Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Recognition of Israel & The Wisdom of Saladdin

In 1948, Israel declared its existence as an independent state. Thousands of Palestinians were made homeless and refugees in a land where they had lived for centuries. Foreign Jewish refugees built homes on the ruins of Palestinian villages.

Many Muslim and Christian countries were understandably upset at the treatment being meted out to Palestinians and Christians. Their frustration was made worse by the frequent stereotyping of the Palestinians as a nation of terrorists.

For years, Muslim countries (with a few exceptions such as Turkey and Egypt) refused to recognise Israel’s existence. They clung to the views of Jewish thinkers who felt that the creation of a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah was blasphemous. Among these Jewish thinkers was our very own Sir Isaac Isaacs, Australia’s first Australian-born Governor-General.

Palestinians had almost become accustomed to living in exile and in denial. But wiser heads prevailed, and the golden handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin secured at least some form of self-rule for Palestinians. Had the handshake on the White House lawn not taken place, one could safely speculate that the Palestinian cause would not have gained the international respectability and goodwill it now enjoys.

And so we see Palestine recognising Israel’s right to exist. When will Muslim nations follow suit? And should they?

Much Muslim rhetoric on Israel focuses on the Crusades and the liberation wars led by the Kurdish general Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, known in the West as Saladdin. It was Saladdin who won back Jerusalem. It was also Saladdin who made important compromises and who attempted to reach a negotiated settlement at all stages of the conflict.

Saladdin’s pragmatism was perhaps his best feat. The movie Kingdom of Heaven accurately portrays Saladdin as a tolerant and politically astute figure, an embodiment of the famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “War is strategy and little else”.

There was no question in Saladdin’s mind about questioning the moral right of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem to exist. Saladdin sent emissaries regularly to Jerusalem as part of his negotiations. Other Muslim kingdoms entered into alliances with Jerusalem. Virtually all sent ambassadors.

The Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, in his masterpiece The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, speaks about the confidence of these diplomats who looked down upon the European residents of Jerusalem as barbaric and superstitious.

At one point Maalouf mentions an incident when a Muslim diplomat is spending time with European Christian friends. The time for prayer comes, and the diplomat asks for the direction to Mecca. When the Europeans cannot tell him, the diplomat scolds them for being so uncouth as to not know the direction of prayer. To pray five times a day was, in those days, regarded as the act of civilised and cultured people.

Saladdin was also famous for offering the Jerusalem king his medical team. Saladdin had a team of surgeons and physicians led by the famous Andalusian Shaykh Musa bin Maymoun. Saladdin met Shaykh Musa in Cairo where the Shaykh was a prominent religious figure. Saladdin was impressed with Shaykh Musa’s erudition and his reputation as a leading physician in the Islamic world. Shaykh Musa unhesitatingly accepted Saladdin’s invitation to lead his medical team.

And who was Shaykh Musa? He was the chief rabbi of Cairo’s Jewish community. He is regarded as the greatest Jewish religious figure after the Prophet Moses himself. Saladdin was happy to appoint Moses Maimonides as his chief physician notwithstanding the fact that Maimonides was the author of a famous book declaring Judaism to be superior to Islam.

What does all this have to do with Muslim recognition of Israel? Muslim leaders have to convince their people that the struggle for Palestine is not a struggle against all Jews. Just as Saladdin’s struggle to liberate Jerusalem was not a war against all Christians.

Muslim nations also need to accept that their continued non-recognition of Israel is pointless. Why refuse to recognise Israel when the biggest losers in its creation, the Palestinians, have recognised Israel?

To keep harping on about Israel not having a moral right to exist is pointless. Israel exists, whether Muslims accept it or not. Muslims have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot destroy Israel. Just as some of Israel’s supporters need to understand that they will never win the war on terror if they perceive it as a war on Islam.

A civilisational war between Jews and Muslims may be the goal of extremists on both sides. But neither side would win, although losses on both sides would be enormous. If Muslim countries wish to support their Palestinian brethren, they should give serious consideration to at least formally recognising Israel’s existence.

Some Muslims will object to dealing with Ariel Sharon due to his hardline views and his involvement in war crimes in Lebanon. But Pakistan was still prepared to talk to India even when it was ruled by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Pakistan gained important concessions from India on behalf of Kashmiris who were reunited with families across the Line of Control.

There is no benefit for Palestinians by Muslim countries continuing to reject Israel’s right to exist. It is as futile as refusing to accept Spain’s right to exist because of the Inquisition and expulsion of millions of Andalusian Muslims. Recognition of Israel has to be put on the Muslim agenda. The sooner this is done, the better.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer.)

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005.

7 comment(s):

  • Irfan,

    You did get carried away and placed the horse before the cart, or you are way too naïve for a lawyer!

    You are correct that Palestinians amended their charter to officially recognize Israel, per Oslo. But has Israel stood up to its end of the bargain? If it had the state of Palestine would have celebrated its 7th birthday this year.

    The majority of the world was correct in not recognizing the apartheid South Africa, and the majority of the Arab/Muslim countries are right not to recognize the apartheid Israel. Why? Because majority of their citizenry don't want relations with a country that usurped land it doesn't own and displaced a population living on that land for centuries. Unfortunately, this is the only democratic decision made by most of the Arab world. And if these countries were to offer recognition to Israel, just because it exists, what happens next? Do you expect the State of Israel to grow a conscience and free the Palestinians from their brute occupation?

    Israel and Palestine are different from Pakistan and India. One of the reasons India and Pakistan agreed to bi-lateral talks to resolve their issues is that both are powerful enough to deliver a mortal blow to the other. The worst the Palestinians can inflict is a mere pin-prick compared to what Israel is capable of. Israel as fifth most powerful military is 8 times stronger than the entire Arab world combined. And this comparison doesn’t extend to the 200~400 nukes in Israel’s possession. As things stand, the Arab and Muslim countries can only offer mute protests to the still continuing Israeli aggression against Palestine and other weaker nations in the neighborhood.

    I’ll end with a question to you. What will Israel offer in return for recognition from the Arab nations?

    By Blogger Jafar, at 7/01/2005 12:30:00 PM  

  • To be perfectly honest, I don’t think that and country should recognise Israel as a precondition to anything.

    If recognition is currently outstanding, then I would hope that it remains so until such time that Israel starts getting serious about showing its true desire for peace, which currently appears to be a somewhat disingenuous desire.

    Israel only wants total submission on her terms and her terms only, but NEVER in the history of the world has submission lead to a stable and lasting peace. You only achieve peace when all parties preserve their dignity.

    I totally agree that Israel has a right to exist (and ultimately global recognition), but that right does not give Israel the right to set deliberately unrealistic preconditions, to illegally occupy, to defy United Nations resolutions and to behave like a spoilt little brat.

    In its current state and under its current leadership, Israel is owed nothing at all by anyone, but Israel owes the world a great deal and had better start to live up to those obligation, or face isolation as a pariah state.

    The comparison with India and Pakistan is flawed in that those negotiations were undertaken on the basis of a GENUINE desire for an equitable peace .. and even more importantly, were not conducted on the basis of preposterous preconditions. Israel, to date, has not shown that it is able to do either of those.

    It is all very well saying:

    “There is no benefit for Palestinians by Muslim countries continuing to reject Israel’s right to exist. It is as futile as refusing to accept Spain’s right to exist because of the Inquisition and expulsion of millions of Andalusian Muslims. Recognition of Israel has to be put on the Muslim agenda. The sooner this is done, the better.”

    … but such recognition does nothing at all for Israel. It doesn’t make Israel any more legitimate and it also fails to recognize the fact that it is Israel itself which fails to recognize international borders and sovereignty, persists in refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinian claim to TRUE independence and fails to recognise just as many arab states as refuse to recognise them.

    The comparison with Spain and the expulsion of the Muslims, far from representing the futility of the Muslim claim shows the preposterous nature of the Zionist agenda which claims that the people of the Palestine have only been in the region for 1,500 years and therefore don’t belong (and even that claim is fraudulent, because the people have always been there, they simply chose to abandon their old faith for that of the invading elite). We aren’t talking about an expulsion that took place in the middle ages, we are talking about a systematic campaign of ethic cleansing that has taken place within our own lifetimes .. a campaign which has continued right in to THIS century.

    What Sydney Lawyer also does is introduce terms like “To keep harping on about Israel not having a moral right to exist is pointless” which is itself divisive, because that isn’t even the position of the countries that have chosen to withhold recognition of Israel. I can only assume that this is a willful deception on Sydney Lawyers part and that his piece just highlights the fact that lawyers are not always without an agenda of their own, are not beyond rhetoric of their own and don’t always have a balanced opinion.

    The peice - whilst on the surface having all the appearance of a being fair and balanced - on close examonation just falls apart and is revealed as popagandist aganda laden nonsense ... where the agenda isn't PEACE.

    By Blogger not in use, at 7/06/2005 02:31:00 AM  

  • For all their military power and aggressiveness that you speak of, have they taken over the Middle East? No, in fact they gave up land after the six day war. Every day the Jewish people, not the Jewish government, suffer from the Muslim extremists of the countries around them, and the governments of those countries do nothing, then when they go in to try to take out the terrorists who attacked them they are labeled as invaders. They could conquer the whole Middle East and end this problem with Militant Islam if they wanted to, yet they do not. What's more, Palestinians living in Israel would tell you that they have more freedom and security there than in Palestine. So who oppresses Muslims? Militant Muslims do, Israel has nothing to do with it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/02/2006 06:04:00 AM  

  • being of indian origin, i dont think at all that the BJP party can be called a right wing party. everything is relative in this world. if a party wants to establish equality between all indians(in terms of practical law) how does this qualify the bjp to become a right wing party. India is the only country in the world where muslims (who constitute about 28% of the population) get to follow sharia laws and you cannot run a country where different folks follow different laws. the BJP wants one law for all indians - whats wrong with this.
    Understand that BJP will not qualify as a political party in a islamic country, because they would not be left, centric or right. has anybody heard of the iranian president. In india, nobody talks of eliminating pakistan from the map. but even left wing iranians talk of elimination of israel. sorry!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/06/2007 03:01:00 AM  

  • cool, this logic is good, except that the Palestinians don't see that Israel has a right to exist as it is right now...their land is not even together...they have to travel through Israel to get from one side to the other...so, the rest of your logic is not updated or part of recent history, it can't therefore be compared to the situation with Pakistan and India...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/22/2007 10:24:00 AM  

  • Recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland is more than pragmatism. According to noted Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, this recongnition is an imperative from the Koran itself: "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd."(17:104, The Night Journey). Denial of the Jewish connection to the Holy Land is a denial of Mohamed's prophecy and the Koran itself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/29/2008 07:06:00 PM  

  • As history will confirm the land of israel was given to the jews by god himself in a everlasting covenant.
    The so called Palestinians are a thorn on the jews side and one day will be removed from their satanic ways ( strapping themselves with explosives and murdering people of different nationalities of all ages, in order to get to the Islamic version of heaven)If only the arabs had agreed on the balfour declaration, the un partition plan and camp david they would not be in the mess that they are in. Perhaps they should all leave gaza and judea and samaria and go back to their home countries of Jordan, Egypt, Syria so they can live a life of raising families instead of hatred towards the jews.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/24/2008 11:11:00 AM  

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