Friday, August 07, 2009

Sidney Zion, In Memoriam

Sidney Zion, a Daily News columnist (and more), covered the Middle East since the Six Day War for numerous publications. He won the Overseas Press Club award, with Uri Dan, in 1979 for a series in The New York Times Magazine titled "Untold Story of the Mideast Talks."

He passed away last Sunday.

Here's from his "The Palestinians Have a State" from 2003:

It's called Jordan.

...The Oslo peace process lies in ruin, and the road map plan is off to a shaky start, due to the inability of the parties involved to agree on a formulation of principles concerning the right, or lack thereof, of the Palestinians to determine their own future on the West Bank of the river Jordan -- the area universally regarded as the historic, political, geographic, and demographic landmass of Palestine.

But...a lot of well-intentioned people will tell you that there is not now and never has been a Palestinian nation.

The problem with this notion is that it is not true. There is and has been a Palestinian nation since May 14, 1946 - only two years to the day before there was an Israeli nation.

Originally called the Kingdom of Transjordan, that nation is now the Kingdom of Jordan. It lives on the East Bank of the Jordan River and comprises 80 percent of the historic, political, geographic, and demographic landmass of Palestine. It has a population of three million people, virtually all of whom were either born there or arrived there from the other 20 percent of Palestine - Israel plus the ``occupied territories`` known as the ``West Bank.``

...These boundaries were universally acknowledged from the end of World War I until 1946, when Great Britain created by fiat the independent Kingdom of Transjordan - thus lopping off four-fifths of Palestine and handing it to the Arabs, in direct violation of the mandate over the territory granted to Great Britain by the League of Nations...

...Israel - it is said - now controls the whole of Palestine. Its refusal to cede completely the territory occupied after that war - from East Jerusalem to the Jordan River, plus the Gaza Strip - is therefore considered the bar to national rights or 'self-determination' of the Palestinian Arabs.

So goes the conventional wisdom of much of the world, and, because it is so widely believed, it is naturally thought to be fair and objective. No matter that it is based on an incredible distortion of history, politics, geography, and demography.

Yet, unless this distortion is corrected, there is little hope for anything close to enduring Middle East peace. A brief look at relatively recent events puts the problem in perspective.

Before World War I, the word 'Palestine' had no clear-cut geographical denotation and represented no political identity. In 1920, however, the Allied powers conferred on Great Britain a 'mandate' over the territory formerly occupied by Turkey. It was called the Palestine Mandate and included the land on both sides of the Jordan River.

This mandate was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and remained unchanged during the League`s lifetime.

The mandate incorporated the Balfour Declaration, the famous 1917 proclamation by which Great Britain committed itself to provide a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people; it did not provide a homeland for the Arabs living there, but it did protect their 'civil and religious,' although not their political, rights.

However, two months after the League of Nations approved the mandate, Winston Churchill, then Britain`s colonial secretary, changed the rules of the game.

"One afternoon in Cairo," as Churchill later boasted, he simply took all the land east of the Jordan River and inserted the Hashemite Abdullah - the great-grandfather of the present King Abdullah - as its emir.

But he did not free it from the mandate, and the people living on the East Bank were in all respects Palestinians. The people living there traveled under Palestinian passports, as did the Jews and Arabs living on the West Bank. But the whole country was effectively ruled by Britain...Britain`s East Bank representative, Sir Alec Kirkbride, [said] this land, constituting 80 percent of the mandate, was "intended to serve as a reserve of land for use in the resettlement of Arabs once the National Home for the Jews in Palestine, which they were pledged to support, became an accomplished fact. There was no intention at that stage of forming the territory east of the river Jordan into an independent Arab state."

Indeed, Churchill persuaded the Zionists to go along with the suspension of Jewish immigration to the East Bank on the grounds that this would mollify the indigenous Arab population on the West Bank - then 200,000 strong - and thus make possible a Jewish homeland west of the Jordan.

Of course, it did no such thing; instead, it whetted Arab appetites for the whole of Palestine, an objective which was nearly achieved several time: the Palestinian Arab uprising against the Jews in 1936; the British White Paper of 1939, which cut off the Jewish immigration to the Holy Land, locking European Jews in with Hitler; and the united Arab war against the newly proclaimed State of Israel in 1948...what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.

The upshot: Jordan is now considered an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

But a country whose population is virtually all Palestinian can hardly be considered as something less than a Palestinian nation.

...When the Zionists agreed in 1922 to suspend immigration to the East Bank, in accordance with Churchill`s request, Vladimir Jabotinsky signed on.

But Jabotinsky -- the elegant, fiery Zionist leader who later became the father of the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi and the "eagle" of its commander, Menachem Begin -- changed his mind about the deal a year later after it became clear that the Jews had traded away most of the mandate for nothing.

...The Jabotinsky vision held that both sides of the Jordan belonged to Israel; he wrote a song about it: ``The West Bank is ours, and the East Bank is ours.``

Menachem Begin marched to this tune most of his life. For domestic political reasons he dropped it in his later years, but it was surprising, to say the least, that he did not even allude to it after he became prime minister.

Had he insisted on educating the world about the true history of Palestine, Begin could have cleared up the confusion and made a contribution toward peace.

Thus, if the world were to understand that Israel occupies only 20 percent of Palestine rather than 100 percent, would it not make a difference?

If it became clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a "host country" but rather the Arab part of their own country, would it not make a difference?

Of course it would make a difference.

Israel is being robbed of its political, historic, and geographic legitimacy while seeming to rob the Palestinians of a nation it already has.

...said the late Peter Bergson, who led the Hebrew Liberation Movement in the 1940's - "But if we paint Jordan as if it`s just another Arab nation, as if it`s Saudi Arabia, then the fight is on for the extinction of Israel in stages.

"Because," Bergson added, "if we insist that the whole of Palestine is the West Bank, anything we return is simply the fruit of a crime. But if we tell the truth, if we point out that 80 percent of the land is already in the hands of the Palestinian Arabs, everyone - here and around the world - will see this dispute for what it is."

...Indeed, no neighboring Arab nation really wants a separate state on the West Bank - not Egypt, not Saudi Arabia, not Syria, not Lebanon.

Some of them say they want it, but whosoever accepts rhetoric in the Middle East belongs in the U.S. State Department.

And this:

Don't Tell Me Brits Were Benign, from July 10th 1997

"The British love freedom almost as much as they love depriving people of it," wrote Ben Hecht. I know of no better history of the British Empire, whose sun just fell into the China Sea and barely flickers over Northern Ireland.

Misery followed the Union Jack across the seas and across the centuries. The world was its outhouse, however civilized it appeared at home. Check India, Palestine, Egypt, Hong Kong, Ireland check America on the Fourth of July.

So imagine my surprise and maybe yours when I read on this very page the other day the headline over a column by Charles Krauthammer: "Sun sets on Brit empire, but not on its fine legacy."

Krauthammer sees the handover of Hong Kong as a "melancholy" end to British colonial rule over the Pacific, and he waxes nostalgic over the "benevolent" empire, under which he was raised as a child in Montreal.

Montreal was maybe the exception that proved the rule, but oh, Charlie, don't sing "Melancholy Baby" to us about the Brits. Not a good Jew like you, who backs Israel to the hilt, and ought to know what the English did to your people.

Fifty years ago, the Hebrew Revolution was in full swing against the British occupation of Palestine. The Brits, who had closed off Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939, on the eve of World War II, thus locking the Jews of Europe into Hitler's death camps, now had 100,000 troops in the Holy Land with the sole purpose of killing off a Jewish State. Against this, the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, and the tiny but lethal Stern group, fought a street revolution unparalleled in history. Never more than 5,000 strong, they blew up British installations, copped British arms and flogged and hanged in retaliation British soldiers.

Condemned in the world press as "terrorists," informed against, kidnaped, tortured by the Jewish Agency, led by David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, they somehow managed to drive the British out of the Holy Land.

The Brits were brutal; as always the broken neck was their answer. In the spring and summer of 1947, they hanged Jewish patriots in Acre prison as a matter of course.

Dov Gruner, an Irgun soldier captured by the British, became the symbol of the Jewish revolt. His poignant letters from prison caught a little of the world's sympathy. The Brits hanged him anyway, and in secret, even as they invited his sister to visit him.

Few remember Dov Gruner in Israel, and far fewer remember him in America. Who, after all, knows that there was a Hebrew Revolution? Say the word and people shake their heads like a batter fighting off a fastball from Randy Johnson.

The reason is that Israel has denied its revolution, because the "wrong people" fought it. The official Jewish Army, the Haganah, laid down its arms in the midst of the fray. In the summer of 1946, the British arrested the leaders of the Jewish Agency, and that was that for their fight against the British.

"The Hebrews learn it backward, which is absolutely frightening," said Henry Higgins. In that vein, Israel had as its first leaders Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizmann and Golda Meir those who collaborated with the English by opposing those who fought them, the Irgun and the Stern group.

When Menachem Begin finally took over in 1977, he was no longer a revolutionary. And so the history of the Hebrew Revolution has been buried like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Next year the Israelis celebrate the 50th year of the War of Independence, which they say began after the British left the country, when the Arab world attacked the new Jewish State.

It's as if our War of Independence was the War of 1812. Israel's real War of Independence was against the British Empire. A guy as wise as Charles Krauthammer would know this, if history hadn't been blotted out like a foggy day over London town.

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