The experiences of Jewish refugees from Arab countries shed much light on what is ultimately needed to resolve the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Logistical details aside, there can be no resolution to the historic Arab-Jewish conflict until the Arabs are able to accept the idea of equal coexistence with a Jewish state.
From the preceding discussion of Muslim relations with their religious minorities, attitudes about Western colonialism, and Palestinian nationalism, we can see that acceptance of Jewish national equality will be a very difficult task for the Arab world in general, and for Palestinians in particular. First, the idea that non-Muslim minorities are dhimmis required to assume a subordinate status in relation to their Muslim rulers provides a direct religious and cultural incompatibility with the idea of a sovereign Jewish state (as the Hamas Charter states, "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims" [Hamas, 1988]). This is a fundamental reason why Arabs regard Israel as not merely an enemy state, but not a legitimate state at all, only "the Zionist entity" (Ye'Or, 1985). The success of a Jewish state, in a time of Arab decline, is an even greater affront to Arab traditions and sensibilities.
Second, the right of return, which is based on the idea that all land in the region is the homeland of only the Arabs, is also incompatible with recognition of a Jewish state. When accompanied by religious fundamentalism, this has become a literally explosive combination, with religious teaching used to justify bombing Jewish civilians because, having stepped out of their subordinate role, they no longer deserve to have their lives protected. Hence, we see the Hamas Charter stating, "The Prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: 'The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them)'" (Hamas, 1988), and imams (religious leaders) defending terrorist attacks as not only permissible but as honorable acts of martyrdom.
Because these ideas are so intertwined and so deeply held, Arabs are unable to appreciate any comparability between their losses and those of the Jewish refugees driven out of their lands, or to acknowledge the even greater human rights violations perpetrated against their Jewish citizens. If the Muslim path is the only true one, and Arabs are the only people with rights to the land, then the Jews in their countries had no rights other than those their Arab rulers chose to give them, and these privileges can be revoked at any time - as they indeed were repeatedly since 1948 as Jews were persecuted and expelled and their property confiscated. Recognition of the attitudes and events surrounding the persecution and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries would force a confrontation with the Arabs' one-sided beliefs that fuel endless conflict, grievance and suffering for all parties, grievances that can never be repaid other than by Israel's elimination. Confronting Arabs' destructive beliefs would set free not only Israel, but also their own people, perpetually held back by a refusal to move forward from an illusory image of the past.
To give up the right of return and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the region thus means a reversal of the traditional beliefs on which Arabs' identity is based. We can only hope that one day everyone involved in the region will come to see that, however difficult, accepting each other's legitimacy as a people will be not only a gift to the other, but to themselves as well. (go back)(continue)
Peace with Realism