Clash of Narratives: Fisking Paul Scham

A long-time friend of mine, Paul Scham, has written a piece on the role of historical narratives in peacemaking in Bitter Lemons, and asked for comment. He was a passionate worker for the success of the Oslo accords, and coordinated Israeli-Palestinian joint academic projects at the Truman Institute of the Hebrew University from 1996 to 2002. With Walid Salem and Benjamin Pogrund he is coeditor of Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue (2005). He is currently an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

Historical narratives and peacemaking

by Paul Scham

In the aftermath of the second Lebanese war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost seems shoved to the side, at least for many Israelis. Yet it is still a fundamental cause of Middle East instability, and its root causes must be dealt with if there is ever to be peace.

Careful language: “still a fundamental cause of Middle East instability…” Nonetheless, I think that even such circumscribed language as “a” fundamental cause, is profoundly mistaken. If Israel disppeared tomorrow, the fundamental cause of instability would remain — the dysfunctional nature of Arab political culture and the inveterate tendency of the authoritarian rulers of Arab socieites to use scapegoating to distract their masses from the misery they inflict on them. Indeed, I think there would be more rather than less instability: Jordan would be invaded in a minute by either “Palestine” or Syria.

It is usually assumed that agreement on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, difficult as they are, will settle the problem. These issues are well known: borders, settlements, nature of the Palestinian state to be created, security (for both sides), refugees (including the Palestinian claim of “right of return”), Jerusalem and water. All are undeniably important, and of course a comprehensive peace is not possible without dealing with all of them, and perhaps a few others.

However, there is a set of deeper issues involved that also must be dealt with. Both sides are uncomfortable with half of them, and insist on the other half. I call these the “intangible issues”, and for Israelis and Palestinians they are as important as the “tangible issues” listed above–perhaps, in certain respects, more so.

I agree. Indeed, I would argue that the intangibles are the critical issues, and that all of the “well-known issues” are relatively easily resolved once the intangibles have been addressed. I’m not sure Paul and I agree on what the real intangibles are.

These intangible issues are located in the historical narratives of the two sides. Until recently, the rule of Israeli-Palestinian interaction had usually been, as noted by Uri Savir in his history of the Oslo process, “no history”. History was considered too hot to handle. In fact, during the 1990s those of us who dealt with the “other” side, whether as negotiators or in academic or NGO (track II) meetings, found we could generally talk freely about the present and the future, but the past would often cause tempers to explode and thus was shunned.

There was good reason for this, because the historical narratives of both sides portray a peace-loving people attacked and brutalized by another that wants its land. The peace-loving side has tried as best it could to find a workable compromise, but all its efforts have been stymied by the other. Both sides agree on this. They disagree, however, rather strongly, as to which of them is the peace-loving side. Most people on both sides are affronted to the depth of their respective national consciousnesses at the idea that their side has not, with occasional and pardonable lapses, done all it could (and perhaps too much) to solve the conflict.

Paul and I regularly clash on the topic of what I call the “both sides…” reflex. Any time I say something like, “Muslim religious extremism…” or “terrorism and hate teaching…” he responds with “both sides…” Here he’s done a truly remarkable job of phrasing the case in terms of “both sides.” And on one level he’s right: both sides do have narratives that paint themselves as the “good guys” and the other as the “bad guys.” It’s like when people in the MSM claim that they must be doing something right since “both sides” criticize them. The only problem is that just because both sides tell narratives doesn’t mean they are symmetrical, and certainly not equally honest. Similarly with the media, if one side has high tolerance for the criticism and yet feels they’re being unfairly raked over the coals, and the other side has no tolerance for criticism, and complains at the slightest negative coverage, then saying “both sides” are complaining so we’re doing well, is pure self-deception/self-indulgence.

While there is no space here to go into the extensive national narratives themselves, they are particularly important to two vital aspects of the conflict, namely, right of return and Jerusalem. For Palestinians, right of return is inextricably bound up with the central feature of their national narrative, the Naqba, or catastrophe, of 1948, and the dispersion that followed. Israel’s refusal to recognize the occurrence of the Naqba except solely as a result of Arab actions, and its consequent unwillingness to accept any responsibility for it or to deal with the claim of the right of return is understood by Palestinians as an implicit, or even explicit, negation of their national existence. (Of course, Israelis are absolutely convinced that such an acceptance would lead to a flood of Palestinian claims for repatriation in Israel, which it would then be obliged to honor.)

Thanks for the parenthetical clarification.

I see two major problems here:

1) Israelis, particularly of the negotiating school, have been accepting significant elements of responsibility for the Naqba for decades, and have even affected the school curriculum. Paul has to present the Israeli position as “solely as a result of Arab actions, and its consequent unwillingness to accept any responsibility…” as absolute, and ignore the massive, often stunningly overblown, even dishonest, efforts to self-criticize on the part of the “new historians.” Indeed, there is nothing remotely resembling this kind of self-criticism among the Palestinians who, even as they use the absolutist language in accusing Israel for blaming the Naqba entirely on the Arabs, do very little to examine clearly the ways in which their own leaders and the Arab elites who form their peer group, have contributed to Palestinian suffering.

2) As a history teacher I always object to the use of the passive, which almost always obfuscates agency. Here, the expression “is understood by Palestinians as an implicit, or even explicit, negation of their national existence” operates precisely as a screen that disguises the core of the problem. This particular interpretation — that Israel refuses to acknowledge their contribution to Palestinian suffering — is not a passive phenomenon, the product of a natural view of events. It is a driven ideological position characterized by a demonization of Israel — they are entirely guilty and they deny it all — and a demand that reparations for this sin include the effective destruction of Israel (the parenthetical aside). What’s missing here on the Arab side is the self-criticism that marks the Israeli effort at negotiation. No admission from Palestinian historians that their own leadership tried and continues to try to wipe out Israel. The very formula presented by Paul — Israeli refusal to acknowledge any (read all) responsibility for the Naqba, denies Palestinian statehood — is misleading to the point of dishonesty. The Palestinian refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for the Naqba is part and parcel of their continued desire to deny Israel statehood. The passive employed — “is understood” — masks the intense ideological indoctrination to hatred and annihilationist ideology afoot in Palestinian and Arab culture. To present it as a kind of natural result of Palestinian perspectives rather than a sharpened weapon misleads the reader.

This “clash of narratives” neither can nor should be dealt with in the facile “moral equivalence” that we find here.

While the two are not exactly comparable, the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish historical relationship with Jerusalem, and Yasser Arafat’s claim that the Second Temple did not exist or, if it did, was located in Nablus, is similarly understood as a fundamental unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

No, the two are not even remotely comparable. The Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish historical relationship to Jerusalem is an act of supreme bad faith. It came, moreover, during the Oslo negotiations, when according to the post-Zionist theory, the extensive self-criticism and willingness to concede on the part of the Israelis would lead to a similar gesture of generosity on the part of the Palestinians (PCP). Instead it led to a new round of irredentism accusations and profound contempt for Israel and its national aspirations (JP). (It also led to Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which was neither gratuitous nor unprovoked.) Arafat’s remarks are actually part of a revisionist school of historiography, articulated even in American academic circles, that the Palestinians are the descendents of the original Philistines. This kind of argument amounts to a facetious form of supersessionism or “replacement” theology which appeals to the worst in Christian Judeophobia.

(The only connection I can find between current Palestinians and the Philistines is that they both engage in child-sacrifice. But that’s probably not what Paul has in mind.)

What is needed is an acknowledgement of the narrative of the other; a gesture of respect that takes it seriously, but does not deal with its historical truth. Not that historical truth is irrelevant or unimportant. But it is the province of historians, while the historical narrative is the possession of the whole society. (In fact, the work of Israeli and Palestinian professional historians, even apart from that of Israeli “new” or revisionist historians, is much closer to that of the “other” than are the national narratives.)

I don’t understand this at all. I may have missed something, but what I saw in 2000 was that, in response to the exceptional Israeli effort at showing “respect” for the Palestinian narrative, despite how dishonest, hate-mongering and self-indulgent it has and continues to be, the Palestinians showed vicious contempt for the Israeli narrative. As for the distinction between historians (who assess evidence and deal in what is accurate or not) and the “whole society” which has its “narratives”, I think that is a catastrophic division. The whole point of the exercise of history is to inform, educate, and even challenge the larger public to deal with reality, to reach levels of self-criticism and maturity that permit a society to learn from its past. And that is precisely what has not yet happened among Palestinians and Arabs who still live in the dream palace, with all the catastrophic results for that culture that one might expect, especially in matters of education.

Acknowledgement of the historical narrative of the other is not, of course, a magic bullet that will make peace possible. However, recognition of elements of the other’s narrative and acceptance that the two sides necessarily have very different–and legitimate–views of the past, can help to lead to joint acceptance of responsibility, which will go a long way toward dealing with the claim of right of return for many Palestinians. This will not be easy, for each side’s conviction that it bears none of the blame is matched only by the other side’s certainty that it bears virtually all of it.

There you go again Paul. The nice symmetrical language of “both sides.” No. The Israelis tried very hard to admit a significant measure of guilt. They even invented massacres they had committed just so they could confess — much like the patients in the asylum confessing wildly to anything in Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And they did this exceptional, historically unprecendented public self-criticism precisely in the hopes of achieving what you are still recommending. And in exchange they got dismissed, then blind-sided with a vicious blood libel that set of a genocidal war. You, like George Soros, like so many other people who cannot learn from history, are still repeating your failed solutions as prescriptions for the future. How about a little self-criticism here? No one reading your text would know that what you are recommending has already been tried… with disastrous results.

Ultimately, the conflict is not primarily about dunams of land or numbers of returnees; it is about full acceptance of the national legitimacy of the other. Acknowledgement of the other’s narrative is a step in that direction. For example, public discussion of the separation of the “right” of return from the “reality” of return could change some of the dynamics on both sides. Likewise, Palestinian acceptance of the historical and religious importance of the Temple Mount and the destroyed Temple to the Jewish people need not detract from the significance of the still-standing Haram al-Sharif to Palestinians and other Muslims.

This touches on the problem at the most superficial level imaginable. It fails to understand the radically different relationship that the Jews and Israelis have to history — some of the most sophisiticated and self-critical in the history of historiography — and that of the Palestinians and Arabs — some of the crudest, self-indulgent, propagandistic and doctrinaire in the history of historiography. What lies beneath these narratives, what makes the Palestinians and Arabs incapable of responding to the Israelis gestures in kind, is the matter of honor and shame. If you don’t address that, all your “let’s acknowledge each other’s legitimacy” talk is bandaids on a gaping, suppurating wound.

As Israeli negotiator Elyakim Rubinstein said at Camp David in 2000, “the peace process shouldn’t be the arena in which truth is pronounced.” However, acknowledgement of the importance of one’s own historical narrative to the legitimacy of the other side may be necessary before we can finally settle on the tangible issues.

Ending on a pious and flat note. If your enemy has developed a lethal historical narrative aimed at delegitimating you as preparation to your annihilation, then acknowledging it can be an act of suicide. Paul, you come perilously close to illustrating the catastrophic “post-modern” relativism that all narratives deserve recognition, all narratives are equal. They are not. Objectivity may not exist, may not be possible. But that does not mean honesty and dishonesty do not exist, and are not possible. The core of this problem can, if we want to focus on narratives as cause, be reduced to one terrifying, irreducible issue: the Dream Palace of the Arabs and the particularly vicious lethal narratives with which they adorn those walls.

I know it’s not politically correct, and it won’t sell well in the “dialogue” groups to which you address your prodigious and open-hearted efforts. But sometimes, the truth hurts, and the immense effort to spare the Palestinians the wounds to their immensely delicate narcissistic ego end up hurting everyone — the Palestinians above all — much more.

16 Responses to Clash of Narratives: Fisking Paul Scham

  1. I want to commend you for your wonderful blog. You have rightly zeroed in on the Palestinian “victim” narrative as a source of Palestinian suffering. The problem with the Palestinian story, was that it was crazy in 1947-48 for the Palestinians to allow a Nazi stooge, Amin al-Hussaini to become their de facto leader, It was crazy for the Palestinians in 1947-48 to provoke a war ith the Jews of Palestine, when they – the Arabs of Palestine – lacked the semblance of a modern state, and the skills to make modern war. In 1947-48 the Israelis were under as much pressure as the Palestinians, and yet the Israelis stayed while the Palestinians fled. There is a deep shame issue at the heart of the Palestinian narrative, In 1947-48 Palestinian weaknesses were revealed, and Palestinians still have not been able to get over it.

  2. Point-by-point rebuttal! Great work. Many thanks.

  3. Eliyahu says:

    Richard, I have to commend you for your patience, for doing the tedious work that needs to be done with the kind of ignorant/naive argument that Scham presents. I wouldn’t have the patience myself. But I will comment on one or two of Scham’s claims/ways of argumentation.
    First, he assumes a cultural relativist position by assuming that when Arafat denies that there was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, that this is sincerely meant and that Arafat is merely expressing an opinion based on his own culture and tradition. Actually, Muslims are well aware of the presence of a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem [the temple in Nablus {

  4. Paul Scham says:

    Dear Richard,
    Thanks for your comments on my article. One thing we can perhaps agree on is that the historical narratives are a microcosm for many of the issues that bedevil Muslim-West relations; not only Jewish (or Israeli) – Arab relations.

    Thus, my response will necessarily be briefer than the subject calls for. Let’s both avoid expressions such as “he does not address”, since there are myriad related issues we don’t and can’t, as that would be a book.

    I prefer to address your comments as a whole, as glosses quickly become unwieldy.

    One of your several larger points is the inutility of speaking of the two sides together, as it implies a “moral equivalence” (a useless and needlessly provocative phrase, if ever I heard one) and ignores the differences. However, what I am comparing are the dynamics on both sides, and these are in fact similar. The need and desire to demonize the other, the clutching at one version of the past, the unwillingness to accept the fundamental legitimacy of the other; all of these are similar (cf. your insertion of parentheses around “Palestine”. Of course there is no Palestinian state, but to imply the non-existence of Palestine as an entity is simply silly, in 2006).

    To compare does not imply identity. The differences between Israeli (or Jewish) and Palestinian (and Arab) society are many and huge. They are just that, i.e., differences; some are dysfunctional, many have different facets. And this, of course, leads to perhaps your main theme, the dysfunctionality of Arab society, which (conveniently) must be addressed before Palestinian or Arab grievances (I assume you will agree that Palestinians have at least some justified grievances at Israeli hands) are dealt with.

    A couple of points on this. You must take societies as you find them. Unlike historical commentary (more on this below), you have to interact with the society. Criticism and commentary is, of course, legitimate, but societies are not generally amenable to courses of treatment prescribed from outside. And, in many cases, as here, the prescriptions are provided by doctors who are not really familiar with the patient except through writings by and about it, which is not good medical or societal practice.

    Of course, the “shame” culture is an aspect of Arab and Muslim society. But to extrapolate from that to dysfunctionality is a breathtaking leap. Arab societies have developed functional mechanisms to use this culture in positive ways, such as the sulha and the hudna, which don’t really exist in the West. Part of the problems between societies is breathtaking ignorance on both sides (here’s that comparison again), which prevents development of cross-societal functional mechanisms.

    Of course, Israeli society is more open, better-educated, includes far more people willing to understand the other, than Palestinian society. This is a function of many things. But it does not change the dynamics in the two societies. And Israel has its own neuroses as well, notably a pervasive feat that the rest of the world is obsessed by it and wants to exterminate it (this is wildly overblown, very wildly, but I’d rather not get into that as it is a huge field of its own). The interplay between this fear and Arab ones helps creates toxic dynamics.

    And please let’s drop the “politically correct” epithet. I do not hold with many of the verities of current leftwing thinking, and have been vilified as a “rightwing Zionist” by some Palestinians. But I am not tit-for-tatting; I call things as I see them. None of this proves I am right; but I am not trying to impress some post-modernist cheering section.

    One of my main problems with your analysis is that you are dealing with a living, breathing, and functioning (yes, functioning) society as you would deal with a medieval society, your own field of specialization (a shot in the dark; I wonder if it is coincidental that you and Daniel Pipes are both medievalist intellectual historians by training?). I don’t mean historical training is disqualifying – as you know, I was originally trained as one and much of my thinking is based on that), but that in dealing with a modern society there is a luxury – that is also a necessity – i.e., visiting and learning the society from inside, which is denied to the historian. As far as I know, you have not availed yourself of this, and your analysis suffers from a surfeit of intellectual analysis and a lack of acquaintance with the realities of the society. The last time I spoke with you, your acquaintance with the Arab world was a 3-day trip to Cairo, if I remember correctly, and you had spent precious little time talking to (and listening to!) moderate Arabs who could serve as a filter and provide alternative explanations of some of the dynamics you criticize so vociferously.

    I do not hold myself out as an expert on Arab society. But I have spent many months in the Arab world (primarily in Jordan) and also spent years working with Arabs, primarily Palestinians. I think that provides a necessary, if also anecdotal, counterpart to other analyses (which are of course also essential).

    I don’t claim my interlocutors are by any means a cross-section of Arab society. They are highly educated (often in the West), fluent in English, and mostly politically moderate. But they function in and can explain and typify elements of the society that you seem almost completely ignorant of, or dismiss.

    Back to narratives. Perhaps because of your lack of personal contact, you don’t have a good sense of what in the narratives is important, and what isn’t, I find. And you completely ignore the potentially positive interaction between the “shame” culture and possibilities for peace. This is shown in your dismissal of my suggestion of separating the “right” from the “reality” of return and your indignant rejection of similarities in dynamics of the two sides resenting their delegitimization by the other.

    Whether you like it or not, the story of dispossession is as central to the current identity of Palestinians as the Holocaust is to Jews, perhaps more so. Please note that I am NOT comparing the size, brutality or varieties of claims. I am saying they are both central. Since Israel was intimately involved in the dispossession (and, as is now being recognized even by rightwingers, the War of Independence was a lot less pristine than I for one, would like to believe), this must be dealt with as part of the peace process. I suggested one mechanism; of course there are others.

    A final canard: that I imply all truths are equal. That’s silly. However, I do believe that a societal narrative has to be taken seriously; which is why I use the word “acknowledgement” rather than “acceptance”. As I noted: historical truth is the province of the historian; narrative is the possession of the whole society and must be dealt with as a societal, and thus political matter.

    Paul Scham

  5. Paul Scham says:

    Dear Richard,
    You’re lucky, blogging on a spot where people agree with you so fully. I always get lots of arguments where I post my things.

    I am particularly struck by the assumption that you are invariably right and your object of criticism is naive enough to believe things, such as that Arafat believes the Temple Mount was in Nablus. I think that is quite possible; also quite irrelevant. My point (reread the article) was that Israelis are upset by his saying it; it matters not to them if Palestinians believe it or not.

    Try not to think that other people are so naive, guys; some of us have been around the block for many years

    Paul Scham

  6. Eliyahu says:

    Richard, I don’t know what happened to the part of my post above that got cut off. I was talking about Arafat’s claim that the Jewish Temple was in Sh’khem. Actually, there was a Samaritan temple in Sh’khem [= Neapolis > Nablus]. This temple was destroyed by one of the Jewish Hasmonean kings, as a matter of fact, since it imitated the Jerusalem Temple in many ways and the Jews’ of that time –or the priestly hierarchy at least– could not accept such a rival temple. Moreover, the Muslim’s traditionally considered the Samaritans as a sub-group of Jews and they were under the authority of the chief rabbis and Jewish communal leaders as part of the Ottoman millet system. Early in the 20th century, around 1915 I think, the Samaritans felt very threatened when the local Muslims in Sh’khem [not known for excessive tolerance] started telling them that they questioned whether they were Jews. If they were not Jews, then they had no legal standing, no legal right to exist in Muslim society. So they appealed to the
    rabbinical authorities in Jerusalem who gave them a letter or certificate attesting that they were indeed Jews. This allowed the Samaritans to continue to exist.
    But Arafat knew that there was indeed a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It is mentioned in traditional Muslim literature and seems to be alluded to in the Mi`raj sura of the Quran. About 1928 or 29 the Jerusalem waqf explicitly identified the “haram ash-Sharif” with Solomon’s Temple. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and the last Jewish temple on the Temple Mount was the one built or rebuilt by Herod about 2000 years ago, usually called the Second Temple although there were several rebuildings over the ages.

    Furthermore, Paul Schram insists in his post above too on the cultural relativist position. I say that they Arab leadership is fully aware that they are lying. There really is no place for a cultural relativist position here. In fact, the Muslim-Arab tradition agrees with the presence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa are now. Indeed, the Quran agrees with the Bible on three essential points relevant to this discussion:
    1– there was a divine covenant with Israel [Quran 5:12; verse numbers vary in some editions]
    2- the Holy Land was divinely assigned to the Jews [5:20-22].
    3- the Jews will return to their Land. That is, the Quran is Zionist. One of the Quranic verses fairly closely echoes a prophecy of Jewish return to Zion in the Book of Zechariah.

    Now, it is fair to assume that educated Arab Muslims know about these Zionist verses in the Quran. So if they speak about a “palestinian” people going way back in history, then they are contradicting the Arab-Muslim tradtion, the Quran, hadiths, etc. If Schram wants these people to make peace with Israel, then he should press them to answer why they don’t accept these verses. Of course, they have answers, but it would undermine the intent of the lies about a “palestinian people” since Adam or since the Stone Age. The intent of those lies was to prevent peace. By accepting the current Arab lies about a “palestinian people,” Schram is acting against peace. He ought instead to challenge the Arabs to acknowledge that their own tradition substantially agrees with the Bible and Jewish tradition on these points. Again, I am aware that they the Arabs have answers on these issues. So let’s hear their answers and not protect them by letting them get away with propounding a fake “narrative” that they know is false and that was meant to prevent peace in the long term, and that was probably invented by Western Judeophobic psychological warfare experts [according to a body of evidence which I am studying and seeking to enlarge].
    By the way, Walid Khalidi, a well-paid and influential Arab propagandist, claimed on the Ted Koppel Nightline show that “Allah didn’t say so,” that is, did not utter an assignment of the Holy Land to the Jews. Here, Khalidi himself, a Muslim very knowledgeable in Arab-Muslim lore, is also dishonestly taking a cultural relativist position.
    To conclude, there is no room for Schram’s cultural relativist position when the Arab-Muslim Quran and tradition are so much in agreement with the Jewish Bible and tradition. Schram ought to consider the likelihood that his Arab contacts are deliberately lying to him.

  7. Eliyahu says:

    Sorry, the Sura containing allusions to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is no. 17, sometimes called “al-Isra” [Night Journey] and sometimes Banu Isra’il [Children of Israel]. Of course, Jerusalem is never explicitly mentioned in the Quran, that is, not by name. But consider 17:2-7 both for allusion to the Temple and for parallels to the Bible. [the reader should bear in mind that verse numbers vary in some editions of the Quran, such as Arberry's translation].
    See the link below for Zionist verses in the Quran.

    By the way, Richard, I think that your approach was right both with that Norwegian and with Paul Scham. Tedious as it may be, you/we have to try to answer them in detail. Further, in the case of the Norwegian, it is absolutely right, indeed essential, to connect him with the version of Christianity that he springs from [as you did] and not to let him pretend to represent something New.

  8. Eliyahu says:

    note to post no. 6 above:
    the Jerusalem waqf identified the “haram ash-Sharif” with Solomon’s Temple in an English-language publication around 1928 or 1929. This publication was reported in the 1990s in the Jerusalem Post.

  9. Paul Scham says:

    To Eliyahu et al,
    I’m always amused when people (even those who, unlike Eliyahu, spell my name right) talk about “them” like they were all one. (Of course, Arabs and Muslims often do the same; both sides are obnoxious in that).
    Conflating educated Muslim opinion with Yasir Arafat is also amusing; he was a political and guerrilla leader, not a scholar, in case you’ve forgotten.

    You also seemed to have missed the point of my articles (I don’t expect you to accept them, but you might try dealing with the points I actually raise). I am not enough of a Koranic scholar to pretend to interpret these verses from the Muslim tradition; but I suspect if I were I would be as annoyed as I am when Muslims try to twist verses from the Talmud saying that it is fine for Jews to kill non-Jews, or some such. Like Judaism, Islam is a religion of interpretation; you might well be familiar with the truism that Judaism is what the rabbis say it is. You can find proto-Zionism in the Koran; Muslims don’t; even if you can unearth a Muslim scholar somewhere who does.

    We are talking about the narratives of a people; not arcane Koranic (or Talmudic, for that matter) exegesis. There is probably little doubt that until the 20th century Muslim scholars and writers had no trouble not only accepting, but even taking pride in the fact that the Haram was built on the Temple. Then, the narrative changed; I’m quite sure that most Muslims don’t know that.

    That is important to history but less important to peacemaking. Once again, even though I pointed it out to you, you ignored the fact that the reason I brought up the Temple Mount is precisely because I insist we cannot have peace until the Palestinians acknowledge the legitimacy of Jewish claims; just as Jews and Israelis must acknowledge the Nakba.

    So, let’s drop that argument, since it is pointless, at least in this discussion.

    Finally, I am amused that you identify Walid Khalidi as a “well-paid” Arab propagandist, who is deliberately lying. First, do you identify Jewish scholars as “well-paid”. Second, he is presenting a view which is much more in line with Arab and Muslim current tradition. And it is in no way culturally relativist.

    Perhaps next time you could deal with some of the real points of contention between us?

    Paul Scham

  10. RL says:

    I’ll let Eliyahu respond to your specific points. My question to you is: what do you mean by “acknowledge the Nakba”? do the Jews and Israelis have to
    a) accept the Palestinian version of the Nakba in which Israel is to blame for horrendous crimes against the innocent Palestinian people?
    b) accept that the Palestinians have a version of the Nakba in which they significantly exculpate themselves and inculpate the Israelis?
    c) accept that, whatever damage was or was not done physically, that the loss of 1948 has scarred the Palestinians ever since?

    As for Walih Khalidi, he has no business calling himself a scholar in the Western tradition if his work is “in line with Arab and Muslim current tradition” which you yourself acknowledge is historically dishonest.

  11. Eliyahu says:

    Paul, thank you for making things so easy for me. I won’t undertake a comprehensive examinationl of your statements at this time. However, I will take up two points:
    1– “Arab and Muslim current tradition” — you use this term to exculpate the Arabs from the lies that they currently tell wittingly. This term “current tradition” is an absurdity, an oxymoron [although I am revolted that I have to use a word that Wm F Buckley was so fond of]. By tradition, we mean practices, beliefs, notions, teachings, that have been passed down from our forefathers. So a tradition cannot be merely “current.” It has to go back for generations. What is current, what is currently propagated, may be called propaganda, indoctrination, doctrine, agitprop, cutting edge knowledge, BUT it is not tradition. Of course, many Muslims may be ignorant of Muslim historical traditions, indeed many of them are illiterate. But Walid Khalidi is not one of them [more on him below]. Indeed, Arab leaders and propagandists have created in recent generations a whole set of narratives and beliefs that may or may not be entirely congruent with Muslim/Arab tradition. And many or most rank and file Muslims may believe these inventions [such as the "palestinian people."] But a lie is a lie. And I maintain that these lies were invented deliberately with a conscious purpose, not only by Arabs/Muslims, by the way. I think that Western Judeophobes have helped to create some of the lies now current in Arab society. Do you, Paul, think that just because many Arabs sincerely believe in the blood libel [that Jews put Christian or Muslim blood into matsot], that this lie should be allowed to pass among them unchallenged by outsiders, perhaps for the sake of peace or so as not to insult the Arabs or humiliate them, or whatever???

    2– now to Walid Khalidi. This was the wrong guy on which to challenge me about his being a propagandist. Why don’t you, Paul, check up Khalidi’s career and background? His great uncle, Yusuf Dia al-Khalidi, was a high official of the Ottoman Empire, a speaker of the first Ottoman parliament circa 1877 and also a consul in Vienna, perhaps rubbing shoulders with Theodore Herzl. The Ottoman Empire treated non-Muslims as inferiors, although the dhimmis status improved in the late 19th century. Are we allowed to call that Khalidi an imperialist? An official of an oppressive, religiously hate-ridden empire?
    Now, after World War 2, Khalidi as an educated, intelligent scion of a wealthy, prestigious, well-connected Jerusalem Arab family, close to the British, was recruited to work precisely as a propagandist. Without going into my files and writing from memory, I recall that he was sent to Washington to work precisely as a propagandist, or public relations spokesman –if you like. I think that he had earlier worked for the Arab Office in London. Anyhow, the Truman Institute at the Hebrew U in Jerusalem has prepared brief biographies of many leading Palestinian Arab personalities. Check out the file on Walid Khalidi. If I am wrong on the details, correct me. But I ask that you present the full scope of his career. Whom did he work for in Washington? And if he worked in London first, for whom? And how did he get his job at American Univ of Beirut? And at Harvard, or wherever he worked in the USA? What strings did he pull or were pulled for him? On one point, I am less sure. That is, was he well paid? I believe that the Arab Office had the resources even sixty years ago to pay him well. And surely, while working in the United States in an academic setting, he has been well paid. But if I am wrong, then tell us just what was his salary and fringe benefits? Was he not well paid?

  12. Eliyahu says:

    In my discussion of point #1 above, I wanted to make clear that I believe that Western Judeophobes have helped shape some of the Arab propaganda arguments, perhaps even the notion of a “palestinian people.”
    Further, I believe that making peace with the Arabs may require explicitly refuting Arab lies. Especially by outsiders to the conflict. Maybe they need to be told that their own Quran very clearly states that Allah assigned the Holy Land to the Jews subsequent to a covenant between Allah and the Banu Isra’il. The meaning of the verses is quite clear, as are the verses foretelling a Jewish return to their Land. Now, what do Muslims do to explain away these verses? In my experience, they point out that the Return of the Jews is foretold for Judgement Day [not before] and that the divine assignment of the Land to the Jews is qualified by other Quranic verses and is abrogated by subsequent Muslim legislation and/or that the Jews lost the Land because of their misdeeds [in fact this is a classical Jewish tradition]. Nevertheless, I believe it useful for the sake of peace to ask Muslims to justify why they don’t accept those verses as binding today. A discussion of these verses would indicate that the “palestinian people” is artificial notion, an invention, from a classical Muslim perspective [the word "palestine" does not appear in the Quran]. Paul, you could also check out what Arab historians say about the Jews’ control of the Holy Land in ancient times. Ibn Khaldun writes that the Jews received “Syria” [bilad ash-Sham] to rule. So again I say that there is no room for cultural relativism on the issue of the Land of Israel as a Jewish country historically, although Walid Khalidi appealed to cultural relativism on the Koppel show [see previous post]. Any recent invention by Arab propagandists or politicians or psychological warfare experts –or by the Arabs’ Western supporters– is perforce not part of Arab tradition, not part of their traditional culture [and culture too implies tradition].

  13. Eliyahu says:

    one short point:
    Paul speaks of accepting the “nakba.”
    Before we discuss the veracity of the Arab version of history embodied in that term, I suggest that Paul ask his Arab contacts to acknowledge Arab collaboration in the Holocaust. Is Paul not aware that Haj Amin al-Husayni [Husseini] directly urged Germans and officials of Axis satellite states [Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, etc.] to send Jews to Poland where, he said, Jewish children would be under “active supervision”? Did the Mufti Husseini not know what happened to Jewish children in Poland? Paul does know that Husseini was the chief palestinian Arab leader from 1921 to the early 1950s.

  14. Eliyahu says:

    Paul, here are some Arab interpretations of the Quranic verses on divine assignment of the Holy Land to the Jews:
    1– Prof. Yassir Mallah of Bethlehem Univ speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, in Jerusalem Post, 3-28-1993 [by Haim Shapiro, I believe].
    Mallah gives a supersessionist argument. He agrees with the clear meaning of the verses [5:20-22] but says that they only applied to Moses’ time and then the Jews lost their right to own the Land when they refused the invitation to convert to Islam.

    2– The translation The Holy Qur-an [translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (New York 1946)]. This annotated edition was dedicated, as I recall, to a Saudi prince visiting the USA at that time. In this edition, the relevant verse is 5:23. See Ali’s comments on the verse which are close to Jewish traditional commentary, that is, that the Jews had violated commandments and thus lost the Land.

    I also recommend to Paul two books which compare the Quran to the Jewish Scriptures.
    1– Shalom Zawi, Meqorot Yehudiim ba’qur’an [Zawi is also known as Andre Zaoui]
    2- Denise Masson, La revelation judeo-chretienne et le coran [or some such title]. This is a very thorough scholarly work. It goes through the Quran verse by verse, practically, and compares the verse with a parallel or related verse in the Jewish Scriptures or the New Testament.
    If Paul studies these books, he will see how close the Quran is in many ways to the Jewish and Christian traditions [including midrashim]. The verses in question here are shown with parallel Biblical verses.

    Again, Paul, there is no reason to “acknowledge the Nakba” if one does not agree with this claim about history or this version of the history of the 1947-49 war. By the way, the first neighborhoods in the country where people were driven out of their homes were Jewish neighborhoods, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and perhaps elsewhere. Whereas Jews returned to their homes in south Tel Aviv, the Jewish neighborhoods of Shim`on haTsadiq and Nahalat Shim`on in Jerusalem were the first neighborhoods in the country where the residents were driven out [by the Arabs, sometimes with British help] and did not return later on. The Jews were driven out of Shim`on haTsadiq [now located in "east" Jerusalem] in late December 1947. Check this out in the press of the time, Paul, such as the “palestine Post” [prior name of the Jerusalem Post].

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