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Eureka: 5 things you probably didn't know about Israel and Palestine
by Joseph Gatt
2018-09-03 09:33:31
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Notes on Israel and Palestine, in no particular order.

  1. Israel is a land of Jewish immigration

Waves of Jewish immigration to Israel help get a better understanding on how Israeli society works. There were pre-Zionist immigration waves to Israel. Israel used to be part of the Ottoman Empire until 1917 and up until the 1850s Jews of the Ottoman Empire moved back and forth in the empire, some of them settling in modern day Israel.

palais01_400There was then a wave of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants fleeing the pogroms in the 1880s and 1890s. Post-Zionism, a lot of young, more or less educated, idealist Jews from Eastern and central Europe settled in Israel between 1914 and the early 1930s as most of them wanted to flea constant wars in Europe and wanted to live peacefully among Jews. The British Mandate in Palestine then discouraged Zionists from immigrating to Israel, and several Jews were smuggled in from Eastern and Central Europe. Holocaust survivors, who had nowhere to go, and were rejected from everywhere, were eventually smuggled into Israel between 1946 and 1948. These waves of immigrations are known as the five waves of immigration, and they were mostly Central and Eastern European Jews, along with some Jews from the ex-Ottoman empire.

The following waves were after the creation of the State of Israel. In the 1950s and 1960s you had waves of refugees from the Middle East who were either expelled or pressured to leave Middle Eastern countries. Jews used to be the largest ethnic group in Bagdad, larger than the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds or Chaldeans. A wave of public executions of Jews in Iraq and “Zionism” being a state crime, most Iraqi Jews fled Iraq. Similar things happened in Iran. Yemeni Jews had been deserting Yemen for the same reasons. Egyptian Jews, Syrian Jews, Lebanese Jews moved to Israel for the same reasons. Some Moroccan Jews were naturalized French by decree and moved to France, while many of them moved to Israel. Same goes for Tunisians. Algerian Jews all had French citizenship and mainly opted for France, although some of them chose Israel. Libyan Jews moved to Israel. By 1969, only a handful of Jews remained in Arab states.

In the 1960s, some Soviet Jews expressed the desire to move to Israel, but merely thinking about moving to Israel was considered a crime of thought and a sign of disloyalty to the Communist ideal. Jews who wanted to move to Israel were persecuted in several ways, some were sent to Siberia, others were fired from their jobs, others had their rationing cards removed. By the early 1970s, an agreement was reached between Israel and the Soviet Union to send over those Jews who wanted to move to Israel.

In the early 1980s, the Ethiopian emperor held Ethiopian Jews hostage and agreed to trade them for a ransom. Ethiopia was suffering from a severe drought, the state was financially broke, and civil war was looming. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, several Jews from the Soviet Socialist Republics moved to Israel, while some non-Jewish Russians snuck in as well.

Then there are countries that have continually sent immigrants. France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and other countries regularly have seen Jews move to Israel. Some wanted adventure, others thought it was a religious calling, for some it was a little bit of  both.

Of course, not all Jews moved to Israel when they needed to. Cuban Jews fleeing Castro mainly moved to Miami and New York City, many Russian Jews chose Canada and the United States, many Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian Jews chose France, some Jews chose the United Kingdom, and some moved around the world trying to settle in one country.

  1. Country of origin, degree of religiosity and ethnicity play a somewhat important role in Israeli politics

I've discussed the waves of immigration. Over the years some trends have arisen in Israel. Descendents of the Central and Eastern European waves of immigration tend to intermarry, descendents of the wave of immigration from the Middle East tend to intermarry, and those from the Russian waves of immigration tend to intermarry. Then there are “mixed marriages” which are common but not the norm.

Eastern and Central European waves of immigration descendents tend to vote left or center-left, perhaps center, perhaps because in the 1920s and 1930s Jews and Arabs lived more or less side by side in peace, there were a few incidents, and that there is a belief that that level of peace can be restored.

Middle Eastern waves of immigration tend to vote right, mainly because they know that Arabs punish the crime of “Zionism” by death and know that peace is hard to negotiate. Russian immigrants tend to have their own party, while religious Jews have a couple of parties.

20% of the Israeli population is non-Jewish, mostly Arab Muslim, but also Arab Christian, Druze and other minorities including many Russians and a handful of people who are not Jewish, moved to Israel and were naturalized, anywhere from the Philippines to India to Japan to name a country and perhaps you'll have an Israeli citizen with origins from that country who is not Jewish.

Arab Israelis sometimes intermarry with Arab Palestinians, or in some cases Arab Palestinians try to settle permanently in Israel. This poses the question of whether Palestinians will gradually resettle in Israel, mainly for economic reasons, while maintaining their anti-Zionist political views. In sum, Israel politics are as colorful as the origins of its citizens.

  1. How the Middle East absorbed Palestinian refugees

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, many Palestinians lost their home and were forced to flee. Remember that subsequently in Arab States Zionism became a crime and most Jews had to flee to Israel. 700,000 Palestinian refugees, about 1 million Jewish refugees from Arab states.

Palestinian refugees were parked in tents in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon where they were not given citizenship. Many also moved to Jordan where they were eventually given citizenship and more or less absorbed by Jordan, although many of them still identify as Palestinian. Egypt absorbed some of them. Libya absorbed many of the during the Gaddafi years and had generous housing and job benefits in the Socialist Jamahiriya. Tunisia and Morocco absorbed some of them, while Algeria hired many of them as teachers, when some of those teachers had never been to school, in some cases had never seen a school.

The overall balance is a mixed one. Some Arab nations believe that Palestinians brought with them the kind of militant Islam that did not exist in their countries. Others believe that Palestinian refugees use the Palestinian label to get favorable treatment in jobs and in social life. But there are few cases of assimilation, and 70 years on, Palestinian refugees in the Arab world still strongly identify as Palestinian.

  1. How would politics play out in a future Palestinian state?

During the Algerian war of independence, you had the National Liberation Army and there was no other liberation army. After Algeria's independence, the National Liberation Front became the only valid legal party. The Communist party, which was hoping to be legal, eventually folded. Boudiaf attempted to create the Socialist Revolution Party, but was deported to the Algerian desert then exiled to France, where for many years he survived through his brother's allowances. For the anecdote, when Boudiaf returned from exile in 1992 to serve as interim president of Algeria, he almost got arrested at the airport because his name was on a wanted list. Ait Ahmed created the Socialist Forces Front, and eventually studied law and became a lawyer in Switzerland. All three minority parties were Arab Socialist parties, wanted to align with Nasser's Egypt, and had a handful of members. The Communist party disintegrated soon after independence, the Socialist Revolution Party disintegrated in 1979, and never had more than a handful of members, and the Socialist Forces Party was dormant until 1989.

What does this say about Palestine. If elections were to be held tomorrow, how could a coalition between parties like Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Fatah, and other parties, form a coalition? Remember Algeria only had one party, and there was still a bit of turmoil. Algeria's first elected president, Ben Bella, claimed in an interview that “there is no revolution without beheadings.” The Palestinian level of precedence of radical Islamic parties does not exist anywhere else in the Arab world, or in the world period. Would Palestine become something of an Afghanistan, where a group of ulema would decide that politics is haram and that Palestine should be an Islamic republic where men's beards have to be longer than the size of a fist or they get 100 lashes? What kind of constitution, what kind of political system would the Palestinians cook up to prevent a situation like that of Afghanistan?

  1. Some unresolved issues in Palestinian-Israeli relations

First unresolved problem is that of most Arab countries, in fact all Arab countries that do not have a monarchy. Vote the Islamists in, claim they can't play democracy, vote them out, bring the oligarchy back in. That's kind of like saying kick my wife out, make her realize no guy would want her, and have her beg me to get back with me. In some cases it works, in other cases the scenario doesn't work.

Palestine played that game and ended up stuck with Hamas-controlled Gaza. If Palestine ever decides to play that game again, and at some point it will have to, we're looking at Hamas or radical Islamists at the Presidential palace.

The Palestinian refugee problem is another headache. Decades on, they still refer to themselves as Palestinians, because it's as cool as claiming you were a Black South African during Apartheid. They all really want to move to the United States or Canada, but also want to see Israel off the map.

Another sticky, thorny issue is the war veteran and martyr pensions. Islamic law allows war pensions to the family martyrs and the next three generations. Where Palestinians are going to find money to pay pensions for three generations or martyrs' families I have no idea.

Finally, an unresolved problem is the growing political apathy in Israel and among Israelis. Regional political questions deserve some discussion in the public sphere. Perhaps politicians are playing the same CD over and over, but it's worth to pause and actually listen to the CD, and maybe give a couple of opinions on the CD.

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