Friday, April 17, 2009

Arab & Jew: The Myth of Ancient Mutual Hatred

Rosenberg Awards Hamad Peacemaker Award

On April 14, Brenda Naomi Rosenberg, President of Pathways to Peace Foundation, presented Imad Hamad, the regional director of the American Arab anti Discrimination committee (ADC), with the Peacemaker Award. In a short statement presented at the award ceremony, Brenda stated: "Imad has done what others say is impossible. He has work[ed] to create understanding and bridge divides during event he more volatile times of conflict between the Jewish and Arab communities. At times being one of the few threads linking the communities. Imad works for the mutual benefits of all communities. He never puts hyphenated labels on people. He sees all people as human beings. Imad continuously speaks out for peace, reconciliation and justice. He has labored tirelessly, at great personal sacrifice, to ensure that not only Arab Americans but all Americans receive the full value of their civil liberties in an environment of peace and under the cloak of brotherhood. Imad creates tolerance and understanding in every interaction, his dedication, experience, expertise, communication style, and humanitarian vision are an asset and a gift not only to metro Detroit but to our country and the world. It is our honor and pleasure to present him with this award."

Vision for Coexistence
In their declaration for coexistence/vision for ending the Middle East conflict, among other things, Imad and Brenda affirmed: “Israel as a national Jewish State along side [sic] a national Palestinian State both independent and sovereign, committed to living in a safe, viable and secure homelands, both ensuring complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religions, race, or sex; guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

The Myth of Ancient Animosities
It might seem odd that a Palestinian American is being presented an award by a Jewish, Zionist nevertheless, American. The big myth of the Arab- Israeli conflict is that Jews and Arabs have been fighting for centuries and the conflict is intractable and bound to continue to the end of time. Those who believe in this myth would think this recognition extraordinary.
Arabs and Jews have not been fighting for centuries as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the region's history would know. For those who don't know, there is a small book, a book that can be read in a matter of a few hours, that dispenses with this myth in an eloquent and readable manner. This book is Jerusalem 1913- The origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Amy Dockser Marcus. It’s a little book, 207 pages, but packs a lot of history.

Ottoman Palestine: Arab & Jew Living in Peace
Instead of focusing on Palestine under the British mandate, Marcus focuses on the Ottoman period."Why had little attention been paid to the earlier Ottoman era, when the two sides had lived in relative peace, when they had shared the same community and set of common experiences, when they saw themselves for better or worse as being part of the same group?" She adds, "[T]he Ottoman era seemed like the most obvious period to study if you were trying to trace the origins of the conflict that would play a key role in Israel's future. It was the last time the Arabs and the Jews had a shared, joint history, when the two sides lived together n relative peace." "Muslims and Jews were business partners in the various markets of the Old City. They lived in the same buildings; often Jews rented their homes from Muslim owners. When a Muslim pilgrim went to Mecca, Jewish neighbors came to visit upon his return to offer their congratulations. Families from different religions made loans to one another, or vouched for one another at the bank. " Palestine of 1913, she adds," was a place where Jews had always maintained a presence and where Muslims, Jews, and Christians mixed together, fought, competed, argued, and shared their lives. In telling the story of 1913, I have tried to see it through the eyes of its people, who were transformed by the events of that year and were forced for the first time to take sides."

European Jewish Nationalism:
Aspiring for Jewish Dominance: The Turning Point: 1913
Marcus writes "every conflict had a turning point, a moment when things could have gone a little differently, when choices were made or decisions postponed, and from this turning point emerged a cascade of consequences, a narrowing of further options, and the path that had led us to today. It seemed that 1913 held many of the answers to my efforts to understand what was happening in our own time in Israel and with the Arab-Israeli conflict." She adds "in 1913..that Zionist leader after Zionist leader stood up and argued that they must aspire to create both cultural and demographic dominance in Palestine."

Zionist Crimes: Changing the Place and the People

The legacy of the Zionist conquest of Palestine consists of two crimes: a crime against its people, their peaceful coexistence Jewish, Muslim and Christian; and a crime against the place. Theodore Herzl wrote to Jerusalem mayor Yusuf Khalidi on March 19, 1989: "As you yourself said, there is no military power behind the Jews. As a people, they have long lost the taste for war, they are a thoroughly pacific element, and fully content if left in peace. Therefore there is absolutely no reason to fear their immigration." Time proved otherwise as to the militant and violent Zionist colonizers. The crime against the Palestinian people is all the inequities and dispossession that the Palestinians endured because of the European Jewish nationalism and its striving, by any means necessary, to conquer the land and dispossess its people- shattering the social fabric that tied the people together as Marcus aptly describes. The second crime is changing a land that, in many ways, resembled the place described in the Bible. Jerusalem, just like the rest of Palestine, as early as 1898, remained beautiful and largely unchanged. Marcus writes:"From the vantage of a hilltop, Jerusalem in 1898 looked much the same as it had been described in the Bible. Its hills were dotted with cypress trees, shepherds still guided their flocks over the rocky terraces, and women carried water from walls in jugs balanced on top of their heads. As in ancient times, the ochre stone of the buildings turned to pink in the fading light. The purple and mauve mountains of Moab could be seen over the horizon in the distance, and at the corner of one's eye, the first hint of the Dead Sea's austere shoreline. It was hard not to be moved by its transcendent beauty."

From Timeless Beauty of the Biblical Landscape to Ugly Settlements and Besieged Ghettos
Raja Shehadeh in Palestinian Walks documents the crime done to the Palestinian landscape with the settlers who want an American suburban lifestyle in the land of the Bible. Their excessive and irresponsible use of the precious water resources is appalling given that even the German Kaiser Wilhelm II told Herzl in Jerusalem that "a hot country like Palestine would need huge sources of water." Huge sources that it does not have.
In its review of Shehadeh's book, the Economist wrote:
" IT IS something of an irony that a land whose timeless beauty has survived basically unchanged since biblical times is being transformed by a people who base their claim to it on biblical history. Ugly, ever-expanding Israeli settlements sprawl on the West Bank’s hilltops; great roads splice their way through its undulating, terraced hills; wildernesses have become national parks that are barred to Palestinians; and Arab villages that once blended organically into the landscape are little more than besieged ghettos.”

Vision for the Future-Restoring the Fabric?

Marcus harbors a fondness for Ottoman Palestine when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in peace: "In trying to better understand these events, in attempting to show how intertwined the inhabitants of Palestine once were and how and why the social, cultural, and political fabric came undone, there is always the hope that we can see the present more clearly. I also share the quiet idea that in rethinking the past, it sometimes possible to rethink the future."

This peace was shattered by the fervor of militant and aggressive Zionism: "But in many ways, Herzl's visit in 1898 marked a kind of turning point. For all its problems, Ottoman control had been responsible for the longest peaceful period Jerusalem had known. Now the rise of nationalism was shrinking the shared traditions and communal space that had always been a central part of the fabric of the city."
While the two- state solution is the solution that most Israelis are willing to accept, Jerusalem 1913 provides evidence that the only real and equitable solution is the one state solution advocated by Edward Said and Raja Shehadeh- a solution that can recreate the Jerusalem where Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted in peace.