What should be the Jewish share of the Ottoman Empire?

Does that seem like rather a strange question? Maybe that’s just because it hasn’t been asked before.

Ottoman Empire map 1914When the Ottoman Empire crumbled the land was divvied up and new Middle East countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar were created.

In 1900 there were 390,000 Jews who had lived for many hundreds of years in the land encompassed by the Ottoman Empire where the total population was 30,860,000. As such they constituted 1.26% of the population. So why shouldn’t they have a 1.26% share of the land and if so why not in their historic homeland?

The British Government agreed and that led to the Balfour Declaration whose centenary we are shortly to celebrate.

When the State of Israel was declared in 1948 its land area constituted 1.15% of the land area of the previous Ottoman Empire. The Jewish population had grown due to immigration from other lands but they still had less land than their proportion as part of the Ottoman Empire would justify!

But there is also another related question to consider. What should be the Jewish share of the Middle East and North Africa?

There were of course many Jews living in other lands throughout the Middle East in addition to those in the Ottoman Empire. In 1900 there were  319,000 Jews in countries such as Algeria – 51,000, Arabia – 30,000, Egypt – 31,000,  Iran – 35,000, Morocco – 110,000, Tunisia – 63,000, giving a total in the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the middle east of 708,000.  This constituted 1.04% of the total population of 68 million in these same Middle Eastern/North African countries.

The land mass of these countries is 12 million sq km whereas Israel in its 1948 state is 21,000 sq km – or 0.16% of the land area – more than 6 times smaller than the percentage of Jews, yet the Jews were expelled from their homes in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, Yemen for the temerity of their co-religionists having such a tiny state!

Even including the lands in the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza which came under Israeli control following the 1967 war, the percentage land area of Israel is still vastly less than a ‘fair’ allocation based on the population as it stood in 1900, never mind the millions of refugees and immigrants who came subsequently to Israel from all around the world.

What about the Palestinians?

Some people say the land should have been given to the modern-day Palestinians and the British and the League of Nations had no moral right to allow the Jews to settle there. But the identification of Arabs in the region as modern-day Palestinians didn’t happen until the early 1960’s more than 15 years after the founding of the modern State of Israel. If you go back to the Mandate period the people identified as Palestinian were mostly Jews, while the current Palestinians identified as Syrian Arabs! There has never been an Arab state of Palestine.

In 1922 The British Government gave 78% of the land of the Mandate to become the separate country of Transjordan, now the State of Jordan. The majority of Jordanians identify as Palestinian – so an independent state for the Palestinians carved from the Mandate does exist. The Arabs who live in Israel are full and mostly loyal citizens.

Israel and the Jewish people deserve their share

The renewed establishment of the Jewish State was not at the expense of any other state and the mass exodus of Arab refugees when Israel was born was due to Arab aggression with five Arab states declaring war on Israel and desiring to strangle her at birth.

The land of Israel is not just the historical land of the Jews and the place where Jews have lived continuously for 3 thousand years. It is not only the place of refuge for millions of persecuted Jews from around the world, the place where Jews can live as a majority while respecting the rights of the 20% who are not Jewish.

Tiny Israel may be less than the Jews fair share – yet it is their share and should be defended by all who seek justice. Jews have a right to their place – and the right place is exactly where it is now in its historic homeland