December 25, 2003
Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Despair?
Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.
Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that "terrorism" can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of one group and justify that of another.
One might say I'm an all-around, groovy radical. And yet, I've got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli citizens.
Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel's fault, the narrative goes, that these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created Palestinian terrorism.
Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation must be remedied -- the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?
The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of Allah.
Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of dhimmi -- legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances, Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal restrictions -- forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.
When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews instigated by the government or the masses.
This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.
The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for 1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s.
Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the time.
Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.
Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been the majority of Israel's Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.
To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West Bank and Gaza -- at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt -- and dumped the refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against Israel.
Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.
In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption would change the status of the refugees. But wasn't that the moral objective?
Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.
And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian desperation?
Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab propaganda creating this phenomenon, the "progressive" movement continues to feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East. Â
Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of "The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage" (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You can find her on the web at www.loolwa.com.