TRYING TO GET A CLEAR PICTURE OF A
CONFLICT THAT MAY BE IRRESOLVABLE
Some whacky, rightwing conspiracy websites have reported that many of the images showing civilian deaths in Gaza — both still and video — are actually recycled from the Syrian civil war. Whacky, rightwing conspiracy websites can be wildly off base and hysterical in tone, but they’re not always wrong.
More mainstream sources have also raised questions about the authenticity of visuals purporting to show Gaza carnage, including the BBC and the leftish, Tel Aviv-based, Haaretz, which is often critical of its government and the Israeli Defense Force. Also, the techno-hip online journal, Motherboard, recently discussed how militant groups are using miniature, high-resolution video cams to produce footage for distribution on social media, offering a highly personal perspective that puts viewers in the place of their fighters — very much like a video game.
There’s no doubt that people in Gaza are suffering and dying under the IDF onslaught. But digital technology is raising the confusion that has always surrounded the long-running Middle East Conflict to new levels.
There’s a graphic panel headlined “Loss of Land” circulating on Facebook. Released by the Arab news service Al Arabiya, it purports to illustrate the steady absorption of Palestine into Israel between 1917 and 2012.
While the graphic acknowledges that there was no Jewish state in 1917, it gives the impression that there was a “Palestine” — in the sense of a distinct nation populated by a recognized “Palestinian” people.
This is false.
In the early 20th Century, the area known as Palestine was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. There was an indigenous Arab population in the region, as there was a Jewish community whose roots went back to Biblical times. But Palestine was by then largely considered an Ottoman backwater, someplace to pass through on the road from Cairo to Istanbul.
When the return of Jews to what is now Israel began in earnest, inspired by the Zionist Movement, incoming Jewish settlers purchased their lands from local Arab owners and absentee Turkish landholders. Most of this acreage was dismissed as unarable, since it was located in a territory where desert and semi-desert lands meet the salt water of the Mediterranean. Indeed, from time immemorial, the common agricultural practice had been terrace gardening (especially in the rocky terrain of the Jerusalem area), along with spotty olive and fruit groves. Large field-crop farming was limited because of the arid climate.
After World War I, in which Turkey had been a belligerent, Palestine was named a League of Nations protectorate under administration of the United Kingdom. The British Army oversaw the influx of Jewish settlers, and tried to manage the increasing tensions between native Arabs and a growing population of Jews for whom the goal of a Jewish homeland was becoming increasingly plausible.
So plausible, in fact, that the Jews were organizing themselves politically to oppose the British occupation they saw as impeding realization of the Zionist dream (though the UK government had long favored a Jewish homeland). This organizing included armed resistance, even sabotage and terrorist bombings. After the Second World War, especially, as Jews who had gained combat experience in the Warsaw uprising or fighting with anti-Nazi partisan groups made their way into Palestine, British forces came under heavy pressure.
When the State of Israel was finally declared by the United Nations in 1948, it was immediately attacked by a coalition of Arab states in combination with irregular trans-national groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called Holy War Army and Arab Liberation Army. Though greatly outnumbered, Israeli forces succeeded in pushing back this pan-Arab host and firming up ragged frontiers that lasted until 1967. Then Israel was attacked again (in the famous Six-Day War), and actually expanded its territory.
Despite treaties with Egypt and Jordan — made possible by the establishment of an independent (if occupied) West Bank territory and returning Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, captured during the ’67 fighting — most Arab nations consider themselves officially at war with Israel right up to today, though some cooperate with the Israelis to accommodate certain shared interests.
All this is the background of current fighting in Gaza, the Mediterranean coastal Arab enclave from which Israel withdrew in 2005. After that Israeli disengagement, the militant group Hamas took control, and has used Gaza as a base from which to launch its ongoing rocket attacks and terror raids.
I go over these simple historical facts because I’m often surprised at how many people are under the impression that there has always been a war between Israelis and Palestinians. In point of fact, identifying local Arabs as Palestinians is a quite recent phenomenon.
Many Arabs who reside in Palestine are from immigrant or mixed-nationality families. The late Yasser Arafat, of dubious renown, longtime leader and icon of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was born in Cairo. His father was from Gaza, and his mother was Egyptian.
But people have been misled by a relentless campaign of propaganda and disinformation, of which the Al Arabiya graphic and the questionable Gaza images are typical.
The horrible situation we see unfolding before us does not result from the absorption of Palestinian land into Israel. To the contrary, Israel has acted on the concept of land for peace on several occasions — the most dramatic of which when it returned the oil-rich Sinai to Egypt. Nor is it that Israelis displaced a settled Palestinian People, though there were Arab refugees out of Israel and Jewish refugees out of Arab lands during and after the 1948 war.
As it happens, Arabs are about 20 percent of Israel’s population today, with full rights of citizenship.
Of course, the lives of West Bank and Gaza Arabs have certainly been made difficult, sometimes tragic, by Israeli measures to thwart terrorism (checkpoints, police raids, the hated security fence, and all the rest). Much death and suffering have occurred over the years, and now blood is flowing profusely once again.
None of this is intended to demean the Arab people of Palestine or to minimize the anguish that has come upon Gaza as Israel attempts to remove the Hamas threat to its national existence. What we’re seeing here — what we’ve seen from the beginning of the Middle East Conflict — is a true civilizational clash.
I have always believed that most Arabs — like most people everywhere — want peace. They could have had it, all the way back in 1948, except for a key Islamic concept: the Ummah.
The Ummah is the Islamic community: the Dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) or Dar as-Salam (abode of peace). It’s the Muslim world, if you will, the place where Islam predominates.
But it’s more than that. In the minds of some Muslims, the Ummah embraces all lands that have ever been under Islam or even where Islam has once penetrated.
This idea was recently expressed by the radical so-called Islamic State which issued a map of its hoped-for conquests (see my post of July 7). Spain is on that map, since the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim domination before the ejection of the Moors in 1492.
Israel is right at the heart of it. And while the IS hardly speaks for the entire Muslim world, you can bet that the reality of a Jewish state sitting virtually at the geographic center of the Ummah sticks in a lot of throats.
Christians find it hard to grasp the importance of the Ummah to Muslim self-identity — even among Muslims who might wish to make peace with Israel. To us, the whole world is a mission field, but we have no sense of a specific geographical realm officially barred to other religions (with the possible exception of how Catholics might feel about Vatican City).
It hasn’t always been so.
What were the Crusades but an assertion of a Christian “Ummah” in the Holy Land? Even the Catholic conquest of Latin America carries an echo of Islam’s sweep across the Mediterranean basin, up into Eastern Europe, and through South Asia.
Today we may seek to take the Good News of Christ to all the nations, but we don’t expect to do it behind conquering armies. If, in the Muslim way, we held that all territory once Christian is still Christian, we’d be called upon to liberate the historically Christian lands of North Africa and the Middle East. After all, any place that was within the bounds of the Roman Empire was officially under Christianity when it became the state religion of Rome.
The Middle East Conflict is fundamentally religious. That being the case, can the Scripture-rooted claims of a Jewish homeland ever be reconciled with the Muslim concept of the Ummah?
I don’t know.
Disheartening as it might be, permanent peace — which is to say something more secure than the limited treaties and pragmatic arrangements which Israel has been able to make with its neighboring countries over the years — may never come to pass. The Jewish homeland could always face a threat from some nation or group that simply cannot abide what has often been called a dagger in the heart of the Muslim world.
God grant that this not be so — rather that peace is possible.
Meanwhile, don’t let yourself be confused and misled by the distortions in which this sad situation has been so thoroughly wrapped. In particular, try to not let your emotions be manipulated by images that are truly horrific but not necessarily true.
As the Bible says: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122).
And I’ll add: for the peace of Gaza.
“a tribal religious conflict that will never be resolved unless people stop choosing sides.”
Writing on the Huffington Post, he looks at the Gaza situation from a special perspective, having been raised in Muslim culture and lived his adult life in the West. And he asks seven hard questions that can make both Israelis and Arabs squirm. Read Dr. Rivzi’s provocative reflection at…
On the other hand, if you want a really simple view of the Arab-Israeli conflict from a Jewish perspective, check out a little video by commentator Dennis Prager. He observes that the Mid-East situation may be hard to solve, but it’s easy to explain…
“One side wants the other side dead.”
It’s a certain kind of propaganda in itself, but it makes some compelling points. View it at…
Jihad Watch raises questions about the report of deaths in a Gaza school allegedly struck by an Israeli mortar. Included are images that appear to show dead bodies being moved to create the effect of carnage in a place where it can have maximum propaganda impact. If this is true, it’s another illustration of how hard it is to see truth through disinformation…
“Life is valuable, but not for us. Life is zero; life is worthless,” she tells her questioner.
Is her attitude one of selfless devotion or total nihilism? Tough question…