Zionism: Chosen People, Promised Lane
A similar pattern of the radicalization of religion that we have seen in Christian and Islamic fundamentalism is playing itself out in contemporary extremist Jewish thought, particularly as it relates to the problem of Israel and Israel's relationship both to Judaism and to its Islamic neighbors.
The nation of Israel became a nation a little more than a half century ago with great hopes and with the blessings of at least the Western world as it tried to create for itself the ideal democratic Jewish state in Palestine as a homeland for Jews from around the world, both religious and non-religious alike, many of whom had been persecuted in Europe or elsewhere simply because they were Jews. Many of the early settlers in Israel were survivors of the Holocaust who came to their new state with the cloud of the Holocaust hanging over them and the guiding motto – “never again!”
The State of Israel was a noble concept that got off to an unfortunate beginning because of an unbelievably stupid political misjudgment by the United Nations led by the United States. Many Americans either have forgotten or are simply unaware of how Israel came into being. Without having Israel’s early history clearly in mind it is impossible to comprehend the complexity and the difficulty of resolving the issues that must be dealt with before there can ever be peace in the Middle East. This early history is the principal driver of the radicalization of extremist parties both in Judaism and in Islam that are complicating any attempt to make peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
A quick recap: After World War I the land of Palestine was occupied by British troops under a mandate of the League of Nations. A group of Jews who called themselves Zionists had a dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and some Jews had already immigrated to Palestine throughout the 1920s and 1930s to join Jews who were already living there.
After World War II the Allies faced the difficult question of what to do with European Jews who had been displaced by the war or who had survived the Holocaust. Sending them back to Germany was not an option. As the dominant world power at the end of the war the US forced a plan through the UN to settle Jews in Palestine despite the objections of the Arab countries and of Great Britain, which had controlled the “mandate” of Palestine since the First World War.
England was the dominant power in the Middle East at that time and as such it had the responsibility for maintaining stability. When Israel was created by the UN over Arab and British objections, the British government believed that an unstable situation had been created that made Palestine ungovernable, so it pulled out its troops. Some Arabs had been dispossessed of their land in order to make room for Jewish immigrants. It was apparent to almost everyone (except apparently the US) that displacing Arabs to make room for Jews, who in turn had been displaced in Europe, simply moved the problem from Europe to the Middle East and solved one problem by creating another.
The Arab countries surrounding Palestine united in support of the displaced Palestinian Arabs. As a temporary solution Palestinian Refugee Camps were set up on the land just outside Israel. Almost immediately after the British troops pulled out, the Arab states jointly attacked the new state of Israel with the intent of pushing the Israelis off the land and giving it back to the Palestinian inhabitants who had been dispossessed. Israel fought to a stalemate and won its survival. In the war Israel captured Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank from the Palestinians and their Arab allies and at the end of the war with the Arab states Israel kept these “Occupied Lands” that had been intended to be the territory of a future Palestinian state.
Unfortunately the stage was now set for more conflict, as more and more Jewish settlers moved into Israel and as the Arab population continued to be forcibly evicted from its land under a perverse concept of eminent domain and forced into huge refugee settlement camps. The Palestinians were now a dispossessed people without a home or a country and such land as they might have had as a Palestinian state continued to be occupied by the Israelis.
While the early leaders of Israel and the Zionist movement were largely non-religious Jews, some of the justification for creating the state of Israel was that Palestine was the Biblical Promised Land and that by creating a new Jewish state, in some sense Jews would be “coming home” to their original homeland, which of course they had not occupied in almost 2000 years.
It is painfully obvious that a good deal of the trouble in the Middle East is aggravated by religious fundamentalist parties among the Israelis who believe that Jews have a divine right to possess and occupy all of the former land of Palestine and to Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. They want to drive the Arabs out of Palestine, they want to keep the land they took from Jordan and Syria now known as theOccupied Territory and on which Israeli settlers continue to displace Palestinians, and they want to rid themselves of any Palestinian or Islamic presence in Israel. In other parts of the world this displacing of occupants is termed ethnic cleansing.
It is obvious that we will not have peace in the Middle East so long as religious extremists are significant players, because it is very hard to find grounds for compromise with people whose views come from their god and who believe that the other side represents evil that must be destroyed in the name of their god.