The Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties in Egypt (including the Salafis and the Gama’a al-Islamiya) held a rally at al-Husayn Square in Cairo last Friday to which a few thousand people came. The big rally was at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and was dominated by secular forces.
This is an Arabic news article about the Muslim religious rally, clearly written by a reporter on the scene. It does not say anything about the speakers or the crowd threatening to kill all Jews, and I don’t believe any such threat was made.
The allegation was made by Eldad Beck, who complained of “Arab hate” at the rally. Beck, who clearly does not know what he is talking about, said that the crowd repeatedly quoted a verse in the Qur’an that spoke of killing all Jews. There is no such verse in the Islamic holy book. The Jewish revelation from God to Abraham and Moses is retold in the Qur’an, which has positive stories of the Children of Israel. The castigation of the Children of Israel in the Qur’an is of the same sort you see in the Hebrew Bible, and often put in the mouth of Moses or another Jewish prophet.
That Beck’s shoddy and wholly inaccurate reporting has been relayed by the Jerusalem Post and a host of other news outlets without question is shameful. If Beck had simply said that the Muslim Brotherhood crowds want Jerusalem back for Islamdom and evinced hostility toward Israelis, he would have been right. But his breathless exaggeration slides over into Islamophobia.
The background to Beck’s reporting and to one of the concerns of the al-Husayn rally is the illegal Israeli annexation of all of Jerusalem, the addition to the Israeli district of Jerusalem of substantial parts of the Palestinian West Bank, the expulsion of East Jerusalem Palestinians from their homes, the settlement of Israelis in and around East Jerusalem, and the threats made by small Jewish fundamentalist groups such as Revava to destroy the Muslim holy sites atop the Temple Mount. Jewish fundamentalists believe that the original Jewish temple was atop the mount, and that it can only be rebuilt there if the Muslim mosque and shrine are torn down. This policy is not that of the Israeli government, which considers the ultra-Orthodox extremists a pain in the neck. But Revava and similar groups have thrown a scare into the Muslim world about the safety of its shrines under Israeli control. Arson at mosques and grabby Israeli policies toward shared shrines have added oil to that flame.
Jerusalem has never been awarded to Israel by any international body. There were hardly any practitioners of the Judaic religion in Palestine between 1000 AD and 1800, since Jews had adopted the other religions. Instead, for some 1300 years Jerusalem was an Islamicly-ruled city, and the Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount makes it the third holiest city for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.
Radical Jewish nationalists often attempt to deconstruct the Muslim attachment to Jerusalem as recent or shallow, and as a mere form of anti-Zionist politics. Actually, the history of Muslim pilgrimage to shrines in geographical Palestine is quite long, and the history of the religion’s intertwining with this region deep. And, the Jewish predominance in what is now Israel and most of its national myths are also recent in respect to the past millennium. But in any case, most contemporary Muslims do indeed consider Jerusalem their third holiest city, and there are 1.5 billion of them, and they are likely to be a third of humankind by 2100, so get used to it. This Orientalist business of Westerners getting to tell them what they believe is very 19th century.
The Israelis conquered Jerusalem in 1967 and many of them consider the whole of it theirs, appealing to romantic nationalist themes to insist that it is the indivisible capital of Israel. This extremist Jewish nationalism and disregard for international law or any negotiated peace process is common also among American Jews and even congressional leaders such as Eric Cantor.
It is to the extent in the US that simply pointing out that Jerusalem is a final status issue for negotiation, that Israel’s might does not make right, that Palestinian East Jerusalemites should have civil and human rights, and that Jews haven’t even ruled the city for most of its history is considered beyond the pale in public American discourse. In fact, I will be attacked as having “defended” the horrible things the Muslim Brotherhood crowds said (I haven’t), just because I tried to explain where they were coming from. But no one is attacked for actually supporting Gush Emunim policies in Israel, as Eric Cantor, Daniel Pipes and a host of others do.
In international law as of 1945-1949, territory occupied by military force cannot be unilaterally annexed. Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants cannot be expropriated or expelled, and the occupying authority is not permitted to alter the way of life of the occupied population.
Contrary to international law, Israel is in fact making the lives of East Jerusalem Palestinians miserable and gradually trying to expel them and bring in Israeli settlers (many of them Americans) instead.
So one of the themes of the Muslim Brotherhood rally last Friday was “Jerusalem is ours.” It is an obnoxious theme, since Jerusalem ought to be an international city and shared (the way Chandigarh is shared as a provincial capital by provinces in north India). But that was the theme. Muslim fundamentalists are just as vehement on this issue as Eric Cantor from his side.
Sheikh Mukhtar al-Mahdi was sent to represent the Rector of Al-Azhar Seminary, a key center of learning and authority for the Sunni Muslim world. He said that Jerusalem is a “red line,” and that the time is ripe to defend it, now that Egypt has been liberated by the martyrs of Tahrir Square (i.e. from the Mubarak dictatorship, which was in the back pocket of Israel and the United States).
The crowd appears to have shouted that Muslims should raise their children to fight (muqatalah) the Israelis (in colloquial Arabic, Israelis are referred to as “al-Yahud,” “the Jews.”). The word to “kill” (qatala) is from the same root as the word for “fight” (muqatalah). So presumably Beck heard the former and mistranslated it by the latter.
Note that the sheikh did not say this, but some people shouted it from the crowd, according to journalist Amira Salim. We don’t know who those people were. To phrase it that “the Muslim Brotherhood said” it would be bad journalism.
You could argue that what the crowd actually said is just as bad as what Beck alleged. But connotation and context matter.
Saying that “Jerusalem is ours, the Israelis have captured it and are altering its character and gradually chasing out its Muslims and endangering its Islamic shrines, and that we will fight them for it” is not exactly the same thing as saying “let’s kill all the Jews.”
Then Abdul Rahman al-Birr spoke. He is a professor in the school of jurisprudence at al-Azhar and on the board of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said he wanted to underline how important Jerusalem is for the Muslim Brotherhood, and for Muslims and Arabs generally. He said that if Jewish nationalists (Zionists) imagine that the disarray in the Arab world at the moment might give them an opening to demolish the al-Aqsa Mosque, they are sorely mistaken.
Salim says that people shouted slogans such as that Jerusalem is a prisoner and is calling to us, and if we do not return it who will? And, “We are the youth of [Jan.] 25 [i.e. the Egyptian Revolution]– we will never sell you out, Palestine!”
Among the things some shouted was “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahud, Jaysh Muhammad saya’ud” (“Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the Army of Muhammad shall return.” This is not a verse of the Qur’an. It is just a morally juvenile chant of fanatical Muslim or Palestinian nationalists who reject Israeli dominance. It refers to the Jewish village of Khaybar in Arabia the time of the Prophet Muhammad, which was viewed as treacherous by the Muslims who were being attacked by the Meccan pagans. They subjected Khaybar to exile (sorry, got mixed up earlier– it wasn’t Khaybaris who were executed). It is a mean-spirited chant and not in accord with the spirit of Islam, which recognizes Jews and Christians as people of the Scripture and makes a place for them in Muslim society (in contrast to European Christianity, which often disallowed Jews and Muslims after 1300).
Bad Muslim relations with some particular tribe of Jews in the early period says nothing about the attitude of Islam to Jews. The Israel-Palestine issue has politicized religion in the Levant. This chant is not “Islamic” or from the Qur’an Lots of Jews rose high in Muslim society and politics in the old days before the colonial project of the British and their Jewish nationalist allies in Palestine.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a kind of Muslim-Arab nationalism, and it has most of the same flaws as hard line Jewish nationalism or Zionism. As we saw in the horrible 20th century, nationalists can start wars over territory that end up slaughtering millions of people.
I don’t approve of nationalism, whether Zionism or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t approve of what the crowd shouted at the Muslim Brotherhood rally. But these sentiments do have a context as a response to Greater Israel expansionism. If the Israelis had followed through on the Oslo peace process, withdrawn from the West Bank, allowed a Palestinian state, and shared Jerusalem with the Palestinians, then the Muslim Brotherhood wouldn’t have an issue here.
You can’t judge the Muslim Brotherhood by what hotheads in a crowd shout out. You have to judge it by its own officials’ pronouncements and actions. The Brotherhood says that if the Egyptian people, which is sovereign, wants to keep the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel, it will. (A large majority of Egyptians wants to keep the peace treaty). So the party may be lying, but in its public pronouncements at least, it isn’t acting like wild men.
The Qur’an doesn’t call for all Jews to be killed, and neither did the Muslim Brotherhood last Friday.
It is silly to fight over territory. Tel Aviv is only 20 meters above sea level, and global warming will almost certainly produce a sea level rise of greater than that within two or three centuries, so I wouldn’t get too attached to that territory if I were the Israelis and Palestinians. If we lose a sixth to a third of the world’s land mass to rising oceans, a lot of people are going to be refugees and a lot of land around which myths and tribalism were constructed isn’t going to be there any more. For better or worse, Jerusalem is pretty elevated, so it is going to be around to fight over if a formula for peaceful sharing isn’t found.