The problem of Israel in the Arab world centers on the opposition to the existence of Israel and the consequent displacement of the Palestinians, the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. The Palestinians became Islamic after Mohammedans took the region from the Byzantine empire in the Seventh century, though there have always been a few Christians and Jews there as well. The history of the area is important for the understanding of why this problem is so persistent and unsolvable, leading to much war. The existence of modern Israel is the result of the Zionist movement of the late 1800’s, British sovereignty in the early twentieth century, and the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis in the second World War. As a result of the Holocaust, the world was led to answer the call for a Jewish homeland. In 1947, the United Nations, having been asked by the British to solve the problem, decided to divide Palestine into two sovereign nations, with Jerusalem remaining an International city. Israel declared itself a nation, and the Palestinians joined the five surrounding Arab nations in attacking Israel. Israel won the war, and the Palestinians lost their state and much territory. 750,000 people became refugees, living in Jordan and between Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere.
It is important that the Palestinian did not originally have a sovereign state, and were given this, but lost it in refusing to allow Israel to exist. That is, what appears so often to be a part of the solution, a Palestinian state, has been impossible because the Palestinians would not admit the existence of Israel and cease attacks.
Given the present difficulties in this neighborhood, we often wonder why we did not settle the Jews somewhere more hospitable. As a Michiganian, we often suggest Ohio, since we are not doing anything with it!
But the history of this area, and all the holy sites there, is central to the reason that the Jewish homeland is in Israel. The religious difference between the Arabs and Jews of Palestine may go all the way back to the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. The twelve sons of Isaac become Israel, while Ishmael traveled south. But the connection of Mohammed to the land is through Ishmael.
The sons of Abraham went into Egypt for a few centuries, but after being led out by Moses, Israel continued in the land until the Assyrian conquest of the Seventh and the Babylonian exile of the sixth century B. C. As a result of idol worship, the ten northern tribes were scattered, while Judah and Benjamin remained around Jerusalem. The Jews then returned and continued as an Alexandrian and then a Roman province, with a brief revolt under the Macabees in the second century before Pompey conquered Judea for Rome. After the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 A. D., the Jews enter into the great dispersion, where they are scattered throughout the world, especially throughout Europe. Palestine was governed by Rome and then by Byzantium before being taken by Arabs following Mohammed and then by Turks, who took the area from the Arabs about 1000 A. D. The Crusaders then took Jerusalem and four states from the Ottoman Turks in 1095, but lost these by the thirteenth century, through the failure of three crusades. Here Saladin excelled the Christians in mercy at Jerusalem. The British took Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in 1918, after the Axis powers, including Turkey, lost World War One. In exchange for assistance in the war, the British had promised Palestinian independence, in correspondence with Hussein Ibn Ali of Mecca, in 1915-16. Yet the British had made other conflicting agreements, and in 1917, issued the Balfour Declaration, a statement favoring the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The League of Nations approved the Declaration, and in 1922 appointed the British to rule the territory. Jewish immigration increased tensions, including Jewish terrorism when immigration was limited by the British. Hence, the British handed the problem to the United Nations, which, after the Holocaust, imposed the two state solution found unacceptable to the Arabs and Palestinians.
The Palestinians have continued attacks and lost more territory, including Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. This gave Israel sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, offered the sacrifice of bread and wine at Jaru-salem, the city of Salem, or city of peace. There are four hills about Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives and the Mount Zion, but the temple Mount is Mount Moriah. This is traditionally the site of the near sacrifice of his son by Abraham, and the site of the threshing floor bought by David as the site for the temple built by Solomon. Herod rebuilt the temple in Roman times, and it is this of which one wall, called the wailing wall, remains. The Temple Mount is also the place from which Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven to receive revelation. And so, when the Arabs took the land from the Byzantines in the seventh century, the Mosque was built on the site, already destroyed from the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.
There is ancient prophecy, of both Isaiah and Ezekiel, of the return of the Jews from a second world wide dispersion. This is quite astonishing, but does not seem to have been the first reason for the Zionist movement. Nor does the world seem to understand the 2000 year significance of the return of the Jews to Israel nor of Jerusalem to the Jews.
The suggestion of Theodore Herzl that the Jews have a homeland has resulted in the displacement of the Palestinians, but this because they have as a people refused to live as neighbors with the Jews. This part of the solution is then to admit the right of Israel to exist, which the Palestinians have been slow to do. And why should the Palestinians and Arabs dislike Jews more than they dislike, say Jordanians or any other nation? Are they not both descendants of Abraham, believers in one rather than many Gods? And is not their God of Abraham the same God? Is this the new fleshment of the ancient broil between the brothers, an ancient division between the followers of the one God of Abraham?
The Palestinian refugees must be somewhere, and this part of the solution is for the Palestinians to take up non-violent protest, after the manner of Martin Luther King, instead of the extreme violence of the current opposition, called terrorism. The Palestinians do not have access to the ideas of non-violent protest in their traditions. The Jews are mostly from Europe, Russia and the United States, and so prosecute their own terrorists, rather than encourage them. So long as the young are taught to revere terrorists as martyrs, there will be no solution but defense, and so we tend to sympathize with Israel. It is not Israel that denies the right of its neighbors to exist, but the other way around, and this, like the difference in method, cannot be ignored. Still, there must be a fair solution for the refugees.
What if territories were granted, even house by house, in the West Bank, as semi-sovereign Palestinian territory, to those who would agree to live as neighbors with Israel? George W. Bush would ask incredulously why the Palestinians do not rather want to go to work, come home, raise their children in peace and watch them go in safety to school, rather than destroy Israel. With those who will not agree, Israel would remain at war, but at least there would be a place of peace, a seed of peace, in this Holy land of horrible sorrow inflicted by men on one another in the name of their God.