old Israeli, "and I felt the power in
the stones …ancient stones, full of
memories. I came here to live
because of those ancient stones."
Jerusalem, city of memories and
dreams, precious to a billion people:
(left) the view from the Upper
Room, where Jesus and His dis-
ciples ate their Last Supper; (below)
the Old Quarter, where the Arabian Nights still
linger at midday.
For seven and one-half years the two greatest military forces that have ever existed on Planet Earth - the United States and the Soviet Union - have watched the political chaos of the Middle East - a chaos they cannot control bring them sickeningly close, again and again, to thermonuclear disaster.
They have been sliding down into the abyss a long while. At first they were trying to become involved. Later they, were trying to gain controi. Still later they were trying to avoid disaster. And now they are simply clamping down hard on any sign of trouble, and hoping that it will go away.
It has not been easy. The stakes are high: oil, trade routes, strategic military positions, and the passionate sympathies of the superpowers' citizens for one side or the other. Both sides know their prestige is at stake, and that makes it that much harder. If either Russia or America loses any of its vital interests there, both sides know that power would have to send in troops - which might well force the other side to send in troops as well. The result would be World War
The United States and the Soviet Union have spent 18 years holding summit conferences, revising policy, restraining their Middle Eastern allies, and trading calls on the Hot Line. It has not been easy.
The number of reasons for which a man will kill his neighbor in the Middle East is stupendous. And danger is there as it was in the Balkans a generation ago when another confusion of alliances and hatreds and misjudgments led to World War I. Though we had no atomic weapons then, millions died, and hundreds of millions learned misery and hatred.
Do we know any better now? Are we any safer? And It Is Divine examines the situation - and the hopes for a solution - in the following pages.
There are fewer than fifteen million Jews alive in the world today.
Six million Jews were slaughtered in Hitler's Europe.
Not all the Jews caught in that holocaust died. About one and a half million - by hiding, or running, or somehow surviving the concentration camps - knew months or years of horror, but survived. Their homes were destroyed, their families killed, their culture almost annihilated. Their feelings were as bleak as the shattered world they lived in. But they were alive, and they wanted something better.
In their despair, many of them perhaps even most - turned to their Bibles: to Genesis 12:7, where the Lord appeared to Abraham, saying, "Unto thy descendants will I give this land." To Deuteronomy 30:3-5, where it says, "Then the Lord thy God will turn thy fortunes, and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. And the Lord thy God will bring thee unto the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it."
They remembered Moses Hess, who in 1862 had warned the Jews of persecution to come if they did not return to their ancient home. They remembered how Theodor Herzl had made a world movement of Zionism, and how Britain had briefly lent her support to the Zionist dream. And as they languished in the camps and ruined cities, and charitable organizations gave them blankets and bread, the Zionists came and offered them a Jewish Paradise.
The core of the Zionist movement was half a million Jews who had already settled in Palestine before the outbreak of World War II. Barnet Litvinoff writes in his book, To the House of Their Fathers, of: "the young men and women of Haganah, the Zionist militia and self-defense league who forged visas, bribed officials, commandeered trains, lied, stole, and risked death to keep a fantastic underground route flowing with their people. Between the end of World War II and the very day of the establishment of Israel, 84,000 Jews were funnelled out of seven countries through 24 secret points in Europe and onto 63 old hulks bought in the scrapyards. Their co-religionists everywhere applauded on the sidelines, and gave their money generously to get the human wrecks onto the floating wrecks.
"Fifty-seven of those transports were intercepted by the British Royal Navy. Destroyers rammed them on the high seas, pathetic appeals for water and food went unheeded by the shadowing patrol boats, and boarding actions filled the press with ghoulish pictures…. The illegals were interned and the ships impounded. Nevertheless, all these incidents were victories for the Zionists. They drew international attention to the refugees' plight, embarrassed the British government and built up an emotional case for Zionism."
There were those who denounced the operation with its risks and failures and suffering. The words of David BenGurion, leader and spokesman for all the Zionists of Palestine, vividly reveal the Zionist viewpoint:
"I happened to be in London in the darkest hours of the war for Britain, when France had collapsed and Belgium surrendered, when Britain stood alone and the small remnant of the British army on the Continent was desperately trying to get back through Dunkirk. They did not wait for the luxury of the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth, nor did they care about the seaworthiness of the ramshackle, filthy little boats which assembled from all parts of England to save that valiant remnant. All the British people were proud of Dunkirk, and rightly so. It was a great military disaster turned into a great moral triumph.
"We suffered a greater disaster in Europe than the British army. Not a few thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions - six millions - were put to death. Can anyone realize a million Jewish babies burned in the gas chambers? A third of our people, almost as many as the whole population of Sweden, murdered?"
Israel, for a million Jews or more, was the only place left in the world where they could ever feel safe again.
The Bible says plenty about the Promise to the Jews - but on the fate of the Canaanites it has nothing kind to say. So when the Zionists came to Palestine, they naturally took little thought for the Arab inhabitants, who numbered over a million at the end of World War II; they simply bought land and settled down. By 1939 the Zionists were a third of the population.
The Arabs remembered Britain's "Balfour Declaration" of 1917 ("His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…."), and they were fully aware that they might be about to lose their homeland. The British, embarrassed once they realized the Arabs' plight, tended to side with the Arabs more and more. Repeated violence broke out - the Arabs fighting with the Jews, and both sides fighting the British.
Between 1936 and 1939, as the Zionists begged the British to let the Jews of Nazi Germany come to Palestine before it was too late, and as the British government refused for fear of alienating the Arabs, some 10,000 Palestinian Arabs died fighting the British and the Jews, hoping against hope that violence, if nothing else, might save them from the fate of the American Indian.
The Mosque of Omar - also called the Dome of the Rock - sits above the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Here Abraham worshipped the Lord, Jesus gave sermons, and Muhammad ascended to Heaven. It is one of the holiest places of Islam.
The Arabs had nothing against Jews as Jews. Throughout history the Muslims have always been tolerant to the Christians and the Jews, remembering that these religions already had part of the Truth of Islam, and that Muhammad had commanded his followers to make war on Christians and Jews only "until they pay tribute and are humbled." (Koran, Surah IX).
The Arabs have everything against Western imperialism, and the colonialism that established Israel. On March 8, 1920, after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Arab leaders of what is now Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel met in Damascus and declared their independence as a united Syrian state, a constitutional monarchy. Iraq did the same at about the same time. Two months later - and this is only one example - Britain and France conferred at San Remo, and parcelled out the area among themselves. The French took Syria and Lebanon, the British took the rest, and they made provisions for the Zionist state. In July the French invaded Syria and overthrew its king. The Arabs remember 1920 as am an-nakba, the year of the catastrophe.
The British and the French kept the rich in power, getting richer. They did little for the poverty and disease of the Arab people. Toward the end of the colonial era, in 1948, health officials and doctors found that in one Egyptian village of 4200 souls, half the people had lice, three-quarters had fleas, nineteen out of twenty suffered from the debilitating disease bilharziasis (the scourge of Egypt), and one in twelve was blind in one or both eyes. The real annual income of the average Egyptian was 7% less between 1950 and 1953 than it was in 1939, and large sections of the Arab population - especially in Egypt - hovered between bare subsistence and famine.
And still worse, the Arabs say, their conquerors added insult to injury. As Albert Hourani observed twenty-seven years ago in his book. Syria and Lebanon, (paraphrased):
"The Western Powers - in act if not in word - treated the Arabs as if their desires and wishes were matters of minor importance. Individual Westerners showed only too often their contempt for a people who dressed, believed, and thought so differently, and were so backward in the material arts.
"That contempt was no less woundding when it was concealed beneath a romantic admiration for the primitive or the exotic. It was unbearable because the Arabs were convinced that in essentials they were equal to the West, and unbearable too because they suspected that in many other things they were indeed far behind. …
"Contempt stung the Arabs to want to equal the West in those things the West thought important, and to be recognized as equals by the West. Since the West set value upon the independence and power of the national state, upon economic prosperity and a modern' social order, the Arabs, too, must be independent, powerful, and modern."
Nasser wrote in Egypt's Liberation of the Arab world:
"We are a single region. The same circumstances, the same factors, even the same forces confront us
"And the foremost of these forces is imperialism.
"Even Israel … is but a product of imperialism. For if Palestine had not fallen under the British mandate, Zionism would never have been able to muster enough support to realize a national home in Palestine. The idea would have remained a mad, hopeless dream.
"Imperialism is a great force… imposing a murderous, invisible seige upon this whole region. …"
The Israelis were building their Promised Land.
They hungered for peace, without knowing where to start. Those who were born and raised in Israel were called "sabres," from the Hebrew word for the desert cactus: prickly on the outside, sweet in the heart, and perfectly at ease in the dry soil of Palestine. They worked hard and they played hard, and theywere comfortable with guns slung over their shoulders in downtown Tel Aviv.
There was fighting on the border, particularly with Syria, and they fought for water rights in the Jordan River, and farmers' rights in No Man's Land, and fishing rights in Lake Tiberias. The world was edging closer to the brink, though it wasn't yet obvious.
The refugee camps - in the Egyptian Gaza Strip, theJordanian West Bank, Syria near the Golan Heights, and Lebanon - were tents and rude lean-to huts pitched often without indoor sanita tion facilities, without sewage disposal or an organized water supply, an immense sprawling squalor, filled, as James A. Michener once wrote, "with ragamuffin children and distraught mothers." They became monuments to human misery. The Israelis didn't want the refugees back, and the Arab countries wouldn't adopt them. The Israelis wanted a pure Jewish state, and safety from Palestinian vengeance. The Arab nations feared their already shaky economies would be wrecked by the refugees' vast poverty.
Some of the refugees found jobs. The rest, at first the majority, lived on UN aid (worth $37 per refugee per year in 1964-65). In 1956 there were more than 900,000 refugees; in 1970 there were more than a million and a half.
The Palestinians began finding their voice. The Arab governments, busy now with their socialist, nationalist, anti-imperialist Arab Revolution - and little political hay - sponsored an official Palestinian leader, Ahmed Shukairy. And Shukairy, an aggressive organizer, founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which gave birth in May 1964 to the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA). Shukairy got financial help from Egypt and from Syria, and tried to overthrow King Hussein when Jordan wouldn't help him, and did a lot of talking, but he made no moves against Israel.
Seven months after the PLA was founded, a group of Palestinians, impatient to fight Israel, split with Shukairy and founded al-Fatah. The Syrian government, the most extreme of the radical Arab regimes, gave the new organization support and sanctuary. And al-Fatah moved fast.
"On New Year's Eve, 1965," one al-Fatah member told And It Is Divine, "while everybody else was out having fun, we conducted the first guerrilia action of the resistance. We blew up a tunnel the Israelis were planning to use to steal from the Jordan River."
The officers of the Syrian government knew they didn't stand a chance in open war with Israel; theirs was the courage of despair. In 1962 they had fought major battles with the Israelis over Lake Tiberias, and on August 15, 1966, they fought another one, with planes, patrol boats, and artillery. The Syrians had. gotten the worst of it by far and the guerrilla actions were their consolation.
Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, saw that if he punished Syria with reprisals, as Ben-Gurion would have done, the Israelis would have to fight a difficult uphill battle on the Golan Heights. He saw that the Syrians were just the sort to turn a reprisal into all-out war. And Syria had Egypt and Russia for protectors; it would be all too easy to touch off World War III.
But Eshkol figured he had to punish somebody, or the commando raids would get worse. So he punished Jordan.
On November 13, 1966, a mine exploded on a frontier road near Hebron, killing three Israeli soldiers, wounding six. Because of that and other incidents, the Israelis invaded Jordan, demolished well over 100 houses in three villages,
fought the Jordanian army for three hours, killed 18 Jordanians and injured 54.
Jordan exploded into violent demonstrations; furious that their King had failed to protect them. Hussein was nearly overthrown.
And both sides moved closer to war.
On April 7, 1967, fighting broke out between Israel and Syria and escalated into pitched battles with artillery, mortars and tanks; the Israeli air force bombed and strafed the Syrians, and planes fought with planes in the Syrian skies.
Egypt and Jordan denounced each other bitterly for not rushing to Syria's aid. But meanwhile the Israelis were denouncing the Syrians - and suddenly, the Lebanese, Syrians, Russians, and the Egyptian intelligence all started saying that Israel was concentrating troops on the Syrian border. Nasser and the Syrians saw an invasion in the making.
Nasser was in a jam, and he knew it. All the Arabs were condemning him for having stood on the sidelines while Syria slugged it out with Israel. Though his own best troops were in Yemen fighting the Bedouins, Nasser saw he must reestablish his militance in the Arab Revolution - or risk a popular uprising in Egypt. He must stop the Israeli invasion before it happened.
It was now three weeks before the Six Day War.
On May 15, 1967, Nasser put his armed forces on alert, and sent trucks and troops and armored cars rolling past Cairo toward Sinai and the Israeli frontier. Nobody was impressed.
On May 16, acting through his Chief of General Staff, Nasser sent the commander of the UN Blue Berets a telegram asking the UN forces to evacuate their posts on the Israeli border. U Thant. the UN Secretary General, told Nasser he had no right to order the UN forces around; he must either let them be or kick them out of Egypt altogether. Nasser needed to recover his prestige. He kicked the Blue Berets out of Egypt.
Israel told U Thant that this was unfair; Egypt couldn't order the UN out without her approval". U Thant suggested that maybe the Israelis could let the Blue Berets stand on their side of the border. Israel wouldn't hear of it.
On May 21, Egypt replaced the UN forces at Sharm al-Sheikh. But the Arabs still felt Nasser was only play-acting. In the middle of the following night, Nasser renewed the blockade of the Strait of Tiran - interrupted since the war of 1956 - through which most of Israel's oil supplies came. He had finally struck a real blow at Israel. He was a hero, and the Arabs danced for joy.
There's no doubt that Nasser had no intention of going any further. He'd made his point, and though from then on he made plenty of threats, he was always careful to leave the door open for negotiations. He knew, and the Israelis knew, that the Israelis had such a vast military superiority that he could never hope to win a war. But the Israeli hawks, eager as ever for "preventive war," took the blockade as proof that they'd been right all along. Israeli propaganda and Egyptian propaganda - for different reasons - both painted the picture of an imminent Arab victory. Both the Arabs and the Israelis grew more and more hysterical.
On May 24, 1967, the Egyptian Fourth Armored Division entered the Sinai, and Israel threatened to open the Strait of Tiran by force if force were necessary.
By May 28, as the deadlock dragged on, as the U.S. and France and the UN and the Soviet Union and all the other countries tried desperately to find some peaceful solution, the Israeli Cabinet evenly split on the question of immediate war. That was the day that Nasser declared:
"We shall never accept any kind of co-existence with Israel, for the very creation of this state constitutes an aggression against the Arabs."
Hussein, who had held out for peace - assured that the Israelis would respect his neutrality - finally yielded to the war fever and signed a defense pact with Egypt on May 30. On May 31, Shukairy resumed PLA activities in Jordan, and Iraq sent Jordan troops as reinforcements.
The U.S. asked Egypt to lift the blockade for a "breathing spell" - and the Arabs, of course, refused. While Charles Yost, a Middle Eastern advisor in the U.S. State Department, flew to Cairo for eleventh-hour negotiations, the U.S. begged Israel not to use force - even to recognize Egyptian sovereignty in the Gulf of Aqaba if it would lead to the lifting of the blockade.
Now, to the Israelis, things were at their darkest. France had abandoned them, the U.S. was wavering, and the Arabs from Morocco to Iraq were poised for all-out war. Of course they would not recognize Egyptian sovereignty in the Gulf of Aqaba. What, was Israel so weak that she would give even one inch to the Arabs and so encourage their fanaticism? Popular pressure broke the Cabinet deadlock at last; Israel decided for war.
June 5: the Arabs were completely taken by surprise. They'd been expecting some soft of peace settlement. Israeli Phantom jets annihilated their air forces in just two hours. It was all over after that; all the territory the army seized was little more than mop-up operations.
The world held its breath. Both Russia and the U.S. knew that if any of the Middle Eastern nations fell, they might well be sucked into World War III. They kept the Hot Line busy.
As soon as the fighting ended, Russia hastened to re-arm the Arabs and restore the balance of power. The years on the razor's edge had begun.
Nothing was the same after 1967. The refugee situation had been completely transformed. Israel had absorbed more than half a million refugees in conquering the rest of the old British Palestine. More than 140.000 Palestinian refugees fled a second time, rather than be added to the new Israeli state. More than 120,000 Arab residents of the West Bank, about 100,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights area, and close to 750.000 Egyptians (mostly residents of the cities along the Suez Canal) fled from Israel and sortnew Israeli frontier and became refugees for the first time.
As before, the refugee camps were places of destitution. The Egyptian refugees were settled in villages around the outskirts of Cairo. There they became a new embittered human time bOmb, which may explode someday, as the Palestinians did, and trigger another war or two.
In the places to which they had fled - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria - the Palestinians looked around ,and found they were a people. Indeed, they were more than half of Jordan's population. They had their own customs, their own memories. They were dedicated to a Return that strangely paralleled Zionism. They had militance, almost as a religion, and their guerrilla organizations were stronger than ever before.
"In two or three years," a teenaged refugee promised James Michener shortly before the Six Day War, "we are going to march into Israel and slaughter every Jew. We shall go directly to Haifa and drive into the sea any who have escaped. Then my father will take back the mansion he used to own, before the Jews drove him out, and Palestine will again be free."
Something new was in the Arabian air: the commando mystique, the image of a movement that would rather die than be pushed around. Palestinian children barely into their teens walked the streetsbombthe Arab capitals in battle dress with guns slung over their shoulders. They radiated authority, machismo. Not all the other Arabs approved.
Jordan's King Hussein:
"Beyond his Bedouins he is not much loved," wrote Edward R. F. Sheehan in the New York Times
Magazine, September 27, 1970. "The Americans, to whom he has been steadfast for 14 years have treated him shabbily, buying him off with secret CIA subsidies and a few dozen Patton tanks and a handful of obsolescent Starfighter planes and responding to his protests by sending Phantoms to Tel Aviv."
Hussein's government is built on subsidies from the West. He has accepted, even begged for U.S. arms, has been bailed out by the British in emergencies, has negotiated for a separate peace with Israel, and in 1970 was trying to restrain the commandos. The Palestinian commandos wouldn't stand for it; in the middle of June, 1970 they went into all-out revolt against Hussein.
The fedayeen took near-total control of Amman for nearly five days, at the height of the fighting, and they battled with Hussein's fierce Bedouin army until 200 lay dead and a truce could be arranged. The outside world, misunderstanding the Middle East as always, assumed Hussein was not far from his end. At the height of the violence, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - the most radical of the leading commando organizations - took American hostages, the U.S. readied its 82nd Airborne Division and elements of its Mediterranean fleet for armed intervention. The fedayeen gained power in that battle; they became Jordan's second government.
The truce lasted only until September, when the PFLP, in a new bid for support, hijacked Swissair and TWA jets, one of each, forced them to land at "Revolution Airport" in the Jordanian desert, and held the passengers hostage to call attention to their grievances. To the bewilderment of the fedayeen, world opinion was emphatically against them; even their friends were critical. "Where was world opinion when a million of our people were hijacked out of Palestine by the Israelis?" asked a Palestinian spokesman - but already the commandos were committed up to their necks. On September 1, they made a direct attempt on Hussein's life - or so the Jordanian army declared; the Palestinians roundly deny it.
Sheehan, in the article quoted above, wove a brilliant tale of the agony that followed. Here are excerpts:
"On Wednesday morning, I called on several government ministries, only to find most of them deserted. 'Go back to your hotel,' an army officer advised me. 'There's going to be more shooting.' In one ministry, a chief clerk - a native of the East Bank - opened his jacket to show me his shoulder holster. 'This is to defend myself against the Palestinians,' he said. 'They want to take over the country. Believe me, I'd prefer that the Israelis rule Jordan. … The King is so weak - why doesn't he crush them and get it over with?"
"Mortar shells began to rock the hotel; rifle bullets raked the plate glass. Peering from the floor to across the street, I could perceive Jordanian soldiers in an unfinished building creeping about and firing at commandos. Soon we learned that King Hussein was dashing from one corner of Amman to the next, pleading with his impassioned Bedouins to stop shooting. Then the Amman radio announced that the King had delegated full powers to General Haditha to negotiate yet another ceasefire.
"Still the shooting did not stop. I was exhausted from lack of sleep during the firing of the night before, and so went to my room to nap. As I lay there, a bullet pierced my windowpane and came to rest in the reading lamp two inches from my face, splattering glass all over me and the bed. I took my pillow into the bathroom, and lay down in the bathtub. The battle continued. Night fell, and suddenly all over Amman the electricity was cut. As I groped my way to the basement, I glanced out at Amman below to glimpse the marvel of tracer bullets and mortar fire illuminating the blackened town. The corridors and the nightclub in the basement were jammed with the hijacked passengers, men, women, and children with terror on their faces but uncomplaining…. Later I learned that two of the soldiers across the street had been killed defending the hotel."
"I drove out of Amman … into the desert, to visit Revolution Airport and the hijacked BOAC plane. The road was strewn with barricades, heaped stones and tires, and scores of commando and Iraqi Army roadblocks stood between me and my destination. (Some 12,000 Iraqi soldiers have been stationed in Jordan since 1967, supposedly to help fight Israel.) Clearly, King Hussein was no longer in control. …
"Outside Amman we passed mile upon mile of squalid refugee shelters ragged tents, hideous concrete block huts and corrugated tin shanties, baking in the sun. My driver, a refugee himself, remarked, 'America sends Phantoms to Israel, and tents and blankets to the Palestinians, and then wonders why we are not grateful.' "
Events thundered on toward disaster. Iraq threatened to order its forces in Jordan into the fighting on the side of the fedayeen. The commandos liberated three towns north of Amman and established "Revolutionary Governments." They blew up the planes, brought their remaining hostages to hiding places in the refugee camps, and let them go in groups, stretching the suspense to the breaking point.
King Hussein did his best to avoid a violent showdown. But his fury grew at the commandos, who had entered Jordan on his sufferance, and now behaved as if they ruled his country. On September 15 he named a new Cabinet
novelist Amos Oz of his native Israel,
"optimistic, self-confident, fighting
the odds and defeating them … But
if you walk through the streets at night,
it may suddenly strike you that this is
a huge refugee camp - with all the
Jewish dreads and fears and sense of
seige and sense of persecution and
sense of loneliness in a hostile world
composed solely of officers; they declared they would "strike with an iron fist," and (knowing the commandos would refuse) called on the rebels to lay down their arms. The war exploded.
Syria invaded. Five thousand soldiers and more than 200 Soviet-built tanks crossed the border into Jordan. The troops, a mixture of Syrians and the PLA, were intercepted by Jordanian tanks, shelled by Hussein's artillery, attacked by his troops, and pounded by his jets. The Syrians did their best to fight back, but they developed supply troubles, and discovered that their tanks were no good for desert warfare. Both sides scanned the sky anxiously; would Syria throw its 210-plane air force into the battle and force the victory?
The U.S. prepared to intervene, knowing the danger well. If the Syrians or the Iraqis looked about to unseat Hussein, Israel would likely join the war to
stop them. Nasser would not be able to stand idly by any more than before; and now that Russians were piloting jets and manning the world's most sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system in defense of Egypt's airspace, the Soviet Union would very likely be dragged in along with Egypt. And Russia couldn't afford to lose. So Israel must lose. But the U.S. couldn't afford to let the Israelis lose. …
America hinted openly at intervention. U.S. ships from the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets sped for Arabian coasts. U.S. C-130 transport planes waited in Greece and Turkeyfor orders to airlift the Americans out of Jordan. The U.S. helicopter carrier Guam left the coast of Virginia, paused to pick up a thousand Marines in North Carolina, and headed east. It was a warning to the Middle East not to get any more violent. There's no evidence that it made any difference at all.
The Syrian air force did not descend on Jordan, but only because Syrian Defense Minister Assad kept them grounded to deny his rival, General Jadid, the glory of a victory over the forces of reaction.
And Iraq did not intervene, preferring caution.
The Syrian invasion turned at last, and retreated back into Syria.
Slowly, violently, Hussein's Bedouin army overcame the commando forces, taking time to reap vengeance for the humiliation of their country, their people, their King. They shelled the houses of apparently innocent Palestinians. They fired into Palestinian schoolhouses, killing teachers and children.
Over 20,000 people died in Jordan that September. Black September, the fedayeen called it: the closest to World War III the world had come yet. The commandos moved to Lebanon, a few of them to Syria.
The heart of the storm moved, stronger than ever.
The face of the storm was sweeping freely now across the Arab world …
It rested in Egypt, where then Vice President Anwar Sadat was telling reporters (Newsweek, June 29, 1970), "You should have been here on June 5, the third anniversary of the 1967 war. You would have seen our President riding through the streets of Cairo in an open car, surrounded on all sides by thousands of Egyptians shouting, 'Never capitulate! Never capitulate!' "
identity and a purpose. Right, Israeli
Jews flocked to the Wailing Wall, site
of Solomon's Temple, on the day they
captured it in the Six Day War. Left,
the Hasidim, vigilantly preserving the
ancient ways of the Jews. Some Israelis
chafe under the traditional
Sabbath-day restrictions (enforced
by Israeli law) - but some Hasidim
stone Sabbath-day drivers, so much
do they value their heritage.
It fell on the Suez frontier, where the Russians were pouring millions into a vast complex of surface-to-air missiles meant to stop Israeli bombing raids. They were trying to prevent future crises, and they lost twelve advisors killed and twenty-nine wounded trying, but the Israelis and the Americans took their presence as a threat, while the Egyptians took it as an excuse for further fighting; the whole thing nearly blew up in the Russians' faces several times. The Russians had to restrain the Egyptians more and more, until finally they were thrown out of the country.
The storm hit Cairo hard in early 1971 when the power struggle broke out between President Sadat (Nasser died in October, 1970) and his rivals. The Russians were badly shaken, then; when there was a power struggle there was always the danger of a civil war, which might tempt the Israelis to come in and pick up some of the pieces - and there was no telling what might come of that. The Russians sent a delegation including their President, Nikolai Podgorny diplomatically speaking, their number one man - and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to make sure such a power struggle wouldn't happen again. An.d after the Russians had been thrown out of Egypt, when Sadat decided he wanted the Russians back, they wouldn't help him much at all until he did something about his budding rival, General Sadek. And still the Egyptian army and the students of Egyptian universities grew restless, and the storms of war continued to batter at the uneasy rule of President Sadat.
Sadat intermittently plotted strikes and assaults on Israel, and always something prevented him. The Russians balked constantly at supplying Sadat with good offensive arms. And the U.S. gave the Israelis hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for good offensive weapons. The U.S. didn't want any crises, either.
But still the Egyptians hungered, if not for peace (and peace was unthinkable with the Israelis in the Sinai and the Suez Canal shut down), then for war. As even the -U.S. government privately agrees, Sadat is coming to the point where he can wait no longer, or he will be overthrown.
The storm blew into Lebanon, especially after the final defeat of the fedayeen in Jordan, in 1971. And It Is Divine went directly to Lebanon for the following report:
"In Lebanon the Palestinian presence threatens a delicate compromise between minorities that is the basis of Lebanese politics.
"Lebanese society consists of seventeen communities that can be divided roughly in half along Christian-Moslem lines. When Lebanon became independent in 1943, the top politicians arranged for each community to be represented in the government according to its relative size at that time. For example, since the Maronite Christians were six-elevenths of the population, they are entitled to six out of every eleven votes. Sunni Muslems, the next largest group, has the next largest amount of influence - and so on.
"The system works in all public sectors, including the army. Soldiers are hired and positions filled according to how many Sunnis, Maronites or Shi'ites are needed to fulfill the correct percentages.
"The balance of power is so delicate that a new census is unthinkable. So when the Palestinians - and especially the commandos - entered Lebanon, they threatened to trample on a corn- promise that had been painfully enacted. In a country with a total population of two million, the presence of over 300,000 Palestinians was and is explosive.
"Whatever external compromises may indicate, public opinion among the Lebanese people is split on the Palestinian issue. Whereas both the Christian and Muslim sectors agree in principle with the Palestinians, the Christians lean toward letting the Palestinians solve their own problems. They cherish the sovereignty that Lebanon has managed to maintain in a politically volatile part of the world. Muslim Lebanese opinion is distinctly pan-Arab: they see the Palestine problem as an Arab problem and favor giving more aid and assistance to the commandos even if it means more Israeli reprisals on Lebanese soil.
"Complicating matters more are the personal armies commanded by the powerful politicians. Since 1958, when a civil war broke out in Lebanon, the population has been well-armed. Rumor has it that one political strong man has at least 100,000 men behind him. The official Lebanese army numbers 17,000. Here, unlike Jordan, the Palestinians are only one stick of dynamite among many.
"Christian-Muslim tensions soared in April of this year, when Israeli commandos stole into Beirut, assassinated three Palestinian leaders and fourteen others, and escaped. The Palestinians protested to the Lebanese that they weren't being adequately protected.
"Three weeks later, three Palestinian commandos were arrested at Beirut airport attempting to fly to Paris with explosives. In response to their arrest, the Palestinians kidnapped two Lebanese soldiers and held them pending the release of the Beirut three. While negotiations were in progress between the government and the fedayeen, fighting erupted in Beirut and rapidly spread throughout the country.
Tanks surrounded the refugee camps - the actual strongholds of the commandos - and jet fighters bombed and strafed the fragile shelters in an effort to bring the Palestinians to their knees. Elsewhere in the city, taxis were blown up by mines, and cars sped through streets spitting submachine gun fire and tossing bombs. Snipers manned positions on Beirut skyscrapers and picked off incautious pedestrians. We could look through our windows and watch the armed men shooting down in the street below.
"As the violence spread, five thousand Palestinian commandos belonging to the Syrian-sponsored PLA invaded southern Lebanon from Syria and joined the fray. The Israelis began maneuvers on the Golan Heights. While the Syrians considered intervention in full force, the Soviets - remembering American oil and commercial interests in Beirut rushed Air Force Commander Kutakhov to Damascus to urge restraint.
"Five hundred died, and at the end of the violence nothing had been resolved. The Lebanese government and the Palestinian resistance came to a secret agreement intended only to save face. Since no one knows the actual terms of the agreement. both sides can claim victory without loss of credibility."
In the Middle East, where unpredictable, uncontrollable violence is almost a way of life - where superpowers cross purposes like swords on the very edge of the abyss - where any one of a hundred thousand blunders could topple them both over the edge - the stormwinds of enmity buffet them about, and rage on.
The Arab dilemma - millions upon millions trapped in poverty, dying young; the staggering challenge of retooling for a modern economy and outracing the population explosion, In Egypt, and among the refugees, illiteracy is everywhere, and education is top priority.