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Israel Often Placed in Defensive Position

I am writing to express my utmost support for the opinions expressed in Harry J. Pell's column ["Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself," April 21]. Israel's military actions have been the subject of extreme global scrutiny and criticism over the last several decades. I wish to go a step further than Pell by extending his argument to include the entire history of Israel. I argue that most of the blame for violence in the Middle East can ultimately be placed upon Israel's Arab neighbors.

At first glance, this argument may come across as prejudiced and extreme. However, I do not wish to excuse any of the reprehensible military actions that Israel has ever taken (of which there are many); I merely wish to put them into a historical perspective. Most people seem to have forgotten that the original United Nations plan for Israel in 1947 divided it into two states. These two states would have been approximately equal in size, with Jerusalem acting as the neutral capital. The founders of Israel happily accepted this plan and expressed quite clearly their intentions to live in peace with their Arab neighbors. Yet, within 24 hours of the declaration of the state on May 14, 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded the country, forcing it to defend itself.

The Arab armies lost that war, and in doing so they also lost most of the land that would have been a Palestinian state. Jordan ended up getting a smaller portion of the West Bank (along the borders of the West Bank as it is currently defined now), Egypt got a smaller part of the Gaza strip (once again along the borders as defined today), and Jerusalem was divided. Once again in 1967, with the imminent threat of attack from all three sides of the country, Israel took a pre-offensive attack in what would be known as the Six-Day War. Though Israel took the offensive, it was a question of how much longer it would have been until they were attacked themselves.

Yet again, the Arabs lost that war, and this time they lost all of their territories in the area. Such activity of Arab offensive and Israeli defensive has continued repeatedly since then. The "occupied" areas that resulted from the Six Day War, smaller than the areas that were originally allotted to the Arabs in 1948, have only been recently reclaimed by Palestinians through the peace negotiations of recent years.

Had Israel's neighbors accepted compromise in 1948, it is a lot less likely that Israel would have a 50-year history of violence. Had the Arabs spent all their energy supporting the proposed Palestinian state instead of trying to attack Israel, there would be a more prosperous and more peaceful Arab and Israeli existence in the Middle East than there is today. Instead, they have repeatedly forced Israel into the uncomfortable position of having to defend itself.

Jonathan Z. Litt '96