Sunday, December 03, 2006

How Arabs saw Jews - pre-1948

Here's an interesting article on the 'Arab/Jewish question' from and Arab and pre-Israel perspective, with a good, modern-day introduction made by Jerusalaam blog:

While poking around IPCRI's enormous library a few weeks ago, I came across a fascinating op-ed piece in an edition of "The American Magazine," written by King Abdullah of Jordan in 1947 - six months before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that created the modern state of Israel. I find it fascinating not just for what he says, but because it is a direct refutation of the assumption many Americans and Europeans (myself included) have about Arab attitudes toward the rising state of Israel - that they were simply bigoted, blood-thirsty and war-hungry, whose anti-Israeli sentiments contained neither logic nor critical thinking. Here we see the exact opposite - a rather lucid, rational rejection of the idea of Israel, largely devoid of inflammatory rhetoric and polemics. The column does contain some flaws and biases - overgeneralization and essentialism, slightly inaccurate historical data, some measure of self-aggrandizement and tendency to play up and play down certain things; Abdullah was a King, after all, not a professional historian and academic), however it nevertheless is an eloquent and interesting insight into the minds of the Arabs who vehemently opposed the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of Israel. Of course, this column must be read in the context of the times - this was almost 60 years ago, a few years after WWII, a politician in the Arab world speaking to an American audience, at the height of tensions between the pre-state Israelis and their Arab brethren. We can disagree with what Abdullah says, we can argue right and wrong, but we must take him seriously. What we can't do is go on pretending that opposition to Israel in the years before and after 1948 was irrational or illogical, and we can no longer pretend that those who opposed the creation of Israel opposed it because of hatred, prejudice and a lust for war.

"As the Arabs see the Jews"

His Majesty King Abdullah,
The American Magazine*
November, 1947

I am especially delighted to address an American audience, for the tragic problem of Palestine will never be solved without American understanding, American sympathy, American support.

So many billions of words have been written about Palestine-perhaps more than on any other subject in history-that I hesitate to add to them. Yet I am compelled to do so, for I am reluctantly convinced that the world in general, and America in particular, knows almost nothing of the true case for the Arabs.

We Arabs follow, perhaps far more than you think, the press of America. We are frankly disturbed to find that for every word printed on the Arab side, a thousand are printed on the Zionist side.

There are many reasons for this. You have many millions of Jewish citizens interested in this question. They are highly vocal and wise in the ways of publicity. There are few Arab citizens in America, and we are as yet unskilled in the technique of modern propaganda.

The results have been alarming for us. In your press we see a horrible caricature and are told it is our true portrait. In all justice, we cannot let this pass by default.

Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered-a minority in our home.

Palestine is a small and very poor country, about the size of your state of Vermont. Its Arab population is only about 1,200,000. Already we have had forced on us, against our will, some 600,000 Zionist Jews. We are threatened with many hundreds of thousands more.

Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

Think for a moment: In the last 25 years we have had one third of our entire population forced upon us. In America that would be the equivalent of 45,000,000 complete strangers admitted to your country, over your violent protest, since 1921. How would you have reacted to that?

Because of our perfectly natural dislike of being overwhelmed in our own homeland, we are called blind nationalists and heartless anti-Semites. This charge would be ludicrous were it not so dangerous.

No people on earth have been less "anti-Semitic" than the Arabs. The persecution of the Jews has been confined almost entirely to the Christian nations of the West. Jews, themselves, will admit that never since the Great Dispersion did Jews develop so freely and reach such importance as in Spain when it was an Arab possession. With very minor exceptions, Jews have lived for many centuries in the Middle East, in complete peace and friendliness with their Arab neighbours.

Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and other Arab centres have always contained large and prosperous Jewish colonies. Until the Zionist invasion of Palestine began, these Jews received the most generous treatment-far, far better than in Christian Europe. Now, unhappily, for the first time in history, these Jews are beginning to feel the effects of Arab resistance to the Zionist assault. Most of them are as anxious as Arabs to stop it. Most of these Jews who have found happy homes among us resent, as we do, the coming of these strangers.

I was puzzled for a long time about the odd belief which apparently persists in America that Palestine has somehow "always been a Jewish land." Recently an American I talked to cleared up this mystery. He pointed out that the only things most Americans know about Palestine are what they read in the Bible. It was a Jewish land in those days, they reason, and they assume it has always remained so.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is absurd to reach so far back into the mists of history to argue about who should have Palestine today, and I apologise for it. Yet the Jews do this, and I must reply to their "historic claim." I wonder if the world has ever seen a stranger sight than a group of people seriously pretending to claim a land because their ancestors lived there some 2,000 years ago!

If you suggest that I am biased, I invite you to read any sound history of the period and verify the facts.

Such fragmentary records as we have indicate that the Jews were wandering nomads from Iraq who moved to southern Turkey, came south to Palestine, stayed there a short time, and then passed to Egypt, where they remained about 400 years. About 1300 BC (according to your calendar) they left Egypt and gradually conquered most-but not all-of the inhabitants of Palestine.

It is significant that the Philistines-not the Jews-gave their name to the country: "Palestine" is merely the Greek form of "Philistia."

Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly-but not all-the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.


At 6:48 AM, Blogger Tim said...

What an incredibly fascinating letter. Where is the rest of it?

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Hi there!

You'd have to inquire at the Jerusalaam blog, linked to at the top of this post.



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