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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Andrew Sullivan: 'Israel was a mistake'

Andrew Sullivan resurrects Richard Cohen's Washington Post article from the summer of 2006 that argues that Israel was a 'mistake.' Here's Andrew (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
I was thinking recently how a Burkean could defend the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. I'm not sure it's possible - which may say more about the limits of Burkean conservatism than Zionism. Although Jews obviously dwelled in Palestine for as long as anyone, their numbers were few in recent centuries until the grand experiment. Zionism began as an idea, another nineteenth century "ism", and was, like most radical ideas, controversial among Jews and Gentiles everywhere in its inception and since. It was radically utopian, an almost text book example of imposing an abstract concept - a settled Jewish nation after so long a diaspora - on a land already embedded with an existing geographic, demographic, religious and cultural reality.
And this is what Sullivan describes as Cohen's money quote (note this is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post and not Roger Cohen of the New York Times).
The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.
But as I pointed out four years ago in my lengthy response to Cohen's initial article, both Cohen and Sullivan are mistaken (and you will note that I even chose what Sullivan calls Cohen's 'money quote'). You see, there were no 'Palestinians' present in Israel when the Jews started to arrive. And there are no 'Palestinians' today - only Arabs who live in what was once mandatory Palestine.
Arabs only came to the Land of Israel in large numbers after the Jews returned in the 20th century and started to rebuild the nation, thereby creating economic and employment opportunities for Arab immigrants.

Prior to 1870, when Jews started to return to the Holy Land in large numbers, there were fewer than 100,000 Arabs living in what is today the State of Israel - including Yesha (the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District).

This small number of nomadic, tribal Arabs who lived in the Holy Land before the modern Jewish return never considered themselves to be a separate people or nation.

The Arabs who lived in the Land of Israel were not "Palestinians" but Arabs - part of a huge Arab people with 22 very large independent nations that control one-ninth of the land mass on the planet Earth.

In an interview given by Zuhair Mohsen to the Dutch newspaper Trouw in March 1977, Mr. Mohsen explains the origin of the 'Palestinians':

The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct "Palestinian people" to oppose Zionism.
For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.

In this morning's Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes:

The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.
Israel is anything but a mistake, and history shows the justice of Israel's cause. With the exception of the period between the two Jewish Temples between roughly 586 and 516 BCE, Jews ruled this land continuously from approximately 1300 BCE until 68 CE. Since that time, no other government has been based in Israel, no other country has called Jerusalem its capitol, and no other people has called this land its home. It is not history that is Israel's enemy but the false narrative of history presented to the World by the Arab Muslims. It is not history that is Israel's enemy, but Arab attempts to wipe out the vestiges of that history, as if destroying all of the Temple artifacts on the Temple Mount will confirm that it was 'always' Haram al-Sharif, that two Jewish Temples never stood there and that Jesus never argued with money changers there.

This country was deserted swampland for much of the period between 68 CE and the beginning of the return of larger numbers of Jews started in 1870. Israel's interior areas were mainly a desert-like wasteland while her coast was a malaria-ridden swamp. But Jews always prayed three times a day that God should gather them in from their diaspora and bring them back to this country. Many Jews attempted to come here on their own. Jews were a majority of the population of Jerusalem in the 19th century, and settled many of the cities of the Galilee as well. In 1844 - when the Land of Israel was controlled by the Turkish Muslims - the Turkish census counted 7,120 Jews and 5,000 Muslims living in Jerusalem. Thus, Jerusalem was already a Jewish city 160 years ago. Until an Arab massacre wiped them out in 1929, there was even a large Jewish community in Hebron, which included a major Talmudical academy, which was transplanted from the village of Slobodka in Lithuania.

In Chapter LVI of Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote regarding his trip here in 1867:
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists--over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead-- about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour's presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the "desert places" round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.

Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition--it is dream-land.
Read it all. It was one of my first posts to reach prominence (and I'm still pretty proud of it).


At 3:20 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

You should be... the Jews are the indigenous people of Eretz Israel.The Arabs are recent arrivals. They cannot agree among themselves who should rule them and they are incapable of building up an independent state through their own efforts. All the propaganda and lies in the world won't change that reality. It is far easier to say the Palestinian experiment is a mistake than to say it is true of Israel. But don't wait for the Andrew Sullivans and Richard Cohens of the world to acknowledge it.

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Sunlight said...

"Fringe position" is how Michael Totten might describe it:


At 8:34 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

Hi. Fascinating article, but do you know the exact provenance of the 100,000 claim for the number of Arabs in the lands of present-day Israel ? The numbers from Jerusalem are quoted as census figures from the British, and general supporting descriptions of the state of the land are provided from both the British and Twain/Clemens, but I don't see any attribution for that particular statistic. The JTF page doesn't provide contact info. other than a mailing address in New York, and they appear to be related to this fellow, which gives me pause...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Vancier#Jewish_Task_Force

The impression I have had previously was that there was a sizable Arab population prior to Zionist settlement in the 18/1900's, but if that was not the case, it certainly puts things in a rather different perspective. Thanks

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial has these and many other statistics. It's extensively documented based on records of the British Mandate.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

Thanks Carl. I see Chomsky (yeah, I know) has thoughts on the book, but it looks very interesting, and I'll have to give it a read and make up my own mind.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sullivan was a mistake

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spoke to Sullivan's mother and she admitted that he was a mistake.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

You will prob delete this but I must say, having seen AS and read his articles, Andrew Sullivan is an abortion!

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


why are you blaming the arabs for being revisionists.

it wasnt until the israeli new historians and finkelstein did anyone ever take note of the revisionist history.

thanks to them, now peters book is seen as myth and ghost written.

now it was the arabs that made the land flower

and andrew sullivan is a sick man who is just following in his catholic tradition of persecuting the jews.

guess he feels more comfortable now that it has come out how much of the church leadership is actually gay

At 1:33 AM, Blogger bunko said...

The author's claim of 100,000 Palestinians living in Palestine in the late-19th Century is quite obviously a fabrication designed to appease the Palestine Deniers. Look it up! The Deniers try to claim that much fewer than 6 hundred thousand people lived there. Even going so far as to claim that only 1 hundred thousand people even existed there.


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