The tiny piece of land where modern Israel is located is one of the most disputed territories in the world. From the late Roman Empire through the crusades in the Middle Ages to the modern-day conflicts, dozens of different countries, movements and religions had clash in order to take control over it.
It is nearly impossible for a side observer to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Due to the ill political will of many sites involved in those conflicts, it is hard to dig out the truth hidden in obscure documents and forgotten meetings and conferences. This thankless task has been pursued for years by Salomon Benzimra, a tireless researcher whose new presentation titled Restoring Factual Evidence in the Middle East Conflict, took place at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (Toronto) on October 25, 2010.
It was an event organized by Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights (CILR) founded by Goldi Steiner, who was also present. The hall was fully packed with listeners eager to hear the truth on the Middle East.
In the very beginning, Salomon announced that the purpose of the presentation was to show how the Palestinian organizations misrepresent the facts about the conflict. Revealing and explaining those facts is crucial, if we want to confront them. One of the major issues they always bring up is the issue of occupation – each and every one of their actions, even terrorism, is justified through it.
The lies about the occupation are so deeply rooted, that even many Israelis are deceived into believing that the lands are occupied.
We have to confront them with facts, among which the legal rights of Israel are the most important.
There is an expression used frequently by most of the critics of Israel: “Illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories”. Each of these four words is false, if we carefully analyze the reality behind each of them.
First, who are the Palestinians? That term didn’t have a definitive meaning until very recently. In the past, many Arab leaders have denied the existence of a Palestinian people, among them were Hafez Asad and Ahmad Shukeiri (Arafat’s predecessor in PLO). That term was created with the purpose to create an artificial entity, which is to be opposed to the Jews and its final goal is to destroy Israel.
The whole history of PLO is an example of such deception. PLO was created in 1964 when the so-called occupied territories were not even part of Israel. What kind of liberation did they propose? It was a totally absurd demand.
The wars of 1967 and 1973, which the Arabs started with the goal to wipe out Israel, ended disastrously for them. After the wars Arafat came up with the so-called Ten Point Program, demanding acquisition of territories from Israel, some of the points also planned to launch terrorist attacks against Israel and even to eliminate it as a country.
Using the term “occupation” in that case is legally incorrect. Israel has sovereignty over the lands.
The term “illegal” is also absurd. As of now, Gaza is not even occupied, the Israeli army is not in charge there and the whole territory is under Arab control, there is no “illegal” presence. As of the West Bank, how can we talk about occupation when that territory legally wasn’t part of any country? According to the international agreements, that land was allocated for Israeli state and it was annexed illegally by Jordan in 1950 (at the time only Great Britain and Pakistan recognized the annexation as legitimate). No country had sovereignty over this territory, so it was impossible to consider it “occupied” when it was returned to Israel. It was never “Palestinian land”.
Nevertheless, those distorted facts are used by the Palestinian Authority to establish its claims over the lands. It is even threatening now to make a unilateral declaration of independence to create a Palestinian state, following the scenario that developed in Kosovo.
When we investigate the truth about the situation, the old Biblical claims are not enough to establish Israel’s rights. Although most Jews have been exiled from those lands since antiquity, they still kept their identity and in that sense they are not unlike other peoples. The situation is similar to that of the Gypsies (Roma) who don’t have a country, but exist in many different places, or the Basks in Spain, who have their territory, but it is not an independent country.
The San Remo Conference of 1920 was the crucial point in restoring the rights of the Jewish people to the lands called Palestine. Thus the international community recognized the legal right of the Jewish people to a country.
In accordance with the rules of the League of the Nations, a British Mandate for Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), which included Palestine and the current Jordan was established, that form of control was not a colony, but a temporary rule supposed to continue until the Jews settle the state issue (Jordan later was carved out of Palestine and placed under direct British rule).
The Arabs were not granted state rights in that territory, but they received the right to reside there with their religious and civil rights guaranteed. Thus the Jewish people were the beneficiary to which sovereignty was bestowed. The borders of the lands were determined according to the Biblical records before the Roman invasion.
As a decision designed to benefit the Arabs in a similar legal way, at the same conference, French mandate was created in Syria and the current Lebanon and in the future Arab states were supposed to be established there.
The San Remo conference put an end to the longest colonization in history: the Jewish lands were occupied from 70 A.D. to 1920. It is strange that the Left ignores that fact, although they declare that they are against imperialism and colonization.
After that Mr. Benzimra talked about the trip to San Remo last April to mark the anniversary of the conference. It was organized by CILR and supported by European Christian organizations. He emphasized that we should accept their support, although many Jews are wary of Christians due to past conflicts. Those organizations can really help, CILR is working on establishing even wider support by attracting on its side prominent politicians, like the former Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar and others. The purpose is to convince the international community to treat Israel like any other country.
Establishing all the historical facts about the lands and presenting them to the public is a difficult task. There are many multi-volume publications, which a thorough but too academic. The challenge is to summarize them and make them more accessible. CILR is preparing such publications and beside the general public, they also have to reach the Israeli government, which so far has had its emphasis on the military defence. Of course, the defence is crucial, but no less important is the necessity to pay attention on getting out the message about Israel’s rights.
The discussion, which followed Mr. Benzimra’s presentation added more insights to the facts. A lady, who takes a course in modern Islam at York University, explained that most of what was taught in the course was based on deception. Her professor claimed that Israel was a product of “colonization” which was the worst thing that happened to the Arabs. According to him, in 1948 the Ashkenazi Jews (who had nothing in common with the original Jews) came from Europe, occupied Palestine, slaughtered entire villages and expelled the rest of the Arabs. That is the opinion of the Muslim “scholars” and that’s what we are fighting against, she concluded.
Mr. Benzimra noted that this is just another deception, we cannot speak of colonization, because there is no law stating that the Middle East must be Arab. However, that deception is taken seriously even by many Jews, who believe that they received Israel in 1948 as a reward for their suffering in the Holocaust, although that’s not true.
Another attendee added that according to the facts, the former territory of Transjordan should be considered the Palestinian state. But even the high-profile diplomats have a limited understanding of those issues. The Obama administration looks at the Palestinian question as if it was created after 1945 when supposedly the Palestinians had their lands taken away to make the Jews happy. The whole situation is frightening, the insistence on returning of millions of Arabs to Israel is designed to overpower the country. It’s shameful that the facts about the decisions in San Remo are covered up.
In support of the last statement, somebody else expressed his surprise that the Israeli government is not involved in spreading the truth, because the facts are very convincing. Mr. Benzimra responded that he and his organization are working actively on the issue and it seems that Likud will be most likely to get involved.
A student asked if the same legal rights apply to East Jerusalem. Mr. Benzimra replied that the same legal frame applies here, in the San Remo documents Jerusalem wasn’t mentioned, it was one whole city, which was not supposed to be divided. That should continue to be the position of Israel. Of course, the world wouldn’t recognize that, but they don’t recognize Judea and Samaria either.
Another gentleman made a psychological observation about the nature of historical truth. While it is important to know and affirm the facts, we must remember that people are influenced by emotions, not facts. As long as the oil is expensive and the Arabs profit from it, no amount of historical facts would change their attitude. At the same time, as long as Israel is strong and the USA supports it, the country will withstand the pressure and aggression, although the world is against it. It will take a long time to resolve the issues. Mr. Benzimra agreed that the emotions are important, but they are based on facts. Having the right facts will provide a better background for creating a powerful emotional message.
The value of Mr. Benzimra’s presentation consists first and foremost in creating the feeling of self-confidence among Jews. The certainty of their land claim, which has been affirmed legally many times, gives them the moral justification to defend their country.
It has been stated sometimes that the Jews in Europe during World War II fell prey to the Nazi because they were divided among so many countries. Although their faith united them to a great extend, it wasn’t enough to turn them into a resistance force.
When the Jews returned to their ancient homeland, the Arabs erroneously assumed that they would still be an easy target. When they attacked in 1948, it was shocking to find out that the ill-equipped Jews not only didn’t run away, but fought fiercely to defeat the invaders. This time they had behind them something much bigger than each fighting individual and that something was their country. The choice was simple: defend Israel or die (the latter, preferably by drowning the Jews in the sea, is the constant unfulfilled dream of many Islamists who comment on public forums).
Providing an ironclad legal foundation for establishing Israel’s legitimacy will help its defenders to become even more determined in their fight. That is a noble task and Mr. Benzimra deserves all possible support in his work to achieve it.