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No other country in the world has been so heavily and unfairly scrutinized as Israel. Everything about it is questioned: its borders, its army, the places where its citizens live, the ways in which it defends itself from invaders, even the right to its existence… Everybody feels that they have the right to lecture them: from the lowest sadistic terrorist, through the out-of-this-world socialist activists, to the Secretary General of the UN. And this is not just verbal criticism; things often turn ugly, like yesterday when Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank killed in cold blood 4 Israelis, one of them a pregnant woman.
Emotions cloud the clear judgment on both sides and facts are getting lost in an entangled web of lies. The voices of reason are rare, but they exist and sometimes you can listen to them. Today I listened to one of those voices: Salomon Benzimra (from Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, CILR), who gave a presentation organized by the Jewish Defence League. Although the issues he discussed are highly emotionally charged, he kept the emotions totally out of his lecture. Meticulously dissecting the long history of the problem of the Jewish state, he attacked the destructive deceptions spread by media, politicians, and academics.
The myth of the 1967 occupation as a root of all current evil in the region is destroyed when we go through the events that shaped the situation over the last century. After the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans, different countries colonized the land for nearly 2,000 years. The idea of the restoration of the Jewish state came back to life in the late 1890’s, with T. Herzl and the 1st Zionist Congress.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I was a crucial point, because it created the opportunity to change the status of the old Jewish lands. The Balfour Declaration adopted by the British government in November 1917 stated for the first time the idea of creating a Jewish state and also guaranteed the civil and religious rights of the non-Jews in Palestine. The Faisal-Weizman agreement of January 1919 reached between the Arabs and the Jews in the area confirmed the mutual cooperation, supported large-scale Jewish immigration, combined with protection of the Arab rights.
The creation of the League of Nations and its Paris Conference in 1919 played a major role in establishing the principles of respect of international law and achieving peace and justice. Article 22 of its Covenant dealt with the Mandates, special powers of certain countries to manage the lands of the former Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. At the conference, the Zionists presented their case, determining the boundaries of the future state, creating a British Mandate and establishing the historic Jewish rights to Palestine.
The next important step was the San Remo Conference (April 1920), organized by the victorious countries to deal with Turkey’s possessions. It reconstituted the Israeli nation – Palestine was assigned to the Jewish people. Palestine became a legal entity, before that, since Roman times, it had been just a territorial name. All prior agreements about the territory were terminated and the Balfour Declaration was recognized as an international law. Palestine was placed under British Mandate and the Jewish people became the national beneficiary. Sovereignty title to Palestine was transferred from the Allies to the Jewish people, with a specific clause that the transfer of title couldn’t be revoked. The San Remo Resolution (signed on April 25, 1920) was included in the Treaty of Sevres. The Arabs received equivalent rights in Syria and Mesopotamia. That ended the longest colonization period in history. The major issue was that the Mandate, which determined the borders of the future Jewish state, was created strictly under international law. In 1924 the USA supported the treaty.
Few months later, in December 1920, France and England signed the Franco-British Boundary Convention, gave Golan to Syria, but stated that the East boundary of Palestine included also the East Bank.
As Mr.Benzimra stated, those international agreements had very important implications for the area. The Jewish home in Palestine was to be reconstituted based on the recognition of history. The Palestine territory was not to be ceded to any foreign power. Increased immigration and Jewish settlements were encouraged on the whole land. Later, in 1922 Transjordan (also under British Mandate) was carved out of Palestine, forbidden to Jews. The Mandate also guaranteed the civil and religious rights to non-Jews. No changes of the Mandate were supposed to be made.
Although Great Britain didn’t change the Mandate, in the late 1930’s it severely restricted the Jewish immigration to Palestine (with the Macdonald White Paper), which had catastrophic consequences for the European Jews during the war. After the war that policy was condemned. Through the Israeli independence in 1948 and the wars that followed, the boundaries of the country were never officially changed in agreement with the international law. So the so-called “occupied territories” have never been legally ceded from Israel.
The sad truth is that human beings have the ability to accept many lies, if they are repeated often enough. Mr.Benzimra quoted George Orwell on that: “Truth is erased, the erasure is forgotten, the lie becomes truth.”
Let’s hope that with the new negotiations that are about to begin, Israel will be able to convince the people who still can think that the truth cannot be buried forever.