Response to Omar: Part I

Omar of Jordan took the time to write a long response to my post on his long question. I hope this is the beginning of a useful exchange. Before I start, it’s clear that one of the problems with our exchange is that we have two radically different sources of history on the Middle East, and I’m not sure how to reconcile that. Omar, if you can bring your sources to your subsequent responses, I’ll try as much as possible to bring mine to mine. Then maybe we can talk about the “clash of historical narratives.”

Before I start, I’m not sure if you’re the frenchfregoli who I was arguing for the last two days or not, but anyway, I’m going to overlook any relation and respond to you in general.

Thank you. I’m not.

I don’t believe that we’re on opposite sides about everything, the problem from my point of view is that you know less about the Arab world and about me, you base your opinions on information that are facts only according to you.

Let me start by your thought experiment, ok, our “friends” had arrived to Palestine, you’re inviting me to welcome them with hospitality, do you have any idea that Jews had been living in the hospitality of Arabs for over a thousand years, what made us change our minds suddenly?

I think you need to read some more about how the dhimmi Jews were treated by the Muslims in the pre-modern period. Try the works of Bat-Yeor and Bernard Lewis. Although the Christians may have engaged in some really vicious pogroms more often than Muslims, for systematic, legally sanctioned, oppression and humiliation of religious minorities, it’s hard to find a more consistent record than Islam. I don’t have the reference, but there’s a letter from a French Jewish educator who went to Algeria in the early 1800s to see about opening a school for Jews there and came back horrified at the degradation and humiliation of that community. I’m afraid you will have a good deal of difficulty making the case that the Muslims were kind and hospitable to the Jews. That’s part of the Anti-Zionist “narrative”: “We got along fine with our Jews until the Zionists came.” Well, I think if you look at the independent evidence (say the reports from travelers to the Middle East), you’ll find that “getting along fine” meant being on top and able to humiliate at will, and “before the Zionists got here” means before we had to deal with uppity Jews who did not accept their assigned position.

mmm, maybe [1] the Haganah gangs that were commiting genocides in Deir Yassin to terrorise native Palestinians, or [2] maybe Palestinians, regardless to their legendary hospitality, don’t like, just like every decent human, somebody coming from Poland taking over their houses over a night and butchering them and their innocent families, [3] maybe because those “peaceful” Jews wanted, and still do, to conquer lands from Iraq to Egypt claiming that it’s what their god had promised them 3000 years ago! Only by stumbling across this idea of yours, I feel so disappointed.

Wow! I’ll treat each of your three statements separately.

[1] You are aware that Deir Yassin took place in 1948 and during wartime (aside from its being disputed as to just what happened there), that it came after decades of Arab uprisings and slaughters of Jewish populations in Palestine (including, in 1929, the community of Hebron). I don’t think any fair observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict has ever argued that the Jews started by conquering the land, and in the longstanding debate between Israelis and Arabs about who slaughtered whom, I’m unaware of anyone claiming that the Israelis started it.

[2] Indeed, one of the most remarkable differences between the arrival of the Jews to Palestine and the European imperialists to Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern and Central Asia, is that while the latter came first as conquerers and only later, after kicking the stuffings out of the natives, as settlers, the latter, the Jews, came as settlers, playing by the rules of the society they found themselves settling in — buying property (sometimes twice, once from the absentee owners/effendis in Egypt, once from the tenant/fellah), bribing officials, building the walls around their settlements in a day to protect from Bedouin raids, etc. The use of violence by the Zionists is a rather late development and clearly in response to the rough neighborhood into which they had moved. And as far as I know, there’s no case of immigrants from anywhere coming and butchering Muslim Arabs in the night to take over their land. Remember that from 1900-1948, the Jews were a distinct minority: they could not afford to resort to that kind of violence even if they wanted to.

You speak of Palestinians not wanting to be displaced brutally by the incoming Zionists. In reality, the advent of the Jews meant a rapid rise in the population of Arabs — from both birth-rate increase (due to better health conditions and hospitals among other things), but also immigration to a place that was doing well economically. After the riots and massacres of 1936-9, the Peel Commission made it a point to ask the Arabs who rioted why they hated the Jews so much, given that the region had clearly prospered since they came. One man responded: “You say we are better off: you say my house has been enriched by the strangers who have entered it. But it is my house, and I did not invite the strangers in, or ask them to enrich it.” (Weathered by Miracles p. 207 (Palestine Royal Comission Report, p. 131). In other words — and I only ask you to consider this as a possibility Omar — the source of the conflict is not because they Jews came in with their zero-sum colonial conquests and slaughtered the Palestinians, but because they came in playing positive-sum rules (everyone can benefit) and disturbed the zero-sum, I-rule-over-you-to-prevent-you-from-ruling-over-me, attitude of the locals. Sooner rule in misery than share in wealth; poke out one of my eyes so the next guy can be blind. Note, this man is not a representative of all Arabs in Palestine; he comes from the specific pool of rioters, of the bully “street” where might makes right and wretched dominion rules the heart of men… the very Muslim Arabs who killed the largest number of their fellow Arab Muslims in the course of the same riots.

[3] I have heard that Arabs believe this notion, which I think is related to the two stripes on the Israeli flag being the Nile and the Euphrates. Aside from having no grounding in the Israeli reality (the two stripes are symbolic of the Jewish prayer shawl), any look at history suggests how unlikely such an ambition. If the Israelis had those ambitions, and given their military superiority from 1967 onwards, why didn’t they carry out the ambition? The fact is that Israelis are so uncomfortable dominating other people they’re trying to figure out ways to give back the territories they did conquer, and over which they have both strategic and historical claims (not to deny other claims, just to distinguish from claims over the area from the Nile to the Euphrates). I think if you step back from the propaganda that you’ve been raised on, and look at Israeli behavior over the last 60 years, you’ll find it’s distinctly non-imperialist — giving back Sinai, negotiating to give back the Golan, West Bank and Gaza, in exchange for recognition and peace. No nation in history has done such things, especially under the conditions that Israel has been in since conception.

But where did you get this idea? Surely you didn’t get it from reading Zionist literature. And just probably the people who told you this, told you that of course the Zionists wouldn’t admit this plan openly. It’s a dirty secret.

It doesn’t exist. I don’t know one Israeli who doesn’t laugh when they hear this Arab belief. Only after a while do they realize that it’s not funny… that it means that the Arabs cannot leave them in peace because they believe that Israel will never leave them in peace. It’s a recipe for permanent war, it’s a foundation for conspiracy theory. And if it’s wrong — which I beg you to consider — then it’s a tragedy.

let’s turn to your analysis to my question about what’s bad about Syria or Iran, I have two points to explain:

1) You haven’t got my question correctly at all, because simply you haven’t read it correctly, what’s the other part of the question? “that is enough for me to stand with the US against them?”


2) Would I stand with anyone fighting my enemy? Isn’t that a human nature my friend?

Well, I’m not sure. [Note that as you tell me you see me as an enemy, you call me my friend.] Granted, it’s a natural tendency, but unchecked, it plays a devastating role on a society. I believe that the term shamtan is not an admirable emotion for traditional Arab honor-culture. But today, Palestinian media encourage it, indeed we have shamtan exhibits in which Palestinian people — your people, if I’m to understand — can savor the body parts of Israeli families along with their pizza fly through the air after a suicide bomber tore them apart. This is, I submit to your consideration, a catastrophe for your people. Even as you shout loudly about your brothers and sisters “in Gaza being butchered,” your brothers and sisters in Gaza are attending exhibits where they savor their own butchering of our brothers and sisters. This is cultural poison.

So on this question my position is 1) it’s human nature to band together in solidarity, but when it’s “my side right or wrong” you have a recipe for a society at war; and only when you learn to master yourself, can peace between honest people exist. In other words, fighting the tendency to see things in terms of siding with my friend against my enemy, so that it’s a last not a first resort, seems to me to be the foundation of human dignity — the commoner’s honor — and as I understand the greatness of Islam, one of its great contributions to the life of Muslims.

When you resist that “human nature,” you sometimes find out that you’ve mistaken friend for foe and vice-versa. Sometimes, even an enemy is not a permanent enemy, but someone who could be a friend (or at least neutral). If you go through life only seeing enemies and identifying as friends those who are enemies with your perceived enemies, you can make some serious mistakes (as in, below).

What’s better for me, living under the Syrian regime or under the Israeli regime?

Well that’s not an obvious answer for me. Arabs in Syria are wretchedly poor, have no freedoms either cultural (you could not write your blog in Syria) or political (no real representation; if they speak out or engage in militant Islamism they are likely to get slaughtered — men, women and children — as in the case of Hama.

(Note that this massacre of some tens of thousands of people took place around the same time as Christian Arab Phalangists massacred hundreds of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon. Most people know the latter case well because Israelis were implicated; but the Syrian action is far more representative of the actions of Arab regimes against their own people. As much as it may bother you to acknowledge it, Arab Israelis (i.e., Arabs living under the Israeli regime as citizens) have much higher standards of living, much higher educational levels, levels of political freedom and participation, etc. than the Arabs in the countries around them (except Lebanon before the PLO arrived in 1970).

I know you’ll bring up the conditions of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and I don’t want to get into that debate — at least not yet. For the time being, your question was, “What’s better for me, to live under a Syrian regime or an Israeli one.” I think it’s pretty clear, and the loud protests from Israeli Arabs about not having their villages reassigned to a future Palestinian state are fairly eloquent on the subject.

Part II tomorrow.

8 Responses to Response to Omar: Part I

  1. Eliyahu says:

    Richard, I agree with your approach that we ought to give Arab critics such as Omar a serious answer to his challenges. I agree with your citing of Bat Yeor, etc. I invite Omar to visit my blog where I have presented some specific information about the medieval period that Bat Yeor does not mention, although she does supply ample documentation, of course. I quote from Cairo Geniza documents on exploitation of Jews under Muslim rule.

  2. Well, it’s good that you didn’t follow the usual attitude and simply considered me a terrorist only because I’m Palestinian, I appreciate that, honestly.

    Another thing I’m really appreciating here, the fact that you realize this contraversy of hostorical resources, “two radically different sources of history”. but I have serious troubles of bringing my sources here because of many facts; Most of what I know isn’t coming from reading on the internet, as a Palestinian, 50% of what we know is simply “eyewitnessed”, I don’t have to read books telling me about how Israelis are treating me! And when you grow up among elder people (politicians, fedayes,..) you have a walking sourses of history, the remaining 50% is a collection of many TV documentaries, newspapers, books, and Internet. It’s hard to provide links, but I’ll try to do my best here.

    “who went to Algeria in the early 1800s“, Ok, I’m pretty sure that you don’t actually think that for the 1300 years of the Islamic empire it was all a Golden Era, you have to realize that as soon as the Ottmans got in control, they started all the oppression (it doesn’t mean that it didn’t individually happen before them) not only to the Jews, but even more to the Arab Muslims, executions and exaggerated taxes were aching Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and Jews! Even the special tax (Al jezyah) that Christians and Jews used to pay wasn’t oppressive, they had to pay that tax in order not to participate in the armies of the Islamic Empire, in other words, Muslims defend there Empire’s lands, spread security, and christians and Jews don’t have to participate in that, they enjoy it only. Other than this special tax, Christians and Jews were treated just like any other Muslim elsewhere. Actually, at the times where Europe used to seek-and-destry Muslims and Jews in the mid-ages, Many Jews immegrated to the Islamic Empire because of the fact that it was the only place where Jews were actually tolerated, many Muslim Caliphas had Jews inside the Royal Castle, sometimes as physicians (Salladin, Al Ma’moon, Haroon Al Rasheed), sometimes as political advisors (Also Al Ma’amoon), and sometimes Jews participated in the Great Translation Wave, (Isaac Bin Honain), the main point is, the only place/time where Jews were tolerated was among the Muslims and Arabs, as for the time being, there are examples of this tolerance between Palestinians and Jews that I’ve witnessed my self! In Nables (my native town) there exists a minority of Jews, they’re called “Sumara”, When I was a little kid, I used to play football with them, we as Palestinians (Nabelsis) realize that those sumara are native citizens, they had been there for as long as we had been there, hence, they are treated differently than any Israeli. Another very important fact, the teachings of Quran and the prophet Muhammad highly values Christians and Jews (on what concerns how should they be treated), it’s part of the Islamic faith to believe in Christianity and Judasim, so, no matter what may had happened at some period of history between Arabs and Jews, the fact remains that Muslims are forced (by Islam’s teachings) to treat Jews with nothing but respect.

    Now, let’s turn to the other part, which obviously what clearifies the conflict in historical sources, let’s start with the first point,

    1) “Deir Yassin took place in 1948” “it came after decades of Arab uprisings”, fine, why would Arabs uprise? If there wasn’t a huge thing threatening them, why would they uprise? And about the example you provided, this might be the first time I hear of such a thing, I’ve checked the link, and I can’t realize how could you consider such an incident as a massacre, and actually compare it to Deir Yassin??

    2) “the most remarkable differences between the arrival of the Jews to Palestine and the European imperialists to Africa” So what are you basically saying here, the ARRIVAL of the Jews isn’t imperialistic? Al the examples and incidents that you have written can be answered by simply asking you this:

    If somebody coming from some place you don’t know where it is, decides to “ARRIVE” to your country, live beside your house, buy your land, invite other people from other places to come and live near him, start to make a military force (trained by the Britishs), backed with an OLD political promise of getting YOUR house one day (Bilfour’s promise 1917), would it really make a difference if your temporer econimical statue is better than before? What would you decide to do here?

    Afetr the Jews conquered the west bank in 1967, they literally flooded the west bank with money, the local merchants witnessed a rapid and vast economical improvement, but for how long? One month! the Jews were playing a dirty game of buying the voices of resistence. they forced the Israeli army and merchants to conduct heavy transactions with the local merchants undercover or even publically. It’s much more important to guarantee your freedom than to fill your pocket, this was the mentality of the voices that you’re talking about.

    3)Arabs believe in this notion because it’s true, Israel has proven to us in 1967 that it’s true, Do you want to know why do we believe in it? Why don’t you have a look at the ‘Agoura’, the Israeli coin, have a look at that map on it, and then call it a conspiracy theory conducted by Arabs! When you ask Israelis about this, they sure will laugh, because I’m pretty sure that you’re asking commoners who have no idea (don’t care) about their own history or about their own religion, ask some members of Shas, they’ll easily show off with this ambition (they’ll tell you that the lands of all arabs ,the snakes and rats, are theirs)!! Where should categorize the Israeli imperialistic act of 1967?
    “giving back Sinai” !!!!!!!!!!!!! ??????
    I’m in total shock eversince I read this sentence, you’re trying to tell me that Israel gave back Sinai because of its good wells!! have you ever heard of 1973?
    and negotiating for returning Golan! What’s that exactly? Or maybe you’re telling me that the rejection of Hafiz Al Assad’s efforts is negotiations?

    Now, talk about Arabs inside Israel, tell you what, search for Azmi Bshara or Ahmad Al Tibi (both are arab representitives in the Israeli parlimant) read for them, and then tell me about full rights and living under the Israeli regime.

  3. Joanne says:

    Small correction here: I thought that Deir Yassin was attributed to the Irgun, which the Hagganah opposed precisely because of their terrorist tactics. Also, isn’t there some question as to whether Deir Yassin was actually a massacre? I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I think a lot of the “women” may have been soldiers disguised as women. Also, I believe that the Arabs gave better than they got, when they conducted a revenge massacre of a Jewish village shortly thereafter.

  4. Eliyahu says:

    Omar now backs off from the unbroken history of Arab/Muslim hospitality. Now, he blames all of the oppression on the Ottoman and tells us that the jizyah tax that Jews and Christians had to pay wasn’t bad at all. It was just a way for them to compensate the Muslims for their exemption from military service to extend the Pax Islamica. Bring on the violins and cellos. A background of strings, Hearts and Flowers perhaps, would be most appropriate.

    I don’t know whether or not he read my links above. If he had read them carefully and thoroughly, he would have learned about exploitation of Jews in Jerusalem before the Crusades, before there was an Ottoman dynasty, much less empire. Now, as to imperialists, the Arabs conquered the Land of Israel in the 7th century, perhaps with Jewish assistance against the Byzantines, if we believe Patricia Crone and M Cook. The essence of the Islamic state as it took its classic form, apparently in the Abbasid period, was a system of exploitation and humiliation of the dhimmis. Now, the Quran itself agrees with the Bible that the Land of Israel [called “Holy Land” in the Quran] was divinely assigned to the Jews. See link:
    Now, why doesn’t Omar take the Quran seriously? By the way, if he would like to claim his hometown, Nablus, as an Arab town way back into history, then can he explain why the Arabs today use a Greek name for their town? The name Nablus comes of course from NeaPolis, founded as Flavia Neapolis in 72 CE. In short, how can he deny the Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel [Holy Land] according to the Quran?

  5. Lynne T says:


    I believe that David Meir Halevi and Daniel Pipes have both written that tales of a massacre at Deir Yassen have been somewhat exaggerated, noting the presence of soldiers from various Arab countries clad in womens’ clothing (while the Muslim/Arab massacre of Hebron’s Jewish population was another matter).

  6. Eliyahu says:

    Richard, Lynne, and Joanne.
    Please don’t misjudge dear Omar. He really means to entertain us. He really knows that the figure on the 10-agorot coin is a copy of a worn ancient Jewish coin. But in order to show us Jews that he has a sense of humor, he resurrects arafat’s deliberate lie about the coin representing a map, and thereby, Israel’s alleged territorial ambitions. Bravo, Omar!!

    [by the way, suha’s late husband, the putative father of Zawiya or Z’va`ah or whatever she’s called, seems to have received his insights into the deep meaning of the 10 agorot coin from one of those loony and unhinged British professors, someone who believes that it was really the Jews who stole the Stone of Scone]

  7. […] 212; Print This Post The continuation of Omar and my discussion. This is a response to Omar’s comments (in bold) on the first half of my comments […]

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