From Time Immemorial

The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine


Joan Peters


(From pages 72-73: From Time Immemorial)

The pages of history unfolded in the foregoing chapter, to which this chapter is in essence an epilogue, reveal the traditional treatment by the Arab world of "its Jews." By no means is it an exhaustive study; it is merely a drawing of characteristic features sufficiently detailed to preclude distortion or doubt. The causes for Jewish tribulation in Arab lands may be subject to interpretation or even in some minds to justification; the historical record itself, however, cannot be subject to opinion or obfuscation-that record exists.

Despite that record, modern Arab claims to the contrary have been allowed to supplant the facts. The Arabs currently have been painting a specious propaganda portrait of the "tranquility" and peace attained by "their Jews" before the independence of Israel. The late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia told Henry Kissinger that ". . . Before the Jewish state was established, there existed nothing to harm good relations between Arabs and Jews??[New York Times. March 6, 1976, report on conversation in November 1973,as quoted by Foreign Policy Magazine, Spring 1976.] Ironically, no Jews were allowed to enter or live in Saudi Arabia.

Jordan's King Hussein stated, "The relationship that enabled Arabs and Jews to live together for centuries as neighbors and friends has been destroyed by Zionist ideas and actions."[King Hussein of Jordan, Uneasy Lies the Head (New York: Bernard Geis, 1962), p. 91.] Yet the Jordanian Nationality Law states that "a Jew" cannot become a citizen of Jordan.[Article 3(3) of Law No. 6 of 1954, Jordanian Nationality Law, Official Gazette No. 1171 of February 16, 1954, p. 105.]

It was "Zionism"—Israel—that drove a wedge between Arabs and Jews, Arab ruers have insisted. Yet King Faisal subsequently distributed illuminated copies of one of the most infamous and durable of all anti-Jewish libels—the czarist forgery known as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"—along with an anthology of other anti-Jewish calumnies, to journalists who accompanied French Foreign Minister Jobert to Jedda in January 1974. Saudi officials were reported to have asserted that these defamatory books were the King's "favorites."[Ha-Aretz. Tel Aviv, January 29, 1974.]

Sheikh Goshah, Grand Cadi (Chief Judge) of Jordan, spoke of the happy past together shared by the Jews and Arab Muslims, "stressing the Mosaic roots of Islam.?[CBS Radio, May 28, 1972, cited by Gil Carl Alroy, Behind the Middle East Conflict (New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975), p. 178.] But when Goshah spoke at Al-Azhar University to Muslim theologians at the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research, he said, "Treachery was the business of Jews throughout their ages and times. . . . Allah backed Muslims until they gained victory throughout all incursions and battles against the treacherous hypocritic Jews."[?The Jihad is the Way to Gain Victory,? by Sheikh Abdallah Goshah, quoted in Arab Theologians on Jews and Israel, The Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research (Al Azhar), D.F. Green, ed. (Geneva, 1971), p. 61.]

Implicit within many such statements is the intention of enforcing the religious command that Jews shall be "returned" to their former status as humiliated infidels in the Arab lands, according to the will of the Koran. The message seems to be that "these Jews who have always been 'our Jews,' are insolent in daring to insist upon treatment as equals in the Arab world." Whoever heard of a Dhimni State?

Dhimmi (From page 34: From Time Immemorial)
Omar, the caliph who succeeded Muhammad, delineated in his Charter of Omar the twelve laws under which a dhimmi, or non-Muslim, was allowed to exist as a "nonbeliever" among "believers." The Charter codified the conditions of life for Jews under Islam—a life which was forfeited if the dhimmi broke this law. Among the restrictions of the Charter: Jews were forbidden to touch the Koran; forced to wear a distinctive (sometimes dark blue or black) habit with sash; compelled to wear a yellow piece of cloth as a badge (blue for Christians); not allowed to perform their religious practices in public; not allowed to own a horse, because horses were deemed noble; not permitted to drink wine in public; and required to bury their dead without letting their grief be heard by the Muslims.[Andre Chouraqui, Between East and West, A History of the Jews of North Africa, trans. from French by Michael M. Bernet (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968), pp. 45-46; D.G. Littman, Jews Under Muslim Rule in the Late Nineteenth Century, reprinted from the Weiner Library Bulletin, 1975, vol. XXVIII, New Series Nos. 35/36 (London, 1975), p. 65.]
As a grateful payment for being allowed so to live and be "protected," a dhimmi paid a special head tax and a special property tax, the edict for which came directly from the Koran: "Fight against those [Jews and Christians] who believe not in Allah . . . until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.""
In addition, Jews faced the danger of incurring the wrath of a Muslim, in which case the Muslim could charge, however falsely, that the Jew had cursed Islam, an accusation against which the Jew could not defend himself.

Determining to a great extent the Arab world's historical subjugation and mistreatment of Jews, the Koran, and to some extent the Hadith—statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammad—have been pivotal in creating the modern Jewish stereotype for Muslims.[Phillip K. Hitti, The Arabs, A Short History (Princeton, 1943), p. 126; also see Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, p. 36.] One Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad appeared in Egyptian publications in the 1930s and 1940s:

The resurrection of the dead will not come until the Muslims will war with the Jews and the Muslims will kill them;... the trees and rocks will say, "O Muslim, O Abdullah, here is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."9

(From page 79: From Time Immemorial)

Among the many examples, a Jordanian textbook for use in second-year high school asserts that the God of Judaism "is a God who ... is bloodthirsty, fickleminded, harsh and greedy . . . pleased with imposture and deceit."

The anti-Semitic literature published by the Arabs since World War II has been voluminous, and is continually increasing, despite the almost total evacuation of the Arab world's Jews.[Indictments Expressed in the Textbooks Used in the Educational System in Egypt and The Gaza Strip (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture, Department of Arab Education and Culture, 1967), p. 33; also see pp.37-38. Also see Alon, Arab Racialism; Ma’oz, Image of the Jew.]

The virulence of this literature is disturbing, but even more significant is the Official or governmental origin of the publications—not from an extremist fringe, Which might be lightly dismissed, but from Arab governments, including those called "moderate."

Arab propagandists and sympathizers have persisted in the charge that Israel is a foreign outpost of Western civilization, the intruding offspring of Europe inhabited by European survivors of Nazi brutality. In actuality, more than half of the people in Israel today are Jews or offspring of Jews who lived in Arab countries and have fled from Arab brutality; Israel's present population consists of mainly of refugees and their descendants from two oppressions, European-Nazi and Arab. As the Arab writer Sabri Jiryis has acknowledged, either by official edict or by the Arab's own harsh mistreatment of the Jews among them, the Arab world has expelled or has caused Jews to flee to Israel. Were the facts popularly rcognized, the Arab propaganda claim of a "European" Israel would long ago have been refuted. The Arabs have long helped to make the Jewish state predominantly an "Oriental" Israel of Jews from Arab lands.

(From page 80-81: From Time Immemorial)

Clearly the massive exodus of Jewish refugees from the Arab countries was triggered largely by the Arabs' own Nazi-like bursts of brutality, which had become the lot of the Jewish communities. Walter Laqueur writes: "History has always shown that... men and women have chosen to leave their native country only when facing intolerable pressure.?[Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), p. 592.] But the history is long of persecution against Jews by the Arabs, a chronicle of "intolerable pressure" that had its beginnings in and took its inspiration from the seventh-century book of the creator of Islam.

History has also illustrated that persecution and its pressures become "intolerable" only when an alternative other than death is provided. The Arab-born Jews suffered in silence until they learned that they could act out their hope of getting to a Jewish state.

They bore their burdens as did many peoples of the world before and until the United States became the universal haven of the oppressed. Yet the hapless black peoples who had been brought to America as slaves could not even begin to alleviate their oppression and exploitation here until they began to gain the freedoms and thus the strength to resist and insist upon their rights—-rights that are in some areas yet to be achieved.

There is no doubt that the long-sought Jewish national homeland was finally brought into being by a horrified, conscience-stricken international community, which viewed Israel as a necessary refuge for Jews throughout the world who had become victims of the Nazis or their followers. However, after World War I, in 1918, nearly half of the total Jewish population in Jerusalem consisted of "Sephardic? jews—that is, the Jews of the Middle East, non-European Jewry.[Of the diminished post-war Jewish population of 56,000 in Jerusalem, more than 22,000 were non-European "Palestinians." Statistical Abstract of Palestine, 1929, David Gurevich, ed. (Jerusalem, 1930).] And it cannot be denied that the overwhelming majority of hundreds of thousands ofJewish refugees fleeing from Arab persecution also poured directly into Israel—fulfillment of an unflagging, little-known "Zionism," a national liberation movement among Arab-born Jews whose gestation period had lasted roughly two thousand years.

From the Arab conquest, hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Arab world managed to survive between traditional ravages. Most had religious affiliations. The Arabs' general prohibition against political activities by their Jewish dhimmis might have been a factor that inhibited and submerged the growth of Zionism as a political phenomenon among the Sephardic Jews. But what may be called a "spiritual Zionism" took root in biblical times in the Sephardic Jewish community; those Jews, who are uniquely indigenous to the terrain that now is the Arab world, have retained in their liturgy the steady longing for "return" to the Land of Israel, a longing that has been mistakenly assumed to be exclusively "European."

Jews from Arab countries often become incensed when confronted with the argument that Zionism originated in Europe. Every Sephardic Jew interviewed had the same immediate reaction: the Sephardim are just as truly believers in Zion, and their ancient uninterrupted Jewish history led directly from the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.

They too were descendants of the original exiles, and, unlike their Western Jewish brothers, their empathy with the Bible was not dependent upon "unyielding interpretations," because Sephardic Jews lived in close proximity to the world of the Bible and could more easily relate to it. During an interview with an eminent Jewish scholar from Tunisia, I mistakenly likened the Sephardic Jewish communities, which have burgeoned in Israel and elsewhere since the Jews' exodus from Arab countries, to the European "shtetl." The scholar promptly corrected that assumption, somewhat bitterly and with alacrity. He explained that

They are more like our own "mellah" or "hara," which many people probably never heard of. Zionism was in the Arab countries with every prayer we uttered—for millennia before Herzl.

The Jewish presence in "the Holy Land"—at times tenuous—persisted throughout its bloody history. In fact, the Jewish claim—whether Arab-born or European-born Jew—to the land now called Palestine does not depend on a two-thousand-year-old promise. Buried beneath the propaganda—which has it that Jews "returned" to the Holy Land after two thousand years of separation, where they found crowds of "indigenous Palestinian Arabs"—is the bald fact that the Jews are indigenous people on that land who never left, but who have continutously stayed on their "Holy Land." Not only were there the little-known Oriental Jewish communities in adjacent Arab lands, but there had been an unceasing strain of "Oriental" or "Palestinian" Jews in "Palestine" for millennia.[See Palestine Royal Commission Report (London, 1937), pp. 2-5, 7, 9, particularly p. 11, para. 23.]

The Reverend James Parkes, an authority on Jewish/non-Jewish relations in the Middle East, assessed the Zionists' "real title deeds" in 1949.[James Parkes, Whose Land?, A History of the Peoples of Palestine (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 266.]

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Zionists should look back to the heroic period of the Maccabees and Bar-Cochba, but their real title deeds were written by the less dramatic but equally heroic endurance of those who had maintained the Jewish presence in The Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement. This page of Jewish history found no place in the constant flood of Zionist propaganda.... The omission allowed the anti-Zionists, whether Jewish, Arab, or European, to paint an entirely false picture of the wickedness of Jewry trying re-establish a two thousand-year-old claim to the country, indifferent to everything that had happened in the intervening period. It allowed a picture of The Land as a territory which had once been "Jewish," but which for many centuries had been "Arab." In point of fact any picture of a total change of population is false....

It was only "politically" that the Jews lost their land, as Parkes reminded us. They never abandoned it physically, nor did they renounce their claim to their nation—the only continuous claim that exists. The Jews never submitted to assimilation into the various victorious populations even after successive conquerors had devastated the Jewish organizational structure. But, more important despite becoming "much enfeebled in numbers and deprived both of political and social leaders and of skilled craftsmen,' [Ibid., pp. 31, 26.] the Jews, in addition to their spiritual roots, managed to remain in varying numbers physically at all times on the land.

Thus, despite "physical violence against Jews and pagans" by the post-Roman Christians, more than forty Jewish communities survived and could be traced in the sixth century—"twelve towns on the coast, in the Negev, and east of the Jordan—land that was part of the Palestine Mandate, called Transjordan in 1922 and declared the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" only thirty-odd years ago—and thirty-one villages in Galilee and in the Jordan Valley."[Samuel Kztz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine (New York, 1973), p. 88]

In A.D. 438 the Jews from Galilee optimistically declared, "the end of the exil" of our people" when the Empress Eudocia allowed the Jews to pray again at their holy temple site.[Avraham Yaari, Igrot Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1943), p. 46; see F. Nau, "Sur la synagogue de Rabbat Moab (422), et un mouvement sioniste favorise par 1'imperatrice Eudocie (438), d'apres la vie de Barsauma le Syrien," Journal Asiatique, LIX (1927), pp. 189-192.] Recent archaeological discoveries determine that in A.D. 614 the Jews fought along with the Persian invaders of Palestine, "overwhelmed the Byzantine garrison in Jerusalem," and controlled that city for five years.[A. Malamat, H. Tadmor, M. Stern, S. Safrai, Toledot Am Yisrael Bi'mei Kedem (Tel Aviv, 1969), p. 348, cited by Katz, Battleground, p. 88.] By the time the Arabs conquered the land two decades later, the Jews "had suffered three centuries of Christian intolerance, and monkish violence had been spasmodic during at least half of that period."[Parkes, Whose Land?, p. 72.] And the Jews hopefully welcomed the Arab conquerors.

The Muslim Arabs who entered seventh-century Jerusalem found a strong Jewish identity. At that time, ...we have evidence that Jews lived in all parts of the country and on both sides of the Jordan, and that they dwelt in both the towns and the villages, practicing both agriculture and various handicrafts."[emphasis authors] A number of jews lived in Lydda and Ramie—which have been identified by modern propaganda and even by more serious documents as historically "purely Arab" towns. "Large and important communities" of Jews lived "in such places as Ascalon, Caesarea and above all Gaza, which the Jews . . .had made a kind of capital [when] . . . they were excluded from Jerusalem."[Ibid.; also see S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 3 vols. (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1971), vol. 2, p. 6ff. ". . . the main synagogue [in Ramie] was the Palestinian."]

Jericho was home to many Jews[Al-Waqidy, ninth-century Arab historian, recorded a Jewish-settled area in Jericho in the seventh century and "there are other references to Jewish communal life in Jericho as late as the ninth century." Cited by Itzhak Ben-Zvi, The Exiled and the Redeemed (Philadelphia, 1961), p. 146]—the seventh-century Jewish refugees from Khaibar in Arabia among them. Khaibar had been a thriving Jewish community to the north of Mecca and Medina. After the Jews had "defended their forts and mansions with signal heroism," the Prophet Muhammad had "visited upon his beaten enemy inhuman atrocities," and "by the mass massacre of... men, women and children," the Prophet of Islam exterminated "completely" two Arabian Jewish tribes.[Ben-Zvi, The Exiled, pp. 144-145. The Nadhir and Kainuka Arabian-Jewish tribes' "battles for their survival ... is found in Dr. Israel Ben-Zeev's remarkable book, Jews in Arabia," Ben-Zvi states.]

The consequences of the war were catastrophic. For centuries the Jews of Khaibar had led a life of freedom, peace, labor and trade; now they had to bow under the yoke of slavery and degradation. They had prided themselves on the purity of their family life; now their women and daughters were distributed among and carried away by the conquerors.[Israel Ben Zeev, Jews in Arabia, cited by Ben-Zvi, The Exiled, p. 145.]

An Arab "notable" from Medina, who visited the site of hostilities afterward, was quoted by a ninth-century Arab historian:

Before the Moslem occupation, whenever there was a famine in the land, people would go to Khaibar. . . . The Jews always had fruit, and their springs yielded a plentiful supply of water. After the conquest of Khaibar, the Jews were said to design evil schemes against the Moslems. But hunger pressed us to go to their fields.... We found the landscape completely changed. We met none of the rich Khaibar landowners, but only destitute farmers everywhere .., When we moved on to Kuteiba we felt much relieved. . . .[Ben-Zvi, The Exiled, p. 145. Ben-Zvi cites Arabian historian Al-Waqidy, as reported in Ben-Zeev, Jews in Arabia.]

The Jewish survivors from the area surrounding Khaibar were expelled from "the Arabian Peninsula" when the extent of the Muslim conquest was sufficient to add enough Arab farmers and replace the detested Jews. Based on the Prophet Muhammad's theory, Caliph Omar implemented the decree "Let not two religions co-exist within the Arabian Peninsula."[Ibid., p. 146. Ben-Zvi states that some Jews who could "produce letters of protection and treaties signed by or on behalf of the Prophet" were permitted to remain. ". . . there is reason to believe that these surviving Jewish communities were maintained intact until the twelfth century."]

The Arab theologians’ 1968 conference, 1,300 years later, continued to justify the Khaibar extermination of its Jews.

From Time Immemorial. The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine. Joan Peters. Reprint of original edition published in 1984 by Harper & Roe. 1985 by Perennial Library, 1988 by Harper Torchbooks. 1993, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 by JKAP Publications.