History of the Jews in the Middle East
The Middle East has been traditionally a buffer zone between more powerful societies, i.e., Egypt from the south, Iran/Iraq in the east, and Greece/Rome in the west. The first diaspora (exile) was the Babylonian captivity that lasted from 605-587 BCE. In order to keep Jewish society together, education was promoted for Jewish males. Culturally Jews developed a strong work ethic and created a sense of community centered around their religion. These aptitudes account for their tenaciousness and help explain why their culture was able to survive as small minority communities for 2000 years in Eurasia.
The last two times the Jews (the Israelites and Judeans) were expelled from their homeland was by the Romans in 70 BCE and AD 130. The first Temple was destroyed in 586 by the Neo-Babylonians; the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans who forbade the Israelites/Jews to return to Jerusalem. The destruction of the second Temple marked a major turning point in Jewish history. The Temple priests ceased to be the religious leaders of Judaism and rabbis (scholars learned in the Scriptures and in the commentaries on religious laws) took their place. The Jews were dissipated throughout the Roman Empire. Some immigrated as far as China and India.
The majority of Jews lived in Christian Europe and were periodically persecuted for their religious beliefs. Because of the lack of security, European Jews tended to concentrate on skills and services such as banking, agriculture, and jewelry, as well as intellectual activities such as teaching and science, and music; all of which were easily transferable from place to place. In part, these persecutions were perpetrated because Jews were economically successful, particularly in banking and agriculture.
Pogroms proved to be an effective way to renege on debt or to confiscate land on religious grounds. A pogrom is the expulsion or killing of a particular ethnic group, particularly of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia. This is not dissimilar to what happened to Native Americans as the US expanded west or to the expulsion of Japanese-American citizens from the West Coast of the United States at the beginning of WWII with their forced removal to internment camps.
Recent History, the Rise of Zionism and the Balfour Agreement
Because of the long-standing and anti-Semitic prejudice in Europe in the United States, Theodore Herzog started the Zionist movement in 1887. Zionism is a nationalist and political movement of Jews that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland and culture in the area that was previously Israel and Judea. As a result, some Jewish settlements were established in Palestine in the early 20th century. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated publicly that Great Britain supported a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was accepted by the League of Nations and Great Britain was given temporary administrative control over Palestine. However, in 1939, Britain reneged on this agreement, which effectively prevented millions of European Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe. Also in 1939, the SS St. Lewis sailed from Germany with 986 European Jews to the US, Cuba, and Canada. They were refused entry. The St. Lewis returned to Europe where most of the Jews were sent to their deaths in concentration camps. With little possibility of escape, the ensuing Holocaust led to the most horrendous persecution of the Jews by the Nazis in World War II. It resulted in 9 million people dying in concentration camps. Six million, or two-thirds of the European Jews, perished.
“Hitler had been murdering Jews right and left... The Jews needed some place where they could go. It is my attitude that the American government couldn't stand idly by while the victims (of) Hitler's madness are not allowed to build new lives.” ~ Harry Truman, 1947
Europeans and Americans were shocked at the condition of those who survived. Many felt guilty when they realized that they were partly to blame. Approximately half of the remaining Jews migrated to the US and half to the new state of Israel which was established in 1947. Palestinian Arabs who had been living there for two millennia resisted what they saw as an invasion of their homeland. The neighboring Arab states supported the Palestinians.
Jewish immigration to Israel increased, giving rise to escalating Arab Jewish tensions, and a clash between Arab and Jewish nationalistic movements. With the independence of Israel in 1948, there was a massive migration of Jews from both Europe and Muslim countries to Israel and of Arabs from Israel to the neighboring areas around. Today, approximately 42% of the world's Jews live in Israel, which is the largest Jewish community in the world.
When Israel was established in 1947 Palestine consisted of 98% non-Jews. This turned 750,000 Palestinians into refugees, many forcibly evicted after the establishment of Israel. Most of these individuals ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries where they have been living for over half a century. The Arab resistance to the establishment of Israel led to a series of wars, four of which were fought between 1948 and 1973. Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, resulting in the assassination of Sadat, the leader of Egypt. The other Arab nations rejected the pact.
Israel and the United States
The current generation of American Jews does not, as a whole, have the same loyalty or emotional involvement in the survival of Israel as did their parents or grandparents, and their support is not as strong. Whereas Jews are divided in their support of Israel and the United States, the fundamentalist Christians are united in their support for Israel. This explains why no political candidate who is opposed to Israel can get elected in America. To replace the loss of contemporary support, Israel has enlisted the support of conservative evangelical Christians’ view of the ‘End Times.’ This is, of course, their right, but it does help explain why Israel has such strong emotional support in Congress. The best rationale for conservative Christian support of Israel is in a speech delivered by Pat Robinson entitled Why Evangelical Christians Support Israel.
“These facts about modern-day Israel are all true. But most mere political rhetoric does not account for the profound devotion to Israel that exists in the hearts of tens of millions of evangelical Christians. You must realize that the God who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai is our God. Abraham, Isaiah, and Jacob are our prophets. And the continuation of Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land is a further bulwark to us that the city of the God of the Bible, the holy city of Jerusalem, is our spiritual capital. The Holy Land is a further bulwark to us that the God of the Bible exists and that His Word is true.”
United States-Israel Policies
Because of their experience of the Holocaust, the Jews that immigrated to the United States after World War II were highly interested in the survival of Israel as a state. American Jews are the most politically active ethnic group in the United States. On most issues as an ethnic group, they are the highest voting percentage in the US. Jews tend to support liberal causes. The major exception is its support of Israel. Though Jews represent less than 2% of the population of the United States, they have been financially very successful.
It is clear that Israel has the support of the largest voting bloc in the United States. Candidates for office are dependent on their support if they're going to be elected for national office. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (IAPAC) has helped to defeat politicians considered unfriendly to Israel, including such prominent politicians such as Peter McCloskey, Senators William Fulbright, Roger Jenson, and Adlai Stevenson III in his campaign for governor of Illinois in 1982. Charles Percy, a Senator from Illinois, Charles Percy’s defeat has been attributed to the Jewish lobby and coordinated by the IAPAC who co-coordinated donations to his opponent after Percy had supported the sale of AWAC planes to Saudi Arabia. Percy had been a rising star of the Republican Party and was thought of by many as a possible presidential candidate. With his defeat, it was clear that any candidate that appeared to oppose Israel would be defeated for office. The chilling effect significantly impacted the decisions made in Congress as well as presidential decisions that unduly impact policies towards Israel, which also negatively impacts global events.
“We must … seek a permanent settlement among Arabs and Israelis based not on armed truce but on mutual self-interest.” ~ John Kennedy, 1960
From that point forward, the tail began to wag the dog, the analogy being that Israel was the tail and the US the dog, to the detriment of the United States and the eventual potential demise of Israel itself. The speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US Congress, and (contrary to protocol) against the decisions made by President Obama, as well as the reneging on promises made to the United States and the United Nations concerning the establishment of an independent Palestine, are examples of the tail wagging the dog.
Netanyahu disavowing his insincere commitment to a two-state solution, may have initiated a significant change in American Israeli relations, according to Paul Waldman in Washington Post.com. Waldman goes on to say that it's one thing to say that Palestinians must change their ways before they deserve statehood, but it’s quite another to say they should never have a state. Israeli supporters in the US must now acknowledge that they support an administration that wishes to deny Palestinians “fundamental political, economic, and human rights, nor not just for the moment but permanently.”
Thomas R Stauffer wrote in the June 2003 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, “The cost of the support for Israel increased dramatically after the 1973 Israeli Arab war. US support for Israel during that war resulted in an additional cost for American taxpayers of between $750 billion and $1 trillion. When Israel was losing the war, President Nixon stepped in to supply the Jewish state with US weapons. This intervention triggered the Arab oil embargo. He continues by saying “Since 1985 the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in annual grants to Israel. Israel has been the largest annual recipient of American aid from 1976 (to the present) and the largest cumulative recipient of aid since World War II. About 60%... of these costs arose from the US defense of Israel, where most of that amount is incurred since 1973.” Stauffer estimates it cost the US as much as $600 billion in lost GNP, and another $450 billion and higher oil costs. The total cost came to almost $3 trillion.
At the time of this writing, the current estimate by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, of the cumulative total of US direct aid to Israel is over $123 billion. Because part of US aid to Israel is buried in the budgets of various US agencies or in a form not easily quantified, it is virtually impossible to arrive at an exact dollar amount. Since every tax-exempt dollar that goes to the settlements represents a loss of conservatively 20% to those dollars for the US treasury, that means that the US taxpayer has indirectly subsidized Israel's illegal settlements of tens of millions of dollars.
According to a Jewish friend of mine, when his father was alive, he would donate money as charitable gifts to Israeli causes and organizations and write those contributions off on his American taxes. Israel is the only country that has this particular relationship with the United States. Since that is money that would otherwise not be included from an individual's tax return, it is in effect a form of indirect subsidy to Israel. The U.S.-Israel income tax treaty states that a contribution to an Israeli charitable organization is deductible if the organization had been created or organized under U.S. law.
A Nuclear Israel
The United States sells military equipment both to Israel and friendly Arab states in the Middle East. However, the military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies is not of the same quality as those that are sold to Israel. In the 1973 war, Israel was on the verge of losing when the United States sent military equipment directly to Israel.
Israel is alleged to have developed nuclear weapons in the late 1960s but has not publicly confirmed this. Mordechai Vanunu is the Israeli equivalent of Edward Snowden. As a former Israeli nuclear technician, he provided explicit details and photographs to the London Sunday Times and to other publications of a nuclear war progress program in which he has been employed for nine years, including equipment for extracting radioactive material for arms production and laboratory models of Thermonuclear devices.” The size of the Israeli nuclear arsenal is estimated to vary between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons. It is estimated that the Israeli nuclear force has the ability to deliver these nuclear weapons through a variety of delivery systems.
The turning point in the Israeli-Arab confrontation was the 1967 Israel-Arab Six-Day War where Israel seized control of the Gaza Strip in the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria. The resulting displacement of civilian populations would have long-term consequences. Around 300,000 Palestinians fled the West Bank and about 100,000 Syrians did the same to become refugees. Israel made peace with Egypt following the Camp David Accords in 1978 and completed a withdrawal from the Sinai in 1982. However, the position of the other occupied territories has led the West Bank to become a source of continual conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab world in general. Shortly after that war, the Israeli government offered to give the West Bank back to King Hussein of Jordan in exchange for his recognition of the Jewish state. Hussein said that he would like to do so but to do so would lead to his immediate assassination by his own military. A great opportunity was lost.
In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin was re-elected as prime minister on a platform of establishing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He signed several historic agreements with the Palestinian leadership as part of the Oslo Accord. In 1994 Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize together with his longtime political rival Shimon Perez and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. However, in November 1995, he was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli who opposed the peace process. From that time on Israeli policies became committed to expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli leaders such as Begin, Shamiz, Peres, Barack, Sharon, and Netanyahu have led Israel with a conservative agenda.
Since about 1970, the United States has become the principal ally of Israel. Primarily because most of the rest of the world opposes Israel's moving into Palestine, taking Palestinian lands, and their general policy towards the Palestinians. In 1949 there was an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty based on the Camp David Accords. In 1993 Israel signed the Oslo Accord with the PLO and in 1994, the Israel treaty of peace was signed despite efforts to establish peace between Israel and Palestinians, many of who live in Israel or in Israel-occupied territories. The conflict continues to play a major role in Israeli and international political and social and economic life. In my estimation, the turning point in Israeli was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
The irony of the recent history and currently Israel policy is parallel to policies that Jews have historically experienced. Gaza is much like the forced internment of Jews in the Warsaw neighborhood ghetto prior to WWII and Palestinians are prevented from participating as full citizens in Israel itself. The unresolved question of whether Israel is a democracy or a theocracy has created tension domestically between Orthodox Jews that do not have to serve in the military and everyone else who has to serve. They are also subsidized by the state and do not have to work.
On my first trip around the world from 1967 to 1968, I spent about four months in Israel. For most of that time, I lived and worked on a Kibbutz north of Tiberius. I found that I both respected and liked Israeli Jews. Israel was initially a socialist economically and politically dominated by social democratic parties until the 1970s. Since that time, in my estimation, Israel has become politically conservative and authoritarian towards its Palestinian citizens. The Israeli economy has gradually moved to corporate capitalism, partially retaining its social welfare system.
Netanyahu claimed credit for an economy that performed well at the macro level in recent years, especially when compared to the global downturn that hammered many countries. But his critics say his policies favored corporations and the wealthy, and have been a major contributor to the country's growing income inequality. (In 2021 Netanyahu lost the election and is currently on trial for corruption.) Among Israelis, economic issues have often taken precedence over security issues in recent years.
Those Palestinians that remained in Israel are citizens of Israel but are second-class citizens both economically and politically. Those living in the West Bank of the Jordan River and in Gaza are living in far worse conditions. Over half of the labor force is unemployed. Those who are employed have meager wages. Living conditions are abysmal. Gaza is one of the largest slums in the world. And though they are on the ocean they are prevented by Israel from developing a port. Basically, the plight of the Palestinians and Israel and the surrounding areas like the West Bank and Gaza live in a condition of apartheid similar to South Africa of a generation ago.
The Current Situation
The establishment of Israel and Palestine, and the subsequent opposition by Arab states, have created an ongoing tension not only between Israel and the Arab states but the United States as well. More than any other single issue the unresolved presence of Israel in the Middle East has led to the Muslim fundamentalist movement and the establishment of Iran as anti-Israeli with the potential capacity to build nuclear weapons.
Overwhelmingly the vast majority of the world’s population and governments oppose Israeli expansion and treatment of Palestinians. Since 1970 the United States has been the sole supporter of Israel. Despite effects to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the conflict continues to play a major role in Israeli and international political, social, and economic life. Israel faces growing pressure from Europe, where several countries have recognized a Palestinian state that does not formally exist.
In my estimation Israel today is experiencing a high degree of corruption. Geopolitically, Israel is losing its technological edge. Iran is developing nuclear capacity and rockets that will soon be able to reach Israel. This is likely to happen regardless of the outcome of current negations with Iran.
The Palestinian population will soon become the majority within Israel. If Israel is to be a democracy, then the majority will determine the type of state Israel will be and its attitude toward establishing a Palestine state in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the other states in the region. I don't think that this is likely to happen as Israel is already leaning toward a policy of apartheid. Nations, like individuals, have a particular personality. And like individuals, nations need to be judged on what they do and not what they say.
“An occupation that has lasted almost 50 years must end.” ~ Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, at the annual J Street conference, a left-leaning pro-Israel group, March, 2015
The worst-case scenario is for Israel to continue on its present course. The logical results are domestically to either curtail Palestinian Israelis which would mean they would be the majority or, the more likely scenario, continuing a policy of apartheid and denying Palestinians basic rights and their therefore no longer being a democracy. There have been already been two uprisings, or intifadas, where Palestinians struck out at Israelis, resulting in loss of life for Palestinians. At some point, I would expect massive resistance and terrorism resulting in the breakdown of order in Israel. The third scenario is that other nations such as Iran gain nuclear weapons and rockets with long enough range to destroy Israel. Given the number of nuclear weapons that Israel currently has, this would result in a regional nuclear war where everybody in the region loses and would have profound effects on the rest of the world.
It is also possible to establish a two-state solution. It seems to me that the only solution that will work as a two-state solution should be based on the borders prior to the 1967 war. Such a solution would have to be guaranteed by both the United States and the United Nations. It would probably require paying the refugees that lost their homes and land in Israel and the same refugees giving up their right of return to that land. Palestine would consist of both the West Bank and Gaza with a corridor linking the two. Jerusalem would be consist of both a western and eastern portion, with each being the capital of their respective people with the caveat that the 5 acres that have religious significance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians be a transnational site administered by UNESCO. This agreement would also require the Arab states to recognize the reality of the existence of Israel.