The Myth That Fuels Mideast Conflict

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Ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948, there has been a pervasive and dangerous myth in the Middle East that undermines any hope for peace. Israel's enemies claim that the Jewish state was created at the expense of the Arabs of Palestine in order to ease the conscience of the world over the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust.

Today, the main spokesman for this myth is none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who will speak this month at the United Nations. Ahmadinejad adds an evil twist to this: he claims the Holocaust never happened. Through his perverse logic, Ahmadinejad believes that if you deny the Holocaust, you can deny Israel its legitimate right to exist and work for the destruction of Israel. It is this myth- that Israel was born in sin- which continues to fuel the fires of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to bring about peace, we must retell the story of Zionism to reaffirm Israel's legitimate right to exist.

After World War II, the British had tired of their role in governing Palestine. In 1947, they decided to turn the issue of Palestine over to the newly created United Nations. The committee created by the United Nations to investigate the issue was called UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which had representatives from 11 countries.

While there is no doubt that the tragedy of the Holocaust had an influence on the members of UNSCOP, what they saw during their visit to Palestine in 1947 had a much more profound effect on their eventual decision to recommend partition: a well-organized Jewish community that had already created the institutions necessary for an independent state. As Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University wrote, "... the United Nations decided to partition Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state because of the realities on the ground, not because of collective emotions of guilt". What were those realities, and how were they created?

During the 50 years of intense Zionist activity prior to 1947, the Jewish community of Palestine had created Hebrew-speaking schools, Hebrew newspapers, Hebrew theatre, agriculture, industry, a health care system and a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. All of these accomplishments were not done overnight.

The difficult process of nation building began with the creation of the Zionist organization in 1897 by Theodor Herzl. Its goal was to create a Jewish state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. Land that was legally purchased from Arab landowners by the Jewish National Fund- a creation of the Zionist organization- allowed for the building of Jewish farms and cities. Indeed, it is this year that we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city of Tel Aviv. Other Jewish cities like Rishon L'Zion, founded in 1882, even pre-date the Zionist movement.

Israel's enemies need to be reminded that prior to the outbreak of World War II, and the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish population of Palestine had already numbered 450,000.

When the members of UNSCOP made their decision in 1947 to recommend the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, they were simply validating a reality that already existed.

In November of 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept the partition of Palestine. Shortly after the historic vote, none other than the London Times published an extraordinary editorial on Dec. 1 that supported the decision of the United Nations with this short but very powerful argument: "It is hard to see how the Arab world, still less the Arabs of Palestine, will suffer from what is mere recognition of an accomplished fact- the presence in Palestine of a compact, well-organized, and virtually autonomous Jewish community".

There is no doubt that when the United Nations voted on partition in 1947, they did so with full knowledge that the Jewish people had earned the right to statehood through the hard labor and sweat of Jewish pioneers. Recognition of this fundamental truth will open the door to peace through the two-state solution.

When the president of Iran no longer attacks the legitimacy of Israel, and when the government of Iran no longer pursues nuclear weapons and sponsors Hamas and Hezbollah who seek to destroy Israel, then there will be peace.

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