Palestine polarises people, of that there is no doubt. Those condemning Palestinians usually do so out of their blind loyalty to the concept of the Zionist State. With today’s backdrop of real and alleged anti-Semitism, and the ever pervasive shadow of the Holocaust, it is easy to see why anyone might go along with the black and white narrative that Israel is a force for good, and Palestine is bad.
However, the cold, hard facts present a somewhat different story: Israel was founded on land stolen from the Palestinians after the indigenous people had been driven from their homes at gunpoint, and anyone who resisted the Zionist militias paid with their lives. The Zionist movement’s quest for a “Jewish state” had been boosted by the British government’s 1917 Balfour Declaration in which a man who had neither the moral nor legal right to do so, glibly promised land in Palestine for a “national home for the Jewish people”.
Such facts cannot be refuted, regardless of some of the insane mutterings of Israeli leaders and their supporters. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir, for example, declared infamously in 1969 that the Palestinians “did not exist”. The UN, of course, established its Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1949 specifically for the Palestinians. There are now 5.5 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA; they really do exist.
After the 1967 Six Day War, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, which called on Israel to withdraw from the land it had taken during the fighting, essentially the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel ignored the resolution, and thus began the military occupation of those territories that is in place to this day. Resolution 242 is one of around 200 which Israel has ignored since its creation on Palestinian land in 1948. In all that time, the people of Palestine have faced a genocidal onslaught against their land, culture and identity. Israel heads the global league table of regimes which take no notice of, or have broken quite deliberately, international laws and conventions.
Just this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly announced plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank if he wins next week’s General Election. A promise to impose Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea will, he hopes, be a vote winner, despite it being a breach of international law. He added that he would also look to apply sovereignty over all of Israel’s illegal settlements in the rest of the occupied West Bank as well as “other areas of importance to our heritage.”
Given such aggressive rhetoric and destructive Israeli policies since 1948, is it any wonder that Palestinians have used their legitimate right to resist the occupation in many different ways, all of them justified by international law? Over the decades, such resistance has been more or less backed by the Arab states, but that is no longer the case. Regimes like those in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt would rather extend the hand of friendship to Israel, and are increasingly open about this.
You would think that such “normalisation” of relations with the occupying state of Israel would be condemned by the most learned Islamic scholars, but those who enjoy the patronage of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo are silent. It seems as if these “scholars for dollars”, who are supposed to interpret Islam’s doctrines and laws without fear or favour, have sold out their spiritual and intellectual obligations to the detriment of the land of Palestine and its people. Have such scholars forgotten that Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam; the scene of Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous ascension to the heavens; and the Muslims’ first Qiblah, towards which they turned when praying before it was switched by Revelation to the Kaaba in Makkah?
I was reminded of such scholars’ hollow words when watching an interview on France 24 which was circulated on social networks. US-born Sheikh Hamza Yusuf was attending the Forum for Promoting Peace in Islamic Societies in Abu Dhabi. The UAE often hosts Sheikh Hamza, where he is said to be much favoured by the ruling family. In this interview about Palestine, he gives not one word of comfort or sympathy to the Palestinians.
“If Palestinians leave violence,” said the scholar, “and instead said, ‘We are weak and helpless, help us,’ by God, much of the world will sympathise with them. But when they strike with petty weapons against powerful weapons, it destroys everything. Then people will think Palestinians initiated the assault. This is the world’s perception now.”
I watched this interview several times and there was not one crumb of comfort or support for a people who have been dispossessed and displaced, and faced all kinds of oppression, for more than 70 years. Even if it was in the Palestinians’ nature to say “we are weak and helpless” does Sheikh Hamza really think that they would have survived all this time while demanding with great resolution their legitimate right to return to their land?
Without being critical of them in any way, I would call the Rohingya weak and helpless, and look what has happened to them; more than 750,000 have been ethnically cleansed and live in desperate conditions in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Equally as weak and helpless are the people in Indian-occupied Kashmir who have been under a brutal lockdown imposed by the Indian military for more than a month now. The situation is still nowhere near being resolved by the United Nations. The world has not rushed to their aid simply because they are helpless and have right on their side.
So who or what motivated Sheikh Hamza in this interview? Granted, he admitted at the end that, “I cannot judge the Palestinians because I am not in their situation, perhaps the situation has driven some of them mad, it is a tough condition.” Sadly, his views are either endorsed or echoed by half a dozen other US-based scholars.
Political cowardice appears to be the defining feature of some learned Ulema and their institutions, which promote a theology of obedience rather than standing up for what is right and legitimate resistance. Enjoying the financial largesse of their patrons, they opt to ignore the thousands of political prisoners held in dungeons from Cairo through Riyadh to the UAE. Silenced by fear, apathy or greed — I’m not sure which — from East to West these scholars have long forgotten what binds Muslims together around the world.
Funded by some Arab rulers, these spiritual leaders are essentially neutralising the Muslim faithful. If Hamza Yusuf is right about the Palestinians being “driven mad” then little wonder. Could it be because someone so learned assesses their situation and basically tells them to go down on their knees to their oppressors led by a Prime Minister who told the world just a few days ago that he is determined to take the rest of their land?
Yes, it would be easier for all concerned if the Palestinians didn’t exist, or if they abandoned their legitimate rights and handed over control of their future to Israel and America. If the Palestinians had gone quietly, they would now be living in Argentina and Chile according to crackpot plans suggested by the Bush Administration. Condoleezza Rice, the then Secretary of State of George W Bush, wanted to send five million Palestinian refugees to South America rather than allow them to return to their former homes in what is now Israel and the occupied territories. The astonishing proposal was raised in a June 2008 meeting with US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Berlin.
Moreover, if not for the heroic resistance of the Palestinians, no doubt the Gulf States would today be enjoying open trade and diplomatic relations with Israel. According to an article in MEMO last month, some are already ignoring trade boycotts and doing business under the table. The UAE, for example, has signed a deal to buy sophisticated spy planes from Israel. The deal, first mooted ten years ago, is said to be worth three billion dollars and was brokered through Israeli businessman Mate Kochavi. The UAE has already received one of the aircraft.
Relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also thawed, judging from an interview by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman with The Atlantic Magazine in spring last year: “There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the [Gulf Cooperation Council].” This is quite a departure for the Kingdom. Back in 1947, the government of Saudi Arabia was among the first to oppose the creation of the state of Israel, voting against the UN Partition Plan. As the Custodians of the two Holy Mosques (in Makkah and Madinah), the Saudi Kings have always positioned themselves as the leaders of the Muslim world and supporters of the Palestinian cause.
However, under the latest regime in Riyadh, there are well documented reports indicating extensive behind-the-scenes diplomatic and intelligence cooperation with the Zionist State. During the Warsaw Mideast Summit in February, Netanyahu’s office deliberately leaked a video of a closed session in which the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates spoke out in defence of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. One of them said that confronting Iran is more pressing than solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
These are the same men who demand complete obedience around the Muslim world and use Islamic scholars at home and abroad to enforce this. Their “scholars for dollars” and their organisations are being paid to stifle discussion among the masses and prevent talk of political and institutional oppression.
It could be argued that those in the pay and sway of petrodollars are the ones who are really weak and helpless, and deserving of our pity. To their eternal credit, the Palestinians’ cause has become a global concern because of, not despite, their resilience and resistance over eight decades. Thanks to their refusal to become eternal victims, they are demanding the right to return to their ancestral homes from which they were expelled in 1948 when Zionist militias ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children and wiped more than 500 towns and villages off the map.
It took great courage to confront the oppressors then, and it takes great courage to stand up to the Israeli army snipers who fire at protesters taking part in the Great March of Return every Friday since March last year. Past and present, the Palestinians have always shown that they are prepared to pay the ultimate price for justice. That must be an alien concept for those “scholars for dollars” whose silence on such matters, apparently, can be bought so cheaply.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or the Voice of the Cape.