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This is a chapter from Eric Black's book, Parallel Realities. It is reprinted here with permission of the author and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Copyright 1992, Star Tribune. (See below for further information about the author and the book.)

I.F. Stone, the legendary iconoclastic journalist of the 1950s and 60s, once wrote that "Stripped of propaganda and sentiment, the Palestine problem is simply the struggle of two different peoples for the same strip of land."

Well, yes, that's so. The dispute is, at some level, simply about ownership of a strip of land and could therefore be solved by an agreement to divide the land between the two peoples. Sounds simple enough. And yet, in the same 1967 essay, Stone wrote: "If God, as some now say, is dead, He no doubt died trying to find an equitable solution to the Arab-Jewish problem."

Well-intentioned outsiders who try to find such a solution usually start with two basic outcomes that must be achieved for a settlement to be constructed. Israel must end up with borders, recognition and peace. The Palestinians must end up with self-government in some portion of historic Palestine. Given the physical and military realities that have existed since 1967, the Palestinian entity would probably comprise most or all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Still sounds fairly simple, but countless questions have to be answered before such a deal can be struck. What are the borders? Does Palestinian self-government mean an independent sovereign state or a semi-autonomous region under Israeli sovereignty? What becomes of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank? Who gets East Jerusalem, to which both parties have an especially powerful attachment? Who gets the use of the Jordan River? What sort of military or police establishment can the Palestinians maintain? What sorts of guarantees can be written into the deal to reassure Israel that the Palestinian state or entity won't be used for a future attack on Israel? What about the individual land claims of Palestinians whose families owned property before 1948 in what is now Israel? Do they have a right to return or to be compensated?

Any one of the questions above represents a potential dealbreaker. And all of the above ignores the separate issue of the Golan Heights, which separates Israel and Syria. But if all the questions listed above could be answered satisfactorily for both sides, the tragic deadlock could probably be broken. Considering the enormous suffering on both sides of the tribal divide since the conflict began, one would think the two parties would find a way to answer those questions.

But in the same 1967 essay, Stone suggested why the parties have been unable to do that. Israelis and Palestinians, he wrote, "sit not just in separate rooms, like employers and strikers in a bitter labor dispute, but in separate universes where the simplest fact often turns out to have diametrically opposite meanings."

Growing up Jewish in the 1950s, I was raised in one of those universes. I accepted the axiom that the existence of Israel was necessary, proper and just. "Necessary" because all of Jewish history--but especially the unfathomable barbarity of the Holocaust --showed that without a secure homeland of their own, the Jewish people were subject to discrimination, oppression and potentially even extermination. "Proper" because Israel was bringing democracy to a part of the world where none existed. And "just" because the state of Israel was legally created by the United Nations, because it had the backing of the United States and because Israel wanted only to live in peace with neighbors who refused to live in peace with it.

It was many years before I learned that a parallel universe existed, just as real and compelling for those who grow up within it. In this universe, the Zionist dream-come-true was a living nightmare; the creation of Israel was the negation of Palestine; the Jews solved the problem of their homelessness by evicting the Palestinians from the homeland where they had dwelt for at least 13 centuries.

The creation of Israel violated basic international principles of self-determination because every action that supposedly legalizes it was taken without consulting the indigenous population. In this universe, Israel is a creation of Western imperialism. The Zionists were themselves Europeans, ushered into Palestine under British auspices and sustained by U.S. aid.

The rest of this chapter is an overview of the two universes, which I call parallel realities. It is structured as what you might call a dialogue of two monologues, with alternating statements that derive from the parallel realities. The statements are not quotes from actual individuals, except where indicated. They are based on writings of scholars and the utterances of Palestinian and Israeli leaders that reveal the differences between the two universes on the major historical events affecting the land that both peoples want to call home.

Israeli/Thousands of years ago, the Jews lived and ruled in the land that God had promised them, the only country they ever had, the place where King Solomon built the Temple that is the holiest site in Judaism. David Ben-Gurion, founding prime minister of Israel, said: "Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years since King David. Jerusalem is more Jewish than Paris is French or London is English."

Palestinian/The modern Palestinians descend from the ancient Canaanites and Philistines who inhabited the Palestine region before, during and after the relatively brief era of the Jewish kingdom there. Palestinian historian Sami Hadawi called the connection of the ancient Israelites with Palestine "short-lived, unstable, intermittent, long extinct, based on nothing better than the right of conquest."

Israeli/After a series of oppressions by a succession of empires, most of the Jews were evicted from their homeland by the Romans and spent two millennia scattered in foreign lands. During these millennia there was always a Jewish presence in the homeland and the rest of world Jewry retained its special relationship and claim to the land by keeping alive the dream of someday returning, symbolized by the traditional Passover toast: "Next year in Jerusalem."

Palestinian/In the seventh century a.d., shortly after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, Muslim crusaders from the Arab peninsula conquered Palestine. The local population converted to Islam and became assimilated into Arab culture. For the next 13 centuries, Palestine was inhabited by a predominantly Arab Muslim population. No conquest, no U.N. resolution, no Israeli policy can invalidate the justice and morality of the claim of that population to that land.

According to Muslim tradition, Mohammed ascended to heaven from Jerusalem to receive a divine revelation. The Dome of the Rock commemorates this miracle, making Jerusalem the third holiest Muslim city and establishing for Islam a strong religious claim to the Holy City.

Israeli/During their centuries of homelessness, the Jews were often discriminated against, forbidden to practice their faith or even killed because of the world's hostility toward them.

During the 19th century, European Jews, led by Theodor Herzl, concluded that gentile hostility was so intractable that the Jews would be wiped out or suffer eternally unless they had their own land. The Zionists sponsored and organized a peaceful regathering of the Jews in their ancient homeland.

Palestinian/The Palestinians have always been invisible to the West. For centuries the West viewed Palestine as an empty land awaiting some Western project to convert it into something worthy of its place in Judeo-Christian history. The Crusades were the most famous example of this before Zionism.

In the late 19th century, European Jews developed the notion that the brief existence more than two millennia earlier of a Jewish kingdom in Jerusalem entitled them to Palestine. If every people on Earth laid claim to every land they once owned hundreds or thousands of years ago, the Arabs would be entitled to Spain, the Chippewa to Minnesota and the world would know no peace.

Yet the fundamental Zionist idea that the Jews are "entitled" to Palestine is embedded in the Western consciousness. Even the Palestinian Arabs, the dispossessed victims of this idea, are expected to recognize its justice. Their attitude, rather than their homelessness, is said to be the root of the problem.

Israeli/During World War I, Britain captured Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. In 1917, Britain adopted the Balfour Declaration, stating that Britain favored the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

There may have been many reasons for this British policy. It grew out of their political and military needs in the middle of a world war, out of a sense of shared values with the Jews, out of a moral obligation. But from a Zionist perspective, it meant that their centuries of homelessness might be coming to an end and that their seriously endangered people might be saved.

Palestinian/During World War I, Britain promised the Arabs independence if they would help defeat the Ottomans. The Arabs kept their promise. The British broke theirs.

But at the same time, the British promised Palestine to the Jews. How does one country presume to promise the homeland of another people to a third party?

Israeli/During the 1920s and 30s, the British blew hot and cold about their obligation to support a Jewish home in Palestine. Under pressure from the Arabs, the British took steps to impede the flow of Jewish immigrants.

But after the Nazis murdered six million, many more Jews were willing to emigrate and even the Christian world could see the need for a Jewish nation.

Palestinian/Israel portrays the Arabs as the chief tormentors of the Jews. This is historical nonsense. In fact, the Jewish minority was generally treated better by Muslims than by Christians. When Islam ruled Spain, Jews enjoyed a golden age of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. When the Roman Catholics drove the Arabs out, the Jews of Spain were persecuted under the Inquisition. It was the Christian czars and Cossacks of Russia and the Catholics of Poland who carried out pogroms against the Jews. German Christians perpetrated the Holocaust.

After the Holocaust, the Christian West was moved by guilt and pity to favor the establishment of a Jewish homeland. But by what logic or justice should the Palestinian Arabs have to pay with their homeland because the European Christians mistreated the Jews?

Israeli/In 1947, the United Nations decreed the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

The territory assigned by the United Nations to the Jews was small--much smaller than many Zionists had in mind. Yet the Jews accepted the proposed partition and were prepared to live in peace with their Arab neighbors. They are still prepared to do so.

But the Arabs rejected the plan, as they have rejected Israel's existence ever since. This constant rejectionism by the Arabs, contrasted with Israel's constant openness to peace, is one reason Israel occupies the moral high ground in the dispute.

Palestinian/In 1947, despite 50 years of Zionist immigration, Arabs still outnumbered Jews 2-1 in Palestine. The United Nations, acting under tremendous U.S. pressure on behalf of the Zionists, nonetheless proposed to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states and assigned the majority of the land to the Jewish state. Despite its purported devotion to the principle of self-determination, the United Nations did not conduct elections to ascertain the desires of the local population because the local population opposed the partition and the creation of a Jewish state.

The Arab leadership did reject the partition, which was so fundamentally unjust. But to portray the Israelis as having peacefully accepted the U.N. plan and trying to live in harmony with the Arabs is an oversimplification to the point of falsehood.

Israel accepted the creation of a Jewish state. It did not accept the boundaries of the U.N. partition plan despite the excessive generosity of those boundaries to the Jews. Ben-Gurion himself stated that these borders should not be considered final. Israel immediately began a war of conquest during which it seized much of the territory designated by the United Nations for the Arab state.

Israeli/In 1947-48, the Arabs launched the first of three wars intended to drive Israel into the sea. Despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Arabs, Israel won the war and established its independence.

During that war, thousands of Arabs living on land within the Jewish state left their homes. Some fled to avoid the fighting. Many more left at the urging of the Arab leadership. They became refugees, many of whom, along with their children, still inhabit refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as across the Arab world.

Palestinian/According to Israeli mythology, the Palestinians who left Israel in 1947-48 did so voluntarily. In reality, they were chased out by the Israeli military. Numerous Israeli massacres of innocent Arab villagers were committed to demonstrate what would happen to Arabs who didn't flee.

But even if you accept the Israeli propaganda that the Arabs left voluntarily in 1947-48, by what legal principle does a family that flees its home in the middle of a war forfeit its right to return after the armistice or to be compensated for land and property lost in this fashion? Yet Israel refused to let them return and didn't even pay compensation for the land they expropriated. Israel declares a 'law of return" allowing any Jew in the world to make a home in Israel. But any Arab who suggests that the Arabs should have a right to return to their ancestral villages is called a radical, a terrorist or a rejectionist.

Israeli/During this period, Jews living in Arab countries were subjected to brutal persecution and most of them fled. Israel took them in, as it has always taken in any Jew in the world who wants to come or has nowhere else to go. The Jews do not claim the right to return to those countries, nor the right to be compensated for property left behind when they fled.

The Arabs often claim that they are one great nation that has been divided against itself only by the machinations of outsiders. Yet the Arab countries have never been willing to take in the Palestinians for whom they profess such familial devotion. The problem of the Palestinian refugees would be solved if the Arabs would do for their displaced brethren what the Jews do for theirs.

Arabs who remained in Israel have been accepted as citizens and enjoy the benefits of living in the freest and most democratic nation in the Middle East. The exemplary treatment of the Arab minority within the Jewish state testifies to the sincerity of Israel's oft-expressed wish to live in peace with the Arabs.

Palestinian/The early Zionists had in mind much more territory than the current borders of Israel even including all of the occupied territories. And they had in mind a purely Jewish state. This is on the record and indisputable. Everything Israel has done has been guided by these ambitions--to expand their territory and drive out the Arabs. Yet every time they take more territory or squeeze out more Arabs, they portray it as a defensive war or a security policy and U.S. public opinion accepts their line.

Israeli/During the 1947-49 war, Jordan occupied much of the territory that was designated by the United Nations to be the Palestinian state. Egypt did the same to the Gaza Strip. Jordan and Egypt occupied those territories for 19 years without granting statehood. So it was not Israel that first denied statehood to the Palestinians. Yet Egypt and Jordan were not reviled by the world for imposing statelessness on the Palestinians, as Israel is now, nor does anyone even mention the hypocrisy of those states when they join the cry for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian/In 1956, Israel invaded Egypt and captured the Sinai. Not even the Israelis can claim that this unprovoked act of aggression was a defensive war. In fact, Israel acted in league with Britain and France to reestablish Western control of the Suez Canal, which had been nationalized by President Nasser. How can anyone doubt that Zionism is an agent of Western imperialism?

Israeli/During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel again defeated the combined forces of their far more numerous Arab neighbors. Israel took the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria and still controls all but the Sinai.

Although Israel struck the first overt blow in the 1967 war, it was a preemptive strike. Egypt's Nasser was planning a Pan-Arab invasion to eradicate Israel. In fact, Israel's strike actually followed acts of war committed by Egypt, such as the closure of the Strait of Tiran. Thus it was a war of defense, which is important to the question of Israel's moral or legal obligation to give back the land captured in the war.

Palestinian/In 1967, Israel provoked the Six-Day War. Then the Israelis fired the first shots and seized territory from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Much of it (the West Bank and Gaza) was territory inhabited by the refugees they had dispossessed in 1948. The United Nations has called, in Resolutions 242 and 338, for Israel to withdraw to its pre-war borders. For 25 years Israel has refused, while making clear with its settlement policy its intention to permanently occupy the territory. Yet Israel claims the war in which it conquered these territories was defensive?

Israeli/After the war, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which calls on the Arab states to recognize Israel and to guarantee the security of Israel's borders. Israel has always stood ready to talk to any or all of the neighboring states about a settlement based on 242. But the Arab states replied with the "Three Noes: no peace; no recognition; no negotiations;" further evidence of the persistent rejectionism of the Arabs.

In 1973, Egypt led another Pan-Arab war on Israel, launching a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. Israel suffered early losses and was on the brink of defeat before the tide of the battle turned, thanks partly to the U.S. decision to resupply Israel's army. After the tide turned, Israel could have marched on to Cairo but was restrained by the United States and the United Nations. Instead, Israel agreed to a cease-fire and gained no territory. Israel's conduct in this situation clearly rebuts the persistent Arab lie that Israel is an imperialistic, expansive power that won't rest until it stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Palestinian/In 1973, the Arabs tried to get back the territory they lost in 1967. And they would have succeeded if not for U.S. military and diplomatic aid to Israel. Israel, of course, gets away with portraying this as a war to wipe it off the map.

Israeli/In 1975, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that Zionism is a form of racism. This hateful vote symbolized the fundamental hostility of the U.N. majority to Israel and confirmed Israel in its belief that it could afford to rely only on itself and its military for survival. Since then, the United Nations has consistently showed an anti-Israeli bias. Small wonder that Israel is reluctant to agree to a negotiating format with the Arab states that would place the United Nations in a position to impose a settlement.

Palestinian/Zionism is a form of racism. That is, the implementation of Zionism's drive to create a Jewish state has led Israel to adopt many laws, policies and practices that discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. Most basic is the law of return, which grants entry and citizenship to anyone of Jewish descent (note that they don't have to be practicing Jews, just Jews by race).

Israeli/In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke ranks with the rejectionists, visited Israel and agreed to negotiate. This led to the 1979 Camp David accords, brokered by President Jimmy Carter. By returning the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in exchange for nothing more than normal diplomatic relations with its most powerful adversary, Israel proved that it has been ready all along to live in peace with its neighbors.

Palestinian/In 1982, Israel again took the initiative of war, this time against Lebanon, a nation so weak that not even the Israelis could claim that it threatened their existence. Instead, they said they only wanted to secure a zone on their border that they claimed was used for "terrorist" attacks against them. Of course they broke their promise of a limited war, drove all the way to Beirut, and caused the massacre of thousands of civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Israel tried to install a Lebanese government that would take orders from them. They failed, but the Israeli invasion unleashed a level of chaos that has never yet ended.

Israeli/Responding to years of provocative, terrorist PLO assaults on northern Israel from across the Lebanese border, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. This war turned into a quagmire from which Israel withdrew, retaining only a small security zone in southern Lebanon to prevent the use of that area as a staging ground for terrorist attacks. During the Lebanon war, a tragedy occurred in which hundreds of refugees were killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen. Israel bears some responsibility, because the killings were carried out by Israel's allies in an area that Israel controlled at the time. But even in this dark chapter, Israel showed some of the basic values that differentiate it from its neighbors. Hearings were held on a democratic basis and the guilty parties were punished. Much of the world displayed its continuing hostility to Israel by portraying it as an Israeli atrocity, virtually ignoring the fact that it was committed by Christian Phalangists.

This portrayal was typical of the double standard the world applies when judging Israel and the Arabs. When an Arab state commits an atrocity, such as Syria's annihilation of its own city of Hama, or Iraq's gassing of its Kurdish minority, the world pays scant attention. But when Israel--the only state in the region that is truly fighting for its existence--is implicated in any act of violence against an Arab, the world media and the United Nations treat it as the crime of the century.

Palestinian/The Arab perspective has never gotten a fair shake from the U.S. media. Arabs are caricatured as religion-crazed, war-loving despots and terrorists. Arab culture and the Muslim faith are used as symbols of backwardness. No other culture in the world can be disparaged with such impunity. Any effort to treat Palestinians with respect is immediately denounced as anti-Semitic.

Israeli/In 1987, the intifada was launched, a campaign of terrorism against Israel by the population of the occupied territories. Israel responded with counterterrorism measures, based on a policy of using the least force necessary to pacify the territories. Some expulsions, some detentions, the dynamiting of some houses and some loss of life have occurred. But even in this difficult situation, Israel has differentiated itself from the way such a campaign would be handled if it occurred in any of the Arab nations.

Palestinian/Equating any Palestinian action to liberate their homeland with "terrorism" is one of the favorite tricks of Israel's leaders. It is doubly ludicrous considering that the two dominant Israeli political leaders of the past 15 years--Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir--were veteran terrorist leaders in the years leading up to 1948.

When Palestinian children, armed with rocks, seeking to fly their national flag, clash with Israeli soldiers, armed with high-tech weapons, seeking the permanent subjugation and disenfranchisement of two million Arabs, Israel acts hurt and indignant. But of course it is Israel that prevents the Palestinians from expressing their legitimate grievances and aspirations in any peaceful or democratic way. When Israel, with the strongest military in the region, with U.S. arms and subsidies, with a nuclear arsenal, kills far more Arab civilians, women and children in bombing raids against refugee camps, it is only defending itself.

Then, of course, the terrorist Shamir refuses to negotiate with the PLO, which the whole Arab world and the United Nations recognizes as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. He refuses on the grounds that the PLO is a terrorist organization.

Israeli/During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the rest of world got a clear glimpse of what Israel has been up against all these years. The brutality of Saddam Hussein, his missile attacks against the civilian population of a nonbelligerent Israel and the widespread support for Saddam within the Palestinian population of the territories demonstrated anew that Israel is a nice country in a nasty neighborhood and should convince the Western world it is not the source, but the victim, of the instability in the region.

Now the world--even its good friend the United States --presses Israel to make concessions, to "take chances for peace." What other country in the world is pressured to take chances when its very survival is at stake?

But Israel attended the peace conferences in Madrid, Washington and Moscow and demonstrated again that it is ready to live in peace with all of its neighbors.

Palestinian/After decades of unflinching financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel, the United States asked that the Palestinians accept it as an honest broker in a round of peace talks. As the price of admission to these negotiations, the Palestinians were required to concede in advance that the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem is permanent; to acknowledge in advance that Israel has a "right to exist," which means to permanently occupy three-fourths of Palestinian territory; to permit the Israelis to choose negotiators for Palestinians, which means that the PLO, the only group that does represent Palestinians, can't represent them. In exchange for this Palestinians were permitted to negotiate with their oppressors, who announced in advance that they will not make any territorial concessions nor consider permitting the creation of a Palestinian state.

And yet the Palestinians agreed to Israel's unfair preconditions and participated in the conference because the status quo is unacceptable and because Palestinians must seize every opportunity to focus the world's attention on its legitimate aspirations for peace with justice and dignity.




»About the Author

Eric Black is a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he specializes in pieces that put the news in historical context. Parallel Realities is based on a series of articles he wrote for the newspaper. The book describes the history of Israel/Palestine, from biblical times until just before Oslo, from the perspectives of each side of the ethnoreligious divide.

» About the Book

Parallel Realities is available for $9.95 per copy plus $2.00 shipping/handling for up to 10 copies. Orders should be sent to Eric Black/Star Tribune/425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55488. There are discounts available for classroom orders of 10 or more (15 percent) and 30 or more (25 percent). Details or inquiries can be directed to the same address, or to eblack@startribune.com.


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