Helen Thomas suggested that Jews should go back to Poland and Germany. The Turkish flotilla headed to Gaza was more specific, radioing, “Go back to Auschwitz.” But both are only bubbles on the surface of the larger narrative in the Muslim world that is widely redistributed by the left and the far right, that Jews are foreign strangers to the land. On the surface this would seem to be plainly absurd. Israel is not some sort of obscure footnote in history or some forgotten fragment of the past that has to be looked up in an encyclopedia.
Both of the world’s two dominant religions derive their background from Israel. David and Solomon, the kings of Israel, are considered prophets in both Islam and Christianity. Jewish history is indivisible from the history of Christianity and Islam. No believer in either religion can deny the history of the Jewish people, without also denying their own scriptures and faith. Which means that the current state of affairs in which Muslims and some Christians pretend that Israel came out of nowhere in the 1940’s after the world felt guilty about the Holocaust, is an obscene bit of chutzpah.
Israel was not created after the Holocaust. It was recreated after the fall of the Ottoman Empire opened the door for peoples who had been formerly living under the Ottoman boot to rebuild and govern their own countries. The irony is that Israel is only one short entry on the list of countries that were to be created after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and that list includes most of the Arab world. It also includes countries that could not successfully able to gain independence at the time, such as Armenia. Zionism was simply another national liberation movement, one of many that gained new momentum after the breakup of the Ottoman and Austria-Hungarian empires.
The anti-Zionist narrative insists that Jews are foreigners because they came from the diaspora. However the very word “diaspora” highlights the fact that the Jewish returnees were members of a religious and ethnic group that had been forced to leave the region, and were now coming back. Nor were Jews unique in this regard in the post-Ottoman period. There also was and is a large Armenian diaspora around the world. Even today there are more Armenians living outside Armenia than inside it. This does not negate the rights of Armenians to their homeland or make them foreigners. There are other similar diasporas of peoples from the territory of the Ottoman Empire.
The majority of Jews living in Israel today are refugees or the children of refugees from Muslim countries, from the USSR and from Nazi occupied Europe. That diaspora is continually ignored in favor of sneers about “Settlers from Brooklyn”. Yet the same media that forcefully pushed this mischaracterization, did not apply the same standards to American Arabs who moved to the Palestinian Authority in the mid 90’s (before moving back once they experienced the shakedowns and corruption of Arafat’s cronies). That diaspora was somehow more legitimate than the Jewish one. This is the prejudice at the heart of the case against Israel.
It is natural for Arab Muslims to feel that they have more right to Israel, than the Jews do. Conqueror peoples tend to feel that way. It is certainly commonplace in the Muslim world. That is Turkey’s attitude when it denies rights to its Kurdish minority. Iran’s attitude when it denies rights to the Azeri minority. Regarding Israel, this repressive attitude finds support in the Koran, from Mohammed’s persecution of the Jews, and his insistence that Islam had replaced Judaism and Christianity, and that non-Muslims had no right to govern Muslims. But
the idea that a conqueror people have more rights to a land than the indigenous inhabitants whom they usurped and oppressed, is a bizarre perversion of liberalism’s own doctrines.
Yet the left goes on insisting that Zionism is racism, while applying no such standard to the Arab Nationalists they championed, from Yasser Arafat to Saddam Hussein, nor to the Islamists that they whitewash. Unlike them, Zionism has created a country in which ethnic and religious minorities have full legal and political rights. This is a unique phenomenon in a region where Islamic and Marxist fanatics have been battling it out for the chance to create repressive states in which only their dominant group has any power or influence. If the idea that distinct national and ethnic groups have the right to self-government in lands that were historically theirs, is racist– then so is virtually every single nationalist group on the planet– the majority of whom the left does support.
Once again the delegitimization of Zionism is logically indefensible. If the Jews had no right to form their own state, then by what possible standard do the Arabs of the Palestine Mandate, an administrative region created in the Post WW1 environment, without regard to any unique culture and ethnicity? If the Jewish diaspora is illegitimate, then how legitimate was a movement run by the Cairo born Yasser Arafat? If Israel is a historical mistake, as some pundits insist, then what is Palestine. Or for that matter Syria and Jordan? Instead so many of Israel’s critics still act like colonial mapmakers, insisting that they have the power to define which people have the rights to what land. And therefore which national liberation movements are legitimate, and which are not.
The colonial mapmakers had once upon a time made Israel’s road to independence that much more difficult. Israel forced to contend not only with the rabid hostility of Islamists and Arab nationalists who refused to share the region with the country’s indigenous inhabitants. This was hardly a new problem. Arab Muslims had already repressed nearly every religious and ethnic group in the region. From Mohammed’s massacres and enslavement of the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula, to the plight of the Kurds, the Circassians, the Armenians, Gypsies, Copts, Zoroastrians and many others– the campaign against Israel was an attempt by the region’s ethnic and religious conqueror group to reassert its supremacy over an upstart minority. But Israel’s road to national independence was also obstructed by the view of some in the British Empire that client states run by puppet Arab monarchies were more in their interest, than an independent Israel.
For this reason the larger portion of the Palestine Mandate was turned over to the rule of an imported royal family from the Arabian Peninsula, the Hashemites. The kingdom they were given was designated as Jordan, and should have served as the home for all Arabs in the territory of the Mandate. Unfortunately the Empire decided that all of the Mandate should consist of such Arab client states. For this reason Jewish immigration was curtailed, and millions of Jews died, some in Auschwitz, because the Empire thought it in their interest to turn all of Israel into another Jordan. Only when the flood of survivors after the war made the mandate unsustainable, and the United States refused to support the ongoing British occupation, did Israel gain the chance to stand on its own two feet and fight for its independence.
And even then, British officers commanded the Jordanian Arab Legion that they had trained. And when the Arab Legion ethnically cleansed the eastern part of Jerusalem, driving out the residents of the Jewish Quarter and destroying its synagogues, the Empire recognized Jordan’s annexation of Jerusalem. An annexation that Israel undid in 1967 when it reunited the city. A reunification that Britain, along with the rest of Europe, refuses to recognize. And that Obama turned into an international incident when he demanded that Israel stop building housing in Jerusalem, while making no such demands of the Arab side. Once again, the bottom line is that Jews have less rights in their own country than Arab Muslims do.
The denial of our rights to our land is not new either. For thousands of years empires have been marching their way across Israel. From chariots to tanks and from spearmen to infantrymen, they have all come and gone. The Assyrian and the Babylonian, the Greek and the Roman, the Arab and the Frenchman, the Turk and the Brit. Some wiped out the Jews who had lived there. Others only oppressed them. But one way or another, the Jews survived and endured, or escaped and returned. Palestinian propagandists boast of some 50 years of resistance. Jews look back on 2500 years of resistance. Israel’s rebirth is the legacy of that long struggle. Both the sudden armed clashes with Roman and Jordanian legionaries, and the more arduous struggle or working farms and planting forests. It is a struggle that can be seen today as Israeli residents care for small plots of land, even as Muslim thugs and left wing anti-Israel groups, such as “Rabbis for Human Rights” try to uproot, vandalize and destroy their farms. It is the slow patient endurance of a people of history who are not going anywhere.
This is best expressed in the apocryphal story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the destroyer of Jerusalem, who saw an old man planting a fig tree. “Why do you bother when you will surely not live to see its fruits,” Hadrian inquired of him. “If I will not live to see them, then my children will,” the old man answered. That old man was a Zionist. And across the land, fig trees are still being planted today. If the Muslim terrorist is defined by the bomb, Zionism is defined by the tree. 240 million trees have been planted in Israel. Some are torched by Arab Muslim vandals, and then more trees are planted in their place. Because while rocks and bombs may bruise or kill, it is the trees that hold the land with their roots. As the tree is seen, but the roots are not, so too Zionism is only the surface growth of the Jewish commitment to the lands of their fathers. The Tree of Zionism has been cut down by empires before, but after a time, green leaves rise again, for when a tree’s roots go back thousands of years, neither axe nor torch, neither firing squad nor gas chamber can part it from its sacred earth.