Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Despair?
Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach
antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to
be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.
Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with
guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that
“terrorism” can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of
one group and justify that of another.
One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet,
I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers
blowing up Israeli citizens.
Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an
Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy
gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied
by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that
these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created
Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation
must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible
for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?
The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning
in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal
campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and
North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews
were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of
Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples
to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of
dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances,
Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal
restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from
entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically
or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.
When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to
participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would
flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the
response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews
instigated by the government or the masses.
This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of
subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could
enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab
Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.
The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in
the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for
1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world
in the 1930s and 1940s.
Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee
from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property
was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of
dollars at the time.
Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North
African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with
them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.
Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees
from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a
Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel
absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been
the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.
To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from
the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West
Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the
refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against
Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and
Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic
medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.
In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem
through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in
Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption
would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?
Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian
refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring
responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the
mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians
in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.
And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the
wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian
Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been
a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee
problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by
feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab
propaganda creating this phenomenon, the “progressive” movement continues to
feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East. Â
Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of
“The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle
Eastern Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You can find her on the web at