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The victims are now the oppressors

In 2000 I did a public-speaking class in which we had to do four presentations (here is the first talk and the others are linked from there). For the one that was to "pursuasive", I chose to do one about the plight of the Palestinians.

Preamble (not part of the original presentation)

Near the top of the list of things that upset me is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The more research I did, the more depressing it became, in part because the Palestinian viewpoint is rarely recognized in the American media and almost never in American policy with the result that with America's economic, military and diplomatic support, Israel has been able to take most Palestinian land and mistreat the Palestinian population.

In this talk which I gave in August 2000, I attempted to show that Palestinian grievances are real and that there will never be a lasting peace in the Middle East until they are addressed.

Before starting my talk, I asked the class to put on hold everything they thought they knew about the conflict in the Middle East. The American media hardly ever reports the Palestinian side of the issue, so I thought it likely that some class members would be resistant to what I had to say and that someone might even walk out. As it turned out, the information was warmly received and my fears were unfounded.

This is such an important topic that I've included for you some links for further reading. There is a tremendous amount of material on the United Nations web site including the maps below on the plan of partition and illegal Israeli settlements in the occuplied territories, plus UN Resolution 194 that demands to "right of return" for refugees from the 1948 war. There are more sources in the bibliography section at the bottom.

Jan 2009 update

CBS actually told the truth! I urge every American to watch this segment from 60 Minutes so you can understand the conflict and since we offer such blind support, why so much of the world hates us:

(Thank you CBS for uploading the video to Youtube.)

2020 Update

The situation now is even worse than when I wrote this just over twenty years ago. The number of “settlers” - such a benign word implying there was no one on the land when they arrived - has roughly doubled to 600,000 of which 400,000 are in the West Bank and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem which is beyond Israel's internationally recongized boarders. You can read about this on Bloomberg. The Trump administration overturned decades of policy and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and incredibly, declared that the US no longer considers Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories to be illegal. Netenyahu has been Prime Minister during much of the last 20 years by forming coalitions with ultra-nationalist religious parties who suggest that the Palestinians should be “evacuated” – another clever use of language to disguise the fact that they want ethnic cleansing i.e. to get rid of the Palestinians. Netenyahu and his coalition allies have zero interest in a two-state solution as their policies indicate.

Purpose statement

To persuade the class that the Palestinians have good cause to be upset with the way they are treated and so we should not be surprised by the violence in the Middle East.


While the Middle East is often in the news, the causes of the conflict are now so old that it is no longer "news" so this speech seeks to give an overview of the Palestinian situation and try to explain the violence we see.


I am married to a refugee. My wife left Vietnam on tiny, crowded boat in 1981 and spent 3 months in a refugee camp in Singapore before the Australian government offered to resettle her and allowed her to become an Australian citizen. As a refugee, she has endured uncertainty and hardships but they were relatively short-lived.

Today, there is again bloodshed in the Middle East. Dr Weizmann, one of the founding fathers of Zionism and Israel's first President wanted Jews to settle in Palestine without violating the legitimate interests of the Arabs, writing 'not a hair of their heads shall be touched".

Now we see armoured vehicles and helicopter gunships taking on mainly unarmed groups of Palestinians. The Economist reports that over 100 people have been killed on the last 2 weeks of violence and all but 7 of them are Palestinian. What happened? Where did Dr Weizmann's vision of mutual co-operation go wrong?

By it's nature, "news" is what is "new" and yet, we must look back over the last century to understand what is happening now. Many Palestinians have been refugees for up to 52 years! I want to demonstrate that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances and have been allowed no way to address them and this has led to violence.

We will look at three periods:

  1. before the establishment of Isreal in 1948
  2. from 1948 to the "6 Day War" in 1967
  3. since 1967


Before 1948

  • After suffering centuries of persecution in Europe and particularly Czarist Russia, Austrian Jew Theodore Herzl published "The Jewish State" in 1896 and formally started the Zionist movement to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A few Jews did start emigrating but the numbers were small. Combined with the native Jewish population, Brittanica online says that in 1914, only 12% of the population was Jewish.
  • At that time and for almost the previous 400 years, Palestine was ruled Ottoman Turks
  • During WW1, Britain made promises to the Zionists culminating in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which declared support for a Jewish homeland.
  • Unfortunately, they also made promises to Arab leaders about gaining independence after the war.
  • With the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of WW1, the middle east was divided between the European powers and Palestine was under a British Mandate
  • It was clear to both Arabs and Jews that the future of the area when the Mandate ended would be determined by the relative size of populations and ownership of the land. Arabs therefore sought to halt Jewish immigration, Jewish groups tried to increase it.
  • Nazi persecution in the 1930s boosted immigration so the Jewish portion of the population reached 30% before WW2 bringing widespread resentment among native Arabs causing riots at various times
  • With the end of WW2 and the Holocaust in Europe, the British position in Palestine became untenable. Jewish refugees from all over Europe were now desperate to enter Palestine and the British tried to turn most of them away leading to Jewish resentment and violence. Similarly, the Arab population was alarmed at the prospect of being overwhelmed and demanded the British let them manage their own affairs.
  • In 1947, the British gave up attempting and handed the problem over the the newly formed United Nations.
  • MAP 1. The UN proposed partition into Arab and Jewish sectors. Jews welcomed the proposal, Arabs were outraged. Note that:
    1. The Arab state was roughly half of Palestine
    2. Jerusalem is under INTERNATIONAL CONTROL
    3. "4 corners" allow free movement between sections

Map 1: What the UN proposed. You cannot understand the conflict in the Middle East without this map but I had not seen it until I did my talk. Green sections were to be the Jewish state, red sections were to be the Arab state. For more detail, see a larger map (780 x 1530 pixels, 257k) or the original document from the UN (1.4 MB). No longer on the UN's site so taken from the Internet Archive which does show its original source. Possibly it was taken down at America's request for fear of people understanding the conflict. Sometimes they do the darndest things.

THE PERIOD 1948 to 1967

  • As the British were leaving in May 1948, the Jewish section of Palestine declared itself an independent country immediately plunging the new country into war with its Arab neighbours and native Palestinian population.
  • The Israelis captured all the land allocated to them under the 1947 plan PLUS a significant portion allocated to the Arabs:
    1. HALF OF JERUSALEM which was supposed to be under international control
    2. territory so that GAZA IS CUT OFF FROM THE WEST BANK

Map 2: The borders of Israel as recognized by most countries (many in the Arab world do not) follow the lines established by the armistice that ended the fighting. Click to see the original in “Israel's borders explained in maps” on the BBC website.

  • The United Nations estimates 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes and land going to Arab Palestine and to surrounding countries (Egypt, Jordon, Syria and Lebanon)
  • Successive Israeli governments denied the Palestinian refugees the right of return, or any monetary compensation.
  • With the partial exception of Jordon, surrounding countries did not grant citizenship. Assimilating the refugees would remove the problem of the Palestinians and Isreal from international attention and upset local ethnic balances.
  • Displaced Palestinians remained refugees. Camps became permanent. Palestinians are therefore stateless. THEY STILL ARE. They have been refugees for 52 years! [Now 75 years in 2023!] The original refugees have had grand-children born in the camps! They have limited ability to work and travel.
  • 150,000 stayed and became Israeli citizens

AFTER 1967

  • In the "6 Day War" of 1967, the Israelis captured:
    1. the remaining land of the Palestine Madate that had been allocated to Arabs:
      • the West Bank, the Gaza Strip
      • the rest of Jerusalem, including all the holy sites
    2. land beyond the Palestine Madate in Syria (the Golan Heights) and the Sinia Peninsula from Egypt, the latter handed back in the 1979 peace treaty
  • A new flood of 300,000 refugees followed, many of them refugees from the 1948 war.
  • Captured land is not recognized by any country, described as "occupied territories"
  • A vigorous campaign of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, including east Jerusalem to make it more difficult to give back
Please refer to following caption.
Settlements everywhere! Click to see the original 1996 document on the UN site.

Map 3: While even the UN uses the term "settlements", it seems clear that the intent is to occupy the land making it difficult, if not impossible, to give back to any future Palestinian state. With the "settlements" in place, Israel has an excuse to maintain a "security" (i.e. military) presence inside its neighbor and by fragmenting the state, makes it less viable.

You can zoom in on the linked original document and read the text but even here, you can see that “settlement” has been comprehensive.

[Update: Israel forced the settlers in Gaza to leave and withdrew its military in 2005 but it maintains control of 6 of the 7 border crossings plus the airspace and access from the sea. Israel and Egypt reached agreement over control of the 7th border crossing (Rafah) and it is only for people, not goods.]

  • UN Resolutions demanding that Israel's forces leave and that settlements not be built are ignored
  • Access to water has been severly restricted, prompting two UN reports on the subject.
  • Contrast with Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Instead of sanctions and military attack, Isreal is the largest recipient of American foreign aid.
  • It was clear to Palestinians that Isreal had no intention of keeping even approximately to the borders suggested by the 1947 partition plan but was intent on taking all of Palestine at the expense of the native Palestinian population. The Palestine Liberation Organization rose to prominancy.
  • As of 1997, the United Nations recognized 3.7 MILLION Palestinians as refugees. This is people who were displaced by fighting and their descendants. This is almost TWICE THE POPULATION OF METRO-DENVER. Of these, over a million are still in refugee camps, the rest are allowed to live in the communities of the surrounding countries and Gulf states.
  • According to the CIA "Fact Book 2000": Israel is now 80% Jewish


What then of the future?

While Jewish groups have had some success in retrieving art works stolen by the Nazis and bank deposits taken by the Swiss, the Isrealis seem incapable of seeing that the Palestinians might want their homes and land back.

There will be no peace in the Middle East until the issue of the Palestinians has been addressed, both for those inside what is now Isreal and the Occupied Territories and those in other countries. People don't give themselves to be suicide bombers unless their situation is utterly hopeless and that is the state Palestinians find themselves in now.,/p>

The "concessions" promoted by the Israelis in negotiations mean almost nothing to Palestinians given that the starting point for negotiations is the Isrealis having control of everything, not the situation as it existed in 1918 at the end of WW1, or before 1948, or even before 1967-each time they lost more control over their destiny.

The obvious solution is a Palestinian homeland, completely autonomous from Israel. So far, that has not been offered. Refusal to be fair with the PLO and then the Palestinian Authority has given popular support to the more radical groups such as Hamas which is still committed to the destruction of Israel.

Was it wrong for the Resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe to kill Nazi soldiers and bomb Nazi targets? Of course not. Remember that aparthied South Africa imprisoned Nelson Mandela for being a terrorist.

Whether someone is a "terrorist" or a "freedom fighter" depends on which side you think justice is on. We must not accept labels given in the media without questioning.

Finally, America's blind support for Israel has naturally made it a target for attack as we saw last week with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. You should also be aware that, as reported on NPR, the land America proposes to build its new Embassy on in Jerusalem was confiscated from its Palestinian owners after 1948.

I hope then that if you see the news tonight, you will understand why there is so much anger in the Middle East. While I can't condone violence, please understand that the Palestinians have been left with absolutely no alternative.

Quick update for 2008

  • The theft of Palestinian land continues. One form it takes is the "security barrier" designed to keep out potential bombers and I would have no problem with this in principle if it were built along Israel's border. Instead it snakes deep into Palestinian territory as you can see on a map from B'TSalem, an Israeli peace group.
  • Within the occupied territores (including East Jeruselem), there are contined expansion of Jewish "settlements", often paid for by the Israeli government and in violation of the "road map" that they profess to support. Another group Peace Now did a report demonstrating that just under 40% of settlement land is (or was) privately held by Palestinians.
  • Israel settlers have been withdrawn from Gaza but Israel maintains control over its border, access to the sea and airspace. (The border with Egypt is generally closed too making Gaza effectively a huge open-air prison. As I understand it, the Egyption government doesn't want to lend any support to Hamas given it's links to the Muslem Brotherhood, a banned political party in Egypt.)


Internet Web Site
Author not cited. "The problem of Palestinian Nationality".
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
Undated but no earlier than 1997.

Internet Web Site
Julie M. Peteet. "Lebanon: Palestinian refugees in the post-war period".
on the UNHCR web site but written by WRITENET "a network of researchers on human rights, forced migration and ethnic and political conflict"
December 1997

UN Document
Un General Assembly Resolution 181 (II)
"Future government of Palestine"
29 November 1947

UN Document
UN General Assembly Resolution 2546
"Respect for and implementation of human rights in occupied territories"
11 December 1969

UN Document
UN Security Council Resolution 452
20 July 1979

UN Document
UN Security Council Resolution 465
1 March 1980

UN Document
UN General Assembly Resolution 194
"Palestine - Progress Report of the UN Mediator"
11 December 1948

UN Document
"Water resources of the occupied Palestinian territory"

UN Document (map)
"Palestine Plan on Partition with Economic Union" Map number 82
September 1947

UN Document (map)
"Territories occupied by Israel since 1967"
Map number 3243 Rev 2
June 1991

UN Document (map)
"Jerusalem occupied and expanded since June 1967" Map number 3640
June 1991"

UN Document (map)
"Map showing Israeli settlements established in the territories occupied in June 1967" Map number 3070 Rev 17
October 1996

UN Document (map)
"Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA"
from "The state of the world's refugees 1997-98"
United Nations High Commission for Refugees

Government Document
"Israel" (country profile including map)
Undated but presumed to still be current
From the CIA "World Fact Book 2000"

Government Document
"USAID - West Bank and Gaza - Water programs"
July 2000
From the USAID web site

CD-ROM Encyclopedia
Michael Joseph Cohen "Zionism"
Included in "Encarta" CD-ROM encyclopedia, 1995 edition

Internet Web Site
Author not cited. "Palestine, history of"
Brittanica Online

Article in online newspaper
Lee Hockstader. "Analysis: Peace dream may become pipe dream"
The Washington Post Online
9 October 2000. Page A01 in printed edition

Article in online newspaper
Con Coughlin. "Of blood and betrayal"
The Sydney Morning Herald Online,
originally published in The Telegraph, London
16 October 2000

Article in online magazine
"Can it fly?"
The Economist Online
21 October 2000

Report on National Public Radio
On "All things considered" a piece about moving the American embassy.
Date: ?