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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 45 November 4, 2023

Israel – Yesterday And Today | S.G.Vombatkere

Saturday 4 November 2023, by S G Vombatkere


The Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 shocked the world as much by its volume, suddenness and brutality, as by its completely overcoming the much-feted Israeli intelligence. Predictably, Israel is responding with equal if not more brutality, with support from USA.

While brutality and attack on civilians is condemnable and universally condemned, and the predominant condemnation is heaped upon Hamas, Israel is seen as the victim with the right to reciprocate with vastly superior brutality.

It would be well to examine the Israel-Arab conflict from a historical perspective.


Roman soldiers subjugated many tribes and tried to integrate them into the Roman Empire. Conquered peoples were allowed to keep their tribal gods provided they accepted the Roman state religion. Those who resisted, were brutally persecuted. However, the Jews were tolerated and permitted to follow their religion, on condition of paying a tax to the Roman State, and not causing disturbance in society.

The religion of the Jews is Judaism. Jews hold that Yahweh, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai, as described in the Torah, their religious text.

Jesus was born a Jew, of the tribe of Judah, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus preached about the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, which was near at hand, and about the Holy Trinity. This later became the religion named ‘Christianity’. This was at theological variance with the monotheism of Judaism.

Jesus’ preachings drew 12 disciples. His activities were opposed by the Jewish clergy, and resulted in ‘disturbance’ to Roman society. The Roman authorities considered Jesus a trouble-maker disrupting society, and accused him of subverting the Roman State, opposing Roman taxes, and claiming to be a Messiah.

Jesus and his disciples went into hiding from the powerful Roman State that wanted to capture and punish him. According to Christian belief, one of Jesus’ disciples, named Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus to the Romans. Jesus was captured and brutally punished to death.

Christianity spread throughout Europe, and some historians hold that its spread contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Along with the spread of Christianity, the belief among Christians that it was a Jew (Judas Iscariot) who betrayed Jesus, grew into the belief that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. It led to prejudice and hatred against Jews and to their systematic persecution in the Christian monarchies of medieval Europe.

The Eurasian bubonic plague pandemic of the 14th Century (1346-1353) killed over 100-million people, in just seven years. The people and the Church were terrified, and lies were spread that plague was caused by Jews poisoning wells. Jews were killed or driven out of towns. In February 1349, a Strasbourg City Council decision resulted in 2,000 Jews being burned to death even before the plague reached Strasbourg. There was pervasive ignorance, prejudice and hatred against Jews in Europe.

Even Martin Luther, who broke from the Catholic church in the 15th Century and established Protestantism, advocated virulence against Jews. The hatred and persecution of Jews came to be known as antisemitism.

Later, through the years of the industrial revolution, antisemitic bigotry persisted. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum documents antisemitism from its origin in the medieval Christian church to Hitler’s genocide of six million Jews – ‘vermin’ in Nazi propaganda posters – exterminated as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution”.

Hitler’s Nazi Germany was defeated after six years of WW2. Many millions of soldiers and civilians in Europe and Russia were killed or died, and Europe was devastated. Notwithstanding, today, eight decades later, antisemitism survives in Christian Europe, and may even be growing.

Land for the Jews

In Judaism, the concept of the Jews as God’s “chosen people” is based on the belief that Jews, descendants of the ancient Israelites, were selected to be in a covenant with God. According to Genesis 12:5, 12:6 and 12:7, of the Torah (identical to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), God first gave a pledge of the land of Canaan to Abraham saying, “To your descendants I will give this land”. This has become known as the Promised Land for the Israelites.

In Exodus 23:31 of the Old Testament, Moses reveals the word of God to the Israelites: “And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea Philistia [Mediterranean Sea], and from the desert to the [Euphrates] River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you”.

According to the holy texts of Jews and Christians, the promised land was Canaan, eventually called Israel. It was a fertile land with rivers and springs in its valleys and hills. It would produce wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, and olives. The occupants of Canaan would lack nothing.

But in the 19th and early 20th Century, the persecuted and hated Jews were spread all over Europe and America, and their “ownership” of the promised land of Canaan was only in books. However, wealthy Jews who were influential bankers and financiers, with profitable commercial interests, bankrolled governments.

In 1839, Moses Montefiore, a French Jew, petitioned Mohamed Sa’id Pasha who was ruler of Egypt (officially subordinate to the Ottoman Sultan) to grant a Jewish homeland in the region of Palestine, which was part of the Ottoman Empire.

In the late 19th Century, Theodor Herzl, a German Jew, wrote a book “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State). He envisioned a sovereign heartland for Jews, the promised land for the chosen people, and is credited with the concept of the State of Israel.

The promised land

During the years of WW1 (1914-1918), Sultan Mehmed V ruled the Ottoman Empire. In this period, the Arabs rose up against the Ottoman ruler, and the British used this opportunity to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine. In correspondence between McMahon – then British High Commissioner in Egypt – and Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, Britain promised Arabs independence in the region including Palestine, to encourage their revolt against Ottoman rule.

However, in 1916, Britain and France signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and divided up the region between themselves, thus betraying the Arabs. Also, apparently in return for receiving monetary support from the wealthy Jewish community for fighting WW1, the British government made a public statement on November 9, 1917 – called the Balfour Declaration – promising establishment of a “national home” for Jews in Palestine. Clearly, the hard-nosed Jews had bargained for recognition as a nation, and also for its establishment in a “national home”.

WW1 ended with the defeat and end of the Ottoman Empire, with Ottoman territories including Palestine, surrendered to the British-French forces. The League of Nations which was formed at the end of WW1 – Britain was its most influential member – gave a Mandate for the Ottoman territories of Palestine and Transjordan to be assigned to Britain, to administer areas of the defeated Ottoman Empire "until such time as they [the people of those regions] are able to stand alone". The Mandate legitimised British occupation of Palestine, and very conveniently, also required Britain to implement the 1917 Balfour Declaration, to make a national home for the Jewish people alongside the Palestinian Arabs.

At that time in Palestine, Jews were a small minority living among a vastly majority Arab population. The Arabs opposed implementation of the Balfour Declaration, and asserted their right over the former Ottoman territories including Palestine. Determined Arab opposition to Jewish migration into Palestine started the Arab-Jewish conflict, which grew in the succeeding decades of British administration of those territories.

After the decisive defeat of the Axis forces in WW2, Jews who had escaped Hitler’s pogroms were to be rehabilitated. Accordingly, on 31 August 1945, US president Harry Truman issued a statement requesting the British to admit 100,000 European Jewish refugees into Palestine despite Arab opposition. Characteristically, to “legally” suppress Arab resistance, the British enacted “The Defence Emergency Regulations”, thus enabling large-scale immigration of Jewish refugees into Palestine.

Palestine partitioned

Jewish immigration into their “promised land” continued, and on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) to partition Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into a Jewish state and a separate Palestinian state, with an international zone surrounding Jerusalem, beginning in May 1948. Predictably, in the early months of 1948, Jewish-Arab conflicts increased in violence.

On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, a Polish Jew heading the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. It sparked the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. With US and British support, the Jewish people formed militias and defeated the Palestinian Arabs. The outcome was that over 700,000 Arabs fled, never to return because the Israeli militia had destroyed their villages and poisoned their wells. Palestinians call this devastation of their society as the “Nakba”.

Following the Israeli victory, waves of Jewish people from all over the globe emigrated into their promised land, and occupied vacated Arab villages and lands. With continued US and British political, financial and material support and military aid, there was quantum growth of Israeli military strength, and Israel became a regional power. On 11 May 1949, Israel was admitted as a full UN member state, possible only when all five permanent UN Security Council (UNSC) members (USA, UK, USSR (now Russia), France, China) agree.

In 1964, Palestinian Arabs formed a coalition called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to establish a Palestinian state covering the entire erstwhile British Palestine, and to eliminate the State of Israel.

On 14 October 1974, the UNSC recognized the PLO as representing Palestinian people, and admitted PLO to UN deliberations on the question of a Palestinian state. But only 132 of 193 member states recognized the PLO and the Palestinian state. Significantly, India was the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestinian state in 1974, and USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Mexico, are among those that do not.

Following more wars with Israel, hard reality caused the PLO to recognize Israel as a state in 1993, and PLO reduced its demand to Arab statehood in the West Bank and Gaza.

Currently, the West Bank is divided into 165 Palestinian enclaves partially under Palestinian control, and 200 Israeli settlements under full Israeli control. Gaza is populated mostly by descendants of Arabs who fled from that area after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The United Nations, Israel and Palestine

Since 2015, the UNGA has adopted 140 resolutions criticizing Israel, mainly over its creation of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory by violence against Palestinian civilians.

In particular, UNSC resolution No.2334 of 2016, reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem had no legal validity, were flagrant violation of international law, and were an obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace. The UNSC reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that Israel fully respect all of its legal obligations in that regard. Notably, until 2022, UNSC resolutions condemned Israel more than all other countries combined, and USA vetoed 42 of these UNSC resolutions.


The claim of Jews as being descendants of the ancient Israelites, who were a chosen people having a covenant with God, and the land of Palestine as having been promised to them by God, are matters of belief and faith. Claims based upon belief and faith of the Jews cannot be a legal basis for eliminating the rights of Palestinian Arabs.

The British unilaterally conferred the right upon Jews to migrate into God-promised Palestine “homeland” beginning in 1922, and in much larger numbers after 1945, following Nazi Germany’s defeat. This migration was in the face of opposition from Arabs, who had been living there for centuries. In the conflicts and wars that ensued, UK and USA gave unflinching political, financial and material support enabling the Jews, to not merely resist Arab opposition, but also to drive the Arab inhabitants out of Palestine in accordance with God’s word in Exodus 23:31: “I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall [emphasis supplied] drive them out before you”.

In 1947, UNGA adopted Resolution 181 to partition Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into a Jewish state and a separate Palestinian state. When the UNSC gave Israel full member status in 1949, the Palestinians were still unable “to stand alone”. The Arabs formed PLO only in 1964, and it took the UNSC 10-years up to 1974 to recognize PLO as representing Palestinian Arabs. Even to-date, Palestine has not been recognized as a state.

In addition to financial and military aid, USA also provides strong political support to Israel, having used its veto power 42 times against UNSC resolutions condemning Israel, out of a total 83 times in which USA used its veto.

Palestine suffers the double whammy of support given to Israel along with disfavour towards Palestine. This disfavour includes attribution of responsibility for all Hamas atrocities – including those of 7 October 2023 – to Palestine, and also ignoring past atrocities by Israel against Palestinians (which were even censured by UNSC) or those now being reciprocally committed by Israel in Gaza.

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