Some years ago I worked for a bank in Bahrain owned by several Arab governments. Having been on the payroll of a US bank for a number of years I found the atmosphere at my new employer quite refreshing. All memos my colleagues wrote were remarkably honest and occasionally amusing. About the Islamic Bank of Kuwait, for example, a fellow lending officer opined “neither God – nor the government of Kuwait -will permit this bank to fail,” a testament to the IBK’s creditworthiness which certainly made sense to me.
More important, living in Bahrain meant that much of the Arab world, including Oman, the Yemen, Iraq and Syria, lay just a short air journey from my new home.
Having seen Syria’s largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, and the Crusaders castles that once dominated western Syria, my wife and I were keen to visit Palmyra, the oasis town which served for centuries as a caravan stop for travelers heading to the Euphrates and points further east. To get there we hopped the Homs to Deir az-Zor bus and asked the driver to drop us in Tudmor, “the city of dates,” Palmyra’s name in Arabic.
To visit the ruins, most of which date to Hellenistic and Roman times, we hired a motorized agricultural tricycle and seated ourselves uncomfortably in its flatbed. After completing our tour of the town’s monuments and palm groves, our driver took us up to the Qala’at ibn Maan, a 16th Century Arab castle which afforded a fine view over Palmyra and the surrounding ground.
From the castle’s ramparts I was surprised to see patches of green spotting the stony desert and the occasional black Bedouin tent. Our guide explained that for much of the year Syria’s Bedouin lived on the edges of populated areas finding what employment they could, but after the rains they would take their sheep and goats into the desert and live a nomadic existence, if only for a few months.
I haven’t thought much about our visit to Palmyra and Syria’s Bedouin in a long time. Very likely the trip would have fallen permanently down the memory hole but for Israel’s recent highly publicized intent, the Prawer Plan, which is now on hold, to displace Israel’s Bedouin inhabitants of the Negev, destroy their towns, villages and encampments and settle Jewish Israelis in their places or convert their lands to forestry preserves or artillery ranges. I also began to wonder, the death of Nelson Mandela perhaps stimulating my imagination, whether the homes for the newly dispossessed Arabs would resemble the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa, the political objective clearly being the same in both examples of ethnic cleansing.
The most outrageous aspect of what the Israelis are planning is that the Bedouin targeted for removal are all Israeli citizens, being push aside against their will and having little legal means to resist what is clearly a gross violation of their political, civil and property rights. Being a citizen of the Middle East’s only democracy apparently doesn’t mean much if you aren’t Jewish.
But it struck me that there is nothing anomalous about what is happening to the Arabs of the Negev. Jews did not come to Palestine to share power, or anything else, with the natives. Zionism was conceived as an antidote to European anti-Semitism. The uninvited and unwanted Europeans’ objective of creating a Jewish commonwealth and eventually a Jewish state meant Zionism had to dispossess the Palestinian Arabs. Thus Zionism is an inherently racist formulation claiming the right to replace Palestine’s indigenous population, which had inhabited the land for centuries, with Europeans who may or may not be the decedents of the ancient Hebrews who inhabited part of Palestine 2000 years ago.
In any event, today Uncle Sam is Israel’s protector and shill. We obtain virtually nothing in return except the hatred of a billion Muslims. It is possible, I suppose, to find some amusement in the daily spectacle of John Kerry running around madly under the rather bizarre misapprehension that Israel’s settler dominated government has the slightest intention of allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state. Zionism from day one has sought to prevent the Palestinians from obtaining political power. As the Arabs like to say, correctly, Kerry is just “baking stones.”
Even more amusing is Thomas Friedman’s take on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He approvingly quotes Ari Shavits’ crazy assertion that “it is the Palestinians’ responsibility to overcome the painful past, lean forward and not become addicted to victimhood.” Has it escaped Mr. Friedman and Mr. Shavits that Israel is continuing the colonization of the West Bank, preparing to dispossess its Arab citizens in the Negev and maintaining the siege of 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza where conditions are so bad that sewage is literally running in the streets?
It is a little difficult “to escape the painful past” when Israel acts as it always has. If there is a crisis in Zionism, it exists only in the minds of a few commentators here in the United States. There is no crisis in Tel Aviv.
Finally a word about victimhood and its uses: Am I the only observer to note that the Israelis and their friends in this country routinely employ reminiscences of Nazi genocide as a political weapon and fund raising tool? And that while “anti-Semite” used to refer to people who dislike Jews, now is employed to attack people Jews dislike?
John Taylor lived and worked in the Middle East for a number of years as an archaeologist, banker and international civil servant. He worked for a major US bank in New York, Paris, Athens and London and is a graduate of the Universities of Chicago and Cambridge.