I started medical studies in Liege, Belgium, in 1973. The Université de Liège had students from many countries. Americans studied there but also Arabs, Palestinians, Israelis, Russians, Chinese and many other nationals. I struck up a friendship with a Tunisian and we shared an apartment while attending to our studies.
Being Jewish, my loyalties were with Israel; as a Tunisian, Mohammed favored Palestinian concerns. Due to the international flavor on campus, the university was very clear that students would get along. Overt political activity or demonstrations meant expulsion. Students may have been enemies, but relationships remained respectful. I never witnessed hostilities. Mohammed and I remained friends many years after we left that campus and our views remained unchanged.
In October 1973 Mohammed and I were glued to Belgium television listening to accounts of the Yom Kippur War. A coalition of Arab states made war on Israel. Israel fought back the aggressors and I cheered; Mohammed hoped for another outcome. Egypt did regain some captured territory and acknowledged the State of Israel. Syria took a beating. I had a number of opportunities to speak to Palestinian university students committed to Israel’s destruction. These discussions were always respectful with a healthy exchange of ideas.
I questioned why Palestinians would sponsor horrific terrorist acts. The answer I received was less than satisfying. They said such actions maintained a world focus on Palestinian mistreatment. Long after I left Belgium, such acts would continue. Following the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority) came Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, Al Qaeda, and currently ISIS – all sworn enemies of Israel and the United States.
The 1917 British Balfour Declaration supported establishment of the Jewish homeland. The land was the historical site of ancient Jewish Kingdoms of Israel and Judea. The history of Palestine is a complex one and involves occupation based on biblical history.
Having lived there hundreds of years, Arabs claim ownership and biblical rights. Arabs remained a majority until the mass migration of Jews to Israel after WWII. In 1948 Israel was recognized as a state. This successful United Nations partition plan was rejected by Arab nations. Arab-Israeli deadly conflicts began.
Most European countries, including the U.S., were unfriendly to Jewish immigration during and after both world wars. However, the Jewish homeland struck a universal cord to other alternative relocations. The ever-present discrimination makes a homeland critical for Jewish survival.
Palestinians face hostilities aside from Israel. Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt (and others) have not welcomed this displaced population. Seven million Palestinians represent 1 in 3 refugees throughout the world. Typically the Arab nations separate Palestinians from the native populations, often in impoverished camps without citizen rights. Little is said about the treatment of Palestinians by their fellow Arabs. Palestinian lands are fragmented and displaced within the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and West Bank. However, a large Palestinian population lives in Israel as citizens with voting rights.
The Palestinians need a contiguous land of their own as did Israel. The first step is to acknowledge the State of Israel allowing needed efforts for a two-state solution. Reparations to displaced Palestinian families should be provided by the international community. Israel and adjacent Arab states should provide adequate acceptable land and resources to establish Palestine. The continued hostilities have no productive future and play into the hands of those profiting from conflict. Looking backward is not an option.
Dr. Marc J. Yacht is a semi-retired physician living in Hudson, Florida. Column is courtesy of Context Florida.