IN A world beset by terrorism and humanitarian disasters, the international community remains fixated on the State of Israel.
The one and only state of the Jewish people, back in their historical homeland, is a beacon of democracy in the Muslim-Arab sphere devoid of human rights, left behind by social and economic progress and subject to frequent bouts of bloody unrest. Yet Israel is singled out, again and again, for condemnation.
The European Union, self-appointed human rights watchdog, is at the forefront of the attacks. This is a puzzling phenomenon.
Why is Europe turning a blind eye to the deadly legacy of violence, chaos and backwardness left by the Islamic occupation of the Middle East and North Africa? Why, indeed, is the old continent wooing the Arab world, forgetting its own history and past Islamic takeover attempts? Why is it so reluctant to see that Islam is threatening its future through massive immigration and terrorist attacks? And why is there no such compunction regarding Israel, branded as the last colonial power occupying a land belonging to others? After all, here the focus is on the wrong occupier. From the 7th century onward, the Middle East and North Africa have been forcibly conquered and occupied by Muslim-Arab forces that have oppressed its populations and pillaged their riches. The so-called “guilt” of Israel is having successfully fought the Arab occupiers after 1,308 years and restoring its independence, a feat only one other country, South Sudan, has been able to accomplish in modern times, but at a terrible price – more than two million dead over the 40-year fight for independence from its Islamic rulers.
Europe apparently has forgotten that Muslims once came to ravage and plunder and impose their faith. Of course, it threw them off much earlier.
France defeated a massive Islamic army at the Battle of Poitiers in 732, driving back the invaders all the way to Spain and stopping their advance into Europe. Spain would need another eight centuries to achieve its Reconquista and regain full sovereignty over all its territory.
Sicily threw the invaders back into the sea in the 11th century, after 100 years of occupation.
Ottoman Muslims were defeated in 1683 at the battle of Vienna. A number of Central European countries and the Balkan States were under Ottoman Islamic rule for 350 years, until the middle of the 19th century.
It’s always useful to go back to history and hard facts to remind ourselves how and why Islam has prevailed while all other old empires disappeared, and what the resulting disastrous consequences are to the world at present.
Muslim-Arab rulers rode roughshod over ancient civilizations. With the beginning of their conquest and expansion in 640, they encountered established centers of culture, products of centuries and even millennia- old civilizations. Populations in the land of Israel and in Mesopotamia (today Iraq and Syria) were monotheist, and lived under the rule of Byzantium and/or the Sassanian empire, with strong Greek and Roman influences.
Jews, with 3,000 years of history behind them, spoke Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; Christians, with a past of “only” 600 years, were the descendants of Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations and spoke Aramaic and Greek. Jews and Christians thus represented highly developed cultural traditions and boasted of advanced institutions of higher learning.
In Persia, the Sassanid dynasty perpetuated the 2,000-year-old Zoroastrian religion and civilization. In Egypt, Islam fought to overcome the brilliant pharaonic and Greek cultures as well as the Coptic faith. In North Africa, Islam met Berbers, ancient Phoenician peoples, as well as Jews and Christians who had developed a thriving agriculture and had commercial ties with Europe and Africa.
Special attention should be paid to the constant attacks on Aramaic-speaking Christian populations throughout the centuries.
In the Middle East in the 1st century, Assyrians had been the first to adopt Christianity, though their claim is disputed by Copts who also claim to have been the first. Gradually, Assyrian Christian civilization disappeared from the Middle East. By the 14th century, Arabic had thoroughly replaced Aramaic in Mesopotamia, parts of present day Turkey and even the former Persian Empire, where it was introduced to the Hebrews during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. The famed Babylonian Talmud was partly written in Aramaic.
Persecution of Christians has never stopped, even in modern times. During World War I, Ottoman Turks massacred more than 1,000,000 Christian Armenians, and also killed 300,000 Assyrian Christians.
There was another massacre in the 1930s in northern Iraq, in which tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians were killed before Great Britain managed to stop the murder.
Very few speakers of Aramaic are now left in the Middle East, probably no more than half a million, living in Iraq and southern Syria. Another million have settled in the United States. In Israel, where there is a small community of some 1,500 Aramaic speakers, efforts are made to help them promote a revival of their ancient language.
Pagan empires such as Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome launched wars to demonstrate power, assert their dominance and accumulate wealth. Not so Islam: its avowed aim was, and still is, to impose the religion of Muhammad on the world, and convert infidels by persuasion or force and make them pledge allegiance to Allah.
WHILE ANCIENT empires withered and disappeared, Islam imposed its faith on conquered peoples, turning them into believers and thus also changing their culture. With time, Arabic superseded the many languages of the ancient world, and a new Muslim- Arab space was born through coercion.
The vast territories conquered by Islamic armies in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Spain were slowly turned into religious and cultural centers that were intended to be united in one vast Islamic caliphate, as had been preached by the Prophet Muhammad who used to say that all Muslims would be brothers.
It never happened. There was incessant fighting between Islamic rulers as competing caliphates were established in Damascus, Bagdad, Cairo, North Africa and Spain.
There never was one Caliphate that would have united all the peoples and let them develop and progress, affording them gender equality and basic human rights, and letting them live their lives according to their religions and traditions. On the contrary, Islam, presented today by the faithful and by many Western academics as a religion of peace, is claiming superiority over the other religions, and, in accordance with the shari’a, imposing itself forcibly – which it continues to do to this day.
There is discrimination toward non-Arab minorities everywhere, and even toward Christian Arabs. In Saudi Arabia, keeper of the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, building churches or synagogues is forbidden. Foreign nationals who are not Muslim cannot become citizens and are prohibited to enter Mecca. In short, this is a failed civilization that brought nothing but violence and lack of progress to the territories it occupied by force. For centuries, Jews were at the mercy of their Islamic rulers who afforded them a measure of protection as long as they paid a head tax and submitted to humiliating regulations. Woe to the Jew who entered into a conflict with a Muslim, as courts always found for the Muslim against the infidel.
In the 20th century, in the wake of World War I, the awakening of the colonized and oppressed peoples spread to the Ottoman Empire. The consequences were the formation, through the Sykes-Picot agreement, of Arab nation-states such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and one Jewish state – Israel. Most of those states imploded or dissolved under the pressure of Arab- Islamic internecine conflicts dating back to the dawn of Islam and Arab tribal traditions.
National and religious minorities in the Arab region have not been given independence or autonomy.
They are still trying to overthrow their Arab-Muslim occupiers.
PROMINENT AMONG them are the Kurds.
They are not Arabs, but are indigenous to the area. Conquered and forcibly Islamized, they were disposed to ally themselves with their new rulers.
Salah al-Din ‒ Saladin – the legendary warrior who defeated the Crusaders and “freed Jerusalem” was a Kurd. Yet they steadfastly refused to relinquish their identity, their language and their customs. Today, they number an estimated 30 million to 40 million and are spread among four countries: Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
They have long fought for their independence, or at least for a large measure of autonomy. Indeed, a Kurdish autonomous zone was created with the help of the allied coalition in northern Iraq in the wake of the first Gulf war, intended to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein. He had led a vigorous policy of forced Arabization against them, deporting tens of thousands of peasants to other areas with a view to replacing them by “ethnic” Arabs, and even gassing a number of villages. That Kurdish zone proclaimed its right to independence in 2011, but it was not recognized by other countries.
In Syria, the civil war made it possible for the Kurds to establish several semi-autonomous zones. Recently, Turkey penetrated into northwest Syria under pretext of fighting ISIS, but they are using the opportunity to push back Syrian Kurds and declaring that it will never permit the installation of a Kurdish zone along its border. The long-running Kurdish rebellion, led by the PKK – Kurdish Workers Party ‒ in Turkey so far has claimed tens of thousands of victims on both sides. There is a legal Kurdish party authorized by Ankara that, nevertheless, refuses to discuss granting autonomy, let alone independence, to its significant Kurd minority.
In Iran, the Kurdish democratic party fought long and hard for independence in the 1970s and ’80s, but was decimated by a savage repression.
Tens of thousands died, leaving a scared and enfeebled community unwilling to fight anymore. Yet there remains a small Kurdish movement that still launches minor guerrilla actions against the regime. Ayatollahs ruling Iran with an iron hand will not hear of even limited autonomy. World media has largely ignored the plight of Kurds in Iran.
The indigenous peoples of North Africa, disparagingly called Barbarians or Berbers by Greeks and Romans because they spoke neither Greek nor Latin, were forcibly Islamized by the Arab conquest, but they kept their identity and their own language throughout the centuries.
They, too, fought alongside their conquerors, and Berbers who converted to Islam founded the Almoravid and Almoads dynasties, which adhered to a stringent brand of Islam and were among the rulers of Spain.
Today, there are some 38 million Berbers scattered between Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Their language and culture were never recognized by the Arab regimes in North Africa, which largely oppressed them. Of late they have launched a campaign to promote their independence or gain autonomous status, and have established common institutions such as the world Amazigh Congress – Amazigh being the name of their language – founded in France in 1995, and the Union of North African Peoples established in 2011, in Tangiers, as the so-called Arab Spring resonated throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
In Algeria, Berbers make up 33 percent of the population, and can be found mostly in the Kabylie region in the country’s northeast. Oppressed for centuries, they set up a government in exile in Paris in 2010.
Here again, Western media remain silent.
Although the amended Algerian constitution recognized the Amazigh language in February 2016, it did not bring about needed changes on the ground, and oppression went on unabated.
There are some 20 million Berbers in Morocco – an impressive 60 percent of the population.
Here too, as a result of the Arab Spring, Mohammed VI granted recognition to their language, and gave his approval to a more liberal constitution in order to defuse social tension in the country and avoid the fate of the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
In Libya, the Berber minority makes up 12 percent of the population. Even though it was at the forefront of the battle to topple Muammar Gaddafi, it did not receive any recognition in the new government, and undoubtedly will ask for a measure of cultural autonomy if and when the situation in the country is stable again.
The fact that Berbers are living in so many different countries with no territorial contiguity makes it difficult for them to wage a united campaign against their Arab rulers.
What Kurds and Berbers have in common is that they are both indigenous, non-Arab populations; have both been forcibly Islamized; and even participated with their new rulers in conquests fought in the name of Islam. Yet neither was treated as equals by the Arabs, who boast of their prophet and of the divine apparition of the Koran in Arabic, and look down on those who embraced their religion but remained “foreigners.”
Then there are the Copts, the indigenous population of Egypt. They converted to Christianity in the 1st century, and stubbornly refused to relinquish their faith through 1,400 years of Arab-Islamic occupation and repression. The Coptic church is Orthodox, autonomous and independent, and led by a pope. Today, Copts make up 10 percent of the population of Egypt.
They do not look for autonomy and feel an integral part of the country, but would like to be treated as equals. It is not likely to happen soon.
The first article of the 2014 constitution stipulates that Egypt is part of the Arab and Muslim nations. According to Article 2, Islam is the religion of the state and shari’a is the primary source of legislation. Article 3 recognizes the right of Copts and Jews to administer personal and religious affairs according to their faith, but Islam and Arab nationalism dominate Egypt, and Copts do not enjoy equal rights. Jews, once a vibrant part of the country’s economic and cultural life, have been forcibly driven away and only a handful are left.
In other words, the Middle East and North Africa are still under a continued repressive, illegitimate and unjust Arab-Islamic occupation, and no one in the West is ready to tackle the issue.
All those varied populations evolved into the substratum of what became known as Muslim-Arab civilization.
There had been what is dubbed now the “golden age of Islam” loosely from the 8th to 12th centuries, essentially in the 10th and the 11th centuries during the rule of Harun al-Rashid in Bagdad and Abd ar-Rahman III in Cordoba. At that time, the famous House of Wisdom in Bagdad was created, and the study of philosophy, mathematics and medicine blossomed. Arabs brought the decimal system from India, learned from the Chinese the secret to producing paper, and mainly from Christians of the East translated from Latin into Arabic the writings of Greek philosophers. However, in spite of this exceptional contribution, that civilization remained stagnant and was left behind. The shari’a overcame the budding of development.
The West, meanwhile, welcomed the age of enlightenment that ushered in industrialization and the establishment of democratic regimes.
Today, Daesh – the self-proclaimed Islamic State ‒ has taken upon itself to eliminate the last surviving minorities, focusing on the pitiful remnants of Assyrian Christianity and on the Yazidis (followers of a religion loosely based on the teachings of Zarathustra) in northern Iraq. It is also systematically smashing all remaining monuments and vestiges that testify to the past glory of cultures destroyed by Islam – churches, ancient cemeteries and monuments such as Palmyra.
AT PRESENT, Arab conquest and Islamization are not being taught in the West, and no research is being carried out since it might lead to some unwelcome conclusions that contradict prevalent trends in academic circles and the media.
Western thinkers have adopted a so-called “Post-postmodernism” approach based on political correctness and multiculturalism.
These are the tools applied by leading academics and international media to deal with Islam and the problems it presents in the form of millions of Muslim migrants coming to Europe, and the rising tide of Islamic terrorist attacks.
They deliberately ignore historical reality and the fundamental tenets of Islam as a religion.
Such willful ignorance can only lead to increasingly weakened democratic regimes unable or unwilling to fight militant Islam and its religious intolerance – including blatant anti-Semitism – aspiring to impose its rule on the whole world.
Interestingly, the Western world, and more specifically Europeans, see in Islam one of the three monotheist religions rooted in the Bible, the other two being Judaism and Christianity.
They believe, or pretend to believe, that by patiently attempting to blunt the more radical elements of Islam they can reach an understanding leading to peaceful coexistence. They do not see that there are some insuperable obstacles due to the very nature of Islam.
There are fundamental theological differences between Islam and Christianity. The very principle of the Trinity – which is at the core of Christianity – is abhorrent to Islam, where the oneness of Allah cannot be disputed, and merely adding another element is tantamount to blasphemy and punishable by death.
Regarding Judaism, Islam in the beginning was a biblical religion, and a third of the verses of the Koran deal with Jews. The direction of prayer – Kibla in Arabic – for the first faithful was Jerusalem. But since Jews – and Christians – of the Arab Peninsula refused to recognize him as a prophet coming after Moses and Jesus and superseding both, Muhammad distanced himself more and more from the Scriptures. He changed the direction of prayer to Mecca, and told his believers that it was not Isaac that Abraham was about to sacrifice on Mount Moriah but Ishmael, the son of Hagar his concubine. He also proclaimed that Adam and Noah had both been precursors of Islam. This was intended to distance Islam from the Covenant between God and the People of Israel, and later from Jesus as the Christian Messiah.
ISLAM THUS became a separate and very different religion, so there is no basis for a fruitful dialogue with Christianity and Judaism leading to some form of understanding.
Europe cannot or will not face the historical truth about the Arab-Muslim conquest and occupation of the Middle East, and the dire consequences for the peoples of the region. Israel cannot afford that luxury. It was forced to fight it in order to survive, and its efforts were crowned with success.
A small community of 650,000 men, women and children defeated the armies of five Arab states that invaded its territory in order to destroy the fledgling state in May 1948. This was a devastating blow for the Arabs, who had grown accustomed to the undisputed rule of Islam throughout the Middle East and to the inferiority of the Jews who lived as second-class citizens.
Jews who had settled for centuries in Arab countries were expelled “in retaliation,” and nearly a million of them found themselves stateless and robbed of their property. Strangely, there was no outrage and no outcry in the West.
The Arab world could not accept its defeat and still refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, showing its hostility through a ceaseless diplomatic campaign and boycotts while supporting constant terrorist attacks against its citizens. What makes it even more galling for Arab minds is that in spite of all that warfare, the Jewish state has been transformed in just a few dozen years into a thriving and successful country, a world leader in the fields of agriculture, industry and hi-tech.
It was in response to the sudden and unwarranted attack by Jordanian forces upon western Jerusalem in 1967 that Israel conquered Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Since the Arab world refused again and again to agree to a comprehensive settlement, Israel, which returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in the wake of the 1979 peace agreement, and subsequently made peace with Jordan and evacuated the whole of the Gaza Strip, sees itself as the custodian of the territories until such time as real peace can be achieved.
Why should the Jewish state bow to the Arab pretension that the whole Middle East must be ruled by Arabs? What if Caliph Omar stated that a land once conquered by the armies of Islam would forever be part of the Islamic world, a thought echoed by the Muslim Brotherhood and seconded by militant Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Daesh? Europe has apparently forgotten that they also eye Cyprus, Spain, Sicily and the south of France.
Jews never bowed to the Arab conquest and never renounced the land of Israel, which remained the lodestar of their cultural and religious aspirations. Religious and secular literature were linked to the land of Israel. The word geula – salvation or deliverance – always meant return to Israel, and that hope kept the Jewish People and preserved their identity. Some messianic Jews even made impossible attempts at coming back to the land of their forefathers, such as Dom Joseph Nasi and Shabtai Zvi.
They all failed because they were unrealistic ‒ at the time, Jews were a persecuted minority, with no political support and no military force.
YET, THERE was always a Jewish presence in the land of Israel, and it never disappeared even after the Arab conquest of 640, which dealt a blow to the Jewish community that numbered half a million at the time.
Some converted to Islam, others were killed or fled, but until the middle of the 18th century there was a substantial Jewish presence in many Galilean villages, as well as in Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Jaffa. Jewish and Christian travelers attest to the fact in their accounts.
Jewish researchers found clear proof of that continuous Jewish presence in the archives of the Ottoman Empire, where there are detailed reports of taxes paid according to the religious affiliation of the taxpayers.
By the second half of the 18th century, Jews in the Galilee faced with ceaseless vexations and pogroms from their Arab neighbors could no longer resist, and had to leave. When the State of Israel was born, only a few Jewish families were left in the town of Peki’in. Nevertheless, one can still see in Arab villages a Star of David or a menorah on a door frame or a roof, ruined synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries.
Many, if not most, Arab villages in the Galilee were Jewish villages whose population had been driven away to make room for the Arabs.
Arrabe, Sakhnin, Bir’am, Mrar, Achbra, Sepphoris, Kafr Kana, Nazareth and many others were all Jewish towns mentioned in the Bible or Talmud, and some figure prominently in the New Testament.
Jewish historian Josephus Flavius mentions by name 200 Jewish villages in the Galilee.
These inconvertible facts are conveniently glossed over by Arab members of the Knesset and their supporters, who ludicrously claim that Jews have nothing to do with Palestine, “which was Arab since the dawn of time.” Yet the families of these Knesset members settled here a mere century or two ago.
Indeed Palestine is not an Arab word, and there is no Arab connotation to such a country. The word was coined by Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BCE to describe a part of Israel that was populated at the time by Philistines, members of some Greek tribes who had settled there in the second millennium BCE and were to be found on the coast until they were driven off or chose to leave.
Emperor Hadrian, having defeated the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132 CE and killed an estimated 1.5 million Judean Jews, decided to obliterate the name Judea forever and chose to resurrect the Greek appellation. Henceforth Palestine was used to describe the land of Israel – Eretz Israel – perhaps because it was easier to pronounce and never referred to an Arab entity.
In fact, European anti-Semites in the late 19th century and early 20th were wont to tell Jews, “Go back to your country, Palestine.”
There was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab entity; Palestine is not mentioned in the Koran because it was known as Jewish. Arabs arrived as conquerors and never thought to establish a country. They never settled in great numbers until the second half of the 19th century, when the Zionist movement brought progress and development, and more workers were needed.
Arabs arrived by the tens of thousands in the land of Israel, still called Palestine, from the Maghreb, Egypt, the Arab Peninsula and Syria looking for work. Such are the facts about the nonexistent history of a so-called Palestinian people, and they were well known and not disputed until the Six Day War, when Arabs suddenly began calling themselves Palestinians with “historical rights to the land.”
It was not taken seriously at first, but then Arab propaganda decided it would make an excellent weapon and adopted it. Slowly, the liberal Israeli Left came to accept this definition, in the mistaken belief that it would encourage Arabs to make peace. It turned out to be a colossal mistake that helped to distort the situation. Arab leaders now wax lyrical on an Arab presence “which began 5,000 years ago” and left no room for any Jewish claim.
SOMEHOW, THERE are Europeans who go along with that fantasy, forgetting the Bible and world history. They are convinced that Israel conquered large tracts of a ‒ wholly imaginary – Arab Palestinian state belonging to the ‒ equally imaginary ‒ ancient Palestinian people. Apparently, no one wants to remember that there is an Israeli-Arab conflict born of the Islamic conquest and Arab nationalism, and all deny any legitimacy to the Jewish state in the land of Israel.
Needless to say, this leaves no room for a solution, as can be seen from a review of the 100 years that followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Vainly did Israel propose one compromise after another. They were rejected, and the Arabs never made a counterproposal since doing so would have meant accepting that Israel is here to stay.
Yet one has only to turn back to the history books to realize that Arab-Islamic conquest and occupation of the Middle East and North Africa led to whole-scale destruction without bringing any hope, and that it is not Israel that is at the root of the problem.
Unfortunately, Europe is not interested in historical facts. It pursues its endless carping about Israel, isolating and weakening the Jewish state, which is confronted by an Arab-Islamic world bent on destroying it. Europe is conferring upon the Arabs the legitimacy it denies to Israel, and does not understand that by so doing it is perpetuating the conflict, sowing the seeds of more and more wars and ultimately undermining its very own existence.
Zvi Mazel, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Egypt, Romania and Sweden