Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ten paradoxes of the Israeli - Palestinian Arab conflict


I have long been struck by the many paradoxes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I tried to make a list of them and have provided explanations below.  If you can suggest any others I would like to hear.

  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israelis until they stop trying.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are usually Arab imperialists.
  5. Palestinian cities are often built on the ruins of Jewish cities, while many Jewish cities are built on the ruins of Palestinian cities. 
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
  7. The conflict used to be between Socialist Jews and Social Arabs, now it's between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as Jews have migrated to the Middle East.
  10. European anti-racists are frequently both racist and anti-Semitic.


  1. The minority are a majority and the majority are a minority.
    In Israel Jews are a majority, but within the Middle East Jews are a small minority, perhaps 2% of the general population - the same as in the USA.  Arab complaints about Israel are often related to an unwillingness to accept minority status while Jewish fears reflect a sense of being a minority. 
  2. Israel is more Arab than some Arab states.
    About 40% of Israeli Jews were either born in Arab countries or have two parents who were born in Arab countries.  In either case, their ancestors have lived in the Arab world as long - or longer - than the Arab population. A further 20% of Israeli Jews have one parent who belongs in that category. In addition 20% of Israelis are "native" Arabs.  In other words 80% of Israelis are either fully or half-Arab.  In Iraq, at least 30% are Kurds and many other Iraqis may be considered non-Arab, so Iraq is less Arab than Israel.
  3. The Arabs will not be able to defeat the Israel until they stop trying.
    To defeat Israel the Arabs will need to develop societies that are open to Western Civilization and tolerant. Once they do that, they will have they strength to defeat Israel but may well lose the desire. Saladin was famously tolerant of other religions and the enemy of Moslem fundamentalists, he only fought the Crusaders after they attacked him.
  4. Anti-imperialist Arabs are often imperialists.
    Many Arab leaders who fought Colonialism and European imperialism strove to re-create an Arab Empire in the Middle East. It's still true. In contrast, the Jewish religion could be said to prohibit empire-building: Jews are allocated a specific territory and no more.
  5. Many Palestinian cities are built on the ruins of Jewish cities, including Bethlehem, Hebron, Arabeh, Jaffa and more. Many Israeli towns are built on the ruins of Palestinian towns or villages including Ashdod, Yehud and Be'er Sheva. In some cases there are multiple layers: Tiberias, Tzfat and Ramleh are predominantly Jewish cities that were built on Palestinian ruins which were built on Jewish ruins.
  6. The more Israelis and Palestinians won't compromise the more they will lose.
    The Palestinian refusal to compromise famously resulted in the Jews having a state while they had none. The Arab refusal to accept Israel led, in 1967, to Israel gaining possession of the entire land. Israeli lack of flexibility contributed to the 1973 war which was arguably very damaging to Israel. Today the settlers' unwillingness to compromise may be strengthening the Palestinian claim to the land internationally while making Israel weaker.
  7. The conflict which was once between Socialist Jews and Socialist Arabs is now between Religious Jews and Religious Arabs.
    Nasser described himself as an "Arab Socialist" and the Ba'ath parties that ruled Syria and Iraq defined themselves as Socialist, while the Labor Party which dominated Israeli politics until the mid-Seventies was Socialist and most senior Israeli officers were Kibbutzniks: Moshe Dayan was the second child to be born on a Kibbutz. (his mother was a former "Narodnik"). Now the conflict is led by Hamas, Hizbullah and Orthodox Jewish settlers.  Although Orthodox Jews don't yet dominate the upper echelons of the Army they are increasingly dominant in the officer corp and it may be just a question of time.
  8. The "City of Peace" is the greatest cause of conflict.
    Jerusalem's name in Hebrew is said to also mean the City of Peace, but it is anything but.  In the Middle-Ages it was the main focus of international conflict between Christians and Moslems  and today it arguably remains the most intractable part of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  9. As many Arabs have migrated to Europe as European Jews have migrated to the Arab world
    About 3 or 4 million Arabs have migrated to Europe in the last 100 years, This is roughly the same as the number of Europeans who have migrated to Israel.  See http://www.un.org/esa/population/migration/turin/Symposium_Turin_files/P11_Dumont%28OECD%29.pdf.
  10. European anti-racists are often both racist and anti-Semitic.
    Many Europeans who describe themselves as "anti-racist" believe that race theory is a valid way of seeing the world, that is that Jews and Arabs are separate "races". In fact, very few Jews or Arabs see themselves in terms of "Race", and most see themselves in terms of religion which is the principle method by which Middle-Easterners define themselves and practise discrimination.  This is as true of the Jews as it is among the Arabs. Because Europeans see the world in terms of race they tend to assume that others do so as well, and because they are prone to demonise Jews, they easily assume that Israel is racist. Having decided that Israel is racist, often for anti-Semitic reasons, they feel free to be anti-Semitic because they are "anti-racists" and because Israel (and with it most Jews) are racists.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Graven images of God and the prophets

After the initial outrage at the killing of the cartoonists in France, I started re-assessing my attitude to Charlie Hebdo and found myself thinking that it is a very offensive publication.  Obviously I don't condone the use of murder to silence the magazine, but it is true that here in Israel many of its cartoons would be deemed racist and banned from publication.

There are plenty of depictions of Mohammed around if you choose to actually look for them. Take this compilation of Renaissance depictions of Mohammed: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/euro_medi_ren/.  Apparently Moslems also depicted Mohammed: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full/.
The murder of the cartoonists raises another issue: the status of Mohammed in Islam. Basically, Christians think that Jesus is part God, while Moslems assign a semi-divine status to Mohammed in which he remains human but apparently is so sacred that we mustn't even imagine what he looked like. And Jews? We barely mention Moses. The Passover Haggadah, which is all about the Exodus completely ignores him.  You might say that we are quite happy to insult his memory.  On that grounds at least Jews must count as better monotheists then Moslems and Christians: No one over-shadows God. Though, of course, each religion has its own oddities.  Jews ascribe magical sacred status to a building (the Temple).

If you object to depictions of Mohammed, its a bit odd to ignore depictions of God.  Christians depict God all the time.  The attitude would seem to suggest that Mohammed was more important than God, though it may be related to different ideas of the nature of God - Moslems are less likely to "humanize" God.
As for creating images of Mohammed, both orthodox Jews and Moslems make a big fuss about having no images while printing plenty of images of rabbis and imams. It seems to me that there is an element of idolatry in hanging up giant pictures of Khomeini or Rabbi Ovadiah, though perhaps it's better that religious zealots allow pictures if the alternative is that they allow none.