Secretary of State John Kerry harshly attacked Jewish settlements on the West Bank in a major foreign policy address Wednesday, but dodged a central and disquieting question– why no Jews lived in the West Bank prior to 1967.
“The settler agenda is defining the future of Israel,” Kerry declared in the speech designed to defend the U.S. abstention in a U.N. Security Council vote last week. The vote declared Jewish West Bank settlements illegal under international law.
“Separate and unequal is what you would have, and nobody can explain how that works,” Kerry said before a hand-picked audience at the Department of State. He warned that the growth of settlements forced the separation of Arabs and Jews.
Kerry, however, sidestepped a vital issue rarely raised by the Obama Administration– why there were no Jews living in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem after the state of Israel was established in 1948.
Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his own answer: ethnic cleansing.
“The United Nations has consistently ignored the fact that Jews were ethnically cleansed from these territories in 1948, which is why there were no Jews in the area until after 1967,” Netanyahu said, The Jerusalem Post reports.
“The Arab Legion also ethnically cleansed the Jews who were living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and then blew up all of the synagogues there,” he wrote. “Not a single Jew remained in any of the territories conquered by the invading Arabs in 1948. The reaction of the United Nations to this reality? Silence.”
Netanyahu and ordinary Israelis often recall the forcible removal of Jews from the Arab world after the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
But well before there was a Jewish state, life for Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was still perilous. Many Jews mark modern-day Arab ethnic cleansing in 1929, when local Arabs launched a brutal, three-day riot against the small Jewish population then living in the holy city of Hebron.
The attack on Hebron started on Aug. 23, 1929 and was calculated to terrorize Jews who lived in places sacred to their religion. Hebron is one of the four holiest cities in Israel and it is where Abraham and Sarah are buried. At least 133 Jews were killed in the rioting.
“They came in mobs, armed with clubs, knives and axes,” the Jewish Virtual Library website chronicles. “While the women and children threw stones, the men ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single police officer in all of Hebron, the Arabs were able to enter Jewish courtyards with literally no opposition.”
The survivors fled to Jerusalem. Until the 1967 war, no Jew dared to live in Hebron.
Another wholesale Arab massacre of Jews occurred in Gush Etzion, a part of the West Bank near the Dead Sea. This also occurred before the 1948 establishment of Israel.
In the 1940s, Jewish settlers founded four agricultural villages in Gush Etzion on property legally purchased in the 1920s. On March 13, 1948, the Arab Legion surrounded the villages and massacred 127 Jewish inhabitants.
East Jerusalem also was closed to all Jews in 1948. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946 and placed with the Rockefeller Institute in East Jerusalem, Jewish rabbis and scholars were not permitted to travel to the eastern half of the city to examine the scrolls, even though experts from all other religions — including Vatican researchers — were given access to them.
The Western Wall, also in East Jerusalem, was regarded for thousands of years as Israel’s holiest site, where the one remaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple was located. Until the city was liberated by Israeli soldiers in the 1967 war, Jews were uniformly barred from the approaching the wall.
Kerry claimed the Obama administration wished to make Jerusalem a dual capital for both Arabs and Jews. But he did not mention that the first time Jerusalem became an “open city” for all religions occurred only in 1967, when local governance came under Israeli authority. The Israeli authorities permitted all faiths to access the area freely.
The sharing of Jerusalem between the Palestinian Authority and Israel has been backed by Obama and Kerry, but will likely die when President-elect Donald Trump takes office. He has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, signifying that the U.S. considers the latter to be Israel’s capital.
Netanyahu has pointed to a 1922 League of Nations ratification of the Balfour Declaration to claim that Jewish rights are to all of ancient Israel– including the West Bank, which for thousands of years was called Judea and Samaria. He said the declaration “awarded national rights to the Jewish people – and only the Jewish people – in the Land of Israel.”
The Israeli prime minister claimed the Balfour principles were later adopted by the U.N. and “is a binding document under international law that defines the international legal status of the Land of Israel.”
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