Who says we’re not winning the war for the world’s hearts and minds? Even Arabs seem swayed by the argument that the oldest ties to this land are the ones that bind.
Apparently they were converted to the view that everything boils down to who was here first, who left all the place names of all this country’s towns and villages (including those which conquistador Arabs took over), who embedded this unlikely location in world consciousness and rendered it a cultural/religious byword in the farthest climes, whose national cradle this was, the hub of whose beliefs and aspirations this arid little territorial tract had been from time immemorial.
The Arabs, obviously, haven’t become overnight lovers of Zion. But despite their unabated enmity to the Zionist project – Israel – they commandeer Zionism’s logic and Zionism’s case and put these to their own use with a set of preposterous counterclaims that go spectacularly unchallenged in our postmodern existence. With moral-relativists throwing history to the wind, any absurdity can be propagated with colossal impudence and impunity.
The latest example was just furnished in the Knesset by Israeli-Arab MK Taleb a-Sanaa (Ta’al-Ra’am). In a plenum debate he embraced the premise that the land belongs to its earliest claimants: “You say that Abraham purchased Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, but the man who sold it to him was a Palestinian Arab. Consequently, we were here first and Hebron is eternally ours.”
Thereby a-Sanaa made a huge leap from traditional Arab portrayals of Abraham as an Arab. A-Sanaa now categorizes him as the Israelites’ father and stakes Arab claims on real-estate vendor Ephron the Hittite (although the mosque which Arabs constructed over the second-holiest Jewish shrine is called the Ibrahimi Mosque – Ibrahim being the Arabic pronunciation for the Hebrew Avraham).
THIS ISN’T an irrelevant frivolous footnote. A-Sanaa isn’t the first Arab to reinvent the past to suit current interests. Indeed, this is a long-established vogue. Way before the homicidal agitation of British-appointed Jerusalem mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, it was a widespread Arab sport to hurl human excrement from atop the Temple Mount at Jews praying below. But Husseini decided to usurp the wall’s sanctity for Islam, decreeing it to be the hitching-post where Muhammad tethered his super-steed al-Buraq. That presumably overrode and erased all Jewish associations to the site.
The insistence of Jews to keep praying at the remnant of their Holiest of Holies, despite mounting Arab violence, eventually gave birth to Husseini’s hysterical incitement charging Jewish takeover attempts of al-Aksa Mosque. His shrill provocation culminated in the 1929 countrywide “slaughter-the-Jews” campaign, most notorious for the Hebron massacre that disrupted many centuries of continuous Jewish presence in town.
It’s there that Arabs now riot because updated incitement tells them that the inclusion of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the list of to-be-preserved Jewish national heritage sites will compromise their freedom of worship.
The irony is that Arab notions of freedom don’t extend to others. Exactly a hundred years ago Izhak Ben-Zvi (in time Israel’s second president) and his wife Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi hiked to Hebron. Each described, in separate books, how they were barred from the cave.
Ben-Zvi wrote: “The entrance to the Patriarchs’ Cave was prohibited to non-Muslims... Jews were allowed to climb no higher than the seventh step in the courtyard. Only brave-hearted Jewish women dared enter, masquerading in Arab garb and their faces veiled according to Arab custom.”
Rachel recalled: “Hebron’s Jewish women would sometimes infiltrate the cave veiled and costumed like Arabs. Only by stealth could they pray at our forefathers’ tombs. When Hebron’s Arab fanaticism escalated, Jews were forbidden even to glance into the cave... Hate spewed from the Arab guards’ eyes and from Arab worshipers who brushed against us on their way in. We arrived at the steps and stood silent. I refused to climb the seven permitted stairs. The insult was too searing.”
So much for Arab pluralism and tolerance. Actually, the Arabs don’t demand liberality of us. They want it all and they want us out, as they did when their forebears descended on hapless Jews’ homes over 80 years ago and hideously hacked innocents to death.
WERE ISRAELIS to unconditionally submit to ever-mutating Arab historiography, then all attachments to the Western Wall and Mount of Olives would have to be abjectly relinquished. By the wisdom of revised Arab chronicles, the Obama administration’s penchant for appeasement, UNESCO and other UN organs, it behooves us to obey. Hence Jerusalem isn’t one whit different from Hebron or Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, another designated heritage site.
The latest Arab attempt to expunge Jewish connections is the contention that rather than Rachel’s, the tomb is of Bilal Ibn-Rabah, an African slave and Muhammad’s muezzin. The problem is that Damascus’s Bab Saghir Cemetery has dibs on what’s said to be Bilal’s grave.
All this underscores two simultaneous trends: the confiscation of Jewish history and the adoption of counterfeit pre-Abrahamic Canaanite identities. Under Yasser Arafat it became fashionable to fabricate supposed Canaanite ceremonies and ordain Canaanites as Palestinians (though, already by biblical testimony, Canaanites assimilated among Israelites, while the Palestine moniker was minted by Romans over a millennium thereafter).
Arafat insisted to Bill Clinton at Camp David that no Jewish temple ever existed. This is now official PA mantra. PA headliner cleric Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi proclaims repeatedly that “Jerusalem had always only been an Arab and Islamic city.” The Cave of the Patriarchs, he declared, “is a pure mosque, which Jewish presence defiles. Jews have no right to pray there, much less claim any bond to Hebron – an Arab city for 5,000 years... All Palestine is holy Muslim soil. Jews are foreign interlopers.”
Back in 1950 poet Natan Alterman penned a tongue-in-cheek reply to a near-identical proclamation (“Palestine is an Arab country and always was. Foreigners have no part in it.”) Entitled “An Arab Land,” Alterman’s verses appeared on the Labor daily Davar’s front page. By replacing biblical Hebrew names with Arabic adaptations, Alterman appeared to amplify the spirit of progressive Arab scholarship. I translated it two decades ago:
A clear night. Treetops shiver,
Vibrating the view with an airy whisper.
From above, Arab evening stars
Sparkle over an Arab land.
The stars wink and flicker
And bestow their quivering glitter
Upon the tranquil city Al-Kuds
In which once reigned King Daoud.
And from there they gaze and witness
The city of El Halil in the distance.
The city of Father Ibrahim’s tomb,
Ibrahim who begat Is’hak.
And then the clever rays so fast
Rush the golden glow to cast
Where the waters of the river El Urdun flow,
Where Ya’acub once did go.
A clear night. With an airy wink
The stars legitimately blink
Over the mountains of an Arab land
Which Mussa from afar beheld.
The writer was
The Jerusalem Post‘s long-time political correspondent (as well as for years of the now-defunct
Davar). She headed the
Tel Aviv bureau, wrote daily analyses of the political scene as well as
in-depth features. See her personal blog at http://www.sarahhonig.com