GUEST COMMENTARY - Israeli defenders often say the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is complicated and defies any simple historical explanation. In fact, a brief review of history gives great clarity to the conflict and provides a clear answer to what is just and fair. Israel has turned her back on a great many of her Christian and Muslim people and must correct this historical wrong by complying with international law that protects human rights.
The 1948 founding of Israel led to the dislocation of many indigenous people. Before the formation of Israel, there were approximately 2 million people in Palestine, of which 1.4 million were Christian or Muslim. Based upon an Israeli census, by 1949 the number of Christians and Muslims had declined to approximately 150,000. The founding of Israel had created 1.2 million Christian and Muslim refugees.
The Israeli narrative often suggests that these Christians and Muslims left Palestine voluntarily at the behest of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. According to this narrative, even the Christians followed the instruction of this Muslim cleric and simply abandoned their homes, businesses, properties, and lives to go to an unknown location and start a completely uncharted life. These refugees had no promise of new citizenship nor other forms of assistance. But Israeli supporters want us to believe that these Christians and Muslims simply chose to leave, en masse, without their property and with no promise of a new life elsewhere. This preposterous explanation more than strains credulity.
In fact, during 1948 the Irgun, Lehi, Haganah and other Jewish militia attacked and killed many Christians and Muslims in an effort to terrorize them into fleeing. Perhaps the most famous terror attack occurred on April 9, 1948, in the Deir Yassin massacre. On that day, the Irgun fighters together with Lehi paramilitary group attacked a village of Christians and Muslims called Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. The attack resulted in as many as 250 civilian deaths. These terror attacks were effective and led to mass exodus of the indigenous Christians and Muslims.
After hostilities ended, these Christian and Muslim refugees had the legal right to return to what had then become Israel. UN Resolution 194 (1948) provides that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date. . . . “ This right is further established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Israel refused to follow international law and implemented a religious test to determine persons that would be allowed to return. Persons practicing Judaism were allowed to return. However, Christians and Muslims were denied the internationally recognized right of return. Israel argued (and continues to argue) that allowing Christians and Muslims to return would undermine the ethnic and religious purity sought for the new nation. In the West, any decision to deny indigenous people’s legal rights based upon religion or a desire for an untainted racial profile would be reviled as racist and bigoted. However, many countries in the Middle East dispense rights based on religion, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Thus, Israel made permanent the removal of these Christians and Muslims that were and remain people of the new land of Israel.
In 1950 Israel completed the ethnic cleansing by adopting the Law of Absentees’ Property, which gave an Israeli custodian control over land, building, furniture, equipment, machinery, and other property of those that Israel had prevented from returning. In essence, the law transferred to the Israeli government all property rights from the Christian and Muslim refugees that were continuing to be denied their legal right of return by the Israeli government.
Today, the Christians and Muslims ethnically cleansed from Israel and their descendants form a large diaspora. Over 2 million live as refugees and without citizenship in surrounding countries including Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. Another 2.2 million live under brutal Israeli incarceration in Gaza and 3.5 million live under withering Israeli apartheid in the West Bank. These 7.7 million persons are people of the land of Israel and continue to have the legal right to return. Israel denies this right because of their Christian or Muslim beliefs. As such, these 7.7 million people remain stateless, marginalized and often subject to repeated Israeli brutalization. This forms the historical and current obstacle for peace in the region.
Unlike Israel, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other settler colonialist nations have allowed the indigenous people the right to become citizens of the newly formed nations. While far from seamless, this has allowed indigenous people the opportunity to live freely within the new nations. Israel has allowed citizenship to the indigenous people that did not seek to escape Israeli violence in 1948. These people have substantially similar rights to Jewish Israelis and live in peace within Israel. However, Israel forces the refugee population to live as stateless people, often suffering brutal Israeli violence, mass deprivation and overwhelming oppression.
The dramatic difference in the behavior of indigenous people that are integrated into Israel as citizens and those who continue to be refugees demonstrates all too clearly that the violence and conflict stems from the repression of these people. Israel must permit all of her people, including these refugees, to live fully and completely as citizens. The proliferation of “settlements” within the West Bank has rendered a two-state solution impracticable. Rather, these Christians and Muslims must be brought into a one-state solution where all are Israeli and all live in peace. The two million indigenous people that Israel allowed to remain demonstrate that peaceful coexistence is absolutely possible. Only the desire of certain Israelis to maintain religious or ethnic purity stands as an obstacle for this solution. We must guide Israel to our Western values that make pursuit of such religious or ethnic purity immoral and reprehensible.
On both sides, right wing elements have argued for the elimination of the other. To remove either group of people would be a grave crime against humanity. The only choice for both is to learn to live together. The Palestinians have long been unable to form viable institutions of government and otherwise prepare for statehood. Israel has proven capable for forming a competent government, though its current government draws this into question. Removing Israeli apartheid, bringing her refugees home from surrounding countries and ceasing the Gaza incarceration would allow Israel to become a true democracy and give hope to the region.
The historical context in which this conflict arose is far from overly complicated. The history is both recent and indisputable. The answer that comes from review of this history is clear. Israel must allow all of the people of this land, including Jew, Christians, and Muslims, the right and opportunity to live as citizens of Israel in peace. To do this, Israel must accept all of her people.
(J. George Mansour was born and raised in Missouri and has long been a student of political science and international relations. Mr. Mansour is now based in Austin Texas, where he remains an active investor in a variety of businesses.)