Bet You Cannot Guess Who Invented An Israeli Utopian Fantasy
Who wants us to believe that Jews and Arabs got along just hunky-dory before we uppity Jews decided to become Zionists? Professor Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University’s Department of Political Science does. Here! Let us start with his first sentence in a recently published article (title and abstract at the end of this post):
Historians debate when the Israeli/Zionist-Palestinian conflict started. [page 1]
Do you see what I see? He writes “Israeli/Zionist” and then, instead of the closest parallel to this, which would have been “Arab/Palestinian”, he merely writes “Palestinian”.
I am curious about what he means by the former — after all, there were no Israelis before 1948 and the conflict certainly began before that time. There were Zionists since the early 1900s, but, other than some Arab leaders during British Mandate times, nobody other than Jews called themselves Palestinians. Or is it some kind of put-down of Israelis in view of the fact that “Zionist” has become a 4-letter word?
Again, some Arab leaders, as long ago as British Mandate of Palestine times, referred to themselves as Palestinians for political purposes, it is hard to say whether or not the general Arab population under the British Mandate or those under later Jordanian and Egyptian occupation (1948 to 1967) regarded themselves as such. I think not, but I may be wrong. It is clear, however, that Arabs within Israel post-1948 did not call themselves Palestinians until well into the 1990s.
Reading on, we see that Klein questions whether the conflict began in 1920 (with the Nabi Musa riots) or in 1929 (with the pogrom in Jerusalem and Hebron). And at that period of time, both Jews and Arabs were referred to as Palestinians by the British: in other words, as Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs. So first off, we see that Professor Klein has a problem with terminology.
Okay. Moving along then.
This is what Klein seeks to accomplish in his paper (title and abstract below the text of this review):
Instead of studying the evolution of the Zionist/Israeli-Palestinian divide, this article asks if also a joint identity existed. It shows that in the first half of the 20th century Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem shared holy sites, religious beliefs and feasts. Jewish Muslim encounters of that period went much beyond pre-modern practices of cohabitation, to the extent of developing joint local patriotism. [page 1, emphasis added]
Christians were not part of this equation. And what does Klein bring as support for his surprising suggestion?
- At the end of the Ottoman Empire period, the quarters in Jerusalem were not homogeneous and Arabs and Jews lived among each other, speaking the same language (Arabic) and celebrating together each others’ religious holidays and life cycle events (weddings and funerals, for example).
- Jaffa was at that time a hub for the Palestinian intellectual elite and Jews and Arabs shared in the administrative and cultural activities. His example is that Shimon Moial translated into Arabic the classic Pirkei Avot.
- Outside of Jerusalem and Jaffa, the Jews and Moslems shared shrines — tombs of the prophets — and in times of drought, for example, prayed side by side.
- Jews participated in the festivities in Jerusalem and Hebron as the Moslems set out and returned from their annual Nebi Musa pilgrimage.
The author does not deny that Jews had dhimmi status even though he did not use that word. He mentioned the jizya tax Jews had to pay that Moslems did not, without discussing what that meant in terms of Jewish status under Muslim domination. Furthermore, he did not state how Jews were not allowed into the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, but could only go up to the seventh step. I wonder why he left that out.
His suggestion that translation of a major Jewish work into Arabic signaled some kind of wonderful relationship between Jews and Arabs ignores the fact that Jews in the Middle East spoke Arabic and perhaps the translation was for the purpose of making the work more easily available to less educated Jews than for any other reason. Were Arabs actually reading Pirkei Avot?
And finally, in many places around the world, we find that neighbours take part, to varying degrees, in each others’ religious or cultural festivals. This can be done with open hearts when times are good and with underlying tension when times are harder. In fact, the author notes that there was underlying tension in the Nebi Musa celebrations in 1920 due to the fact that the Muslims were upset when they finally were forced to face the fact that the British intended to keep their promise to the Jews and re-establish the Jewish homeland in our ancient indigenous lands. He blames the conflict, not on religion, but on nationalism.
The escalating Jewish–Arab conflict in Palestine changed the way holy places function from platforms for inclusive local identity to places of exclusion and conflict. Whereas in pre-modern times holy sites did not play a role in national imagination, in the late 19th–early 20th century they served Jews and Arabs in developing joint local patriotism (i.e., identity of belonging to the land and sharing it with compatriots). With the escalation of the conflict over Palestine, each of the two rivals, Zionism and the Palestinian national movement, used Jerusalem holy sites as symbolic profit to base on its exclusive claim of belonging. The conflict changed the function of those places from platforms of inclusiveness to sites of exclusion and domination. [page 7]
I believe that as long as Jews recognized their rightful place in society, as dhimmi, the Arabs were magnanimous — except in situations and at times in which they were not. But when the Jews dared to raise their heads and stand up straight, in other words, when the Jew became an overt Zionist, that was intolerable.
In other words, if Klein has nostalgia for an earlier time when Jews and Muslims apparently got along just fine, he has nostalgia for our dhimmi status.
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Abstract: Whereas the conflict over Palestine’s’ holy places and their role in forming Israeli or Palestinian national identity is well studied, this article brings to the fore an absent perspective. It shows that in the first half of the 20th century Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem shared holy sites, religious beliefs and feasts. Jewish–Muslim encounters of that period went much beyond pre-modern practices of cohabitation, to the extent of developing joint local patriotism. On the other hand, religious and other holy sites were instrumental in the Jewish and Palestinian exclusive nation building process rather than an inclusive one, thus contributing to escalate the national conflict.
Klein, M. Joint Jewish and Muslim Holy Places, Religious Beliefs and Festivals in Jerusalem between the Late 19th Century and 1948. Religions 2018, 9, 220.