A recent (18 April 2011) review article by Scott Prosterman lauds Richard Forer’s new book: Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion: A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
As the review emphasizes, Forer’s perspective may be important ‘news’ for insulated jingoistic Jews who presume an inhumanly high level of purity of Jewish conduct in Israel-Palestine. But a focus on debunking of alleged Jewish purity does not take anyone very far toward grasping just what the primary conflict is about right now or indeed has been for most of a century. This conflict is over terms of national existence (or non-existence) of either or both of two societies: a predominantly Jewish Israel and a predominantly Islamic Arab Palestine.
This national and inter-national conflict has lately been confused with something else: the quest for civil rights – for individual Arabs as members of a minority – within Israel and Israel-held territory. However, the status of these individuals and our sympathies for them tell us little about the rightness or reason of what was or is actually being demanded in their name by forces who claim to represent them. Here in California, many Hispanic and tribal residents have our sympathy as individuals, as members of sometime victimized minorities. But exactly how and why should that sympathy imply that therefore without further examination we should favor every political program being advanced in their name?
For example, should we therefore favor a two-state solution which would divide California into a ‘Yankee’ state and a ‘Mexican’ state? Or rather, in closer parallel with Palestine, that therefore we should favor a new California which eliminates all political rights of the Yankees – whether immediately (Hamas), or gradually via a two-stage initially two-state solution (Palestine Authority and Fatah)?
Despite the review’s blithe dismissal, Islamic sources DO preach a doctrinal hate of Judaism. For instance, the Mavi Marmara militants taunted the boarding Israeli soldiers with the word ‘Khaybar’ – referring to the Quran’s approving account of the destruction and spoliation of a Jewish community in one of Mohammed’s key early military campaigns. Contra the review, recognition of this aspect of Islamic doctrine does not call for endorsing a silly claim that all Arabs have an inborn hatred of Jews.
Not only does hatred have to be taught – and it is being taught – but moreover the expression of Islamic doctrine, historically and into our day, has varied among Islamic states and regimes. More fanatic regimes (as in Saudi Arabia) come close to excluding all non-Moslems or even prescribing their death. More moderate regimes (in Morocco, and at least until lately in Tunisia and Egypt) have allowed coexistence and toleration of Christians and Jews as second-class citizens practicing legitimate but second-class religions, but typically obliged to pay annual toleration taxes, to refrain from converting Moslems, to keep worship buildings lower than nearby mosques, etc. So it’s no wonder that (as noted in the review) when the Jews were expelled from Spain thanks to the utterly intolerant Inquisition, many turned to nearby more moderate Islamic lands.
According to the review, “Arabs and Jews lived harmoniously in Israel/Palestine through the early 20th Century, until the political Zionist movement began to send more Jews to Palestine than could be absorbed by the primitive infrastructure at the time.” The claim about infrastructure is an uninformative truism about typical migrations, a truism which omits the essence of what happened in Palestine as indeed in California. You could as well say that Mexican and Yankee Californians lived in harmony until the Gold Rush began to send more Yanks ‘than could be absorbed by the primitive infrastructure at the time.’
In fact, in Palestine as in California, the immigrants and their supporters brought capital and dedication with which in fact they built the needed new infrastructure. The result was change, rapid change. Some Arabs prospered with change, some disliked it, some did both. The main result of change was increase in both Arab and Jewish populations.
The review notes the 1937 Peel’s Commission’s analysis but fails to note what that analysis led the commission to recommend as the most practical way to accommodate both Arabs and Jews: a once-for-all partition: the Jews to get the central coastal strip and Galilee where they predominated, the British mandatory authorities to stay on for a while in and near Jerusalem, the Arabs to get all the rest. Even then, as ever since (1947, 2001, 2008), such a two-state solution was rejected by Arab reps and accepted by Jewish reps.
“Arab nationalism” and especially “Palestinian Arab nationalism” in particular did and apparently still does desire above all not a new Arab state but total political supremacy: immediate or eventual exclusion of Jews as sovereign anywhere in Israel-Palestine. Recent haggling over presence or non-presence of settlements, built largely where no one has lived for hundreds of years past, is a useful diversion (for everyone) from the basic uncomforting fact that the fundamental aim of what has passed for “Palestinian nationalism” is simply the outright denial of the fundamental goal of Jewish nationalism, i.e. Zionism, i.e. a Jewish state in the ancient homeland.
In 1937 the Jews desperately sought a new state for refuge, even a small one. Just a few years later six million Jews without refuge were deliberately state-murdered. Contrary to the review’s insinuations of equivalence, the Palestinians have suffered nothing remotely resembling this Holocaust. Their lot in fact compares favorably with that of some Arab peoples who have their ‘own’ national states – complete with their own national tyrannies. A Palestinian ‘tragedy’ is real for some individuals but has largely been self-created on the national and political level: by a leadership and masses whose primary ‘national’ aim and ‘Palestinian cause’ has been the above-noted negative aim of excluding any Jewish state.
Ever since 1948, Israel’s existence has been under continual threat in the name of this cause – mostly (and usually entirely) not by Palestinian forces but by forces of neighboring and yet other Arab lands claiming or desiring to be fighting ‘for Palestine’ as the one common Arab ‘cause’.
To be sure, such a new attitude will be a necessary condition. It would represent a total shift from today’s Hamas and the Palestine Authority, who both incessantly use their Arabic language media – in general not well heeded by foreign reporters – to incite anti-Judaism and to laud terrorism.