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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

Final Reply
to Meyerhoff

Ray Harris

I'm not sure how much further this stoush between Meyerhoff and myself can usefully go, nor am I sure how many are really interested anyway. So to end my side of the debate let me finish with these few remarks.

Meyerhoff wonders why my replies have been so quick. I'm fortunate to be currently writing full time (this won't last), otherwise it might very well take weeks. Meyerhoff links the speed of my replies to what he implies is sloppy scholarship and my negligence in quoting 'scholarly' sources. My reply to this is simple; you don't set the rules of the debate Meyerhoff. My original article was a response to a request by Frank to make a comment on the Middle East. I chose an informal 'opinion piece' style. I suppose I could have been more 'academic', but Frank was happy to accept it as it was. As far as I'm aware Frank has no specific editorial or style guidelines so there was no obligation on me to quote academic sources or play by Meyerhoff's debate rules.

Now if you are going to play the 'academic' game then there are several rules you are expected to follow.

  • That the citation represents the author's current view.
  • That the citation does not misrepresent the author's view.
  • That where a citation represents a controversial or minority view the competing views are explained.

What Meyerhoff has tried to do is hide behind the appearance of being academic and neutral. This is simply a rhetorical strategy. I intentionally attempted to subvert that strategy by pointing out that many of the 'academics' he cites are not just controversial, but 'very' controversial. The two academics of most concern are Pappe and Finklestein. These two writers have been heavily criticized for their clear bias and anti-Israeli stance. Now I would have thought that any 'integral' view would acknowledge the controversy surrounding these writers and note the partisan bias. However Meyerhoff quotes them as if they are 'neutral'.

I'm glad Meyerhoff admits that he used an out of date, second-hand source to counter my assertion. So in the spirit of admission I'll accept that my rhetoric got the better of me. I retract the figure of tens of thousands and the assertion that most of the refugees fled and were not expelled.

"My major point is not contradicted, and that is that Arabs played a part in creating the problem."

However my major point is not contradicted, and that is that Arabs played a part in creating the problem. I have always admitted that the Zionists committed atrocities. What I have argued is that Zionist atrocities were in reaction to Arab atrocities. Let's make this clear. A proportion of the Arab population was at war with Jewish immigrants. During the 48 War Arab militants fired on Jewish civilians. Why were some Arab villages spared and others cleansed? A good part of the reason was that those villages were cleansed because they held or supported hostile Arab militants. Why were the Druze able to join the IDF? Because they fought alongside the Jews as allies. People took sides and whole villages took sides. Meyerhoff seems to think that the Zionists created a list of villages and systematically expelled the Arabs unjustly. There was no list as Morris clearly stated and Arab militants were attacking Jews. There was a civil war prior to the creation of the Israeli State. What were the Jews expected to do, nothing?

One of the central ethical questions is this did the Jews have the right to return to Israel/Palestine? There are two main issues here.

  1. Do the Jews have a legitimate claim on Israel?
  2. Was there a legitimate refugee crisis in the 30's and 40's?

There can be no doubt that Israel and Jerusalem are significant to the Jews. The historical record is unambiguous about this. We know that the Romans violently expelled the Jews. But what is often forgotten is that Jews attempted to return several times and were expelled several times. In 438 the Empress Eudocia allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. They did so. But in 614 the Persians conquered Jerusalem and expelled the Jews. The Jews were permitted to return in 638 under Muslim rule. Then in 1099 the Crusaders invaded and massacred the Jews. Again, in 1267, the Jewish congregation was revived by Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman who travelled from Spain. The point is this. The Jews have always seen Jerusalem and Israel as their spiritual home and have always attempted to live there. The historical record shows that they were prevented by persecution. The Zionist movement is the logical result of a long-standing desire to 'return'.

It is my view that the historical injustice perpetrated on the Jews creates a valid and powerful moral claim to return to Israel. If the Jews don't belong in Israel then where do they belong? I also believe that because of this powerful moral case it was incumbent upon the resident population to accommodate Jewish immigration, despite the disruption it caused.

This immigration was historically justified on its own, but the moral case was strengthened by the persecution of Jews in Germany and Europe. Palestine was the logical place for Jewish refugees. It was close and it was culturally significant. Where else should they have gone?

Now despite these two compelling moral cases for Jewish immigration certain Arab groups decided to violently resist Jewish immigration. I do not believe they were right to do so. As difficult and disruptive as the process was I believe they had a moral obligation to accept Jewish immigration.

There is another question here, the obligation of people who benefit from conquest to acknowledge the rights of the conquered. The Arab villagers lived on land that had once been Jewish and the Jews still made a claim on that land. Is there a rule that says that if a conquering people inhabit a land for three generations (five, seven?) then they can claim rightful possession? Is might right?

"I accept that the Zionist share a considerable part of the blame, but in the end I accept the right of Jews to be in the land."

I believe that the base cause of the current Israel/Palestinian problem is, and has always been, Arab intransigence and violence. I accept that the Zionist share a considerable part of the blame, but in the end I accept the right of Jews to be in the land. This is of course, a separate issue to that of a Jewish state, but I believe Arab violent resistance necessitated the creation of a separate state. There were enough hostile Arabs to ensure that Jewish immigrants would be continually attacked. The militants had declared that their aim was to expel all Jewish immigrants. Again, this was morally reprehensible. Despite the pressures of Jewish immigration the Arabs were wrong to resist it. The Jews have a right to be there.

It follows from this that any Muslim or Arab who seeks the destruction of Israel is also in the wrong. It also follows that the Israelis and Jews have a right to defend their right to be there and have continually had to do so. The 48 War really did happen. It wasn't an illusion.

One of the main areas of disagreement between Meyerhoff and myself seems to be over the primary cause of the conflict. Is it because of religion or land and economics? Anyone who has read my article on integral political economy knows that I could never discount a sound political economic argument. However, I am certainly not alone in pointing out that there is a great deal about this conflict that is religious. I still maintain that the primary motivation for this conflict is religious. The Muslim Arabs do not want a Jewish state because of their religious belief that the Jews should be subservient to Islam and that once Islam has conquered a land it must remain a Muslim land.

On Hamas - I'm glad Meyerhoff accepts that the Hamas Charter is awful. I also accept that there are pragmatic considerations. Hamas exists and is popular. But this is also the argument the 'appeasers' made in regard to Hitler. I do accept that there are moderates in Hamas who will move to the center, but there are also extremists who will apply equal pressure to move to the right. The political problem is how to isolate the extremists and support the moderates. I believe the sanctions have been the correct strategy and it seems to be working by forcing Hamas into a 'unity' government. However, I'm afraid I remain sceptical. To understand Hamas you need to understand the Muslim Brotherhood. They are radical Islamists with a long history of political violence and they have a very clear goal, the creation of a pan-Arabic Caliphate, a new Islamic Empire. Don't take my word for it. Use your search engine.

On the 67 War and various UN resolutions What about Camp David and the Oslo Accords? The causes of the 67 War are hotly disputed. I'm not convinced, as Meyerhoff asserts, that Israel 'initiated' a war. I believe that is too simplistic and ignores the hostile actions of the Arab states. An Internet search will reveal the debate around the causes of the war. In regard to the idea of 'land for peace' - again this is one of those chicken and egg arguments. Meyerhoff thinks the Israelis are at fault. I think the Palestinians are. There are two sides to this, 'land' for 'peace'. I said in an earlier article that I accept that the settlers must leave the West Bank. At the same time the Palestinians must stop attacks on Jews. Both must happen independently of each other. So what happened? Israel got out of Gaza and they had to forcefully eject their own citizens to do it. They made a step forward. What happened after Israel left Gaza? Militants continued to use Gaza as a base from which to fire missiles into Israel. The border is dotted with tunnels for smuggling contraband and arms into Gaza and suicide bombers into Israel. Where was the 'peace' side of the deal? Land for peace means what it says. Frankly I'm sceptical that the Palestinians can deliver peace. I believe that even if Israel adopts the UN plan violence will continue. This is because the Palestinians are divided and no one group can control all the militant factions. Israel will give the land but there will be no peace in return.

On Dershowitz I have not used Dershowitz to support my views; rather I have only ever used him to indicate the debate surrounding Finklestein. I am sure Dershowitz is guilty of misrepresentation, but Dershowitz is not the only person to condemn Finklestein. I quote Dershowitz only to present the other side of a particularly nasty debate. Who's right? I don't know and neither does Meyerhoff. We would have to go back to the primary sources. Remember, Meyerhoff used Finklestein to try and discredit another writer. I merely pointed out that Dershowitz has come to that writer's defence and that the issue has not been settled.

And on a final note in regard to Benny Morris. I too found some of Morris's comments problematic. I purposely cited some his controversial views just to prove that he does not actually support Meyerhoff's position. However, Meyerhoff is drawing an extremely long bow by trying to separate 'citizen' Morris from 'professional' Morris. Morris's private opinions are very well informed. He is no ordinary private citizen and his opinion carries considerable weight because of his extensive 'primary' knowledge of the issue.

Ray Harris, March 2007

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