Why The Arab/Israeli Conflict Remains Intractable
There are many attempts to understand why the Arab/Israel conflict remains unresolved. Among the reasons advanced for this impasse are: years of suspicion, fear, feelings of injustice and stereotyping have created a psychological barrier between Israelis and Arabs.1 Negative perceptions have reduced incentives to accept peace proposals, prejudice the viability of these proposals and preclude feelings of empathy.2
On the most personal level, there are differences in Arab and Jewish life-styles. Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, laments the gulf dividing Arabs and Jews even when they live together as neighbors. They patronage the same stores, exchange information on common neighborhood issues, drink coffee in the afternoon, and watch their children growing up from opposite sides of the fence.3
Yet they do not share common holidays, days of rest, or free time activities. Holidays are especially alienating. Benvenisti would not invite his neighbors to sit in his sukkah (booths used during the Feast of Tabernacles) lest they be offended when he recites the prayer over the wine. Similarly, when one of his neighbor’s children returned from the hajj, the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, his family would not be invited to celebrate to save them embarrassment for not knowing how to behave.4
Estrangement is even more pronounced the moment visible symbols are involved. When Benvenisti displays the flag on Israeli Independence Day, he knows his neighbors will be upset. On Yom Kippur, work ceases throughout the country. During the month of Ramadan, Arabs rise at 3: 00 a.m. A blind man in his neighborhood, who is escorted by a drummer, wakes-up the pious at 3:a.m. to prepare the meal before the fast. 5
Security issues add another layer of distance. Every one of his Arab neighbor’s homes has been searched at least once during the 14 years the Benvenisti’s lived in Jerusalem. Every single male over the age of 18 has been detained by the security forces during the same period. “We are simultaneously enemies and neighbors,” he concludes.5
The many wars, endless clashes and threats of total annihilation have left memories of “hatred, paranoia, brutality, dehumanization, and tribalism.” Even as Israel becomes more powerful, many Israelis still feel “vulnerable and weak.” The Holocaust continues to be a “national trauma.” Fear remains an overwhelming emotion.6
Sari Nusseibeh, scion of one Jerusalem’s most prominent Muslim Arab families, president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, and a former PLO representative in the city, posits that the “inability to imagine the lives of the ‘other,’ is main reason why the conflict persists. Everyone is so absorbed in their own adversity they are unaware of each other’s experiences and even antagonistic to them.7
The late Edward Said, a pro-Palestinian activist and a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, underlined the fundamental reason why when he spoke of Palestinians becoming the victims of Zionism, of the Zionists being responsible for the destruction of their society, the loss of their land, and the painful exile they are forced to endure.8
He accused the Zionists of being a “tool of imperialism” who usurped their land, established settler colonies and a sovereign state whose only means of preservation is by aggression and expansion. Some Arabs believe that Israel is by nature an expansionist nation, and will continue to take more land at Arab expense.9
Seizing Arab land cannot be tolerated. Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s leading experts on Islam, explains that once a territory has become part of Islam‘s domain, it can never be relinquished or surrendered to anyone. No land is more significant than Arabia and Iraq. And of the two, Arabia is clearly the most important.10
The sacredness of Muslim land led to the eviction of Jews and Christians from their homes and property. In 641, 20 years after Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians be expelled from Arabia in accordance with the Prophet’s deathbed pronouncement: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” This meant Jews of the oasis of Khybar in the north and Christians of Najran in the south were to be banished even though both groups had very deep roots in the region and differed from their Muslim neighbors only in their religion.11
The Jews were relocated to Syria and Palestine and the Christians to Iraq. Compared to the expulsions Jews experienced in Europe, this was more limited. Jews were not forced out immediately. They left gradually, but the decision to expel them was irrevocable. From then on, non-Muslims were forbidden to walk on this sacred soil, which became a major transgression. Elsewhere in the Saudi Kingdom, non-Muslims could enter as temporary visitors, but could not become residents or practice their religion.12
Arabs call Israeli Independence Day, the Nakba (Catastrophe), and regard it as a day of mourning. Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian advocate, regards the establishment of the Jewish state was as an “unimaginable aberration.”13 Other Arab leaders portray Zionism as “a disaster”14 and a “sword …at the necks of the Palestinian people.”15
What Benvenisti, Nusseibeh and others fail to mention is that the fundamental objective of the militant and violent Arabs is to destroy Western culture and civilization and replace it with their own “civilization of dhimmitude,” where non-Muslims will be forced to become a “protected” minority subordinating themselves to restrictive and degrading Islamic law to avoid death or enslavement. For 1,300 years, this jihad political force has subjugated and even eliminated major areas of Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious civilizations in Europe, Asia and Africa. Non-Muslims either converted, disappeared or were rendered incapable of further development.16
The goal of conquering the West is avowed in the introduction to The Charter of Allah: The Platform of Hamas: “We say to this West, which does not act reasonably, and does not learn its lessons: By Allah, you will be defeated. You will be defeated in Palestine, and your defeat there has already begun. True, it is Israel that is being defeated there, but when Israel is defeated, its path is defeated, those who call to support it are defeated, and the cowards who hide behind it and support it are defeated. Israel will be defeated, and so will whoever supported or supports it.”17
That is why the Israeli and American war on terrorism in the twenty- first century is one and the same. 18 Hamas prime minister Isma`il Haniya, confirmed this when he said: “…the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only over the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe.”19 The delusion that they are separate conflicts has conferred an element of legitimacy on the vicious acts of terrorism in Israel.20
The attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001 were the latest manifestation of the Islamic jihad to establish universal world domination.21 This goal can be realized through demographic growth and conversion of the local population. Large numbers of teachers and religious leaders will be mobilized to teach Islam in every language and dialect. Should peaceful methods prove inadequate, physical force can be used. 22
Even if Hamas agreed to a hunda (truce) with Israel, this would only be a strategic tactic that would not signal an end to the struggle or a change in objectives. Abbas al-Sayyid, (the political leader of Hamas in Tulkarm and the convicted Izz-ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades commander of Hamas’ military wing), who was the architect of the bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002 in which 30 people were killed and 140 injured, made this clear.23 Hamas, he said, is prepared for a truce for an extensive period of time, but for religious reasons could not allow Israel to occupy Islamic lands. If Abbas did not succeed in obtaining the land that is “rightfully mine” then perhaps his “son or grandson will.” 24
What will happen to the people who allegedly stole Arab lands? Mahmoud Darwish, a very popular poet of the Palestinian resistance, provided the answer in a powerful poem “Bitaqit Hawia,” (Identity Card) written in 1964. Although professing not to “hate people,” Darwish warned, “The usurper’s flesh will be my food. Beware, Beware, Of my hunger And my anger!”25
“The curious power of this little poem is that when it first appeared in the late sixties, it did not represent as much as embody the Palestinian whose political identity in the world had been pretty much reduced to a name on an identity card,” Edward Said noted. 26
Is there any Zionist poetry or statement that describes the Palestinians in comparable ways? And if any does exist, who could claim that it is the “embodiment of the Israelis,” that it represents the view of the Jewish people? 27
For many Arabs, the conflict with Zionism is a religious war against the Jewish people. Since the Jews are not going to leave their homeland voluntarily, the solution is clear according to Abdallah Jarbu', Hamas deputy minister of religious endowments: "May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values."28
Dr. Grobman, a Hebrew University trained historian, is the author of The Palestinian Right To Israel (Balfour Books, 2010). He is the president of Balfour Trust, an educational outreach to help Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, Zionism and the State of Israel.
1. Saul Friedlander and Mahmoud Hussein, Arabs and Israelis: A Dialogue. (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1975), 3-16; William B. Quandt, “Ideology and Objectives,” in The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism, William B. Quandt, Fuad Jabber and Ann Mosely Lesch, ed. (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1973), 94-95.
2. Moises F. Salinas, Planting Hatred, Sowing Pain, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2007), 5-10, 33; Nadim N. Rouhana and Daniel Bar-Tal, “Psychological Dynamics of Intractable Ethnonational Conflicts: The Israeli-Palestinian Case,” American Psychologist Volume 53 number 7: 760-770; Oz Almog, The Sabra, The Creation of the New Jew. (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2000), 190-201.
3. Meron Benvenisti, Conflicts and Contradictions. (New York: Villard Books, 1986), 13.
5. Ibid. 13-16.
6. Amos Elon, A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches From the Middle East. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 6, 268-270; Ofer Grosbard, Israel on the Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process. (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 2003), 1-6.
7. Sari Nusseibeh, Once upon A Country: A Palestinian Life. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 12; an attempt to understand each other’s tragedies can be found in Paul Scham, Walid Salem and Benjamin Pogrund, eds., Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue (Jerusalem: The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development (Panorama) and Yakar Center for Social Concern, 2005); Amos Elon and Sana Hassan, Between Enemies: A Compassionate Dialogue Between An Israeli and An Arab. New York: Random House, 1974; Friedlander and Hussein, op.cit; Simha Flapan, ed. When Enemies Dare To Talk: An Israeli-Palestinian Debate, (London: Croom Helm, Ltd., 1979).
8. Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds. Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question. (New York: Verso, 1988), 6-7; please also see Fawaz Turki, The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972; Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle. (New York: Times Books, 1981); Issa Khalaf, Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration 1939-1948. (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1991); Flapan, op.cit.
9. Mark A. Heller, and Sari Nusseibeh, No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Solution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (New York: Hill and Wang, 1991), 5,-8,150-151; Edward Said, The Question of Palestine. (New York: Vintage Books, 1979) , 7-8, 10, 69, 71.; Hassan Nafaa, “Manifest Colonial Domination,” Al-Ahram (August 9-15, 2007) Issue Number 857, Online; Richard P. Stevens, “Zionism as a Phase of Western Imperialism,” in Transformation of Palestine, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1987), 27-59; Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest: Palestine Between 1914-1967 (New York: The New World Press, 1967), 3-8; Sami Hadawi, Palestinian Rights And Losses In 1948: A Comprehensive Study. (London: Saqi Books, 1988); Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, op.cit. 110-11, 115. 125; Quandt, “Ideology and Objectives,”op.cit. 100-107; Yehoshafat Harkabi, Arab Strategies and Israel’s Response. New York: The Free Press, 1977; Kathleen Christianson, Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2000), 1-4.
10. Bernard Lewis, Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4.
13. Hanan Ashrawi, This Side of Peace. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 24; Hanan Ashrawi, “Palestine and Peace: The Looming Challenges,” Miftah (April 30, 2007), Online; Flapan, ed. o.cit.79, 82.
14. Musa Alami, “The Lesson of Palestine,” The Middle East Journal Volume 3 Number 4 (October 1949): 375.
15. Yoav Stern, “At rally, Hadash touts two-state solution without the Jewishness,” Haaretz (December 9, 2007); “Catholic leader rejects ‘Jewish state,’” Jerusalem Post (December 19, 2007).
16. Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis. (Teaneck, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), 9; Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide. (Teaneck, New Jersey: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002); Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History (New York: Mentor Books, 1957); Daniel Pipes, “Islam and Islamism-Faith and Ideology,” National Interest (Spring 2000).
17. Yehudit Barsky, Hamas, op.cit. 1; Yehudit Barsky, The New Leadership of Hamas: A Profile of Khalid Al-Mish‘al, (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2004):1; Yehudit Barsky, Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2002): 5, 7.
18. Saul Singer, “Interesting Times: The two-conflict delusion,” The Jerusalem Post (May 12, 2004).
19. Barsky, Hamas, op.cit. 2. In an editorial in the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper in July 2007, Israeli Arab Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, said, “Palestine belongs to its Arab residents, not the Jewish occupiers.” Seven months earlier, he exhorted the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to oppose the “occupation” until they reclaimed the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. “Arab MK: ‘Palestine Belongs to Arabs, Not Jews.” Arutz 7 (July 29, 2007); “Arab MK: Fight Israeli ‘occupation’.” JTA (July 29, 2007).
20. Singer, op.cit. According to the latest edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam, the definition of jihad is: “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam, and if need be, of its defense.” Quoted in David Cook, Understanding Jihad (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2005), 2; Lewis, Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East op.cit. 8-9; Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. Washington, D.C. Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2006); Robert S. Wistrich, “Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger,” American Jewish Committee (2002); Robert S. Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (New York: Random House, 2010); for an analysis of the challenges Western Europe faces from Islam see, Daniel Pipes, “Europe’s Stark Options,” National Interest (March-April 2007).
21. Efraim Karsh, “Islam’s World for World Mastery,” The New York Sun (May 18, 2007).
22. Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University press, 2006), 232; Robert Spencer, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2008);
Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2005; Steve Emerson, Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the US (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2006) Daniel Pies, Militant Islam Reaches America. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company 2002).
23. Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007), 243.
25. Quoted in Said, op.cit. 155-156; Mahmoud Darwish, “Identity Card,” Online; See also “Gaza Palestinian Salafi Jihad Jama’at Al-Tawhid Wa’l- Jihad Issues Communiqué on Arab Regimes, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Conflict with Israel: We Will Decapitate the Jews and Rip Their Hearts from Their Bodies,” MEMRI Special Dispatch 2878(March 26, 2010);
“Hamas Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments Abdallah Jarbu’ on Al-Aqsa TV: ‘Allah will Poison the Air Breathed by the Jews…the Americans… the Crusaders and All the Zionists…There Must be a Third Intifada,” MEMRI Special Dispatch 2879(March 28, 2010).
26. Said, op.cit.155-156.
27. Cameron S. Brown, “Answering Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine,” Israel Affairs Volume 13 Number 1 (January 2007,), 59.
28. “On Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas Deputy Minister of Religious Calls for Jews to be Annihilated, Saying They Are Bacteria, Not Human Beings,” MEMRI Special Dispatch 2858 ( March 15, 2010).
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