Monday, May 26, 2008

Myths and Historical Fact

The following was sent recently to the Irish Times in response to a long letter that had appeared there. I don't know if the Times ever published my reply, but it's long enough to fit this blog, so here it is.

Despite Tomas McBride (Letters, 22 May), supporters of
Israel do not need to resort to myth in order to
justify the existence of a modern Jewish state. Let's
leave the Torah to one side for a moment. Israel came
into being, not from a mythical 'Jewish invasion' of
British mandate Palestine, but as the result of a long
political process that started in the late 19th
century as the Ottoman empire drew to its end. After
the second world war and a long debate, the United
Nations voted by a majority for the creation of a
small Jewish state alongside other mandate or
ex-mandate states. In other words, Israel was carved
out of the old empire much as modern Iraq, Lebanon,
Syria, or Jordan. This happened in part because
post-war re-apportionment of land in general is
commonplace, but for the greater part because the UN
was a new way to administer international law and the
necessary adjustments between nations. The nearest
parallel was the resettlement of 2 million people
following the partition of India to create Pakistan
(and, later, Bangladesh) — oddly enough, no Muslim
voices are raised to complain about this.

Unfortunately, nations in the modern form, modelled on
the concept of the Westphalian state, had never
existed in Islam (though various forms of Arab
nationalism, like Jewish nationalism, were being
advocated in this period). This is why the Arab states
who invaded Israel with the expressed intention of
driving all Jews into the Mediterranean simply refused
to behave like UN member states at all. That Jews had
taken control of even a tiny sliver of Islamic
territory was anathema, giving rise to what was in
essence a religious animus calling for genocide. By
that time too, Palestinian politics had been
irredeemably tainted by association with the Third
Reich. The Reich's leading Arab collaborator, Hajj
Amin al-Husayni, the Palestinian leader, had fled
after the Nazi defeat and was feted in Cairo as a hero
of the Arab people.

To dismiss Jewish longing to return to Israel as
merely a myth-centred nonsense displays an absolute
insensitivity to aspirations, whether religious or
national. All peoples, religions, and nations have
founding myths. The Jews have one of the strongest.
Their belief in a land that was given them by God may
or may not be historically true, but it is a vivid,
enduring, and necessary expression of the significance
Jews have placed in Israel for thousands of years.
Jerusalem is sacred to Jews much as Mecca and Medina
are to Muslims. It is certainly much better attested
than the historically invalid attempt of modern
Palestinians (a hybrid group) to assert Palestinian
occupation of that land for a similar length of time;
or to claim a link between modern Palestinians and the
ancient Philistines; or, most glaringly, that the Jews
have never had a historical connection to the land.
Pull the other one.

For two thousand years, Jews have expressed a daily
hope of return to the Holy Land. That sense of
belonging, that connection to history, are something
greater than myth, though often inspired by it. We do
not mock other religions for holding non-rational
beliefs, we do not try to make political capital out
of national struggles based on a longing for a return
to a Golden Age. The statue of Cuchulainn outside the
General Post Office is there for a reason. Or consider
the opening words of the Proclamation of Independence:
'IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of
the dead generations from which she receives her old
tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons
her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.'
Or all those murals of King Billy crossing the Boyne.

Jews trace their origins back as far as that and
further. That is why they chose and were given a
homeland where every town, every hill, every river,
every archaeological excavation, and every stone in
the Western Wall resonates. And given the momentous
horror of the Holocaust and how close mankind came to
witnessing an extermination of the Jewish people, that
resonance could not have been greater. Persecuted
though we may have been by the British occupation, we
were never in danger of being wiped out. Since 1948,
the Palestinian Arabs have increased from 1,700,000 to
2.5 million (with claims of over 3 million). That is
the truth of the 'Palestinian Holocaust', another myth
that is swallowed too readily. If I am to believe in
the right of the Irish people to a homeland where
Cuchulainn may or may not have walked, how can I deny
the Jews their unarguable right to seek refuge for the
first time in two millennia in a land they have prayed
for every day of their lives? By contrast, Jerusalem
has little resonance in Islam: soon after migrating to
Medina, the prophet Muhammad, who had prayed towards
Jerusalem in imitation of the Jews, turned his back on
the city and chose instead to pray towards Mecca, as
all Muslims do today. Jews recite the words of the
Psalm: 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right
hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do
not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my
highest joy'. The Qur'an doesn't even mention

The Arabs cannot have it both ways. They cannot belong
to the United Nations and work to undermine its very
principles. Their states are dictatorships and absolute
monarchies, they deny their citizens basic human
rights, they reduce women to an inferior status, they
deny religious minorities the freedoms called for in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet they
denounce Israel, the only country in the Middle East
that implements those rights in a democratic state.
What are we looking for, in the end? Stability,
democracy, the rule of law, rights for everyone
regardless of colour, sex, or creed? Or genocide by
Hamas and Hizbullah, followed by theocratic rule that
will bring executions, stonings, and the minimum of
rights for any remaining religious minorities? Israel
has achieved great things. It has some way to go, but
every time we attack it or snipe at it or give
terrorists succour, we undermine the very things we
claim to stand for.


Anonymous said...

The palestinian (Muslim, Christian and Jew) rejection is and always was the European Jewish quest for sovereignty on their land. All the propaganda in the world does not change the reality. One palestine for all, that's the solution. No one wants to kill Jews as your propaganda suggests. The Jewish State should be eliminiated. Now cut out the bull and advocate for what is right. Take the Gandhi stand.


Denis said...

Bonnie, I would like to say you're right, but my conscience won't let me. The one-state solution would be literal suicide for the Jews of Israel. 'No one wants to kill Jews' is the most naive statement I've ever read. I'm sorry, but it is. You have obviously never visited the Middle East or immersed yourself in Arab or Muslim material on this. It is commonplace to hear or read calls for the slaughter of Jews. Hamas's covenant commits them to that. So does Hizbullah's. And the truth is that Palestinians have been killing Jews since the 1920s and before. If you want to see real peace in the Middle East, then start with the 2-state solution. Think of this like Northern Ireland. I was brought up there. Inter-community violence is still serious. Imagine millions of Palestinians pouring into Israel and ask how long it would be before there was another war, perhaps a war without limits. I'm not sure what you mean by the Gandhi stand. India and Pakistan had to become separate states. Millions of Hindus went south, millions of Muslims went north, and a lot of people were killed. Try merging them again today and you'll see slaughter on a massive scale. Is that what you want?


Anonymous said...

I know Palestine quite well. I know the Arabs, their history, their religion. You are either brainwashed or a liar. Only you know the truth of that. It's in the Islaimic religion that Jews and Christians are 'People of the Book'. Not enemies. Zionism is the enemy of the world. They keep us in perpetual war. Neither Hamas nor Hezbolla, nor any Muslim group has an agenda to kill Jews. Before the Zionists came to Palestine there were Palestinian Jews. They lived in peace with the Palestinian Muslims. I mention Gandhi because he told the European Jews to go back home and fight their own battle, they had no cause to battle the peaceful Palestinians and disrupt their harmony. One state of Palestine. The peace loving Israelis advocate for the same.

Denis said...

Dear Bonnie,

Oh dear, you seem quite fixed in your views. You write: 'I know Palestine quite well. I know the Arabs, their history, their religion. You are either brainwashed or a liar.' It's good that you've visited 'Palestine' and that you know the Arabs etc. But to conclude that I, when I disagree with you, and either brainwashed or a liar is stretching things too far. I have an MA and PhD in Persian, Arabic, and Islamic History, and I have taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at university level. I have written academic books in this field and contributed to academic journals and major encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia of Islam. I know what I'm talking about, and, I suspect, much more than you do.

You say 'Zionism is the enemy of the world'. But Zionism is simply nothing more nor less than an aspiration to Jewish nationalism, based on the very rational grounds that the most persecuted of people (and very ill-treated in the Muslim world, by the way), the Jews, have as much right to a national home as anyone else. How does that make them 'the enemy of the world'? Are Irish nationalists 'the enemy of the world'? Are Muslim nationalists who want to reclaim Kashmir for Pakistan 'the enemy of the world'? You need to think harder, be less emotional, less propagandized.

You say that 'Neither Hamas nor Hezbolla, nor any Muslim group has an agenda to kill Jews'. Please read their charters and other documents, listen to speeches by their leaders and their clerics, watch Palestinian Television, learn what these people are about. They have defined jihad as the only way to an absolute Palestinian state, they have explicitly rejected peace conferences, negotiations, and compromise as worthless. If you don't read their own words (and, clearly, you cannot have done so), you have no right to make sweeping statements, attributing to them views they simply do not hold.

You say 'It's in the Islaimic religion that Jews and Christians are 'People of the Book'. That's rather vague. Certainly, they are known as the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), but that only takes us so far. In the later sections of the Qur'an, they are regularly cursed. Later Islamic law lays down the rules for how they are to be treated, and, believe me, none of it is nice. If a religious state were to be established in 'Palestine', these laws would be laid down. Any surviving Jews who had survived the jihad would be subjected to intolerable restrictions that would be a disgrace in any democratic state.

You need to do a lot of reading, from a range of sources. What you are currently spouting is unreliable pro-Palestinian propaganda. Peace has never been the Arab option. The Arabs started the war in 1948 and predicted there would be slaughter on a par with Ganghis Khan, they started the wars of 1967, 1973 and 2006. That is all well-established historical fact. There's no point is arguing with it.

Given that your peaceful Palestinians have a bloodthirsty history, given that their charters reject peace-making, given that there is a warlike side to Islam, given that Hizbullah and Hamas have been building up huge arsenals in order to start a new war with Israel, given that Ahmadinezhad has threatened many times to wipe Israel out — don't you think the Israelis have every reason to feel afraid of a one-state solution. Israel was created as a haven for a people who had been massacred throughout history and had lost 6 million: what sort of haven would it be if 'Palestine' was ruled by people who have threatened to kill all the Jews (al-Yahud, seldom al-Isra'iliyun)?

Please think about all this. If, 60 years ago, the Arabs had accepted Israel instead of fighting an 'all-out' war against her, there would now be a prosperous and dynamic Palestine side by side with a prosperous and dynamic Israel. The reality is a mess, and the Palestinians got themselves into it and are still getting themselves into it. A people whose slogan is 'we love death more than they love life' is never going to end its fascination with violence and its inevitable descent into anarchy and poverty.