Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Did Arabs Create the State of Israel?

For decades the Arab intellectuals and public viewed the establishment of the state of Israel as European compensation for centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. This view is strengthened by the avid support of Europe to the establishment of Israel, as a home of the Jewish people, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust. To many Arabs, the “Jewish question” was simply exported to the Arab world where it became the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Israeli-Arab one. This line of thinking, however, ignores the fact that almost half of Israel’s citizens in 1948 were Sephardic Jews from Arab countries. The large number of Jews who chose to leave other Arab countries and move to Israel raises an important question: Were Jews mistreated in Arab countries before the creation of Israel? Would Jews have moved, in such large numbers, to Israel if they were not ill treated? Would Jews have immigrated to Israel from Arab countries had Arab leaders made it clear that their fight was against Zionism and not Judaism? These questions are impossible to answer but they maybe helpful to explore. To be sure, no ill treatment of Jews in the Arab world resembled the German Holocaust, the pogroms of the Soviet Union, the Spanish Inquisition, or even the Dreyfus Affair in France. Nonetheless, minority rights in the Arab world were surely not protected adequately, especially because most Arab countries were colonized by the same anti-Semitic European powers. There are, surely, other factors, namely, that Zionism is a religious-nationalist movement and that most Jews would have moved out of conviction no matter where they lived. The large number of American Jews that moved to Israel weakens the argument that Jews moved to Israel as a result of ill-treatment. Another important factor is that countries like Morocco and Yemen could not compete with a Western funded and protected enterprise in Palestine.

The question, however, remains important because it sheds light on the state of the independent Arab countries today. Given the state of Copts in Egypt and Sudan, the Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Syria and Palestine, and the Chaldeans in Iraq, would anyone be surprised if they decided to establish their own Christian Arab state in the Middle East? The question sounds absurd but it raises more important questions about the rule of law and the state of minority rights in Arab countries. Arabs should not be surprised that the Iraqi Kurds are so noncommittal about a strong unified Iraq. The last time Iraq was unified and strong under a string of dictators, the Kurds were exterminated by chemical weapons. Where was the Arab outrage against such an abominable act? The very threat to Iraq’s unity, in fact, came from the silent Arab majority that chose not to see the onslaught. Who will it be tomorrow? Syria’s Kurds, many of whom are denied citizenship, have no basic rights such as naming their children with Kurdish names or teaching Kurdish in schools. Or will it be the Shiites of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who are treated as apostates by the Sunni establishment? Or maybe, the next state will be established by the non-Arabs of Sudan or the Western Saharans of Morocco? In order for the Arab world to prosper, it must provide for all its citizens, ensure legal protection and equal rights to all minorities. This is not just the case for Arab world, as we see today in the French riots. It is also a lesson for Israel itself, as it treats its Israeli Arab minority and occupied Palestinians with fear and contempt.


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