Nakba 2: The Victory of a Democracy

The world has been long educated by Palestinian Arabs about the “Nakba”, the “disaster.” It was during 1948-9 when the newly established country of Israel withstood the onslaught of five Arab armies to not only survive, but to accumulate additional territory. All of that land was considered by the Arabs to be “Arab Land,” and Israel’s victory was not only an affront to their sensibilities as the rightful owners of the land, but was exacerbated by the fact that Israel did not allow the Arabs that left the region during the war – which they themselves had started – to return to their houses.

The Palestinian Nakba of 1948-9 was the founding of a Jewish State that the Arabs considered without merit, and the status of 711,000 Arabs who lost their homes to such foreign transplant. Adding insult to their situation was Egypt taking over Gaza without giving the local population citizenship. The Arabs on the west bank of the Jordan River at least got Jordanian citizenship.

In solidarity with their Arab brothers, over the following years the Arab countries from the MENA region evicted 1 million Jews from their midst, performing an ethnic cleansing of Jews for thousands of miles. Many of those Jews moved to Israel, to become citizens alongside the 160,000 Arabs who were already granted Israeli citizenship.

Israeli flags over Latrun Tank Museum,
scene of important battles in the Israeli War of Independence
(photo: First.One.Through)

The Palestinian Nakba would repeat in 1967.

Once again the surrounding Arab armies poised to destroy the Jewish State.

  • “The problem before the Arab countries is not whether the port of Eilat should be blockaded or how to blockade it – but how totally to exterminate the state of Israel for all time.”   –  President Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, May 25, 1967
  • The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united. I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”  –  Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Al-Assad (later President)
  • Those [Israelis] who survive will remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive.”  –  PLO Chairman Ahmed Shukhairy

However, once again Israel would defeat those that were ready to annihilate them. Once again the Israelis would take over more land. And once again the local Arab population would cry out to the world that they were the victims, and ask the world to isolate the Jewish State.

Nakba #2 left more of the local Arab population under Israeli authority. The Arabs in Gaza, Sinai, “West Bank”, and even the Golan Heights were no longer under Arab control or authoritarian rule. They were now subject to a democracy; and a Jewish one at that.

The Arabs claim that Nakba #1 had its roots in the western powers of Britain, France, Italy and Japan carving up the Ottoman Empire to fit their global ambitions. Those democracies chopped up “Arab land” (note that the Ottomans are not Arab) into fiefdoms and added an alien Jewish democracy squarely into the middle of it. To this day, Palestinian leadership asks Britain for an apology for the actions of 100 years ago, and Iranian leadership declares that the region needs to “cut out the cancer of Israel.

Nakba #2 of June 1967 continued to spread the foreign democracy into the Middle East, but only in part. Israel only annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem and gave everyone – Jews and non-Jews – in the area full rights. However, Israel declined to annex the other regions in the hope of trading portions of the land for peace. In 1979 it traded Sinai (which was never part of the Palestine Mandate) with Egypt for peace. It abandoned Gaza for war. And it negotiates with the Palestinian Authority about the future of the land east of the Green Line (EGL).

The short windows of Israeli control failed to instill long-term democratic values into the areas. Sinai is just another part of Egypt that is quickly removing the removing its Christian minority. Gaza is run by the terrorist group Hamas that is backed by the local radical Islamist population. And Area A of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority has control, is managed by a corrupt regime that refuses to hold elections.

The newborn democracy survived an Arab onslaught in 1948, and the fledgling democracy would not be annihilated by the forces of hate and intolerance in 1967. While countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran still threaten to destroy the region’s only democracy, others have since given up on the pledge. Still, regrettably, Israel’s lessons of tolerance and democracy seem to be a hard tradition to instill in its neighbors.

For the Palestinians, the Nakba is that the foreign democracy still exists in their midst. For the western world, the disaster is that the Arabs in the region still cannot tolerate democracy.

Related First.One.Through articles:

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

The Undemocratic Nature of Fire and Water in the Middle East

Israel was never a British Colony; Judea and Samaria are not Israeli Colonies

750 Years of Continuous Jewish Jerusalem

Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

Stabbing the Palestinian “Right of Return”

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Israel’s Peers and Neighbors

Observers of Israel often consider the appropriate benchmark for the country. To whom should Israel be compared? Against the Western world or its neighbors in the Middle East?

Western World Peers

The arguments to compare Israel to western countries such as in Western Europe and North America are plentiful.

Democracy: Israel is a democracy in which all citizens of the country elect its leadership, similar to the western world. That is in stark contrast to its neighbors that have monarchies and dictatorships.

Freedoms: Israel believes in various freedoms, including of religion, assembly and press. Such freedoms are cornerstones of western values, but difficult to find elsewhere in the Middle East.

Economy: Israel’s economy is based on capitalism. It has been termed the “start-up nation” due to the tremendous number of companies that are launched by ordinary Israelis. This compares to the economies dominated by oil money controlled by governments among Israel’s neighbors.

The long list of commonalities is detailed in “Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East.”  The peer group for Israel according to its principles and values is indeed the western world, not the MENA region.

Neighbors in MENA
(Middle East and North Africa)
Arab World

Israel resides in a predominantly Arab neighborhood.  The people of the Arabian Peninsula spread en masse from the region shortly after the founding of Islam, during the 6th and 7th centuries.  In some locations, like Turkey, the Arab invasion was repelled, even while the Islamic religion still took hold in the area.  There are now 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries, most of which surround Israel.

Muslim World

While Israel is unique in being the only Jewish State in the world, it’s uniqueness is magnified within its neighborhood that is almost uniformly Arab and Muslim.  Many of these Muslim countries are governed by Sharia, Islamic law, while others have laws that are Sharia-inspired.  These laws have little in common with laws found in western countries.  This is even true where the British held Mandates after World War I, such as in Jordan and Iraq.

Judging Peers

English Common Law has a concept that a person should be judged by a group of one’s peers.  The rationale for this provision was to afford context and humanity to the cold rule of law.  As peers should know a defendant better than a judge, those individuals in the jury could fine-tune the rule of law for the specific case and party.

In the United States, the concept of “peers” has been adjusted to “neighbors.”  The jury pool in the US courts system pulls in people from an entire region.  The individuals in such neighborhood likely have a wide range of backgrounds, including: race; religion; occupation; wealth; political views, to name a few.  US law requires that any party that knows the defendant – presumably who are more likely to be “peers” – to be excluded from the jury so as to avoid favoritism.  As such, the US system has moved from a court of peers to one of neighbors.

What happens when one’s peer group and one’s neighbors have nothing in common?  An extreme example happens every day in the court of world opinion regarding Israel.

Judging Israel

Neighbors: Israel’s neighbors have opposed the very existence of the Jewish homeland since such concept became international law in the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine.  Sporadic riots in the 1920s became a multi-year war 1936-9, when the Arabs convinced the British to roll back the essence of the laws to curtail Jewish immigration and cap the number of Jews in Palestine, as well as to limit where Jews could live.  When Israel declared independence in 1948, Arab armies from that surrounded Israel fought to destroy the country.

The parties have been at war ever since, with the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan which made peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

Today, the 57 Muslim nations that comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), vote as a bloc at the United Nations, and consistently condemn Israel for anything and everything, as they view the “Zionist entity” as illegal and unjust.

Clearly, this is not a group of neighbors that can be used as a “jury of one’s peers” to assess whether Israel is acting appropriately in any given matter.

Representatives of the OIC

Peers: Israel cares about the opinions of its peer group in western Europe, North America and Australia.  These countries share Israel’s values and have ongoing trading and commercial relationships with Israel.

Much of the criticism against Israel from its peer group relates to Israel’s activities in the disputed territories east of the Green Line (EGL/West Bank). Some governments claim that Israel “occupies” the Palestinian people and takes over “Arab land.” Those critics call out Israel for its use of its military and point to lopsided casualty figures in Israeli-Arab wars. They protest Israel’s use of roadblocks, the security barrier, and of house demolitions of terrorists.

The flaw of such commentary is that it inherently assumes that Israel’s peer group exists – or could exist – in the same environment as Israel.

A Mile in Their Shoes

As detailed in “Israel: Security in a Small Country,” Israel is almost 1/500th of the size of the United States, but has three times as many neighbors. It is half of the size of the Netherlands, but no Dutch neighbor refuses to recognize its right to exist. Israel may have a similar number of countries bordering it as Argentina, but none of Argentina’s neighbors have launched numerous wars against it over the past decades.  The United Kingdom may have knowledge of the region from managing the Palestine Mandate from 1924 to 1948, but when was the last time England had foreign tanks and fighters on its home soil?  France may have experienced terrorism, but is there a country working to obtain nuclear weapons that threatens to wipe it off the map?

In short, Israel’s values’ peers do not have comparable security issues.

conflict map
Israel’s values’ peer group of western Europe, North America and Australia
are peaceful relative to the raging conflicts in MENA

When countries in the western world do have moments of inflamed security concern, such as when France suffered from terrorist attacks in November 2015, that country quickly went on the offensive. It instituted curfews. It performed raids on apartments. It curtailed a range of freedoms…. much as Israel does when it confronts security concerns on a continual basis.

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann - RTS7R5L

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann – RTS7R5L

After the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, it went on a multi-year, multi-country war, which is still ongoing in Afghanistan.  Many more people have been killed in the US wars on terror, than were killed on 9/11.

Israel has faced more than a terrible day of violence; it has daily assaults.  Israel has faced more than just terrorism; it has existential threats.  And it has continued to confront these security concerns, ever since the country was reconstituted in the 20th century.

Israel’s peers have not walked a mile in Israel’s shoes.  They have simply put them on and taken an uncomfortable first step.  And as they have done so, they have shown their determination to protect their civilian population and way of life.

Israel shares the democratic values of much of the western world. The critics from Israel’s peer group should recognize and celebrate the society that Israel has been able to create inside the illiberal Middle East. Those peers must also come to recognize and differentiate between the peaceful environment in which they live and the hostile environment in which Israel resides.

Related First.One.Through articles:

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

Murderous Governments of the Middle East

Seeing Security through a Screen

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

The Disproportionate Defenses of Israel and the Palestinian Authority

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A Native American, An African American and a Hispanic American walk into Israel…

Restoring the indigenous population to their land

Native Americans: Native Americans lived in the United States for millennia before Europeans discovered the land. Within a few hundred years, the Europeans overwhelmed the native population and effectively banished them from their lands and homes. To add insult to the injury, the invaders forced new religions onto the remaining tribes.

In the 20th century, Americans began to slowly reverse course and offered more rights to the Native Americans, including American citizenship in 1924. At present, the United States recognizes several hundred Native American tribes and gives them some degree of autonomy in lands of their own.

Jews: Jews have lived in the land of Israel for roughly 3700 years. They had two independent kingdoms in the land and built their holiest Temples there. Roughly 1900 years ago, Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, forced conversion on thousands of Jews, banned Jews from Jerusalem, and renamed their holy land “Palestine”. While some Jews continued to live in the Holy Land, most were dispersed throughout the world.

In the 1800s Jews began to move back to their holy land in greater numbers. While much of the land had been taken over by Arabs who invaded Palestine in the 7th century, the world sought to reconstitute the Jewish homeland as so declared in the the 1922 League of Nations Mandate of Palestine.  The British assumed their Mandate of Palestine to encourage Jewish immigration, land ownership and citizenship in Palestine in 1924, the same year that America offered all Native Americans citizenship.

From Slavery

African Americans: While the Europeans came to conquer the New Worlds of North and South America, they brought Africans with them to be their slaves.  It took hundreds of years for the United States to abolish the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Jews: The Jewish people became a nation when they emerged from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt 3500 years ago.  It was only at that time that they received the Bible and entered the promised land.

On January 1, 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln freed the black slaves in America, and just three days later, he abolished the most anti-Semitic decree in US history when he overrode General U.S. Grant’s order to expel the Jews.  In one week, Lincoln actively asserted the self-evident rights and dreams in the US Constitution, “that all men are created equal,” including blacks and Jews.


Advancing Minorities’ Interests

Hispanic Americans: Hispanics were always a decent segment of the United States population from the earliest colonies.  However, in 1964 and 1965, new laws were passed in the United States which dramatically increased their number and visibility.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination unlawful, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended a quota system from certain countries.  With those actions, the number of immigrants coming to the USA from Latin America jumped from 9% to 44% from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Jews: Jews were an unwelcome minority in many countries in the world, and in many parts of the United States.  Golf Clubs, universities and private clubs would not admit any Jews – some publicly, and others, privately. The same laws that addressed inequalities for black and Hispanic minorities, also helped Jews in America.

Beyond America’s shores, just a few years after the acts of 1964 and 1965, the Kingdom of Jordan which had evicted and banned every Jew from the area of Palestine it conquered in 1949, attacked Israel again.  In so doing, it lost that region of Palestine it had illegally annexed, the “West Bank.”  Israel quickly repealed the anti-Semitic bans and welcomed Jews once more.

American Minorities Come to Israel

Minority groups in America “get” the Jewish State of Israel.  African-Americans understand a history of slavery and persecution.  Native Americans understand being torn from land, culture and religion.  Hispanic Americans understand being excluded.

When these groups look at Israel, they instinctively get why the world made some attempt to rectify the long history of expelling and murdering Jews throughout Europe, Russia and northern Africa.  They have sought the same kind of consideration themselves.

But even more, when they come to Israel – to the reconstituted Jewish State – they see a success story.  They see that the vanquished can be victorious.  Where the excluded are now the leaders.  Where the defenseless are now a military powerhouse. Where a forgotten language has been reestablished.  Where a barren land has become an environmental leader.  Where a bankrupt society has become a financial success story.

Minorities that come to Israel see a country where minorities count.  Where women account for 24% of the Israeli Knesset, compared to only 16% in the US Congress.  Where Arabs represent 14% of the Knesset, versus only 8% black representatives in the US Congress.

Martin Luther King saidPeace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.

Israel is not just a success story for Jews; it is a beacon of hope for minorities around the world.

Related First.One.Through articles:

Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East

In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

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Active and Reactive Provocations: Charlie Hebdo and the Temple Mount

Leaders of the Western World came to the defense of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in early 2015, after radical Islamists gunned down the staff in their offices. Those leaders stood in solidarity with the French in the name of freedom of speech. Yet those same leaders have not rallied to the side of Israel while Islamic radicals murder and attempt to murder Israelis for an even more basic principle.

Empty Street in Jerusalem

Active Provocation

An act of active provocation is one in which the action itself is specifically designed to provoke and upset an individual or group. The person taking the action does not have any benefit from the activity, other than the enjoyment of upsetting someone.

For example, when Pamela Geller held a “Draw Mohammed” contest in Texas in May 2015, the event was designed to upset Muslims. The action of portraying the Islamic prophet in physical form is considered highly insulting to many Muslims, and several people came to the event with the goal of killing participants for the sacrilegious act.

While people came out in defense of Geller for exercising her right of free speech, few would argue that Geller had any personal benefit from her actions other than getting satisfaction in hurting the feelings of Muslims.

Reactive Provocation

Reactive provocation is significantly different from active provocation. Such activity has personal benefit and there is no intention of malice. For example, a person may eat a turkey sandwich which they truly enjoy, even though another person may be a vegetarian and find the action upsetting.

Everyone has sensitivities. How far could a society extend itself to ban certain “normal” activities because some people may be offended by the actions?

Would a government ban gay people from holding hands in public if it upsets the values of some religious people? Would it ban all meat because it upsets vegetarians?  It would be impossible to navigate such a world in which anyone could object and block any action.

America was founded on the principle of the “pursuit of happiness” and has defended such right in cases of active provocation such as Pamela Geller in the US and Charlie Hebdo abroad. How could it do less for situations of reactive provocations?

Western Values versus Personal Interest

Various western societies offer a wide spectrum of freedoms including, speech, assembly and religion meant to cover elements of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Western culture is designed to offer space for different people to live and interact, even if various belief systems are in conflict. The expectation is for tolerance of different and possibly offending views.

The raison d’etre of Charlie Hebdo is to offend. It’s cartoons are examples of active provocation whereby people deliberately upset others. While the comedic value of some of the pieces could be debated, the principle of freedom of speech is core to western society and fiercely protected. While writing a magazine is not a common activity, free speech is a daily activity of everyone, so the leaders of western countries stood together to defend active provocation and all forms of free speech.

hebdo march
World Leaders come out in solidarity with France
January 2015

In Israel, people also attempt to live with ordinary freedoms.  Like other democracies, they include freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly. But such freedoms sometimes offend radical Muslims.

The Temple Mount has maintained established visiting hours for Jews and non-Jews alike for any decades.  People of all faiths visit the site.  They do so as a natural act of visiting an incredible tourist site or because of religious conviction.  They do not visit as a pretext of causing offense to anyone.  If there are some Islamic extremists who are upset that Jews visit, that is a reaction based on that person’s anti-Semitic biases, an example of reactive provocation.

Muslims have become more worried about Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount which they consider holy as well.  The number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount doubled over the past five years to about 11,000 in 2014.  It is still a paltry sum compared to the estimated 4 million Muslims who come to the site each year. However, fears of the growing Jewish presence has made Muslims begin to attack Jews throughout Israel.

So why is the western world so cavalier about the carnage in Israel from Islamic radicals, while shaken to its core for the Hebdo killings? Is freedom of religion and access a lesser democratic value than speech?  Is France considered more western than Israel? Perhaps some believe that to be true.

It is also a fact that Europe and America do not have shrines holy to Islam, so the situation of the al Aqsa mosque is really a narrow problem for Israel to handle.  Western ambivalence may not be so much a function of values as it is proximity.

How embarrassing that the narrow scope of the champions of democracy shows that they are less interested with values than personal interests.  The world should loudly condemn Islamic terrorism and support freedoms which are enshrined in Israeli law and democratic ideals.

Related First One Through articles:

My Terrorism

I’m Offended, You’re Dead

Selective Speech

Visitor Rights on the Temple Mount

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In Israel, the Winner is… Democracy

Summary: Israeli citizens came out to vote on March 17, 2015. The winner in the midst of the total chaos in the Middle East, was once again, democracy.


The turbulent Middle East got a chance to see a democracy at work.

With a civil war in Syria which has thus far claimed 220,000 lives; with the Islamic State/ISIS destroying Iraq; Yemen and Libya quickly becoming failed states; Jordan becoming a giant refugee camp; Egypt flip-flopping between elections/ military take-overs/ elections in quick succession; and Iran on the verge of building nuclear weapons, a country in the heart of the Middle east with a diverse population and set of opinions took to the polls.

Bibi victory
Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu declaring victory

Great Voter Turnout. The 2015 Israeli election had an incredible voter turnout. The 71.8% turnout rate dwarfed the 54.9% in US 2012 presidential election and represented a sharp spike from the 67.7% 2013 Israeli turnout.

Majority in the Center. The political center captured the greatest number of votes. The center-right Likud party received 30 seats, center Kulanu had 10 seats, and center-left parties Yesh Atid with 11 and Labor got 24.  With a combined 75 seats in total (of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset), Israelis predominantly voted for politically moderate parties over the more extreme right-wing and left-wing parties.

Minority representation. The Arab party, the Joint List, placed third in the election with 14 seats. The religious Jewish parties, Shas (7) and United Torah Judaism (6) had a similar total vote count.

Most Women in Parliament. The 20th Knesset will have 28 women, the greatest number ever.

Extreme parties. The far-right nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu received 6 votes, and the far-left anti-national Arab Joint List received 14 seats. The right wing Israel Home received 8 seats and left-wing Meretz had 4 seats. The totals of 14 for the right-wing parties and 18 for the left-wing parties showed a bias for change in the fringes.

What’s Next for the Israeli Democracy.  If history proves a guide, Likud will be asked to form a coalition.  The Israeli election and transition to a new government should have many of the attributes of functioning democracies:

  • Citizens elected their representatives
    • Majority in the center
    • Minority representation
  • Smooth transition to new parliament
    • No military coup
    • No riots
  • New government will abide by past agreements

These are lessons and models for the chaotic Middle East.  Maybe one day the Palestinians will try it.

Related First One Through articles:

Abbas’s 10 year run at a 4 year presidential term:

When Palestinians last went to the polls in 2006, they elected Hamas, an anti-Semitic jihadist party which went to war with the second place winner, Fatah.

Israel, the Liberal Country in the Middle East