I mentioned before that I watched The Long Way Home, a documentary about the Jewish experience in the years between the liberation of the camps and the founding of the State of Israel. One of the things that movie reminded me about was the similarities between the tactics Jewish militants used to displace the British and the tactics the Palestinians have used to displace the Jews: bombs.
Everyone is familiar with the story about how Irgun, the most militant terrorist group, in 1946, bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed government and military departments. That was not the only bombing the Irgun carried out. It engaged in many raids against the British military and bombed several strategic locations. Mr. Bookworm, who is, at best, a lukewarm friend of Israel, paused the DVD we were watching to say, “I hope you realize the similarity between their tactics and the Palestinian tactics.” I did agree, but added that there are many differences. We resumed watching, but I’ve been mulling those differences and thought I’d post about them now.
The Irgun attacked military targets, not civilian targets. It did what it could to minimize, not only civilian casualties, but British military casualties as well. In this, Jewish militants differed substantially from militants in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, or any place where Islamic militants operate, because the latter specifically target civilians, and try to maximize civilian casualties.
The European Jews were a genuine refugee population. Everyone knows about the Six Million dead. Many don’t realize that, amazingly, some 250,000 Jews survived the Holocaust. As The Long Way Home makes clear this was a true refugee population. They’d been forcibly dispossessed of their homes and property, the vast majority had been slaughtered, and no country would accept them (including America which, at the start of the Cold War, associated Jews with Communism). Those Jews who tried to return to Poland, for example, were massacred all over again.
In this, the European Jews differ from the Palestinians. Upon the founding of the State of Israel, which started as a two state solution (with the Jews getting much of the non-arable land in the country) the “Palestinians”* were not under any compulsion to vacate their land. They did so in part based upon the leaders’ promises that, after the Jews were slaughtered, they could come back and take over Jewish property and wealth, and in part to get out of the way.
What was staggering was that, in the aftermath of the War, no surrounding nation would take them. This refusal to take the “Palestinians” differed from the Jewish experience following WWII in that these refugee Arabs were in fact Jordanians, and their own country corralled them for purely political reasons. That is, going back into Jordan wouldn’t have subjected them to death. In addition, Israel did an excellent job absorbing those Arabs who chose to remain or return, unlike the situation the Jews faced, where they were killed when the tried to return to their homes.
Keep in mind that the Arab nations certainly had room to absorb those Arabs who had left Israel. For starters, there are a lot of Arab lands. In addition, the Arab nations, acting officially (government decrees) or unofficially (riots and pogroms) expelled more than 700,000 Jews over the next forty years years, all the while keeping their wealth. Israel opened her borders to and fairly successfully absorbed every one of those refugees who sought admission into Israel. Israel also handled the huge influx of Russian Jews (and some Russians pretending to be Jews) who escaped the former Soviet Union.
The Jews’ goal was to live, not to kill. One of the biggest differences is the differing goals the Jews had and the Arabs have. The Jews wanted a place to live. They accepted and would have abided by the two state solution, despite the fact that it deprived them of some of the Land’s blessings. Their goal was not to kill Arabs but to cultivate their garden. The Arabs’ goal was to wipe every Jew off the face of the land, believing their presence there to be an offense to Islam. If you doubt me, ask yourself two questions and give honest answers: Do you believe that, if the Arabs laid down their arms, the Israelis would too? I do. How about this: Do you believe that, if the Israelis laid down their arms, the Arabs would too? I don’t. My last answer is based on this kind of rhetoric.
Keeping the above considerations in mind, I thinks it’s important to look, not just at tactics, but at goals and at the moral lines an organization establishes for itself in achieving those goals. Yes, Jews bombed the British and Arabs bombed the Jews. But I think there is compelling reason to believe that the differing ways Jews and Arabs used those tactics, and each group’s different goals, have to be factored into considering the legitimacy of each group’s position.
*I use the terms “Palestinians” advisedly here. There were no “Palestinians” up until the refugees become established as a modern political entity. Before then, and certainly at the time I’m describing, they were just the Arabs that lived in the territory of Palestine, which was part of British-controlled Trans-Jordan. The word Palestinians is a fairly new creation, intended to tie them to the land.