Longtime Transients

Joel Hirschberg (Letters, June 30) justifies Israel's seizure of Palestinian lands on the grounds that Jews have "resided there since time immemorial" and that "by the early nineteenth century thousands of Jews were living there."

In fact, prior to the mid-20th century, Jews were of little significance demographically in Palestine and contributed correspondingly little to the spiritual or physical development of the country.

Even in Jerusalem, where almost all the Jews were concentrated, they constituted in 1893 only 9000 out of a total population of 21,000 according to the authoritative Palestine Exploration Society, and by the year 1900 they had attracted the comment by Rev. Dr. John Fulton ("Palestine: The Holy Land" p. 477) that "The Jewish Quarter is the filthiest and most wretched part of a very filthy city. . . for the most part the Jews are extremely poor. Nearly all are foreigners in the land of their forefathers and have come to Jerusalem to die."

By 1925, the Jewish population had increased through immigration, prompting a contemporary writer (G. Horsfield, "Countries of the World," Harmsworth, p 2429) to complain that "the new buildings of the Jewish quarter are all monstrously ugly, outraging all the canons of taste and ruining a view of the city." Since the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel the desecration of the Holy City has reached the status of an architectural catastrophe.

As for Mr. Hirschberg's implied claim that ancestral habitation justifies modern conquest, a much more plausible case could be made for giving Scottish-descent Canadians a share of North Sea oil profits than for giving Ashkenazi Jews a share of Palestine, particularly if, as demonstrated by William Koestler in "The Thirteenth Tribe", the Ashkenazi originated in Central Russia.


Ian Macdonald

July 8, 1989