Tuesday 27 January 2009

Conflict in Israel and surrounding area


The State of Israel was established in 1948 after nearly two thousand years of Jewish dispersal. In the sixty years since Israeli independence, the Israelis have been in constant conflict with the Palestinians. The main reasons for this ongoing conflict are as follows:

Prior to Israel becoming a state that would be governed by Jews, it was an Arab state governed by Arabs called Palestinians. In 1921, the British authorities governing Palestine (as it was called then) enacted a system of immigration quotas to ensure that Jewish immigration did not disrupt Palestine's economy.

Arab attacks on isolated Jewish settlements and Britain’s failure to protect the Jews, led to the creation of the Haganah (Defence) a mainly socialist Jewish militia dedicated to defending Jewish settlements. These attacks by the Arabs on the Jewish settlements was the beginning of the conflicting relationships between those two peoples that later escalated for the rest of the century and into the next century. It should have been nipped in the bud by the British authorities and it wasn’t. That was Britain’s first mistake.

Rapid Jewish migration finally led to a large-scale Arab rebellion against the British in Palestine during the years 1936 through 1939. Concerned that sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs would damage Anglo-Arab/Muslim relations, Britain responded by creating a Royal Commission chaired by Lord Peel. The Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine into two separate autonomous regions for Jews and Arabs, with Britain maintaining overall control over the territory and a population transfer to secure full separation between the communities. The proposals were rejected by the British Parliament. That was Britain’s second mistake.

If the land had been partitioned, the Jews and the Palestinians would have each had their own homeland and the animosity between these two peoples would have lessened and finally come to an end.

In early 1939, the increasing probability of a major war in Europe coming about (which it finally did in September 1939) prompted Britain to focus on Arab goodwill and a policy of preventing immigration to Palestine by the growing numbers of Jews trying to enter Palestine to no more than 75,000 over the next five years. Immigration of Jews beyond those figures would require Arab consent. The British promised the Arabs in Palestine that an independent Palestine under Arab majority rule would be established within the next ten years.

After the end of World War II, The British Labour Party won the elections in Britain. Labour party conferences had for years called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. However the Labour Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, decided to continue with the 1939 proposal, due to the continued importance of cordial Anglo-Arab relations to British strategic concerns throughout the region. That was Britain’s third mistake.

The Second World War left all surviving Jews in central Europe as refugees. Almost all wanted to leave Europe and I can understand why especially when you consider that millions of them had been slaughtered in various countries in Europe during the Nazi occupation. Many of them opted to move to Palestine. Growing illegal immigration to Palestine caused the British there to take counter measures against the Jewish community and in June 1946 the British arrested thousands of Jews, holding them in camps outside of Palestine without trial. That was Britain’s fourth mistake.

Jewish terrorists in July 1946; placed a bomb in the British Military Headquarters in Palestine that was located in the King David Hotel, killing 92 (most of them civilians). In the days following the attack, the city of Tel-Aviv (on the coast) was placed under curfew and over 120,000 Jews were interrogated by the British Criminal Investigation Department. The British government decided to imprison illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine, holding them indefinitely and without trial on Cyprus. As an interesting aside, I interviewed one of the terrorists in the 1980s on my television talk show)

Because of the intensifying hostility between the Jewish independence movement and British forces that resulted in increased concern over the wider implications of British policy in Palestine, the conflict severely undermined Anglo-American and Anglo-Arab relations, both of which were vital to Britain's post-war international strategy. As a result Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Minister announced the decision to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations. That was the first thing that Britain did that made sense.

I am sure that my readers have all seen the movie, Exodus. You may remember that in the movie, the British authorities permitted the ship filled with immigrant Jews to proceed to Palestine. Well, you know what they say about movies, “”It’s only a movie.” In actual fact, the ship was rerouted to Hamburg, Germany and the Jewish passengers were forcibly removed from the ship. Needless to say, this action caused riots in major British cities and this was Britain’s fifth mistake.

In September 1947, one month after India was partitioned, (later to become India, Bangladesh and Pakistan) the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommended partition in Palestine, a suggestion ratified by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The result envisaged the creation of two states, one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem to be under the direct administration of the United Nations.

The General Assembly resolution called upon Britain to evacuate a seaport (Haifa) and sufficient hinterland to support substantial Jewish migration, by February 1, 1948. Neither Britain nor the UN Security Council acted to implement the resolution and Britain continued imprisoning Jews into camps on Cyprus who were attempting to migrate to Palestine. Britain was still uncooperative and the UN Security Council was just making matters worse. That was Britain’s sixth mistake and the UN’s first mistake.

As you can see, the concept of the Palestinians remaining in the area as a distinct nation was seriously considered by a great many people with the exception of the British and some of the members of the UN Security Council. Of course, most if not all the Jews who wanted to immigrate to Palestine and those already there approved of the concept albeit they had no say in its concept coming to fruition.

Concerned that such a partition would severely damage Anglo-Arab/Muslim relations, Britain refused to cooperate with the UN, denying the UN access to Palestine during the interim period (a requirement of the partition decision). Britain’s fourth major mistake.

In 1947, the United Nations voted to create a Jewish state in Palestine and right after that, the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs (Palestinians) began in earnest. The Arab States declared they would greet any attempt to form a Jewish state with war and leaders of the Palestinian-Arab community being inspired by such declarations, promised a ‘fight to the death’. That was the first of many Arab and Palestinian mistakes that were to follow.

I don’t know why the UN insisted that Palestine become a Jewish state other than because the members of the UN felt sorry for the Jews (and rightly so) because they had been shuffled about and massacred for centuries and denied a homeland of their own. I for one, would have favoured the partitioning of Israel into two distinct states, one Jewish and the other, Arab.

Fighting spread as the British gradually withdrew. The Arab League could not invade before the British withdrew but planned to invade the day after the British left. In this phase, before the British departure, the struggle was a civil war.

Arab forces consisted of village militias buttressed by the Arab Liberation Army, a force composed largely of Arab volunteers from across the Middle-East and it included European mercenaries such as British deserters, German Nazis and veterans of the Bosnian Waffen SS (whose commander had been the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem). The Jews had their militias (including many World War II veterans) and a several thousand strong professional force called the Palmach.

Perhaps if the United Nations Security Council had not blocked the recommendation to partition Israel into Jewish and Arab nations, the conflicts that followed after the UN decision of 1947 granting the Jews the right to govern all of what was then called Palestine would not have occurred.

In the early stages of the conflict, 100,000 Palestinian Arabs, mainly the upper-classes fled to neighbouring states. Before May 1948, as many as 150,000 more fled or were evicted during fighting as the Jews slowly overpowered the Arab forces. Jewish preparation for the Arab invasion led to the eviction of hostile Arab communities who controlled access routes.

The impending Arab invasion from the surrounding Arab nations provided an incentive for Palestinian-Arabs to leave in the expectation that they would soon return. In 1948, the Jews were known as a nation with no military tradition who had easily been slaughtered years earlier, while the Arabs were a famous warrior nation and an Arab victory was widely anticipated.

On May 14, 1948, the last British forces left Haifa, and the Jewish president, David Ben-Gurion, declared the creation of the State of Israel, in accordance with the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Both the U.S. President, Harry S. Truman and the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin immediately recognized the new state of Israel. It was no longer Palestine. On May 11, 1949, Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations.

Imagine if you will; how you would feel if you owned a farm and it had been in your family for many generations and one day, you are told that you no longer own the farm and that the farm is under new ownership and that you have to get out immediately and worse yet, you will not be compensated for your loss. This is how the Palestinians felt and I do sympathize with their feelings for in my respectful opinion, their feelings are justified.

In any case, the Palestinians were booted out of Palestine and the country was then called Israel. The Palestinians had tried to return to what had been their homeland but it was always to no avail. Many of them that went to Jordan (which is immediately east of Israel) were kicked out in 1970 by order of Jordan’s king. The Palestinians by then had became (not unlike the Jews) a homeless people trying to find a homeland of their own.

In 1950 the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed the ‘Law of Return’ which granted all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry, and their spouses and children, the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain citizenship. Over the next few years, virtually the entire Jewish populations of Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt had been driven out. Jews were not permitted to live in or enter Saudi-Arabia. About 500,000 Jews left Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia by the late sixties so it follows that immigration to Israel was a desirable option for them.

From 1948 to 1951, mass immigration brought some 700,000 Jews to Israel, doubling the population and leaving an indelible imprint on Israeli society. The immigrants were mostly refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps. By 1952, over 200,000 immigrants had been living in temporary tents or pre-fabricated shacks built by the government. Most of the financial aid Israel received were private donations from Jews outside the country (mainly in the USA).

From 1948 to 1958, the population had risen from 800,000 to two million. During this period, food, clothes and furniture were rationed in what became known as the ‘Austerity Period’.

Later, the wars between Israel and its neighbours came and went with Israel always winning them. By now they were a military force to contend with considering the huge support of the United States with respect to weapons etc.

The Palestinians hadn’t given up their fight however and they continued to commit acts of terrorism against the Jews but that only infuriated the Jews and made them more determined that they would never let the Palestinians back into Israel.

During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by Black September, a terrorist group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization. By the end of the ordeal, the terrorist group had killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and one German police officer.

Three years later, I came into the picture.

The United Nations was holding the Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Prisoners at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in September of 1975. The Canadian government submitted my name to the United Nations and I was subsequently invited by the UN to participate in the Congress as one of its speakers. After I had addressed the Congress about my concerns about the UN’s proposal to create an International Tribunal to try Transnational Terrorists, I was invited to meet with Failsal Oueeda, the Palestinian representative to the UN (he and others were referred to as observers.) He was with Arafat's Fatah organization which was called the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). It was founded by Arafat in 1974.

During my two meetings with Oueeda, I expressed my view that perhaps the Palestinians should consider one of two options. The first being that Israel be partitioned (as was proposed years earlier by the UN) and the Palestinians live in Israel as a neighboring nation or alternatively, they (if the Israelis agreed) move back into Israel and become Israeli citizens with the right to keep their own identity and be permitted to run for office like any other Israeli citizen. I then met with one of the Israeli delegates and made the same proposal.

Nothing at that time came as a result of my proposal however I was successful in getting Arafat, via his representative to the UN Congress to agree to not sanction any further atrocities against anyone in future Olympic Games, the next one being held the following year in Montreal, Canada. I in turn suggested to him that his organization may very well have an office in Ottawa, the Canadian capital if Arafat kept his word. There were no more crimes committed by Palestinians in the Olympic Games (no doubt because of the much tighter security) and Arafat’s PLO was permitted to have an office in Ottawa three years later.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians still condemned Israel and the worst act of terrorism by the Palestinians occurred in March 1978 when eleven armed Lebanese-Palestinians reached Israel in boats and hijacked a bus carrying families on a day outing, killing 35 people including 13 children. Needless to say, this infuriated the Israelis and they began the first of several attacks on Lebanon.

The partitioning of Israel

There are a great many Palestinians today living in the West Bank and Gaza. This is the closest I can see that is evidence of the partitioning of Israel. As I had proposed back in 1975, this was an option that should have been considered and eventually had finally come to fruition.

The West Bank

The West Bank is a landlocked territory on the west bank of the Jordan River in the Middle East. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the country of Jordan. The West Bank also contains a significant coast line along the western bank of the Dead Sea.

Since 1967 most of the West Bank had been under Israeli military occupation. Then the 1993 Oslo Accords declared the final status of the West Bank to be subject to a forthcoming settlement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Following these interim accords, Israel withdrew its military rule from some parts of the West Bank, which was divided into three areas. 17% of the land (Area A) in the West Bank is controlled by the Palestinians. Approximately 55% of the Palestinians live in that part of the West Bank. 24% of the land in the West Bank (Area B) is jointly controlled by the Palestinians and the Israelis. There are approximately 41% of the Palestinians living in that area. 59% of the land in the West Bank (Area C) is controlled solely by the Israelis and only 4% of the Palestinians live in that area. The Palestinian Authority has full and shared civil control in areas A and B. This is characterized by joint-administration between the Palestinians and the Israelis, in Area C is under full Israeli control. Israel maintains overall control over Israeli all settlements, roads, water, airspace, ‘external security’ and borders for the entire territories.

In December 2007, an official Census conducted by the Palestinian Authority found that the Palestinian population of the West Bank (including Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem) was 2,345,000. Approximately 30% of Palestinians living in the West Bank are refugees or descendants of refugees from villages and towns located in what became Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. That constitutes a fair number of Palestinians who have returned to what used to be their homeland. The West Bank is currently considered under international law to be a territory and not part of any state.

The Palestinian Authority believes that the West Bank ought to be a part of their sovereign nation. I agree with them. I suppose, once the Israelis are convinced that the Palestinians are no longer a threat to Israel, they will also agree. So far, they have shown the world; that they are not a threat to Israel.

I hope that in the future, the entire West Bank will be turned over to Palestinian control once it is determined by the Israelis that they have no further concern about giving total autonomy to the Palestinians. Until that happens, the Palestinians can never be sure as to just how much they should invest in their future in those areas of the West Bank. For example, would a Palestinian want to build a manufacturing plant in Area C which is governed entirely by the Israelis? Would he risk his money and future in such a scheme? I doubt it.

The September 1993 Israel-PLO ‘Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements’ provided for a transitional period of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Under a series of agreements signed between May 1994 and September 1999, Israel transferred to the Palestinian Authority security and civilian responsibility for Palestinian-populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The proposed date for a permanent status agreement was postponed indefinitely due to violence and accusations that both sides had not followed through on their commitments.


The Gaza Strip is a coastal strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Egypt on the south-west and Israel on the north and east. It is about 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 sq mi). The area is not recognized internationally as part of any sovereign country but is claimed by the Palestinian National Authority as part of the Palestinian territories.

The Gaza Strip encompasses an area that is approximately twice the size of Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Ontario. In that area, there are 1,500,000 Palestinians (2008 estimate) living there. 52.7% of them are men of fighting age. (ages 16 to 64)

Israel controls maritime, airspace, and most access to the Gaza Strip other than the Egyptian side of the Strip.

Following the death of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in late 2004, Mahmud Abbas was chosen as the President of the ‘State of Palestine’ by the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council on November 23, 2008, a job he had previously held unofficially since May 8, 2005.

Prior to 2008, violent clashes took place between the PLO and Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and early 2007, resulting in numerous Palestinian deaths and injuries. Mahmud Abbas and the Hamas Political Bureau Chief Mishal in February 2007 signed the Mecca Agreement in Saudi Arabia that resulted in the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government headed by Hamas member Ismail Haniya. However, fighting continued in the Gaza Strip, and in June, 2007, Hamas militants succeeded in a violent takeover of all military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip. From then on, Israel has been having serious problems with the Hamas in Gaza.

A series of battles between Palestinian militants in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces began in mid-May 2007, when the Palestinians fired more than 220 Qassam rockets at Israel (Sderot and western Negev) in over a period of a week. The Israeli Air Force fired missiles and bombs into Gaza. The fighting came amid serious Palestinian factional violence and reports of an increased humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

There is no doubt in my mind that it was the militants in Gaza that started the fracas. It is beyond my understanding as to what they hoped to achieve by firing rockets into Israel. You don’t kick a giant in the shins when there is a risk that he will fall on you and crush you.

In the first days of the conflict, Israel responded only with air strikes at the mobile Qassam launching vehicles carrying Hamas militiamen, and also buildings belonging to the Hamas. The air strikes may have been chosen because Hamas has very little anti-aircraft guns to defend themselves, so that the Israeli casualties continued to remain low.

In September 2007, citing an intensification of Qassam rocket attacks; Israel declared Gaza as a ‘hostile territory.’ This declaration allowed Israel to prevent the transfer of electricity, fuel, food and other goods into Gaza. The stated purpose of this blockade was to pressure Hamas into ending the rocket attacks and to deprive them of the supplies necessary for the continuation of rocket attacks. Israel's decision to cut fuel supplies and electricity to Gaza was widely condemned as ‘collective punishment. It didn’t work in any case because the rocket attacks continued.

This brings to mind about what occurred during the beginning of the war in Europe in 1940. A German bomber accidentally dropped its load of bombs on London (the raid was intended for an airfield instead) Britain retaliated and bombed Berlin. By the time the war ended in 1945, both cities had lost thousands of innocent citizens during the bombing raids. It was a tit for tat form of retaliation that just grew and grew until many cities in Britain and Germany were bombed and destroyed either in part or totally.

The firing of rockets on Israel by the Gaza militants and the subsequent retaliation by the Israelis had grown out of hand. As a direct result, by January 2008, the economic effects of Israel's blockade on Gaza had reached a critical threshold. The people in Gaza were now fighting for their very existence.

The retaliation of Israel against Gaza.

The conflict continued as three Israeli missiles hit the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza on February 27, 2008, hours after Palestinian militants fired more than 40 Qassam rockets into southern Israel. Israeli aircraft on February 28, 2008 bombed a police station near the Gaza City home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. The Israeli military says its air and ground operations against militants firing rockets from northern Gaza had hit at least 23 armed Palestinians, while Palestinian sources had reported higher death tolls and said that many civilians had also been killed. The Israeli offensive in Gaza had killed more than 100 Palestinians in less than a week. In contrast, Hamas militants fired 150 rockets at Israel during the week which killed only three Israelis; two soldiers and a civilian.

On December 24, 2008, following the expiration of a six month truce between Israel and Hamas, the Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into Israel. The barrage of more than 60 mortar shells and Qassam and Katyusha rockets from Gaza, reaching as far north as Ashkelon and as far south as Kerem Shalom, had fallen further into Israeli territory than ever before and caused one death and much panic due to the rockets' extensive ranges. Immediately following the attacks, Israel warned the Hamas that Gaza would be the object of much intense retaliation if the attacks continued. The attacks continued. Israel had enough.

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched its counter offensive on 11:30 AM with air strikes in Gaza. Israeli planes targeted Hamas security and training compounds, as well as weapon storage buildings. Hamas responded to the Israeli strike by launching 30 rockets, and threatening a renewal of suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Then Israel went all out. The Israeli military not only marched into Gaza, their planes pounded an area in Gaza – less than half the size of the city of Toronto – with 1,500 tons of explosives?

All hostilities ceased in January 2009. With more than 1,300 people in Gaza dead and 5,450 injured, billions of dollars in damages and unquantifiable physical and psychological damage, the war against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had come to an end, or at least for the time being.

Who was to blame?

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that he believed that the Qassam rocket attacks by Hamas militants in Gaza were completely unacceptable. I am in total agreement with his opinion. If the Hamas hadn’t begun firing their rockets into Israel after the expiration of the six-month truce, the Israelis wouldn’t have retaliated. The Hamas leaders brought the terror of war onto their own people. The U.S. Government reaffirmed its position that Israel has the right to self-defense. I agree with that also.

But Israel’s conduct doesn’t come out of this debacle unscathed. Sometime during the truce, the Israelis should have ended the blockade of Gaza and permitted electricity, fuel, food, medicines and other necessities of life into Gaza. By refusing to end the blockade, they were putting the citizens in Gaza at risk.

Israel should have taken all possible steps in order to avoid any civilian casualties, to avoid any undue damage to the Palestinian infrastructure and considered the effects of their actions on the future Israeli-Palestinian relationships. It appears that the Israelis didn’t have this in mind during their attacks.

What the Israeli armed forces did was to bomb a UN-operated hospital in Gaza in which civilians were killed. The dropping of white phosphorus on areas in which civilians were located was outrageous. The affects of the burns by white phosphorus is so terrible, water won’t even put them out and the burns go right to the bone and still keep burning. No one should be submitted to that kind of warfare in this day and age.

To the Israelis credit however, they did call a temporary ceasefire for a few hours so that medicine and other necessities of life could be brought into Gaza.

Unfortunately, the people of Gaza brought this entire war down on their own heads when they voted for the Hamas to run their government. Had they voted in office, members of the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmud Abbas, he would have made sure that no one in Gaza fired rockets onto Israel and Israel in turn would have stopped the blockade and the people in Gaza would be living in relative peace as are those Palestinians in the West Bank.

What is the next step?

I propose that the initial steps that should be undertaken.

First: Put an immediate stop to the blockade against Gaza.

Second: The Egyptian government should put an end to tunnels running from Gaza to Egypt.

Third: Israel and other nations should assist the people in Gaza to have their infrastructure put back in place and operating to full capacity.

Fourth: An attempt to rebuild the homes and hospitals that were destroyed by the Israelis should be made and Israel should play an important role in this attempt because their attack on Gaza was overkill.

Fifth: There should be another election in Gaza and members of the Palestinian Authority should have the right to run for office in Gaza.

Ultimate goal

1. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip should be permitted to have their own autonomy and become nations in their own right. Being one nation won’t work. It didn’t work when Pakistan and Bangladesh were one nation.

2. The West Bank should be called Palestine and the people of Palestine should be called Palestinians.

3. The Gaza Strip should be called Gaza and the people of Gaza should be called Gazians.

4. Both nations should have embassies in Israel and other countries and Israel and other countries should have embassies in both of these nations. Further, both of these nations should have membership in the United Nations.

5. Both nations should have their own flag, constitution and laws.

6. Gaza should get assistance from the World Bank to build a seaport and both countries should get the same assistance in building an international airport.

And finally

Israel should give more land to Gaza as the land in the immediate east of Gaza has no significance in value to Israel since it is primarily desert. Because there are over 1.5 million people in Gaza at present, and at that, it is overcrowded, they will need more room to expand.

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