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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected]. Ray has written about Christianity (see his essay "Christianity: The Great Lie") and Islam (see: "The Many Faces of Islam", among many others in the Reading Room). I have asked Ray to write about his views on the Middle East problem for a long time. "Integral notes on the Israel/Arab conflict" was his response to that request.

From: Integral Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict

Choosing your friends
and enemies

Second Reply to Meyerhoff

Ray Harris

I have no problems with debate; it's just that the Israel/Palestine debate can get bogged down in 'he said, she said'. That's okay; we can go down that path. Meyerhoff can quote his sources and I can quote my sources, he can discredit mine and I can discredit his – tit for tat. You see, I said in my original article that one of the features of this debate was a dispute over history. Who did what when and what weight should be given to particular events.

History, schmistory

Meyerhoff places considerable weight on the work of the New Historians and accuses me of accepting a 'triumphalist' 80's position. But surely he is aware that the work of the New Historians is not the only or final word on Israeli history? In fact there is an on going debate between the New Historians and their critics. I don't want to go into the details of this debate here because frankly it's laborious and I don't have the time, but more importantly, the parameters of the debate can be easily investigated by anyone who can search the web. Just as an exercise I typed in 'Israel's New Historians' in Google and the first entry was the Wikipedia entry, which says:

'Leading scholars in this school include Benny Morris, Ilan Pappι, Avi Shlaim, and Tom Segev. Many of their conclusions have been attacked by other scholars and Israeli historians, who criticize their conclusions and methodology and find fault with their research.'

The problem for Meyerhoff is that he relies considerably on the work of these New Historians. I'm not saying that the New Historians have not made a contribution, it's just that it's a bit rich for Meyerhoff to accuse me of being behind the times, when he seems to think the New Historians are the 'final' word.

I mentioned in my reply the controversy over Finklestein. It's not a small controversy. It's a vicious tit for tat showdown. Again, a simple Internet search will reveal the parameters of the conflict. Then, to indicate his reliance on controversial sources he quotes Ilan Pappe, an even more controversial figure, and again a quick Internet search will reveal the parameters of the debate. Here's an example of some anti-Pappe rhetoric:

'”The most hated Israeli in Israel" - an ignoble moniker to be sure - has not eroded Ilan Pappe's star power on U.S. college campuses, where he is more often than not warmly greeted. The usual contingent of Said acolytes, Chomsky groupies and a panoply of pro-Palestinian student organizations are invariably well represented in his audiences. The prominence of resolutely anti-Israel partisans is unsurprising, given Pappe's role as one of Israel's most prominent die-hard Marxists.'

It is to Israel's credit by the way, that Pappe is still free to lecture in Israel in his capacity as a senior lecturer in politics at Haifa University. I'm not sure an equivalent academic in an Arab country would have the same freedom to be critical of his own government. Yet, despite his own academic freedom Pappe has supported the British ban on Israeli academics.

The thing is, if you re-read Meyerhoff you can't help but think that he's well 'within' the Said, Chomsky, Finklestein, New Historian camp. There's nothing wrong with this as such, but to be integral you must consider 'all' points of view and be well aware of criticisms and counter-criticisms of that particular constellation of views. And that is what I urge the reader who is interested in this particular debate to do – be aware of the controversy and read 'both' sides. Don't do what Meyerhoff appears to do and buy into a particular camp.

Of course Meyerhoff is quite correct to say that because a figure is controversial doesn't mean they are always wrong. We can extend that argument to say that because a figure is identified with the left or the right doesn't mean they are wrong either (I think I wrote an article called 'Left, Right or Just Plain Wrong'). The problem though, is that Meyerhoff simply repeats the New Historian argument. Let's return to the summary in Wikipedia (and yes, I am aware of the criticism of Wikipedia as a reliable source, but this is a fair summary).

  • The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; the "new historians" claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the "new historians" said that the refugees were chased out or expelled
  • The official version said that the balance of power was in favor of the Arabs; the "new historians" said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms
  • The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the "new historians" said that the Arabs were divided
  • The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the "new historians" said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end.

Now, does any of this sound familiar? It ought to, because Meyerhoff questions me on many of these points, again accepting the New Historians as the final word.

Here's another interesting thing. Benny Morris, one of the leading New Historians has been sharply critical of another of Meyerhoff's mates, Norman Finklestein. Again a quick Internet search will reveal the parameters of that nasty debate.

To indicate how far Meyerhoff buys into the Finklestein camp he quotes Finklestein's condemnation of Joan Peters' book From Time Immemorial as if that is the end of the matter. Well, far from it. In The Case for Peace Alan Dershowitz makes some serious allegations. He says:

'The Chomsky-Finklestein-Cockburn mode of ad hominem attack proved successful against Peters because the words 'hoax', 'fraud', 'fake', and 'plagiarism' are so dramatic and unforgettable, as is the charge that Peters did not actually write the book, but merely signed a KGB- style forgery concocted by 'some intelligence agency', presumably the Mossad or the CIA…It did not seem to matter that none of these charges was even close to the truth. All Finklestein had managed to show was that in a relatively small number of instances, Peters may have misinterpreted some data, ignored counterdata, and exaggerated some findings – common problems in demographic research that often appear in anti-Israeli books as well, including those of Chomsky.' (pg 177).

Dershowitz doesn't agree with all of Peters' conclusions but accepts that her main thesis 'that not all of the refugees had lived for centuries in what became Israel – was supported by evidence and contributed an important new element to the debate.' (pg 176). It seems that not everyone would agree with Meyerhoff that, 'That book was long ago debunked as a piece of deceptive, even fraudulent, scholarship.'

Who's right? Not sure, it's an ongoing debate. I know where I've temporarily settled and I'll return to that later.


The most tendentious argument made by Meyerhoff is that I am somehow anti-Arab. This is an outrageous but typical argument made by 'some' on the left, that if you are critical of either Islam or Arab culture you are somehow racist and Islamo or Arabophobic. What rubbish.

Let's see how he sets up this grubby accusation.

'The whiff of prejudice that emanates from Harris's work comes, in part, from his sometimes agitated, sometimes cavalier, references to "the Arabs," as if they are all the same people. Are these "Arabs" the Persians of Iran or the more multicultural Arabs of Lebanon?'

'Whiff of prejudice?' The only whiff of something foul comes from Meyerhoff making ridiculous statements. I never once claimed that Arabs were Farsi speaking Persians. The Arabs are people who self-identify as Arabs and who speak Arabic. It's simple Meyerhoff.

As for the multicultural Arabs of Lebanon – multicultural? Try faction and sectarian ridden – as if the current events in Lebanon don't prove that Lebanon is really a shaky truce between Maronite Christians, Druze, Sunni and Shia. The Middle East is a curious place. One of our current affairs shows (Dateline, SBS) filed a report on Lebanon that had interviews with Sunnis accusing the Shia of being Iranian puppets and the Shia accusing the Sunni of being US-Israeli puppets. The Sunni are US puppets? One Sunni woman who's son had just been shot in a gun battle between students of rival factions exclaimed bitterly 'that the Israelis should have blown them all (Hezbollah) up and finished the job'. Multicultural Lebanon is on the brink of another civil war.

I know very well that 'Arab' society is complex and multi-faceted, yet this does not stop Arabs seeking to create a Greater Arabia, or some form of Pan-Arab state. Pan-Arabic politics played an important part in the Palestinian struggle. One of the many factors in this complex issue is that Hamas is in reality, a Pan-Arab Sunni Islamist party based on the Muslim Brotherhood. They are not genuine Palestinian nationalists and their long-term aim is to establish a Pan-Arab caliphate with Palestine identity being absorbed into a greater Sunni Islam identity. I suggest people read the Hamas Charter, again available through a quick Internet search.

I'm glad that Meyerhoff recognizes that the Arabs are diverse and that one of the problems the Palestinians faced in the early days is that Egypt, Jordan and Syria all coveted Palestinian land. Syria today claims the Golan Heights, Egypt once ruled the Gaza strip and Jordan controlled East Jerusalem and annexed a wide corridor of land in the West Bank. If the Arab armies had succeeded in defeating the nascent Israel would they have created an independent Palestinian state (or a client state)?

Then to confuse things Meyerhoff talks about the Ottoman Empire, whilst not carefully explaining that there was an Arab resistance to a largely non-Arab Turkic speaking people. The current rulers of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf states) had their origins in Arab tribal and sectarian politics. When the Ottoman Empire started to collapse and was defeated in WW1, Arab ambitions could be finally realized, but what did they do? Fight each other for control, that's what. The Saud family reasserted it's traditional control by attacking the al-Rashid who governed Riyadh and the Hashemites who ruled Mecca. A cursory understanding of Arab politics shows that the 'royal' families are part of the Arab tribal structure and that from time to time rival tribes/clans and family factions attempt to overthrow the dominant group. These dominant groups form strategic alliances to hold onto power – and guess what? Should a rival clan or family successfully overthrow the ruling group they would then also seek strategic alliances. That's what everyone does, especially when you need to buy arms.

Why Meyerhoff thinks my critical examination of Arab politics constitutes 'prejudice' is beyond me. Methinks he has a 'romantic' view of the Arab people as victims of history, rather than as co-creators of their own destiny. And by the way, many of the royal families of the Gulf States have been ruling their lands for a long time as part of the traditional pattern of Arab tribal politics. Is the West 'propping' them up? This assumes they would fall if the West didn't buy their oil – but here's the thing. They were in power 'before' oil. The Saud family would have still tried to reassert their authority over the al-Rashid and al-Hashemi, oil or no oil.

Politics is politics and no side is 'purer' than the other.

Muslim anti-Semitism

You would have to be willingly blind not to notice that the greatest source of anti-Semitism in the world today is the Muslim world, from the heartland of Arabia to the corners of Islamic Africa, Central Asia, SE Asia and Muslim communities inside non-Muslim countries.

The Charter of Hamas, article thirty-two, makes this statement:

'The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.'

I said in my reply that Hamas is a fascist organization. Here they legitimize the fraudulent 'Protocols'. How can Meyerhoff accept the election of a political party that is based on paranoid and conspiratorial theories of history? I thought left progressives were supposed to be implacably opposed to fascism? And yet Meyerhoff still thinks we should accept Hamas because they were democratically elected.

Here's another quote from the Hamas Charter, article twenty-two.

'They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there. 'You may speak as much as you want about regional and world wars. They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.'

Does any of this sound familiar Meyerhoff? Need I remind you that the Nazis came to power using democratic methods. Any political party that believes that Rotarians are part of a Zionist conspiracy are incompetent to govern and anyone who votes for a party who believes such wild conspiracies is culpable.

This is a prime example of the moral confusion and negligence that betrays the progressive side of politics, that they should support the Palestinian's decision to vote in Hamas. The Palestinians who did so knew very well what Hamas stood for. Of course there were reasons they voted the way they did. There were also reasons the Germans supported Hitler. But that does not make it right.

Muslim anti-Semitism is the elephant in the room, an elephant that has just dropped a big pile of stinking elephant shit. It is outrageous that the West ignores and tries to diminish just how bad it is.

There is no doubt that the Israel/Palestine conflict has made the situation worse, but the unfortunate fact is that Muslim anti-Semitism predates Zionism by several centuries. It goes back in fact, to the belief that the Jews of Medina 'betrayed' Mohammed.

Not all Muslims are anti-Semitic, nor are all Christians, but there is a strand of anti-Semitism within Islam and that rears its ugly head from time to time.

We need to acknowledge that 'some' Muslim groups are motivated by their mistrust of Jews and a belief that the Jews can only exist as a subservient group. Again let me quote the Hamas Charter (article thirty-one).

'Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam.'

The key phrase here is 'under the wing of Islam'. Note the arrogance of the statement that peace would not be possible 'except' 'under' the wing of Islam. This sentiment is based on an oft-quoted passage of the Koran (Sura 9:29).

'Fight those among the People of the Book who do not believe in God and the Last Days, do not forbid what God and His Prophet have forbidden, and do not profess the true religion (Islam) until the pay the poll tax (jizya) out of hand and feel themselves subdued.'

The key phrase here is 'feel themselves subdued'. These few words are the basis of the Dhimmi laws, which Meyerhoff completely ignores. This passage has most often been interpreted to mean that Allah is directing Muslims to fight against Christians and Jews (the people of the book) until they pay tribute and are 'subdued.' Now, I cannot emphasise how important this passage is to an overall attitude of God-given superiority amongst 'some' Muslims. This passage is the excuse to impose a special tax called the 'jizya', which on many occasions was handed over in a humiliating ceremony (sometimes with a ceremonial slap) and to impose a range of equally humiliating Dhimmi laws.

My point here is that for a number of fundamentalist Muslims it was unthinkable that either Christians or Jews be either 'equal' to, or rule Muslims in any fashion (in Thailand, Kashmir, China or any other hot spot).

Now, I can hear Meyerhoff saying that these fundamentalists are a minority. Well, guess what? They are the elected Palestinian government and a powerful political force, and their own charter condemns them.

The problem for Israel has never been moderate, secular and liberal Palestinians, but fundamentalist, hardline Muslims. Moderates do not use political violence. Again let's return one more time to the Hamas Charter, to article eight and the Hamas slogan,

'Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.'

I believe I said that the real issue for Jews is that there really are people out to get them. There have always been Muslims who mistrust Jews and who believe that Jews should be subject people. There is copious evidence of deep-seated anti-Semitism in Islam (as if the ravings of Ahmadinejad weren't evidence enough). The problem has always been those Muslims and Arabs who refuse to let Israel exist and who will continue to use violence, not for nationalistic reasons, but for religious reasons.

I wish I could say that this anti-Semitism is a small problem, but it isn't. If it were a small problem it could be contained, but even moderate Muslim rulers have trouble containing virulent anti-Semitism, what chance a vulnerable, nascent Palestinian nation albeit with good intentions? Because this is the big fear Jews have about a Palestinian state, that it will be unable to stop groups like Hamas and that the violence will continue because too many Muslims still want the complete destruction of Israel.

Meyerhoff mentions UN resolutions 242 and 338. The Israeli's have always argued, as far as I am aware, that part of these resolutions includes a 'secure' border. This means the Palestinians must ensure that Palestinian militants do not attack Israelis. But this is the one thing they have never been able to guarantee. This is no small thing. Why would Israel retreat to the '67 borders if the Palestinians themselves cannot contain those groups who still want to destroy the whole of Israel? And what do the Palestinians do to calm Israeli fears? Why, they vote in Hamas who have a declared aim to destroy Israel.

This is where we get into a chicken and egg argument. You retreat to the '67 borders and we'll stop the violence – no, you stop the violence and then we'll retreat to the '67 borders.


I think many Western progressives have been naïve and assume that if Israel allows a Palestinian state and retreats all the way to the '67 borders, the violence against Israel will stop. I don't think it will, nor do I see any evidence to suggest it will. Violence will continue as long as Arab and Muslim groups (like Hamas) want to destroy Israel completely and persist in their crazy, paranoid ideology.

I certainly agree with Meyerhoff that many Palestinians did not support the Grand Mufti Husseini, and that is okay if you know who did and who did not, maybe if they wore a label or a uniform that could identify who in the crowd carried the gun. The problem for the Jews in the 20's and 30's was that they did not know who, when or where the Arab rebellion would break out, or how serious it might get. Again the problem is never the bystanders in a crowd but the one person who is going to fire the gun.

I agree with Meyerhoff that the Palestinian population was terrified during the '48 war and Zionists certainly exploited the situation to expel Palestinians. But which side were the Palestinians on during the war? The Druze of Israel are the only non-Jews allowed to join the IDF and that is because the Druze fought with the Jews against the Arabs.

But if the Palestinians were terrified of the Jews in the '48 war, might not the Jews have been equally terrified during the Arab rebellion? I have already mentioned the '29 massacre of Safed, but there was an even bloodier massacre in Hebron the same year. Around 67 Jews were killed over three days of violence, with the balance relocated to Jerusalem. The day before the Hebron violence three Jews and three Arabs died in street violence in Jerusalem.

My point here is that the Arabs started the violence and by the forties many Jews were very nervous and sided with the hard line Zionists (like Ben Gurion). This has to be understood in the context of the vicious persecution of Jews in Europe. This is not to excuse the excesses of the Zionists but to place them within a chain of events. If local Arabs were reacting to excessive Jewish immigration then Jews were reacting to very real and deadly persecution. The Arab rebellion had further entrenched mistrust and hatred.

Bad luck, Jew!

Meyerhoff says something very interesting and telling,

'…but I'm not fine with those Puritans who came to the US or those who settled Australia and in the process killed and displaced the native populations. And like the American Indian, the Arabs of Palestine were willing to live with the foreigners as long as they weren't adversely affected by their presence.'

The first thing to say is that the Hebron massacre and Safed massacres suggests that a significant number of Arabs weren't 'willing' to live with the 'foreigners' at all. There were many who were of course, and also many Jews who were friendly in kind (I have always said that the majority of both populations got on well, it was the extremists on 'both' sides who did not).

But the second point and my main objection to this statement is that it is a false equivalence. The Jews are not like the Puritans or the British in Australia and the Arab Palestinians are not like the indigenous Americans or Australians.

All the historical, archaeological, genetic and cultural evidence shows unequivocally that the Jews are indigenous to Palestine. Here Meyerhoff has indulged in the usual tactic of denying the Jewish claim to Israel and painting them as foreign invaders displacing indigenous Arabs.

Even Muslims know better than that because the Koran accepts quite clearly that God gave Israel to the Jews. The Koran accepts Moses as a prophet. However, Mohammed had decided that the Jews had broken their covenant with God and accused them of a number of holy sins.

'Because of their inequity, We forbade the Jews wholesome things which were formerly allowed them; because time after time they have debarred others from the path of God; because they practice usury – although they were forbidden it – and cheat others of their possessions.' (4:159)

This is just one example of how the Koran attacks the Jews. Make no mistake; Mohammed was in competition with Judaism. He claimed to be the last of the prophets, but at least he recognized the Jews had a connection to Israel and were not mere 'foreigners'.

Meyerhoff should remember that Islam came to Palestine through conquest and usurpation. There is a law within Islam that says Muslims should not fight a war unless it is in defence. The uncomfortable fact for many Muslims is that the conquest of the Byzantine territory of Jerusalem and Palestine was an aggressive act of imperial expansion.

Here I would like to make an important clarification. You may have noticed that I jumped from using the word Arab to Muslim. The two are not always the same, but most of the Arab population identify as Muslim. It is true that some Palestinians are secular nationalists, but most identify first as Muslims and then as Palestinians. We have already discussed the Hamas Charter; it unequivocally asserts that 'the Koran is its constitution'.

The Muslim religious argument is that the Jews no longer have the right to return to Israel because (in their opinion) they have become unrighteous. Many Muslims believe they are simply following Allah's will in fighting the Jews.

'They say: "Our hearts are sealed." But God has cursed them for their unbelief.' (2:88)

The Jews of course, beg to differ. To them Mohammed was a false prophet, a cult leader who tried to usurp their religion.

By fortuitous coincidence the Saturday edition of my local paper (The Age, A2, March 3) carried a review of a new book, 'Rome & Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations' by Martin Goodman. In this book he details the events that led to the massacre and expulsion of the Jews at the hands of the Romans. Goodman claims that this set the scene for later anti-Semitism. The reviewer Glyn Davis (vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne) says:

'Martin Goodman believes the official hostility to the Jews following the destruction of the Temple set a pattern for millenniums to follow. Jews could no longer feel safe in the empire. After the further revolt of AD132-5, even the name of Jerusalem was expunged from Roman records and maps.'

In equating the Jews with 'foreigners' like the Puritans Meyerhoff dismisses the long-standing hope of the Jews to one day return (as the Koran accepts) to the Promised Land. It is for this reason Jews often refer to themselves, not as immigrants, but as returnees. Goodman's book explains how the Jews were brutally routed from Jerusalem. They didn't go willingly and it was a grave historical injustice. The Arab Muslims came much later, walking into the vacuum with imperial intention. It can be argued that the Jews have far deeper historical roots in the region than the johhny-come-latelys.

Of course, none of this matters much to the poor Palestinian Arab who has lived in his village for generations. All he knows is that it is his house, and that is a tragedy. But what Meyerhoff is effectively saying is that the right of the resident is superior to the right of a previously dispossessed and persecuted people. It is effectively the Arab argument – bad luck Jew, you lost.

My view is that the Jews have a right to 'return' to Israel without restriction. It is unambiguously critically significant to them. They have a right to buy land and set up businesses and social, religious and political organizations. Did they have a right to dispossess resident Arabs? No, and I think compensation is due. But by the same token I don't believe the Arabs were (or are) right to resist Jewish return - the Jewish claim is legitimate and compelling.

By the way, equating Jews with 'foreigners' is similar to a common Muslim argument that the Ashkenazi or European Jews are not really Jews and that the Zionists are really just a front for Western imperialist ambitions in the Middle East.


I'm glad Meyerhoff essentially proves my argument about economic growth. He provides a number of quotes that I have no deep disagreement with. I will however note that the general thrust of the quotes is to argue that the Arabs did not benefit as much as the Jews in the economic boom. Well, no, of course not. He quotes Rashid Khalidi who admits there was devastating inequality with a whopping 1.2% differential growth rate (4.8% for Jews and 3.6% for Arabs). Wow, 1.2% - I wonder what the differential is between White Americans and Black or Latino Americans, just for perspective? I think by normal standards a 1.2% difference is actually a good outcome, given, as his other quotes indicate, the Arab population was largely rural, uneducated and undeveloped. The quote from Pappe says it all, except with a Marxist sympathy for the peasant. The Jews improved agriculture, bought land and businesses (which 'greedy' Arabs sold to them), which challenged the 60% feudal rural population. To Pappe this was a disaster of course, but others might see this as progress. I'm glad Meyerhoff provided the quote from Simha Flapan,

'The Arab population benefited from better conditions in sanitation, health, education, transport and other public services.'

Hmmm, a 3.6% growth rate, improvement in conditions – and yet Meyerhoff still can't quite admit this was due to Jewish investment. Oh really? Then what bloody else?

But I am going to agree with Meyerhoff that the growth was rapid and disruptive and could have been better managed, but guess what? This type of dislocation and disruption happens all over the world where modern economies meet inefficient rural economies. In fact some Arabs might argue that the ME needs more development. But what's the alternative? No development at all? It seems to me that Meyerhoff may be arguing to keep the Palestinians in an undeveloped, rural backwater out of some misguided Marxist sympathy for the salt of the earth. Apparently the economic and entrepreneurial creativity of the Jews was a bad thing.

However, there is another factor to explain the growth differential. It's only partial and I don't want to suggest in any way that Arabs aren't discriminated against (they are – as a recent Israeli High Court judgment proved), but part of the differential is explained by the lack of both will and ability to adapt to new circumstances. All cultures resist change and under pressure they can actually romanticize and hold onto 'tradition'. There is a point at which this just becomes stubbornness. So I must ask the question, to what extent have 'some' Arabs refused to adapt and chosen not to participate?

Which is better, a 'crisis of modernization' or no modernization at all?

The future

I want to now return my main argument, that Israel, as a developed, progressive, liberal democracy, is an opportunity for the Arabs and not a threat – that the security and growth of Israel will help the region 'progress', politically, socially, culturally and economically. Or, to put it another way, the use of political violence against Israel is reactionary and regressive and prevents the Arabs from progressing.

I note with some satisfaction that Meyerhoff agrees that liberal democracies are superior to monotheistic theocracies. This is a good part of my argument. I'm also glad he acknowledges that Israel does 'internal' freedom better than its Arab neighbours. But let me drive home the point – the New Historians he so admires are Jewish (and Israeli) and many of his quotes are from Jewish academics. This simply proves the point. Despite the criticism leveled against it Israel has considerable tolerance for dissent.

This is something to be cherished and protected.

But first let me say that Meyerhoff seriously misrepresents my position (clearly stated in my articles on Islam). I agree completely that past Islamic societies have been relatively 'open'. There was indeed a Golden Age of Islam that embraced Greek philosophy and 'infidel' science and technology. There is an Islam that is inclusive. But that Islam is fighting the other Islam in a kind of civil war and that 'other' Islam has always been co-existent, dating back to the Kharijite rebellion during the time of the Companions. Unfortunately that reactionary Islam became dominant and as too many historians have noted, the 'gates of ijtihad' (independent inquiry) were closed around the tenth century. Meyerhoff provides a number of quotes to show that there are two myths about Islam, the myth of the fanatic and the myth of an inter-faith utopia. I agree completely and refer everyone to my article 'The Myth of Islam as a Religion of Peace' where I outline the 'complex tapestry' of Islam. You see, I agree. Meyerhoff has simple created a straw man, made me seem to say things I never said.

The question is why aren't they open now? This is a complex question that requires a whole other essay, but I'm going to suggest two broad reasons as a summary. 1. The elites in power use repression to hold onto power. 2. Islamism has a bigger hold on Muslim societies than the moderates. Again, I refer the reader to 'The Myth of Islam' where I point out that conservative Islam has made significant advances and that sharia law is being applied more and more. If the moderates were making progress the reverse would be true.

This comes from confusion over the definition of moderate Islam. Moderate is not just less fanatical. In her book 'Londonistan', Melanie Phillips points out that the Muslim Council of Britain, the peak Islamic body, has recently called for all state schools to scrap 'un-Islamic' activities such as dancing and mixed-sex excursions. I would not call them moderate in any sense.

In my view a moderate is someone who supports democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, not someone who simply 'modifies' an extreme position to one a little less extreme. Unfortunately Meyerhoff seems to be in the category of 'left progressive' unable to distinguish between a conservative Muslim and a genuine progressive. I have already pointed out how he apologizes for Hamas because it was 'elected'.

Okay, I've sort of digressed – now back to my point. The best hope for a progressive Islam and Palestine is to support Israel against reactionary Arab forces and their advocacy of political violence. I believe that the main reason for Israeli pressure on the Palestinians is primarily defensive and not, as many suggest, to aggressively suppress the Palestinians so they can make a land grab. I accept that some Zionists are using the violence to make a land grab, but here's the thing. Without Palestinian violence the suppression would be untenable, there would be no reason to occupy the Palestinian territories. Arab violence has always offered hard line Zionists the perfect excuse. Arab violence in the 20's and 30's allowed hard line Zionists to create an army. The wars of 48 and 67 allowed the Zionists to grab more land. The use of political violence by the PLO in the 60's and 70's gave the Zionists a further excuse, as has the recent intifadas, waves of suicide bombing and missile attacks. Of course Israelis must defend themselves. As I said earlier, there really are people out to kill them.

Political violence has never worked for the Arabs. It has only ever made their situation worse. I believe that if they gave up violence Israel would allow the creation of a Palestinian state. Meyerhoff argues that the human rights violations in the Palestinian territories exceed the worst violations within Muslim societies. He's right. The situation is bad. But what he leaves out is the fact that the Palestinian population is a hostile population. Again it is a chicken and egg argument. What causes the violence? The occupation? Or does the occupation exist because of the violence? I'm of the latter view because there is a history of violence against Jews in Palestine from the Arab rebellion of the 20's and 30's, to the 48 war right up to the current aggression of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza strip and various other factions and groups addicted to violence as the solution. It isn't the solution; it's the fucking problem. And frankly, any so-called progressive who justifies the use of violence by Palestinians is a reactionary.

Here's an overwhelming fact. Israel and Palestine can never be two separate states. The idea of a two state solution is something of an illusion. Why? Because Palestine was always and will always be economically linked to Israel, in fact, economically dependent on Israel.

Even if the Palestinians were given everything they wanted and a separate Palestinian state was formed tomorrow, it would still be economically linked to Israel. After the election of Hamas Israel and many Western countries cut aid and economic links with the Palestinian government. This has caused considerable hardship and it showed just how dependent the Palestinians have been on Israeli and Western capital. Thousands of Palestinians crossed into Israel to work. Palestinian companies buy and sell to Israeli companies and this would continue if there was a separate Palestinian state.

In fact, let me make a prediction. If there were a peaceful solution and a Palestinian state there would be a rush of investment from Israel and the West. It is in Israel's interest to have a secure, prosperous and stable Palestine. It is in no one's interest (except radical Islamists) to have a failed state.

This is the thrust of my argument. Progressives should support Israel because a secure and prosperous Israel will better support the creation of a secure, progressive and prosperous Palestine. A win-win for the progressive agenda.

Making excuses for Hamas and rationalizing Palestinian violence only perpetuates the cycle of violence and is destructive to the progressive agenda.

This doesn't mean you can't criticize Israeli government policy, but it does mean you have to be careful about supporting reactionary Palestinians.

Many progressives think that in supporting Israel you end up supporting the hard line Zionists. I would argue differently, that by supporting Israel you rob the hard line Zionists of their main weapon, fear. This is the absolute insanity of the 'violent resistance' argument, that it ultimately feeds Israeli fear and therefore the hard line Zionists. If Israelis feel safe I expect them to become even more progressive and generous to their neighbours.

PS – there are many points in Meyerhoff's reply that I have not addressed. This is reply is perhaps too long as it is, so they'll have to wait.

Addendum: Reply to Meyerhoff, Part 2

Ray Harris, February 2007

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