Why The Arab/Israeli Conflict Remains Intractable

By Dr. Alex Grobman

There are many attempts to understand why the Arab/Israel conflict remains unresolved. Among the reasons advanced for this impasse are: years of suspicion, fear, feelings of injustice and stereotyping have created a psychological barrier between Israelis and Arabs.1 Negative perceptions have reduced incentives to accept peace proposals, prejudice the viability of these proposals and preclude feelings of empathy.2

On the most personal level, there are differences in Arab and Jewish life-styles. Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, laments the gulf dividing Arabs and Jews even when they live together as neighbors. They patronage the same stores, exchange information on common neighborhood issues, drink coffee in the afternoon, and watch their children growing up from opposite sides of the fence.3

Yet they do not share common holidays, days of rest, or free time activities. Holidays are especially alienating. Benvenisti would not invite his neighbors to sit in his sukkah (booths used during the Feast of Tabernacles) lest they be offended when he recites the prayer over the wine. Similarly, when one of his neighbor’s children returned from the hajj, the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, his family would not be invited to celebrate to save them embarrassment for not knowing how to behave.4

Estrangement is even more pronounced the moment visible symbols are involved. When Benvenisti displays the flag on Israeli Independence Day, he knows his neighbors will be upset. On Yom Kippur, work ceases throughout the country. During the month of Ramadan, Arabs rise at 3: 00 a.m. A blind man in his neighborhood, who is escorted by a drummer, wakes-up the pious at 3:a.m. to prepare the meal before the fast. 5

Security issues add another layer of distance. Every one of his Arab neighbor’s homes has been searched at least once during the 14 years the Benvenisti’s lived in Jerusalem. Every single male over the age of 18 has been detained by the security forces during the same period. “We are simultaneously enemies and neighbors,” he concludes.5

The many wars, endless clashes and threats of total annihilation have left memories of “hatred, paranoia, brutality, dehumanization, and tribalism.” Even as Israel becomes more powerful, many Israelis still feel “vulnerable and weak.” The Holocaust continues to be a “national trauma.” Fear remains an overwhelming emotion.6

Sari Nusseibeh, scion of one Jerusalem’s most prominent Muslim Arab families, president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, and a former PLO representative in the city, posits that the “inability to imagine the lives of the ‘other,’ is main reason why the conflict persists. Everyone is so absorbed in their own adversity they are unaware of each other’s experiences and even antagonistic to them.7

The late Edward Said, a pro-Palestinian activist and a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, underlined the fundamental reason why when he spoke of Palestinians becoming the victims of Zionism, of the Zionists being responsible for the destruction of their society, the loss of their land, and the painful exile they are forced to endure.8

He accused the Zionists of being a “tool of imperialism” who usurped their land, established settler colonies and a sovereign state whose only means of preservation is by aggression and expansion. Some Arabs believe that Israel is by nature an expansionist nation, and will continue to take more land at Arab expense.9

Seizing Arab land cannot be tolerated. Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s leading experts on Islam, explains that once a territory has become part of Islam‘s domain, it can never be relinquished or surrendered to anyone. No land is more significant than Arabia and Iraq. And of the two, Arabia is clearly the most important.10

The sacredness of Muslim land led to the eviction of Jews and Christians from their homes and property. In 641, 20 years after Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians be expelled from Arabia in accordance with the Prophet’s deathbed pronouncement: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” This meant Jews of the oasis of Khybar in the north and Christians of Najran in the south were to be banished even though both groups had very deep roots in the region and differed from their Muslim neighbors only in their religion.11

The Jews were relocated to Syria and Palestine and the Christians to Iraq. Compared to the expulsions Jews experienced in Europe, this was more limited. Jews were not forced out immediately. They left gradually, but the decision to expel them was irrevocable. From then on, non-Muslims were forbidden to walk on this sacred soil, which became a major transgression. Elsewhere in the Saudi Kingdom, non-Muslims could enter as temporary visitors, but could not become residents or practice their religion.12

Arabs call Israeli Independence Day, the Nakba (Catastrophe), and regard it as a day of mourning. Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian advocate, regards the establishment of the Jewish state was as an “unimaginable aberration.”13 Other Arab leaders portray Zionism as “a disaster”14 and a “sword …at the necks of the Palestinian people.”15

What Benvenisti, Nusseibeh and others fail to mention is that the fundamental objective of the militant and violent Arabs is to destroy Western culture and civilization and replace it with their own “civilization of dhimmitude,” where non-Muslims will be forced to become a “protected” minority subordinating themselves to restrictive and degrading Islamic law to avoid death or enslavement. For 1,300 years, this jihad political force has subjugated and even eliminated major areas of Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious civilizations in Europe, Asia and Africa. Non-Muslims either converted, disappeared or were rendered incapable of further development.16

The goal of conquering the West is avowed in the introduction to The Charter of Allah: The Platform of Hamas: “We say to this West, which does not act reasonably, and does not learn its lessons: By Allah, you will be defeated. You will be defeated in Palestine, and your defeat there has already begun. True, it is Israel that is being defeated there, but when Israel is defeated, its path is defeated, those who call to support it are defeated, and the cowards who hide behind it and support it are defeated. Israel will be defeated, and so will whoever supported or supports it.”17

That is why the Israeli and American war on terrorism in the twenty- first century is one and the same. 18 Hamas prime minister Isma`il Haniya, confirmed this when he said: “…the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only over the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe.”19 The delusion that they are separate conflicts has conferred an element of legitimacy on the vicious acts of terrorism in Israel.20

The attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001 were the latest manifestation of the Islamic jihad to establish universal world domination.21This goal can be realized through demographic growth and conversion of the local population. Large numbers of teachers and religious leaders will be mobilized to teach Islam in every language and dialect. Should peaceful methods prove inadequate, physical force can be used. 22

Even if Hamas agreed to a hunda (truce) with Israel, this would only be a strategic tactic that would not signal an end to the struggle or a change in objectives. Abbas al-Sayyid, (the political leader of Hamas in Tulkarm and the convicted Izz-ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades commander of Hamas’ military wing), who was the architect of the bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002 in which 30 people were killed and 140 injured, made this clear.23 Hamas, he said, is prepared for a truce for an extensive period of time, but for religious reasons could not allow Israel to occupy Islamic lands. If Abbas did not succeed in obtaining the land that is “rightfully mine” then perhaps his “son or grandson will.” 24

What will happen to the people who allegedly stole Arab lands? Mahmoud Darwish, a very popular poet of the Palestinian resistance, provided the answer in a powerful poem “Bitaqit Hawia,” (Identity Card) written in 1964. Although professing not to “hate people,” Darwish warned, “The usurper’s flesh will be my food. Beware, beware of my hunger and my anger!”25

“The curious power of this little poem is that when it first appeared in the late sixties, it did not represent as much as embody the Palestinian whose political identity in the world had been pretty much reduced to a name on an identity card,” Edward Said noted. 26

Is there any Zionist poetry or statement that describes the Palestinians in comparable ways? And if any does exist, who could claim that it is the “embodiment of the Israelis,” that it represents the view of the Jewish people? 27

For many Arabs, the conflict with Zionism is a religious war against the Jewish people. Since the Jews are not going to leave their homeland voluntarily, the solution is clear according to Abdallah Jarbu’, Hamas deputy minister of religious endowments: “May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.”28

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Dr. Grobman, a Hebrew University trained historian, is the author of The Palestinian Right To Israel (Balfour Books, 2010). He is the president of Balfour Trust, an educational outreach to help Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, Zionism and the State of Israel.

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