Claims to Jerusalem

The Jewish claim to Jerusalem really needs no explanation to anyone schooled in a Judeo-Christian heritage.  Jerusalem was the capital of King David’s Kingdom of Israel from around 1,000 bce.  After the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 720 bce, Jerusalem remained the capital of the Kingdom of Judah until it too was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 bce.  Thereafter the Jews, who originate in Judah (or Judea as it was known by the Romans), considered Jerusalem as their capital.  There are over 800 references to Jerusalem in the Bible. Jerusalem was re-established as the capital when the Jews returned from exile led by the prophet Ezra around 458 bce.  Later, Jerusalem was captured by the Romans in 70 ce, and subsequently controlled by the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Turks, until it was captured by the British in 1917 and was then re-established as the capital of Israel in 1948.

It is not generally known that the Jews constituted a majority in Jerusalem since statistics were collected, starting in 1896 by the British, until the present day (see Figure).

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In regard to Muslim claims on Jerusalem, it should be noted that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran.  The one reference in the Koran that is considered to refer to Jerusalem actually refers to “the northernmost Mosque.” Mohammed is supposed to have taken his night ride there on his steed Burak.  But this is impossible, since Mohammed died in 632 ce and Jerusalem was not captured by Arab forces until 639 ce.  Further, a Mosque was not erected on the Temple Mount until nearly 100 years later.  In fact the Muslim claim to Jerusalem is a later fabrication, made to enhance their claim to the city.  Scholars of Islam themselves have affirmed that Jerusalem has no truly sacred significance to Muslims.

A group of leaders of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation met in Istanbul this week under the sponsorship of Pres. Erdogan of Turkey.  They affirmed their rejection of Pres. Trump’s declaration of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  They rejected the US as a neutral mediator for the Palestinians and proposed to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State. Unfortunately for them, no such state exists.  Further, if it did, it would be a failed state, much like the rest of the Muslim world, including Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.  Furthermore, there is competition between the Sunni States, lead by Turkey, and the Shia States, led by Iran, to out-do each other in their hateful statements about Israel and Jews.  But, also, much of the Arab world, including the so-called moderate Sunni States, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States, have kept a low profile on this subject.

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The Oscar Slater Case

In 1908 in an affluent district of Glasgow, an old spinster, Marion Gilchrist, was bludgeoned to death.  One very valuable diamond brooch and some papers were stolen.  Soon the police case focused on one Oscar Slater, a German Jew originally named Lechziner, who had been living in Glasgow and who was known to the police as a petty crook.

What was very suspicious was that he left Glasgow soon after the murder and was on his way to New York by ship with a lady friend.  A police inspector was sent with two witnesses, who had caught a glimpse of a man rushing from the house, all the way to New York to identify him.  They were not sure, but they thought it might be him, and he was arrested by the NY police.   He proclaimed his innocence and waived extradition, which proved to be a very foolish thing to do, since the police case was extremely weak, and the American court might have simply released him.  He was taken back to Glasgow for trial.  By the time he arrived back the case had become a cause celebre.  The fact that he was a German Jew was not overlooked.

I must confess I had not heard of this infamous case before, but attended a lecture about it given by Kenneth Collins, a doctor and a medical historian visiting from Scotland.  The prosecution case against Slater was flawed from the beginning.  He did not have the brooch and he had arranged his passage to NY long before the murder.  Although there was evidence that a chair leg had been used as the murder weapon, the police decided that a very small goldsmith’s hammer in Slater’s possession was the murder weapon, although it could not have been.  Very quickly the case against Slater was fabricated, based on flimsy evidence and ignoring many other possibilities.

Police Inspector Det. Lieut. Trench who had been involved in the case at the beginning, was excluded because he was sceptical of Slater’s guilt.  He suspected that three men had been involved and that they were probably from the victim’s family.  Her nephew was known to be a dissolute individual and she had recently written a new will to exclude him from her inheritance, and this will was missing from her papers.  Because he persisted in pursuing the case and went over the heads of his fellow detectives, Trench was dismissed from the force and prosecuted.  He was only exonerated in 1994.

After a prejudicial summing up by the Judge, Slater was found guilty by a jury by 9 to 6 and very unusually was sentenced to death.  The Rabbi of the Congregation started a petition to pardon him, although the Jewish community was not involved.  60,000 people signed the petition and on the eve of his execution Slater’s sentence was commuted to life at hard labor.  The case attracted the attention of Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories, who had studied medicine in Edinburgh.  He wrote a book about the case and was convinced of Slater’s innocence.  He financed an appeal and after 19 years Slater was finally released, and awarded GBP 6,000, although he was not exonerated.  No one else was ever tried for the murder.  The victim’s family had strong ties to the police and the judiciary, and Slater was a convenient scapegoat, with a strong element of anti-Semitism involved.

Bolshevik Revolution Centenary

Of all the centenaries that occur in 2017, that commemorating the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 is perhaps the most significant historically.  Actually the so-called October Revolution occurred in October according to the Czarist calendar, but was on Nov 7 according to the western calendar.

Many people are not aware that the insurrection that removed the Czar took place initially in February, 1917, and resulted in the formation of a provisional government in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) led by Alexander Kerensky, a moderate socialist.  But, the leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRP) of Russia, namely the Bolsheviks of Vladimir Lenin, were not satisfied with this outcome and sought to overthrow Kerensky’s Government, that they succeeded in doing in the October Revolution.

“Bolshevik” means majority in Russian, and the split between the Bosheviks and the Mensheviks (minority) goes back to the first international congress of the SRP that took  place in 1903 when the Jewish Bund Party that was affiliated with the SRP were persuaded by Lenin to side with his interpretation that the SRP must be a truly revolutionary party, while the minority who voted against (the Mensheviks) were in favor of more constitutional and opportunistic means (such as forming coalitions with other socialist parties).  At the time this seemed like a reasonable difference, but no-one could envisage that it would lead to the death of all those who opposed the Bolsheviks.  This included the Mensheviks  and the Bund who later had separated from the SRP, who were all murdered by Stalin.

Lenin (born Ulyanov) owed a lot to Stalin (born Djugashvilli), who had robbed banks for  the SRP.   He was also one of the few non-Russians in the leadership of the Party, so Lenin promoted him and put him in charge of the nationality policy of the Party.  After the Bolsheviks took power in the coup of October, 1917, they instituted the “terror” that engulfed millions of people.  Stalin was so ruthless in carrying this out that he was once again promoted by Lenin to be editor of the Party newspaper.  But, then in 1922 and 1923 Lenin suffered two strokes that left him paralyzed, and when he died in 1924 Stalin took over control of the Soviet Government as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

The rest, as they say, is history.  It took another 70 years until Communism in Russia was overthrown.  Robert Conquest, a brilliant historian of the USSR, calculated from later census statistics, from the discrepancy between men and women, that Stalin had murdered ca. 80 million (!!) people during his various reigns of terror over 70 years.  Every evening he was given a list of those hundreds to be executed by a bullet to the back of the neck in the cellars of the Lyubyanka prison, and he approved them.  We should not forget how Stalinism devolved into a ruthless murderous dictatorship, like that of  North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, because people gave up their liberty to a Party.

The Battle of Beer-Sheva Centenary

This year 2017 is the centenary of the Battle of Beer-Sheva that took place on Oct 31, 1917.   That historic battle was a turning point in WWI and for the Middle East as a whole.

The Battle of Beer-Sheva came about as a result of strategic mistakes on both sides of the conflict.   The British were not making any gains on the Western front in trench warfare against the Germans and when Turkey joined with Germany, Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill decided to open an Eastern Front by making a quick and poorly planned attack against Turkey at the Dardanelles leading to Istanbul.  Five British Navy ships were sent, but they were fired upon as they approached the narrow straits and retreated.  This led to the decision to send ground troops into the Dardanelles. But the delay allowed Turkish General Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk) to bring in a defensive force, that pinned the landing troops down and led to the defeat at Gallipoli in which many Australian troops (ca. 8,000) were killed.

Meanwhile the triumvirate of young Turks who had effectively taken over the Turkish government, with German advice and support, sent their main army to Gaza in an attempt to take the Suez Canal from the British who controlled Egypt.  This led to the British sending an Egyptian Expeditionary Force to  block this attempt.   Under Gen. Maxwell the British counter-attacked Gaza but were defeated twice at great cost by the Turks.  Maxwell was then replaced by Gen Allenby, who tried to devise an alternative approach.

Aaron Aaronsohn, a Jewish Palestinian agronomist, who ran the pro-British spy ring known as Nili, and who had studied the topography of the Sinai desert, advised Allenby to instead attack Beer-Sheva.  This was a dangerous  maneuver, but with knowledge of the water sources it was feasible.  A British intelligence officer Richard Meinertzhagen (of German origin) in a ruse dropped a haversack containing maps near the Turkish front lines that convinced them that the British would attack Gaza again.  Meanwhile a large British force crossed the desert in strict secrecy.   They attacked on Oct. 31 and the Australian Light Horse regiment with a New Zealand contingent, part of the ANZAC corps, galloped over the plain before the Turkish lines and captured the wells and defeated the Turks.  This was considered a recompense for the defeat at Gallipoli.

Today was the centenary of that battle and there were several celebrations in Beer-Sheva.  We walked about 5 mins from where we now live to see the parade of the Australian Light Horse soldiers, who then went on to partially re-enact the famous horse charge, one of the last in history.   There was a ceremony at the British Military Cemetery where many Australian soldiers are buried, at which PM Netanyahu spoke and the Australian PM attended.  They also opened a museum commemorating the event. There was a ceremony at the memorial to the Turkish soldiers who died fighting here and an event for the New Zealanders.

Because their army was out-flanked at Beer-Sheva, the Turks were forced to withdraw from Gaza, which allowed Allenby to advance and capture Jerusalem by Christmas 1917, the first major success for the Allies in WWI.  As a result of the victory at Beer-Sheva Palestine fell to the British and this led to the British Mandate for Palestine and ultimately the establishment of the State of Israel.  The Turkish Empire collapsed and resulted in the formation of the Turkish Republic under Kemal Ataturk and six Arab countries (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Arabia and Kuwait) and one small Jewish State – Israel.

Balfour Declaration Centenary

Think of it this way, suppose we were not Jews living in Israel.  A group of people, a tribe or nation, gets a Declaration from a major imperial power that they should get their own homeland.  Then a major war is fought and after the war as part of the peace agreement that Declaration is enshrined into international law by an international body, in this case the League of Nations, and then confirmed by the United Nations.  Subsequently that imperial power (GB) leaves the scene and the contestants for the Land fight it out.  The side with the Declaration wins and the other loses.  Then this side declares itself a State and the UN recognizes it.  End of story.

Unfortunately not quite, because many actors on the sidelines refuse to accept the reality, and they are still tilting at windmills, still trying to reverse history, which cannot be reversed after 70 years.  Think of all the enormous things that have happened since then, the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the collapse of most of the Arab regimes, and so on.  Can any of it be reversed?  Of course not!  It defeats logic to believe it can be.

The letter by Sir Arthur Balfour. then British Foreign Secretary, that declared that the British Government would support the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in a part of the Turkish Empire after it was defeated started the whole process.  But, lets face facts, this was only the imprimatur that the Zionists needed.  They would have established a State anyway.  But, it puts the lie to those idiots who deny that Israel has a “right to exist” since it does exist and will continue to do so, and nobody can alter that fact.

There are still people who have the desire and intention of trying to alter that fact, even 100 years after the Balfour Declaration was issued.  Notably the Iranians and those terrorist organizations it supports, Hamas and Hezbollah.  But, there is negligible likelihood that they will ever be able to carry out their recurrent threats.  So although we may celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and many articles will be written about its significance. nevertheless it is long since past history.  Let’s get on with the job of continuing to build our thriving country – Israel.

Catalan and Kurdish Independence

In principle I support all national groups to achieve self-determination.  But as I argued before, it’s not as simple as that in practice (see Isblog, “Self-Determination” Oct 8, 2017).  There is a tendency for large Empires to break up.  After WWI the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires were defeated and fell apart.  After WWII, the British, German and Japanese Empires collapsed.  After the fall of communism the Soviet Union’s Empire gave rise to 15 independent countries (Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia) and Yugoslavia to 6 (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina).  You’d think there would be space for a few more, but the current two which have declared independence face insuperable odds.

Catalonia has been a part of Spain for hundreds of years and faces significant opposition from the Spanish State.  They will be fearful that if they allow Catalonia to go, then the others will follow, such as the Basque region etc.  Kurdistan faces insuperable opposition, from Iraq, Iran and Turkey, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities.   There is likely to be a war in both cases.  Such independence is rarely achieved without a fight, as Israel discovered.  The earth is so crowded with competing forces that any piece of it is sure to be fought over.  Established countries don’t like to be broken up, they would rather fight a civil war, as did the USA.

In the modern world there is definitely a move towards more compact defensible ethnically homogeneous countries.  Quality now predominates over quantity in military affairs, as Israel has proven so exceptionally.  Also, with a modern technologically based economy any small country can make it, look at Singapore.   It is not difficult to predict that Scotland will move towards independence, ironically to remain in the EU.  This could trigger the breakup of the so-called United Kingdom, reversing centuries of English conquest and domination.  The world will start to look different.

The Man with the Iron Heart

The man with the iron heart” is the title of a recent movie about Reinhard Heydrich and is also the nickname that Hitler gave to him, his favorite protegé.   Heydrich was a naval officer when he was court-martialled for taking advantage of a woman.  He was embittered and then joined the Nazi party.  He rose to become head of SS intelligence and showed his ruthless anti-Semitic character.   Hitler liked him for his dedication to the cause and for his blond blue-eyed Aryan look, something Hitler himself lacked, with his mousey brown hair and silly mustache.

When WWII started Hitler put Heydrich in charge of the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile Special Forces units that swept through occupied Eastern Europe murdering ca. 1.5 million Jews.  But because this process was not efficient enough, Heydrich then organized the Wannsee Conference in 1941, in which the program for the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem was revealed.  His aim was to kill all 11 million European Jews.  For his ruthless dedication Hitler appointed Heydrich the “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” (Czechoslovakia).   In this role he was also known for his extreme ruthlessness in stamping out Czech resistance and was called “The Butcher of Prague.”

Two Czech soldiers serving in the British Army, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, were chosen to be parachuted behind enemy lines and make their way to Prague, where they cooperated with the resistance in a plan to assassinate Heydrich.  No senior German official had been assassinated by the resistance throughout Europe, partly because the Germans carried out terrible reprisals.  Because Heydrich was so arrogant he took few security precautions, so they planned to shoot him as he was driven one morning down from the Castle into the town.

They managed to do this in June 1942, even against great odds, and Heydrich died later that night.  The reprisals that the Nazis took were indeed terrible, they suspected the village of Lidice outside Prague of having been involved in the plot, and so they murdered everyone in the village, altogether ca. 1,300 people, and burned the village to the ground, a heinous atrocity.  The two Czech soldiers were found and committed suicide before being captured.

This is not an easy movie to watch, its subject matter and action are not entertaining.  But, it is very well made and acted and I highly recommend it.  We should all know what actually happened during WWII, even though mankind has not been able to prevent such kind of events recurring.