Roots of Middle East terrorism: a personal view

RESPECTFULLY, I write this abridged story of my personal observations leading to today's Middle East terrorism and of the United States role in ensuring its success. As I was sailing from New York to Haifa for graduate study in Palestine from October 1936 to May 1937, one of my shipboard companions was a young Jewish lad, very excited over his coming school year in the Holy Land. We parted in Haifa, and I went on to Jerusalem.

Toward spring, he came to see me. What a changed and unhappy young man he was! He told me that each morning his Zionist teacher greeted his class saying, ``How many Arabs do you want to kill today?'' He liked the Arabs and did not want to hate or harm them. He wanted to return to the US early, but he said his family would not understand or believe him if he explained why.

My young friend had not been in the Old City of Jerusalem, which I had learned to love deeply. I wanted him to visit the city with me, but he was afraid.

An American archaeologist who overheard us said he would not have allowed me to take him there. ``The Arabs know those `schools' [which my friend attended] and he might be recognized.'' He explained that young Jews were being trained for guerrilla gangs, Menachem Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi, and Yitzhak Shamir's ``Stern gang.''

The Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, were hospitable, generous, friendly, and kind. They were all deeply proud of ``the Holy City'' and of their land.

People of high culture, they lived simply in city, town, or village. Each home, of wealth or not, had its individual beauty and warmth of welcome. I planned to return, even to retire there eventually.

When I did return 10 years later for almost two years I was not prepared for what I found: the aggressiveness of Zionism, the weakness of the Arabs, the complete trust by Arabs in the US government, and US betrayal of that trust.

I was at the United Nations in 1947 when the British delegate made it clear that Britain could no longer govern Palestine and would withdraw in May of 1948. He requested the formation of a coalition of governments to assist in solving the problem.

This was not done. One week before the British left Palestine, the American consul in Jerusalem, backed by his French and Belgian counterparts, extracted a promise from the Jewish Agency and King Abdullah of Jordan not to fight in Jerusalem when the British withdrew.

Ten minutes after the British left Jerusalem -- an awesome exodus to witness -- the Haganah (Jewish military) began firing on the city.

King Abdullah insisted that he would ``keep his promise'' and that ``the Americans would make the Jews go back.'' The King did not send in the Arab Legion for four days -- and then only after Palestinian leaders begged him on their knees, they told me, to save what remained of Jerusalem.

When President Roosevelt met with the King of Saudi Arabia in 1945, he said that Palestinians and other Arabs must be consulted on any plans for Palestine. But five days later, Roosevelt was dead; his promise went unheeded.

There was also an excellent plan, requested by the US government, for a united Palestine, with equal and fair representation from Arab villages, Jewish settlements, etc., but it was suppressed while the US forced a second vote in the UN on the issue of partition and ensured its acceptance.

The first vote had been negative. It was only too obvious that the US was supporting the aggressors in a terrorist-established state.

Many Jews in Palestine and in America resisted Zionism, and still do. Jewish friends in Palestine said Mr. Begin should and would be put in prison. Mr. Shamir also was a ``wanted man'' in England.

To my knowledge at least 10 outstanding American citizens went from Palestine and other points east and west to President Truman, begging for a just solution of the problem.

His only recorded answer was ``I have no Arab constituents.''

A million innocent people were reduced to second-class citizens in their own country, and another million were killed or became refugees. Before Zionism, only 11 percent of Palestine's population was non-Arab. By 1948 Jewish immigration had raised the percentage of non-Arabs to 30 percent.

During those very difficult times a group of Arab mothers came to me, imploring me, as they often did, to influence my government. ``Our sons will become terrorists,'' they said.

The end of Arab trust in the United States was approaching. It was not their sons, but their grandsons, who, in desperation, took to terrorism.

Restoration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Arab autonomy will not stop terrorism; it has all gone too far. But such partial justice would be a step in the right direction. In any case, autonomy will eventually be won, with or without US ``permission.''

Ann Putcamp is a writer and a retired professor of religion.

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