Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
[ Palestinians refuse Jewish right of return ] [ Palestinian nationalism ]

Palestinian problem: anti-Jewish racism

Edward Said accuses Israel of anti-Arab racism, a curious charge from professor Said who writes about “our [Arab] racial prejudices.” While few Jewish people are fond of the Palestinian ones, the hatred coming from the Arabs—Islamic demonstrators’ slogans, newspapers, walls, school textbooks full of anti-Israeli rhetoric—is blistering. Edward Said admits that Palestinians protested normalization with Israel when some anti-Zionist Israelis came to an Arab conference, refusing to let even their Jewish sympathizers join them. What is the Palestinian problem with such Jews if not racism? Opinion-makers from Egypt, at peace with Israel for a quarter century, rarely visit Israel—but not because Israelis do not welcome them. Contrast that with the freedom Edward Said experienced in Israel, where Professor Said of known anti-Israeli views freely rented meeting halls, gathered audiences hostile to Israel, and had no problem whatsoever. Few states are so tolerant.

Similarly, though Edward Said repeatedly condemns Israeli exclusiveness, he is unconcerned about the far greater xenophobia of Arab states, like Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates which deny citizenship even to people born there in the third or fourth generation. For that matter, any country that imposes limits on immigration or treats citizens and resident aliens differently is exclusive.

Elsewhere Edward Said admits that the Arab states are no better than Israel, much worse if we credit Said's description of the “glorification of raw power, blind subservience to authority, and a frightening hatred of others [Israelis].” He admits a “creeping wave of anti-Semitism” in Arab thought and “political failures [of anti-Israeli policies] and human rights abuses,” policies “disfigured by discredited [Islamist] ideas.” How is Israel to respond to Arabs in that environment? Should Israel sympathize with such Arabs, treat them as equals, or disarm?

Professor Said suggests that somehow either Israel’s exclusiveness made the Lebanese stir up religious war or that the Israeli military presence sparked the turbulence in Lebanon, although in fact the Israel invaded Lebanon to stop the Lebanese civil war threatening Israel’s borders. The civil strife in Lebanon started with the arrival of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Expelled from Jordan, the Palestinian Liberation Organization upset the fragile balance of power in Lebanon. Syrian intervention assured a prolonged conflict. Israel took the opportunity to drive the Palestinian Liberation Organization away from Israeli borders and create an Israeli security zone in Lebanon, as full of weapons and Islamic terrorists as it was. Israeli support of the South Lebanon Army was only reasonable. The Palestinians alone are responsible for the problem of violence in Lebanon.

In Edward Said's opinion, the expulsion of the Palestinians in Arab-Israeli war of 1948 was ethnic cleansing on the part of Israel, which in a way likens Israel to the Nazis. Jews, however, narrowly escaped the Holocaust and were fighting for survival against Arabs who promised to throw Jews into the sea, not just to overthrow Israeli jurisdiction over the Palestinian land.

Jews wanted a state of their own, preferably without the Arabs who bitterly opposed Jewish settlements in Palestine since the early twentieth century, long before the Jews were any problem to the Islamic world. The Israeli urge to drive the Arabs out[1] was not so much Israeli government policy but a spontaneous reaction by the Israeli army to get rid of hostile elements. Israel, home to about a million happy gentiles, is not racist.

Similar actions may be quite different, depending on their causes. The Russians had a better moral case for killing Germans in World War II than the other way around. The Nazis did not drive the Jews into Switzerland or Palestine; they murdered the Jews. The Palestinians instigated pogroms in 1940s from pure hatred of Jews. Many countries, including Syria and Iraq, prohibited Jewish emigration to Israel, since they intended to annihilate the Jews, not expel them to Israel. The Israelis, however, drove the Arabs out for the clearly defined purpose of creating an ideologically motivated, ethnically homogenous Jewish state of Israel without hostile Arab elements.

The Israeli government implicitly encouraged expulsion of the Arabs, but even if the Israeli government had protected them, the Palestinians would have run anyway. Palestinians knew about mobs: Arab governments could not stop Arab mobs, and the Palestinians feared the same from the Jews. The Ben-Gurion government of Israel could not stop fringe military factions from expelling the Palestinians even if Ben-Gurion wanted to.

Though attention usually centers on the civilian deaths on both Arab and Israeli sides of the Middle East conflict, other casualties may shed more light on the goals of Israelis and Muslims. Though the Russians, for example, were more justified killing German soldiers than the other way around, both parties were wrong to rape—unless vengeance is just. The Arabs committed immeasurably more such non-lethal crimes against Jews in Arab countries and in overrun Israeli townships than Israelis did against Arabs. A handful of Israeli atrocities opposed scores of Arab crimes.

A historical anecdote shows how victors may be held to stricter moral standards than the vanquished. During the American occupation of Japan, MacArthur executed two American soldiers who raped Japanese women. Japanese soldiers, who used army brothels staffed by Filipino and Korean sex slaves, went free. World opinion expects more from Israelis than from Arabs, and the Israelis respond to criticism. Arabs disregard it and go right ahead killing Israeli civilians.

Edward Said calls the Jewish settlers names like “mad” and “religiousfanatics. Indeed, Jewish settlers are zealous. Who else would leave comfortable Israeli urban civilization to build Jewish towns in a historically important for Jews wilderness among hostile Arabs? Yet Jewish settlers are generally more restrained than their Palestinian neighbors. Jews will protect their townships, but few advocate killing Palestinian civilians to force an Arab-Israeli political settlement, even though Palestinian terrorists use just that tactic against Israelis.

Edward Said likes the term “historical Palestine,” but that notion validates the issue of historical Israel. Israelis obviously have more right to the land than the Palestinians, most of whom were roaming Bedouins only a few generations ago. Jews have always lived in Jerusalem, often a majority of the city’s population. It is misleading to say that Arabs have lived in the Palestinian land for nineteen centuries. Those were different Arabs, nomadic tribes. No single homogenous group has lived there continuously longer than the Jews, and no Arab tribe attached any significance to the Palestinian land before twentieth-century Palestinian nationalism appeared.

The notion of “historical Palestine” backfires in yet another way. There was no Palestinian state ever, nor had anyone thought of one before the United Nations resolution of 1947. If history is the guide, the Palestinians have no right to a state but may live in Israeli territory. There was no such thing as Palestinian ethnicity a few dozen years ago; modern Palestinian nationalists invented it. Even their name does not belong to the Palestinians but to the biblical Philistines. The idea of Palestinian statehood did not appear in Israeli-Arab conflict negotiations until the late 1970s.

Edward Said clings to the belief that Israel’s main concern is not the Jewish state's security but the destruction of the Palestinians. Said says the 1967 Israeli-Arab War was fought to keep the Palestinians down. That is ridiculous, since the Palestinian problem did not exist then. No Arab leader brought up the idea of a Palestinian state in negotiations with Israel for another ten years.

[1] With minor violence compared to more than a thousand Jews massacred in Palestinian riots in the 1940s only. Many Jews who survived the pogroms were beaten, etc., Israelis perpetrated few such abuses upon Palestinians. 900,000 Jewish refugees from Islamic countries after the riots exceed the number of Palestinian refugees both absolutely and relatively.