Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Neoconservatives’ nightmare colloquy:

‘Shalom aleichem.’ ‘Salaam alaykum.’

So simple an exchange of salutations: “Peace [be] upon you” in two closely related languages, as traditionally used in two closely related faiths. Why, then, cannot such amity become the commonplace, hostility the deplored rarity, in relations between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Arabs both in and around Israel?

Arab and Jewish children become friends

Reconciliation: Arab and Jewish children become friends.
[ Image Source ]

Historically, I believe that what we face is yet another example of “Divide et impera”: Divide and rule. In this case, a predominantly Christian Western ruling elite, finding itself at the end of World War I in sufficient strength to shape events in the Middle East to its liking, has placed Israel where it is, not in spite of the animus that doing so has awakened between Jews and Muslims, but precisely because of it.

I think that after the Holocaust, it was clear that Jews did need a homeland: There had to be some country where they were in sufficient number and influence that there could never be another pogrom against them, never another extortion, never another expulsion or exile, never another attempted extermination. The central question was where to put it.

For reasons religious and rhetorical, many early Zionists always wanted to found a Jewish nation on the land formerly occupied by biblical Eretz Yisrael: the Land of Israel. By some interpretations of Orthodox doctrine, the reoccupation of this promised land was and is the highest of mitzvot: the commandments laid by God upon all Jews. But they were neither numerous nor influential enough to get their way, had they not met with the sympathies of statesmen in the UK and U.S. who for reasons of their own found it profitable to give this faction its desire.

Logically, Israel should have been a Jewish homeland occupying the more fertile half of a depopulated Germany: a homeland that the Germans would have been warned to leave strictly alone on pain of immediate reduction to the status of a permanently backward agricultural republic. Morality seconded this choice, for it was the Germans who had merited such a penalty when they permitted themselves to be led into the iniquity of the Holocaust, and it was right that restitution for their victims come from their hands.

But the American and European powers decided otherwise, for such Solomonesque justice would not have served their geostrategic ambitions. By the single stroke of placing Israel in Palestine, a place that was called, but was not, “a land without a people for a people without a land,” these Christian gentlemen were able belatedly to fulfill the quest of the Crusades, staking a claim to half of Jerusalem over the objections of the Muslim Arabs who actually lived there. Further, they could hope to erase from Jewish memories the crimes of the Crusaders, who when they seized Jerusalem slaughtered Muslims and Jews with equal ferocity, and to assuage their guilt at their own countries’ long history of bigotry, legal disabilities and pogroms against Jews. And there was an added bonus: By throwing Jews and Muslims into the arena for the gladiatorial bouts of the day, they could hope to manufacture a serviceable enmity between their two historical religious rivals, while maintaining the newly created homeland of the smaller as a client state in the heart of the larger.

On the whole, I think the Crusaders would have approved.

Originally published as a review of an article on Jewish-Arab reconciliation.

Peace, liberty, unity, justice, equality
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