Archive for the ‘3. Palestinian Arab Culture and Identity’ Category

1. Arab Culture and the Influence of Islam

Monday, September 15th, 2008

It is necessary at this juncture to preface the historical-political dissertation by explaining the nature of Arab culture and the influence of Islam on the international scene since, inevitably, diverse cultural perspectives have a bearing on the manner in which the Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine/Israel view and deal with each other. As events globally have demonstrated, the Israel-Arab conflict encompasses wider issues. The West in general and Europe in particular, is now experiencing a potential threat to its democratic values evidenced by an increasing penetration into its culture of Islamic fundamentalism whose ideology rejects the validity of and equality among differing belief systems.


Islamic theology as expressed in the Qu’ran ignites and fuels the divergence between cultures. It declares that Islam is supreme and denigrates those who are non-Muslims. Such an ideology is in conflict with western values and with those espoused particularly in Israel.  Israel is viewed by the West and considered by herself as a politically western oriented state governed by a Jewish cultural majority with significant religious minorities, organised and functioning under a democratically elected political regime which is more or less accountable to its constituents. In this respect she differs markedly from the culture prevailing among her Arab-Islamic neighbours.

Although Western readers may not recognise a number of social and political factors inherent in Israeli and Arab society as differing from their own, the Palestinian conflict with the Jewish State of Israel must be viewed against a background of Arab tradition rooted in tribal culture, upon which Qur’anic doctrines have been superimposed. While these may change over time, there are certain national characteristics of a people which are generally accepted and globally recognised. For example, one acknowledges as being valid:  the English “stiff upper lip”, the German obsession with thoroughness, the Japanese preoccupation with courtesy and honour, and Italian volatility.  Psychologists have asserted that personality is predetermined by the genetic blueprint which can produce important societal outcomes mediated through outlook and behaviour.

Sania Hamady, in her ‘Temperament and Character of the Arabs’, makes the point that while one cannot categorise all Arabs as having the same characteristics, beliefs and value systems,  it is nevertheless possible to determine through statistical analysis some basic core characteristics which may be found in the majority of a population. Where the characteristics of a particular population are examined, the frequency of specific character identifiers can be represented on a graph expressed as a symmetrical bell-shaped frequency-distribution curve with the mouth of the bell facing downwards. In a commonly seen distribution-curve, the most frequently expressed characteristics are located at the peak of the curve – which generally appears in the middle as ‘normal’ curve, with individual exceptions and deviations from the majority being represented in the tail extremities of the curve near and its base-line.

    “[I]n getting socialized, the individual embodies his culture and becomes a representative of its patterns of behaviour and its values. Those reared in the same social institutions tend to show certain regularities that are common and salient in their behaviour. Characteristic of them are central tendencies towards common ways of thinking, acting and feeling. On these cultural regularities and central tendencies in behaviour the concept of national character is built. It stands for the common denominator of characteristics, with individuals varying from it in different directions and degrees. This concept does not correspond to the total personality of an individual, but describes the pattern of the culturally regular character. In studying the character of a cultural group one starts with certain assumptions…[I]t is recognised that cultural character is subject to change and that as such, no statement about it can be absolute.” (p.12)

Two premises underlie Hamady’s description:

  1. In statistical analysis although individual personalities may vary, the peak shows the generally exhibited characteristics of a population.
  2. Different Arab populations – such as Egyptians contrasted with Libyans; Iraqis with Moroccans or Bedouin in contrast with fellahin peasants – may show different centralising tendencies such that the peak of bell curve is skewed in favour of certain characteristics while the tails still account for individual deviations from the norm. The same may be said in analysing the differences between Jewish and Palestinian-Arab populations.

For sake of convenience and brevity some of these differences are summarised below in point form. They have been derived from the seminal works of Islamist authority, Professor Bernard Lewis, (‘The Multiple Identities of the Middle East’, ‘Cultures in Conflict’ and The Political Language of Islam) and other psychological and anthropological research studies into the characteristics of Arab society. In addition to that of Hamaday, four additional works among the many others may assist readers in gaining an understanding of some of the Arab cultural characteristics which have had an impact on Jewish-Islamic relations generally and continue to have on the current Israel-Palestine ideological political conflict in particular: David Pryce-Jones, ‘The Closed Circle’; Raphael Patai, ‘The Arab Mind’; Philip C. Salzman, ‘Culture and Conflict in the Middle East’ and M. Kedar, Asad In Search for Legitimacy. Salzman and Kedar in particular show how the Arab tribal culture has a direct impact on the Middle East conflict generally and on Israeli-Palestinian relations in particular.

(Philip Carl Salzman, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East (Prometheus Books, Amhurst, NY, 2008;  M. Kedar, Asad In Search for Legitimacy, Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2005, especially Chapter 6, “Psychological Elements” (hereinafter “Kedar” )

See also Salzman, The Middle East’s Tribal DNA (“Tribal DNA”);  The Iron Law of Politics, Vol 23, No.2  Politics and Life Sciences, 20,  (“Iron Law of Politics”) where the author argues that only two out of “Equality”,” Personal Freedom” and “Peace” can be achieved at the same time. All three values cannot be attained simultaneously http://www.meforum.org/article/1813 ; Stanley Kurtz, I and My Brother Against My Cousin, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/947kigpp.asp;

Richard Landes, Salzman on Tribal Islam: Insights of an Anthropologist,  The Augean Stables, April 7, 2008, http://www.theaugeanstables.com/category/islam/ ; also  Edward Said and the Culture of Honour and Shame: Orientalism and Our Misperceptions of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 13 Israel Affairs, Issue 4 October 2007, pages 844 – 858 http://www.theaugeanstables.com/conspiracy-theory-article/ ;  J.G. Peristiany,  Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1966;

These references may provide the non-professional lay reader with some insight into Arab culture and the effect which some of its characteristics impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations in particular, and the increasing clash between Islamic fundamentalism and Western democratic values in general. The references may assist in identifying the assumptions underlying decision-making in the Arab world and the manner in which they differ from the process in the West. A failure by the early Israeli leadership and by the American, European and British politicians and diplomats – especially the British – to understand these differences and take them into account has contributed significantly to the continuation of the Arab-Jewish conflict:

  • Power within Arab society is structured upon tribal protocols and based upon family kinship by virtue of which members are to be protected against external attack and secured in their advancement beyond the family – (witness Saddam Hussein’s power in Iraq). Salzman expresses it thus:
    “Arab culture addresses security through “balanced opposition” in which everybody is a member of a nested set of kin groups, ranging from very small to very large. These groups are vested with responsibility for the defense of each member and responsible for harm any member does to outsiders. If there is a confrontation, families face families, lineage faces lineage, clan faces clan, tribe faces tribe, confederacy faces confederacy, sect faces sect, and the Islamic community faces the infidels. Deterrence lies in the balance between opponents. Any potential aggressor knows that his target is not solitary or meagre but rather, at least in principle, a formidable formation much the same size as his.”
    Balanced opposition is a “tribal” form of organization, a tribe being a regional organization of defense based on decentralization and self-help. Tribes operate differently from states, which are centralized, have political hierarchies, and have specialized institutionssuch as courts, police, tax collectors, and an army—to maintain social control and defense. (Tribal DNA) (gma emphasis)
  • In kinship or tribal group disputes with an outsider, success in attaining an objective or ambition by one family or group is viewed as a loss for or restriction upon the other. It is a zero-sum game because failure threatens tribal identity;
  • Low level violence is an important mechanism of social control. It is proof of serious intention and the will to proceed in the group interest no matter what the rights or wrongs. If employed in retaliation immediately after an alleged offence, it acts as a deterrent against future attack;
  • However, verbal threats of violence are used in Arab society to intimidate an adversary without necessarily ending in violence; there is a proclivity to substitute words for actions – a factor sometimes misunderstood in Western society;
  • Leadership is achieved not by election but by the male acquisition of power, respect and authority arising out of conflict with and competition among contemporaries. Leadership is therefore constantly challenged. The power holder will mount challenges against other power holders within his own group and his equals in the region;
  • Leaders maintain their positions by the creation of reciprocal relationships among their supporters. In return for financial largesse and the appointment of family, friends and close supporters to positions of power and wealth, the leader builds a network of personal obligations towards himself. It was in this manner that Yassir Arafat, supported by his Tunisian political dependants who accompanied him to Gaza in 1994, was able to control the political and commercial activities in the Palestinian populated territory.  In contrast to Western society, meritocracy is not the acknowledged criterion for advancement in the Arab world. In fact, it may be the reverse, if it presents a challenge to the leader’s authority;
  • In the Arab world, the acquisition of honour, pride, dignity and respect and the converse – avoidance of shame, disgrace and humiliation are major keys to Arab motivation and justification of conduct.
    First, fulfillment of obligations according to the dictates of lineage solidarity achieves honor. Second, neutral mediators who resolve conflicts and restore peace among tribesmen win honor. Third, victory in conflicts between lineages in opposition brings honor. Violence against outsiders is a well-worn path for those seeking honor. Success brings honor. Winners gain; losers lose. Trying, short of success, counts for nothing. In Middle Eastern tribal culture, victims are despised, not celebrated.”(Tribal DNA)
    The honour-shame axis is particularly important in Arab culture as is perceived arrogance on the part of an opponent who asserts a counter-claim or an unjustified claim to honour.

    These may have been crucial factors which constrained both President Asad of Syria and Yasir Arafat from moving forward in their respective peace negotiations with Israel. Asad demanded an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines despite UN Resolution 242 to the contrary; Arafat was unable to retreat from the political position regarding the ‘Right of Return’ into which he had committed himself to the Palestinian masses.

Interestingly, Kedar’s recent research into the emotive and psychological elements of the speeches of Asad and others as published in the Syrian press, shows a consistent reference to the following psychological spectra: (see Chapter 6 especially)

  • Honour versus Shame: manifested in expressions of interpersonal communication, greetings and in public behaviour such as hosting meetings, protocol positioning among leaders for photo shots at public gatherings and among their respective entourages. Shame on the other hand can only be expunged by revenge. Failure so to act results in the accrual of honour to the other side.
    “Honor for Arabs in the Middle East is a constant concern and worry, as it is easily challenged and lost. [I] can be increased by timely and effective action. …[The] quest for honor encourages or leads  to offensive action by individuals or groups against others  for [its] rewards … [R]elations…are shaped by the competition for honour”  (Salzman p.107)
  • Courage versus Fear:  acts of bravery bring honour while fear expresses cowardice especially in war and discourages those who seek to escape the risks, hardships and losses which invariably follow.
  • Tenacity versus Deference: tenacity in maintaining the legitimacy of Arab demands while its opponents – Israel -  in making concessions defers to Arab supremacy.
  • Loyalty versus Treachery: loyalty to the Arab nation and the need for its protection versus treachery for which the punishment is death.

They illustrate the remarkable difference in Arab cultural values and political postures from those expressed generally in the West and in Israel particularly.

In the resolution of a dispute, for example, the payment of compensation for injury caused by a victor and its acceptance by the victim brings honour to the victor and shame to the vanquished. Whereas in Western society, fair compensation for injury caused is accepted as being due on the merits of the case without the factor of shame entering the equation and having political consequences.  This may to some degree explain why the Palestinian refugees have continued to refuse compensation and rehabilitation in preference to their continued assertion of a right of return. This has been exacerbated by most of the countries in which they reside where they have not been given opportunities to become assimilated – employment, ownership of property and citizenship (Saltzman interview 24.07.08)

  • The Arab mind tends to give greater weight to wishes expressed in thought and speech than to what exists in reality; to what he wishes things to be, rather than to what they are objectively. (Patai, p.175)
    Kedar develops the last point – that what is wished in thought and speech becomes a major part of the reality in decision-making. He considers emotion, rather than logic, as playing a more important part in Arab society than in the West. Arab leaders choose their words not as a mere rhetorical device to win support, but as a bonding function between the ruler and the ruled. Leaders, such as Asad and Arafat, did not present themselves as the heads of government or revolutionary organisations.
    “Rather [they are] the object of an emotional relation, as an older brother, a kindly father are revered teacher, a distinguished leader a source of pride and a model to emulate; and from there it is only a small step to “the sun of the nations”, infallible (ma’sum) like Mohammad the Prophet, or the eternal ruler by the Grace of God” (Kedar p. 208)

It may be fair to conclude that Arab audiences identify with their leaders, and in being persuaded by rhetoric tend to be less analytical and critical than a western audience when listening to speeches, promises and aspirations of their respective leaderships. If this is so, it goes some way to explaining why Arab political decision making tends to be consensual rather than confrontational, thus hiding the real divisions in society. However, even the emergence and creation of a clear cut opposition with an agenda different from the then ruling elites would not necessarily bring about a peaceful assumption of power were it to win an election. Position and power in Arab society does not purport to be based on meritocracy (as the West believes its system to be so based) but on family and tribal connections.


In comparing segmentary societies, such as those of the traditional Arabs, in contrast to complex Western societies,

    “the [former] base order on a balance of coercive potential and effective force, each segment ready and able to mobilize and apply coercion in defense of its interests, and rely on the deterrent influence of a balance of force to maintain order. In these societies, [most] men are warriors, and all men must concern themselves with effectively applying coercion in defense of their interests. Facing a serious dispute or an injury, threatened or actual, the men of a segment mobilize to act militarily…”

    [On the other hand,] complex societies, based on divisions of labor among specialized occupations, can support a state apparatus that claims to monopolize legitimate coercive force. Only agents of the state, such as police and soldiers, are authorized to apply coercion on behalf of the society at large, and self-help is outlawed. Weapons and skills training for coercion are largely restricted to agents of the state. Formal procedures are instituted to draw upon established codes for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Individuals in a conflict commonly turn to lawsuits rather than taking direction action. Thus most men in a complex society are not directly involved in the maintenance of order. Physical coercion by agents of the state is ideally restricted to the ultimate recourse and rarely should be applied.”  (Salzman, Iron Law of Politics p.30)

This dichotomy is characteristic of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and raises the issue as to whether the two societies can ever peacefully coexist alongside each other without a considerable cultural shift in the traditional values of both.

For Arabs, power is decentralised and self-help provides the basis of security. The bearing of arms is an expression of masculine maturity and the right to resort to force is personal. The tribe helps provide for basic needs rather than the State, which is seen essentially as a herdsman who shears (taxes) rather than tends (provides services) his sheep (the civil population). The more remote state institutions are from him, the greater the Arab freedom to set his own priorities and needs – subject to those of his family, sect and tribe.  For Arabs personal honour, freedom and equality reside outside the Rule of Law, rather than subject to it, and appear to be more important than peace. Indeed it is sometimes said that the underlying norm of Arab society is that of war with intermediate periods of peace

In contrast, for Jews tribal group-identity and allegiances do not generally exist. Peace has a higher value for them; it is imprinted as an intrinsic and continuous theme in Jewish prayers and daily language and it is a constant, with war being intermittent and even then only when thrust upon them. Although equality tends to be traded off in favour of personal freedom, communal obligations imposed by the central power of the State try to redress the imbalance between individuals. Conflict between individuals or between the rights of the individual and those of the State are resolved by independent courts of justice.

Traditionally the carrying of books rather than arms was the Jewish norm. To the extent that military training and weapons have become necessary for security, their provision and legal use resides in the exclusive control and authority of the State and is subject to its direction. So does the maintenance of the public peace and good order.  For Israeli Jews, their political leadership is freely elected from among candidates who present themselves as being capable as well as being accountable to the electorate – at least in theory if not always in practice.  If they fail to gain re-election, power and authority is transferred without violence to those who succeed to office. While the avoidance of personal humiliation and loss of face is important, it does not reach the same level as that in Arab society

Matters become more problematic when one of the societies advances its values with a greater religious consciousness than the other. An even greater chasm is created where the religious dogma of one group embraces death and martyrdom in support of its cause while the other views the sanctity of life as one of its highest values.

2. Tribal Influence in Islam, Islamic Religious Dogma and its View of the Jews

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

It is in the context of early Arab tribalism that the power of Islam should be viewed. Prior to the rise of Islam, Northern Arabian tribes engaged in raiding, feuding and fighting among themselves for livestock, territory, and honour.

Building on the tribal system, Muhammad framed an inclusive structure within which the tribes had a common, God-given identity as Muslims. This imbued the tribes with a common interest and common project. But unification was only possible by extending the basic tribal principle of balanced opposition. This Muhammad did by opposing the Muslim to the infidel, and the dar al-Islam, the land of Islam and peace, to the dar al-harb, the land of the infidels and conflict. He raised balanced opposition to a higher structural level as the new Muslim tribes unified in the face of the infidel enemy. (Salzman , pp137-8) (emphasis added. gma)

The basic tribal framework of “us versus them” remains in Islam. Allegiance is to “my group” which is always defined against “the other.” Islam, according to Salzman is not a constant referent. It only becomes relevant politically when Muslims encounter infidels. Among Muslims, people will mobilise on a sectarian basis, such as Sunni versus Shi‘a. But it would be a mistake to assume that because Arab sectarianism is in conflict, Western European and Israeli interests will remain unaffected. Ultimately Arab segments will unite (even if only temporarily) and mobilise according to whom they find themselves in opposition.

Such opposition may be created in a conflict over material and natural resources (land and water) but fanned by Islamic religious dogma. From its inception, the faith played and still plays an important part in the Arab opposition to Jewish dominance of any sort in the Middle East.

Thus, it is against a background of an Arab tribal culture upon which Qur’anic doctrines have been superimposed that Palestinian conflict with the Jewish State of Israel must be viewed.

The Qur’an, as elaborated in Muslim exegetic literature, including the hadith and commentaries, extensively depicts Jews in extremely negative terms. In the Islamic world view, as the price for their obduracy in rejecting the message of Mohammed and committing other transgressions against Allah’s will, Jews are cursed and are to be subjected to every possible human indignity.

The Qur’anic curse on the Jews appears in Sura 2 verse 61. There it recounts the biblical episode given in Exodus concerning the Israelites’ complaints directed at Moses for the monotonous diet they received while in the desert instead of the fresh fruit and vegetables they enjoyed in Egypt before being liberated. Moses rebukes the Israelites and after asking them rhetorically, whether if by going back to Egypt where they could find all they had been asking for, they would prefer to exchange that which is good for that which is worse, the Qu’ran continues:

“Shame and misery were stamped upon them [the Israelites] and they incurred the wrath of Allah; because they disbelieved Allah’s signs and slew the Prophets unjustly; because they were rebels and transgressors”  (N.J. Dawood, Quoran, Penguin Books, 1998)

The Qu’ran goes further and directs that Jews are to be viewed as the devil’s minions and on the Day of Judgment are to burn in hellfire (Qur’an 4:55; 4:60)

The Unbelievers among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] and the Pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures (Qur’an 98:7)

Recent research by Andrew Bostom on the Qu’ran’s attitude towards Jews and its historical application discloses four central themes:

  • Jews are cursed by God,(Qu’ran 2.61) associated with Satan and consigned to Hell (Qur’an 4:60; 4:55;58:14-19;98:6);
  • Unless they converted to Islam, Christians and Jews especially, are subject to the compulsory payment of the Qur’anic poll tax (jizya) which had to be made “readily.” (Qur’an, 2:61, 3:112 and 9:29);
  • the Jews are cursed for killing the Prophets [Jesus and Mohammed] (Qu’ran 5:78) and being “laden with God’s anger” thus merit punishment at the hands of Islam by suffering permanent “abasement and humiliation”; (Qur’an 2:61; 3:112); and
  • transformation of  the Jews into apes and swine as part of that punishment.(Qu’ran 2:65;5:60;5:78;7:116)

(Andrew G. Bostom, Antisemitism in the Qur’an: Motifs and Historical Manifestations, http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/archives/020584.php ;Textbook Islamic Antisemitism http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/06/textbook_islamic_antisemitism.html -hereinafter “Bostom”)

Consistent with the Qu’ranic commandments to humiliate non-believers,
orthodox and fundamentalist Muslim clerics and their adherents categorise Jews and Christians as “dhimmi”s (“protected”). During the early period of Arab expansion, conquered infidel people were compelled either to convert to Islam or suffer death. Jews and Christians, however, being “People of The Book” were not viewed as infidels and were permitted to continue to practise Judaism or Christianity, provided that they paid the jizya poll tax and acknowledged the supremacy of Islam.

While both Jews and Christians are classed as dhimmis, whose social status far inferior to that of even the lowliest Muslim, the Qur’anic attitude towards Christians was more favourable that expressed of the Jew:

“Thou will surely find the most hostile of men to the believers [Muslims], are the Jews and the idolators; and thou will surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say ‘We are Christians’; that, because some of them are priests and monks and they wax not proud”  (Qur’an 5:82)

The more benevolent Muslim attitude towards Christians is rooted in two factors: (a) Jewish antipathy towards Moslems in the early stage of Islam’s development and (b) Jewish attitudes against miscegenation.

According to al Jahiz, a mid 19th century Islamic commentator:

The first Islamic emigrants exiled from Mecca resettled in Medina where they encountered the local Jewish tribes who, it is alleged, envied the Muslims and the blessings of their new faith. The Jews initially tried to lead them astray with misleading speech. When this failed they, the Jews plunged into an open declaration of enmity so that the Muslims mobilised their forces, exerting themselves morally and materially to banish the Jews and destroy them…The Christians, however, because of their remoteness from Mecca and Medina did not have to put up with religious controversies…and be involved in war. That was the first cause of our dislike of the Jews, and our partiality towards the Christians.” (cited in Bostom)

Muslim observations of the low status of Jewish occupations led them to conclude that the Jewish religion must therefore be similarly unfavourable. What is even more objectionable from al Jahi’z perspective, is the low incidence of Jewish intermarriage with other races which has resulted in lower intellectual and physical qualities amongst Jews than in other races.

[T]hat their unbelief must be the foulest of all, since they are the filthiest if nations. Why the Christians, ugly as they are, are physically less repulsive than the Jews, may be explained by the fact that the Jews, by not intermarrying, have intensified the offensiveness of their features. Exotic elements have not mingled with them; neither have males of alien races had intercourse with their women, nor have their men cohabitated with females of foreign stock. The Jewish race therefore has been denied high mental qualities sound physique and superior lactation. The same regulars obtain when horses, camels donkeys and pigeons are inbred mingled with them.” (cited in Bostom)

Dhimmititude brought with it many civil indignities disabilities in the Islamic world which was enforced with varying degrees of intensity over the centuries. In most Islamic Arab lands, Jews were ritually and systematically humiliated in fulfilling their obligation to pay the poll tax. After making the payment publicly in the town square to the tax collection authority in a subservient manner, the Jew was slapped in the face or beaten on the neck and pushed forward to demonstrate that he was being spared the sword. The public abasement was more important than the sum paid.

The need for Jewish services – especially financial – by local Arab dignitaries was reflected in the indignity which they inflicted on their Jewish inferiors. Although in a number of cases, Jews rose to positions of importance, such as vizier to the Mongol ruler in Badhdad during the 13th century and the Jewish vizier in Fez, Morocco in 1464, Jews often acted as imperial tax collectors and as such became a bulwark between the government on the one hand and the Arab masses on the other, from whom it distanced itself. When anti-government riots occurred, as they did in the streets of Fez in 1465, the mobs rage was directed not at the political leadership or Jewish intermediaries alone, but a pogrom was instigated against all the Jews in the city and its environs.

In addition to the special poll tax, dhimmis were required to wear distinctive clothing showing their lowered status; they were not permitted to hold any governmental office of honour; their religious buildings had to be lower than those of Islam and their religious devotions were not permitted to be heard in public. Muslims took precedence to Jews while walking in public streets. In riding, Jews were restricted to the use of donkeys rather than horses as a sign of their lowered status. Thus the possibility of Jewish dominance arising – in even a smallest part of Islamic territory “dar Islam” – was and still is anathema to a Muslim fundamentalist. (See: Bat Ye’or The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam, Associated University Press, Cranbury, NJ, 1985; Islam and Dhimmitude: Where civilisations Collide Associated University Press, Cranbury NJ, 2002 )

In Morocco for example, even in the second decade of the 20th century, Jews upon entering the palace at dar el Maghzen on business, whether on behalf of the Jewish community or otherwise privately, were compelled, upon entering, to remove their shoes and walk barefoot in the Palace and its courtyard until they exited. Only when Morocco became a French Protectorate in 1922 was this humiliation removed.

For all Muslims, not just the extremist fundamentalists, the Qu’ran remains the infallible word of God, valid for all time and all places. Its ideals are absolutely true and beyond criticism. Thus, contemporary Qu’ranic commentators, such as Mawdudi, assert that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their faith since they have distorted certain basic components of Islam.

The purpose for which Muslims are required to fight is not to compel unbelievers to embrace Islam, but to put an end to the sovereignty and supremacy of the unbelievers so that the latter are unable to rule over men. The authority to rule should only be vested in those who follow the true faith; unbelievers who do not follow this true faith should live in a state of subordination (cited in Bostom)

Were the above views to be considered those of a relatively few extremists, the Middle East conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours might be capable of resolution by mutual accommodation. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. In fact since the establishment of Israel, and particularly following the 1967 Six Day War, Arab anti-Jewish sentiments have become more vocally strident and vicious. The Friday morning sermons emanating from Saudi Arabian and Islamic centres indicate that the above motifs remain vibrant in popular Islamic religious teaching.

As will be demonstrated later, American and European political leadership assumes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved by Israel ceding to the Palestinians control of all the Palestinian land captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Days War and the removal of Israeli settlement from such territory – in exchange for peace. This assumption, judging by the political results of the 2006 Palestinian elections, is ill founded. The votes demonstrated a strong Palestinian commitment to and support for the fundamentalist and religiously motivated Hamas’ party, whose declared objective is the disestablishment of the Jewish state of Israel.

With this mindset there is little likelihood of any voluntary and peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict in the foreseeable future in the absence an Islamic reformation, or the occurrence of some other extremely improbable event having global ramifications. (Nassim Niccholas Taleb, The Black Swan, Penguin Books, London 2008). . “Conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution” must be the near and medium term goal in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation

This demands that Israeli and Western leaders recognise and take into account in their decision-making a number of social, political and cultural factors inherent in Arab society as differing significantly from their own. In those regional and global political arenas where there appears to be a religious and moral vacuum (and a continuing need for oil at almost any price), the expansion of Islamic values and ideology is already becoming increasingly prevalent. These may become dominant in the not too distant future such that Arab dreams, wishes, thoughts and speech will bear directly upon their political actions and become a major part of the reality in Arab decision-making. (Haviv Rettig, Report on Muslim anti-Semitism, Jerusalem Post, April 23, 2008; Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Penguin Books, London, 2007; Fouad Ajami, The Dream Palace of the Arabs, Vintage Books, New York, 1999; Andrew Hammond, Islamic Caliphate a Dream, Not Reality, Reuters, December 13, 2006 http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L04275477.htm)

3. Pre 1967 Palestinian-Arab Cultural and Political Identity

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Palestine has never been an exclusively Arab country. Although Arabic gradually became the language of most of the population after the Muslim invasions of the seventh century, no independent Arab or Palestinian state has ever existed in the territory called Palestine.

When the Jews began to immigrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there. “The great majority of the Arab population in recent decades were comparative newcomers – either late immigrants or descendants of persons who had immigrated into Palestine in the previous 70 years.” (Carl Voss,The Palestine Problem Today, Israel and its Neighbours” Beacon Press 1953 cited in Bard)

Prior to partition in 1948, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted:

    We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds (Yehoshua Porat, Palestinian Arab National Movement 1918-1929, London Frank Cass 1977 pp.81-82 cited in Bard)

This perception of Palestine persisted even after World War I, when in 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, stated in evidence before the Peel Commission, which ultimately suggested the partition of Palestine:

“There is no such country [as Palestine]! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries, part of Syria. (Jerusalem Post, November 2, 1991)

As late as 1947 the political perspective of the Arabs in Palestine had not changed. The representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations submitted a statement to the General Assembly in May 1947 stating: “Palestine was part of the Province of Syria” and that “politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity.” A few years later, Ahmed Shuqeiri, later the chairman of the PLO, told the Security Council: “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.”

Palestinian Arab nationalism is largely a post-World War I creation but it did not become as a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War when Palestinian-Arab terrorist organisations emerged as the embodiment of  their vision for self-determination to be realised by violent struggle. The adoption of a distinctive Palestinian identity was forged initially during the first Intifada, (1987–1993) while the resort to violence in the attainment of self determination still remains still remains a potent element as ever in Arab culture and Palestinian segmentary society.  This topic will be examined in depth in a later Chapter (see Tal Beker, Self-Determination in Perspective: Palestinian Claims to Statehood and the Relativity of the Right of Self-Determination, (1998) 32 Israel L. rev. 301)

4. Emerging Issues flowing from Arab Cultural Characteristics

Friday, September 12th, 2008

The above brief introductory discussion on Arab cultural characteristics, tribal spirit and loyalties, the unifying force of Islam and that of Palestinian identity raises a number of important issues which will emerge with greater prominence as the historical, political and legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict develop.

  • Palestinian Identity and Interest Differentiated from other Arabs
    Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, the Palestinians had not displayed any characteristics significantly different from those of the Arab population in Jordan and Syria. It was only after the Six Days War that a significant Arab population came under Jewish-Israeli control and Arabs living in Judea and Samaria directly confronted the “other”- the Jews. The issue is whether without destroying the territorial integrity of the State of Israel, the Palestinians are a sufficiently differentiated people not only from the Israelis but also from the populations of the other neighbouring Arab states to justify and sustain a claim in international law for self determination as an independent viable state politically and economically.
  • Concentration of Power
    As been shown above, in Arab society honour and power are intertwined and the exercise of power is decentralised. In the West, by way of contrast, the exercise of power is not only the exclusive preserve of state governments but in international conflicts, there are political moves towards extending the centralisation of the exercise of power in the hands of the United Nations or under the auspices. Such tendency appears to be at odds with Arab–Islamic values as seen recently in Afghanistan, Chechnia and Iraq.
  • Arab Customs in the Initiation and Conduct of War Diverge from those Pertaining in the West
    Even if the resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is unattainable by negotiation, and the parties continue to resort to violence, given their cultural and religious differences, it is necessary to review afresh whether contemporary rules and customs of international law in relation to war and the pacific settlement of international disputes can be truly applied to a clash between Islam and the West.
    As will be shown in Chapter VI and subsequent Chapters, the movement to establish the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, as new international institutions dedicated to pacific resolution of international disputes were led by Western statesmen. Although the customs and norms in relation to the initiation and conduct of war may now be seen as secular they nonetheless developed out of Christian western values, namely,
    • maintaining a distinction between combatants and non-involved ‘civilians’
    • military necessity, and
    • proportionality.

These values form the bedrock of western military culture but they have no express parallel in Arab tribal ‘military’ culture and tradition. There, the bearing of arms is considered a sign of masculinity in the protection of personal, family and tribal honour, as are their women and children.

However, in confronting a non-Muslim enemy, war -  Jihad – expresses a religious rather than a nationalist objective. Persons who do not submit to the dominance of Islam may become legitimate targets: combatants do not appear to be differentiated from non-combatants; males are slain while females are taken into captivity for purposes of reproduction to maintain the strength of the tribe or clan.

A recent Arab declaration on the subject of Jihad declares

“the sanctity of the blood of women, young children, and elderly infidels is not absolute. There are cases under which it is permitted to kill them, if they are part of a nation of war….[I]f only one of these circumstances holds true, then he must permit the operations because the circumstances are not conditional upon fulfilling all of them, but only one will suffice. …
Muslims are permitted to kill infidel innocents reciprocally; if the infidels are targeting the women, the young children and the elderly Muslims, then it is permissible for the Muslims to act reciprocally, and kill just as they were killed. in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, and other places”
(
Communique from Qu’idat al- Jihad Concerning the Testaments of the Heroes and the Legality of the Washington and New York Operations, April 24, 2002, in David Cook, Understanding Jihad, U of California Press, 2004, pp 175 et seq.)

  • The objectives of fundamentalist Islam are in conflict with the Western notion of the illegality of resorting to war except in self defence or in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. For Islam, a higher value is the submission of all peoples to the will of Allah which is to be achieved by jihad if necessary.
    (
    Muhammad And The Treaty Of Hudaybiyya, http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/hudaybiyya.htm; Holy Prophet’s Life, Joint Conspiracy of Qoraish and Jews and Ghazwah Ahzab http://www.anwary-islam.com/prophet-life/holly-p-13.htm ;see also http://www.historyofjihad.com/ )
    See particularly David Cook, Understanding Jihad, University of California Press, Berkley
  • Even the accepted Western principle that agreements and international pacts are to be observed by all parties is in conflict with Islamic tradition and values. Islamists who, for the time being, may be unable to overcome stronger infidel opponents and decide therefore, for strategic reasons, to enter into a truce or even a peace agreement with such opponents, are permitted by Arab cultural and religious tenets to breach that agreement if at some later date the earlier Islamists’ position of weakness is reversed to one of superiority. See Treaty of Hudabeya http://www.witnesspioneer.org/vil/Articles/companion/19_ali_bin_talib.htm;
    Denis MacEoin, Tatical Hudna and Islamic Intolerance, Middle East Quarterly, Summer pp.39-84 http://www.meforum.org/article/1925 )

Thus, to what extent should Israel rely on Arab promises and solemn undertakings?

Assuming that the European and Western powers see themselves as possessing a unified western-orientated cultural system and identity and wish to differentiate themselves from other peoples in the Middle and Far East – a questionable assumption today – they view Israel as a Western oriented nation and expect her act as such. In so doing she in direct confrontation with the cultural norms of the Arab peoples and is the European vanguard against Islamic expansion. In a regional and local military confrontation with Arab states and with the Palestinian population in the Territories, she is expected to abide by Western international customary and conventional laws of war even if her enemies do not.

Given the above factors it is difficult to fathom why Israel encounters so much opposition from a number of Western states. It may be due to an unfounded naïve belief and myth that all the conflict between the West and the Arabs is due Israel’s illegitimate birth and her continued existence. Perhaps most of the answer can be found in the West’s voracious need for Arab controlled oil the necessity for securing untrammelled access to its sources.

Israel, as a small and western-oriented Jewish state lying within dar Islam but dependant to a large extent for her continued security on the support of the United States, seems to constitute an impediment to the realisation of Western interests and can therefore be sacrificed in the arena of public opinion

In contrast to Arab society, public opinion in Western democratic societies exercises a powerful influence in governmental and non-government organisational decision-making. Public opinion is moulded by public relations, information and propaganda campaigns operating overtly and covertly in Western civil society. “Acting contrary to international law” has become a mantra in media communications employed by one antagonist to advance its political platform or objectives and to malign or destroy those of its opponents. Initially dominated by the ‘fourth estate’ comprising newspapers, radio and television, this arena is slowly being eclipsed by emergent interactive internet websites and linkages. They have the potential to exert a major influence on national decision-making not only in western democratic states but have even more potential in promoting the free flow of information in non-democratic states.  On the other hand both news media and cyberspace activists are not accountable to any institution or constituency for the veracity of their communications.

In evaluating an assertion that a State, such as Israel, is “acting contrary to international law,” the addressee must be in a position to know not only the factual background on which the accusations are based but also what provisions of international law are allegedly being violated. It is often the case that the specific international legal proposition in question is inapplicable in the territory where an apparent violation has occurred or that the State alleged to be in violation has not acceded to the treaty or Convention in which the norm or principle was formulated; thus opening the way for uninformed and unjustified condemnation.

With the foregoing considerations in mind, Chapter VI is designed to assist and hopefully enable the reader to assess the validity of what is alleged to be in accordance with or contrary to international law or, if this is impossible, it is hoped that the material presented may place the reader at least in a better position to question the assertion being advanced.

However in order to assess the legality of subsequent Israeli actions, it is still necessary to examine in a little more detail the political, demographic and economic conditions which prevailed in Palestine prior to the end World War I and to assess their effect upon Palestinian Arab claims of the being dispossessed of their land by early Jewish land acquisition and immigration. These claims are examined in the Chapter IV following next.