Letter: CUNY Law School Speech Audience Not Versed in History

Dear editor:

Perhaps the saddest point about a CUNY law student using her invitation to address her fellow graduates (Column: New York Times Compounds Harm Of ‘Fiery Speech’ That Bashes Israel Boulder Jewish News June 22, 2023) was that many in the audience probably didn’t know enough about the history of the modern State of Israel to challenge the speaker, even if there had been an opportunity for them to do so. I offer some remarks in the hopes that students will educate themselves and become proficient at presenting Israel’s side of the story.

For millennia, most Jews lived outside of their ancestral homeland, often experiencing periods of acceptance followed by persecutions and expulsions. While making great contributions to the societies in which they were temporarily living, they prayed for a return to Zion. Yet, modern Zionists didn’t arrive in Palestine demanding a state based on divine promises. They bought land and improved its productivity, built schools and hospitals, organized civil defense units, and lobbied world leaders for their cause. When the land of the defunct Ottoman Empire was being divided into modern states, the Yishuv (Zionist community in Palestine) had a de facto government in place to rule reborn Israel.

The Palestine to which Zionists traveled in the 1800s was largely underdeveloped and sparsely populated. The Arabs living there had no special attachment to Palestine. Arab leaders who opposed the 1947 UN Partition Plan said that the Arabs of Palestine were Southern Syrians, not needing or deserving a state of their own. Only when Arabs began fleeing Palestine were they considered a distinct group.

The Arabs who had fled and their descendants became the “Palestine refugees,” who have a UN agency assigned solely to their welfare, which hasn’t resettled anyone because Arab leaders insisted, as Palestinian leaders now insist, that Israel must give the “refugees” the homes they claim their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, … lost in what became the State of Israel in 1948. Taking the “refugees” in would guarantee the end of the Jewish state. Although no more than 30,000 of the Arabs who fled Palestine in the 1940’s are still alive, UNRWA has 6,000,000 Palestine refugees on its rolls. They have grown up seeing Palestinians honored and rewarded for attacking and murdering Jews. It is highly unlikely that they would be inclined to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors.

Of course, there were Arabs who remained in Palestine when Arab leaders went to war against the Zionists in the late 1940’s. Many of them ended up living on lands seized by Egypt and Jordan during the Arabs’ unsuccessful attempt to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state. For nearly two decades, Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan occupied the “West Bank” (eastern Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria). During this time, Jews were ethnically cleansed from their homes on land of historic and religious importance to Jews, synagogues were destroyed, and Jewish graves were desecrated. Only after Jordan allied with Egypt and Syria in a war instigated with the open intention of destroying the Jewish state and annihilating her people did Israel succeed in liberating the land from its illegal occupiers. Yet, just months after the Six Day War, Israel offered to withdraw from newly liberated land in exchange for recognition and peace. This offer was flatly rejected by the Arab League (Khartoum, September 1967). There is no evidence that Palestinian leaders asked the League to accept the deal so they could build a state of their own. Indeed, Palestinian leaders subsequently rejected several Israeli and US proposals that should have led to the establishment of the first-ever-to-exist Arab State of Palestine. (Ehud Barak, 2000; Ehud Olmert, 2008; Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel, 2009; the Trump Administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan, 2020)

Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, all Palestinians in Gaza, and 95% of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria have been living under the administration of leaders of their own choosing. Oslo envisioned Final Status talks being completed by 2000, resulting in agreement on secure and recognized borders. Little progress has been made, largely because Palestinian leaders have refused to negotiate.

The Palestinians are suffering because their leaders have failed them. Rather than working to build a state in which their people could become productive citizens, Palestinian leaders have enriched themselves on monies donated for their peoples’ benefit and diverted humanitarian aid to wage war against Israel. If Palestinians would stop attacking, Israeli troops would no longer have to respond. Anyone who wants to see the lives of Palestinians improve should be urging Palestinian leaders to turn from trying to destroy Israel to building a Palestinian state committed to coexisting, peacefully, with the nation-state of the Jews.

Toby F. Block
Atlanta, GA

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They call me "NewsHound IV," because I'm a clever Finnegan, sniffing out stories all over the Boulder area. I love Jewish holidays because the food is GREAT, especially the brisket. Well all the food. I was a rescue pup and glad to be on the scent!

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