Myth: Israel's occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War caused Palestinian terrorism.
Fact: Arab terrorism not only pre-dates Israeli control of the disputed territories, but also the creation of Israel itself. The car and truck bombs of Islamic extremists in today’s Middle East and beyond are nothing new; a triple-truck bombing at Jerusalem’s Zion Square on Feb. 22, 1948 murdered 54 Jews and wounded many others. It was organized by Abdul Khader al-Husseini at the behest of the Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. This was almost three months before Israel’s independence, more than 19 years before Israel gained the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As early as 1920, deadly anti-Jewish riots erupted in British Mandatory Palestine. On May 1, Arab rioters in Jaffa, joined by Arab police, murdered 27 Jews and wounded 104. In August, 1929, in apparently pre-planned rioting across western Palestine, Arabs killed 133 Jews and wounded 339. Inspired by Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia over British objection, Hitler’s rise to power and oppression of the Jews in Germany, and opposed to continuing Jewish immigration, the Arab Revolt of 1936 – 1939 targeted both British authorities and Palestinian Jewry. Terrorist murders of individual Jews and lethal anti-Jewish riots were widespread from October 1937 to the end of 1938.
Contemporary Palestinian Arab terror began in the 1950s, with fedayeen backed by Arab governments, including Egypt, infiltrating Israel and attacking non-combatants. In 1959, Yasser Arafat and several associates formed al-Fatah — Fatah being a reverse Arabic acronym for Movement for the Liberation of Palestine. That is, a movement dedicated to the use of “armed struggle” to “liberate” Israel from the Jews. In 1964, Fatah became the largest component of the newly-organized Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella grouping of at least eight terrorist organizations. The PLO, initiated by Egypt but with constituents backed by other Arab governments, relied on terrorism as both tactic and strategy in the war against Israel. This was three years prior to Israel’s conquest of the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from 1920 to 1966, Arab terrorists murdered 1,513 Jewish residents of British Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948) and citizens of Israel (1948-1966) and wounded thousands more, before the Six-Day War and Israeli control of the territories.
Myth: Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly by ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is the key to Middle East stability.
Fact: Reality repeatedly contradicts this naive notion. Nevertheless, people who ought to know better periodically endorse it. For example, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that “as long as the Palestinians live under occupation, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair alleged that an Israeli-Palestinian settlement was “the core” of efforts to resolve other Middle East problems and to defeat “global extremism.” And U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed that Israeli-Palestinian difficulties were “at the core of a lot of problems in the region” (“Rice Cautions Israel on Syria; ‘No Substitute’ for Peace With Palestinians, Secretary Says”, Washington Post, May 30, 2007).
Rice had reversed her more accurate analysis from six months earlier: “I think we have to be careful not to say well, if there is an Israeli/Palestinian breakthrough, that will help in Iraq. Iraq is involved in its own struggles.” (Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 2006). In fact, when the Iraq Study Group recommended late in 2006 that the Bush administration refocus on obtaining an Israeli-Palestinian settlement to defuse widespread anti-Americanism in the Arab-Islamic world and improve U.S. prospects in Iraq, a study group staffer said, “Does anyone think that if we solve the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict the insurgent in Fallujah will say, ‘Great, now I can put back my AK-47 and go home.’?” (The Forward, Jan. 30, 2007).
In fact, as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak once observed, “Osama bin Laden made his explosions [the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.] and then started talking about the Palestinians. He never talked about them before.” If “ending Israel’s occupation” of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip is the key to deflating anti-Americanism and achieving peace in the Middle East and adjacent regions, what did the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli occupation post-1967 have to do with:
- Seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by Islamic radicals violently opposed to what they termed the impious, corrupt rule of the Saud dynasty;
- Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran after the 1979 ouster of the Shah, that helped fuel Islamic extremism world-wide;
- The 1980 – 1988 Iraq-Iran war, with its estimated 1 million-plus dead;
- Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad’s 1982 suppression of the anti-regime Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama, leveling entire neighborhoods and causing a reported 10,000 to 20,000 fatalities, most of them civilians;
- Syria’s relentless attempts since the eruption of Lebanon’s civil wars in 1975 to dominate that country, including repeated assassinations of Lebanese politicians, journalists and others sometimes as anti-Israel as Syria’s Lebanese proxies;
- The atrocity-filled war starting in 1992 between the Algerian government and military and Islamic extremists that resulted in an estimated 150,000 killed in the 1990s, most of them non-combatants. This bloodshed still continues;
- Genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan by government-supported Arab Muslim Sudanese against black Muslim Sudanese, which has resulted in 200,000 reported dead, two million displaced;
- Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait;
- Libyan dictator Muamar Qaddafi’s chronic interventions in Chad, which contributed to the deaths of thousands, mostly civilians;
- Taliban depredation in Afghanistan;
- Somalia’s status as a failed state;
- Chechen terrorism in Moscow, Beslan and elsewhere that has murdered hundreds of civilians;
- The long and bloody conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir;
- Shi’ite Iran’s drive for nuclear weaponry and regional, if not international, hegemony, including over its Sunni Arab neighbors; and,
- Intra-Palestinian violence, like that in the Gaza Strip between Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) and Fatah (Movement for the Liberation of Palestine) after complete Israeli withdrawal in 2005?
The roots of these and many other regional and international problems — including the Western struggle against jihadist imperialism sometimes called the war on terror — predate Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However desirable on its own, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, itself more a symptom of Middle East turmoil than its cause, would have little or no effect on these larger difficulties. Despite its oil wealth, the Arab Middle East is, as the U.N.’s 2002 and 2003 Arab Human Development Reports noted, a region with grave “deficits” of education, political freedom, religious tolerance, cultural pluralism, technological and literary advances, women and minority rights, and so on. None of those basic ills stem from Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and none would be transformed by the absence of such control. The Arab-Islamic Middle East is, as the above examples suggest, a region still strongly gripped by a culture in which intimidation and violence frequently are primary means of conflict resolution. In this region, America would be the “Great Satan” even without Israel, and Israel would be the “little Satan” even without the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Fact: In speeches for at least the previous two years, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had been threatening war. Terrorists supported by Syria and Egypt dramatically increased their attacks, from 41 raids in 1966 to 37 in the first four months of 1967. Syria used the Golan Heights as a platform to continue the shelling Israeli villages near the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). On April 7, 1967 Israeli retaliated, shooting down six Russian-built Syrian MiG fighters. Early in May, Moscow falsely told Syria that Israel was mobilizing forces for a massive attack. Syria then invoked its joint defense treaty with Egypt.
On May 15, Israeli Independence Day, Egypt began moving troops into the Sinai Peninsula toward Israel’s borders. The following day, it requested that the United Nations Emergency Force — installed to help keep peace after the 1956 Sinai Campaign — evacuate, which UNEF did. By May 18, Syrian troops were ready for battle along Israel’s northern frontier. The same day the Voice of the Arabs radio declared that “we shall not complain any more to the U.N. about Israel. The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”
On May 22, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and all foreign ships bound for Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat, an act of war that cut the route from Israel’s main oil supplier, Iran. Nasser continued to threaten Israel, asserting on May 27 that coexistence was out of the question and that “the war with Israel is in existence since 1948.” Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt on May 30. Other Arab countries sent forces to Egypt and Jordan to assist, and by June 4, approximately 250,000 enemy troops with more than 2,000 tanks and 700 aircraft surrounded Israel. By then on a socially and economically unsustainable alert for three weeks, Israel’s best option was to pre-empt Arab attack, which it did on June 5, first knocking out the Egyptian air force. Years later, Salah al-Hadidi, the Egyptian judge presiding over trials of army officers held accountable for the his country’s defeat, admitted Egypt’s responsibility for causing the war: “I can state that Egypt’s political leadership called Israel to war. It clearly provoked Israel and forced it into a confrontation” (Michael Oren, Six Days of War, 310-11).
Fact: A continual state of war existed with Syria in the months and years leading up to June 5, 1967. Artillery exchanges and hundreds of attempted infiltrations occurred between February 1966 and May 1967. At noon on June 5, Syrian aircraft attacked Israeli villages in the North of the country. Israel struck back almost immediately and destroyed much of Syria’s air force. That same day, Syrians artillery attacked Israel from positions in the Golan Heights. On June 6, Syria opened the morning with an intense artillery bombardment followed by an attack on the Israeli communities of Tel Dan, Kibbutz Shaar Yashuv and Ashmura. The attack was repelled by Israeli forces. Israel attacked Syrian forces on the Golan Heights on June 9, and concluded the operation on June 10.
Fact: In what they perceived as the existential crisis leading to the Six-Day War, no Israeli political leader argued in favor of conflict on the basis that it would enable the country to conquer new lands. The debate was over how to avoid what appeared to be impending destruction, not how to expand. While a pre-emptive strike was seen as one way to avoid being wiped out, Israeli Prime Minster Levy Eshkol looked for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and insisted on delaying all military action as long as possible so that to allow for diplomacy to run its course — even whil military officials warned that delays would work to Egyptian’s advantage by allowing them to build their forces.
That Israel had not considered a war for conquest became clear almost as soon as the fighting ended on June 10, 1967. The national unity government appeared to be looking for a way to shed most of the newly-acquired territory. (The Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and Gaza Strip more than tripled the area under Israel’s control.) In Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s phrase, Israel was “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders, expecting to hear that now they were ready to negotiate peace. Some Israeli leaders asserted that the country would never return to the vulnerable, pre-war armistices lines of 1949 and 1950 or permit the newly-reunified Jerusalem to be divided again; nevertheless, Foreign Minister Abba Eban said the Jewish state would be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms.” In direct talks with Arab countries, “everything is negotiable,” he said.
Fact: In May, 1967, the United States tried unsuccessfully to defuse rising Arab-Israeli tension through negotiations. The administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, while not unsympathetic to Israel’s danger, warned it not to strike first. The administration recognized the Egyptian blockade of Eilat as illegal but when war broke out, the State Department announced that America was “neutral in thought, word and deed.” While the Arabs falsely accused the United States of airlifting supplies to Israel, Washington actually imposed an arms embargo on both Israel and the Arabs. On the other hand, the Soviet Union did supply massive amounts of weaponry to the Arab countries. After their swift and virtually total defeat by the Jewish state, Nasser and other Arab leaders tried to save face by claiming that American and even British involvement was largely to blame.
Myth: United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw from all of the territories it occupied during the Six-Day War.
Fact: Resolution 242 does not call for Israel to cede all the land. In fact, the drafters of the resolution intentionally referred to an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” rather than “from the territories” or “from all the territories” so that Israel would not be compelled to return to its precarious pre-1967 lines. See more details here.
Myth: The eastern portion of Jerusalem, which came under Israeli control during the Six-Day War, is the Arab section of the city.
Fact: While there is certainly an Arab tradition in the eastern portion of the city, the Jewish tradition is equally (if not more) worthy of mention. There has been a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem for thousands of years. The City of David, the ancient Jewish Quarter, the 2000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives, and institutions such as Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University are all in eastern Jerusalem, as are the Temple Mount and Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred religious sites.
Today, eastern Jerusalem is ethnically and religiously mixed: Jews make up slightly less than half — 43 percent — of the area’s residents. Moreover, this portion of the city has had a long tradition of Jewish plurality. Reforms that came with Egyptian rule over Jerusalem in 1831, and continued with the Ottoman reconquest in 1840, improved the status of non-Muslims and allowed the Jews to become the largest religious group in Jerusalem. In 1838 there were 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, compared to 5,000 Muslims and 3,000 Christians (Martin Gilbert, Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City). Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1853 “assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at 7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city” (Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem). (These numbers do not refer to the western portion of the city, since until about 1860 Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the walls of the Old City, in eastern Jerusalem.)
It was only during the 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation — from 1948, when Jews were expelled, through 1967 — that Jews were prevented access to their holy city. In an effort to erase evidence of centuries of Jewish presence, all 58 synagogues in the Jordanian controlled sector were destroyed.