Even if it is no larger than the smallest postage stamp

The current confrontation between Hamas and Israel reminds me of an event that occurred in 1978 at England’s Oxford University where I delivered a paper on the role of terror and retaliation in the Palestine-Israel conflict. 

My paper had nothing to do with the history of Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, the first two comments during the Q and A session dealt with the city, now under rocket attack, that eventually became Israel's commercial and cultural capital.

I told the first questioner, an Englishman, that the city, unlike nearby Yaffo, is not mentioned in the Bible because it is relatively new. It dates back only to 1909. 

I also told him that the Jews of Yaffo, tired of Arab anti-Semitism and needing more land for their growing families, petitioned the governor of Palestine, then ruled by Ottoman Turkey, for permission to build a Jewish suburb in the neighboring sand. The governor considered the request such a hot potato that he sent it to Constantinople for the Sultan to decide. The Sultan said yes.

The second questioner, a Palestinian teaching at a British university, complimented me for the accuracy of my brief answer to an unexpected question. "But," he said, “you committed a sin of omission. You failed to tell our British and European colleagues that the Jews built Tel Aviv on my sand. I know the area. I was born there. I speak Hebrew. I and most other Palestinians want our sand, and everything that the Jews put on it, back. And we shall continue to fight until we get our sand back.”

“I do not know why you Westerners cannot comprehend that the basic issue is not the size of Israel. It is not the boundaries of Israel. It is not the policies of Israel. It is not about the status of Jerusalem. It is not about the Palestinian Right of Return. It is not about a one- or a two-state solution. And it is certainly not about how the Israelis treat or mistreat their Arab minority. 

“The basic issue is the existence, the location, and the sovereignty of Israel. I and most Palestinians will never accept the permanence of this infidel state in the Muslim Middle East, even if it is no larger than the smallest postage stamp. "

This exchange took place 36 years ago. Yet, except for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, which cost President Anwar Sadat his life, and the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, which daily endangers the life of Jordan’s monarch King Abdullah II, nothing has changed.

One therefore wonders when the world's non-Muslims will grasp the significance of the postage-stamp metaphor and draw the proper conclusions.

Edward Bernard Glick is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Temple University