Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario
Edited by S. Trifkovic
Rockford, IL: Chronicles Press, 2006 368 pp. $34.95 ISBN: 0972061630
While the second Iraq war enthralls most commentators, several regular contributors to Chronicles point to the perennial elephant in the room: Palestine… A reasonable peace is possible, these authors cogently maintain, and they urge to start making it now. -- Ray Olson in Booklist
NATIONAL REVIEW BOOK SERVICE
From the editors of Chronicles:
A realist's approach to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict that serves the American interest
Few problems in the world are more urgently in need of solving than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and none, perhaps, is more fraught with peril for American foreign policy. Is there a solution? And if so, what role, if any, should America play in bringing it about?
Now, Serge Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles magazine and author of the bestselling Sword of the Prophet, brings together ten independent-minded experts to examine the problem from every important angle -- historical, religious, and political - and to propose workable solutions that would serve the best interests not only of the Israelis and Palestinians, but of the United States.
A key theme of Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario is that the conflict in the Holy Land, like the broader one with resurgent Islam, is more cultural than political. Accordingly, the authors' focus is not on new maps of a partitioned Jerusalem or elaborate compensations schemes for dispossessed Palestinians. Instead, they present the information necessary to understand, and to make informed judgments about, one of the most complex struggles in history -- and to divorce U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East from ideology and fanaticism on both sides. Among the chapters:
· In "From Abraham to Napoleon: 4,000 Years of Ethnic Conflict," Dr. Thomas Fleming sets the stage by sketching out the history of both Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land, separating fact from nationalist fictions. He demonstrates that the myth of peace-loving "Palestinian people" being driven from their homes by Zionist colonists is as inaccurate as the myth of peace-loving Jews returning to their homeland after two millennia of exile only to be set upon by murderous Arabs
· In "Palestine: From Napoleon to Israel's Independence," Michael Stenton looks especially at the role Great Britain has played in the region, providing a sober assessment of what happens when Western national interests -- and, more importantly, imperial ambitions -- run up against the historical myths that Dr. Fleming examined. Dr. Stenton also provides a succinct history of modern Zionism
· In "Israel's Future: A New Israel in an Old Middle East?" Leon Hadar argues that most Israelis favor a two-state solution but warns that American neoconservatives are supporting a "messianic minority" that has long been able to impose their agenda of a Greater Israel on the rest of the country
· In "The Impact of Islam on the Arab-Israeli Dispute," Dr. Serge Trifkovic examines the extent to which the Muslim hatred for Jews, which has roots deep in the Koran and Muslim history, makes resolution difficult
· In "`Christian Zionism': An Obstacle to Peace," Aaron Wolf shows how America's "Zionist Christians" are frustrating efforts to broker a peace deal based on a highly questionable (and untraditional) reading of the Bible. Ironically, he shows, their theology has led them to turn a blind eye toward the plight of their own brothers in the faith, the Palestinian Christians
· In "Zionism and Neoconservatism," Dr. Paul Gottfried examines the almost uncritical support of neoconservatives for Israeli policies -- and shows how their influence on U.S. foreign policy puts America at risk
· In "Interests and Ideology in Middle East Policy," Wayne Allensworth argues that by allowing China, Russia, and several European states to take a more active role in the Middle East, Washington could help potential allies in the War on Terror while securing U.S. interests in the region
· In "The U.S.-Israel Relationship," Doug Bandow comments that, with the end of the Cold War, the key justification for U.S. micromanagement of Middle Eastern affairs has disappeared -- and that America should now focus on her own interests, not that of friendly states or of their allies in the United States
· In "The Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," Stephen B. Presser discusses the relevant parts of international law that pertain to the conflict and provides a detailed examination of the U.N. resolutions that underlie the peace process and of the various American proposals for a lasting solution
· In "Israel and the United States: Leading Parallel Lives, Making Similar Mistakes" Ivan Eland explains how American disengagement from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would benefit Israel, while allowing America to pursue the War on Terror more effectively
· In "Essentials for a Lasting Peace," David Hartman outlines certain points that should be nonnegotiable
For those who truly want to see this conflict resolved in a way that serves the American interest, Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario is required reading.
To order Peace in the Promised Land, go to
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Peace in the Promised Land, pp. 99-119
© The Rockford Institute
THE IMPACT OF ISLAM ON THE ARAB-ISRAELI DISPUTEby Srdja Trifkovic
The role of Islam in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a contentious subject. Many arguments and comments on this issue can be roughly classified into two schools of thought. One, broadly sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view, treats the conflict in geopolitical and social, rather than ideological or religious, terms. The other, emanating mostly (although not exclusively) from pro-Israeli sources, maintains that the Palestinian cause – even when wrapped in secularist discourse – remains inseparable from the Muslim mind-set and Islamic political tradition.
The first view concedes that some Palestinians have embraced Islamic extremism, mostly out of powerlessness and desperation, but maintains that the underlying causes motivating many young men to become martyrs for Allah are to be found in their nationalist and social grievances that are understandable and more or less legitimate. If those grievances were to be addressed and rectified, the theory goes, the jihadist zeal in the West Bank and Gaza would also abate. The proponents of this view additionally warn that Israel, having presented herself during the Cold War as a bulwark against the spread of communism through the Middle East, is now projecting herself as the West’s first line of defense against militant Islam – a movement she is portraying as an even greater danger than communism – while facilitating its spread by her intransigent policies, in what is beginning to amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The second view warns that even if an evenhanded and generous agreement were to be offered to the Arabs – including the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, an equitable sharing of natural resources, and a generous compensation package that would resolve the refugee problem – it would nevertheless prove to be unworkable in the long term because the notion of Israel’s legitimacy is simply unacceptable to traditional Islam. This view holds that nominally secular Arab leaders, such as the late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, look upon agreements with the Israelis and other non-Muslims in a manner identical to the way their Islamist compatriots view such agreements: as a ruse known under its Arab name of Hudaybiyya. It was developed by the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, as a temporary ploy to deceive the infidel until the Muslim side is strong enough to destroy him. In this view, a permanent settlement is impossible: "[I]n accordance with Islamic principles which form the basis of the political culture in the Arab sphere, such a commitment may (or must) be broken at the right time… We shall continue to disregard the Islamic tradition only on pain of more naive dreams, by Israeli and Western leaders, dreams which are totally detached from the Middle Eastern reality, a reality which is becoming increasingly colored by the Islamic brush."
Both views are correct, although neither is wholly right. In a place called the Holy Land, historical periods do not follow one another; they coexist, never happily. In that part of the world, religion has never been a wholly private affair, separable from political, cultural, and ethnic motives and sensibilities. This is more apparent today, however, than it was a generation ago. The tragedy of the Israeli-Arab conflict is that a problem that may have been amenable, a few decades ago, to the conventional conflict-resolution approach has morphed into a civilizational and religious dispute beyond politics. Most principal actors now perceive it as a zero-sum game.
ISLAM AND POLITICS
In classical Islam, the separation between religion and politics does not exist, and the term political Islam is oxymoronic. Islam is not a “mere” religion; it is a self-contained world outlook and a way of life that claims the primary allegiance of all those calling themselves “Muslim.” No clash between pope and emperor was possible, as the caliph was, at the same time, the head of the Islamic state and of the Umma, blending both political and religious authority. There is still “Christianity,” and there used to be “Christendom,” but in Islam such a distinction does not apply. To whatever political entity a Muslim believer may belong, he is first and foremost a citizen of Islam and belongs morally, spiritually, intellectually – in principle, totally – to the World of Belief of which Muhammad is the Prophet, and Mecca is the capital. This is not, of course, true for every Muslim, but it is true of every true Muslim: It is the central worldly demand of Islam.
The basis of the social and legal order and obligation in Islam is the Koran, the final revelation of Allah’s will that is to be obeyed by all Creation. His divine sovereignty is irreconcilable with popular sovereignty, the keystone of democracy. The Islamic law, the sharia, is not an addition to the secular legal code with which it coexists; it is the only true code, the only basis of obligation. To be legitimate, all political power therefore must rest exclusively with those who enjoy Allah’s authority on the basis of his revealed will. Islam thus assumes a basic pattern of movement in the world within which politics is in fact no different from religion: truth comes from on high and on the way down is met by responsibility moving up. Society is regulated by law and in the Islamic state the source of law is divine. Politics is not “part of Islam,” as this would imply that, in origin, it is a distinctly separate sphere of existence that is then eventually amalgamated with Islam. Quite the contrary, politics is the intrinsic core of the Islamic imperative of Allah’s sovereignty.
In practice, however, the decline of Islam’s political and economic power vis-à-vis the West that commenced in earnest at Lepanto and culminated with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire presented the Muslim world with a problem. It prompted the emerging elites in the Arab-speaking world between the two world wars to define the quest for national and cultural identity and political power in terms of nationalism with distinctly secular, Western-inspired overtones. Arabism rather than Islam became the dominant discourse, displacing the traditional vocabulary of political affiliation and political action.
After World War II, and especially with the establishment of the state of Israel, Pan-Arabism went beyond promoting a sense of shared history, culture, and language and called for the creation of a single Arab state. Secular Arab intellectuals seeking to modernize their societies were drawn toward a form of collective identity based on nationalism rather than on religion. The conservative, religious masses could also identify with pan-Arab nationalism, however, because it retained much of the Islamic semantic legacy. The term umma, traditionally used to denote the universal community of the faithful (ummat al-Islam), was modified by Arab nationalists to refer to the Arab nation (al-umma al-arabiyya).
Before 1967, Arab nationalism had tended to be secular, socialist, and anti-Western. Its opposition to Israel also took a secular form: Israel was seen as a Western colony settled by Europeans and Americans in an Arab land. Europe and the United States created it both as a strategic outpost and as a means of getting rid of their Jewish populations. In the aftermath of the crushing defeat in the Six-Day War, however, the seeds of doubt were sown in the Arab street. How could three million Jews deliver such an humiliating blow to 200 million Arabs? Perhaps because they placed their trust in their God, while the Arabs – led by secular regimes – were unfaithful to Allah? This notion took years to germinate, with fresh stimuli coming with the defeat in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The line connecting the Arab debacle of June 1967 and the reawakening of political Islam a generation later, following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, is uneven but clearly discernible.
Until roughly 1990, broader Arab trends also applied to the Palestinian political and intellectual mainstream. The opposition to Israel, in the occupied territories and in the diaspora, depended for support on pan-Arab sentiment, notably embodied in Egypt’s Nasser. Parallel with that sentiment, a nondenominational Palestinian identity was actively promoted. It was rooted in the myth of an idealized pre-1947 polity, and it amounted to a belated attempt to build a nation without a state and without much of the claimed land. The Arab Nationalist Movement, founded in 1950 by Georges Habache, and the Fatah, started by Yasser Arafat eight years later, were secular-nationalist organizations with strongly Marxist overtones. In 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was born. It became both the main enemy of Israel within the Palestinian camp and – in the aftermath of the Six-Day War – a rival and a foe to a host of more radical factions led by people like Abu Nidal (Black September) or Ahmed Jabril (PFLP-General Command).
NATIONALIST GOALS BECOME DIVINELY ORDAINED
For over two decades following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the violence in the occupied territories was largely devoid of a religious component. The state of Israel appeared, at times, to rely on conservative imams and the traditionalist-minded majority of observant Muslims to keep the common nationalist-secularist foe (Nasserism, Baathism) at bay. Until roughly 1990, both Israel and the United States saw Islamism as a counterweight to Arab nationalism blended with socialism and supported by Eastern European communism.
The great realignment came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of its satellite regimes – notably in East Berlin, Bucharest, and Prague – that had provided help to various Palestinian factions when Moscow was reluctant to be seen as doing so itself. In the absence of the failed secular god, young Arabs turned to Allah in droves. The fall of the Berlin Wall was soon followed by the defeat of militant Islamists in Algeria and Egypt, forcing them to shift their focus from the internal to the external front. Until that time, they regarded the secular regimes, such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as far more pernicious than the external enemy, Israel and the United States included. The dominant line at that time was that Islamic unity must come first, after which the liberation of Palestine would be easy to achieve:
“The Islamists were thus not interested in creating a social base and changing society from within, but in seizing power and using the state itself to change social dynamics… They do not actually want to abolish the state or create a different type of political order; they want to capture the state and then use it to expand and broaden their political base. When they were defeated at the end of the 1990s, they needed to find a way out of this entrapment. The declaration of war on the United States and Israel by the end of… 1990 was the continuation of the previous war against the existing political regimes. The change in focus from the internal to the external arena did not mean that they changed their agenda or objectives.”
The first major confrontation between Jews and Arabs in modern times that was explicitly religious in form took place on October 8, 1990, as the Soviet Empire was disintegrating. A riot broke out on the Temple Mount as Palestinians rained stones down upon Jews at the Western Wall observing the feast of Sukkot. Palestinians claimed that a Jewish extremist group was attempting to lay the cornerstone for the Third Temple at the Al Aqsa mosque (the Dome of the Rock). Israeli police gunfire killed 21 Palestinians and wounded more than 100. Riots spread throughout the occupied territories, which was nothing new; the rioters were heard shouting Allahu akbar, which was a novelty.
Within a few years, Hamas (Harkat el-Mukawma el Islamiya, the Islamic Resistance Movement), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini), and Hizbullah were to become household names. They reversed the old formula “Islamic unity first, Palestine Next” and adopted the view that, far from the unity of the Umma being a precondition for the liberation of Palestine, its liberation by the Islamic movement was the key to the unification of all Muslims: “the Jihad for the liberation of Palestine by Islamic movements will bring upon the expected Jihad for the reconstruction of the greater and one Islamic state.”
Hamas, in particular, has developed a substantial power base and an infrastructure that covers religious, charitable, political, and terrorist activities. To the youth, its activists offer divinely condoned martyrdom. To their parents, they offer some relief from grinding poverty. To all, they provided a stark contrast with the corrupt Palestinian Authority. [...] Leftist secularist groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, still enjoy some support among the educated over-40’s, but their influence is diminishing. Their support among the young – half of the population – is negligible.
The founder and leader of Hamas, the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, blended the nationalist slogans of the secularists’ pre-1990’s struggle against Israel (he called it “the aggressing, usurping and oppressing state that hoists the rifle in the face of our sons and daughters day and night”) with principles derived from the doctrines and values of Islam. The first articles of the Palestinian National Charter show complete compatibility with Hamas’s position as elaborated in its own charter and other declarations: Palestine (within the boundaries it had during the British Mandate) is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people, an indivisible unit, and part of the greater Arab homeland. Its people possess the legal right to their homeland, to self-determination after liberation. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal did not make Palestinians lose their identity and their membership in the Palestinian community. They must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice life and treasure to liberate their homeland. The basic conflict is between the forces of Zionism and colonialism, on the one hand, and the Palestinian Arab people, on the other, and it can be resolved only by armed struggle.
The Islamic component in the equation, however, goes well beyond inspiring youngsters to sacrifice themselves and to hope for either victory or martyrdom: “Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed. Nothing in nationalism is more significant or deeper than in the case when an enemy should tread Moslem land.” In line with Islamic teaching, when the infidels usurp a Muslim land, jihad becomes compulsory upon every single Muslim; to confront the Jews, who have usurped Palestine, the banner of jihad must be hoisted:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered; it, or any part of it, should not be given up. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
From the orthodox Muslim point of view, there is nothing remarkable about such statements. They are derived from the Koran, from the political tradition and social outlook of 13 centuries harking back to Muhammad. Relinquishing any part of Palestine at the negotiating table is a disobedient act of blasphemy against Allah, and the alternative is the only right way (al-hal-wahid). As a modern Muslim commentator points out, “Such an outlook renders struggle a religious duty, not a nationalist or patriotic one.” The struggle against Israel, from the Islamists’ point of view, is more than a “war of national liberation”: It is an act of worship for which God rewards a struggler in the form of victory in this life and eternity in the hereafter. In line with this teaching, Hamas’s military wing, the Brigades of Martyr Izziddin Al-Qassam, call their attacks amaliyyat Istish-hadiyah, or “martyrdom Operations.” Whenever a suicide bomber blows himself up at an Israeli restaurant or army checkpoint, loudspeakers on mosque minarets in the West Bank and Gaza announce his name with the “glad Tidings” that “the virgins of paradise are happily receiving their new groom.” To the Palestinian youth, Islamic clerics offer a natural alternative to their often-unhappy existence, with a mix of a messianic base, a revolutionary superstructure, and 72 dark-eyed houris. […]
The religious contextualization of the Arab-Israeli dispute makes its resolution more difficult. For all the complexities of the issue, it was nevertheless easier to look for solutions as long as the conflict remained stated in the secular, “rational” terms of power, territory, resources, and guarantees. Hamas and other Islamic groups have brought a qualitative change to the Middle Eastern discourse: From their point of view, no permanent peace is possible because it would be against Allah’s will to grant any piece of land once controlled by the faithful to non-Muslims.
A mirror image of this view, of metaphysical sophistry seeking to push its way into legitimate discourse, is the claim – embraced by many in the American evangelical movement – that the modern state of Israel is the embodiment of a biblical covenant: in other words, a Waqf under another name. Eretz Yisrael is the visible expression of the faithful God Who wills by covenant the permanence of the Jewish people (klal), whether Jews live in Israel or elsewhere. Israel “is the beginning of the flowering of messianic redemption” (resheet tzmihat geulateimu). The Jews have the right and the duty to settle the entire land, Eretz Ysrael: as per the book of Numbers, “the people that dwells alone, and that will not be counted among the Nations.”
Secular Israelis, too, have utilized such claims, including the country’s founders, when it suited their political purposes. Former prime minister Golda Meir thus declared, “This country exists as the accomplishment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be absurd to call its legitimacy into account.” Meir was referring to the pledge that, according to the Old Testament, God made to Abraham that “unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the Euphrates.” Quite apart from the fact that this claim may justify Israel’s extension from the Nile to the heart of Iraq, it is a recipe for never-ending war, as it limits Israel’s capacity to seek models of coexistence based on the presumed equality of all parties. In addition, a quasireligious argument has been used to legitimize discrimination between Jews and non-Jews in Israel. Since it is not “just” a state, its citizens are not “just” citizens; how much they are depends on their religion and ethnicity, known as “peoplehood.” All Jews belong to the Jewish people, and only they have the right to immigrate and assume Israeli citizenship without ado. Non-Jews, on the other hand, are subjected to direct discrimination within the law itself, indirect discrimination through “neutral” laws and criteria that apply mainly to Palestinians, and institutional discrimination through a legal framework that facilitates a systematic pattern of privileges.
Even if Israel is eventually recognized by her Arab neighbors as part of a peace package imposed by the outside world, the lasting legacy of Hamas and other Islamic movements will remain. It means that a large segment of Palestinian opinion – especially among those under 25, the majority today and the leaders of tomorrow – will be unlikely to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state’s existence and will refuse to regard that existence as a permanent feature of the Middle Eastern political landscape. On the other side of the newly erected fence, this refusal will encounter its mirror image. Just as an Islamic Waqf is consecrated for future Muslim generations and must never be given up, to an observant Jew the future of “Judea and Samaria” is an eminently religious question: Is God’s process of Redemption to go forward – in which case they must not be given to some future “Palestinian” entity – or is He to be disobeyed?
The divinization of a conflict denies the legitimacy of any claim by one’s adversaries. It makes the conflict structurally unmanageable and leads to “final solutions.” It is a sin of which all parties in the Middle Eastern conflict are guilty to some extent, but not to the same extent. Orthodox Jews are proportionately (let alone absolutely) fewer in numbers than Arabs who take their Islam seriously. Legitimate concern for Palestinian rights and the problem of discrimination against non-Jews in Israel and the occupied territories should not blind us to the fact that the issue of hate of “the Other” is inherent in orthodox Islam, and it antedates the creation of the Jewish state.
EARLY ISLAM AND THE JEWS
There is a wishful myth in circulation among liberals that Islam accords respect to all “people of the Book,” i.e. Christians and Jews. While Islam indeed accords them a higher standing than it does polytheists such as Hindus (notwithstanding the question of whether Hinduism properly understood is truly polytheistic) or African animists, this hardly amounts to “respect.” Only Muslims can attain salvation. Jews’ and Christians’ refusal to acknowledge Muhammad as the messenger of Allah dooms them to unbelief and eternal suffering after death. Christians are mortal sinners because of their belief in the divinity of Christ, their condemnation is irrevocable, “and the fire will be [their] abode.”
The problem of Arab-Muslim Judeophobia harks back to the career of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. “Arab antisemitism” may sound illogical, as both Jews and Arabs are supposedly of the same or racially similar Semitic stock. The semantic confusion is the result of the invention of the term “antisemitism” in the 19th century to give anti-Jewish sentiment a “scientific” veneer. It was never meant to place all Semitic peoples in the same category. Ever since, it has denoted, and was meant to denote, different types and degrees of animosity toward the Jews, and modern antisemitism has found a perfect fit in the Arab world when the drastic deterioration in its relations with the Jews occurred in the 20th century, resulting from the conflicting claims over Palestine. Inherent religious animosity was fully coupled with anti-Jewish attitudes on ethnic and geopolitical grounds, but the religious and political aspects of that struggle were as inseparable in the early seventh century as they are today.
In the early days of his prophetic career, in Mecca before the Hijra, Muhammad had hoped to be accepted as God’s messenger by the Jews. He hoped to win them over by ordering his followers to turn in the direction of Jerusalem during prayer and adopting the Jewish Day of Atonement, Ashura, as the Muslim holy day. He seems to have underestimated the allegiance of Arabian Jews to their scriptures, however, as well as the effect that the many discrepancies between Muhammad’s Koranic pronouncements and the Jewish tradition would have on them. Muhammad’s superficial, secondhand knowledge of the tradition made it impossible for him to argue on par with the learned merchants of Medina. The result of the Jews’ refusal to give up their ancient faith in favor of the claims of a poorly educated Arab refugee was that Muhammad’s earlier, favorable pronouncements about the Jews evolved into an implacably hostile position. The perceived slight, as was customary with him, turned into rage.
To de-Judify his teaching, Muhammad duly embellished the story of Ishmael, Abraham’s elder son, born of his concubine Hagar, to suit his political and prophetic needs. After Isaac was born, Sarah asked Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael. They were left in the valley of Mecca, Muhammad’s story goes, where Allah looked after them. Allah also comforted Abraham by telling him that Ishmael, too, would be the father of a great nation. When Abraham eventually visited Ishmael, they jointly built the Kabah, the first temple of Allah. Ishmael had become father of the Arabs, who are the sons of Abraham no less than the Jews through Isaac. Muhammad’s earlier, favorable pronouncements about the Jews evolved into an implacably hostile position. “Verily, Allah teaches us, and we believe it” – Muhammad declared – “that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew, ensures him an immediate entry into paradise and into the august presence of Allah.” A contemporary Muslim scholar summarizes the result in a chillingly euphemistic account: “The final result of the struggle was the disappearance of these Jewish communities from Arabia proper.”
This “disappearance” was not a spontaneous phenomenon but a precursor of all other “final solutions.” It was the result of what would be known in our own time as ethnic cleansing and genocide. The first stage consisted of individual murders of Jews (AD 624); the second entailed the expulsion of two tribes from Medina (626); the third was completed with the slaughter of one remaining tribe, Banu Qurayzah (627). Muhammad offered the men conversion to Islam as an alternative to death; upon their refusal, up to 900 were decapitated at the ditch, in front of their women and children. “Truly the judgment of Allah was pronounced on high” was Muhammad’s comment; Allah allegedly added a few words of his own: “And He has caused to descend from their strongholds the Jews that assisted them. And he struck terror into their hearts. Some you slaughtered and some you took prisoner.” The widowed or orphaned Jewish women were subsequently raped; Muhammad chose as his concubine one Raihana Bint Amr, whose father and husband were both slaughtered before her eyes only hours earlier; but such treatment had already been sanctioned by prophetic revelation.
Muhammad’s Endloesung was accompanied by dozens of suitably grim “revelations” in the Koran. The Jews have drawn on themselves wrath upon wrath, and their just reward in the form of “disgracing torment” yet awaits them. They have no respect for covenants, “[a]nd you will not cease to discover deceit in them.” Allah “caused you [Muslims] to inherit their lands, and their houses, and their riches, and a land which you had not trodden before.” The Jews are cowards (“If they fight, they will show you their backs”) and afflicted with humiliating agony. They are accursed for their rebellion and disbelief, so Allah has put “enmity and hatred amongst them till the Day of Resurrection.” Even when they seem united, ”their hearts are divided.” They have incurred the curse of Allah, who transformed them into monkeys and swine. “Indignity is put over them wherever they may be,” because they transgress beyond bounds. They cling greedily to this life, even if it is humiliating and villainous.
In the centuries after Muhammad, there have been periods when the Jews were able to live in relative peace under Arabs, but their position was never secure. They were generally viewed with contempt by their Arab neighbors, and their survival was always predicated on their abject subordination and degradation to them. Mass murders of Jewish “protected people” started in Morocco as early as the eighth century, where Idris I wiped out whole communities. A century later, Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany, and synagogues were destroyed throughout Mesopotamia in 854-859. On the other side of the Muslim empire, on December 30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, was crucified by an Arab mob that proceeded to raze the Jewish quarter of the city and slaughter its 5,000 inhabitants. And those were the most civilized Muslims in history – in Baghdad, at the peak of one Islamic “golden age,” and in Spain, at the peak of another. The situation of Jews in Arab lands reached a low point in the 19th century.
MODERN ISLAM AND THE JEWS
With the emergence of Zionism, the Arabs faced a “Jewish problem” for the first time since Muhammad. This time, they faced it from a position of obvious political, military, and economic weakness. By contrast, for the first time since the destruction of the temple, the Jews were poised to reestablish a polity that would be territorial as well as spiritual and cultural. It was a rude awakening for the Arab world, after the phenomenal success of the earlier centuries, to find itself, by the early 20th century, on what looked like the losing side of history. The many weaknesses produced the sense that something had gone terribly wrong, but it did not result in creative self-examination. The question never was “What have we done?” but always “What have they done to us?” The Mongols, Turks, and Western imperialists have all had their share of blame apportioned, but, in the 1930’s, the Jews were included among those who were to blame.
Hitler’s Germany sensed this and made a concerted and successful effort to plant “modern” antisemitism in the Arab world, where the struggle for Palestine facilitated the acceptance of the antisemitic interpretation of history. In addition, Nazism and Islam shared a quest for world dominance, demand for the total subordination of the free will of the individual, belief in the abolishment of the nation-state in favor of a “higher” community (in Islam, the Umma; in Nazism, the Volksgemeinschaft), and belief in undemocratic governance by a divine leader (an Islamic caliph; the German Führer). The complete denial of the legitimacy of Jewish existence was the central point of contact, however. When the present mufti of Jerusalem declared at the Dome of the Rock in 2001 that the negation of Jewish existence is an existential need of Islam, he was reflecting a mainstream Muslim position that was strongly advocated by his predecessor, Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the “Great Mufti” of Jerusalem and the former president of the Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine. In May 1941, the mufti declared jihad against Britain and made his way to Berlin. He met Hitler in November 1941 and announced that the Arabs and Muslims were Germany’s natural friends and allies. He conducted radio propaganda and set up anti-British espionage and fifth-column networks in the Middle East. Thanks to his recruiting work, tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, Kosovo Albanians, Chechens, and others joined SS volunteer units that were to become famous for their savagery.
Even before the Wannsee Conference (January 1942), the “modern” wave of Middle Eastern pogroms had started. In 1941, during Shavuot, 180 Jews were murdered in Baghdad. Six years later, the Syrian delegate at the United Nations, Faris el-Khouri, warned: “Unless the Palestine problem is settled, we shall have difficulty in protecting and safeguarding the Jews in the Arab world.” This was a self-fulfilling prophecy: Over 1,000 Jews were killed in the ensuing anti-Jewish rioting in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, triggering the mass exodus of Jews from all Arab countries. In the early 1940’s, there were a million Jews throughout the Arab world. There are only a few thousand left today, mainly elderly. It is a relatively little known fact that the number of Jews displaced from the Arab world in the aftermath of the creation of Israel exceeds that of Palestinians expelled by the Israelis.
The contemporary heirs to the Nazi view of Judentum are not skinheads and Aryan Nation survivalists. They are school teachers, religious leaders, and mainstream intellectuals in the Arab world. Quite apart from the ups and downs of the “peace process” in the Middle East, quite apart from the current posture of the government of Israel, the crude way they demonize Jews as such is startling. The most prominent daily newspaper in the Arab world, Al-Ahram, thus reflected on “What exactly do the Jews want?” in June 2001: “Israel is today populated by people who are not descendants of the Children of Israel, but rather a mixture of slaves, Aryans and the remnants of the Khazars, and they are not Semites… people without an identity, whose only purpose is blackmails, theft and control over property and land, with the assistance of the Western countries.” The second-most-influential Egyptian daily, Al-Akhbar, went a step further on April 18, 2001: “Our thanks go to the late Hitler who wrought, in advance, the vengeance of the Palestinians upon the most despicable villains on the face of the earth. However, we rebuke Hitler for the fact that the vengeance was insufficient.” Such sentiments are circulated in the mainstream media and internalized by the opinion-making elite throughout the Muslim world.
ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
Hamas activists in the West Bank and Gaza insist that they would treat their Christian neighbors in a future Palestine organized along Islamic lines as equals. They cannot do this without betraying their fundamental principles. The widespread belief in the non-Muslim world that Islam accords respect to the Old Testament and the Gospels as steps in the progression to Muhammad’s revelation is simply wrong. Modern Muslim apologists try to stress the supposed underlying similarities and compatibility of the three faiths, but this is not the view of orthodox Islam. Muhammad’s insistence that there is a heavenly proto-Scripture and that all previous “books” are merely distorted and tainted copies sent to previous nations or communities means that these scriptures are the “barbarous Koran” as opposed to the true, Arabic one.
In any event, the issue of the equality of Christians in a future Islamic-run Palestine is largely academic: Thirteen centuries of Islam have effectively eliminated Christianity from the land of its birth. The terminal decline of the Christian remnant in the Middle East has been accompanied by the indifference of the post-Christian West to its impending demise. When Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount – and triggered the latest Intifada – the world reacted angrily to what was seen as a gesture calculated to inflame the Muslims, and Palestinians treated his presence near the al-Aqsa mosque as sufficiently provocative to justify violence. When the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem came two years later, during which both Muslims and Jews used a revered Christian shrine as a battleground, the world media largely ignored it.
These two incidents illustrate the predicament of the dwindling Christian remnant in the Middle East. Once-thriving Christian communities are now minorities squeezed between the warring Jews and Muslims who may hate each other but all too often share their aversion to Christianity, and their percentages have been reduced to single digits. Within the Palestinian Authority, they are viewed with distrust. They resent Israeli incursions and occupation as much as their Muslim neighbors, but they also feel uncomfortable amid the tide of radicalism – symbolized in the rise of Hamas – that has engulfed the Palestinian community. The institutionalized or covert discrimination to which Christians are subjected in both the PA and Israel has contributed to an exodus that threatens to eradicate the believers in Christ in the lands of His birth and life.
At the outset of the Islamic conquests under Muhammad’s successors, the Holy Land was 100-percent Christian. The conquered Christians were “protected persons” only if they submitted to Islamic domination by a “contract” (Dhimma) and paid a poll tax (jizya) and land tax (haraj) to their masters. Any failure to do so was breach of contract, enabling the Muslims to kill or enslave them and confiscate their property. This relationship, typical of a war treaty between the conqueror and the vanquished, remains valid for Muslims, because it is fixed in theological texts. The resulting inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis was geared to a steady erosion of the latter communities by attrition and conversion. The dynamics of islamization transformed native Christian majorities into minorities. The initial choice of the vanquished was not “Islam or death” but “Islam or super-tax”; over time, however, sharia ensured the decline of Eastern Christianity and the sapping of the captives’ vitality and capacity for renewal. Today, they are literally disappearing. Among almost three million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, only 50,000 Christians remain. Within the pre-1967 borders of Israel, there are six million people; only two percent are Christian. In the city of Jerusalem, the Christian population has declined from 45,000 in 1940 to a few thousand today. At the current rate of decline, by the year 2020, there will be no living Church in the land of Christ.
Ethnic identity and perceived powerlessness in relation to the Israeli state has drawn many Arab Christians and Muslims together: "They acknowledge tensions between themselves, but together they are hypersensitive to perceived manipulation of those tensions by Israeli governmental, military or media pressure, in order to divide Christians and Muslims as Palestinians and to break their political and communal identity as one people, or even to strengthen divisions among the Christian churches."
This reaction of the Palestinian Christian remnant is not surprising under the circumstances, but that remant would have even less of a future in an Islamic state. Elsewhere in the region, the remnant is under attack, often as a consequence of Islamic religious revival. Following the Arab defeats of 1967 and 1973, Christians were subjected to new restrictions in Egypt: The construction of new churches was obstructed; a quota system was instituted regarding university admissions; and Christians were barred from high government positions. To Israel’s north, in Lebanon, up to one million people, or 25 percent of the country’s inhabitants, are Christian. That is less than one half of the nearly 60-percent majority that they enjoyed in the early 1970’s. The Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, notes that the Christian Church has been there from the dawn of Christianity, “but what we see today is very sad for us. We see the Christian majority shrink to a minority. We fear it will shrink even more.”
It is remarkable that, in this age of rampant victimology, the persecution of Christians by Muslims has become a taboo subject in the Western academy. A complex web of myths, outright lies, and deliberately imposed silence dominates it. Thirteen centuries of religious discrimination, causing the suffering and death of countless millions, have been covered by the myth of Islamic “tolerance” that is as hurtful to the few descendants of the victims as it is useless as a means of appeasing latter-day jihadists. The myth of tolerant Islam did not die with the collapse of the Turkish Empire. It took another form: that of the national Arab movement, which promoted an Arab society in which Christians and Muslims would live in perfect harmony. In the same way as the myth of the Ottoman tolerance was created to block the independence of the Balkan nations, so the Arab multireligious fraternity was an argument to destroy the national liberation of non-Arab peoples of the Middle East, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Copts, and Maronites.
If the Jewish or Muslim population of America or Western Europe were to start declining at the rate at which Christian communities are disappearing in the Middle East, there would be an outcry from their coreligionists all over the world. There would be government-funded programs to establish the causes and provide remedies. The endangered minority would be awarded instant victim status and would be celebrated as such by the media and the academy. By contrast, when the President of the United States visited Jerusalem in October 1994, he was steps away from the most sacred Christian shrines but did not visit any of them. He did not meet a single representative of the Christian community, which remained invisible to him. A decade later, as busloads of American evangelicals stare at the Western Wall dreaming of a rebuilt temple that will provide an eschatological shortcut through history, the remnant of that community is on the verge of extinction – unseen and unlamented.
The effect of the alliance of religion and nationalism on the Arab-Israeli dispute is detrimental to the quest for lasting solutions. On the Palestinian side, it creates an unstable duality of approach, with compromise allowed as a short-term expedient but total victory seen as the only divinely ordained and therefore legitimate long-term outcome. This view, consistent with the teaching of orthodox Islam, provides the focus for violent Palestinian opposition to Israel and limits the scope for dialogue. The custodians of political power on the Arab side talk of diplomatic accommodation, but the society is increasingly influenced by those who invoke Islam to deny the possibility of peace with the “Other.”
It is objectionable as well as regrettable that Israel is not a state in which all of her citizens, Jews and non-Jews, are treated alike. But while Israel’s treatment of non-Jews, and Palestinian Arabs in particular, is discriminatory and sometimes even racist, Israeli society as a whole is largely immune to the darkly psychotic hatred of the Arab-as-such, let alone the “infidel,” the kind of hatred that leads to literal genocide. That sentiment exists, but it is confined to a fanatical fringe, more often imported from Brooklyn than born in Israel. It is on the Arab side that the illegitimacy of the “infidel” is treated not only as morally acceptable but – with the rise of Islamism – as divinely ordained. An evenhanded outsider contemplating Middle Eastern solutions would do no favor to the long-suffering Palestinians by remaining politely silent on this problem.
The conflict in the Middle East is neither incomprehensible outside its own terms of reference nor unique. It is structurally comparable to that between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo or between Orangemen and Nationalists in Ulster, but religion has turned it into a zero-sum dispute, with one side’s gain seen and felt as the other’s loss. They both vie for power and for territory that each claims as its own, and many are willing to fight and to die to take it or to preserve it. The conflict is unique, however, in that religiously informed “narratives” are invoked to support the parties’ claims more strongly and more explicitly than anywhere else in the world. The Arab-Israeli conflict disproves the Western elite class’s dictum that religion is a declining influence in human affairs and a distraction from the business of politics.
U.S. foreign policy has neglected the impact of religion on the policies and behavior of both parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute. It should take them seriously as a factor that hinders the “peace process.” In the end, U.S. policymakers need to treat metaphysical rationalizations of territorial or political claims by all parties with polite respect, but they must not co-opt them or internalize any of those claims as a relevant factor in America’s own security calculation. In particular, Washington must not treat such claims as acceptable alibis for nonnegotiable positions: Otherwise, the Waqf of Hamas and Golda Meir’s Israel would have to be seen not as polities but as divinely ordained institutions. It is especially galling for Israel’s politicians, in a self-avowedly secular state, to try to have it both ways. Most of Israel’s citizens are indifferent to the God of their fathers and opposed to any notion that He is anything more than an element of their lore that has no bearing on their current lives.
We need to be aware of the historical record of political Islam and to harbor no illusions about its ultimate ambitions today. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was on to something real when he declared, in December 1992, that his country’s “struggle against murderous Islamic terror is also meant to awaken the world, which is lying in slumber.” We should be no less aware, however, that, in Israel’s case, a common problem of global jihad is used as a cover for policies that facilitate its growth. When some neoconservative ideologues lecture us that Islam is “an ancient rival against our Judaeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both,” it is time to watch our wallets and count the fingers. When others suggest that America should go to war with Iran in the name of fighting Terrorism – “Had we seen the war for what it was, we would not have started with Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of al-Qaeda, the sponsor of Zarqawi, the longtime sponsor of Fatah and the backbone of Hamas” – it is time to call their sordid bluff and say “no.”
The development of a coherent anti-jihadist strategy in Washington should go hand-in-hand with demystifying the relationship between America and Israel, redefining it in terms of mutual interests devoid of metaphysical or emotional mists. This would help Israel mature into a “normal” nation-state and help her to overcome the paradox that the state of Israel, instead of solving the perennial problem of Jewish insecurity, remains beset by it. Her real and legitimate security concerns after 1948 and 1967 were aggravated by the reemergence of an outlook predicated upon the premise of an inherently hostile world. America should grasp the causes of that insecurity from without – by scrutinizing the structure of the Middle Eastern conflict and the nature of the Islamic threat – rather than pander to its symptoms from within by the undissenting acceptance of various biblical and quasi-scriptural claims, as the “evangelical right” would like her to do.
The American interest demands the destruction of global jihad in all its forms and the continued existence of the state of Israel, but both these imperatives are based on geopolitical rather than emotional, moral, or scriptural grounds. Among reasonable people of good will, the concept of “land for peace” is still fundamentally valid. It needs to be rethought in Washington more fairly and evenhandedly than before.
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The New American, Vol. 19, No. 14, July 14, 2003
[…] President Bush told reporters after the June 9th attacks, [we will work hard] to fight off those elements within the territories that want to use violence to destroy any hope for peace, and, therefore, use violence to destroy the hopes of the Palestinian people."
This approach presents a significant problem, notes Rockford Institute foreign affairs analyst Srdja Trifkovic. "Abbas is a creation of Washington," explains Dr. Trifkovic, "and he neither was nor will be able to deliver what the administration claims he can."
Dr. Trifkovic, a former analyst for Voice of America, spent 10 days in Israel earlier this year interviewing "contacts on both sides of the ‘green line.’" Although the Bush administration depicts Abbas as a key peace player, "there is less to Abbas than meets the eye," Dr. Trifkovic told The New American. "He’s caught between the older Fatah faction, typified by Arafat, and the younger generation of suicide bombers and other terrorist diehards. If he were actually to deliver on his promises, Abbas faces the prospect of political -- or even physical -- extinction."
Ariel Sharon, by contrast, has proven more pliant -- much to the dismay of his natural constituency. Sharon’s endorsement of a Palestinian state… left "shellshocked hawks at a loss to explain how Israel’s most rightwing government had taken the most left-leaning bedrock policy decision in the history of the Jewish state."
An erstwhile champion of the Israeli settlers, and an ally of political factions supporting the "transfer" (removal) of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza, Sharon stunned many of his longtime allies by using the term "occupation" to describe Israel’s control over territories acquired in the 1967 war. He later qualified that statement by insisting that the term referred to Israeli rule over Palestinians, rather than physical occupation of the disputed territories…
According to Dr. Trifkovic, the wisest course for the U.S. in the Middle East would be a policy of "constructive disengagement." "In my discussions with Israeli activists and academics from many perspectives, I’ve found that many of them understand that they simply can’t remain dependent on Washington," Trifkovic observed to The New American. He pointed out that in Israel, "It’s possible to indulge in discussions about new geopolitical models without encountering shocked horror and the predictable labeling that takes place in Washington and New York.... Many of the people I spoke with understand that Israel can’t entrust its continuing survival to the ability of Jewish political groups to continue delivering the votes of politicians for aid to Tel Aviv. They really want to break free of the ‘Great White Chief’ in Washington."
The Bush administration’s present course is to continue doling out aid to Israel and its neighbors, while creating yet another aid-dependent socialist state on the West Bank of the Jordan River and possibly placing U.S. troops on the ground to enforce an unworkable peace plan. While there may be no optimal approach to the Mideast conundrum, the Bush administration’s current course is almost certainly the worst.