The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Forget it, Jake – It’s Jerusalem

Tim asked me if I might perhaps do a little infotainment on the subject of Israel. The reason he stated for his interest was: “I have no idea why things are how they are [over there]”.

You , me and the rest of the world, Tim.

It can never hurt, however, to have some of the facts, so:

This is the first in a series of blogs on Israel – a very rough guide covering history, a basic anatomy of the conflict and a very light skimming of the relevant geopolitics. In this post, we will deal with the history in a horribly incomplete fashion. Hopefully, however, we’ll be able to hit the highlights – those aspects which are directly relevant to us today.

In the beginning, there was nothing. Literally. The idea of Israel that we have today – of a small, embattled state surrounded on all sides by hostile frontiers, is a strictly modern phenomenon. Israel first appears in some very ancient (Circa 1200 BCE) texts as a reference to what was most likely a politico-ethnic group, rather than a fully formed city state or other state entity.

About five  hundred years later, we have references to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel Рa split between what was presumably a previously unified kingdom. Both of these kingdoms are recorded in biblical texts as having been in a constant state of warfare with their neighbours Рpar for the ancient course, really. This picture of the ancient Israelites is corroborated in Babylonian and Egyptian records, as well as by archaeology. It is interesting to note just how tiny these kingdoms were. The capital of Philistine, neighbour and deadly rival, was a little place we know today as Gaza.

Around the 8th century BCE we have the kingdom of Israel destroyed by the Assyrians.

From this point until the withdrawal of the British from their mandate in the early twentieth century, Israel has been non-existent as an independent entity. It has been ruled by Babylonians, Persians, Hellenics, Romans, Arab clients of Romans, the same Ummayad who ruled Syria and ¬†Egyptian Mamelukes. It formed part of Rome’s largest and richest province, was the keystone of the wonderfully incongruous and intriguing Crusader state Outremer, and ranked, along with Damascus, as one of the most significant possessions of the Ottoman Empire. At no point over roughly two thousand eight hundred years could “Israel” have been said to be an independent, or even a real, state entity. Palestinian Arabs, Jews, assorted Moslems – all their claims to rightful, historical ownership of “The State of Israel” should be taken with this rather large grain of salt.

Jerusalem as a holy city was built by a triumvirate of faiths. I would suggest that the man hours, resources and emotional investment/religious significance poured into Jerusalem is roughly equal between Jew, Moslem and Christian. Whilst the Jews were definitely in first, the temple as we know it was built by pagan Arab clients of Rome, the various Islamic empires that owned it over the centuries built massive swathes of the modern city and the Christian Crusaders shed and spilt oceans of blood to guard their attempt at an earthly Kingdom of Heaven. People might violently disagree with this assessment, but I cannot help but feel that each of these groups and faiths has both history and sincerity equally on their sides when they talk about Jerusalem being their spiritual home. Therein lies, in my opinion, a significant part of the problem.

With the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of WWI, the territories we’re concerned with were doled out between the British and the French. The British ruled what we now call Israel from 1920 to 1948. During this period, there were several waves of Jewish immigration to the British protectorate known as Palestine. These were driven by persecution variously committed by Russians, various Arab states and, of course, Germany. These waves of immigration were known as “Aliyah”, and, along with other factors, were the cause of serious Arab resentment of the Jews in the region. It was also during this period that Palestinian Nationalism first emerged as a real political movement, developing roughly simultaneously with Zionism. We’ll deal with what they are in a later post.

Significantly, when the British attempted to create consultative groups to engage in dialogue and collaborate in leadership of the region, only the Jewish organisations approached actually responded. The Arab led groups refused to participate. This has left a heavy legacy of pain for the Arab populations within modern day Israel.

I don’t know about you, but the story that I was told when I was in school was that the ‘world’ decided to give the Jews a homeland after the atrocities committed against them by the Third Reich, which I always thought was very kind of ‘the world’. Unsurprisingly, the truth is neither that simple nor that heartwarming.

Aliyah Bet, the practice of Jews illegally entering Palestine after fleeing from trouble spots or the sites of atrocities, pogroms, etc., had led to a significant upsurge in the Jewish population of Palestine. The Zionists, for reasons of their own, decided to use violence in a bid to gain independence from the British, and a bitter, four year insurgency was fought with tried and true insurgency tactics – terrorism, suicide bombing and assassination. The public, however, seems to love any terrorist that is neither Marxist nor Arab, and public support for the Zionists was so strong that global political and financial pressure was put on the British to resolve the situation and give up Palestine. In true British style, they handed the problem over to the UN who created a partition plan . Significantly, Arab groups boycotted these discussions as well. Like all good partition plans, this one resulted almost immediately in a long and bitter civil war – in this case, various Arab groups fighting various Jewish groups for control and ascendancy within the newly independent state of Israel.

Such is the sweet and heartwarming story of the birth of Israel as we know it.

Next instalment, we will cover Zionism, Pan-Arabism, Islamism and the Haredi in an attempt to explain the various positions of participants in the conflict, as a nice change from the mass media practice of simply dismissing them all as random lunatics.


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2 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    The kingdoms of Judah and Israel – were they both Jewish?

    • Chris says:

      That’s a complex answer – there’s still some debate as to whether Judah ever really existed as a kingdom: I accept it, many don’t.

      Let’s say it did. Short answer is yes, long answer goes yes, but…

      At this period we’re looking at many variations of Judaism – and all very different to the Rabbinical, almost collegiate thing familiar to us all today, so I’m cautious of giving the wrong impression by just giving a flat out yes.

      But, yes.

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