Wednesday 28 May 2008

Myths and Historical Fact, from A Liberal Defence of Israel blog

Myths and Historical Fact posted by Denis @ A Liberal Defence of Israel blog

"The following was sent recently to the Irish Times in response to a long letter that had appeared there. (...)

Despite Tomas McBride (Letters, 22 May), supporters of Israel do not need to resort to myth in order to justify the existence of a modern Jewish state. Let's leave the Torah to one side for a moment. Israel came into being, not from a mythical 'Jewish invasion' of British mandate Palestine, but as the result of a long political process that started in the late 19th century as the Ottoman empire drew to its end. After the second world war and a long debate, the United Nations voted by a majority for the creation of a small Jewish state alongside other mandate or ex-mandate states. In other words, Israel was carved out of the old empire much as modern Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan. This happened in part because post-war re-apportionment of land in general is commonplace, but for the greater part because the UN was a new way to administer international law and the necessary adjustments between nations. The nearest parallel was the resettlement of 2 million people following the partition of India to create Pakistan (and, later, Bangladesh) — oddly enough, no Muslim voices are raised to complain about this.

Unfortunately, nations in the modern form, modelled on the concept of the Westphalian state, had never existed in Islam (though various forms of Arab nationalism, like Jewish nationalism, were being advocated in this period). This is why the Arab states who invaded Israel with the expressed intention of driving all Jews into the Mediterranean simply refused to behave like UN member states at all. That Jews had taken control of even a tiny sliver of Islamic territory was anathema, giving rise to what was in essence a religious animus calling for genocide. By that time too, Palestinian politics had been irredeemably tainted by association with the Third Reich. The Reich's leading Arab collaborator, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Palestinian leader, had fled after the Nazi defeat and was feted in Cairo as a hero of the Arab people.

To dismiss Jewish longing to return to Israel as merely a myth-centred nonsense displays an absolute insensitivity to aspirations, whether religious or national. All peoples, religions, and nations have founding myths. The Jews have one of the strongest. Their belief in a land that was given them by God may or may not be historically true, but it is a vivid, enduring, and necessary expression of the significance Jews have placed in Israel for thousands of years. Jerusalem is sacred to Jews much as Mecca and Medina are to Muslims. It is certainly much better attested than the historically invalid attempt of modern Palestinians (a hybrid group) to assert Palestinian occupation of that land for a similar length of time; or to claim a link between modern Palestinians and the ancient Philistines; or, most glaringly, that the Jews have never had a historical connection to the land. Pull the other one.

For two thousand years, Jews have expressed a daily hope of return to the Holy Land. That sense of belonging, that connection to history, are something greater than myth, though often inspired by it. We do not mock other religions for holding non-rational beliefs, we do not try to make political capital out of national struggles based on a longing for a returnto a Golden Age. The statue of Cuchulainn outside the General Post Office is there for a reason. Or consider the opening words of the Proclamation of Independence: 'IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.' Or all those murals of King Billy crossing the Boyne.

Jews trace their origins back as far as that and further. That is why they chose and were given a homeland where every town, every hill, every river, every archaeological excavation, and every stone in the Western Wall resonates. And given the momentous horror of the Holocaust and how close mankind came to witnessing an extermination of the Jewish people, that resonance could not have been greater. Persecuted though we may have been by the British occupation, we were never in danger of being wiped out. Since 1948,the Palestinian Arabs have increased from 1,700,000 to 2.5 million (with claims of over 3 million). That is the truth of the 'Palestinian Holocaust', another myth that is swallowed too readily. If I am to believe in the right of the Irish people to a homeland where Cuchulainn may or may not have walked, how can I deny the Jews their unarguable right to seek refuge for the first time in two millennia in a land they have prayed for every day of their lives? By contrast, Jerusalem has little resonance in Islam: soon after migrating to Medina, the prophet Muhammad, who had prayed towards Jerusalem in imitation of the Jews, turned his back on the city and chose instead to pray towards Mecca, as all Muslims do today. Jews recite the words of the Psalm: 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I donot remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above myhighest joy'. The Qur'an doesn't even mention Jerusalem.

The Arabs cannot have it both ways. They cannot belong to the United Nations and work to undermine its very principles. Their states are dictatorships and absolute monarchies, they deny their citizens basic human rights, they reduce women to an inferior status, they deny religious minorities the freedoms called for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet they denounce Israel, the only country in the Middle East that implements those rights in a democratic state. What are we looking for, in the end? Stability, democracy, the rule of law, rights for everyone regardless of colour, sex, or creed? Or genocide by Hamas and Hizbullah, followed by theocratic rule that will bring executions, stonings, and the minimum of rights for any remaining religious minorities? Israel has achieved great things. It has some way to go, but every time we attack it or snipe at it or give terrorists succour, we undermine the very things we claim to stand for."

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