Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thoughts on a Palestinian Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State

Two prominent peace activists, a Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah and an Israeli Roi Ben-Yehuda had a public, interesting, though short discussion on whether or not Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Roi argued, as may be expected, that the Palestinians should recognize the Jewish character of Israel so as to allay the Israeli fear that Palestinians wish to exercise their right of return to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. He recognizes that this would not be easy for Palestinians and suggests that Palestinians, if they don't like the idea of a Jewish Israel, should propose an alternative.

The thrust of Aziz's argument is that it's important for there to be mutual recognition of the "other's" narrative and that Israel needs to take responsibility for Palestinian suffering. These are words that he lives by, as per this heartfelt piece he wrote. He also suggested that Palestinians should not be asked to make this recognition before they have a state, nor should they be asked to do something neither Egypt nor Jordan were when they made peace with Israel.

Certainly the discussion was thought provoking, so I decided to draft a short statement of recognition of Israel that the PA could use. Obviously, this is nothing more than the off-the-cuff musings of a guy on his couch, but maybe it's an interesting starting point:

"The Palestinian Authority recognizes an ancient and continuous Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Similarly, the PA recognizes a long and continuous Arab connection to the land and that the land is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The land contains sites central to the culture of these people who continue to inhabit it and who look to it as a source of inspiration from afar. It also contains sites sacred to the world's three Abrahamic, monotheistic religions. The sate of Israel, which legitimately governs its territory as defined by the United Nations, governs people of all these backgrounds and of all these faiths. It also has sovereignty over sites which are culturally, historically and or religiously significant to millions of people in the middle east and around the world.

Israel must guarantee the rights of all non-Jewish minorities in its territory. Israel must ensure that all real or technical barriers to full equality between all its citizens must be removed and eliminated. Israel must recognize that its minorities are its full citizens and have the right to permanently remain in Israel.

Israel must also guarantee that the aforementioned religious, cultural and historic sites in its territory, significant to so many be protected, preserved and accessible to all who wish to visit them.

Since 1948, when Israel established its Independence, the Palestinians have suffered. Palestinians have been hoping for a state and have lived through much adversity and national trauma. Israel must recognize this suffering and acknowledge its role in it.

If Israel can recognize the suffering of the Palestinians, its role in it and the legitimacy of the Palestinian national aspirations, if Israel will guarantee the safety and equality of its minorities and protect the treasures of humankind within its borders, if Israel can recognize that the Palestinians have the same hopes and aspirations for themselves and Israel does for itself, then the Palestinian People can recognize that the state of Israel in the fulfillment of the Jewish national aspiration to a homeland of their own."


Roi Ben-Yehuda said...

I am happy to see that our article inspired constructive creativity. looking forward to read more.

Anonymous said...

"which legitimately governs its territory as defined by the United Nations".

Apologies. I haven't been on this site for some time. A little tired of reading about the cousins still fighting over a few hills and a desert.

I understand that the text you wrote is from the PA point of view. Is the above quote snatched from your text intended to portray support for 48 borders or 67 borders?(I know that the 48 borders are UN sanctified but I forget if the 67 borders are, and frankly, too late in the evening to verify) If so, is it your position that Israel, in order to be legitimately
governing its territory, should be governing territory no greater than 48 or 67?

A friend.

Anonymous said...

Fighting over a few hills and a desert may not be much of a much, but this!, Oh this! the perfidy!


A friend.

Steve Lieblich said...

"Since 1948, when Israel established its Independence, the Palestinians have suffered" ...only because, since the Muslim conquest of Israel in the year 640, Jews have been massacred, expelled or tolerated as second-class "dhimmis". The Arab "suffering" is no more than a stubborn, recalcitrant refusal to unwind 1400 years of brutal domination and accept co-existence with Jews AS EQUALS.

On the other hand if they will accept this, then the suffering can end, for all of us...


Anonymous said...

Mr. Lieblich:

Your comment is historically inaccurate in so many ways... oh, where to begin...

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I'll try to reply to everyone in one comment and apologize for the delay, I've been under the weather.

Roi, First, welcome. I hope you'll check back in and it is I who thank you for your efforts to bring people together in a constructive, calm manner. Please don't stop.

To "my Friend," welcome back.. Your absence was felt and I'm glad to have you around.

I wrote this "declaration" from a Palestinian perspective but left it intnentionally vague so that it's so that it's something that Israelis and Palestinians could agree too without binding themselves to a firm position.

I am not that well versed on the differnces between 67 and 48 borders, but from what I can tell, the major difference between the two are the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan. If UN resolution 242 is any indication, I would say that the UN would be quite happy recognizing 67 borders as Israels final, official borders.

As for the Hummus, I got a kick out of that, but in all seriouness, when at McGill, I saw Arab and Jewish students nearly come to blows over "ownership" of Falafel. I kid you not. Some people lack real perspective, I think.

Steve, thanks for your comment and welcome back to you too! I would agree that there is a fundamental failure to recognize the equality and legitimacy of the other, but that it cuts both ways. I have heard Israelis say things that have really made my skin crawl for the venom, racism and hatred it carried. I have heard Palestinians utter similar things.

As for historical accuracy, I would let our "friend" speak to that and encourage you to discuss the issue with one another. I'm interested in watching.

Thank you all for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Hey Charlie:

Thank you for your invitation. I will not attempt to reduce 1400 years of history into a blog comment. Initially, I did not want to comment further on Mr. Lieblich's comment, for I highly doubt anything I say will convince him much, but your invitation swayed me over, and frankly, I do not wish to leave the unsuspecting reader of his comment to depart even less informed about the conflict than before reading the comment. So here goes, and the answer may run longer than a single comment.

Quote: "since the Muslim conquest of Israel in the year 640".

Now that's an interesting start. Firstly, the Arab Muslim armies never conquered Israel in the year 640. Rather they conquered what was then a firmly and well entrenched part of a Christian Greek Byzantine civilization, with the Jews being a small, marginalized and shrinking minority. By the time of the coming of the Muslim armies, Biblical Israel was nothing more than a old myth, an dead kingdom faded from history like so many others before and since. In fact, the land itself was not called Israel, but at times, merely a region of the province of Syria called Palestine, or "falastine" (interestingly, the same name given to it at times in the Old Testament), and at other times a Province in its own right called Palestine. In fact, since shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple, those few hills and a desert were called Palestine, Through Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Franks and Crusaders, Turks, British and all other would be Colonial powers of the 19th and early 20th century until, of course, 1948. That's two thousand years of it being called so. Furthermore, except for what the Romans did to the Jews, there were no massive transfers of the native populations in these past 2000 years in that territory. Surely then, you do not fault them for wanting to hold on to that history, 1400 of which was Muslim, and somewhat object to it being erased.

To claim that Muslims conquered Israel in 640 is fundamentally untrue. It is equivalent to saying that when the United States conquered Iraq, they in fact conquered the Persian Empire or Sumer and Akkad, or when Germany invaded Russia during WWII, they actually invaded the Khanate of Golden Horde.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, by the time the Muslims conquered Palestine (what you call Israel) in 640, the region's Jews were a non issue.

Second quote: "Jews have been massacred, expelled or tolerated as second-class "dhimmis"".

I do not dispute the fact that you will be able to point me to occurrences during the past 1400 years where such things occurred. They did. However, to imply that this was the constant and the norm of Jewish life in the Middle East during that long period is also untrue, and very far from the truth. So much so that after the Muslim conquest, a Jewish Apocalyptic writing makes an angel say to a rabbinic seer: "Do not fear, Ben Yohay; the Creator, blessed be He, has only brought the Kingdom of Ishmael in order to save you from this wickedness (i.e. Byzentium)... the Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up for them a Prophet according to His will, and conquer the land for them, and they will come and restore it..." (Bernard LEWIS, The Arabs in History, Harper Colophon Books, London, 1966, p. 58., also: Hugh KENNEDY, the Great Arab Conquests, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2007, p. 355, who repeats, in fuller form, the same passage cited).

On another note, I can also point to literally hundreds of passages in the Old Testament were Biblical Jews massacred, expelled or tolerated as second-class "Goyim". In fact, I can also point to hundreds of examples in the past 60 years were modern Jewish Israelis massacred, expelled or tolerated as second-class Palestinians or Arab Israelis. (I can also point to hundreds of cases were Palestinians massacred Israelis Jews as well).

I do not intend to review 1400 years of history here. Suffice it to say that for those 1400 years Europe saw a continuous Jewish emigration in favour of all parts of the Middle-East and North Africa, due to the persecution they suffered in European lands. As for the Dhimmis status, this was often haphazardly applied, never affected any employment opportunities even to the highest offices (as the life of Maimonides and many others attest), and was not restricted to Jews but Christians and Zoroastrians as well. So by no means was it an anti-Jewish policy.

Anonymous said...

Third quote: "the Palestinians have suffered" ...only because, since the Muslim conquest of Israel in the year 640, Jews have been massacred, expelled or tolerated as second-class "dhimmis"".

I find this a morally dubious position, but interesting in a very Biblical or Middle-Ages way.

If I understand correctly, Modern Palestinians suffer today because Ancient Jews suffered long ago?

Should I understand this as nothing more than the law of the Talion? It is legitimate to kill, massacre and dispossess a people because your own people were killed dispossessed, and massacred long ago?

Does this rule apply to all people? and can others legitimately use that argument to morally and politically support their otherwise morally reprehensible acts?

Anonymous said...

Fourth quote: "The Arab "suffering" is no more than a stubborn, recalcitrant refusal to unwind 1400 years of brutal domination and accept co-existence with Jews AS EQUALS."

I see. So, being kicked out of their land, homes, villages, fields, olives groves torn out, checkpoints and barbed wires and separation barriers, and arbitrary imprisonment and torture and sieges and closures and arrests and delegitimization and illegal settlements and refugee camps and lack of water while the neighbours have pools and shortages and discrimination and travel restrictions and unable to see family and friends and mothers giving birth stuck in unending check point lineups and embargoes and parents and brothers and sisters dead, along with hundreds of thousands of others since 48 is no reason for anyone for suffer. No no, it's just that they refuse to "unwind" 1400 years. That must be it.

As for "accept co-existence with Jews AS EQUALS.", I am unable to understand the premise; Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have been asking just that for years and years. It is rather curious that the majority of the land (the Jewish population) and the one that holds ALL the levers of government and finance and military, the one that is best educated and cultured and modern, is hysterically demanding that the minority (The Muslim and the Christian) and lagging so far behind the majority in every conceivable socioeconomic index except child-birth accept co-existence with Jews AS EQUALS.

Odd, that.

A friend

Anonymous said...

I came across this astonishing turd of nonsense (in contrast to a Pearl of Wisdom of course)on Steve Lieblich's (Jewish Issues Watchdog)blog, but written by Lee Kaplan:

"...the majority of Arabs and Muslims residing in Israel and the Palestinian Authority today immigrated to the region in the mid 20th century as a result of the Zionist movement."

However, what is really surprising, apart from the flabergastingly unbelievable inexactitude of this comment, is that the writer is rebutting one idiotic statement with another equally so. I invite you to read the entire post on JIW or the article by Lee Kaplan himself at:

This comment in Lee Kaplan's article and taken up in JIW does not even deserve the dubious honour of being labeled historical revisionism.

I apologize for raising this in your blog, and not on JIW, but it goes with what I've discussed above. Ironically, Lee Kaplan's article supports the history I describe in the above comment about what occurred during the past 2000 years in then Palestine, and is otherwise largely exact, until he claims that "the majority of Arabs and Muslims residing in Israel and the Palestinian Authority today immigrated to the region in the mid 20th century as a result of the Zionist movement".

This is such an astounding statement, I am tempted to believe that Lee Kaplan just wasn't paying attention to what he was writing when he actually wrote that phrase, and that instead, he meant to write: " Sand also tries to claim today's Palestinians are the real Jews who were forcibly converted to Islam after the seventh century. This, too, is academically false, as the majority of (Jews) residing in Israel and the Palestinian Authority today immigrated to the region in the mid 20th century as a result of the Zionist movement.", which would make a lot more sense and would concur with the vast majority of history books on the region and the period.

Somehow though, I doubt he made a mistake, as Lee Kaplan links to a Book review of the book "The Claim of Dispossession" (1984) written by Arieh Avnery, in which Mr. Avnery claims, among other turds of nonsense, that in the 1800's, "The Arabs ate grass, along with their goats, and were so primitive that they know only of blood-letting as a "treatment" for malaria".

But of course, we understand why such things are written; no one wants to dispossess and kill a fellow Human being. It is altogether better to dehumanize them, after-all, nobody cares what happens to goats (except maybe PETA), and history is replete with examples of nations that justified their actions on the basis of considering their victims as no better than animals.

To Israel's credit, views such as the ones shoveled by Avnery and Kaplan have never been official policy. However, it is disheartening to know that a significant minority of opinion leaders and intellectuals hold views like these, and one wonders as to their influence on Israeli policy.

As David Ben-Gurion told the Political Committee of Mapai in 1938, during the Arab Rebellion: "When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves - that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves.... But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves." (See: Benny MORRIS, Righteous Victims, Vintage Books, 2001, p. 676) After quoting Ben Gurion, Morris continues as follows: "Ben-Gurion, of course, was right. Zionism was a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement." (p. 676). He continues to draw parallels, differences and nuances between classical European colonialism and Zionist colonialism. Its actually very interesting.

A friend.

PS.: At this rate I will have to start a blog of my own...

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I’m sorry for taking so long to respond to this. As I think you may know by now, I never ignore you, but am sometimes slow to respond.
I’ll start by saying I know Mr. Lieblich about as well as I know you, which is to say, I don’t. So, I will not attempt to speak in his place. I will say though, be nice!
Second, I’ll say that in discussions of Morris and his arguments, I am at a distinct disadvantage having not had the benefit of reading Morris. That being said, again, without the benefit of reading all of Morris’ argument, I find it hard to agree with the idea of Zionism as a colonialist movement. I would say that the premise of such a position is that Jews were foreign to Israel, and Zionism—which I would broadly define as Jewish nationalism—is about Jews returning to the land to which they trace their roots. The Jewish people were not formed in Europe, they were formed in Israel and its natural for them to have a desire to return there and build a sovereign state in their ancestral homeland, just as any other nation would want to.
As for Avnery and Kaplan, I’m not in a position to critique them with any authority but I’ll agree that on the face of it, suggesting that Arabs ate grass like goats is ludicrous to the extreme and I would say that they serve as poignant reminders that no non-fiction—especially on issues as contentious as the middle east—should be read without an extremely critical eye and a healthy dose of cynicism.