What a time to be in the Middle East! When I arrived in Israel, authorities were desperately searching for the three abducted teenagers. Two weeks later, when we arrived in Jordan, we found out they had been murdered. Now, upon leaving Egypt, Israel is striking back against Hamas for the murders and the hundreds of rockets that have fallen on Israel in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, ISIS ominously hovers in the background, arousing ominous nightmares among all. And I thought my trip to Israel last year, when Morsi was being overthrown by the Egyptian military, was eventful!
I have found beautiful, wonderful, educated and highly intelligent people here on all sides. I can no longer lump the whole Middle East, and certainly not all Muslims, into one nice box. Truth be told, in both Jordan and Egypt, I found that I was liked for simply being American, even when I wasn’t handing out money. I thought there would be some sort of smoldering dislike, but there was none. Quite the opposite in fact.
At the same time, I ran into some extremely disturbing things as well, some of which bear directly, and rather heavily, on the situation many of us are observing on our screens right now. Why is this happening? Why are Israel and the Palestinians still fighting? Is peace even possible anymore? The answers to these questions are both extremely complex but exceedingly simple at the same time. To answer them in an admittedly incomplete but truthful way in one short column is a daunting task, but here goes nothing.
Here is a preliminary fact that must be acknowledged: What we are seeing on our screens are not isolated events. A friend of mine recently observed that human nature prefers to think of history as beginning at our own births and contingent upon our own experiences. This is very true, particularly for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. History did NOT begin with a killed or wounded Palestinian. History did NOT begin with Israel retaliating for some rockets. History did NOT begin with the images we see in the media today. History did NOT begin with a sob story everyone is tweeting or sharing on Facebook, of which there are many on both sides (not meaning to diminish the pain, just a term everyone will understand).
So why is this happening? All things being equal, it boils down to the utter unwillingness of Arab leadership to accept a Jewish state in any territory ever under the sovereignty of the dar al-Islam (“House of Islam”). Decades before anything we are seeing on our screens happened, the leaders of the Arab Palestinians were instigating massacres of Jews regularly (1929 riots, 1937 massacres, etc.), before Israel even existed, and even worked with Hitler in implementing the Holocaust. The U.N. partitioned a truncated Palestine Mandate into an Arab and Jewish state (in contravention of the original League of Nations Mandate), and even though it included virtually none of the most holy sites of Judaism (including Jerusalem), the Jews accepted, and the Arabs did not.
The surrounding Arab nations then initiated a genocidal campaign to annihilate Israel upon its declaration of independence in 1948. Before Israel ever occupied the West Bank in 1967, terrorist attacks against it were relatively commonplace. The PLO was founded on the principle of destroying Israel. Fatah was founded on the same principle. Hamas also, and the leadership of the PA has pursued the same course. Don’t believe me? Read their words. Read their documents. It’s there for all to see. But of course, such archives are neither sexy nor bloody enough for the headlines. The Palestinians have been offered nearly all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and a limited repatriation of the so-called “refugees” of 1948 (“so-called” because they are largely the descendants of those refugees, not the refugees themselves). These offers came as recently as 2000 under Prime Minister Barak and 2008 under Prime Minister Olmert. Both were refused. Why? Because the leadership (contrary to the desires of many ordinary Palestinians) are not interested in a Palestinian state. They are far more interested in the destruction of the one Jewish state, whose right to exist they still refuse to acknowledge.
So why are they still fighting? Again, a long, complicated answer is really quite necessary, but here is what I experienced when visiting with Palestinian leaders a few weeks ago: They live in historical la-la land. They have made it up as they go, and they indoctrinate their people with fraudulent myths about utterly basic and incontrovertible facts of history.
I was told several absolutely outrageous things: The Arab nations did not invade Israel in 1948; the Jews made it up. The PA is the only true democracy in the Middle East (a laugh to be sure). Muslims lived at complete peace with the Jews prior to 1948, and Jews were absolutely equal with Muslims in the Arab countries from which they fled to Israel in 1948 (equality can be quite nerve-wracking after all). The Palestinians have never made a mistake … ever. One was even trying to convince me of how peaceful his intentions were, but when I brought up suicide bombs against civilians, he literally said, “I don’t support suicide bombing, but I don’t condemn it either.” Oh, and Israel is in control of Europe and America – completely. They were positive. Can’t make this sort of stuff up. One of the men who told me these things was educated at a top American university and served as the mayor of a Palestinian town. Another was a very smart prominent businessman. Yet another was a longtime member of Fatah. They treated us very well, but to say they were brainwashed would be tame. These were not matters of deep discussion and debate – these were utterly basic facts they rejected in favor of myths. It was like being told that the pope was Muslim with a straight face.
Until the Palestinian leadership stops believing and perpetuating historical lies, there will be no peace.
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