Monday, August 25, 2014

A partially balanced evaluation of the conflict at Vox, but still 150° wrong (Part 2)

Sar Shalom

In my introductory post on Max Fisher's deconstruction of the "myths" about the Israeli-Arab conflict, I reviewed the one card that I agreed with and started presenting what is wrong in the others. In this post, I shall pick up, in order what is wrong with the remaining cards from Fisher's list of myths.

Card 2, The conflict is about religion

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong in stating that the conflict is something other than religion. Indeed, until the Islamists started turning on the the Christians, the Christians were united with the Moslems in opposing Jewish self-determination. Even today, many Christians-Palestinians are on the side of the Moslems, though there has been an awakening among some Palestinian-Christians, such as Christy Anastas and Gabriel Nadaf, that they are better off under Jewish-Israeli rule than under Moslem-Palestinian rule.

However, Fisher states that the conflict is "over secular issue of land and nationhood." In this statement, Fisher creates the impression that the Palestinians' objective is a positive one, as opposed to the negative goal of eliminating Jewish self-determination, whatever replaces it. For the most part, I discussed that in the last post, but in this card, Fisher added a few words about Jerusalem: "The long-divided city has, in its ancient center, Islam's third holiest site (the al-Aqsa mosque compound) located physically on top of the much older Temple Mount, the Western Wall of which is Judaism's holiest site." Contrary to Fisher's assertions in that paragraph, the Western Wall is not Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount is, and within the Temple Mount, the holiest site is the site where the Temple stood, though there is a degree of controversy of its exact location. One common feature at EoZ has been Moslem reactions to Jewish visits to the Temple Mount. What is that animates them so much? The Jews visiting do nothing to interfere with Moslem religious activities there nor do they disrespect it such as by playing soccer. Could it be Jews visiting the Temple Mount undermines their right to lord Islam's supremacy of Judaism just as barring Jews from sitting at the Western Wall did during the British Mandate era?

More egregious is "[t]he European Jews who first encouraged and organized mass Jewish migration to what we now call Israel" which writes out the the Middle Eastern and North African Jews who migrated to the Yishuv. Unlike their European coreligionists, many of these Jews were religious. The role of Jews from the East will be brought up further in Cards 3 and 4.

Card3, They've been fighting for centuries

It is true that there has not been open conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in the Levant for centuries in the same way that there was not open warfare between whites and negroes (the polite word of the era) between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era.

However, Fisher claims that the conflict began in 1948, yielding that it can be as much as 100 years old, ignoring the anti-Jewish hostilities from the Levant that were present in the early 19th century. Fisher characterizes the pre-Zionism relations in the region as " those two religious groups have been coexisting in the region, for the most part peacefully, since Islam was first born in the 7th century." It is a short stretch from that to saying that Zionism destroyed the amicable relations between the Moslem and Jewish faiths that have been created through 12 centuries of patient effort by the good people of both faiths. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.

More egregious is Fisher's insinuation that the conflict started after the arrival of European Jews. The reality is that the 19th century was a time that saw numerous blood libels and other massacres across the Levant. The most notable instance was in Damascus in 1840 (which incidentally was the true spark for Zionism, albeit a spark that laid dormant until Herzl discovered it decades later after the Dreyfus affair). However, there were many other locations across the Levant where the blood libel manifested itself, Aleppo (1810, 1850, 1875), Beirut (1862, 1874), Safed (1834), Jerusalem (1847), Alexandria (1870, 1882), and others. The situation of the Jews was such that British diplomats saw that there might be a need to protect the Jews of the Levant. While much of the violence against the Jews was a result of the Ottoman authorites lacking the capacity to prevent, as opposed to with their blessing, and indeed plenty of it was perpetrated by the Christians, it demonstrates that anti-Jewish sentiment was well entrenched in the Levant by the 19th century.

Fisher goes on to characterize the Arab view of the Zionist project as European "colonial theft." A better characterization is that the Arabs were used to Jews in their midst who were willing to accept their inferior place in society. What the European immigrants represented were Jews who insisted on living in Palestine as equals. Early on, many of the fellahin would have been content to let the Jews come in and build the economy. However, many of the effendi were loathe to give up their privilege under the earlier system. One of their members, Amin el Husseini, threatened riots in order to induce the British to appoint him as Mufti in 1921. If there was any event that cast the die for the subsequent conflict, that was it. While most Arabs were unwilling to participate in violence against the Jews when Husseini took office, his promulgating that Arab honor required that Jews learn their proper place induced most of them to participate in the riots of 1929, less than decade after he assumed office, and set the seed for their intransigence which persists to today.

A final misconception of Fisher's is the role of the UN's 1947 partition plan. Following Fisher's reasoning, if the UN had not passed the partition plan, the Jews would have had no right to any of the land and partition only allocated a fraction of the land west of the Jordan for the Jews. The reality is that the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference allocated all of the land west of the Jordan (actually, it allocated more for the Jews, but included a clause that allowed Britain to reduce that amount, which Britain did invoke) and placed it under the British Mandate. What partition did was provide for the winding up of the Mandate and recommended that the Jews should yield a significant portion of the land allocated for them at the San Remo Conference in order to achieve peace with the Arabs. The Jews accepted this recommendation while the Arabs did not and responded by trying to take everything. They succeeded in taking part of what the UN suggested that the Jews should give them, with the Jews holding the rest and forming the State of Israel on it.

There were multiple categories of Arabs who left during the war. One was Arabs who had little connection to the land, such as those who arrived only a few years beforehand looking for work, who thus had no reason to stay in a war zone. Another was those heeded the call of the advancing Arab armies to vacate the area temporarily to facilitate the liquidation of the Jews, after which they could return. This group was augmented by Arabs who were forced by the Arab forces to join this exodus. Finally, there were Arabs who lived in towns and villages that gave sanctuary to the advancing Arab armies. This category was the only one that was forcibly removed by Israel. While the members of the final group were the only ones forcibly removed by Israel, the reality about them cast a cloud over all the others who left either voluntarily or because of Arab coercion, leading Israel to bar their reentry. Unlike all other refugee crises, outsiders saw this one as a bloody shirt to wave about Israel rather than a problem to solve, hence talk about permanent settlement of the Palestinian refugees outside of Israel has been verboten at the UN.

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