British and League of Nations mandate. Seventy-Five percent (75%) of Palestine set aside as an independent Arab "Palestinian" State Transjordan (Jordan).
From 1923 C.E. to 1948 C.E.
Jewish immigration severely restricted. Substantial immigration by Muslim "Arab speaking" peoples from neighboring lands, influenced by economic prosperity of Jewish settlements.
From 1947 C.E. to 1967 C.E.
U.N. Partition of remainder of "Palestine" into Jewish and Arab (West Bank) areas. Arab armies invade. Jordan occupies and annexes the "West Bank."
From 1967 to Present
Israel occupies the "West Bank."

History did not begin with the Arab conquest in the Seventh Century. The people whose nation was destroyed by the Romans were the Jews. The short Arab rule reigned over Christians and Jews who had been there to languish under various other foreign conquerors Roman, Byzantine, and Persian.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the Muslim population found in Palestine was sparse and transient. Most were landless. In discussions of the Middle East today, Israel is often considered equivalent to all of Palestine. But the land in which Israel is located contains only a fraction of the Palestine Mandate originally dedicated to the Jews as their homeland. The League of Nations and the British had designated the land east and west of the Jordan River, from the Mediterranean to Arabia and Iraq, and north and south from Egypt to Lebanon and Syria, as a "Jewish National Home".

With the defeat of Turkey after World War I, and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs achieved immediate independent Arab Statehood in Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Considering all the territories that had been given to the Arabs, Lord Balfour hoped that the small notch of Palestine east and west of the Jordan River which was to be given to the Jewish people would not be "grudged" to them by Arab Leaders.

For political reasons, Britain subsequently quietly gouged out roughly three-fourths of the Palestine territory mandated for the Jewish homeland as an Arab emirate, Transjordan, in violation of the terms of the mandate. In 1946, Transjordan (Jordan) was declared an independent state.

Contrary to the myth that Jews lived in harmony with the Arabs before the Zionist State, subjugation, oppression, and spasmodic Anti-Jewish eruptions of violence darkened the existence of Jews in Muslim Arab Countries.

However, before the Seventh Century advent of the Prophet Mohammed and Islam, Jews and Arabs did have harmonious relations. Koranic references appear about Rabbis and the Torah, and the prestige and reverence with which the earlier community viewed them. It was the Prophet Mohammed himself who attempted to negate the positive image of the Jew that had been prevalent earlier.

As a result of the Prophet Mohammed's resentment toward the Jews, the Holy Koran itself contains many of his hostile denunciations of Jews.

Omar, the Caliph who succeeded Mohammed, in his Charter of Omar, developed twelve laws under which the "DHIMMI" or non Muslim was allowed to exist as a "non-believer." Among the restrictions of the Charter: Jews were forbidden to touch the Koran; forced to wear a yellow piece of cloth as a badge and not allowed to perform their religious practices in public. As a payment for being allowed to live and be "protected" a "DHIMMI" paid a special head and property tax. From the Koran: "Fight against those (Jews and Christians) who believe not in ALLAH ... until they pay the tribute readily..."

Islamic religious law decreed that although murder of one Muslim by another Muslim was punishable by death, a Muslim who murdered a non-Muslim was not given the death penalty, but only required to pay the family of the slain infidel.

The demeanment of Jews as represented by the Charter has carried down through the centuries, its implementation inflicted with varying degrees of cruelty or inflexibility.

The most galling to Arab was the Jew who would settle the land. This was not the "DHIMMI" Jew cowering to survive but a person who asked for equal treatment. As a Muslim in Hebron said when he was confronted with his theft and vandalism of Jews in 1858, ... "his right derived from time immemorial in his family to enter Jewish Houses, and take toll or contributions at any time without giving account".

In towns where Jews lived for hundreds of years, they were periodically robbed, raped, and massacred. The survivors were obliged to abandon their possessions and run. According to the British Consulate Report in 1839, "the Jews life was not much above that of a dog."

Misconceptions About The Population Of Palestine
In October 1980, Pope John Paul II said ..."While the Jewish people... gave birth to the State of Israel in 1948 ... At the same time, a sad condition was created for the Palestinian people, who were excluded from the homeland." This perception pervades most of the world today. It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the distortions with which Arab propaganda machinery has obscured all existing evidence.

When Palestine became a land of pilgrimage, it was ethnologically a chaos of all possible human combinations. Among the people who have been counted as "Indigenous Palestinian Arabs" are Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Albanians, etc. In the 1931 Census, the non-Jews in Palestine listed as their "Birthplace" at least 24 different countries in addition to the Americas and Europe.

It was the Arabs who prompted the Arabic-speaking Muslims to disregard or abandon the land, and it was the Jews who would create a climate of opportunity that drew the peasant migrants and in-migrant1 by the hundreds of thousands to the Jewish settled areas of Palestine. Although actually newcomers, they were considered as "settled Arab population for millennia." The official data counted all non-Jews living in Western Palestine as "Arabs."

It was long after the Jews settled their new farms, that the first claims of "Palestinian Arab" identity and an "age-old" tie to the land surfaced.

A Hidden Movement: Illegal Arab Immigration
There were hundreds of references in both the British Foreign Office and Colonial Office records on Jewish Immigration legal and illegal. But a scant few references filed in Annual Reports of Arab Immigration.

The Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, in 1934, stated that "in the last few months from 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranis (Syrians) had entered and settled in Palestine and yet no official account of this illegal entry appears in the British immigration records.

While counting the newly arrived Arab illicit immigrants as "indigenous deeply rooted Palestinians", the British explained that it was the Jews who were flooding the country.

The Hope Simpson Report of 1930 acknowledged that illegal Arab immigration was an "injustice" that was displacing the prospective Jewish immigrants. The Passfield White Paper of 1939 sought to give the right to acquire State land not to Jews as Article 6 of the Mandate prescribed, but to landless Arab cultivators. Only a miniscule part of the Arab population of Western Palestine registered as landless Arabs had been displaced (less than one percent). The British government not only knew of, but knowingly employed and encouraged illegal Arab immigrants.

The injustices done to the "Arab Palestinian Refugees" have been perpetuated by the Arab world. The PLO, or Palestinian revolutionaries have taught the twelve year old Arab born in a refugee camp that his oppressor is Israel. He knows not about the Arab effendi or sheikh who may have stolen his grandfather's or father's land through graft or usury.

The Arab refugees, plus descendents who live in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, totaled 676,000 in 1982, which was about equal to the original number of Jewish Refugees who fled from the Arab world in 1948. If one includes the offspring of these Jewish Refugees, it would bring the total of Jewish Refugees to 1.5 million. By way of further contrast, the number of refugees throughout the world in 1982 totaled more than 10 million. Yet it is the Arab refugees and Israel upon whom the world and the public focus the most attention.

The United States Committee for Refugees has included in its calculations as "Refugees" the Jordanian/Palestinians in Jordan (733,000), overlooking that Jordan's nationality code offered immediate citizenship. Many Arabs who were living outside Israel's 1949 - 1967 lines when they fled from the Jordanian Army could not have been fleeing from Israel, since the towns they left had already been purged of Jews well before 1948, and their districts had been excluded from Israel's territory. Yet, they were counted as "refugees."

The Arabs have promoted the continued languishing of the Arab emigres within their borders and deny their resettlement within a compatible environment. They have rebuffed every effort to secure the well being of their kinsmen.

Khaled Al-Azm, Syria's former Prime Minister, in his 1972 Memoirs said:

"Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees ... where it is we who made them leave ... We brought disaster upon ... Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave ... We have rendered them dispossessed ... We have accustomed them to begging ... We have participated in lowering their moral and social level ... then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon ... men, women, and children -- all this in the service of political purposes ..."
In 1958, former director of UNRWA, declared angrily:
"The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel. Arab Leaders do not give a damn whether Arab refugees live or die."
The entire Yemenite community of Jews fled Yemen for Israel. Persecution was constant and extreme -- stoning of Jews, an "age old" custom -- was still common tradition at the time of the 1948 Exodus.
Between 1949 and 1952, 123,000 of 130,000 Iraqi Jews escaped or were forced to flee to Israel. The "DHIMMI" laws such as the yellow patch were enforced under many of the Arab Caliphs. In 1941, a bloody massacre of Jews took place. "Judaism was a threat to mankind," the Iraqi Minister of Justice declared. Zionism became a capitol crime and Jews were publicly hanged. In less volatile moments, the attitude of Moslem to Jew was that of master to slave.
Jews in Egypt lived at the whim of erratic Arab sovereignty. There were persistent "blood libels". In the forties, many Jews were killed in organized anti-Jewish riots. Large numbers of Jews were served orders of expulsion or subjected to ruthless intimidation.
The history of the Jews under Arab rule in North Africa is turbulent and erratic. As infidels under the Charter of Omar, life might have been bearable under a more tolerant Arab caliph of one region, while in another, the Jews were under siege or massacred. Moroccan Jewry today is less than ten percent of its former number.
The fate of Algeria's Jewish community was harsh. An American Consul in Algeria in 1816 described the condition of the Jews: "...they are forbidden to offer resistance when maltreated by a Moslem, no matter what the nature of the violence ... their lives are nothing but ... debasement, oppression and outrage ..." The Jewish Community of Algeria, which had numbered 140,000 in 1948, virtually disappeared.
Jews were permitted to live as "DHIMMIS" and led an uncertain existence at the alternating inclinations of their overlords. Of the 105,000 Jews in 1948, 5,000 have remained.
For centuries under Ottoman rule, the Jews were allowed to live "relatively secure" in their Mellahs (ghettos). The Jews bore the traditional "DHIMMI" discrimination burdens. But the rise of Palestinian antagonism crystallized hostility and anti-Jewish riots. By 1947 only 13,000 Jews remained. Jews are kept strictly confined to the ghetto, with harsh penalties for escape. Syria's Jewish community was huddled together, its individual human rights and dignity distinctly cut off.
Under the early twentieth century French occupation, Jews were less discriminated against in Lebanon than elsewhere in the Middle East. During the 1948 War, Maronite Christians as well as Christian authorities protected Jews from Muslim fanatics. When Lebanon began to finance terrorist activities by the Arab Palestinians, many of the Jews left.
Libya's Jewish Community has virtually disappeared. Various compulsory "DHIMMI" demeanments were inflicted upon the Jews. With the renewal of Arab mob violence, after the six day war, practically all of the Jewish population was forced to "run for their lives."
The myths surrounding the Arab Palestinians are based on:
  1. The Palestinians have had an identity with the land for thousands of years.
  2. The alien Jews returned after 2,000 years in 1948 to displace the Palestinian Arabs, who were there first.
  3. The Jews stole the Arab's land and forced the peaceable Arabs to flee from Palestine.
  4. There is no place for the homeless Palestinian refugees to go.
  5. The Jews were living in equality and tranquility with the Palestinian Arabs; and Arabs have nothing against Jews -- only Zionists.
Contrary to these Arab claims:
  1. Jews and "Zionism" never left the Holy Land, even after the Roman conquest.
  2. The traditional land of Palestine included both east and west of the Jordan River.
  3. The Arab speaking population in Palestine, what few there were, thought of themselves as Ottomans, Southern Syrians or Arab people--but never as "Palestinians."
  4. The Bulk of all Arab peasantry in the area were rendered landless by feudal-like societal structures.
  5. The overwhelming bulk of Palestine (Jordan) became the Arab independent State of Jordan, despite the fact that all of Palestine had been designated as the Jewish National Homeland.
  6. The Arab Muslim leaders rejected and deprived the Arab refugees of homes within their own Arab nation.
  7. The Arabs who had traditionally been migrating into Jewish settled areas were accepted as citizens of Jordan, because Jordanians acknowledge that their country is "Palestinian soil." All other adjacent Arab states refuse to grant citizenship to those whom they call "Arab Brothers."
  8. Jews were forbidden to settle in the Arab state of Jordan, although the state was carved out of the Palestinian Jewish National Home.
  9. Although contrary to the vision of a "Jewish National Home" embodied in the Balfour Declarations, League of Nations Mandate, and the British Mandate, Britain brutally restricted Jewish immigration, while illegal Arab immigration was freely permitted.
  10. Arabs swarmed into Jewish settled areas of Palestine, and then charged the Jews with displacing "Arab Natives." The In-Migrants and Immigrants had been regarded immediately upon their arrival as "existing settled inhabitants for millennia" and were counted as "refugees."
  11. The Arab refugee flight from Israel during the 1948 War had been primarily instigated by the leaders of the Arab world.
The Arab refugees who live in refugee camps are approximately equal in number to the Jewish refugees who fled the Arab world in 1948. Israel has encouraged and absorbed the refugees. Surely there is room for welcome in the vast expanse of the Arab world.

The Arab proposal for a mini-state on the West Bank and in Gaza was not implemented in the nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967, when the area was under Arab domination and annexed by Jordan. The oft repeated comment of the PLO regarding the mini-state as a first step to the destruction of the enemy should not be viewed as bluster but as a serious threat.

When the Arab claim based on historical "myths" is exposed, it is then argued that it doesn't matter when nationalism evolves, and that the important thing is that it exists, and the Palestinian refugees exist. Yet a violence born of unnatural camp conditions and deliberate indoctrination to that violence ought not necessarily commend credence because it calls itself "Nationalism." The movement should not be a legitimate excuse for the attempt to destroy the Jewish State.

The heart of the Arab-Israeli Conflict is not the "Palestinian Arab Refugees" or the "Right of the Palestinians" or even Palestine. If the Jewish settled independent state were on any area within reach of the Arab world, no matter how remote or barren the location, there might well be another "problem." The chances of the "DHIMMI" Jews gaining independence among Arabs in an Arab Country, where Islam is the state religion, is not even arguable. Even in the Jew's own Holy Land, it took two thousand years and millions of Jewish lives to accomplish the political rebirth of Israel.

The Arabs believe that by creating an Arab Palestinian identity, at the sacrifice of the well being of the Arab Refugees , they will accomplish politically or through terrorism what they failed to achieve in military combat: The destruction of Israel -- the unacceptable "DHIMMI" state. That is the heart of the matter.

Compounding the issue of Arab Palestinian rights are compelling concerns for Israel's security and survival. If Israel relinquishes the West Bank (Judea-Samaria) and Gaza, the size of Israel would be reduced to a scant nine miles at its most vulnerable and populated area. If it retains or annexes the West Bank (Judea-Samaria) and Gaza, the demographic orientation of the Jewish state would alter with the absorption of an additional 1 1/4 million Arabs into Israel's society. But, whatever emerges from the complex labyrinth, a clear understanding of yesterday's events should help mold the difficult decisions of today.

1. An "In-Migrant" is a person who moves into the Jewish settled areas of Western Palestine from another part of Western or Eastern Palestine.

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