Category Archives: Politics & Society


2015-07-19

De-Radicalising Muhammad

by Neil Godfrey
holland

Tom Holland

What do the Charlie Hebdo murders and the rise of the Islamic State owe to Islam? It would be comforting to insist, as many have done, that they owe nothing at all; but Holland, in the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture, argues that the truth is more complex. The best way to combat jihadism, he proposes, is to recognise the centrality of Muhammad to Islam – and that he comes in many forms. There is the moral leader who swallowed abuse peaceably; and there is the war leader who ordered people who insulted him put to death. How best, then, to de-radicalise the Prophet? Tom Holland is author of In The Shadow of the Sword, Rubicon, Persian Fire, Millenniumand the new translation of The Histories by Herodotus. Chaired by Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times.” — from the Hay Festival program.

Denouncing Islamic State as not representing “true Islam” is a well-intentioned declaration but counterproductive and seriously problematic, according to historian Tom Holland in the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture at the May 2015 Hay Festival. The title of his talk is De-Radicalising Muhummad (available online).

What is wrong with these well-meaning efforts to defuse anti-Islamic tensions?

What it does is imply that there is a normative, authentic Islam, one that embodies ideals that are perfectly compatible with liberal, secular Britain, and then there are misinterpretations of it, distortions of it, that are not really Islam at all. . . . .

Playing the same lethal game as Islamic State

By denying the title of Muslims to Islamic State Western governments are actually playing the same lethal game as the Islamic State themselves. Because what the Islamic State do is to condemn other Muslims as either apostates or heretics — the better then to justify their elimination.

I really don’t think it is for Prime Ministers or Home Secretaries to play that game. Because once you take it on yourself to define what is or isn’t authentic Islam then you are buying into the notion that such a thing as authentic Islam actually exists. 

Now if you’re a believer of course that’s fine. You will accept that indeed Islam was given to you by God and therefore it does have some absolute Platonic essence.

But if you’re not a believer then a religion is just like any other manifestation of human culture. It’s something that is porous, variable, forever mutating, and evolving. It’s a dialogue between people in the present and an inheritance of texts and traditions and people can choose what of those texts and traditions they wish to emphasise. 

So it’s not like religion is the equivalent of a radio station set with a dial and you can definitely find it. It’s a whole series of points on a bandwidth. 

That understanding ought to give us hope, however long-term it may have to be. It certainly ought to contribute to a lessening of social prejudice and a promotion of constructive ways of addressing the problem of violent Islamic groups and individuals.

And obviously what a definition of an extremist is, what a radical is, will depend where you stand on that bandwidth. Because it cannot be emphasised enough that jihadists do not think of themselves as extremists. To them, it’s us, the comfortably secular and liberal kind of people . . . who are the extremists. Jihadists see themselves as models of righteous behaviour. They see themselves as doing God’s will as expressed in the pages of his holy book the Koran and the sayings of his prophet Muhammad. And they also see themselves as obedient to something else — to the example of Muhammad. The Koran is absolutely explicit about this. In the Messenger of God it says you have a beautiful example, an example to follow. 

And so it does matter then, to jihadis no less than to the vast majority of Muslims who would never in a million years set about destroying the antiquities of the Near East, or taking sex slaves, or murdering those who mock the Prophet. But sanction for what they do is indeed to be found within the various biographies and traditions that are associated with the Prophet. 

So what does Tom Holland see as the appropriate response? read more »


2015-06-20

Mike Huckabee, Meet Some Real Christians

by Tim Widowfield

As a Vridar reader, you know that I’m an atheist, having happily lost my faith some 40 years ago. You probably know that I’ve often referred to religion, any religion, as a “mind virus.” I’ve had some unkind things to say about Christianity and professed Christians, but I’ve tried to make it clear that I don’t wish to covert anyone.

"The Golden Rule" mosaic

“The Golden Rule” mosaic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do what you want; believe what you want. But please do it with your eyes wide open. Read everything. Consider all the facts, and make a rational decision.

Having said all that, I’d like to say something nice today about Christianity. I’ll confess my admiration for the victims of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Finally, I’ll have some scathing comments about presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

As a boy, I grew up believing in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I was pretty sure that this maxim was unique to Christianity, but of course that’s because my fundamentalist upbringing shielded me from real human history. It turns out that this rule of behavior is practically universal. It has the obvious ring of truth about it. Would I want somebody else to do it to me? If not, then I shouldn’t do it.

But Christianity takes it a step further. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells of the last judgment, in which the Son of Man will separate the just from the damned the way a shepherd would separate the sheep from the goats. He concludes with:
read more »


2015-02-12

The Rhythms of Palestine’s History

by Neil Godfrey

whitelamThe reality of Palestine’s long history from the Bronze Age to the present has been lost behind the myths of the Bible.

Think of Palestine’s past and images of Israel displacing the Canaanites from around 1200 BCE, establishing a united kingdom, even an empire, under King David and then his son Solomon slip easily into our minds. We think of the divided kingdom: apostate Israel in the north ruled from Samaria and Judah in the south with its Jerusalem temple. We know these kingdoms were removed by the Assyrians and Babylonians by around 600 BCE and that the Jews returned once again after a period of captivity.

And they re-returned to “the land of their fathers” to “re-establish the Jewish State” as proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of 1948. The historical right of the Jews to the land of Palestine remains evident today to possibly most Christians and anyone taught this historical outline.

Archaeological-Historical Periods in Palestine

  • Early Bronze Age 3150-2000 BCE
  • Middle Bronze Age 2000-1550 BCE
  • Late Bronze Age 1550-1200 BCE
  • Iron Age 1200-587 BCE
  • Persian 538-332 BCE
  • Hellenistic 332-63 BCE
  • Roman 63 BCE – 330 CE
  • Byzantine eras 330-636 CE
  • Early Caliphates 636-661 CE
  • Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljug 661-1098 CE
  • Crusaders 1099-1291 CE
  • Ayyubid and Mamluk 1187-1517 CE
  • Ottomans 1517-1917 CE
  • British 1920-1948 CE
  • Israeli 1948 – present

The question we might ask, then, is what is the history of the Palestinians? The biblical narrative leaves them no room for a history in the land. Are they late trespassers? Are they rootless Arabs with no genuine attachment to any land in particular?

Until his retirement Keith Whitelam was Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling and Professor and Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. His recent publication, Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, surveys the archaeological evidence for the history of Palestine from the Bronze Ages through to the end of the Iron Ages and compares what he sees with the Palestine from more recent times according to travelers’ reports and current geo-political maneuverings.

He concludes that our Western view of Palestine’s history has been determined by the biblical narrative and conflicts with the archaeological evidence before us.

The past matters because it continues to flow into the present. However, Palestine has been stripped of much of its history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is as though Palestine only came into being with the British Mandate (1920-48) and came to an end with the declaration of the modern state of Israel (1948). The growth of towns, the shift in villages, or the population movements of three millennia before have become divorced from this ‘modern’ Palestine. (Kindle Locations 42-46).

Whereas others who have been gaining their independence from imperial domination ever since the nineteenth century and especially since World War 2 have been able to construct their own national histories as an essential part of their national identities, read more »


2015-02-09

Islamic State : How it came about and how it works

by Neil Godfrey

Anyone who wants to understand how the Islamic State came to be as formidable as it clearly is would welcome the a 28 minute BBC documentary currently available online, Islamic State: Bureaucracy and Brutality. If you don’t have 28 minutes and more or less trust the notes I took down as I listened to it then you are welcome to read on.

The source, Aimen Dean

The interviewee is Aimen Dean, a Saudi Arabian who spent twelve years inside the IS. He left Saudi Arabia in the 1990s to join the mujahideen in Bosnia. After that war ended he went to the Philippines and from there in 1997 to Afghanistan where he joined Al Qaeda.

Aimen says he became disillusioned by Al Qaeda’s drift towards terrorism so he became a spy for the West and worked for the British Foreign Office gathering and analysing information.

Comparing Al Qaeda

IS is a hundred times bigger that Al Qaeda ever was in terms of recruits, firepower and financial resources.

Al Qaeda is looked on with some contempt by IS now for having had no focus or clear direction. Al Qaeda operated through support for scattered cells or local autonomous franchises without any central structure or organization.

IS is tightly organized and focussed. IS considers Al Qaeda’s attention on America to be a waste of time and effort, a distraction from the real goal. What IS is aiming for is the overthrow of other states in the Middle East.

To accomplish this they understand that they must become an organized state power themselves with military power concentrated in a particular region.

IS has managed to take over a quarter of Iraq and a third of Syria because they have a proper, solid infrastructure, both financial and intelligence.

IS Bureaucracy

IS has a Department of the Public Good responsible for maintaining roads, cleaning the streets, street lighting, the provision of education. 

They control certain professional positions by their own licensing system. No one can become an imam in a mosque, a teacher in a school, a pharmacist, a doctor, a lawyer, until they attend a Shariah course for one week to obtain their licence. In other words they need a course in indoctrination before being permitted to practice.

Elitist isolationism, liberating the psychopath within

read more »


2014-12-16

The Object of Torture

by Tim Widowfield

I have two reasons for spending so much of my free time on ancient history and Biblical studies. First, I have a genuine, lifelong curiosity about these subjects, but perhaps just as important (especially since 2001), I welcome the pleasant distraction from the awful present. With that background in mind, I reluctantly face the subject at hand: Torture. What is it? Why is it used? Who are its defenders?

Category:George Orwell Category:Nineteen Eight...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘. . . The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ (1984, George Orwell)

Notwithstanding O’Brien’s explanation of persecution and torture to Winston Smith, people don’t normally engage in torture for its own sake. So, why do they do it? Rule number one of power is that it must protect itself. Any threat to power must be met by every tool available. Whatever public excuse the people in power give us for what they do, we must not forget rule one.

The Tool

Torture is and has always been a tool of the powerful, who need not justify its use. Of course, in Western nations the public voices who represent state power will often provide halfhearted justifications for certain acts of torture re-framed under other names. Hence we have Orwellian euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation,” which vaguely reminds me of the unexpected joy of being upgraded to a seat in first class. Who would complain about being upgraded to enhanced interrogation?

The Law

This fuzzy language could make us forget the legal meaning of torture. The federal code could scarcely be clearer:

read more »


2014-11-11

Turning Remembrance Day into a New Myth to Justify War

by Neil Godfrey

last_postI recall as a little boy at school grown men leading solemn ceremonies pleading with us in prayerful tones never to forget the sufferings and horrors of war — Never again. Futility was a word I learned the meaning of. It was a moment for tears. The message was clear. Hate war. The idea of following the “example” of those who suffered (both those dead and living) was the very antithesis of what the day was all about.

Today Remembrance Day falls at a time our government is eager to send more soldiers to war, to be part of the fight, to show our loyalty to the cause. Volunteers in the services are sent with good pay.

How the message has changed today.

The Great War which we remember today . . . was also the crucible in which our nation was formed.

Of a population of under 5 million; more than 400,000 volunteered, more than 300,000 served overseas, more than 150,000 were wounded and more than 60,000 never came home.

It was sacrifice on a stupendous scale. . . . 

As well as suffering, there is another legacy; a legacy of comradeship under fire, of service and sacrifice, of duty in a good cause.

Of the original ANZACs the official war historian Charles Bean said, “their example rises, as it will always rise, above the mists of ages; a memorial to great hearted-men and for their nation, a possession forever.”

And so today we remember all of them, we remember all who have worn our country’s uniform – we remember them – and dedicate ourselves to be worthy of their example.

Lest we forget.

Now the suffering is presented as not an obscene horror never to be repeated but a noble nation-making, character-building experience.

It was not a horrific waste; it was all for a good cause. It was a duty.

The voices of those who led services when I was a little boy are lost. They are replaced by the words of the leading propagandist historian of the day, the one whose accounts were carefully censored so as to encourage more volunteers to go and kill and die, Charles Bean. read more »


2014-10-13

The Politics of the Muslim Controversy

by Neil Godfrey

Salman Rushdie condemns ‘hate-filled rhetoric’ of Islamic fanaticism, The Telegraph:

It’s hard not to conclude that this hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.

If the rhetoric is the weapon then let’s find out why are we seeing so many taking it up today? Recent generations have seen several enemies — the rhetoric of nationalism, the rhetoric of corporate capitalism, the rhetoric of state socialism — and this is a new one. What has led to its emergence?

A word I dislike greatly, ‘Islamophobia’, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. . . . 

It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. . . . To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.

Salman Rushdie does not like the word Islamophobia but at the same time he self-servingly (probably without realizing it) distorts its meaning and the way it is used. I return to this word below where I address a Sam Harris quote.

Salman Rushdie is telling us that it is “language that conjures it up”. The image is one of Islamic violence that has been smouldering for centuries like a vulcanic demon impatiently waiting beneath the surface of a bubbling geothermal mud pool for someone to chant the terrible magic words to unleash it.

Rushdie’s failure to reference any historical thinking, or any political-social understanding, is distressing and a little frightening. read more »


2014-07-11

Two Sides Explain the Killing in the Gaza Strip

by Neil Godfrey
Mark Regev

Mark Regev

Chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, was interviewed on Radio National Thursday morning this week. You can hear the 8 minute interview here.

Here are the main points as I heard them:

Israel is currently preparing a ground invasion into Gaza.

The goal of the current Israeli air strikes (and of a ground invasion if that happens) is to free Israel from rockets from Gaza. It is a defensive goal.

In response to the claim that the threat of rockets was not ended the last time Israel invaded Gaza, Mark Regev said that in the real world we cannot expect perfect solutions but must look for the best possible solutions. After the last invasion (2008/09) Israel experienced a long period of quiet. Children for the first time knew a life free from fear of rockets.

Iranians have helped Hamas acquire the missiles.

In response to Hamas demands that Israel stop attacks on Gaza, opens the siege, stops operations in the West Bank, and releases the arrested Palestinians, Regev said if Hamas stops firing Israel will stop bombing Gaza. However, in the weeks leading up to this Israel warned them to stop firing rockets or suffer consequences.

Israel was taking every possible measure to prevent killing civilians. Not targeting people of Gaza. Israel did everything it could to avoid this fighting. Hamas has forced this war upon us all.

In response to interviewer’s question about most Palestinian casualties in the last ground invasion being civilians (using the B’Tselem figures), Regev said his figures were different and most casualties were combatants.

In response to Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff’s declaration of the IDF doctrine that Israel targets its enemy’s civilian infrastructure as both a deterrent and to foment popular opposition to Israel’s enemies, Regev said Israel will be as surgical as possible.

Israel will try to target only terrorist infrastructure; if civilian infrastructure is used by the enemy it can be attacked.

read more »


2014-05-03

The Necessity for Mass Arab Transfer

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .

In the previous post we saw the initial reaction of the Zionist movement’s leadership to the Peel Commission’s 1937 recommendation that:

  1. Palestine be partitioned into two states, and
  2. that there be a transfer of 225,000 Arabs and 1250 Jews.

So far we have been looking at the words of Zionist leaders that were for most part hidden from the public arena. With the Peel Commission recommendations the question had to become public. Conventions had to be held. The rank and file needed to be consulted and won over. Fellow Jews who had more respect for the rights of the Palestinian Arabs also needed to be persuaded and won over.

The Peel report was debated by two of the highest organizations of Zionism. The final outcome was an emerging consensus that the two state proposal be rejected (the whole of Palestine should be given to the Jews) while the proposal for mass transfer of the Arab population was agreed upon by large majorities.

Wherever possible I have linked names to their Wikipedia pages so readers can assess the level of influence and standing each person had within the wider community at the time. It is important to know who many of these voices are but to provide details in the post itself would have risked losing the theme in a mass of web-page words.

The World Convention of Ihud of Po’alei Tzion

29 July – 3 August, 1937

Zurich

Better known as Poalei Zion, this was the highest forum for the dominant Zionist world labor movement. It was closely linked with the Mapai political party that dominated Israeli politics until 1968. David Ben-Gurion was a prominent leader in both organizations.

The proceedings of this convention were edited and subsequently published by Ben-Gurion in 1938. All quotations are from these proceedings.

David_BG

Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion and others in their respective presentations to the convention went to lengths to distinguish between the concepts of “transfer”, “dispossession” and “expulsion” and to stress the morality of such a transfer. “Transfer” was not the same as expulsion. The Commission’s report, Ben-Gurion made clear, did not speak of “dispossession” of the Arabs but only of “transfer”.

On 29th July he further pointed out that the Jews in Palestine had already been peacefully transferring Arabs through agreements with the tenant farmers and

only in a few places was there a need for forced transfer. . . . The basic difference with the Commission proposal is that the transfer will be on a much larger scale, from the Jewish to the Arab territory. . . . It is difficult to find any political or moral argument against the transfer of these Arabs from the proposed Jewish-ruled area. . . . And is there any need to explain the value in a continuous Jewish Yishuv in the coastal valleys, the Yizrael [Esdraelon Valley], the Jordan [Valley] and the Hula? (From the full report of the Convention, 1938, as are all quotations)

Eliezer_Kaplan

Kaplan

Eliezer Kaplan portrayed the transfer of Arabs as a something of a humanitarian act to make them at home among their own people:

It is not fair to compare this proposal to the expulsion of Jews from Germany or any other country. The question is not one of expulsion, but of organized transfer of a number of Arabs from a territory which will be in the Hebrew state, to another place in the Arab state, that is, to the environment of their own people.

Other speakers doubted the feasibility of transfer. Yosef Bankover, a founder of the Kibbutz Hameuhad movement and member of the Haganah regional command said:

As for the compulsory transfer . . . I would be very pleased if it would be possible to be rid of the pleasant neighbourliness of the people of Miski, Tirah and Qaiqilyah.

Bankover stressed to delegates that the Commission’s report implied that any transfer was to be undertaken voluntarily. Compulsion was against the intent of the report. Given that Bankover did not believe the British would risk further riots and bloodshed by enforcing Arab transfers. He rejected the report’s appeal to the Turkish-Greek transfers as a relevant case-study: these transfers were in effect by force and certainly under threat of being killed if they did not move, he said.

So the issues being debated and discussed were:

  • the moral justification of transfer — (this was generally accepted)
  • would forced transfers be practical?
  • would forced mass Arab transfers be adequate compensation for the Jews giving up their aspirations to have the one and only state over all of Palestine?
  • did the Peel Commission recommend transfer far enough afield? If the Arabs were only moved next door into Transjordan then the expansionist hopes of the Jewish state would be limited. Should not the Arabs be transferred to Syria and Iraq instead?

    read more »


2014-04-30

The Myth of Judean Exile 70 CE

by Neil Godfrey
English: Jews in Jerusalem

English: Jews in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we have “sacred space” and religious violence in our thoughts, it’s high time I posted one more detail I wish the scholars who know better would themselves make more widely known.

The population of Judea was not exiled at the conclusion of the war with Rome when the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Nor was it exiled after the second (Bar Kochba) revolt 132-135 CE. The generations following that revolt witnessed the “golden age” of Jewish culture in the Palestine (as it was then called) of Rabbi HaNasi, the legendary compiler of the Mishnah.

In the seventh century an estimated 46,000 Muslim warriors swept through Judea and established liberal policies towards all monotheists. Arabs did not move in from the desert to take over the farmlands and become landowners. The local Jewish population even assisted the Muslims against their hated Byzantine Christian rulers. While the Jews suffered under the Christian rulers, no doubt with some converting to Christianity for their own well-being, many resisted as is evident from the growth in synagogue construction at this time. Under Muslim rule, however, Jews were not harassed as they were under the Christians, yet there appears to have been a decline in Jewish religious presence.

How can we account for this paradox? Given that Muslims were not taxed, it is reasonable to assume that the decline in Jewish religious constructions can be explained by many Jews over time converting to Islam. Certainly David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1918 published their hopes that their Muslim Jewish counterparts in Palestine might be assimilated with their immigrant cousins.

There never was a mass exile of Jews from Judea/Palestine. At least there is no historical record of any such event. Believe me, for years I looked for it. In past years my religious teaching told me it had happened, but when I studied ancient history I had to admit I could not see it. Sometimes historian made vague generalized references to suggest something like it happened, but there was never any evidence cited and the evidence that was cited did not testify to wholesale exile.

Who started the myth?

It was anti-semitic Christian leaders who introduced the myth of exile: the “Wandering Jew” was being punished for his rejection of Christ. Justin Martyr in the mid second century is the first to express this myth.

So where did all the Jews that Justin knew of come from if they were, in his eyes, “a-wandering”?

read more »


2014-04-26

Compulsory Arab Transfer Necessary for a Jewish State

by Neil Godfrey

PeelMapContinuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .

The Peel Commission released its report in July 1937 with British Government support. The Peel recommendations were to be the blueprint for future British policy in Palestine and opened the road towards a State (not just land) for the Jews. The commission declared that

  • the national aspirations of the Arabs and Jews were irreconcilable
    • An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.
  • Palestine should be partitioned so that an Arab state was made up of Transjordan and the Arab part of Palestine and the rest a Jewish state
    • If Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population.
  • the Jewish state would consist of one third of the including the most fertile regions, including the plain of Esdraelon, most of the coastal plain and the wholly Arab owned Galilee (Jewish population was 5.6% of the total at the time);
  • the British would retain a corridor from Jerusalem to the coast;
  • the Arab state would make up the rest, including the Negev desert;
  • there would be an “exchange” of populations: 225,000 Arabs in the Jewish areas would “exchange” places with 1250 Jews — as a last resort this would be a “compulsory” move; this did not include the Arabs in Galilee — it was imagined that the Galilean Arabs would be encouraged to move voluntarily.

The full text of the report can be read online. (It’s an interesting read. It affirms the main themes this series of posts has been highlighting, especially the substantial and long-term Arab attachment to the land and their political aspirations in the wake of World War I.) I quote here its reference to the status of the Galilee because I find it especially interesting in what it tells us about long-term Jew-Arab relations prior to the dramatic changes from the 1920s onwards and the way the language of the report avoids the obvious implications for the future of an inevitable change of ownership and demographic shift (my bolding):

The proposed frontier necessitates the inclusion in the Jewish Area of the Galilee highlands between Safad and the Plain of Acre. This is the part of Palestine in which the Jews have retained a foothold almost if not entirely without a break from the beginning of the Diaspora to the present day, and the sentiment of all Jewry is deeply attached to the “holy cities” of Safad and Tiberias. Until quite recently, moreover the Jews in Galilee have lived on friendly terms with their Arab neighbours; and throughout the series of disturbances the fellaheen of Galilee have shown themselves less amenable to political incitement than those of Samaria and Judaea where the centres of Arab nationalism are located. At the “mixed” towns of Tiberias, Safad, Haifa, and Acre there have been varying degrees of friction since the “disturbances” of last year. It would greatly promote the successful operation of Partition in its early stages, and in particular help to ensure the execution of the Treaty guarantees for the protection of minorities, if those four towns were kept for a period under Mandatory administration.

peel-c1

The royal (Peel) commissioners

Arab response to the report

Outrage. Violence, especially among the peasantry.

Images from http://dancutlermedicalart.com/AlbertEinstein%27sZionism/06Einstein%27sZionism1930-1939.htm

Images from http://dancutlermedicalart.com/AlbertEinstein%27sZionism/06Einstein%27sZionism1930-1939.htm

Zionist response to the report

The report gave the Zionists two key goals they had long been seeking:

  1. Assurance that a Jewish Homeland (as offered by the Balfour Declaration) would translate into a Jewish State;
  2. Approval for the transfer of the Arab population from that state.

As we saw in previous posts these are the two goals Zionist leaders (Weizmann, Shertok, Ben-Gurion) had been lobbying and working towards so hard for so long. But prudence remained important. It would not look good to be seen to be rejoicing too enthusiastically over the promise to transfer the Arab population from their areas.

Thus the Jewish Agency, of which Ben-Gurion was chairman, simultaneously attacked the partition plan in public as a breach of the Balfour Declaration promises (on the grounds that the Balfour Declaration had promised a Jewish home in all of Palestine), while privately seeking to negotiate with the British government for a Jewish state based on more advantageous positions. (p. 62)

In 1918 Ben-Gurion had called for a Jewish state that extended from the Litani River in the north to the Wadi Arish in the south and the Syrian desert as far as the farthest border of Transjordan in the east.

Weizmann made it clear to the British High Commissioner that the Jewish State borders being proposed by the Peel Commission were only temporary:

We shall expand in the whole country in the course of time. . . this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years. (Weizmann in a private conversation with the High Commissioner, A. Wauchope, 14 March 1937. Cited in Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, p. 67)

read more »


2014-04-21

Pushing for Mass Transfer of Arabs & Warning of “Rivers of Blood”

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post . . . .

This post shows that the bloodshed that was to stain Palestine for decades to come and through to today was warned about in 1937. It is commonly said that the Palestinians by and large voluntarily left their lands, especially in 1948. This series will produce the evidence to demonstrate that that claim is a terrible myth.Several other myths are also being addressed in this series:

  • that Palestinian Arabs never had any really legitimate ties to the Palestine,
  • the myth of the “empty land”,
  • the myth of Arab plans from the beginning to drive Jews into the sea (the reality was the Zionists planned from the start to drive the Arabs into the desert),
  • the myth that the Zionists sought peaceful coexistence with the Arabs from the outset.

.

One reader expressed concern that

  • these posts are presenting only one side of the story
  • and that I am not being duly sceptical about my source material.

I invite others

  • to provide another side to the contents of this post,
  • and/or to demonstrate fault with the sources.

I set only one condition: that any such comment does indeed address another side to the contents of this post, or to the sources and their content, and not shift goal-posts by addressing other issues that deflect attention from the points made here.

.

The Royal Commission Meets the Zionist Leaders

Nur-MasalhaThe Peel Royal Commission arrived in Palestine in November 1936 to gather information about the tense and often violent Arab-Jewish relations in order to make recommendations for British government policy on Palestine. Nur Masalha writes that “several members of [the Commission] expressed open sympathy for Zionism.” (Expulsion, p. 54)

The Commission met with both Arab representatives and with “virtually every Zionist leader in Palestine of any importance”. Most of the Zionist lobbying, however, took place in London after the Commission returned in January 1937. Zionist leaders — Shertok, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, David Hacohen, Dov Hos — went to London where they forged close relations with the decision makers: the leaders of the British Labor Party and Commission members. The Zionist delegates strongly promoted both partition of Palestine and population transfers.

Actually the idea of partitioning Palestine was initiated earlier in Palestine by a British Commissioner, Professor Reginald Coupland, in a private meeting with Weizmann. This was a major breakthrough for the Zionist movement.

Given the diverse patterns of settlement in Palestine at the time, any type of partition was going to inevitably mean population transfers of some kind.

The population transfer recommendations that the Peel Commission eventually agreed on were the same as those originally proposed by the Jewish Agency leaders of Palestine. (Recall from last post that Ben-Gurion had stated his intention to raise the issue with the Commissioners.)

In March 1937 the Jewish Agency conveyed a confidential plan for transfer to the Royal Commission. Recall in the previous post the passing mention of a non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency who protested against the transfer idea — Maurice Hexter. Now Hexter was the one who conveyed the transfer plan to the Royal Commission.

Hexter explained that aim of the plan was to solve the problem of land and Zionist colonization in various districts such as the Hula and Beisan valleys. Under the plan, the British government was to consider proposals submitted by the Yishuv settlement companies, such as the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), and the Palestine Land Development Company (Hevrat Hachsharat Hayishuv), all of which were engaged in the purchase of land in Palestine for the collective control of the Jewish National Fund or Zionist private investors. (pp. 55-56)

Hexter explained that the goal of these proposals was

the herding together of the existing Arab villages and their concentration in order to evacuate their territories for Jewish colonization.

Hexter went on to explain that if the Arabs refused to accept their transfer from their lands and put up any sort of resistance to selling and evacuating their lands, then the government was to intervene and

force the people to exchange land and move them from one place to another.

A Royal Commissioner then asked Hexter if the land to be evacuated by the Arabs was to given entirely to the Jewish settlements, Hexter answered:

Our intention is [that they will be] only for Jews.

(Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, a statement at a meeting of the Zionist Actions Committee, II February 1937, Jerusalem, pp. 16-17.)

But it was another proposal for transfer that had the most impact on the Commission. This was one advanced by the Jewish Agency in a May 1937 memorandum and made available in Ben-Gurion’s memoirs published in 1974. read more »


2014-04-20

Zionist Plans for Mass Transfer of Arabs: Alive But Discreet

by Neil Godfrey

Nur-MasalhaThis fourth installment of a series I began in 2010 is long overdue. The previous posts are:

  1. Zionist Founding Fathers’ Plans for Transfer of the Palestinian Arabs
  2. Redemption or Conquest: Zionist Yishuv plans for transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the British Mandate period
  3. The Weizmann Plan to “Transfer” the Palestinians

My intention is to make a little more widely known a scholarly Palestinian perspective of the history of Israel’s efforts to transfer Palestinians from their lands. A good many myths have long circulated in Western countries about the Palestinian situation, such as the supposed “emptiness” of the land at the time the first Jewish immigrants began to arrive, and about the supposed lack of cultural, religious or ethnic ties Palestinian Arabs had for Palestine, or even the assumption that the Palestinians had no distinctive sophisticated cultural, intellectual and settled urban identities at all. Palestinian historian Nur Masalha has researched the personal, diaries, the letters, the meeting minutes, government archives, of the Jewish leaders and organizations responsible for bringing about the Jewish state of Israel and published one facet of his findings in Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, published in 1992 by the Institute for Palestinian Studies.

I am well aware that some regular readers deplore posts like this thinking they are antisemitic propaganda and some may even loathe this blog and stop reading. Yet this is a far more important question than biblical studies. I can only ask that we pause and check whether we might possibly have not yet truly heard the real story but have relied predominantly upon emotive declamations as filtered through one side of the conflict. If these posts go beyond what the primary evidence of the documented record allows then they can rightly be dismissed. I hope to present the documented evidence for the real plans and hopes of prominent figures that resulted in the Palestine we see today. I see no point in having a blog that only repeats what many others are saying far better than I can. The posts I compose are for most part, I hope, invitations to re-evaluate (on the basis of authoritative sources, clear evidence and valid argument) what many of us (myself included) have long taken for granted.

Rather than add many explanatory footnotes I link directly to (mostly) Wikipedia articles that explain certain names and terms that I bring in to the discussion. I spell names the way they are printed in Masalha’s book.

The Royal (Peel) Commission

The Peel Commission was set up in May 1936 to investigate the causes of the often violent conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine throughout the six month period of a strike by Arabs that year. The following year the Commission published the report that initiated efforts to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities. It also recommended the eventual “transfers” of 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews. This post makes clear the thinking of Jewish leaders in the lead up to this Commission’s enquiry and recommendation for population transfers.

Background: British Opposition to Arab Transfers

read more »


2014-04-17

The Biblical Roots of Nazi Racism

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsNot only Christian apologists but even some respected academic historians argue that Christianity had nothing to do with Nazism and that the Holocaust was inspired by atheistic, non-Christian ideologies. Not so, argues Hector Avalos, in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence:

In fact, we shall argue that the Holocaust has its roots in biblical traditions that advocate genocide. (Kindle loc. 4093)

Avalos surveys the range of published viewpoints that argue Hitler and Nazism were driven by atheistic, anti-Christian and pro-evolutionary agendas but writes that

the main theoreticians [among Nazi ideologues] saw themselves as religious. (loc. 4158)

Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"Hector Avalos is already renowned/notorious for The End of Biblical Studies. There he argued that the biblical texts are without any relevance today, or at least are no more relevant than any other writings from ancient times. Scholars who attempt to argue for the moral relevance of the Bible in today’s world, Avalos argues, do so by tendentiously re-interpreting selected passages out of their original contexts and arbitrarily downplaying passages that contradict their claims. Theoretically, Avalos reasons, one could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and likewise focus on the good passages in it and insist they over-ride the bad ones, and that the negative passages should be interpreted symbolically and through the good sentiments we read into the better passages. No-one would attempt to justify the relevance of Mein Kampf by such a method. Yet Avalos points out that that’s the way scholars justify the relevance of the Bible in today’s world.

This post is based on another work by Avalos, Fighting Words, in which he analyses the way religious beliefs can and do contribute to violence. The full thesis is something I will address in a future post. Here I look at just one controversial point made in that book.

Avalos does not deny that Nazism drew upon scientific ideas of its day. But it can also be concluded that these scientific notions of race were extras added to ideas that had a deeper cultural heritage, in particular as they found expression in the holy book of Christianity. A modern and prominent theorist of race, Milford Wolpoff, traces modern ideas of racism right back to Platonic ideas of “essentialism“.

Ernst Haeckel

Plattdüütsch: Ernst Haeckel nadem he ut Italie...

Ernst Haeckel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1913) was perhaps the most influential of evolutionary theorists and writers at the turn of the twentieth century; his views were widely embraced with his book, The Riddle of the World (Die Welträtsel) having sold 100,000 copies before the turn of the century. Haeckel popularized the idea that different human races each evolved from different species of ape-men. Exterminations and exploitation of lesser races by superior ones was considered the inevitable consequence of Darwinism. The Nazi Party’s publications cited Haeckel frequently.

At the same time, Hitler saw racism as compatible with religion, as do many biblical authors. Even Haeckel, who is often maligned for supposedly introducing scientific grounds for genocide, saw himself as simply reexpressing biblical concepts in scientific language.

Note, for example, Haeckel’s comments on his vision of Utopia:

The future morality, free from all religious dogma, and grounded in a clear knowledge of nature’s law, teaches us the ancient wisdom of the Golden Rule … through the words of the Gospel: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

As in Christian and Jewish texts, “your neighbor” originally meant a fellow member of your in-group. Thus, Haeckel’s interpretation of “neighbor,” even if exegetically flawed, was based on the same concept of insider and outsider that is present in the earlier religions.

Avalos likens the Nazis to the “scientific creationists” of their day:

So from Haeckel to Hitler, Nazis did not see themselves as opposing biblical principles so much as they thought that modern science could be used to support, purify, and update those biblical principles. Nazis were often more like the scientific creationists of today who believe their pseudoscience supports the Bible. (loc. 4290-4297)

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels & Theozoology read more »