Professors offer perspectives on Middle East

November 22, 2004|ANNE LEDFORD

Attempting to understand the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the context of Yassir Arafat's legacy is not an easy task to undertake. While several resources exist that chronicle the conflict all the way back to ancient times, condensing centuries of conflict into something easily understood is difficult at best.

Dr. Beth Glazier-McDonald is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and biblical literature at Centre College. Rather than start an examination in the ancient and biblical roots of the conflict, she says, a crucial time period to begin research is 1947-1949.

In 1947, fighting quickly broke out between Arab and Zionist forces after Palestinian Arabs and surrounding Arab states rejected a United Nations plan that would have established a Jewish state with a slightly larger portion of land than the Palestinian state, and designated Jerusalem and Bethlehem as international zones.

By the time British forces evacuated Palestine in May 1948, Zionist leaders proclaimed the land the state of Israel. That sparked an invasion by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq to "save" Palestine from Zionists. However, some historians claim their motives were just as self-serving as that of the Zionists.


Dr. Nayef H. Samhat, associate professor of government and international studies, has particular expertise in the theory of international relations, with emphasis on the Middle East. He describes the rejection of the U.N. plan and subsequent wars of 1947-49 as a reaction to increased emigration of European Jews into Palestine. These "Zionists" consisted of a smaller group than the Palestinian population yet received more land under the proposed plan.

"The Arab invasion was less a war to destroy the Jewish state as it was a war to expand the Arab state But the Jewish forces had a much better trained army and an economy tied to the West and Europe. Thus they had access to resources that Arabs did not - Palestine has always been the weaker state."

Miscalculations created millions of Palestinian refugees

Dr. Glazier-McDonald likened the wars to a comedy of errors whose miscalculations resulted in the creation of millions of Palestinian refugees.

"They [Arabs] thought it would be a quick and easy war, telling folks to leave their homes to stay out of harm's way," said Glazier-McDonald. "They were wrong - they lost, suddenly creating a displaced stateless mass that would become a sullen, angry, seething population who belonged to no one."

The issue of this displaced Palestinian population is a central issue of debate in the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict. While the official stance of Israel claims Palestinian Arabs fled Palestine based on orders among their own leadership, independent organizations like the Middle East Research Information Project, cite one reliable document from Israeli intelligence that indicates at least 75 percent of fleeing Palestinians left in response to direct Zionist tactics to get Palestinians to leave.

Dr. C. Thomas McCollough, a Centre scholar of the history of Christianity and Christian thought, biblical history and archaeology, and the contemporary Middle East, has lived in Palestine periodically and still has friends who live in the West Bank. He concurs that there exists plenty of firsthand testimony to support claims that Palestinian Arabs were driven from their homes in 1948.

The issue of the Palestinian dispersion aside, McCollough agrees with Glazier-McDonald that the events of 1947-49 are key events to grasp the complexities of the conflict.

"What is most enormously misunderstood about Palestinians is that the majority of Palestinians were Christians in the mid 20th Century. They are now only 2 percent of the population and are more like visitors than a real community." He attributes this shift in the Palestinian population largely to the events of 1947-49 that drove most Palestinians out. "This resulted in a loss of the moderate voice in the Palestinian movement."

Conflict is over land

Samhat emphasizes that average Americans do not understand that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not a religious conflict but a conflict over possession of land. "There is a unique, specific lens used in American reporting of this conflict that emphasizes religion The heart of the conflict is that the ideology of Zionism was a colonist ideology."

Samhat goes on: "There is also a persistent myth of Israel being under threat, but the Israeli Army is one of the most powerful in the world. Israel is the only state in the Middle East that has expanded its borders in the last 50 years. Their settlements indicate determination."

On the subject of land entitlement, Glazier-McDonald notes that while there has been a long-standing Arab population in the land of Palestine, there has always been Jewish habitation in Palestine as well.

Central Kentucky News Articles