Israel’s self-obsession

By Jonathan Power

October 4th 2016.

The many world leaders who gathered in Jerusalem last week for the funeral of Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel, are safely ensconced back home. They will not bother much to think about Israel again until the next Palestinian uprising. But the Israelis will continue to only think about themselves.

The Israelis are obsessed with themselves, with their history, with the present time and with their destiny. Every nation has some of this but Israeli navel gazing is something else. At this level of intensity it makes compromise difficult and condemns Israel to political paranoia and limitless inflexibility.

The Israeli notion that they can have this land and no one else can is so anachronistic by any contemporary standards that it is amazing that outside powers, whether they be the US, the EU or Russia, have given its arguments the time of day.

If every ethnic group in the world asserted so vigorously truly ancient yearnings to exclusive possession the world would become totally chaotic in short time. Where would the white North Americans or South Americans be?

Should Russia return to the rule of Mongolia, the seat of Genghis Khan’s Mongols? It was they who laid down the boundaries, more or less, of the modern Russian state. What if China grabbed back Taiwan?

If the Israelis want to believe that Temple Mount (on which Islam’s sacred Dome of the Rock is built) is “the focal point of creation” and that in the centre of the hill lies the “foundation stone” of the world, and that here “Adam came into being”, they may be allowed to believe it.

But that the arbiters of the United Nations could go along with this myth for decade after decade at the expense of traditional Palestinian centuries-old occupancy rights is almost impossible to digest. Even worse is that many of the most liberal voices in the Western and Russian political world who do call for Israel to hurry up and compromise appear to accept that a deal would probably mean that the Palestinians would end up with only 22% of the land that was Palestine under the British mandate, (which ended in 1948).

The Jews and Muslims over a long history did not go to war with each other, until the creation of Israel in 1948. This was the first time in their joint history that they struggled over the same piece of land. (The ancient Jewish struggle for an independent Jewish territory was waged against the Egyptians and then the Romans, long before Mohammed was born.)

The Jews left what we now call Palestine, Israel and Jordan two millennia ago. In AD 70, after the Jewish insurrection, the Roman occupiers destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and the majority of Jews fled to Babylon in modern Iraq. Other Jews went to Egypt. The Romans enslaved many and others were dispersed by war and catastrophe to Italy, Spain, Gaul and Eastern Europe. The Jews had lived by the sword, even slaughtering women and children, (see the Bible’s Books of Exodus and Numbers), and were dispersed by the sword.

In subsequent centuries the Jews were dwarfed by the almighty and ubiquitous Christians and Muslims. The Christians surged to dominance because a powerful Roman emperor in the fourth century, Constantine, made their faith the state religion. The Muslims later surged because of their prowess on the battlefield.

Nevertheless, over Islam’s 1,400 years the Jews were reasonably protected by their Muslim rulers. Like Christians they were accorded the status of dhimmi (protected minority) which gave them civil and military protection. The Jews were rarely persecuted and there was no tradition of anti-Semitism like what developed in the second millennium in the Christian world.

Until the Middle Ages the Jews in Christian Europe lived rather securely. It was only after the turn of the millennium there were some intense periods of persecution culminating in the 19th century expulsions and pogroms in Poland and Russia and the “Final Solution” in Nazi Germany. Even so in most of Europe for most of the centuries anti-Semitism was subdued. After the Reformation it was Christians persecuting each other. Protestants and Catholics were often at war with each other while the Jews were usually left alone.

All this perspective was lost because of the Nazi genocide. But Nazi Germany was defeated, and most Western anti-Semitism with it. Come 1948 there was truly no good reason for a “Jewish state”.

But Israel does exist. Now it is its turn to be tolerant and magnanimous.

© Jonathan Power 2016

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