Not unnaturally, the latest flare-up between Hamas and Israel, and Arab-Jewish violence inside Israel, attracted much media attention. Day after day, pages of the New York Times were filled with reports and opinions from the region — often of very questionable quality. “Guest essays” from Palestinians in Gaza painted a picture of indiscriminate, brutal Israeli attacks on the innocent civilians huddled with their wives and children in helpless dread, not knowing what next to expect from the bare-fanged Israeli monsters.
Equally gruesome was an article showing the picture of wanton Jewish cruelty, that forgot to mention that the organized Jewish self-defense arose as a response to Arab attacks on Jewish Israelis inside Israel which inadequate policing failed to prevent. A gloomy New York Times story about Israel squashing ordinary Palestinians’ simple human happiness was also devoid of background and context.
This article provides the background and context that the New York Times ignored. Let’s fill in the gap by starting with an obvious question: Why is there an “occupation” in the first place? How did it come to be? Why hasn’t it ended long ago? I would argue that, ultimately, it is rooted in willful Palestinian ignorance of Arab history.
(Note: I am speaking here about title to the land, not the right to possession. For centuries, Muslims tolerated a handful of Jews on what was once malarial, swampy land. What they cannot tolerate is Jewish ownership of the land.)
It’s inconceivable that the Palestinians do not know the story of the Arab conquest that started immediately after Mohammed’s death. Within a few centuries, Muslim Arabs spread from what is today’s western Saudi Arabia to encompass half of the then-known world, from Spain in the west to the border of India in the east. The former Roman territory of Palestine (a name the Romans bestowed on the land) came under Arab dominance in about 636 AD. The Arab’s did not begin human settlement on that strip of land, of course. It had been populated since time immemorial, including the Jews who, by 636 had already lived there for close to 2,000 years.
Palestinians revel in the proud story about the Muslim conquest but that leads to them twisting themselves into pretzels to explain — or rather, to explain away – how the Arab conquest doesn’t give legal justification for rival claims to the land. Posing as innocent victims, they see Israel as a Jewish “occupation,” conveniently forget that there is also another “occupation” — that of Arabs occupying the Jewish land. After all, for the sake of accuracy, if one is to speak of an “occupation,” one has to speak, of not one but two “occupations” superimposed over the very same piece of land. “Occupation of Palestine” is a plural, not singular, term.
Why does it matter? What would happen to Palestinians’ feeling of victimhood, of moral superiority, of rightful indignation, of injustice perpetrated and perpetuated against them, if they had to acknowledge their occupier status? Suddenly, they wouldn’t be entitled to any high moral grounds at all because the conflict would lose its moral aspect. Rather than being the story of the Arab good pitched against the Jewish evil, it would turn into a simple property dispute between two claimants to a title, in which sides should compromise, and go on living.
To maintain moral fervor, Palestinians must massage the land’s history to exclude Jews entirely and fill it with the Arabs. Changing “occupation” to “double occupation” would deflate Arab moral indignation. To acknowledge accurately Arab history would make the Jews and Israel a legitimate part of the landscape of Palestine. The cry of “occupation” will lose its potency.
At the dawn of Zionism, the Brits — nice and considerate people that they (usually) are — thought they had, in their vast empire in which the sun never sets, a place for the persecuted Jews: Uganda. Zionists listened to the offer and politely turned it down. Yes, they badly needed a parcel of land for the Jewish homeland — but it had to be their land, not someone else’s. That land was Palestine. Palestinians, in effect, try on us the opposite argument, pretending in a sense that Palestine is Uganda — a place to which European Jews came as foreigners without a claim to a title, just as foreign “occupiers” and “colonizers.”
So, what can be done in the face of Palestinian self-deceit? There can be no reasoning with the people for whom being reasonable means defeat and who see their only chance in mendacity, lies, and intransigence. The only way to deal with unreasonable people, with people who are not swayed by an argument, is coercion: At work, through demotion and firing; in civic life, by police action; in international relations, by occupation.
Rejecting reason invariably produces sad results — like “occupation.” It would have been infinitely better for all concerned if Palestinians were amenable to reason and accepted one of the multiple offers to reasonably settle and end the conflict, and the “occupation” — offers that were fair for the simple reason that they were based in the reality of double-occupation. Had they done so and proceeded with building their state rather than trying to destroy the Jewish one, we would not have had to read sad stories from the Middle East of bombings, death, and destruction — and more importantly, there would have been no need for such stories.
It is much less understandable why Western media outlets like the New York Times tell us stories framed on occupation, not on double-occupation. They should know better — but somehow, they refuse to, and only inflame the passions even further with their lies. This is even sadder than the sad, sad story of the “Life Under Occupation” — the necessary occupation, one must add.
IMAGE: Pro-Hamas protest. YouTube screengrab.
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