Let’s get one thing understood right away, and that is this: “Middle East” is a European term, invented by cartographers in service to imperial powers. It is telling that so many in Palestine refer to “the Middle East” and don’t see the irony. Imagine if we referred to America as Sovershenniy Shtaaty Amerikoy? We would, if we were under Russian domination. And believe me, Palestine is under Western (i.e., European and American) domination. You can’t fiddle with linguistics.
Muslims had their period of imperialism, which resulted in vast swaths of north Africa being Muslim. For a while, Spain was Al Andalus. (While it was Al Andalus, by the way, it was the only place in Europe scholars could go to learn science and mathematics. For Europe, these were the Dark Ages.) Europe fought back and established Christian kingdoms; the Muslim world fought back and had its version of kings. People were generally better off in the Muslim countries if they were of a different faith, because under Islam, you were okay but had to pay taxes. In Europe, there were pogroms and religious wars. But there were some crucial differences between these two parts of the world.
Christianity allowed for interest to be charged; Islam prohibits the charging of interest. This is no small matter, as we shall see shortly. And Islam prohibited religious images. Christians had to fight over this: remember the Iconoclasts?
Aside from some nasty belligerence from Europe from 1096 to 1271, which the Christians called The Crusades, 1500 years pass reasonably quietly. The Crusades were a result of Christian longing for the capture of Jerusalem, which is a pivotal city in their holy book. Unfortunately, it is also a pivotal city for Jews and Muslims, too. You can’t divide 1 by 3 and get 1.
Let’s move up to the 20th Century. Europeans were humming along, dividing up the world for their national glory and prestige. It is notable that no Islamic country was involved in the carving up of Africa and Asia into colonial dependencies. It is also notable that Muslims were by no means blameless in this time, since they were the principal slave traders in the world. But the big deal for Islam and Christianity was the development of the ideology of Zionism. Simply put, this late 19th Century concept was a call for using European political strength to confiscate land in Palestine to give to Europeans.
I know the word “confiscate” has negative connotations, and I am not using it here to plead a point. However, when one person is talking about creating a nation from some existing distant land, presumably he is not speaking of a new Creation. The land had to be taken from somebody, since the fathers of Zionism never mentioned amassing such wealth as would enable them to purchase enough land to be a national home.
Well, as it happened, World War One came along. England, France, Russia, and, in 1917, America were the Allies; Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire were the Central Powers. Not to give a lesson in the futility of war, but of the 7 main protagonists of that war, two disappeared forever as countries and two changed beyond recognition. The real victors were England and France, because now they could take all the places the Ottoman Empire used to call home, and what the European cartographers called The Middle East. Redrawing the borders would be easy, since America never signed the Versailles Treaty ending the war. This was to be France’s revenge, and England’s satisfaction of its expansionist dreams.
This subject is far too complex to go into in this small blog entry, but for those interested in knowing how Europe used its carving knife on the Ottoman corpse, check this link. Suffice it to say that the Middle East was a European creation.
Zionists were, of course, Europeans. As such, they shared in the national aspirations of their cultures. Everyone was taking land and drawing new boundaries: why not the Zionists?
During the 1920s, European Jewish emigration to Palestine was a non-starter. Europe was getting back on its feet after four years of incendiary devastation and financial ruin. Then came the 1930s and the Great Depression. If there was no interest in emigrating to Palestine in the ’20s, there was no money to do so in the ’30s. And then came the war that changed everything.
World War 2 reshaped the world. Once again Europe lay in ruins; and not only Europe. Large areas of the Pacific Rim were laid waste. Southeast Asia, divided between the British and the French, was left reeling. “Where were all the Muslim countries in this war?” one might ask. Simply put, there wasn’t one. That is, there were no independent, self-governing countries in the Muslim world save for Turkey. (Turkey, wisely, sat on a fence for some time in this war.) And Turkey was militantly secular.
Now, remember when I wrote how important it was that Islam prohibits the charging of interest? Here’s where it picks up. As Europe and Asia rebuilt, massive amounts of money flowed through the Western banks. Some loans were gifts; most bore interest. Billions of dollars were spent on reconstruction in the years 1945 -1950 by (primarily) American banks. None of this money flowed to the Arab world, since there were no independent governments there to receive such largesse. But suddenly, European Zionists knew their moment had come: of all populations who suffered during the years 1939 – 1945, nobody did so much as European Jews. Well, except for the Russians, who lost 20,000,000. But they already had Russia. The Nazis had done an effective job in convincing the world that Jewishness was a racial matter, not a religious one. Despite the fact that this had always been assailed as anti-Semitic nonsense, it made a useful tool in arguing for a national home. And Christians hold two books to be sacred: the New Testament and the Old Testament (as if God could have two wills.) So when Jews referred to God granting them rights in the lands of Palestine, many European Christians understood and sympathized with what they were saying. For more information on this, see The Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel.
As Jewish Europeans flooded into Palestine — some 600,000 in 1946-48 — they built up farms, houses, and industry on land they bought from poor Palestinians. Since the Palestinians had no means of investing that money (remember the Islamic ban on lending?), there was not much to do but go somewhere where the land was cheaper. So the Jews got wealthier, while the Palestinians were displaced. This displacement became catastrophically intense when Jewish terrorist organizations like Irgun turned their attention to what can only be called ethnic cleansing.
On April 9, 1948, members of the Irgun and the Stern Gang attacked a small Palestinian town of Deir Yassin. Over 100 inhabitants were murdered, their bodies left to rot in the sun. This act seems to have been designed to terrorize as many Palestinians as possible, and indeed, many decided it was time to leave before they lost their lives. This is the critical issue in the Arab – Israeli conflict.
- Israel claims no Palestinian has a “right of return” because they left voluntarily in 1948.
- Palestinians claim they did not leave voluntarily but only to preserve life and limb and demand a right to return.
I will leave it to others to sort out how much worse things got after the 1967 war, after the 1973 war. It cannot go without mention, though, that Israel is doing the same thing today that they did in 1948: they are forcing Arabs out of the occupied territories by constant harassment and dehumanization. Israel collects the taxes for the Palestinian Authority; Israel controls the electrical grid in the occupied territories; Israel controls the water system in the occupied territories. Incidentally, building permanent settlements, which Israel continues to do, is specifically prohibited by the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949. Israel signed that document. Israel, however, by flagrantly violating it with every nail that is driven into a board in the occupied territories, has made a mockery of international law.
If you were a Palestinian, would you be angry?
One day in