On November 30, 2012, the day the Palestinian Authority obtained non-member observer state status at the United Nations, I received an email from, Avaaz, a civic organization of which I have been a member for a number of years. (Email attached at the bottom of this article).
Below is a slight correction I suggested to Avaaz towards greater historical honesty:
Historical accuracy – Please!
I am a supporter of many of Avaaz’ causes and have always been a strong advocate of a dual-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
I would, however, encourage Avaaz to provide accurate historical information when addressing the matter. In your email of November 30, 2012, called “Huuuge Victory”, the following sentence appears to be misleading and inaccurate:
“65 years ago yesterday, the UN recognized the state of Israel, beginning a path to the establishment of a safe home for the Jewish people. Now the Palestinians take a step down the same path, …”
Please note that 65 years ago, the UN recognized both a Jewish state (Israel) and an Arab state (Palestine), beginning a path to the establishment of a safe home for both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people.
The newly created Jewish state expressed its desire to recognize without delay the Arab state. On the other hand, the entire Arab world – Palestinians included – rejected the establishment; not only of a Jewish state, but also of the very Palestinian state it asked the UN to recognize last week.
Please, let’s not ignore historical accuracy when celebrating the Palestinian success before the United Nations.
Succinct Historical Notes: (The following notes are extremely concise. Readers are encouraged to click on the various links to obtain additional information).
It is rather sad, indeed, to realize that 65 years of turmoil could have been spared for the entire region if the Palestinians and the Arab league had accepted in 1947 the statehood status they are seeking today – albeit for a slightly reduced portion of the land.
The land called “Palestine” was “inherited” by England after the First World War from the dismantled Ottoman Empire that had occupied the region since the 16th century.
The British Mandate for Palestine was formally established in 1922.
After the Second World War, England took steps to create independent countries from most of its overseas colonies in Asia, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Of the land called “Palestine” under British Mandate, the lion’s share was given to Emir Abdulah in 1946 to create a first Palestinian state called Transjordan, known today at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. That area, to the east of the Jordan River, represented roughly ¾ of the land (77%), depicted in pink on the map below. It was primarily inhabited by people of Palestinian descent and a much smaller Hashemite minority.
Under the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, the remaining land to the west of the Jordan River, (23%, depicted in dark yellow on the map above), was to be divided equally in 1947 to create a second Palestinian state and a Jewish state – primarily for Jewish refugees of the Holocaust or Jews expelled from Europe, Russia and various Arab countries.
The geographic partition actually allocated approximately 45% of the remaining land to an Arab state (in yellow on the map below) and 55% to a Jewish state (in orange on the map below). The 10% difference being a compensation for the fact that about half of the “Jewish land” was desertic land located in the Negev south of Beersheba.
Accordingly, the British deal for the region, backed by a UN resolution, provided in total approximately 87% of the land of “historical Palestine” to two Palestinian Arab states (Jordan and Palestine) and slightly less than 13% of the land to a Jewish state.
Unfortunately, the UN accord was rejected by all Arab states, including by the Palestinian representatives to the UN. Within hours of the declaration of independence of the state of Israel by its first president, David Ben Gurion, on May 14, 1948, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq invaded the newly created state.
It was predicted for the war to be short and for the Jewish people to be “pushed into the sea” in a mater of days. In order to avoid civilian casualties, Palestinians were urged, by the Palestinian Authority and invading armies, to leave the theater of operation and seek temporary refuge in Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring countries. It was estimated by the UN that approximately 711,000 Palestinians left precipitously in the early days of the war.
Against all odds, in a David against Goliath parabolic way, Israel managed to win the war, push back assailants and retain some of the land upheld from the aggressors – including part of Jerusalem, its historical and biblical capital. This war is known by the Israeli victors as its “War of independence” and by the defeated Palestinians as the “Catastrophe”, or “Nakba.”
Unable to return to the country they had fought and understandably unwelcomed by the wary Israelis they wanted to “push into the sea”, many Palestinians found themselves in refugee camps, primarily in the areas called the West Bank (under Jordanian control) and Gaza strip (under Egyptian control).
In 1949, Israel signed armistices with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, along the lines depicted on the map below. In the following months and years, approximately 800,000 to 1,000,000 Jews were expelled from various countries – primarily neighboring Arab countries. It has been estimated that most of them (around 680,000) found refuge in Israel.
While the exceedingly small country of Israel managed to absorb and integrate well over a million Jewish refugees over the years, sadly, the Palestinian refugees encouraged by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq to flee their homes in the first days of the war, were never welcomed by their wealthy Arab neighbours.
The Palestinian refugee disaster is by far the Arab world’s most appalling moral and humanitarian failure of the twentieth century. As Israel did with fellow Jews from all over the world, vast Arab countries with incommensurable wealth, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, etc. could have easily welcomed their Palestinian brothers. They instead opted, for sordid political and strategic reasons, to leave them in camps where they would remain for decades a thorn in Israel’s heel and a cheap source of Islamic Jihad and terrorism.
The total neglect and abandonment of Palestinian refugees by their prosperous Arab brothers is a shame and a disgrace of immense proportion that will leave an indelible stain of dishonor on all Arab nations for many years to come.
Hopefully, the establishment of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine will one day bring some peace and some normality to a badly battered region that has sadly forgotten its children.
Copy of the Avaaz email:
Avaazers, it’s time to celebrate!
Hours ago, the UN voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as the world’s 194th state!!! It’s a huge victory for the Palestinian people, for peace, for our community, and people across the world are joining with massive crowds in Palestine to celebrate.
The Palestinian people’s journey to freedom is far from over. But this is a powerful step, and our community played a key role in it. Responding to the vote, Palestine’s Ambassador to Europe said:
“Avaaz and its members across the world have played a crucial role in persuading governments to support the Palestinian people’s bid for a state and for freedom and peace. They have stood with us throughout and their solidarity and support will be remembered and cherished across Palestine.” – Leila Shahid, General Palestinian Delegate to Europe
Brussels Action: While EU leaders met, THIS was happening right outside their windows
Madrid Action: Avaaz members want Spain PM Rajoy to say YES!
The US and Israeli governments; beholden to extreme lobby groups (yes, sadly even Obama has given in), threw everything they had at crushing this vote, using financial threats and even threatening to overthrow the Palestinian President if he went ahead. Europe was the key swing vote, and under intense US pressure, leaders were, just two weeks ago, leaning towards not supporting the Palestinian state. Knowing the stakes, our community responded with the speed and democratic force that we needed to win:
Nearly 1.8 million of us signed the petition calling for statehood.
Thousands of us donated to fund public opinion polls across Europe — showing that a whopping 79% of Europeans supported a Palestinian state. Our polls were plastered all over the media, and repeatedly cited in Parliamentary debates in the UK, Spain and France!
We sent tens of thousands of emails, Facebook messages and Tweets to leaders across Europe and made thousands of calls to foreign ministries and heads of state.
We unfurled a giant 4-storey banner outside the EU Commission in Brussels (right) while leaders were meeting inside. Then, we staged another stunt in Madrid. Previously, we had sailed a flotilla of ships past the UN calling for a vote. Our actions made headlines all over Europe.
Avaaz staff and members met with dozens and dozens of government ministers, top advisors, senior journalists, parliamentarians and thought leaders in each of the key countries, in many cases teaming up to win over leaders one by one through advocacy, pressure, parliamentary resolutions and public statements, always drawing on the surge in people power behind this cause.
We reached out to key thought leaders like Stéphane Hessel, a 94-year old survivor of Nazi concentration camps, and Ron Pundak, an Israeli who played a key role in Oslo peace process, to speak out in favour of statehood.
One by one, key European states broke with the US to answer the call of justice and their peoples. In the final vote tally we got just now, only 9 countries out of 193 have voted against! France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and most of Europe has voted for Palestine.
The US and Israel argued first that statehood was dangerous for peace, and then, when they’d lost, that it didn’t matter and the vote was just symbolic. But if it were just symbolic they wouldn’t have done everything to try and stop it. And after years of bad-faith negotiations and Israeli comfort with the status quo as they steadily colonize more Palestinian land, this move shows the US and Israel that if they do not engage in good faith, the Palestinians and the world are prepared to move forward without them. It’s a more balanced basis for real peace talks. And that’s the best alternative to the kind of violence we saw Israel’s government and Hamas offer in Gaza this month.
For decades the Palestinian people have suffered under a stifling Israeli military dictatorship, repressive controls on their travel and work, continual denial of their rights and the constant threat of insecurity and violence. 65 years ago yesterday, the UN recognized the state of Israel, beginning a path to the establishment of a safe home for the Jewish people. Now the Palestinians take a step down the same path, and gain a dignity in the eyes of the international community that they have been denied for a generation. And from that dignity, we can build the foundations of peace.
With hope and joy,
Ricken, Alice, Ari, Wissam, Allison, Sam, Julien, Pascal, Wen, Pedro, Saravanan, Emma, Ben, Dalia, Alexey, Paul, Marie, Aldine, Luca, Jamie, Morgan and the whole Avaaz team.
PS Here are some sources – The Associated Press covers today’s victory, the Guardian covers our polling two weeks ago, Avaaz’s Daily Briefing provides a map of the vote result, and Haaretz describes Israel’s response.