Jewish nationhood in Israel preceded the emergence of most modern nations by thousands of years. The Jewish people had sovereignty there for 1500 years until 2,000 years ago, when the Roman conquerors renamed it “Provincia Palaistina” in an attempt to obliterate its Jewish character.
Since then, until last century, most Jews lived outside Israel; however Jews worldwide have always dreamt of restoring the Jewish homeland, and there was always a Jewish presence there, especially in the study centres of Tiberius, Tsfat, Hebron and of course beloved Jerusalem. Israel has permeated Jewish prayers, literature, music and art for thousands of years.
Note that modern Israel today is inhabited by the same people, practising the same religion, with the same culture and language, that it had over 3,000 years ago.
Modern Zionism, the movement for Jewish self-determination and restoration of the national homeland, gained momentum in the late 1800s. My wife’s great-grandparents were part of that wave of returning Jews. They called themselves "Palestinians" using the Roman name for the region. No Arab inhabitants claimed then to be “Palestinians”.
In 1922, the League of Nations, referring to western Palestine (between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea), unanimously declared: “… recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” At the same time, the League similarly established Jordan (from the eastern 80% of Palestine), Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. All these nations were created from Turkish land captured by Britain and France in World War 1. (Who questions their national legitimacy?)
At that time there were two quite different reactions from the Arabs of the region.
On the one hand leaders like Hussein, Sharif of Mecca, who was the King of Syria and later King of Iraq, called on the Arab population to welcome the Jews as brothers. His son, the Emir Faisal, signed a treaty with the Zionist movement acknowledging western Palestine as a Jewish state. He wrote: "We Arabs … look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. ...we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home…"
Today over 1.5 million Arabs following that benign advice reside peacefully in Israel. They have full citizenship, representatives in the parliament, and judges on the high court. They enjoy a better life than most Arabs in Arab nations.
On the other hand the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem opposed Jewish restoration, engineered bloody anti-Jewish riots in 1921, 1929 and 1936, and suicide bombing of Arabs who refused to support his violent rejectionist campaign.
In World War 2 the Mufti collaborated with Hitler. If the ANZACs hadn’t held the Nazi forces off in North Africa, Palestinian Jews would have become victims of the Nazi genocide at the hands of the Mufti. After the war, he spent the rest of his life fomenting anti-Jewish violence. In 1948 he declared a Holy War: “…My Muslim Brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!"
His relative Yasir Arafat continued that war, as do many in the Arab world today, keeping their impoverished brethren as eternal refugees for cannon fodder. They aren’t concerned with borders or what “kind of co-existence” is on offer. Fatah leader Sakher Habash explained the real agenda in 1998: “…the refugee issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state…”
Surely it’s time for Arab leaders, and their misguided western supporters, to abandon violent rejection, and instead follow enlightened leadership to peaceful co-existence.