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Zionism Did Not Destroy Palestine

Guest Column Omri Schwarz

A few days ago I received an invitation to a protest of the 50th anniversary of Israel. The invitation read, "On April 26th on the Boston Common, hundreds will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel. In doing so they will celebrate the destruction of Palestine. For 50 years the Palestinian people have suffered under military occupation, exile, human rights abuses and the state terrorism of Israel." I also received an invitation to the celebration of the founding of Israel itself. What to do?

Most likely, I'll listen to the speeches made in the protest and also go to parts of the celebration. Why? Because although I'm not at all a fan of Israel's policies, my family was among those to whom the Mandate of Palestine was a safe haven during the insanity of the 30s and 40s - that is, the only safe haven. That is where just about every argument about Israel eventually ends up, including arguments among Israelis.

Before reverting to Godwin's Law, though, I'll point out something else: Zionism did not have to be a disaster for the Palestinian Arabs. Here's a quote from Prince Faisal, the prince portrayed by Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia, dating back to 1919: "We feel that Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together. We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through; we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home"

An Arab leader regarding Jewish immigration as an opportunity rather than a threat - imagine that! Actually, this shouldn't be so surprising. There hadn't been an Arab state for quite a while, so a secular state in Palestine wasn't something all that radical, and democracy at the time was no more foreign to the Arab world than it was to most of Europe. What happened, then? Amin al-Husseini happened. This name is unlikely to ring a bell with those who aren't from the Middle East. The term Grand Mufti of Jerusalem might be more familiar. But just try to say anything leftist to an Israeli right-winger, and the most likely reply will be "are you such an idiot that you don't know the Mufti sided with Hitler?" On that much they're right.

Amin al-Husseini was a Muslim cleric who duped the British so they'd let him gain the title of Mufti (a term for a prominent Muslim cleric), and then engaged in vicious and slanderous rumor-mongering until he was chased out of British territory. In his travels afterwards he met with Hitler and helped him round up an SS unit made of Bosnian Muslims (earning long-lasting hatred from Serbs), in return for promises from Hitler that Germany would rid Palestine of Jews.

To Amin al-Husseini, the World War I ouster of the Ottoman Empire was an opportunity to set up a Muslim theocracy. This meant that those European Jews had to go. He spread rumors that Zionists were planning to destroy the Al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem. The resulting violence led to formation of the Haganah. His fanaticism opened a niche for Ze'ev Jabotinsky to form his own Zionist faction of rabid nationalists of the worst kind. From there, things went downhill. Prince Faisal himself was no longer able to stand by his words of 1919. He definitely didn't have Jabotinsky or his ilk in mind when he wrote the quote above. The rest is history.

Most of the rhetoric you will hear levelled against the creation of Israel portrays the Arabs as people who found themselves unable to be burdened with the consequences of another nation's, specifically Germany's, persecution of Jews. The Mufti and his cohorts are why Israelis aren't as likely to see it that way. I don't see it that way, and I don't believe a Jewish state has to be a misfortune for Arabs. I will attend the celebration and listen to the speeches made at the protest on Sunday, but I will not applaud or endorse them.

Omri Schwarz is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.