After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 the Jews were thrust into the outer world - many into Arab countries, later to become Muslim, where they were extended protection, and later into the Roman and then Christian world where they were accepted for many centuries. There were no pogroms until the Middle Ages and then they were centuries apart.
Over two millennia many big tribal groups have been dispersed - the Slavs, the Moguls, the Bantu, the Tamils, the Celts - the list is a long one - but only the Jews have had an idée fixe about where they want to go back to.
During the last thousand years, while the Jews were in the diaspora, the Arabs reinforced their settlements on the same land that some Jews yearned for, just as pre-Arab tribes had settled it in the time before Moses- and just as the Celts settled in Ireland, the Europeans in North America, the Moguls in India and the Russians in Siberia.
When in 1897 the rabbis of Vienna sent a fact-finding mission to Palestine they reported back that the bride “was beautiful but married to another man.”
Theodor Herzl, the convenor of the first Zionist Conference, was not obsessed by a return to Palestine. Almost anywhere would do. Argentina was the first choice with its empty fertile spaces. The Uasin Gishu plateau near Nairobi, Kenya, was another. But the Zionist conference overruled him.
The course of the First World War and the likely break up of the Ottoman Empire led the British to think that Jewish control of Palestine would be more secure for British interests than Arab. In 1917 came the Balfour Declaration whereby the British cabinet declared that they viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Lord Curzon, the former Indian viceroy, denounced it as an act of “sentimental idealism” and said that Britain had a “stronger claim to parts of France.”
According to the texts of the Old Testament, the ultra religious, settlement inclined, Israelis have it partly right - the whole of Palestine did once belong to them.
But only partly. Read Genesis. When the Lord spoke to Moses and told him that he would deliver the Jews from Egypt he also said he would bring them into “a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” In other words the Jews were to conquer and displace other tribes who had been long possessors of the land now called Palestine, and even other tribes further south such as the Midianites.
Later in the Book of Numbers, the Lord told Moses to “vex the Midianites and smite them”. Moses and his army did. “They slew all the males” and took the women and children captive. Then Moses said to his commanders, “Have ye saved all the women alive?......Now therefore kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him.”
The Jews would stop at almost nothing. Genocide, on occasion, was the tool of total conquest. Is this the proud history that present day Jews are fighting to uphold millennia later? The Jews of the Old Testament were as cruel as the Moguls and Tartars and it is as difficult to justify the present day Israeli occupation of Palestine as it would be to justify a Mogul regime in Russia or an Islamic one in northern India.
If the Jews want the rest of the world's sympathy they have to be able to justify their modern day presence in Palestine better than they do. They have to recognise how wrong were their conquests, both old and present.
But now the Jews are in Palestine in such significant numbers the only solution is to honour the rest of the text of the Balfour Declaration. “Nothing should be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, it said. This was the British condition. The Israelis overlook it today at their peril. More than half appear to.
Does to pose these arguments make me an anti-Semite? In last week’s New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen makes it clear that anyone who queries the Jews right to Israel is anti-Semitic. Likewise, he accuses those of us, who fought against apartheid, as racist. He accuses us of “pursuing the systematic “Nazification” of Israel.” This is accusation by association.
I resent Cohen’s accusations and if I had more space I could expose the falsity of many more.