Watching the news coming out of Syria daily, the reports off 5000 dead troops firing on unarmed protestors, cities being shelled, the wounded dragged from hospitals, I couldn’t help notice how little outrage has been evident within the very righteous anti-Zionist community.
Whenever Israel is in conflict with Hamas, defending its citizens from rocket attack or intercepting ships which seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza strip, we can expect marches, demonstrations, statements of solidarity with the Palestinians, Hamas and Hizbullah, headline news articles, debates in Parliament, public meetings, a Twitter deluge of anti-Zionist hatred, outrage in The Guardian and the full panoply of anti-Israel hatred orchestrated against it.
Yet, what do we see? Despite condemnation in Parliament and daily news reports with horrendous images of the dead and abused, including women and children, there have been no demonstrations in London or any siege of the Syrian embassy.
Does it not strike you as a little odd that so many people are motivated by outrage to take to the streets to take sides in a conflict in the Middle-East when Israel is involved, but when a tyrannical regime is suppressing democracy by declaring war on its own civilians, the same people who are so self-righteously opposed to anything Israel does are mute.
Where is the Syrian Solidarity Campaign? Where is the Free Syria Movement?
Could it be perhaps that when Israelis and, therefore, Jews are killing Muslims as part of an on-going existential conflict, this is not acceptable to the sensibilities of those take the side of Muslims in that conflict, for the declared reason that it is all about justice and historical wrongs? But when Muslim is killing Muslim (and – would it be too mischievous to suggest – when Muslim is killing Christian) this is of less importance for multitudes of the self-righteous, anti-israel activists.
Perish the thought. Yes, perish the thought that it is the Jewish element of the conflict rather than the righteousness of the cause that is at the heart of all that breast-beating and outraged indignation.
After all, if it were all about saving the innocent, then the pro-Pal/anti-Israel brigade would be out on the streets with the same anger and violence of expression calling for the destruction of the Syrian dictatorship and the implementation of a democratic government.
But they don’t, do they?
Well, my last blog post ‘Why Newt Gingrich is wrong about Palestinian identity‘ appears to have placed me as one swimming against the tide or rather, outside the shoal.
Notice I said he was wrong about Palestinian identity and not the fact of the invention of a Palestinian people.
These two things, identity and peoplehood are subtly different. But one does lead to the other.
Most of what I wrote is echoed by many commentators:
The most important point is that the Palestinians created an identity in order to destroy another – Jewish peoplehood.
We all agree on that.
We also agree that this identity is being used in a continuing war of delegitimisation of the Jewish people’s connection to Israel.
I stated, however, that any people who consider themselves a nation has a right to be considered as such. Clearly, not in the Passport to Pimlico sense. Let’s leave aside the absurdities that my statement above could be used to imply.
There is a Palestinian identity- however that identity came about. And that identity is tied to a scrap of land in the Middle East.
It is pointless and irrelevant to deny this, however cynical we are about the origins of that identity.
Let me put it another way. If that identity is denied simply because of the way it is used as a weapon to be wielded against Jewish identity, where does it leave several million people who cannot and would not be Israelis, cannot and would not be Jordanians?
My point was that Gingrich does not move us nearer peace by stating the historical truth. He, and all of us, should recognise the current reality.
Palestinian identity and peoplehood has emerged out of their own perverse insistence on destroying another nation and out of their inexhaustible stamina in the pursuit of prolonged victimhood and grievance.
But it is, nevertheless, an identity and, like it or not, that identity will lead to peoplehood and nationality at some stage in the future. The confirmation of that identity can only be achieved if they recognise the Jewish identity of Israel. This is why UNESCO’s recognition of a Palestinian state is wrong and is a regressive and hostile act against Israel. This is why there is no peace.
If Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab league declared tomorrow that they recognise Israel’s right to exist based on the 1967 lines with land-swaps, Israel would be the first country to recognise Palestine and, by implication, a Palestinian identity and peoplehood. Prime Minister Netanyahu stated this clearly at the UN a few weeks ago. And this would be exactly the scenario envisaged in the UN Partition Plan of 1947 , albeit with rather different borders.
So how does using the term ‘invented’ help us move toward that goal?
Recognition of Palestinian peoplehood is almost universal. Israel and its supporters will have to live with it. It may be a ruse invented as a weapon of mass destruction, but the Palestinians have, if you will, turned themselves into a people despite themselves.
Let’s assume Gingrich becomes President or Vice President and has to have some role in advancing peace in the Middle East. How is bringing up the ‘invention’ of a Palestinian identity going to help?
The two-state solution is the only game in town. two states for two peoples. Isn’t this what all of the commentators above support, even grudgingly. So what it is it about ‘two peoples’ that we are not supposed to understand?
Is it the Jews and and a assorted bunch of Arab and Bedouin tribes or is it Israel and Palestine. And if Palestine, why not the Palestinians.
It is quite legitimate to point out how Palestinian nationality is being used against Israel and to oppose its use to further illegitimate recognition. But I stand by what I wrote. Gingrich’s statement is irrelevant. It does not matter that he is historically correct because it’s the history of the last 60 years that will matter and the history of the next hundred years, not the status quo ante.
Newt Gingrich’s leaked comments which describe Palestinian identity as ‘invented’ have a profound importance in the Middle East conflict and these remarks have to be challenged.
One of the reasons that the Gingrich view has to be confronted is that when Jewish peoplehood is questioned by the Palestinians and their cheerleaders on the Left, Muslims and Arabs remain silent in tacit agreement. The Palestinians’ outrage at Gingrich’s remarks are, therefore, hypocritical.
The Mail Online reports Gingrich’s words here.
This is the quote which has caused the outrage which comes from an interview with a Jewish news channel:
‘Remember, there was no Palestine as a state — (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places,’ Gingrich said, according to a video excerpt posted online.
In a way, he is right; Palestinian peoplehood may be the first instance of a nation being formed explicitly and deliberately to destroy another nation – the Jewish national home – Israel.
You may wonder what would have happened if the forces of the Arab League had triumphed in 1949. Would the land ‘from the River to the Sea’ be a separate state called ‘Palestine’?
Perhaps we already have the answer to that conundrum.
From 1949 to 1967 the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Did they create a Palestinian state on the land which subsequently became the focus of Palestinian national aspirations? No.
The PLO, which I remind you stands for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was formed in 1964. What ‘Palestine’ were they trying to liberate in 1964 before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza? For those of you too young to remember or starved of facts, let me explain. The PLO’s ‘Palestine’ included Israel. In other words, the PLO and its offshoots, Fatah and the current Palestinian Authority leadership, were formed with a single objective: to destroy Israel, to wipe it off the map, and to create an Arab state in all of the Western portion of the original British Mandate for Palestine.
The PLO was, therefore, formed to deny Jewish peoplehood, and it has not shifted one iota from that position. It has had at least three chances to create its own own nation but because it was more interested in destroying the Jewish nation, it has consistently failed to do so.
Not only has it not shifted, it continues to demonise Jews in its education system, deny Jewish connection to the land, Islamise Jewish holy sites and support narratives which pervert the history of the Jewish people and seek to delegitimise their claim to their historic homeland.
So whilst Palestinian peoplehood could be seen as a ruse with which to deny Jewish peoplehood, and is, in that sense ‘an invention’, nevertheless, as a result of this 100 year conflict, and as a result of the PLO’s half century of establishing a Palestinian identity, the Palestinians, a nation no older than 100 years, has as much right to peoplehood and nationhood as the Jews, a people whose roots are at least 3,500 years old.
It could easily be argued that all nations are inventions. Gingrich’s own nation, the United States is as much an invention as any other. Many of the countries in the Middle East whose borders are not in dispute – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan – are recent ‘inventions’ of colonial Britain and France. No-one denies that Syrians are a nation or that they are merely a bunch of Arabs living in a particular place.
Denying Palestinian peoplehood gets us nowhere. When enough people regard themselves as a nation then no-one has a right to deny them their nationhood.
The problem with Palestinian nationhood is that it refuses to live alongside Jewish nationhood.
The problem with Palestinian nationhood is that because it is a relatively recent occurrence (or invention if you like) it struggles to place itself as a separate Arab culture with a distinct history, civilisation, art, music, literature.
But none of that matters; the same could be said for Jordan or Syria. In fact, it has all these things. The problem is that it spends too much of its cultural patrimony in denying someone else’s. It spends too much time in ‘inventing’ its own history. It has no need to do that. It only does it to air-brush out Jewish history and connection to the Land. It is why Jesus is a Palestinian not a Jewish Rabbi; it is why Ibrahim is a Muslim not a Jewish Patriarch who founded monotheism.
Newt Gingrich did no-one any favours when he denied Palestinian peoplehood.
He, like everyone else, should concentrate on ensuring that there are two recognised peoples in the conflict: the Jewish people and the Palestinians, and only recognition of the former by the latter can ever be the foundation of a meaningful and lasting peace.
This week I heard Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, tell us that the conflict is not a zero-sum game; support for Israel does not mean that you cannot also support the Palestinians. Too often supporters of both sides see the conflict that way. It continues to be the position of Israel’s neighbours. It continues to be the position of Israel-haters across the world. Their solution to the problem is to deny to the Jews what they claim for the Palestinians.
So, it may surprise you that I take this view, but let’s think what not taking this view will mean. For the Palestinians it means that they dream of a day when the Jews will disappear and they can have their ‘Palestine’. But would that really be an ideal scenario for them? Decidedly not; and the reason why not is because they have invested so much treasure and so much political and religious capital in basing their identity on hate for Israel and Jews that were the object of that hatred to vanish, their peoplehood would lose its meaning.
This is not a sound basis for national aspirations.
The same cannot be said for the Jews of Israel. If the Palestinians were to disappear one morning the national identity of the Jews would not be affected. The Israelis have not based their cultural identity on hatred. It is based on shared history, culture and values. The Israeli experience is the very epitome of nation-building. Very few Israelis want the Palestinians to ‘disappear’; those that do are decidedly in the minority.
So forget Gingrich and his ignorance. Israelis and Jews must not be seduced by these negative narratives.
But neither must the Palestinians.
Thus said Kasim “Kaz” Hafeez in the final session of the Politics thread at the Big Tent For Israel in Manchester on November 27th.
Kaz was part of a panel discussing “How to change the narrative in the Muslim community”.
He told an enraptured audience how he had very nearly ended up in a Jihadi training camp; how he was brought up to hate Israel and Jews.
Kaz, whose website theisraelcampaign.org, attempts to describe the current anti-Israel and antisemitic trends of Islam in the UK and abroad and put the record straight, made a huge impression on several hundred people, mostly Jewish, assembled in the International Suite of the Piccadilly Hotel in central Manchester.
Even though I knew his story, I was moved to simultaneous tears and laughter as Kaz told us how he is a Zionist and has the Israeli flag on his desk at work.
Tears, because the idea of any non-Jew, let alone a Muslim, proudly declaring himself a Zionist and lover of Israel is profoundly moving. We, the Jewish people, are so inured to hate and being despised that when we find we are not alone, that we have friends, that is worth a few tears of pride and relief.
Laughter, because the idea of a proud, practising Muslim displaying the Israeli flag at work is very amusing.
Then Kaz came out with the quote of the year: ”Life is a lot happier when you don’t hate as much”.
Everything is contained in that one phrase; life, love, happiness, toleration, respect.
This perfectly describes the solution to what troubles so much of the world today.
Hate. Unthinking, bigoted, hatred fuels the world’s ills.
Such is the hatred much of the Arab and Muslim world feels, especially for Jews. It is this hatred which drives Islamists to acts of violence, not just against Jews, but against other Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Are they happy in their hate? I doubt it. How can you be happy to hate?
Hatred is not confined to Muslims. Yet it is Islamist terror and intolerance that characterises the beginning of the 21st century.
Kaz made me cry because he offers hope. He offers hope that Muslims and Jews, Israel and Palestine, can put aside hate and learn tolerance and respect.
It gives me the hope that, in this country, Kaz and those like him, such as Hasan Afzal, can have some influence in their community to stop the hate and lies and half-truths.
If Kaz can do a 180 degree turn, surely many more can manage 90?
How did Kaz learn to be happier? He read, he studied and he had the strength of character and moral courage to go see for himself. He had the honesty to see that everything he had been taught was wrong.
I said to another Muslim at the conference: “We don’t expect Muslims to be Zionists, we just want a fair hearing”. Not the most profound statement I’ve ever made, but it’s true.
Cut the hate and have an honest discussion. Criticise, don’t demonise. Tolerate don’t delegitmise.
It was a great conference and I heard many wonderful things, but Kaz’s simple, heartfelt, unprepared statement will always be the memory and the inspiration I carry from the conference. All the hours, all the hard work, all the arguments and stress were worth it to hear that one axiomatic utterance -
“Life is a lot happier when you don’t hate as much”