Following is PART TWO of a Theme: “HOW THE NATIONS OF THE MIDDLE EAST HAVE USED THEIR INDEPENDENCE, of which PART ONE (“A Bird’s eye View of the Years 1945 to the Present: THE ARAB NATIONS”) appeared on this site here (August 21, 2013).
PART TWO: Israel, 1948 to the present
Over the last decade (as noted in my previous essay) UN bodies concerned with performance of the duties that governments have towards their citizens have noted modest improvements in all corners of the globe –everywhere, that is, except in the Middle East. It is also significant that in Africa, where overall performance has modestly improved, the exceptions are all Muslim regimes. Only political correctness stands in the way of noting these facts and stating them out loud.
How Israel Used the First Two Decades of Her National Independence
Just as there are exceptions – all Muslim ones –to the rule of modest success on the African scene, so there is one exception to the rule of failure in the Middle East. It is exceptional in several sense. One is that it is not an Arab notion (although it has a sizable Arab minority); and a second is that it has never been ruled by dictators. This, of course, is the State of Israel.
It cannot be said that Israel has had an easier row to hoe than had the others. In the very first hours of her life, the State of Israel was embroiled in a battle for her life, imposed upon her by the refusal of the Arab Muslim nations to admit her into the company of nations. A second great challenge followed from the same cause: it was to absorb an unending flow of immigrants. The burden of loss of life and dislocation that always goes with all-out war Israel was also suffered by Israel’s Arab neighbours. But the challenge of accommodating masses of refugees from war Israel bore alone. The United Nations (through UNRWA and other programmes) took responsibility for the care and feeding of Arab refugees from the first and from all the subsequent wars against Israel.
Accommodating immigrants has never been a preoccupation of Arab governments — unless we count the temporary accommodation of expatriate workers from Arab lands laboring today for the oil-rich Kings and Sheiks. The thought of making new citizens out of immigrants never arises in the Arab world, given that no opportunity to acquire citizenship is offered by the Kings and the Sheiks, and virtually nothing is done to attach foreign “guests” permanently to Arab lands – no economic opportunity, no opportunity for education (except at institutions of Islamic learning), no opportunity for freedom of speech, no religious freedom, no protections for cultural separateness.
Between May 14, 1948 and the end of 1951, 684,201 Jews were admitted to the new State of Israel. The vast majority of these immigrants were refugees fleeing from homelessness or repression in Europe, Africa or the Arab World; but smaller numbers came from affluent corners of the Diaspora — including 1,711 from the U.S. (1948-1951.) Because of the refusal of the Arab populations in 1947-1948 to countenance the decision of the UN for the Partition of the Mandate of Palestine, between 1948 and 1954 an estimated 850,000 Middle Eastern Jews (“Sephardim”) had to flee from Muslim countries. The ancestors of these Jews had been resident, in some cases, in those lands for up to two-and-a half millennia – many centuries longer than the ancestors of the current Arab rulers and their Arab subjects.
During those seven years, 1948-1954, the Jewish population in Middle East and North African lands dropped from around 900,000 to less than 50,000. Most of those Jews who came from Muslim lands had been stripped of their assets by Muslim mobs and Arab governments. They arrived destitute. At once, this new citizenry, exceeding in number the whole population of the Jewish State at the time of its declaration in May 1948, was fed and sheltered; within a short time, they were all educated and provided with employment by the Jewish State (assisted by Jews of the diaspora.) Thereafter, no one ever singled them out against as “refugees,” since, all Israelis started as “refugees.” Not a penny has ever come from the UN to assist any of these Jewish refugees, On the contrary, Israel and the world Jewish community have quietly paid up many millions of dollars to the regimes of Ethiopia, Syria, Sudan, Iran and, during the last years of the Soviet Empire, to the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc regimes – in effect ransoming their people from regimes which had publicly denounced them as traitors and turned mobs against them.
While the flow of immigrants from Europe and the Americas subsided to a more-or-less-steady trickle after 1949, there have been a number of massive immigration exercise organized on short notice for large communities of people living all over the globe, claiming to be Jewish and facing severe persecution, but for whom the rest of the world felt even less obligation than for the refugees from Hitler. Among the better known examples was the airlift of 46, 000 Yemenis (1949-1950) and two major airlift operations (in 1984 and again in 1991) which brought in about 22,000 Ethiopian Jews. Beginning in the late 1980s, and continuing to the first years of the Twenty-First Century, a new dimension was added to this story by the absorption of about a million and a half Jews from the collapsed Communist empire. Israel’s population, estimated in May, 1948, at 800,000 has just recently reached 8 million — a tenfold increase.
From the earliest years of modern Zionism, opponents of the Zionist project sought to prevent unlimited immigration of Jews toPalestine with the argument that the land was simply too small (it is about the size of Maryland) and too barren to support much more than the few hundred thousands that lived there before the Balfour Declaration. Today, Israel’s population is just about 8 million and the population density is 626 persons per square mile (urban to rural being 92>8.) Israel’s population density is among the highest in the world. By comparison, the population of Egypt (which our journalists tend to describe as “teeming”) is 155 per square mile, that ofJordan is 90, Syria’s is 181, Iraq’s 116, Iran’s 100, Saudi Arabia’s 21, Libya’s 6. Of Arab states, only Lebanon has greater population density than Israel’s – viz, 842 per square mile.
Relative to its population, Israel has absorbed far more immigrants in recent decades than has any other country in the world; there is no close second in this contest – not the U.S., not Canada, not Australia, not any other country. Today, only 50% of its citizens are Israel-born. [More details, together with references, can be found in my book, Those That Bless You I Will Bless, Chapter Sixteen.]
Considering the gargantuan distractions incidental to accommodating these millions of immigrants; considering the number of major wars of self-defense that Israel has had to conduct as well as unceasing terrorist campaigns subsidized by all the major Muslim philanthropies and Muslim governments; considering the enormous expenditures involved in maintaining a first-class military and security establishment; considering the constant drain of Israel’s industrial and commercial energies and the disruption of family life that is caused by the obligatory annual military service of almost the entire body of young and middle-aged men and women – it is not less than amazing that Israel has built up and continues to sustain the only modern industrial economy in the entire region and one of the most advanced in the world.
The average per capita income in Israel exceeds that in the U.K. Israel produces the second-largest number of new books per capita in the world. Israel has the highest average living standard in the Middle East; there are no runners-up. Israel’s 100 billion dollar economy is larger than that of all of its immediate neighbours combined. Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to population in the world. Israel is number two in the world for venture capital funds, right behind the Unite States. Israel, which has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per capita, leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce: 145 per 10,000, compared to 80 in the U.S. 70 in Japan and 60 in Germany.
Especially relevant to our present theme is the fact that the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy standards of life in all the important categories (health, welfare, income, and so on) higher than are enjoyed by Arab citizens of any of the neighbouring Arab states.
Hypothetically, it would be instructive to turn this coin over and compare the relative living conditions of Arabs living in Israel to that of Israelis living in Arab countries – but, of course, there is nobody in that latter category.
Until Israel handed over to the PLO responsibility for most aspects of civilian life (following the Oslo Accords of 1993), most of these blessings were still being enjoyed by Arabs living in Judaea and Samaria who were not citizens of Israel. But those days ain’t no more.
Israel’s Experience with Democracy
For nearly three years now, the world has been waiting for the Arab Spring to provide proof that Arab nations are capable of making the transition to democracy. The situation was quite different with Israel. When it came into the world as a modern state in 1948 it was already a democracy, although not yet a sovereign one. In 1922 the Churchill White Paper, a British policy statement, confirmed that the Jews of Palestine were there “by right” and not on sufferance. The means by which the Zionists could take advantage of this pledge came as a result of Article Four of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, ratified by the League Council in July, 1922. This stated that that “an appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognized as a public body for the purpose of advising and cooperating with the administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as shall affect the establishment of the Jewish nation inPalestine.” For this purpose the Article recognizes “the Palestinian representatives of the Jewish Agency” — a body composed of delegates chosen through democratic election by Jews throughout Europe, the U.K. and America, as well as by those resident inPalestine. Political parties were already mature phenomena, operating within the bounds of this and other Jewish bodies. Within the World Zionist Organization and then within the Jewish Agency general principles and specific policies for governing life in a Jewish polity were worked out and recommended to the governing British. It was the President of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, who became the President of the Provisional Government of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. When the War for Independence ended, it became possible to hold, on January 25, 1949 a democratic election for a constituent Assembly that became the first Parliament (Knesset) of Israel.
The right of the leaders of the Jewish Agency to publicly announce the birth of he State of Israel, as they did on May 14, 1948, was thus secured by democratic decision of the Jewish people of Israel. The question on that day was not therefore whether Israelwould evolve into a democracy, but whether it would remain a democracy. In 1949, people in Israel and all around the world wondered whether the strain of paying for the war and the cost of accommodating that huge influx of immigrants would put too much strain upon the democratic machinery. Subsequent crises and their attendant strains upon the spirit of compromise required by democratic method have caused many people to return to this question: can democracy survive in embattled Israel. But as I write, Israel has just completed the election for her Nineteenth Knesset. No Arab state has yet to complete its second free and democratic national election.