Israel, Palestine And The Necessity Of Historical Thinking
Historical Thinking is a key literacy skill that enables people to study past events critically so they may interpret and analyze history as a intertwining thread of a complex set of events that can and must be looked at from various perspectives so as to not be arrested by a singular, one-dimensional narrative. The inability to think historically has caused many Muslims to look at the Israel-Palestine issue from a myopic lens much to the detriment of the Palestinian cause.
For most Muslims, the narrative goes like this: the Ottomans were kind and righteous rulers under whose reign people of all religions lived in harmony and peace, including the Arabs of all faiths, until the British colonizers took over and then illegally gave that land to European Jews much to the detriment of the Arabs of Palestine. There is some merit to the proposition that European Jews enjoyed security and far more liberties (and rights like owning lands and conducting business etc.) within the Ottoman sultanate in contrast to Europe where they faced persecution and forceful evictions. However, there is also an alternative perception pertaining the Ottoman Empire which, like any other empire, was built on wars and conquests, none of which were won peacefully. In administrative matters too, victors would control the conquered population through Machiavellian political maneuvering that may show mercy to some and wrath to others. One must not forget that the Ottoman Empire was built on the bones of two Arab Muslim dynasties (one of them descended from the great Saladin himself) who themselves were fighting amongst themselves for centuries.
It is also impossible to see the Palestine issue without looking at how the Arabian Hashemites (modern day Jordan) and Sauds (modern day Saudi Arabia) assisted the British in destroying the Ottomans in return for their own sovereign monarchies. The Arabs’ resentment towards the Ottomans had grown from their rulers’ conceit and what was thought to be their attempt of Turkification of Arabs. Even the West Bank and Gaza were supposed to go to Jordan and Egypt respectively not to ‘Palestinians’ or a country called ‘Palestine’ – as per the deal, the people in that land were simply going to be under Jordanian or Egyptian rule.
Just like the Ottomans destroyed other empires to become the dominant power in the region, claimed the lands that once belonged to the vanquished, and did with these lands and its people as they pleased, so did the British after defeating the Ottomans – that was simply the way of the world up until the end of World War II and the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949. For instance, the nationalist Two Nation Theory and Zionism were proposed to the British because they were acknowledged as the de facto rulers of the lands upon which the aforementioned theories were to be implemented and like any empire before it, had the authority and the audacity over the respective lands to do with them as they pleased. It was this very notion that allowed them to carve Arabia up and disseminate some of it between the Hashemites and the Sauds.
Initially, the British had planned a single state that they had named ‘Mandatory Palestine’ where the Arabs and Jewish immigrants would live in harmony, but as the numbers of migrants increased – especially during World War II – practically changing the demographics of the land, so did the Arab resentment against them. This led to an increase in attacks against the migrant Jewish population causing the British to limit and halt migrations for a time, which met with equal resentment by the Zionists. Therefore, stymied by the impossible situation they found themselves in, the British handed over the fate of the land to the United Nations (UN) who in 1948 proposed a two-state solution – Israel and Palestine. The Zionist leaders accepted this proposal and immediately declared their independence and the birth of the state of Israel which was accepted by the UN and most world powers establishing its legitimacy in the global arena.
The Arab nations were outraged as they considered a 45-55 division of the land in favour of Israel -where Arabs were in vast majority, and where the Jewish population was artificially increased through migrations – as unfair and imbalanced. Confident in their strength and the fragility of the young Israeli state, the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel but were defeated – they would go on to fight (and lose) five major wars with Israel which would only help it tighten its grip over the West Bank and Gaza.
Of all the Arab-Israel wars, the one in 1967, also known as the ‘Six Day War’, truly planted the seeds of the imbalanced, genocidal conflict that we see today. Up until 1967, the land allotted to Palestine by the UN was under Arab control – the West Bank belonged to Jordan and Gaza was under the administration of Egypt – and Israel did not seem to harbor any expansionist desires; after all, it was a tiny young Zionist state surrounded by powerful Arab Muslim ones. It was upon Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping that set the precedent for the war at the end of which Israel attained absolute control over Palestine and expelled thousands of Palestinians who became instant refugees in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – their descendants remain refugees to this day. While the Palestinian refugee crisis continued in the neighbouring Arab lands, Israel started establishing settlements in the conquered Palestinian lands – these settlements were condemned and deemed illegal by the UN and most of the global community.
It was during this time that a real sense of Palestinian Arab Nationalism was born in the shape of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – a pan-Arab movement that was a product of the Arab League, but did not formidably exist before the 1967 war. When Israel returned the West Bank and Gaza to the Arab nations – sans illegal settlements – the Palestinian Arabs were given the mandate to do with their lands as they please, a task taken up by the PLO.
After the 1967 war, the Palestinian Nationalist movement for self determination and the ‘right to return’ to their land grew in momentum, and Arab nations with significant Palestinian refugee populations grew increasingly restless, fearing insurrection in their own countries. To counter such a possibility, Jordan conducted Operation Black September in 1970 where thousands of the ‘fidayeen’ belonging to the PLO were murdered. It is important to note that Pakistan’s military, under the leadership of Zia-ul-Haq, was instrumental in assisting the Jordanian monarchy in culling the Palestinian Nationalists.
Over the years, as Israel continued to thwart Arab nations’ advances and came out victorious, the PLO found itself shifting towards a diplomatic solution as opposed to armed conflict; even its demands for a single Palestinian state changed to accepting the Two-State solution – a move that irked many Palestinian Nationalists. From this vacuum emanated a new, more violent, and Islamic supremacist entity by the name of Hamas whose demand was unequivocally clear – the absolute destruction of Israel, and the establishment of a single Palestinian Islamic State. The advent of Hamas would go on to gain sympathy for Israel and solidify its place in the global community, alienate the legitimate Palestinian Nationalist cause, and multiply the suffering of the Palestinians exponentially.
Today, there isn’t much clarity regarding what Muslims across the globe demand when they speak of Palestine – complete removal of Israeli settlements from West Bank and Gaza or absolute destruction of Israel to establish a single state i.e. Palestine. Though many Muslim countries, including Arab nations, have accepted Israel’s legitimacy, and call for a Two-State solution by establishing a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders as proposed by the UN in 1948, some Muslim countries, and many Muslims across the globe, refuse to accept Israel as a country and demand its annihilation. For the sake of the Palestinians, and a future Palestine, it is imperative to clarify this position today, because given Israel’s economic and military might, retaliation against any perceived threat on its existence will be received wholly by innocent Palestinians who don’t stand a chance against the Israeli State – and as we observed recently, neither do any of the Muslim nations.
Historical Thinking is absolutely necessary today more than ever to understand global realpolitik, the Israeli State’s psyche, and the limitations of the Muslim world’s myopia so that a political and diplomatic solution is found rather than allowing an anti-Semitic or anti-Arab/Palestine/Muslim sentiment dictate the debate on both sides. Inability to think historically inculcates flawed, dualistic ‘Us vs. Them’, ‘Good vs. Evil’ binaries, and fails to understand the complexities and nuances of human history. To know why Palestine suffers today is to understand that the Palestinians have been betrayed by History which can only be corrected once we abandon the naïve notion that the Muslims have been deceived by the infidels, when in fact many Muslim and Arab nations have been instrumental in trapping Palestine in its unfortunate predicament.