The real Arab problem that’s ignored

by Yisrael Medad

Israeli historian Benny Morris put it well: “People always forgive the Palestinians, who don’t take responsibility. It’s accepted that they are the victim and therefore can do whatever they like.”

(JNS) Aaron Gell is a former Habonim camper and self-described “secular American Jew.” He decided to write “about the questionable legacy of Zionism,” and his essay appeared in The New Republic titled “Has Zionism Lost the Argument?” Thanks to my reading it, I was reminded of what he termed “the so-called Arab Question”—one, he asserted, that is “conspicuously unasked.”

That Zionists are accused of ignoring the “Arab Question”—and Gell notes the articles that Ahad Ha’Am published in 1891 (his source being Avi Shlaim) to highlight that this failing had been noted 130 years ago—is a staple of anti-Zionist propaganda. Of course, Ahad Ha’Am also wrote about a “Jewish problem,” but let’s leave that for another day.

Gell is not upset that that the 1891 article, “Truth from Eretz-Yisrael,” has Ahad Ha’Am terming the Arabs “lazy” or that “Arabs do not like to labor much so as to care for the future,” or that they are “cunning” and “exploit” the Jews regarding land purchases. That would be the type of language that would land Ahad Ha’Am in no small amount of trouble in today’s woke lexicon. It would also undercut his moral stature, even if that is what he saw just like other things he observed that put Jews in an unkind light.

Ahad Ha’Am, at that point in time, was not the Zionist as Gell perhaps wants him to be seen. He viewed the idea and practicality of the ingathering of Jews in Palestine with little enthusiasm, considering it a messianic ideal that was rather unfeasible. He actively sought out negativities on his trip. Nevertheless, Gell skirts and avoids any further discussion of the “Arab Problem,” and declines to confront what that problem is and what are the ramifications of it as do most other anti-Israel protestors and activists.

That “Arab Problem” has several components.

In the first instance, over a period of some five years during which the international political and diplomatic foundations for the establishment of the future Jewish state to be reconstituted, between 1917 and 1922, not one of more than 50 countries viewed the Arab residents of the area of historic Palestine as a people deserving a state in the area of the Jewish national homeland.

In fact, there is no mention of an Arab national entity in either the United Kingdom’s 1917 Balfour Declaration; the deliberations of the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference the decision of the 1920 San Remo Conference attended by the four Principal Allied Powers of World War I England, France, Italy and Japan, with the United States as observer; and the League of Nations Mandate decision of 1922, adopted by 50 countries. In Palestine, there were Jews and non-Jews.

It is one thing to claim that Jews persuaded this or that politician and even bribe them to favor the goals of Zionism. To insist that somehow several hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—Arabs, that is—were completely ignored by dozens of countries due to some Jewish magic is akin to a space-laser belief. In short, no one of any international importance acknowledged an Arab nation called “Palestinians.”

In the second instance, the Arab national movement that did develop during the British Mandate years and set the underlying character until the current slogan of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was non-compromising—rejectionist of any diplomatic resolution and violent to the extreme.

In his seminal 1923 two-part “Iron Wall” essays, Ze’ev Jabotinsky observed:

“It is quite another question whether it is always possible to realise a peaceful aim by peaceful means. For the answer to this question does not depend on our attitude to the Arabs, but entirely on the attitude of the Arabs to us and to Zionism.”

Jabotinsky insisted that the Arabs possessed agency and responsibility, elements removed from them in past years. That is a problem, as they can always insist on victimhood and escape any answerability for their own actions.

Arab violence was physical and verbal, as well as conceptual. The Arab assertion was that Jews had no rights whatsoever in any area of their national homeland, a region they originally demanded be reunited with Syria. Arabs promoted a policy of ethnic cleansing—first killing and expelling Jews from Tel Hai in March 1920, then attempting the same in Jerusalem’s Old City in April 1920; in Jaffa and Petach Tikvah in May 1921; in Hebron, Safed, Tiberias, Be’er Tuviah, Hulda and other locations in 1929, including Gaza; and on and on throughout the period of 1936 to 1939 with more than 525 Jews murdered and raped, and their property destroyed.

In 1948, they wiped out the Jewish communities of Kfar Etzion, Revadim, Masu’ot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim, Atarot, Beit Ha’arava, Neveh Ya’akov, Gaza’s Kfar Darom and others, including the entire Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. And the Hadassah Hospital medical convoy massacre. Mass murder and ethnic cleansing were the agenda. Yet soon enough, a change of costume into refugees and gone was the Arab problem.

But they returned to terror, and for some seven years, infiltrations for murder, rape and theft were the new problem. As soon as the 1956 Sinai Campaign was over, Arab fedayeen terror escaped being a problem, and Israel’s links with British and French imperialism were the problem for the anti- and non-Zionists. The same pattern was essentially repeated in 1967. Within weeks, the New Left tore into Israel, conveniently ignoring the Arab problem. A caricature that appeared in a 1967 SNCC pamphlet recently reappeared at Harvard University.

To sum up, the Arab problem also is the unwillingness of observers, like Gell and the Jewish groups he writes about, to accept the immoral and vicious conduct of the “national struggle” of the Arabs of Palestine while accepting claims of a parallel conducted Jewish struggle, as if equal in wrongdoings.

As even Anat Kamm commented in Haaretz—reflecting on radical-left infighting in Israel—that their goals for both Israel and the Arabs do not overlap, and worse, “the Palestinian nationalist aspiration, which was one of the motives for an incredibly cruel massacre, isn’t equated with “human rights” … anyone who considered themselves a leftist had to choose: either human rights or Palestinian nationalism.” They could not legitimize such evil behavior.

They needed, Kamm insisted, to make “a significant ideological choice of good over evil” for no “occupation” could justify the slaughter of infants in their beds. She even reminded them of the Kulan feminist movement that was popular among young Tel Aviv women. It turned out, Kamm wrote, “that it had whitewashed a case of sexual assault in a manner that would have caused the organization itself to take to the barricades had it happened somewhere else.”

Israeli historian Benny Morris put it quite well a few days ago: “People always forgive the Palestinians, who don’t take responsibility. It’s accepted that they are the victim and therefore can do whatever they like.”

Gell, IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace and others abroad still have not faced that dichotomy, and its moral and political ramifications. They knowingly avoid the “Arab Problem,” preferring to besmirch Zionism by focusing on a so-called “Jewish Problem.”

For Peter Beinart, in his latest New York Times “conversation,” the problem is can liberalism and Zionism “continue to coexist for American Jews.” Once again, he prefers misrepresentation. The real problem is Beinart and others leading American Jews to justify the rampant antisemitism terrorizing Jews while ignoring the very illiberal and bloody pro-Palestine struggle.

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