Have Arabs or Muslims always Hated Jews?
I said a couple of days ago that I regretted that the actions of Israeli hawks in the West Bank, Gaza and South Lebanon had produced an anti-Israeli and anti-American backlash in the Middle East and the Muslim world. I pointed out that that anger appears to have been part of the motive for the assassination of a US serviceman in Iraq. These rather obvious observations produced some interesting mail. In part this is because the posting was awarded Andrew Sullivan’s “Sontag Award” or whatever.
But this phenomenon is not new. In fall of 2002, a US serviceman on a training exercise at Failaka in Kuwait was shot dead by two angry Kuwaitis. Time Magazine referred to the fall, 2002, Israeli attack on Palestinians at Khan Yunis, when the Israelis fired missiles from a helicopter gunship into a crowd of unarmed civilians, killing some children along with whomever they had targeted.:
‘ Abdullah Kandari described how his brother, just before he headed to Falaika Island to launch his attack, had become angry watching the 9pm news on Kuwait TV, which had broadcast footage of Palestinians killed by an Israeli missile strike in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Yunis. According to Abdullah, Anas had jumped to his feet and cried, “God is generous, O Americans! We shall come and slaughter you like you have been slaughtering us!” Abdullah Kandari said that his brother blamed the U.S. more than Israel, and questioned how the U.S. could protect Kuwait while causing problems for Arabs. ‘
Israel is a close ally and friend of the United States, and we should defend it from its enemies. But when Ariel Sharon sends American-made helicopter gunships and F-16s to fire missiles into civilian residences or crowds in steets, as he has done more than once, then he makes the United States complicit in his war crimes and makes the United States hated among friends of the Palestinians. And this aggression and disregard of Arab life on the part of the proto-fascist Israeli Right has gotten more than one American killed, including American soldiers.
The negative mail I got on this issue goes like this:
‘ Oh really, all the times they hated and killed Jews before 1948, what was the excuse then? They collaborated with the Nazis, was Israel to blame for that? They have always hated and oppressed the Jews . . . ‘
‘Current Israeli policy calls for withdrawal from Gaza and a
small number of West Bank settlements. How is that expasionist? If you want to
discuss 35 years of policy, well it would be amazing that an Iraqi who lived in
a virtual news-free zone under Sadaam would really have the ups and downs of
Israel-Palestinian history. ‘
These are the Orientalist premises of the Zionist Right and its American fellow travelers. The reason my comment was so challenging is that it didn’t partake of these premises. The premise is that there is an “eternal Arab” or “eternal Muslim” that is defined as essentially fanatical and intolerant and full of hatred toward Jews. These are universal characteristics of this race, and unvarying over time.
Of course, if it were true that “Arabs” or “Muslims” partook of this eternal character, then it just wouldn’t matter what Israeli hawks do to them. Kill civilian Arab children with helicopter gunship fire? So what if that upsets the Arabs? They are already fanatical and hate-filled, so it just doesn’t matter. You can’t throw a glass of water into the ocean and thereby cause the tides to rise.
But what if Arabs and Muslims were human beings like everybody else? Wouldn’t it be the case that if you punched one in the nose, he would try to punch you back? And if you didn’t punch him out, he’d be more likely to greet you politely? And if you tossed his distant cousin out of his house, wouldn’t he mind that? Actions have consequences.
What are the facts?
Living as a minority in any society is seldom a picnic, but in fact Jews before the Napoleonic emancipation were substantially better off living in Muslim societies than in Europe.
Medieval Christianity had no category for non-Christians in society. They completely kept Muslims out of Christian-ruled domains for the most part. Whereas perhaps a third of Egyptians in Egypt in 1400 were Christians, no British, French, Germans, etc. were Muslims. The Muslim trading diaspora threw up communities in Hindu Indonesia and Confucian China, and they were perfectly capable of pursuing opportunities in Europe had they been allowed to. They were not allowed to, in some important part because of the Inquisition. (Valencia in medieval Spain; Russia from Catherine the Great; and some post-Ottoman Balkan principalities are exceptions here, in allowing more tolerance for, or at least having to put up with the presence of, Muslims.)
Likewise, for entire centuries in the late medieval period, Jews were completely excluded from Britain, France, Spain, etc. In contrast, Jews had thriving mercantile communities in places like Cairo in the same period. To paraphrase our SecDef: Was it paradise? No. Was it better than being kicked out altogether or forcibly converted to Catholicism? You bet.
So it just isn’t true that all Muslims have always hated Jews. In Islam, Jews were considered a “protected minority.” They were not equal citizens with Muslims, but then there was no idea of citizenship or of equality in the modern political sense in any medieval society. Jews were in normal times assured of life and property. There were episodes of intolerance and even persecution, but they were not the norm. There was no blood libel in the Muslim Middle East (some Christian episodes of the libel started occurring under European influence in the 19th century). References in Arabic by Muslims to the blood libel as anything but a Western curiosity are as far as I can tell a very recent phenomenon. The protocols of the elders of Zion, a Tsarist forgery that posited a Jewish political conspiracy to rule the world, had no particular resonances in the Muslim world (outside a few radical Muslim cliques) until the past couple of decades.
With the rise of modern nation-states in the Middle East, new bases for identity were found that made Jews co-citizens with Christians and Muslims. Jews in pre-1948 Iraq were numerous (about a third of Baghdad) and relatively well off. They played an active social and political role that would have been impossible if there had been widespread hatred toward them of the sort many rightwing Zionists apparently now assume. The expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 (it was probably mostly expulsion) created a backlash against Jews throughout the region that caused them to flee to Israel. This was a tragedy and a great wrong. In my view, the Israelis should pay compensation to all the Palestinians, and the Arab states should pay compensation to the Sephardi Jews who lost their property, and the Palestinians should get to form their state, and then everyone would be square.
It was, by the way, quite clear that many powerful forces in North African society were extremely disturbed by the European-style anti-Jewish bigotry imported into the region by the Vichy French. The Bey of Tunisia resisted imposition of harsh measures on Tunisian Jews. The Tunisian nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba eschewed any cooperation with the Germans. Although the sultan of Morocco was not in a strong enough position to keep the French from imposing anti-Jewish legislation, he privately met with Moroccan Jews and assured them of his support. Many brave Arab Muslims, including some of the Muslim clerics of Algeria, defied the European colonial powers under Nazi influence to protect or to offer succor to Arab Jews.
Israel Gershoni of Tel Aviv University has shown through his scholarship that the liberal mainstream of Egyptian society roundly condemned fascism. It simply isn’t true that Arabs were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers in any numbers. Those who did support Germany mostly did so in ignorance of what Nazism stood for, and mainly as a counterweight to British imperial power in the Middle East.
Another reader wrote:
‘ Obviously you are aware that Arabs have been attacking Israel since the very day it was founded. Israel’s responses may not be perfect, but they are no more harsh than America’s response to 9/11, Russia’s actions against Chechnya, France’s action in the Ivory Coast, etc. ‘
Well, actually, the largest Arab country, Egypt, where a third of all Arabs live, has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1978. As far as I can tell, neither Morocco nor Qatar has ever attacked Israel, anyway [Morocco sent 2500 troops to Syria in 1973 but I don’t know enough about the incident to know if they were intended to “attack Israel” as opposed to defending Syrian territory; they did not set foot on Israeli soil; and, since the Camp David accords, the Moroccan-Israeli relationship has been good]. So all “Arabs” are not “attacking Israel.”
For the rest, I replied:
Actually, the Israelis are doing things that the US, Russia and France are not doing. They are stealing other people’s land and making that people homeless.
The French haven’t put 400,000 French settlers into the Ivory Coast, thrown farmers off their land, dug deep wells that deprive Cote D’Ivoirians of water, and declared that the capital of Yamoussoukru is off-limits to Ivoirians in the rest of the country and is now a completely French city forever. Nor have they built roads through the Ivory Coast that make it impossible for villagers to get to their markets with their goods, or to get to a hospital in time during an emergency. They haven’t aimed at creating Ivoirian Bantustans that prevent the Ivory Coast ever from being a sovereign country.
If the French had acted this way in the Ivory Coast during the past 30 years, France would have been isolated and pilloried by the world community, and it would have faced substantial violent resistance from Africans. And I would have condemned France for it.
Look, all the opinion polling and all the social science research shows without any doubt that knee-jerk US support for Israeli expansionism is at the root of anti-Americanism in the Arab world. Maybe everyone is lying to all the pollsters all the time, but how likely is that? What Camp David showed was that there was by the late 1970s an increased willingness by the Arabs to recognize Israel. The price was giving up Egyptian territory captured in 1967. The main obstacle to a comprehensive peace has been Israel’s refusal to give the Palestinians and the Syrians the same deal they gave Egypt. David Ben Gurion, by the way, agreed with my position on the undesirability of Israel trying to keep the West Bank if it were to survive.
As for the supposed promising policies of Ariel Sharon in the Occupied Territories, everyone should take a reality check. Uri Avnery nails it when he points out that Sharon is the bottleneck in any move toward genuine peace.
In fact, the land grab is accelerating. The Israelis promised to make peace in 1993, and over the next decade they doubled the number of settlers in the West Bank! And the expansion of settlements continues as we speak. How can Palestinians make peace with people who are stealing from them? The Guardian writes,
‘ Sharif Omar has been waiting two years for the bulldozers, ever since Israel’s steel and barbed wire “security fence” carved its way between his village and its land. Last week the excavators and diggers finally arrived on the outskirts of Jayyous to lay the foundations for an expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Zufim, fulfilling the fears and warnings of its Palestinian neighbours.
The bulldozers were preparing the ground for hundreds of new homes, despite the Israeli government’s claim that it is not expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Like other building work along the route of the barrier, it seems to be an attempt to ensure that the land between the fence and the 1967 border remains in Israeli hands in any final agreement with the Palestinians.
“When they built the fence, we said they would use it to build a much bigger settlement, and they would take our land to do it,” said Omar, whose olive and citrus groves are now encircled. “It is very clear to us, they are planning to confiscate all of our land and drive us from here. They came and told us to finish harvesting because they were going to begin building 80 houses. They are beginning with my neighbour’s land but if they do it there they will do it on mine.” . . .
Zufim, where about 200 families live, is built on 136ha of land confiscated from Jayyous in 1986. An Israeli rights group, Bimkom, says that developers in Zufim plan to build about 1 200 new homes. Yehezkel Lein, a researcher for another Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said the military government in the occupied territories had issued permits for the work.
He added: “In the plan for Zufim there is an extension to the north of the settlement that was already approved. There is also another expansion to the east. But there is no territorial contiguity between Zufim and the new construction, so it is really a new settlement.”
Tel Aviv is worth American lives to protect it. The United Nations Security Council awarded Tel Aviv to Israel, and Camp David and other international instruments recognize Israel in its pre-1967 borders.
The Zufim extension is just grand larceny, and not worth any lives at all, much less those of brave American soldiers.