Melanie Phillips spoke in Jerusalem last week. In 55 minutes, she dealt with the relationship between anti-Zionism and Jew hatred, media bias, Israel’s poor performance in the global information war, and the future of Europe, and more. Watch and you will agree that it was 55 minutes well spent. And then I want to discuss just one of the things she said.
Phillips pointed out that history is important, particularly in this case, where a massive distortion of Jewish history provides the underpinning to the delegitimization of Israel so rampant in Europe (and to a lesser extent in the US).
The story is told, Phillips explained, that Israel was created to expiate the guilt of Europeans for the Holocaust and to solve the refugee problem it caused. Millions of European Jews were sent to Palestine where they displaced an indigenous ancient ‘Palestinian’ civilization. So no wonder, the story goes, the ‘Palestinians’ are angry. Why should they pay the price for Hitler’s actions (which, by the way, they will praise in a different context)?
I add to this the idea that the Jews are ‘colonists’ who ‘oppress’ the ‘non-white’ Palestinian Arabs, which opens a whole other reservoir of European guilt. Is it surprising that on the basis of this story even the most liberal (in the non-political sense) fair-minded person will think that while perhaps Hamas is a little indiscriminate in its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, on the whole its behavior is understandable?
The problem is that the story is wholly false.
The indigenous people of the land of Israel are the Jews, who had an empire there for hundreds of years. They suffered invasions and genocides, and were (partially) dispersed throughout the world by a succession of pagan, Christian and Muslim conquerors. But they never wholly abandoned their land and the Diaspora never gave up its yearning to return.
This reality was recognized by the international community when it granted Britain the Palestine Mandate to govern the land in trust for the Jewish people (as we know, Britain betrayed this trust, but that’s another story).
On the other hand, there was never any kind of Palestinian Arab political entity in the land, and very few ‘Palestinians’ can trace their lineage farther back than the 19th century. For years they saw themselves as belonging to a generalized Arab nation, and the land as ‘southern Syria’. It was only in the 20th century when some Palestinian Arabs started to define themselves as a distinct ‘people’, and only in the 1960s that they replaced an ideology of simple ethnic hatred with self-definition as an oppressed indigenous third-world populace.
The foundations of the new Jewish state were laid by the Zionists in the Mandate period, during which time they began to change the land from an unhealthful, unproductive wasteland into the flourishing model of modern agriculture that it is today. They created all the appurtenances of a state: schools, universities, hospitals, roads, a merchant fleet, labor unions, banks, etc.
Meanwhile the Palestinian Arabs fomented anti-Jewish pogroms and their leader conspired with Adolf Hitler in murdering European Jews and planning to murder those in the Middle East. “[T]he only problem is that that we know that General Rommel did not succeed in coming here,” a Palestinian recently told an Israeli reporter posing as a German.
The Arabs lost the war they started to expel the Jews in 1948. Actions have consequences, and starting wars that you lose can have very significant consequences. Many Palestinian Arabs fled as a result of the war. Life is like that.
It was like that for about 800,000 Jews, too, who were kicked out of Muslim countries or fled without their possessions in the aftermath of that war. About half the population of Israel today is descended from those Jewish refugees, who by the way do not fit the description of Israeli Jews as ‘European colonialists’.
Thus the Jewish state of Israel is morally legitimate as the home of its indigenous people, solidly grounded in international law. But if you believe the false story that is told by the Arabs with the complicity of the media, then you wouldn’t know any of this.