Friday, March 16, 2012

The uses of grievance

The creation of Israel created two sets of refugees, one folk constantly talk about and one folk almost never talk about.

The one folk constantly talk about are the Palestinians. The one folk people almost never talk about are Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Both refugee flows were of similar size, but have had very different outcomes.

The Jewish refugees from Arab lands fled to Israel and the West, where they were accepted as citizens and have become part of the fabric of their new societies. Their acceptance and integration has been so successful, that they have effectively vanished from historical consciousness. Which has the effect of absolving Arab countries from any blame and Israel (and the West) from any credit.

Conversely, with the limited exception of Jordan, no Arab country has been willing to accept Palestinians as residents or citizens (via). They have no identity except as refugees; as people with a traumatic past but no future and so an endlessly empty present. They remain sticks to beat Israel with, the only sense in which their Arab “brothers” value them at all. The only future they are permitted to conceive is one where Israel is destroyed; that is the only way they are permitted to stop being refugees.

Indeed, their status as refugees is hereditary. Provided you have an ancestor who was resident within the 1948 boundaries of Israel for two or more years and then fled, you are a Palestinian refugee (according to the UN definition). Apparently, this status as a refugee is eternal, existing as long as Israel does.

So, this is next thing the vanishing of Jewish refugees from historical consciousness does: it absolves Arabs of any responsibility. Only Israel has responsibility.

The boxing of Palestinians into the status of permanent refugees is a wonderfully effective use of—indeed, insistence upon—grievance. One the international community is prepared (at least formally) to endlessly pander to.

There is a third thing the vanishing of Jewish refugees from historical consciousness does: it strips the context away from the plight of Christians in the Middle East. For, just as Arab nationalism drove the Jews away, defining them as “not Arabs”, so the rise of Islamic radicalism is driving the Christians away (via), defining them as drastically inferior to Muslims, as alien to Muslim society. Christians have dropped from 20% of the population of Muslims lands a century ago to 5% now. This process of driving the Christians away is occurring with particular intensity within Palestinian lands. In the West Bank and Gaza, they have dropped from 15% of the population to 2% in much shorter period.

The only Middle Eastern country in which Christians are flourishing is, of course, Israel where their proportion of the population has increased dramatically.

The Arab and Muslim Middle East has shown itself, over decades, to be hostile to minorities. As soon as they gained a measure of power, the Palestinians have shown themselves particularly so. Their sense of grievance is profoundly narcissistic. It is all about them; any sense of empathy for others (even for fellow Palestinians who fail to be Muslim) is patently impotent.

This is yet another reason why the One State “solution” to Israel-Palestine is such an obvious nonsense. What makes the situation of the Jews and Christians of Israel different from the (mostly absent) Jews and (increasingly vanishing) Christians of the rest of the Middle East is the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The Jews and Christians of Israel can defend themselves in a way that Jews and Christians in the rest of the Middle East could or cannot. Take the IDF away, and they immediately become as vulnerable as the Jews and Christians have proved to be in the rest of the Middle East.

What the treatment of Jews and Christians in the Middle East—particularly in the Palestinian lands—shows is that the powerholders and their supporters in these countries have absolutely no interest in conciliating the Jews and Christians of Israel. They literally have nothing to offer them except oppression and exile. They make the case for preserving Israel and the IDF absolutely clear.

To truly understand the contemporary Middle East, you have to understand the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Once you do, the argument for preserving Israel and the IDF becomes overwhelming.

ADDENDA: Just to make my point, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has called for all churches in the Middle East Arabian peninsula to be destroyed.


  1. A very incisive and relevant post. Not something that you will see in the mainstream media anytime soon and if Finkelstein gets his way, not something that will be allowed on Australian blogs either.

    1. Thanks. (It probably shows too much sense of history for mainstream media.) And Finkelstein is, indeed, noxious.

  2. Very insightful post, Lorenzo - I had to bookmark this guy.