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Gaza: A Candid Conversation - Part V
by Simon Jacobson

Jeff: Did you research and look into the arguments I presented in our last conversation?
 
Evelyn: Yes I did. And I even approached a Palestinian friend of mine and presented him all your arguments.
 
Jeff: And?
 
Evelyn: And he absolutely rejected them, stating that they were Zionist lies. Jews, he claims, invaded their land and displaced their population.
 
Jeff: And do you agree with him? I did after all cite facts and quotes that can be corroborated?
 
Evelyn: No I did not agree with him. Much of what you say I indeed found to be accurate. But, even if he goes too far to one extreme, and even if we were not to call them Palestinians, the fact remains that Arabs have been living in this region for centuries and have now effectively been displaced by millions of Jewish immigrants.
 
Jeff: Just a minute. You are wrong on both accounts. Arabs have not been living there for centuries. As I discussed earlier, from 1948-1967 Jordan and Egypt each pushed hundreds of thousands of their citizens to move to the West Bank and Gaza, such that by 1967 half of the people of Jordan lived in the West Bank who were not there in 1948.
 
And Jews have been living there for centuries. So though undoubtedly some Arabs were displaced, it was not by foreigners but by locals. You are making it sound that millions of Arabs lived in present-day Israel, and all the Jews there are immigrants. That’s simply not the case.
 
Evelyn: Are you saying that only Jews and not Arabs are indigenous to this region?!
 
Jeff: No, I am sure that some Arabs have ancestors that lived there. But not in the exaggerated populations that they suggest.
 
Evelyn: How can you say that? From the time of Islam’s birth in the 7th century the region was ruled by the Arab Caliphate (who conquered it from the Byzantines and ruled through the 11th century, when it was conquered by the Crusaders), and then, by the Ottoman Empire who controlled it from the 12th till the 20th century. During these many centuries the area was under Arab-Muslim rule. Jews lived there as well, but the dominant force was Arab-Muslim.
 
 
Jeff: Of course I am aware of that. But why don’t you read these accounts of the region’s desolation from travelers who left records of what they saw there.
 
“Nothing there (in Jerusalem) to be seen but a little of the old walls which is yet remaining and all the rest is grass, moss and weeds” (English pilgrim in 1590). “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population” (British consul in 1857).
 
“There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent (valley of Jezreel) – not for 30 miles in either direction… One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings. For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee… Nazareth is forlorn… Jericho lies a moldering ruin… Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation… untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent, mournful expanse… a desolation… We never saw a human being on the whole route… Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country… Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes… desolate and unlovely (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1867).
 
The restoration of the “desolate and unlovely” land began in the latter half of the 19th century with the first Jewish pioneers. Their labors created newer and better conditions and opportunities, which in turn attracted migrants from many parts of the Middle East, both Arabs and others.
 
Thus, most of the Arabs today are not indigenous to that region. It was only after the Jews changed deserts and swamps into a productive and thriving land that the Arabs migrated there. Before that time there were only approximately 120,000 Arabs in the entire region, including Jordan.
 
Evelyn: And Jews – how many Jews were there at the time?
 
Jeff: The Jewish population, on the other hand, always existed in Israel. Let’s not forget: Israel became a nation in 1312 BCE, two thousand years before the rise of Islam. From Biblical times, spanning back over three millennia, till this day, and even after the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were banished by the Romans in the 1st century, there always was a continuous Jewish presence in the land, essentially making the Jews indigenous to the region.
 
Indeed, from the times of Abraham throughout the ages Israel was always the “Promised Land” and remains a central force in Jewish life, with Jerusalem as its capital. Jews are obligated to live in Israel, and have always been emigrating to the land, both in the Middle Ages and later, and also before Islam was born. Jews pray facing East to Israel and Jerusalem; virtually every filled with their aspirations to return home to Israel.
 
Evelyn: Arabs feel the same. They feel that they too are children of Abraham, and have lived in the region from the beginning of time.
 
Jeff: But they add one critical caveat: They deny the right of Jews to the land of Israel. And they call for Israel’s destruction. I should add: Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.
 
Until after 1967 when they began clamoring for Jerusalem as their capital, Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity.  Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in the Jewish Holy Scriptures, but not mentioned once in the Koran, and Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.

Jeff: I will tell you what I think is the root of the problem. The Arab/Muslim world does not accept the existence of Israel on religious grounds. Islam faith and theology dictate that the very existence of Israel under Jewish sovereignty is a desecration against G-d. G-d chose the Mohammed and Islam to conquer and transform the world. Mosques were intentionally built on Jewish and Christian holy sites, demonstrating G-d's choice of Islam as the ultimate religion, after Judaism and Christianity failed. Read a bit of the Muslim theologian Sayyid Qutb on the subject.
 
If G-d doesn’t want the Jews to control the land, and wants that Muslims to rule, what possibly can you do to change that belief? How can one make peace with that?
 
Evelyn: You make peace with the moderates who are ready to compromise and recognize Israel, not with the religious extremists.
 
Jeff: And you know who is a moderate and who is an extremist? What would you say if you discovered that all Arabs/Muslims believe that Israel defiles their faith?
 
Evelyn: We live in a modern world, which is increasingly turning secular, not being run by religious extremes. And it is only this secular approach which will allow for
 
Jeff: So now you are dictating what Muslims should or should not believe? Just because you and so many others don’t find religion that important doesn’t mean that the entire Muslim world will embrace your views.
 
Evelyn: I didn’t say that religion is not important. It simply can’t be the force that dictates politics. We need a separation of church and state for us to co-exist. Freedom of religion, but not one that imposes religious beliefs on us all.
 
Jeff: And what do you do with the over one and a half billion Muslims who believe otherwise?
 
Evelyn: You encourage the moderates and not empower the radicals.
 
Jeff: This condescending attitude is what enrages so many Arabs/Muslims. They are offended by the Western World attempting to dictate its values to them. As if the West has it all figured out. The Muslim world actually sees the West as an equal partner in desecrating G-d’s choice of Islam over Christianity and Judaism. Which is why they always refer to the Crusader/Zionist aggression.
 
Frankly, I find Hamas more honest than the others in stating their position up front, and not hiding behind diplomatic smokescreens.
 
Evelyn: So what is your solution to the problem?
 
Jeff: If anything, one can argue that the Jewish leaders in Israel are to blame for not recognizing the religious issues at hand. Perhaps the Arab world would respect Israel if it showed spiritual leadership and instead of diluting the conflict in a secular context, actually addressed the theological forces at work.
 
Evelyn: Then we would have a full-blown religious war.
 
Jeff: No. Then we would have an honest discussion
 
Evelyn: And your solution?
 
Jeff: Even if I don’t have one, the facts remain the facts. One thing is definite: To live with myths is surely not the solution. I actually believe that the first step to a solution is a frank acknowledgment of all the issues, including the religious ones, to call a spade a spade and not allow this to become a propaganda battle driven by rhetoric and distortions.
 
Evelyn: I need to look into this. What you are saying is not consistent with the facts as I know them.
 
Jeff: Please research it exhaustively. But then get back to me. I would love to hear a refutation of what I am saying. And if you don’t get back to me, I shall assume that you could not contradict my arguments. So then please have the courtesy to at least acknowledge that.
 
Evelyn: Do I sound intellectually dishonest?
 
Jeff: No. On the contrary. I very much appreciated our dialogue. But since these issues have been intentionally distorted and misrepresented for so many years, it’s not surprising that so many intellectually honest people have been misled.
 
Evelyn: Nevertheless, we still need compassion for the Arabs living in the land.
 
Jeff: Yes we do. But they need to stop declaring war on Israel. Period.
 

 


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