June 14: Context required

Few are aware that the narrative of Islam bears witness to the existence of a flourishing and prosperous Jewish presence throughout the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Islam.

Context required
Sir, – Among the epithets and slogans uttered by the Turkish mercenaries in response to the Israel Navy’s interdiction of the Gaza-bound flotilla was a reference to Kheybar. I would venture that to most of your readers the name is devoid of meaning.
Few are aware that the narrative of Islam bears witness to the existence of a flourishing and prosperous Jewish presence throughout the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Islam. The main centers of population were in the cities of Yithrab (whose modern name, Medina, is a relic of the Jewish presence) and the Jewish city of Kheybar, a center of wealth and commerce.
At first, the Jewish tribes were positively attuned to Mohammed in his struggle against the idolatrous owners of the Kabba. However, the decision of one Jewish tribe to side with his opponents justified, in Mohammed’s eyes, the slaughter of Medina’s Jewish males. Subsequently, the wealth of the Jews of Kheybar was taken either by confiscatory loans or taxes, and the debt was rendered void by the slaughter of impoverished Jews. The Arabian peninsula then was cleansed of a Jewish presence through blood or conversion.
The numbers may have been small compared to the Holocaust, but they were significant at the time and represented a stream of Judaism whose rites and wisdoms were lost forever.
As happens time and again in history, the Arabian peninsula without its Jews declined from what the Romans called “Arabia Felix” (happy or fortunate Arabia) to the backwater known to European travelers of the 19th century.
There are two bottom lines to this rough historical survey. The first is that Helen Thomas, in telling the Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine,” might add the Arabian peninsula to her list of appropriate destinations, along with Germany and Poland.
The second is that the Arabian prince who authored the Arab peace initiative might consider some confidence-building measures, such as opening negotiations for repayment of what was stolen from the Jews of his land, or reopening his land for the resettlement of Jews who want to return there (or Palestinian Arabs, for that matter).
Support the Kurds...
Sir, – The breakdown with Turkey didn’t happen because we challenged the Turkish “humanitarian” flotilla, or because of Turkey’s anger at our finally attacking Gaza for the 4,000 rockets fired into our cities. These were but excuses.
Prime Minister Erdogan wants to become the caliph of the Muslim world. That is why, since his election, he has severed his alliance and cooperation with Israel. That is also why Turkey, a NATO member, refused to allow the US to use its Turkish bases to launch the assault on Saddam Hussein.
We need to look to other alliances. In the past we assisted the Kurds, but withdrew our support at the behest of Turkey.
Now we must rethink our priorities.
The Kurds are in many ways like the Jews – hated by the Arabs yet living in their midst.
We have regained our homeland.
They should have theirs.
...and others, too
Sir, – Israel’s government must wholeheartedly embrace an international investigation of the flotilla incident – on condition that first, the UN completes international investigations of all other military and paramilitary operations around the world where civilians were killed.
These include Turkey’s butchering of the Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, as well as its occupation of Cyprus; Russia’s actions in Georgia, Chechnya and other regions; China’s operations in Tibet; Sudan’s genocide in Darfur; massacres and rape in the Congo; Iran’s killing and rape of protesters against the stolen elections; etc., etc., etc. And let’s not forget Allied operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have also led to the deaths of civilians, innocent or otherwise.
As for the flotilla aid rejected by Hamas, please donate it to the poor Turkish Kurds.
DANIEL SOME Santa Barbara, California
Investigative twofer
Sir, – Many in Israel probably have not heard that a US border guard shot and killed a Mexican teenager.
There are conflicting stories of what occurred. Some eyewitnesses say the boy was merely playing by running back and forth across the border, and just throwing stones. The border guards claim that the boy was a smuggler and add that stone throwing is an attack with a deadly weapon.
The Mexican president has condemned the killing. The border guards claim they have a video of the incident that proves their side of the story, which, as of this writing, they have not released. The FBI is investigating.
There is, however, no international protest. No emergency Security Council meeting. No demand from the US president for an international investigation.
Do I smell a double standard here? To save time and money, maybe the same investigators could look into the flotilla incident as well.
That 5 o’clock shadow
Sir, – Sending Hamas the last item is pure genius (“Israel lets snacks, juice, spices and shaving cream into Gaza,” June 9).
JACOB GORE Denver, Colorado
Maritime version
Sir, – Regarding “Naval commandos kill Gazan frogmen headed for Israel” (June 8): Do martyred Islamic terrorist frogmen receive 72 mermaids?
Strange omissions
Sir, – Daniel Kurtzer’s claim that he’s a friend (“The world is angry. Why doesn’t Israel care?,” June 8) recalls the old saw: “With friends like these....” More to the point, for a visiting professor at my alma mater, Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Ambassador Kurtzer made some startling omissions.
1. Even while claiming that evacuation of Sinai settlements “hurt the argument that settlements were required for security,” he strangely omits mention of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral evacuation of Gaza settlements – and military presence – without which Hamas could not have seized power in Gaza.
2. It’s very nice to say that the PLO accepted a two-state solution.
But that decision is meaningless against the PLO’s constant refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or its out-ofhand refusal to pursue increasingly generous territorial offers from Barak through Olmert.
3. Regarding the “Arab peace initiative,” Kurtzer conveniently omits that it was a take-it-orleave- it offer, which insisted on the “right of return” to Israel, which would eventually make us “Palestine II.”
4. The “worsening humanitarian situation” in Gaza is made to sound like a condition caused by Israel. Nowhere in the article does he hint at the cynical and oppressive rule by Hamas as a factor (if not the factor).
5. Kurtzer harps on the charge of Israel’s killing civilians. No mention is made of the highly likely possibility that those killed aboard the flotilla – without identification papers, but with $10,000 each on their person and obvious skills with potentially deadly implements – were mercenaries on active duty.
Intellectually as well as politically, the necessary context – all of which he chose to omit – gives a very different picture.
Choose one
Sir, – Although not a citizen of Israel, Melvin Benarde (“The system’s to blame,” Letters, June 9) has a right to express his opinions about the Israeli electoral system. Yet he does not have the right to murder the English language by mixing metaphors! Either Netanyahu has his head on the block or he is being pilloried.
You can’t have both at the same time!