Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A counter-history of Palestine and Israel

Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, King of Iraq, until he died of suspected arsenic poisoning at a young age, was a patron, perhaps a friend of that most arrogant, loud-mouth British imperialist, Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. Faisal, a wily Arab desert chief, had a clearer eye for an advantage for his people than most Arab patriots. Like the Japanese and the Koreans, he believed that if the Jews are so smart that they control the world he would want to have Jews on his side. In his letter to Chaim Weizmann he pledged his support for Jewish immigration to Palestine. He wrote “we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home... I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilised peoples of the world." Tragically, some Arab nationalists preferred to long for a distant romanticized past than to live in their time. If you describe the history of the Middle East from the Jewish vantage point you recount a story of Arab hostility, threat to Jewish existence, and ultimately the triumph of Jews over the Arabs. The Palestinian narrative is one of victimhood. But in reality, the story of the Jews, the establishment of a Jewish State, is a minor event in the historic landscape of the Arab world. The Arab story is a struggle against colonialism, and the failure of Arabs to talk to each other and forge an Arab state in the territories formerly ruled by Turks and later by European colonizers, an Arab State, that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, a country bound together by a common language, and shared cultural, religious and historical heritage. Over the years there were attempts to create such an entity. There was a pan-Islamic conference in Jerusalem in 1931 and the Arab Independence Party was formed with the
participation by Palestinian and Iraqi activists to achieve Arab unity and solidarity. They elected Hajj Amin al Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem as their leader. He, far from bringing Arabs together, fomented the Arab revolt that lead to the murder of Jews; instead of noting the new found prosperity of the Arab villagers living near Jewish settlements, he brought destruction on his own people. The attack on the Jewish settlers instigated the formation of Jewish armed resistance,  which ultimately became the strong army that defeated the combined Arab armies. Attempt to form an Arab League was jeopardized by rivalry between Iraq and Egypt. Nasser tried to form an Arab League and brought Egypt and Syria together in the United Arab Republic, but he failed to enlist other Arab states and this joint enterprise only lasted for a short time. Gaddafi attempted to unite Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Syria to form the Federation of Arab Republics, but this like the United Arab Republic failed. The Ba'ath parties of Iraq and Syria, working with socialists and communists failed to unite. The Saudi royals sought to counter the influences of Marxism-Leninism and Arab nationalism promoted Islamism as an alternative. This lead to a bloody religious conflict between sects of Islam and the slaughter of Arabs who were not Muslims. The one thing that all Arab countries agreed on was their hostility to Israel. With the advent of Palestinian nationalisation, the unfortunate dream child of Arafat, the debate was between those who believed that pan-Arab unity would bring about the destruction of Israel and those who thought that the destruction of Israel would bring about Arab unity. Feisal's holistic, broad-minded view was forgotten, yet had the Arabs made use of Jewish know-how, Jewish skills, instead of trying to eliminate Jews, the whole Arab region would have benefited, as the Arabs had befitted from Jewish settlement in the 1920s and 1930s, and all countries that made Jews welcome had benefited. The Middle East, the Fertile Crescent would now be a prosperous region of the world. We can't turn the clock back, history cannot be undone, but looking towards to the future, perhaps this generation, or the next, will learn lessons from the past and embrace Jews, and in particular, the Arab Jews who form a majority of Israelis now, as vital part of the region.