Recently while reading “A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel” by Allis and Ronald Radosh (a Hanukah gift from my wife, thank you!) I was struck yet again by the stubborn refusal of the Arab nations during that period — not just the Palestinian Arabs, but Ibn Saud, the Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc. — to consider any kind of compromise on Jewish immigration into Palestine (not to mention a Jewish state). This despite the fact that there was clearly enough room and resources in the area to support both Jews and Arabs, and although the Jewish presence had already improved economic conditions greatly, even leading to an increase in the Arab population.
As everyone knows, their refusal to compromise ultimately led to war, and a much worse end result for the Palestinian Arabs. And the cynical use of the Arab refugees as a weapon against Israel by the Arab leadership from 1948 to today constitutes one of the most massive violations of human rights since WWII. What a scandal it would be if it weren’t for the remarkably twisted perceptions of those organizations concerned with human rights!
Arab opposition to Jewish immigration actually began at the beginning of the 20th century. It was usually expressed by saying that the Jews would ‘take over’ although the Arabs themselves had not been in charge for centuries. And partition proposals which would have limited Jewish sovereignty to small parts of Palestine were violently rejected.
Today, sixty-one years after the founding of the state and (roughly) 120 years since the beginning of the Zionist enterprise, Arab opposition to it is probably stronger than ever. Even the fact that two Arab states have signed peace agreements with Israel does not disprove this — in practice the ‘peace’ is as cold as possible, antisemitic incitement continues, and only massive American bribes keep it in force.
The non-Palestinian Arabs often cite their concern for the condition of the Palestinian Arabs as the reason for their hostility. But Palestinian Arabs — refugees or guest worksers — are treated like dirt in Arab countries. Add to this the perpetuation of the refugees’ misery and the lack of financial support for the Palestinian Authority from Arab sources, and this explanation falls apart.
Sometimes they claim that the problem is due to ‘the occupation’. Since their vicious and violent hostility goes back before 1967, indeed before 1948, this can only mean that Jews are ‘occupying’ space where the Arabs would prefer them not to be.
An argument made by Ibn Saud in 1945 and often heard today is this: the European Jews were mistreated by Germans and other Europeans; why should Arabs pay the price?
Roosevelt and Truman in turn were surprised by his vehemence. Ibn Saud even suggested that he would go to war for Palestine, despite the fact that there was no common border. And the ‘price’ for letting more Jews in would not have been high — actually it could have been mutually beneficial for Jews and Arabs — if the Arabs had not been so hostile.
The argument is worse today. One embarrassing problem is that the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries who ended up in Israel were mistreated — OK, brutalized, robbed and kicked out — by Arabs. If you ignore the relatively recent Russian immigrants, a majority of Israelis fall into this category.
So what is the explanation? I propose a thought experiment.
Suppose instead of Zionist Jews, the migrants had been, say, Kurds, or Shiite Muslims. There’s plenty of ethnic-religious unpleasantness to go around in the Arab world; do you think that the degree of hostility, the persistence of the struggle, the way the whole world has gotten tied up in it — would it be the same?
I don’t think so either.
Ibn Saud expressed his point of view quite clearly to Ambassador William Eddy in 1945, when he said that the Jews were “accursed in the Koran as enemies of the Muslims until the end of the world” [Radosh, p.24]. His descendant, the present King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is said to have responded with an antisemitic diatribe when President Obama asked that Saudi Arabia make some gesture in response to concessions made by Israel to the Palestinians.
I think that the explanation for the persistence and viciousness of the conflict lies here, in the historic enmity between Muhammad and the Jews. This comes out clearly and explicitly in the founding document of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. And it explains why anti-Zionist hatred seems to go along with with devotion to Islam.
This doesn’t bode very well for a solution, does it?