Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Real Boycotters

"Senior writer" at the Australian, Sharri Markson, reported yesterday that "A director of activist group GetUp! supports a boycott of Israeli products and wants to 'force Israel into a perennial state of existential anxiety'." (GetUp! director fighting Israel)

My first impulse on reading this, of course, was to proceed forthwith to a public place, mount a soapbox, and proclaim to all and sundry: 'How dare GetUp! force poor Israel into a perennial state of existential anxiety! Perennial FFS, isn't that, like, forever?'

Then I remembered the words of the great Palestinian historian (1910-1981) A.L. Tibawi on the period leading up to WWI, when control over Palestine was still just a steely gleam in Zionist eyes. If Ms Markson really wants to know what boycotting people and plunging them into a perennial state of existential anxiety is all about, she should read Tibawi:

"The Zionist objectives, both immediate and distant, were... well-known to the Arabs in Palestine and the neighbouring countries. In the spring of 1914 a Russian member of the Zionist Executive, Nahum Sokolow, complained in an interview with the Palestine correspondent of the Cairo newspaper al-Muqattam that the Palestinian and Syrian Arab hostility to Zionism was unjustified. The Arabs and the Jews were two branches of the Semitic tree; they co-operated in the fields of science and learning especially in Spain and contributed together to the European renaissance; the Jews were returning to their ancient homeland from which they were expelled by the Romans and the Crusaders; they bring with them the means of developing the country; they wish to come close to Arab civilisation and cooperate with the Arabs for the creation of a new Palestinian civilisation; they wish to revive their Hebrew language and establish their own schools in which the Arabic language and history would be taught.

"Sokolow was tackled by Rafiq al-Azm, the well-known Syrian historical writer and member of the Decentralisation Party. He agreed that as two Semitic cousins the Arabs and Jews ought to cooperate in reviving the glory of the Semitic civilisation, that Palestine with the rest of Syria required development, and that Jewish immigrants, coming from a more civilised environment, possessed skills that could be employed for the benefit of the country. But he regretted to see no evidence in Palestine that Jewish immigrants wished to unite with the Arabs in an effort to raise the standards of all its inhabitants, or that they wished to come close to the Arabs in any way. In fact they lived in complete isolation: they speak only their own languages; their children attend only their own schools; all their business is with Jewish firms; they organise a separate economy and they ignore local government and its laws; and above all they stubbornly refuse to abandon their foreign nationality and adopt the Ottoman.

"They must not be surprised if for these reasons the Arabs regard them as an alien people, and a foreign element interjected into their society. And this is the root cause of Arab apprehension regarding their economic and political future. For the present they feared and suffered from the competition of immigrants coming from more civilised environments. For the future they saw the political implications and feared for the eventual loss of their homeland.

"Sokolow's words were belied by these facts. If the Jews continued to lead a separate life in Palestine and to labour only for their own benefit, they must expect Arab hostility. 'To-day', the writer warns, 'the Syrian public opinion is unanimous in opposing Zionism.' The opposition in Palestine itself was led by young and educated men. News had just been received in Cairo that they sent telegrams of protest to Constantinople pointing out the dangers of Zionism and criticising the conduct of the Zionists in Palestine.

"It is clear that the writer had contact with unnamed Zionist leaders. 'We advised them', he writes, 'to cooperate with the Arabs for the benefit of a common homeland as native Syrians, not as foreigners waiting for an opportunity to take it for themselves...' He states that among the measures he recommended was not only the teaching of Arabic in Jewish schools but their opening to Arab children so that Arab and Jew could learn to live together. He also recommended that the Jews should share with the Arabs their business and mix with them socially. They should help the less experienced Arabs to learn modern methods. Above all he recommended the adoption of Ottoman nationality. But, he concludes, all that advice fell on deaf ears." (Anglo-Arab Relations & the Question of Palestine 1914-1921, 1978, pp 21-22)

And is still falling on deaf ears.

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