Posts Tagged ‘Bedouin’

Introduction

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Behind the Arab-Israel conflict a yawning ideological dichotomy separates Zionists and Arab Palestinian nationalists, each adopting a divergent historical interpretation of the socio-political landscape in pre-1918 Palestine.

Zionists assert that prior to their immigration, Palestine was desolate and under-populated and that much of the arable land in the plains remained untilled while other areas were malarial swamp. With backbreaking labour and overcoming malarial disease they started to drain the swamps and convert abandoned land to being highly productive.

In contrast Arab Palestinian nationalists assert:

  • Palestine was not desolate and without population;
  • Indigenous Arabs occupied and worked the land from time immemorial;
  • Jewish immigration and land purchases pushed Arab fellahin off the land and forced them to move to the towns where they were compelled to change their lifestyles and find alternative employment if they were so able.

Neither scenario is devoid of some element of truth.

Geography, politics and demographics of the region all undoubtedly shaped the outcome of the struggle being played out between the opposing Jewish and Arab interests but other influences operating internationally influenced the local scene.

In addition, cultural differences between Jews and Arabs began to play a highly significant role in generating the animus and hostility which characterised the emerging political landscape.

To enable readers to weigh and evaluate the respective claims and counterclaims, a clearer understanding of the various factors which bear on their validity is an essential prerequisite, and they are here summarised:

Settled Population Affected by Topography and Marauders

The coastal plains being ipso facto vulnerable to marauding Bedouin tribes were more or less desolate and unproductive:

  • The Northern coastal plain  – was swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • The Southern coastal plains – were inundated with sand dunes
  • To the extent that such land was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in the area discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development.

As a consequence:

  • Arab urban and rural settlements were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee, avoiding the coastal plain.
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

This subject is examined in greater detail in Section 1 below

Aside from these conditions there were a number of other factors external to Palestine which also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

Egyptian Population Migrations into Palestine – increased the indigenous Arab population beyond its natural birth rate.

The migrants included:

  • those fleeing from compulsory military service 1839 – 1849 in the Egyptian army;
  • deserters from the Egyptian army following its the withdrawal from Palestine after a ten year military occupation; and
  • those seeking to avoid forced labour in the construction of the Suez Canal 1861-1871.

Section 2 below expands this point

Foreign Diplomatic Political and Economic Pressure on Ottoman Independence

The Ottoman government, (seated at the ‘Sublime Porte’ or entry to the Sultan’s Palace in Constantinople – now Istanbul) referred to by Europeans as the ‘Porte’, was subject to strong European pressure and influence. This was exerted through:

  • exploitation of the ‘Capitulations’ – provisions in international agreements between European states and the Ottoman government granting trade preferences and customs concessions – extended well beyond their originally intended scope. The term ‘Capitulations’ is derived from the Italian ‘capitula’ meaning a chapter or paragraph in the agreement

(see Section 3.a below); and

  • restructuring the financial loan arrangements for the repayment of the enormous Ottoman debts owed  to the Europeans incurred by the former in fighting the Crimean War and the suppressing of ethnic uprisings in the Empire. (Section 3.b)

European Political and Financial Pressure Induced Changes in Ottoman Internal Policy

These changes included

  • the opening of its domestic markets to foreign investment in general;
  • reform of its land ownership, registration and land taxation systems. (Section 3.c.ii); and
  • modernisation of its civilian administrative structure and military organisation (Section 3.d).

all of which caused changes in the loci centres of power of the Palestinian Arab elites’ and brought social and economic consequences in the welfare of the fellah (See Section 4. below)

Internal Changes within the Ottoman Empire  Created Further Opportunities for European Intrusion.

These changes resulted in Non-Ottoman citizens being permitted to acquire land freely without obtaining a special permit. This stimulated Christian religious institutions to acquire property in the Holy Land (see Section 5.a). Religious European and Yemenite Jews were also drawn to return to Eretz Yisrael by their ethnic, cultural and religious roots and their belief of an immanent messianic appearance (see Section 5.b).

However, the most powerful force leading to a Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael lay in European anti-Semitism. In Rumania and Russia, this was overtly violent (pogroms) and in Western Europe, notwithstanding the removal of legal obstacles to Jewish assimilation in France and Germany, was covert and discriminatory; in the Dreyfus affair there was even a conspiracy.

These latter events and Jewish attempts to convert them into a positive force supporting Jewish nationalism in the Zionist movement are examined in Chapter V.

1. General Topography and Population

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Several adverse characteristics prevailing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shaped the economic and social conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean region: under-population, marauding Bedouin clans, poverty, malarial sickness and lack of investment in efficient and scientific land utilisation.

The many descriptions of the region provided by travellers and foreign consuls at the time were generally not grounded on hard data or academic research. They failed to take into consideration that conditions which prevailed in some parts of Palestine did not pertain in others. In examining its economic and political development, Palestine must be divided into

  • four longitudinal regions paralleling the Mediterranean Sea: (i) the coastal plain, (ii) the hilly region (the Negev and the south) (iii) Judea and Samaria in the central region and (iv) the Galilee in the north;
  • the Jordan Valley which lies to the east of the Galilee and includes the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) which forms part of the Great Rift Valley;
  • the hills of Transjordan.

(see Y. Karmon, Israel: A Regional Geography, John Wiley & Sons London, 1981)

These regions differed from one another in respect of the ethnic origin, population growth and decline, agricultural development and economic vitality.

  • To the extent that land in the coastal and other plains was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in these areas discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development. Consequently the lower flat lying areas were more or less desolate and unproductive. In addition:
  • the Northern and central coastal plains were swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • the Southern coastal plains were inundated with sand dunes;
  • Consequently, Arab urban and rural settlements tended to avoid the coastal plains and were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee,
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

a.  The Land and Its Indigenous Rural Population

For many centuries, travellers to Palestine described it as sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely neglected – an expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes. European consuls located in Jerusalem and Cairo during the 18th and 19th centuries confirmed these opinions.

Mark Twain, who had visited the Holy land in 1867, described it as

“[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route…there was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country” (Twain “Innocents Abroad” cited in Bard Myths and Facts AICE 2001, p. 30)

The Report of the 1937 Palestine Royal Commission quotes what it believed to be a truthful and unbiased description of the Maritime Plain as it existed in 1913:

”The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts…no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne]….Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen….The ploughs used were of wood….The yields were very poor….The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist….The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert. . . . The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants”. (Cmd. 5479  p. 233)

The Report also drew on contemporary descriptions of the economic situation in Palestine, written in the 1830s and supplied to the Commission by Lewis French, the British Director of Development:

We found it inhabited by fellahin who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria…. Large areas…were uncultivated… The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbour these and other criminals. The individual plots…changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbours, the Bedouin”. (Cmd. 5479  pp. 259-260)

Meyer Levin, the American writer (1905 -1981) recounts in “My Search” that it was impossible to travel directly northwards from Tel Aviv to Netanya, some 25 km away without deviating a considerable distance inland because of the intervening marshland. The present-day route of the “old” Tel Aviv – Haifa road still reflects this.

Derived from the reports of foreign travellers and early settlers (Oliphant), cartographers (Van de Velde), and foreign exploratory expeditions (Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF)), Arie Avneri, in a detailed study provides a description of the topographical and demographic conditions prevailing in the various regions of Palestine immediately prior to Jewish settlement.

(Arie L. Avnieri, The Claim of Dispossession- Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948, Yad Tabenkin, Efal, Israel 1982 “Avnieri”)

For example, he notes the fertility of the soil but the sparseness of population and lack of agricultural development in the valleys of the Hula, Kinorot, and the Kishon, owing to their marshy and malarial conditions.

In the valleys of Beit-Shean, Jezreel, and Zevulun, located on the trade routes and where permanent human habitation was possible, Bedouin raids on the settlements – especially in drought years – discouraged any permanent Arab settlement.

Mount Carmel was also waste land. Development was ruined by foreign and local wars and its western slope was malaria ridden, all of which contributed to the abandonment of seventeen villages before Jewish settlers arrived in 1882
(Avnieri pp 49-50).

The coastal area of Samaria (Shomron) starting at the foot of Mount Carmel and stretching south to the Sharon Plain was in a state of desolation and completely ravaged after the military campaigns of Napoleon and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (see Section 2 below).

The coastal Sharon Plain was poorly cultivated owing to the sandy nature of the soil and marshlands created by the Alexandra River and further south by sand dunes. Those villages which did exist, described in 1874 by C.R.Condor, were miserable and half in ruins, the villagers downtrodden and browbeaten by money–thirsty absentee landlords (Avneiri p.53).

The Mountain Regions were varied in their population. Parts around Tulkarm were relatively well populated, providing a refuge from malaria and protection against Bedouin raiders. Nevertheless, internal feuds between village clans caused many villages to be destroyed, although their inhabitants tended to remain in the area. The lack of security, however, inhibited the fellahin from investing much effort in improving the soil conditions.

Villages lower down the mountain and closer to the sea, such as Auja, Sidna Ali, Ramadan, Kabani and Hadera, were scattered and thinly populated, because of the sandy soil, punctuated by swampy stretches.

Southern Judea and the Negev, although not plagued by malaria, were no better for agricultural use or permanent settlement. These regions lacked rain and were frequently drought ridden, and the soil was sandy, being often invaded by sand dunes.

By way of contrast, Gaza in 1886 was a town with a population of some 20,000 inhabitants (but see section 2 as to their place of origin). Its people were poor and lived mostly from trade with the Egyptians. In the narrow strip between the coastal sands and desert interior, some fellahin were found to be growing fruit, watermelons and vegetables.

b.  Lack of Security for Persons and Property

During the first three decades of the 19th century, Palestine, like the remainder of the Ottoman Empire, was in a general state of decline and stagnation. Despite the ten years of Egyptian military occupation of Palestine between 1831-1841 which brought in its wake significant Egyptian migration (see section 2 below), the total indigenous population of the area did not exceed 250,000.

Under Ottoman rule the Arab male fellahin were extremely insecure both in their person and economically, being eligible both for military conscription while at the same time suffering Egyptian and Bedouin incursions into their homesteads.

Bedouin terror prevented any significant permanent settlement in the principal plains of Palestine – the coastal plain and the Plain of Esdraelon – and compelled the Arab fellahin to retreat to the hill country of Judea and Samaria, which was more secure but less productive.

“According to Turkish registration books from 1596, it seems that the [coastal plain] served as home to Bedouins (Arab nomads) and Turkish and Kurdish nomads. In the eighteenth century, according to tradition, the amir (chief) of the Hawara Bedouins, who hailed from Bilad Hareth …in Eastern trans-Jordan, occupied part of the coastal plain by force. Hawara Bedouins did not cultivate the land; rather they occupied themselves with brigandage and inter-tribal wars. The outcome of their predatory activities was that Wadi Hawarith was described in the nineteenth century as abandoned, swampy, and malaria-ridden and that its passage was dangerous. The lands of the Wadi were described by the Ottoman governor of the Jerusalem region (1906-7) as abandoned lands that were sparsely inhabited by Bedouins”…

“Thus only a small part of the country was being used for agriculture.  The towns of Palestine at the beginning of the last [19th] century are best defined as large villages each built on a small area and possessing a limited economic base and a small population of up to 10,000”

(Ruth Kark, Changing Patterns of Land Ownership in Nineteenth-Century Palestine, (1984) 10 J of Historical Geography, 357, 374 ; ‘Landownership and Spatial Change in Nineteenth Century Palestine in Transition from Spontaneous to Regulated Spatial Organisation’ Inst. of Geography and Spatial Organisation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, 1983 (“Kark 1983”) pp 185-187

Even by 1895, after the rural population had descended from part of the hilly areas and had begun to settle in plains, only ten per cent of the total area of Palestine was under cultivation, (Kark 1983 p. 189) notwithstanding that Arab urban entrepreneurs and absentee landlords had begun to assemble large tracts of land for resale, following the Ottoman land reform legislation (see section 3.c.ii. below).

c.    Fellah’s Economic Situation

Economically, the fellah was generally in a state of chronic poverty and indebtedness to his absentee landlord, seed suppliers and money lenders, owing to a number of interrelated causes: poor soil, lack of water, poor means of communication with the towns, unsuitable marketing arrangements, frequent crop season failures, and an antiquated land system. Even before the first modern Jewish settlement, established in 1855, Palestinian Arab society was already socially fragmented between the peasantry and landowning interests. This became exacerbated after the Ottoman land reform in 1858.

(Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East, Lynne Rienner, London, 1987, p.75  (‘Gerber).

Thus, while Palestine as a whole cannot be said to have been desolate and without population as claimed by the Zionists, its people were certainly not thriving. In the hilly areas, the Arab population, while not poverty stricken, was barely self-sustaining. In the plains and the valleys the travellers’ descriptions were a true reflection of the situation – vast desolate expanses devoid of permanent population, malaria infested and subject to the uncontrolled power of the nomadic Bedouin.

Aside from these environmental conditions there were a number of other factors that also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

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.