6 September 1995
Thank you for sending me your friend's thoughts about the latest article of the Link. You mentioned in your little note of "27 août 1995" that he "is a scientist and quite brilliant." I have no doubt about that. The thrust of his response to you concerning the Link's article speaks volume. But probably this is the problem. He is too "brilliant" to the point that he transformed a very simple issue, and I mean simple in terms of its basics (more on that later), into a complicated one involving such technical terms as Judaic vs. Judaeic, Zealot or Sicarii, and meme. I think this misreading of the Link's article stems from the fact that, in my opinion, he erroneously framed the whole topic. At the end of his long paper he said: "I hope this clarifies my views of the radical religionists, Israel and America." Very much so. But this is not what the Link's article is all about. At four different instances, he mentioned, in slightly modified wording, the "fight over dirt, rocks, and a few decrepit olive trees" (p.1 once, p.6 twice and p.7 once). I am sorry, but once again, this is not what the Arab-Israeli conflict is all about. Also, nowhere in his paper did he mention the other party to the conflict, the real victim, i.e., the native Palestinians, their sufferings, their dispossession and their tragedy. His few references to the Canaanite are irrelevant in this context. The problem that we, Arabs, have with Israel has to do with the perception of the conflict by the West. Israel has succeeded in its propaganda war to brainwash the minds in the West to the point that they can spend long hours talking or writing about the Middle East conflict without dealing with one of the two parties to the conflict. Only when you realize that the forgotten party is the victim, the underdog with whom normally one would sympathize, can you appreciate how great is this success. Somehow, unconsciously (and this is even a greater success), the victims are forgotten. Your friend's paper is a perfect example of what I am referring to. One final observation. The very few historic points he raised in his paper seem to indicate that he doesn't know much about the history of the conflict. To me, this is a sine qua non for anyone who wants to grasp the problem, let alone talk or write about it.
After an introductory paragraph, your friend said: "Having posed what I think is a key question..". And what is this "key question"? "... from whence will come food for the future?" Your friend has just taken here a wrong turn. While "food for the future" is important I don't think it is a "key question," I don't think it is even a crucial point. Writing to you from Baghdad, having flown by helicopter over these two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, having seen those hundreds of canals dug between the two rivers and beyond, knowing very well what that means in terms of agriculture potential, I can tell you that Iraq, with proper agricultural management, can feed the whole Arab world, and that can be achieved within few years. Definitely, your friend took here the wrong turn. The problem, as I see it, is one of principles. The problem is a moral one. The problem is one of justice. This is what I meant when I said earlier that the problem is simple in terms of its basics.
Having said that, I can either start my own paper and develop my own ideas about this tragedy in the Middle East or take what your friend has written, point by point, comment and clarify what I think is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, the history and other aspects of the conflict. I don't think that your friend did that deliberately but, undeniably, this was the result of what I have qualified as a wrong turn. I will choose the second approach hoping to achieve two things: (1) to pinpoint exactly those deficiencies that made him take the wrong turn and (2) through that, hopefully, you will still be able to get some kind of an understanding of the tragedy. If the full picture is still not clear you can always re-read the lecture I have given earlier this year.
The first point your friend has raised is that "the Middle East has always been a troublesome area" (p.1). Is that typical of the Middle East? Hasn't that been pretty much the case everywhere in the world throughout the ages? I am not an expert in the history of Europe but I still can remember what I have been taught in high school about la guerre de cent ans or la guerre de trente ans. The wars that took place in the Middle East were not unusual by historic standards. The stronger has always been able to impose his will. This is true even today in spite of the fact that we have what is called "Inernational Law" as well as the United Nations to whose Charter have adhered virtually all the countries of the world. If, with International Law in effect today, we still have wars and conflicts just about everywhere: in the heart of Europe in Bosnia, in Ruwanda, in Mexico, in the Russian Federation itself, why would it have been any different in the past without International Law?
"America is becoming dangerously *emotionally* involved in the Middle East," said your friend (p.2). To say the least, this is an incomplete statement, if not totally incorrect. First, if there is such an emotional involvement, it would be with Israel, not with the Middle East in general. Second, I don't think emotion has anything to do with what we are dealing with, but purely domestic politics. I always remind my interlocutor of what president Truman said when he was running for the highest office: "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents." Up until today American Middle East policy is being directed by a minority pressure group using the leverage of domestic politics. The emotional aspect, if it ever existed, is a result of domestic politics and of a clever manipulation by the Israeli lobby of the average American who is misinformed by the media and the press. This manipulation has developed later into intimidation and even blackmail to suppress any dissent and any rational discussion of the issues. We see now both parties, Democrats and Republicans, competing in their pandering to the Israeli lobby and prostituting themselves just to remain in office.Furhtermore, the idea that the purpose of the involvement is "to protect Middle East oilfields from Soviet incursion" would have been convincing if this involvement was reversed after the Soviet Union was no longer a threat. The fact is that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the involvement is still very much alive and well as a result of the manipulation of domestic politics by the most powerful lobby in the U.S., the Israeli lobby. If the motivation was oil, or solely oil, one would have expected, given American interests, that the U.S. would rather have cultivated closer ties with the Arabs, not with their enemies. The Arabs, in turn, I can assure you, would have welcomed that with eagerness. After all, they are not going to drink their oil, they have to market it. If the Arabs are marketing their oil while American politicians are obsessed with Israel, just imagine what the relationship would have been if such an obsession didn't exist.
After explaining the difference between Judaic as "old-style Judaism" and Judaeic as "the Hellenized culture dominant in Palestine in Roman times," your friend stated that "much of the Jewish culture today is Judaeic not Judaic." Then he devoted pages 3 and 4 to exclusively deal with the Judaic aspect of the Jews, specifying that they are "a small number of right-wing fanatic religionists" who "are distinguished in their speech and writing by an almost singular dislike ... of the civilizing feature of Hellenistic culture and its descendant cultures" (p.3). I really don't know what he is talking about. The issue is not religion, or whether today's radicalism is religious or cultural. The issue is political; and religion is just a useful tool used and abused in order to score points on the political scoreboard. Strategically speaking, there is no difference, in my mind, between what he calls "radical religionists" who subscribe to a radical perspective and those who, in his words, "practice the gentler aspects of their faith." If there is a difference, it is a tactical one. Ultimately, the two tandems Shamir/Netanyahu-Sharon (presumably, the radical religionists), on the one hand, and Rabin-Peres (presumably, the gentler aspects), on the other hand, are all heading in the same direction. What the Likud wanted to achieve bluntly and brazenly, Labor is in the process of achieving it in a subtle manner: the dismemberment of the Palestinian community into bantustans. Whether Labor will succeed remains to be seen.
Shifting now to the dwindling Christian presence in Jerusalem, your friend said that "since no substantive remedies for the exodus of Christians from Palestine is apparent, an apparently easy 'solution' is cast in terms of improved tourism practices" (p.5). Christian presence and Christian tourism are two separate issues. One is not the corollary of the other. What your friend is saying doesn't make sense to me. A little bit further trying to explain the departure of the Christians, he said that "the gentler Christians will depart, while the (presumably tougher) Moslems remain to 'duke it out' with the Jewish settlers." Nothing could be further from the truth. The percentage of educated "gentler" Christians, as he calls them, is usually high, that is why, they are the ones who, in their attempt to find a way out from their difficult situation, resort to emigration. Moreover, Israel finds it in its own interest to facilitate the departure of the Christians, hoping that the West, once the Christians are out, will lose interest, or at least will have a diminished interest, in the region. As for Christian tourism, it is a separate issue. Israel has its own political reasons for promoting Christian tourism. Christian fundamentalists, like Jerry Falwell, have also their own reasons to court Israel. Israel needs any support it can get even if the devil is the party that provides it. This was particularly true when Israel was isolated internationaly. The fundamentalists have in the back of their minds the conversion of the Jews since this will hasten the second coming of Christ.
Next, your friend raised what he qualified as "the salient points of the problem," which supposedely the Link's article has missed (p.5).
First, he said, "the Jewish people have long desired to return to Palestine (i.e., '...next year in Jerusalem...')." Unlike what we used to say to our children: "do as I say and and not as I do," as far as the Jews are concerned, we should observe what they do and not what they say. It is true that they say in their prayers "next year in Jerusalem." However, now that they have a state that calls itself a Jewish state, that is, a state of the Jewish people and not just of its citizens, we are faced with a peculiar situation whereby the majority of the Jewish people live outside the border of "their" state. Worse, they don't plan to "return home". What is more shocking is that this eventuality doesn't even cross their minds. Dreadfully shocking is the phenomenon of reverse aliya (immigration to Israel is referred to as aliya (ascent); the opposite is the pejorative word yerida (descent)). Not only is there in the United States an American Jewish community but also an Israeli Jewish community. Both communities are very different form each other. The existence of an Israeli Diaspora in the U.S., in other words, the existence of Israeli Americans, is a great embarrassment for Israel because it points to the real failure of Zionism whose main goal was to bring "home" all the Jews of the world. If you are looking for statistics, don't, because this is one statistic that Israel prefers to keep secret. Ironically, Diaspora Jews prefer to be buried in Israel than live in Israel. In 1986, only 63 Jews from the New York area emigrated to Israel, while 378 Jews were brought to Israel for burial (New York Times of June 11, 1987).
Second, your friend said that after WWII, the Allies helped the Zionists to "establish a tiny foothold in the land of their ancestors." If this statement implies that Israel was created in response to the Holocaust it is a wrong statement. This is not the first time I encounter such a falsehood. Discussion about having a Jewish state in Palestine started in the beginning of the 19th century. The first Zionist Congress took place in 1897. In 1939, when WWII began, there was already a relatively large Jewish community in Palestine. Some 464,000 Jews were living in Palestine, this is 30 percent of the population. This is not a "tiny foothold." Undoubtedly, the Holocaust helped to mobilize much needed support for the establishment of Israel but it is absurd to assume that this Zionist project of colonizing Palestine and dispossessing the natives started with the Holocaust.
The third point is about the Jewish pople being blessed by God with "intelligence, determination and a strong work ethic." The supernatural is outside the scope of my expertise and I will refrain from making any comment. The fourth point is about the military and economic aid provided by the U.S. to Israel during the Cold War. This point was previously taken up when the protection of Middle East oilfields from Soviet incursion was dealt with.
* * *
Let me end my paper by taking up the moral issue, the problem of justice. This is in my opinion the crux of the conflict, and this is, you remember, a point I have also insisted on in my lecture. I consider justice to be crucial. Because once it is recognized as such, a real solution to this tragedy can be found and we won't have this peace charade that we are witnessing now. Unfortunately, I don't think the Israelis are ready yet to recognize justice as a key element in the search for a just solution. On the contrary, Israelis and apologists of Israel always try to avoid raising the issue of justice because they know too well that they will be on shaky grounds. They would rather talk about anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews. They will point out that they are the victims par excellence. If they are pressured they will tell you that the place was empty. Remember the famous line: "a land without people for a people without land." If you insist they will deny the existence of a Palestinian people. Remember Golda Meir statement: "There was no such thing as Palestinians ... They did not exist." Or something similar like: "The Palestinians had no real national counsciouness" or "The Palestinians never had a sovereign state," in order to justify the colonialist nature of the Zionist enterprise. If everything fails they will put forward the "affirmative action" argument. This is what Arthur Hertzberg said: "The Balfour Declaration is an international act of affirmative action. It says that the Jews who are a non-resident people have superior rights to the Arabs who are the resident majority. Why? In recompense to the Jews for the many centuries of deprivation and homelessness." Nobody can top that. In other words: the end justifies the means. Don't bother with justice.
Never mind the opinion of Israel's apologists and those who use Israel as their main professional acitivity. Nothing will come from them anyway. I think it will be the Israelis themselves, who live in Israel and who see the Palestinians day in and day out, who one day will start examining their conscious. Once that happens we can expect a change in their attitude and then a real solution can be envisaged. It is not going to be easy because what needs to be justified is the injustice to the Palestinians, which will probably shake the very foundations of Zionism and destroy its moral justification. For this examination of conscience to start, we will have to wait for the first generation of Zionists who created Israel to disappear. Deep down, I hope, there is a certain awareness of how immoral Zionism was in terms of how it treated the Palestinians. To be aware of it is one thing, to recognize it, discuss it and redress the injustice is another thing. Right now, Israelis are understandably avoiding the issue because those responsible for this tragedy are still around, and more importantly because the perspective of admitting the injustice is so terrifying that they prefer to avoid it.
Israelis have to confront their past like the Germans did after WWII. I concede that for the Germans it was an easy matter. Germany was defeated, Nazism was discredited and the atrocities committed by the Nazis were so overwhelming and exceeded anything one can think of, at least in the modern era, that to repudiate Nazism didn't require a lot of soul searching. The Americans too had to go through the same experience vis-à-vis the Indians. A number of books were written on the subject and a number of movies were produced in which admission of guilt was clear. But that was easy too, those events occured in the distant past and the victims are no longer here in great number to make any difference. The situation is very different with the Israelis and on that count, I sympathize with them. They have, however, to take the plunge if they want to have a clear concience. Some Israelis, as far as I can tell, have indeed taken the plunge such as Israel Shahak, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Uri Davis and Akiva Orr. But they still are a minority.
The difficulty that the Israelis are facing is that admitting the legitimacy of the existence of the Palestinians and the injustice done to them will automatically jeopardize Zionism which is the foundation upon which Israel itself is built and will reveal Zionism as it really is: a colonial-settler enterprise. The fact is, however, that Israel's population now is native to the area. Israelis who were born and raised in Israel cannot be held responsible for the acts committed some 50 or 60 years ago. They also have rights by the mere fact that they were born in the Middle East and as long as they recognize the same rights for the Palestinians. Admitting that an injustice was done in no way abolish whatever rights they have as natives and indigenous to the area.
In the Washington Report on the Middle East Affairs of August/September 1992, Janet McMahon wrote an article about a friendship between two women, a Palestinian and an Israeli. The Palestinian woman expressed the desire to hear someone apologize for what has happened to the Palestinians. She then was more specific: "The apology has to come from the Jews. Part of them actually committed the physical dispossession, and part of them supported it. I would like all of them to apologize, to say 'We're sorry we did this to you,' instead of behaving as if it were all just a misadventure or accident of fate" (p.90). This is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction but to do full justice to the Palestinians an apology is definitely not enough.