June 12, 2018

What the World Always Forgets About Gaza

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON-The first thing that strikes you about the Gaza Strip is how small it is.

Constrained by the Egyptian desert to its south, the Mediterranean to its west, and the barbed wire and concrete barriers of Israel to its north and east, Gaza is just 25 miles long and about five miles wide. Traded back and forth by empires since the Bronze Age, Gaza was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the 16th Century until Britain claimed it after World War I, Egypt took it after the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and Israel seized it during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Today, 1.4 million Palestinians live on that strip, most of them descendants of 600,000 Palestinians who fled to Gaza and the West Bank in 1948 after Arab armies – who were unwilling to accept a 1947 United Nations plan to create two states, one Arab and one Jewish, out of British Palestine – chose to attack instead, only to be routed by the Israeli army. Many Palestinians in Gaza still live in refugee camps, waiting for the so-called “right of return,” where they hope to reclaim property left behind by their grandparents 70 years ago on land known then as Palestine but known ever since as the state of Israel.

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November 2, 2017

The Real Lesson from the Balfour Declaration

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON—One of the most famous letters in history was 67 words long, written on stationary from the Imperial Hotel in London, and delivered one hundred years ago today. Neither its author nor its recipient could have imagined the elation and the heartbreak it would cause for humanity over the following century, or how intractable the conflict spurred by its message, as captured in a Times of London headline at the time – “Palestine For The Jews!” – would remain to this day.

All anyone knew in November of was that the First World War was into its third year. British forces, with the help of Arab fighters, were on the verge of driving the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and capturing Jerusalem, which was no accident: Britain had promised Arab leaders that if they helped defeat the Ottomans, London would support a unified Arab state across the Palestinian peninsula. Yet, Jewish leaders held out hope that Britain would make real a vision first articulated by Austrian writer Theodor Herzl in the face of growing anti-Semitism across Europe in 1896: that Judaism wasn’t just a religion, but a nationality – and that the Jewish people, scattered across the world, deserved to have their own state in their ancient ancestral land of Israel, which just happened to be the same land Arabs knew as Palestine.

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September 18, 2015

What If Washington Were Jerusalem?

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–As one of the American citizens who was born in Israel and is well versed in Middle East affairs, my friend Raphael Benaroya has an interesting way of demonstrating for his fellow Americans what it is like to live in Israel. As the debate over Tehran reaches farcical levels – with even Donald Trump coming to the Capitol to bloviate against Congress while Tea Party diehards in the audience took turns hitting a punching bag in the image of Barack Obama – I keep coming back to Raphael as a means of understanding the depth of Israeli anger and Jewish rage over the agreement.

As Raphael explains, it was 225 years ago that America’s capital – the city of Washington, in the District of Columbia – was carved out of land donated by the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia. Today, it occupies a footprint slightly larger than the city of Jerusalem, which sits some 6,000 miles away, and it lives in relative peace. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if, Raphael asks, rather than sitting in comfort and security, the District of Columbia instead lived with the same reality that Israeli Jews are confronted with each day?

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August 10, 2015

Turkey and the Kurds Need An Antwerp Agreement

by Stanley A. Weiss

LONDON–Exactly 95 years ago, the Ottoman Empire came to an end. On August 10, 1920, the Ottomans and the Allied powers signed the Treaty of Sѐvres, partitioning the Middle East between European nations. Palestine and Iraq went to the British, who also maintained influence in the kingdom that would become Saudi Arabia. The French were granted Lebanon and Syria. Italy claimed large swaths of Turkey. In a nod to President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination, the Kurds–largely Sunni Muslims but an ethnically distinct minority–were set to receive their long dreamed-of homeland, an independent Kurdistan.

Ironically, as many historians have noted, the treaty was signed in Sѐvres’ famed porcelain factory–a remarkably poor symbol for an unbreakable agreement. Indeed, the ink on the treaty was barely dry before an ambitious young Turkish soldier named Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) launched a war of independence and built the modern state of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, swallowing up the Kurds’ promised land in the process.

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November 12, 2013

Let’s Remember What Iran Has Said About Israel

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON-It is one of the great ironies of history that the nation of Israel–and likely, the religion of Judaism as we know it–would not exist if it weren’t for an ancient king from the land that is now Iran. More than 25 centuries ago, it was Cyrus the Great, the founder and first ruler of the Persian Empire, who rose from his roots in present-day southwestern Iran to overthrow the Babylonian Empire, free 40,000 Jews held in captivity and facilitate their return to Judea, the site of present-day Israel.

Of course, this is not a history that you will read in any Iranian textbook. Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution was launched 34 years ago last week by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, two generations of his disciples, in the words of Islamic scholar Andrew Bostom, “have embraced jihad as a central pillar of faith and action” featuring “an unending campaign of vilification and proxy violence against the ‘Zionist entity,’ Israel.” But with Western and Iranian diplomats coming close to an agreement that would provide Iran with limited relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for a temporary freeze on some of its nuclear activities, Israel has been cast as the skunk at the garden party.

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May 2, 2013

Mr. President, Please Don’t Let Erdogan Play America, Too

by Stanley A. Weiss

WASHINGTON–For a man who has spent ten of the past 14 years as the only inmate of a Turkish island prison on the Sea of Marmara, Abdullah Öcalan knows how to make his voice heard. Last month, the longtime leader of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had a message read to a million Kurds gathered in southeastern Turkey, announcing that the moment had come to end his Party’s 29-year war against Turkey. It was time, he said of the conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives, for “the guns to fall silent and for ideas to speak;” for Turks and Kurds to “unite under the banner of Islam;” to work together toward “a new Turkey.”

But imagine for a moment if Öcalan had issued a different statement: that the time had come for Kurds in Iraq and Syria to join the PKK in launching an all-out war on Turkey. Imagine if he cited Ankara’s leaders for “crimes against humanity,” while proclaiming that Turkey had “no right to exist.” Imagine if the Kurds launched unprovoked missile attacks into Turkish cities. And imagine if Turkey’s ally of 65 years, Israel, then tried to sneak supplies to the Kurdish forces–only to see eight Israelis and one Israeli-born American killed in the process by Turkish troops.

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June 15, 2012

Israel’s Future: When It’s Jew Versus Jew

WASHINGTON—It’s a measure of Nazi effectiveness in destroying the centers of Jewish learning that when Israel was created in 1948, there were just 400 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the entire state. Aware of the desire to revive Jewish religious study after the Holocaust, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, cut a deal: Haredi Jews, as the ultra-Orthodox are known, could spend all their time studying the Torah. They wouldn’t have to serve in the military like other Israelis, and they wouldn’t have to work—the state would support them. Like most Jews, the prime minister believed the deal would be short-lived: he assumed that Haredi students weren’t long for the modern world.

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June 1, 2012

Making Yoni Netanyahu’s Sacrifice Matter

PARIS—Forty-nine years ago last week, a 17-year-old Jonathan Netanyahu—having recently arrived in America from Israel with his parents and two younger brothers—wrote a remarkable letter to a friend back home. “Man does not live forever, and he should put the days of his life to the best possible use,” he wrote. “I only know that I don’t want to reach a certain age, look around me and suddenly discover that I’ve created nothing.”

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April 27, 2012

Iran is to India as Pakistan is to the U.S.

NEW DELHI—Tourists flying into this ancient city are sometimes surprised to find their descent re-routed at the last minute by the presence of an 86-foot bronze statue that sits at the end of a runway. The giant icon depicts none other than Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism’s most popular and powerful gods. Known alternatively as the destroyer and the creator, family man and hermit, teacher and warrior, kind herdsman and wrathful avenger—Shiva is, like India itself, a perfect symbol of contradictions.

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November 15, 2011

Inside the Mind of the Atari Ayatollah

LONDON— Twelve centuries ago, the political leader who ruled the Islamic Abbasid Empire from his seat in Baghdad—named Abu Ja’far al-Mansur—was asked what it took to govern the massive swath of land that stretched from modern-day Tunisia to Pakistan. He said, “There are four people I need by my side:  the chief judge, the chief of police, the chief of taxation, and the postmaster—who keeps tabs on the first three and writes me reliable reports about them.”  Clearly, Iraq’s reputation as land of corruption, infighting and double-dealing has deep roots.

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