Sunday 13 October 2019

Benny Morris thinks the Arab-Israeli dispute is a religious dispute more than an ethnic one. I disagree - it is about which race gets what land and it's about colonialism

I want to read Israeli historian Benny Morris's 1948 and the book he recently co-authored about the Armenians  “The Thirty-Year Genocide.” 

I quote from the former book. 
'The Jewish rejection of the Prophet Muhammad is embedded in the Qur'an and is etched in the psyche of those brought up on its suras. As the Muslim Brotherhood put it in 1948: "Jews are the historic enemies of Muslims and carry the greatest hatred for the nation of Muhammad."
'Such thinking characterized the Arab world, where the overwhelming majority of the population were, and remain, believers. In 1943, when President Franklin Roosevelt sent out feelers about a negotiated settlement of the Palestine problem, King Ibn Sa'ud of Saudi Arabia responded that he was "prepared to receive anyone of any religion except (repeat except) a Jew." A few weeks earlier, Ibn Sa'ud had explained, in a letter to Roosevelt: "Palestine... has been an Arab country since the dawn of history and... was never inhabited by the Jews for more than a period of time, during which their history in the land was full of murder and cruelty... [There is] religious hostility... between the Muslims and the Jews from the beginning of Islam... which arose from the treacherous conduct of the Jews towards Islam and the Muslims and their prophet." Jews were seen as unclean; indeed, even those who had contact with them were seen as beyond the pale. In late 1947 the Al-Azhar University 'ulema, major authorities in the Islamic world, issued a fatwa that anyone dealing with "the Jews," commercially or economically (such as by "buying their produce"), "is a sinner and criminal... who will be regarded as an apostate to Islam, he will be separated from his spouse. It is prohibited to be in contact with him."
'This anti-Semitic mindset was not restricted to Wahhabi chieftains or fundamentalist imams. Samir Rifahi, Jordan's prime minister, in 1947 told visiting newsmen, "The Jews are a people to be feared... Give them another 25 years and they will be all over the Middle East, in our country and Syria and Lebanon, in Iraq and Egypt... They were responsible for starting the two world wars... Yes, I have read and studied, and I know they were behind Hitler at the beginning of his movement."

'The 1948 War, to be sure, was a milestone in a contest between two national movements over a piece of territory. But it was also - if only because that is how many if not most Arabs saw it (and see it today) - part of a more general, global struggle between the Islamic East and the West, in which the Land of Israel/Palestine figured, and still figures, as a major battlefront. The Yishuv saw itself, and was universally seen by the Muslim Arab world, as an embodiment and outpost of the European "West." The assault of 1947-1948 was an expression of the Islamic Arabs' rejection of the West and its values as well as a reaction to what it saw as a European colonialist encroachment against sacred Islamic soil. There was no understanding (or tolerance) of Zionism as a national liberation movement of another people. And, aptly, the course of the war reflected the civilizational disparity, in which a Western society, deploying superior organizational and technological skills, overcame a coalition of infinitely larger Islamic Arab societies.

'Historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric and flourishes that accompanied the two-stage assault on the Yishuv and the constant references in the prevailing Arab discourse to that earlier bout of Islamic battle for the Holy Land, against the Crusaders. This is a mistake. The 1948 War, from the Arabs' perspective, was a war of religion as much as, if not more than, a nationalist war over territory. Put another way, the territory was sacred: its violation by infidels was sufficient grounds for launching a holy war and its conquest or reconquest, a divinely ordained necessity.'

This makes clear Benny Morris's conclusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a religious one, rather than an economic or nationalistic one, on the part of the Muslims. 

This is also the view of Bernard Lewis, the Jewish - American historian whom I greatly respect as a scholar and historian, though I dislike his neo-con politics, his support for invading Iran and his exaggeration of the danger posed by Iran. 

The contrary view was argued by Edward Said, the Arab Christian - American scholar who made 'orientalist' a term of abuse. Him I do not respect at all.

The Arabs' hostility to the State of Israel and anger at the expulsion in 1948 of many Arabs to make way for it (something Benny Morris establishes did happen, despite the myth that the Arabs left of their own free will) is perfectly understandable from any point of view, but the point of view from which Arab Muslims see things is primarily a religious one.

Arab Christians, whom Arab Muslims like to say share their views on Palestine, of course see things in a different and much more nuanced way.

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