have not seen war on their home soil for 135 years, but the wounds
from the American Civil War still tend to reopen in this day and
time. A good example is in the recent South Carolina protests over
the flying of the Confederate flag. However, America presents
itself as the great mediator of the world's conflicts, however
complex the history of those conflicts may be. Somehow it seems to
boil down to an American simplistic philosophy reflected in Rodney
King's question, "can't we all just get along?"
If we could
all get along, there wouldn't be any wars or threats of wars. If
we could all get along, there would be no riots, no divorces, no
street violence, no corruption and no evil in the world. We'd just
all get along.
dismissed the simplistic approach, let me say I recently reviewed
the history of the Middle East from the time of Sumerian
domination of the fertile crescent to the present day. Forty-five
years after my last history course at UCLA, I found that there was
much I had forgotten as well as much that was never covered in the
courses I took.
of the Middle East, and particularly what we know today as the
Arab countries, has been one of turbulence since the days of the
Sumerians, or c. 4000 B.C. The Christian, the Jew and the Muslim
can relate much of the conflict as beginning in the days of
Abraham (Ibrahim). The Jew and the Christian see Abraham, the
father of the faithful, through the narrative of the Bible. (For
those who aren't aware of this, the first 39 books of the Bible
actually constitute the Jewish Tanach or Holy Scriptures, the
first five books of the 39 being the Jewish Torah or Law.)
Mohammed saw Ibrahim as a prophet, along with his son Ishmael.
Thus all three of these major religions relate back to the time of
Abraham, but through different sons.
of property rights begins with Abraham. Christians and Jews reckon
the line of descent through Abraham's son Isaac, to Jacob, to the
Twelve Tribes, to Moses, to King David and down to the time of
Jesus of Nazareth. The Arabic Muslim peoples reckon the line of
descent through Ibrahim's son Ishmael, the progenitor of the
Arabic tribes mentioned in Genesis. So two peoples who trace their
lineage back to Abraham (who lived c. 1900 B.C.) are in conflict
over ancient property rights as well as religious
"rights" to the land. The Christian and the Jew see the
land known as the "promised land" of Israel as the
ancient land God gave to Abraham's offspring through Isaac. The
present-day Muslim Palestinian Arabs see the land as theirs both
by descent from Ibrahim and by their occupation of the land for
centuries. This brief and oversimplified description of the
ownership dispute has religious and ethnic roots. Any issue
involving the underlying religious beliefs of a people is not
going to be simple.
Palestine was still governed by the British under the 1922 Mandate
of Palestine. The area had been continually engaged in conflicts
between Jews and Arab Palestinians, the land was anything but
peaceful. In November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly
passed Resolution No 181 calling for the end of British government
and the creation of two states, one Palestinian and one Jewish.
Israel as a state was created in May of 1948. Jerusalem, the
ancient capital of Israel, is still a holy city to the Jewish and
Islamic people, as well as a city with great religious
significance to the Christians. The Muslims built the present-day
Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosques on the site of the ancient
Jewish Temples built by Solomon and Herod. Christians are not
involved in the property rights disputes because their religion
does not involve the bloodlines, clans and residency on the land.
Christians have certain "holy" sites on the land and
wish to retain access to those sites.
we're divided over the religious beliefs of the "Christian
right" and the resulting political divisions that have been
caused by pro-choice vs. pro-life, and we are basically still
"one culture" although that is rapidly changing. This
issue dates back to 1973 A.D. (approximately 27 years), hardly a
speck of dust on the clock of civilization.
It is the
religious issue that unites the Muslim Middle East into a bloc
even though, as with most religions, there are fundamentalist
groups and more liberal groups. Such is true with Christians, Jews
and Muslims. The ancient land of Israel was occupied by the
Israeli people under the leadership of Joshua, who succeeded Moses
as leader of the new nation that emerged from Egypt in the Exodus.
That was approximately 3,400 years ago. Today there are all manner
of ethnic Jews in Israel, ranging from the most Orthodox keepers
of the Law to the rather agnostic ethnic Jews who see their right
to the land devolving from a historical claim. Nevertheless,
Israel became a state carved out of Palestine and given to the
Jews in 1948 on this ancient land because of their historical
presence there. Even greater conflict has been the result since
that year, and continues to this very day.
see the Jews as a dispossessed people who lost any right to the
land after their defeat by the Roman general Titus in 70 A.D. and
the final Jewish stronghold of Masada fell in 73 A.D. Thus the
Arab Palestinians see Jews as intruders whose claim to the land is
totally disputable, since nearly 2,000 years lapsed between any
ancient occupation of the land by Jews and their presence in
today's Israel. Further, when the Jewish state was created by the
United Nations, it dispossessed thousands of Arab Palestinians
whose Arab "brethren" did not necessarily welcome them
as refugees into the neighboring Arab states. Quite the contrary,
the neighboring nations supported the expulsion of Israel from
Palestine and the return of the Palestinian Arabs to their native
land. This situation continues to this date also.
the creation of the Jewish state was viewed by the Jews as
restoring to them their ancient Promised Land, it was viewed by
the Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab nations as foreign
powers carving out a territory to give to people who no longer had
any right or claim to that land. Thus the centuries old conflict
over who belongs where continues.
In a recent
conversation via internet with an Israeli he expressed to me the
fear that the entire situation would again break down and that the
result would be war. We also talked about the role of Americans in
the process, and he expressed his opinion that it is merely
America's known willingness to use military force that is supposed
to intimidate everyone into agreement. Have we forgotten so
quickly that this nation bombed Yugoslavia to pieces and yet the
ancient hatreds rage on? Serbian Slavics and Kosovar Muslims will
never love one another as long as this world system lasts. And
that bad blood has only existed for about 600 years.
also do not understand the clan structures that have dominated the
Middle East for centuries. A few families in the older rural
settlements of America may have some idea of what "clan
warfare" is, but to the urban American mind it is not only
misunderstood, it isn't understood at all. We hardly recognize the
traditional family structure now, much less the idea of bloodline
clans. A Scot would relate to that concept more quickly than an
concept that escapes Americans (and shouldn't) is the idea that
religious fervor will and does override the more pragmatic issues
of political structures. The past thirty or forty years of
American history have relegated religion to a personal matter
never to influence one's political expedience. That is not true of
Judaism, Islam, or the nationalism of these two states. Religion
is a major factor in the Middle East.
opinions is difficult when no other divisions exist. Americans are
finding this out as our own nation divides over moral, ethical and
religious issues. Toss in a few thousand years of history, various
cultural invasions and domination, clan warfare, internecine
hostilities dating back almost thirty centuries, and varying
degrees of religious fervor … the problems soon begin to appear
insurmountable. In fact, they just may be!
traditional way of settling such issues in the Middle East has
been by warfare, conqueror take all. Has the 21st century changed
anything? Yes, it's changed the weapons involved, and that
concerns us all.
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