Rediscovering Joan Peters in Israel
by Geoffrey Clarfield (May 2020)
I am in Israel. The country is managing the plague rather well. I am self isolating in a remote part of the Galilee and I have lots of time to read, especially as Passover is approaching, a time when the entire Jewish people celebrates the Exodus from Egypt into the Land of Israel and to celebrate my being here, I have just finished rereading Joan Peters’ book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a clearer understanding of the Israeli/Arab conflict and particularly, in answering the question of who are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel? This April 29, the day after Israel Independence Day, marks the anniversary of the birth of the late Joan Peters and so it is fitting to consider how her book has fared since it was first published in 1984, 36 years ago.
Consider these curious facts, the first two which were first made public in Peters’ book.
• In 1934 the governor of the Hauran, in what was then the French Mandate for Syria, Tewfik Bey el Haurani, gave an interview to the French language newspaper La Syrie, reporting that “during the last few months” 30-36,000 Arab peasants from the Hauran had illegally moved from Syria to the Palestine Mandate in the Land of Israel.
• Four years earlier, the British authorities noted in one of their reports that Palestinian Christians and Muslims spoke 51 different languages and that Arab occupants of Jerusalem when surveyed gave 20 different places of birth outside the city.
• In 1971, as a potential young socialist (it did not stick), I picked fruit and cleared fields of stones at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in the Jezreel Valley of Israel. I discovered that the grandfathers of the nearby neighbouring Arab village had left Egypt as a group to come to Palestine in the early 1920s, because they heard there was work to be had on the Jewish farms of the Jezreel valley and that life was better here.
• Then in 2012 there was this wonderfully strange declaration, which was made in Arabic by Fathi Hammad, the Hamas Minister of Security in Gaza. He announced:
We all have Arab roots, and every Palestinian, in Gaza and throughout Palestine, can prove his Arab roots—whether from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, or anywhere. We have blood ties. So where is your affection and mercy? . . . Personally, half my family is Egyptian. We are all like that. More than 30 families in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri [“Egyptian”]. Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis . . . Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian. Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians.
• In early March of 2020, I ate dinner at a restaurant in the Arabic-speaking, largely Muslim village of Abu Ghosh. The owner of the restaurant invited me to visit the newly-built mosque which celebrated the origins of the villagers; in the Caucasus.
If the ancestors of most of todays Arabs of Israel, Gaza, Judea and Samaria have been in the land of Israel “since time immemorial,” then what does one make of these interesting facts? The answer is simple. A significant number of the immediate ancestors of the Muslims of Israel, Gaza, Judea and Samaria came from abroad during the British Mandate for Palestine, from 1920 to 1948.
Yet the considered opinion of academics and journalists throughout the West and the Islamic world claims that the Arabs of Palestine have lived here in the land of Israel since time immemorial and therefore their national rights are equal to, or even exceed, that of the Jews who returned to their ancestral homeland to successfully recreate the State of Israel.
The first public intellectual who questioned this widely accepted paradigm, that the absolute majority of Muslim Arabs of the land of Israel have been here for over a thousand years and that Jewish Zionists were largely immigrants and settlers from Europe who have “occupied” Arab land, was an American liberal journalist named Joan Peters. This was not the only orthodox principle that Peters had imbibed from other journalists, academics and politicians at the time and which she began to question.
This included the assumption as fact that Jews and Arabs had got along famously in the lands of Islam and that it was only in the 20th century that the incoming Zionists spoiled everything with their Jewish nationalism and their newly created State of Israel. In the 70s and 80s when she was covering the middle east, Peters also imbibed the mantra that until “all Palestinian refugees” had the right to return to their homeland and that another Palestinian state (the first one is Jordan and the most recent the independent city state of Gaza) must be created for their exclusive use, otherwise there will be endless war in the region.
In 2020 this still seems to be the dominant paradigm of most Western and all Arab media. As a gestalt, it has taken over the Middle East studies department of most American academia and those of almost of all of Europe ( encouraged by hundreds of millions of dollars of generous funding from Arab League countries, particularly Qatar). It has also become mainstream in academic anthropology, sociology, women’s studies, gender studies, post colonial studies and all the other academic invasions of the cultural Marxist left of the last forty years.
When Peters was covering the Middle East, something changed. She began to question the paradigm. Her intellectual journey of discovery is well documented and clearly explained in her book. At the time, it became a “National Best Seller.” Clearly she had something new to say. Do not be surprised to discover that resentful academics panned her book.
Why is Peters not famous or at least, well known and celebrated? Few people today take her book seriously, largely because she claimed that there was consistent evidence that the British had covered up and encouraged significant migration of Muslim peoples from outside of the Palestine Mandate from its start in the early 1920s until their withdrawal in 1948. At the same time, they had consistently done everything possible to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, despite the fact that it was the mandate of the Mandate to facilitate Jewish emigration.
No less a self-appointed authority on the history of the middle east than Noam Chomsky (he neither speaks nor reads any other language than English), led the attack on Peters, supported by some left wing Israeli academics at that time. Chomsky’s attack was not well refuted nor was it terribly well done, although it was supported by Professor Jehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University.
No one in the then leftist dominated Israeli universities of the time took Peters’ initial and tentative qualitative and quantitative evidence seriously, suggesting that many Arabs were recent immigrants to Mandated Palestine. Nor, did the academic or media establishment at the time suggest that they should put together a multi disciplinary team to further flesh out Peters’ discoveries and iron out the details. Instead, her data and arguments were dismissed.
In other words, Peters was discredited, only because there was the possibility that her data and conclusions were not 100% correct. Her character was attacked and the old paradigm continues to spread, morphing into BDS, for if the paradigm is true, then Zionists and Israelis must be very, very, very bad people.
Only the outstanding American scholar of Islam, Dr. Daniel Pipes wrote the following review in 1986, two years after the publication of Peter’s book. Despite his somewhat arrogant and ungenerous put down of the writing style of her book, in the end he agreed with the contents. He wrote:
I would not dispute the existence of . . . faults. From Time Immemorial quotes carelessly, uses statistics sloppily, and ignores inconvenient facts. Much of the book is irrelevant to Miss Peters’s central thesis. The author’s linguistic and scholarly abilities are open to question. Excessive use of quotation marks, eccentric footnotes, and a polemical, somewhat hysterical undertone mar the book. In short, From Time Immemorial stands out as an appallingly crafted book.
Granting all this, the fact remains that the book presents a thesis that neither Professor Porath nor any other reviewer has so far succeeded in refuting. Miss Peters’s central thesis is that a substantial immigration of Arabs to Palestine took place during the first half of the twentieth century. She supports this argument with an array of demographic statistics and contemporary accounts, the bulk of which have not been questioned by any reviewer, including Professor Porath.
By the way, the book is well written and readable. Pipes misconstrues a tone of righteous indignation for “hysteria.” Pipes is famous for his independence of thought and research, not his writing style.
Since then other demographers have looked at Peters’ and others’ data supporting Peters’ claim that not all the Arabs of Palestine had not been there since the rise of Islam, 1300 years back. In the Smoking Gun; Arab Immigration into Palestine 1922-1931 in the Middle East Quarterly Winter 2003 professor of statistics, Dr. Fred M. Gottheil re-examined the data on the growth of the non Jewish population in Palestine during the Mandate. He largely confirmed Peters thesis. His is an article worth reading and it includes a fair amount of quantitative and comparative demographic analysis.
Gottheil did not dismiss the factor of natural growth among the Muslims during the Mandate but, he makes a strong quantitative argument that the economic prosperity created by the Mandate pax and correlated Jewish economic growth was responsible for the disproportionate and almost exponential growth of the Muslims of the Palestine Mandate, so many of whom came from beyond its borders, thus supporting the broad strokes of Joan Peters’ discovery.
As he pointed out in his article, “Real domestic product per capital soared, doubling during 1922-31.” And so, we should not be surprised that the Arab village near my kibbutz came from Egypt or that there were more than 51 languages spoken in Palestine in 1930 suggesting multiple, extraterritorial origins or, that it may have been likely that the kinds of unreported mass influx of Arab peasants from surrounding countries was not limited to the Hauran and, that it happened more than once.
Gottheil, like Peters, has his critics and so the demographic argument goes on. But one thing is certain—a lot of Arabs came from outside of the Mandate from 1920-1948. Why is this important? It is important because until quite recently the prejudice of our time is that whoever is a majority in a country and who was there longer is “indigenous,” and has greater national rights. The two principles are rarely separated.
Let us say that perhaps half the Arabs of Palestine came from abroad during the Mandate, or three quarters, or one third. This would still ignore the fact that Arabs and the Muslims of Palestine in their own words identified with ancestors either real or imagined, who invaded and conquered Palestine in the 7th century AD. That is to say, they came from outside of the land of Israel in the 7th century AD. During this 1300 year period in Palestine they persecuted the Jews of Palestine and treated them as second class citizens, according to Shariah law until close to the British conquest in 1917. Just go back and read the statement by Fathi Hammad quoted above. It is actually the rant of a settler colonialist!
Gideon Kressel is an Israeli anthropologist who has spent much of his professional life studying the Arabs of Israel, in their homes, in the Negev desert among the Bedouin and in the “refugee camps.” (I use quotes here because those camps in Judea and Samaria are often populated by Arabs who were resident in the Palestine Mandate before 1948 and therefore should not be seen as refugees, but as Jordanian citizens resident West of the river. Please go to the following link to better understand this paradox a little better.
During his early studies of marriage patterns among Israeli Arabs Kressel, like any good anthropologist, constructed lineages of descent and found that many of these families, lineages and clans had come to Palestine from Egypt during the 19th century when it was ruled by the Ottomans. Once again, he was more or less marginalized by the Israeli academic and media establishment for his discovery. Further research that he carried out indicated that many “Palestinians” had migrated from Egypt to the coast of Israel during the 19th century.
Many travel writers, including Mark Twain when visiting the Holy Land in the 19th century commented on how depopulated the place was. This often happens after a war. In the early 1800s Napoleon himself led an army from his conquered territory of Egypt into Palestine. The coming and going of the army caused chaos, disease, death and insecurity in what became 19th century Ottoman Palestine. When things settled down peasants from Egypt, often with the blessings of the authorities there, moved up into Palestine as there was land and opportunity there. These were the Arabs that the early Zionists met on the coast of Israel. And so, when Fathi Hammad of Hamas claims that a good portion of Israeli Arabs came from Egypt, he is not wrong. Kressel’s study has been largely ignored by the press. Here is a direct link to the full report.
Had Joan Peters been alive, one can be sure that she would have spread the news of Kressel’s results widely across print, radio, TV and the Internet as she would have felt vindicated by Kressel’s work. But she is no longer with us.
Despite the back and forth arguments about the historical demography of Palestine there is a growing consensus among fact and source based scholars that a significant number of Arabs in the Palestine Mandate did come from outside during 1920-1948. Was it 90%, 70% or even 50%? It is hard to know but, it would appear that hundreds of thousands of Muslims came to Mandated Palestine during a time when the Mandate Authority was supposed to encourage Jewish, not Muslim immigration, according to international law.
The flip side of this phenomena was that the Mandate authorities and the British government also did everything possible to limit Jewish immigration during this time. This has been well documented by Peters and others. Why this was the case will be dealt with at the end of this article.
Then there is a moral consideration to take into account that supports Peters’ thesis that the Mandate administrators and the British government did everything possible to hinder and reduce the Jewish immigration that it was the mandate of the Mandate to implement, and that was their toleration and facilitation of Haj Amin Al Husseni, The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the leader of the Palestine National Movement.
Husseini was behind various coordinated attacks and murder of Jews in Palestine from 1920 onwards. Early on, he began cozying up to Hitler and the Nazis, which eventually led him to move to Berlin, where he broadcast anti Semitic, anti Zionistic rants on German radio and raised Muslim troops to fight for Hitler in the Balkans. He may have been instrumental in planning the final solution and he did his best to prevent Jews from the Balkans escaping to Palestine. Oh yes, Husseini was considered the leader of the Arabs of Palestine not only by his followers, but by the British government and their Mandate authorities on the ground. Any Arab in the Mandate who opposed him was persecuted, marginalized and sometimes killed.
When we look back at the period of the mandate from 1920-48 we see three related things happening. The British administration in Palestine very soon after it was established, facilitated illegal Arab and Muslim migration into Palestine and at the same time created great barriers against Jewish migration. By appointing, encouraging and turning a blind eye to the anti Semitic incitement of Haj Amin and his “Palestine National Movement,” they clearly demonstrated whose side they were on. As Amin eventually ended up in Berlin supported by the Nazis, the British had clearly bet on the wrong man and the wrong side.
The presence of extraterritorial Muslims in Palestine during the Mandate was only one part of a larger story which Peters was telling. The other is that Jews and Muslims did not get along splendidly since the rise of Islam. So much for Pipes unfair dismissal of so much of the rest of Peters’ book being irrelevant to her argument. Not at all.
During her career, Peters had the privileged access of a non Jewish American journalist and could visit Israel and the surrounding Arab countries at will, most which were still at war with Israel. She could also interview Israeli citizens who had grown up in Arab countries, before the establishment of the State of Israel.
In her scores of interviews with what used to be called Arab Jews, but are now more respectfully described as Jews from Arab lands, she described a history of religiously inspired persecution, communal pogroms, rape, beatings, imprisonment, hangings and murder, confiscation of property and expulsions that ebbed and flowed for 1300 years since the rise of Islam among the Arabs. The pattern was the same whether we are talking about Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Aden, Yemen or 19th century Palestine under the Ottomans.
Let us consider the Jews of Iraq as an example.
Jews came to Iraq during the Babylonian captivity of the fifth century BC. There they flourished and although the Persians later invited them back to Israel and gave them autonomy in the land, since then Jews had lived in Iraq. They flourished during Hellenist times and even when Iraq was one of the world centres of Christianity, in the first six centuries AD before the rise of Islam. During the rise of Christianity there the Jews of Iraq created the Babylonian Talmud.
With the rise of Islam and the treatment of Jews and Christians as a second class citizens, as “dhimmi” as it is said in Arabic, who had to pay a religious poll tax called jizya, we have records and memories of periodic persecution such as in 1333 AD, when five hundred years before Theodore Herzl invented secular, political Zionism, the Arabs of Baghdad pillaged and destroyed numerous synagogues. In 1776, the Jews of Basra were massacred and the imposition of Ottoman rule in Iraq made life very hard for the Jews there.
During WWI the Jewish community was forced to finance the Ottoman forces in Iraq. If they refused, or escaped, they were rounded up, tortured and hung. In 1933 in the interwar period as Iraq moved towards independence under the British imported Hashemite king, synagogues were bombed, Jews were attacked with nitric acid and many Jews were murdered by the mob.
Haj Amin all Husseini also played a part in the Farhud. It was a major pogrom that took place in Baghdad in 1941 in Baghdad, under the now almost independent Iraqi regime that was sympathetic to the Nazis and their anti Jewish propaganda. The authorities allowed rampaging Muslim mobs to destroy a thousand Jewish homes killing hundreds of Jews, while allied British forces in the area stood by and did nothing.
Before and during the rise of Israel, Jews in Iraq were periodically attacked, their money and properties were confiscated and as late as between 1969-1973, 17 Jews were hanged after kangaroo courts declared them Zionist agents or enemies of the state. I remember reading about it as a high school student and going to public protests while Western democratic governments were silent.
In 1951 the Jews of Kurdistan migrated en masse to Israel leaving behind their Christian and Yazidi neighbours who had also suffered from Muslim persecution. When ISIS took over Iraq and Syria a few short years ago, they treated the Christians and Yazidi as they had the Jews before 1948. In the Yazidi case, they massacred thousands of elderly men, kidnapped children and sent them to Jihadi training camps. They raped and enslaved more than seven thousand Yazidi girls. All of this activity was supported by their religious scholars who wrote Fatwas justifying their behaviour.
My Yazidi friends and colleagues have told me that the Jews of Iraq were the “lucky Iraqis” They are now free citizens in the democratic state of Israel and are able to defend themselves from Jihadis of all types. Had they stayed in Iraq, they would have been treated just like, if not worse than, the Yazidi.
In Chapter Six of Peters book you can read first-hand narratives of Jews from Iraq and other Arab countries, describing the fear and persecution that was their normal lot as Jews growing up in Arab Muslim countries. None of them would return to live in the Arab world if given the choice. This is hardly irrelevant material.
One who still supports the conventional wisdom of the day can and will say, but the Arabs of Palestine did not treat the Jews there badly during the 19th century. They only started attacking Jews when they came from abroad with their Zionism and Jewish nationalism. Peters deals with this issue very well. It simply is not true.
Peters was one of the first journalists and historians to point out that the consular reports of Western nations show that the Jews of 19th century Palestine were second class citizens, had to pay the jizya tax and were periodically persecuted and killed. At the time of Peters’ writing, before the internet, these sources were hard to find but now, they are easily accessible.
Here is just one example written by the British traveller Alexander William Kinglake, who tells us how the Muslim Arab neighbours of the Jews of the town of Safad in the Galilee under the Ottomans treated their Jewish neighbours.
. . . the Jews of the place, who were exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably in their retirement until the insurrection which took place in 1834, but about the beginning of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mohammed Damoor went forth into the market-place, crying with a loud voice, and prophesying that on the fifteenth of the following June the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold and their silver and their jewels…When that day dawned the whole Mussulman population of the place assembled in the streets that they might see the result of the prophecy. Suddenly Mohammed Damoor rushed furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled and some remained, but they who fled and they who remained, alike, and unresistingly, left their property to the hands of the spoilers. The most odious of all outrages, that of searching the women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they submitted to their fate even where resistance would have been easy . . . When the insurrection was put down some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity) were punished, but the greater part of them escaped. None of the booty was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken to enforce for them had been hitherto so carefully delayed, that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint.
Styles change when it comes to politics and the legitimacy of nations. If in the sixties legitimacy belonged to those who were the most populous, regardless of how they got there, a few years back the UN decided to adopt anthropological criteria for indigeneity, with the assumption that if you were indigenous and then most likely a victim of some conquering colonial or imperial nation, then you were on the right side of history and deserved your national rights.
Today in Canada the concept of indigeneity is so widely spread that the demographic minorities of Canada’s First Nations have been able to bring the country to an economic standstill through protests, road closures, train track closures all with the support of the media elite who now consider themselves guilty colonial occupiers. When supported uncritically, indigeneity as a concept can be very powerful.
Here are some of the major themes developed by UN appointed anthropologist José Martínez Cobo, an “expert” in indigeneity,” as reasonably applied to the Jewish people. Surprisingly, the Jewish people do rather well within this new analytical framework, and thus the entire UN, Islamic block and the left should now be pro Jewish Zionists. Despite the Jews and Israel’s bona fide indigeneity, clearly this has not been the goal of the UN planners who came up with this latest ideological fad. Towards the end of the piece I will posit a reason why this is not yet so.
The first principle is the occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them. Until the recent Palestinian fabrication that they are descendants of the Canaanites, even modern Arab intellectuals like Lebanese historian Philip Hitti recognized that the Jewish nation was formed in the land of Israel, beginning around 1200 BC, that they were the demographic majority until after the Roman conquest in 70 AD and well into the Byzantine period of the 6th century AD and then, turned into second class citizens after the Muslim conquest of Palestine in the 7th century AD. There they maintained a presence, often as a demographic minority, but not always, something that Peters shows well in her book, until the return of both Oriental and European Jews during the 19th century.
There, in the land of Israel the Jewish people developed its unique religion and language and political history. Afterwards, they became a conquered, colonized people as much by the Muslims as they were by Byzantines and Romans before them and for that matter, by the conquering British of the 20th century.
The second is common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands. The Jews of the diaspora remembered their origin in the land of Israel and kept on returning. This is well documented. Both Muslims and Christians knew very well that the Jewish nation had been there before them and that they had once been the majority, had been independent there and ruled themselves.
The third is culture in general-religion, tribal organization etc. Over time the twelve tribes of Israel simplified into Priests (Cohens) Levites (Levis) and the common people (Israel). The ritual cycle was taken from the agricultural cycle in Israel and the central desire of all Jews until the Europeans allowed Jews to leave the ghetto in the early 1800s, was the return to Zion. Before that, Jews had not only been ghettoized and considered foreign by their Christian and Muslim overlords, but they thought of themselves as “Israel in Exile” and, they were treated that way by their Christian and Muslim overlords.
The fourth is language. Both Muslims and Christians knew and know that the Jews developed Hebrew, as the distinctive language of the land. They knew the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. They knew that the children of Israel, “the Jews,” came from Israel. Consider this quote from the Islamic historian Al Tabari who in the 9th century AD wrote a history of the Israelites:
. . . he reminded them that God had saved them from the people of Pharaoh . . . how their enemy had perished and also how he had appointed the vicars of the land . . .
There were and have been many other Arab and Muslim historians who had a clear understanding that the Jews had been a nation in the land of Israel, long before the coming of Mohamed. At Tabari was not the exception.
Then there is residence, and as the Jews were the first self defined nation to live and reign in Israel and were perceived as coming from there by their later Christian and Muslim conquerors, including the “imperialist” colonial British, it would appear that their claim to indigeneity is much deeper than that of the self proclaimed Palestinians and according to the UN, the Jewish claim to Israel should not be based on demographic majorities alone, as they have been persecuted by Islamic and during the Mandate, British imperialists.
If one would take the UN seriously when it comes to indigenous rights, then similarly the territory where one million Armenians who were massacred a short one hundred years ago by the Turks should still be considered “Western Armenia.” This highland source of both the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in neighbouring Iraq and Syria should therefore rightly, be handed back to their surviving descendants over the border in the territorially and demographically reduced state of Armenia, a rump state by any means.
That would only be just if we were to truly apply the UN rules of indigeneity strictly, but the UN constitutes, through its daily behaviour, a series of living contradictions. Why do we now call that area of Western Armenia, Eastern Turkey? Likewise, should not the indigenous Christians and Yazidi of northern Iraq be given an independent state there? They and their cultures were there long before the Kurdish and Arab peoples around them adopted Islam.
Why is it the case then, that no matter what the Jews or Israelis, or their supporters, do or do not do or say, they are continuously accused of being an illegitimate national presence in the land of their birth?
The answer lies in the theology of Christianity and Islam. There are volumes written about this for those who are truly interested. It is often considered impolite in these days of attempted interfaith rapprochement to spell it out, but in the interest of truth I will do so here, simply.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are considered by scholars of comparative religions to be world religions. This is because they claim universality, their sacred documents are written, with abundant commentaries, their religions are promulgated by specialists and they claim that all other religions are false. But Christianity and Islam are different from Judaism. They both claim to emerge from and “supersede” the other. Christians believe their revelation supersedes that of Judaism and the Jewish people, whereas Muslims believe that theirs supersedes both Judaism and Christianity. Recently the Bahai faith preaches that it has superseded Islam!
In the countries where Islam became dominant through military conquest and occupation, supersessionism was enforced by the sword and through Islamic Sharia law, which resulted in the treatment of Jews and Christians as barely tolerated, non land owning, poll tax paying “dhimis” who were and are to be persecuted because they have rejected the message of the Prophet Mohammed, and must be made to suffer for this perfidy.
It is therefore theologically untenable for most orthodox Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni, to conceive of or to accept the moral equivalence of the Jewish religion, the Jewish people and an independent Jewish state in its indigenous homeland, that has the audacity to consider itself the national equal of all and any of the Islamic states. This goes against the Islamic theology that they are the true heirs of Abraham.
European Christians are not far behind the Muslim states, for although the nations of Europe are no longer religious, their similar prejudice that the value and worth of Christianity is only true when the Jews are not treated as an independent and equal people, seems still to be widespread and expressed in the contemporary demonization of Israel and the massive European funding of its political and military enemies.
A mere generation ago, this same attitude was implemented in the demonization and extermination of the Jews of Europe, that is to say the Holocaust. This explains the continuing double standard of the Christian West’s attitude to Israel and its constant reinvention of ideologies and arguments to delegitimize its existence. It is medieval supersessionist theology in disguise. Despite the fact that most Europeans are no longer devout or religious this age old prejudice has simply gone underground, displaced in the Freudian sense. One of the proofs of this is the remarkable toleration of European governments of violent anti-Semitic acts carried out by Muslim immigrants against European Jews. When these Jihadi terrorists are apprehended the press and judiciary almost regularly claim these anti-Semitic attacks were the result of “mental illness.”
If we conclude that there has been an illegitimate, immoral occupation of Palestine, it has not been of Jews over Muslims, but of Muslims over Jews. The most comprehensive and long lasting was the Arab and then Turkish Islamic colonial settler states that persecuted the indigenous inhabitants of the land, the Jews, until that time when their coreligionists (the Jews of the West and the Islamic countries) who were and had been recognized as the original and indigenous inhabitants of the land by their oppressors, returned to wrest it away from the occupiers and later from the British, who had no historical right to be there in the first place, other than by right of military conquest. This resulted in the creation of the State of Israel.
In the Islamic case, this long term oppression, punctuated by period massacre, despoliation and based on legal inequality was justified in the occupier’s eye by the pernicious theological concept of supersessionism, which tried to insure that Jews would never become the political equal of Christians and Muslims, as that would be a threat to their theology of history. That threat can no longer be maintained and Israel exists by right, not by might. However, if the majority of Islamic states could have their way they would destroy the state of Israel today. That is one of the main obsessions of the Mullahs of Iran and their terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.
Joan Peters was one of the first American liberal journalists to question the supersessionist assumptions that still inform the Western and Islamic critique of Jews, Judaism and their right of return to history as an independent state in Israel, their indigenous homeland.
Peters was born on April 29, 1935. On what would be her 85th birthday, we remember her with love and respect. On April 29, when I walk the empty trails of the Galilee I will be thinking of her. There are very few like her and we need so many more.
A chapter by chapter summary of Peters’ book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab Jewish Conflict Over Palestine can be found here (special thanks to Paulette Volgyesi and all the other volunteers who made that project happen).
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Geoffrey Clarfield is an anthropologist at large. For twenty years he lived in, worked among and explored the cultures and societies of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. As a development anthropologist he has worked for the following clients: the UN, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Norwegian, Canadian, Italian, Swiss and Kenyan governments as well international NGOs. His essays largely focus on the translation of cultures.
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