Joseph Farah's Column
An Unconventional Arab Viewpoint
Editor's note: The following column is adapted from remarks made by Joseph Farah at a Christian Coalition symposium on Islam Feb. 15 in Washington, D.C., and subsequently broadcast twice on C-SPAN. Hundreds of C-SPAN viewers have written requesting transcripts of the speech. This is an abbreviated version of the talk.
I've been really bugged, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, by all the self-proclaimed Arab-American and Muslim-American spokesmen I see on the talking-head shows.
What bugs me is the way they show no appreciation for just how tolerant and open-minded and non-judgmental the American people really are toward them and the Arab and Muslim world. Americans are so good, so fair and so understanding. They are anything but quick to generalize and stereotype – even when doing so would clearly be in their best interest.
Over a two-day period this week, I had to take nine different airline flights and go through nine different airport security checkpoints.
Not once during that two-day period did I ever get a second glance from any security person. Not once was I subject to any extra checks.
Now, I am an Arab-American. I have an Arab face and an Arab name. But I didn't get a second look. Meanwhile, I saw young mothers with little babies struggling to make it through extra security. I saw little old grandmothers facing the indignities of extra checks.
And all the while, the Muslim-American lobbies and the Arab-American anti-discrimination groups are denouncing this country for being racist and for profiling.
It's just not true.
Worse yet, there is every common-sense reason for it to be so.
The threat of terrorism in the United States does come largely, if not exclusively, from Arabs and from Muslims. We ignore that fact at our own peril.
When I fly to the Middle East, I often fly El Al. In fact, it is my preferred carrier. Why? Because it has great security. I know, because of my name and my Arabic ancestry, I'm going to have my bags searched more scrupulously than the average American.
Do I mind?
Absolutely not. In fact, I am grateful. Because I know these security people are not only protecting the other passengers, they are protecting me.
It only makes sense to do this kind of profiling – especially when we are in a war where our very way of life is at stake.
For those of you who have not read my writings on the Middle East and the Islamic-West conflicts, I don't think these battles are over misunderstandings.
I don't believe they are the result of a failure to communicate.
I don't believe they are caused by an inability to compromise.
I believe they are caused by evil people doing evil things, pure and simple.
I come at this issue of the Middle East a little bit differently than just about anyone else. I'm an Arab-American Christian journalist. I've arrived at my conclusions largely through first-hand experience covering the Mideast on the ground.
Throughout my 25-year career as a daily newspaperman, I've had two principal beats – Hollywood and the Middle East. You might wonder what these two beats have in common.
The common denominator is that they both deal in the realm of unreality. They both rely on myths. In fact, the imagination of the Arabs in crafting fables, reinventing history and fictionalizing facts would make Oliver Stone blush. And it is those myths of the Middle East that I want to address today in the short time we have.
What is this debate all about? What are the real roots of this conflict?
If you believe what you read in most news sources, Palestinians want a homeland and Muslims want control over sites they consider holy. Simple, right?
Wrong. In fact, these two demands are nothing more than strategic deceptions – propaganda ploys. They are nothing more than phony excuses and rationalizations for the terrorism and the murdering of Jews. The real goal of those making these demands is the destruction of the state of Israel.
The proof of the pudding is that prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, there was no serious movement for a Palestinian homeland. Why?
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, the Israelis captured Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. But they didn't capture these territories from Yasser Arafat. They captured them from Jordan's King Hussein. Why did the so-called Palestinians suddenly discover their national identity after Israel won the war. Why wasn't there a demand for a Palestinian homeland before?
The truth is that Palestine is no more real than Never-Never Land. The first time the name was used was in 70 A.D. when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. The name was derived, we think, from the Philistines, a people conquered by the Jews centuries earlier.
Contrary to what Yasser Arafat will tell you, the Philistines were extinct by that time. Arafat likes to pretend his people are the descendants of the Philistines. Actually, the name was simply a way for the Romans to add insult to injury to the Jews – not only were they annihilated, but their land was renamed after people they had conquered.
Palestine has never existed – before or since – as a nation state. It was ruled alternately by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, briefly, by the British after World War I. The British agreed to restore at least part of the land to the Jewish people as their homeland. Who rejected that idea? The Arabs. The Jews could have no place in the Mideast. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Now, at least to Western audiences, Arafat and some other so-called "moderate" Arab leaders will tell you that it's OK for the Jews to have their homeland, too – side-by-side with the Arabs. Why wasn't it OK in 1948?
There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the landmass.
But that's too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough.
Arafat himself explained the ploy of negotiations with Israel in a 1994 speech in South Africa – in English. He's explained it in Arabic dozens of times.
First we create our own state, then we use that state to liberate all of Palestine. That's the goal. It's always been the goal.
Arafat and his supporters will tell you the reason a Palestinian Arab state is needed is because Arabs were forcibly removed from their property in the 1948 war. But listen to what the Arabs were saying about the refugee issue after that war.
"The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agree upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem."
– Emile Ghoury, secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee, in an interview with the Beirut Telegraph Sept. 6, 1948.
"The Arab state which had encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies, have failed to keep their promise to help these refugees."
– The Jordanian daily newspaper Falastin, Feb. 19, 1949.
"Who brought the Palestinians to Lebanon as refugees, suffering now from the malign attitude of newspapers and communal leaders, who have neither honor nor conscience? Who brought them over in dire straits and penniless, after they lost their honor? The Arab states, and Lebanon amongst them, did it."
– The Beirut Muslim weekly Kul-Shay, Aug. 19, 1951.
"The 15th May, 1948, arrived ... On that day the mufti of Jerusalem appealed to the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, because the Arab armies were about to enter and fight in their stead."
– The Cairo daily Akhbar el Yom, Oct. 12, 1963.
"For the flight and fall of the other villages it is our leaders who are responsible because of their dissemination of rumors exaggerating Jewish crimes and describing them as atrocities in order to inflame the Arabs ... By spreading rumors of Jewish atrocities, killings of women and children etc., they instilled fear and terror in the hearts of the Arabs in Palestine, until they fled leaving their homes and properties to the enemy."
– The Jordanian daily newspaper Al Urdun, April 9, 1953.
I could go on and on with this forgotten – or deliberately obscured – history. But you get the point. There was no Jewish conspiracy to chase Arabs out of their homes in 1948. It never happened. There are, instead, plenty of historical records showing the Jews pleading with their Arab neighbors to stay and live in peace and harmony. Yet, despite the clear, unambiguous words of the Arab observers at the time, history has been successfully rewritten to turn the Jews into the bad guys.
The Arab states that initiated the hostilities have never accepted responsibility – despite their enormous wealth and their ability to assimilate tens of millions of refugees in their largely under-populated nations. And other states have failed to hold them accountable.
Today, of course, this cruel charade continues. The suffering of millions of Arabs is perpetuated only for political purposes by the Arab states. They are merely pawns in the war to destroy Israel.
There were some 100 million refugees around the world following World War II. The Palestinian Arab group is the only one in the world not absorbed or integrated into their own people's lands. Since then, millions of Jewish refugees from around the world have been absorbed in the tiny nation of Israel.
It makes no sense to expect that same tiny Jewish state to solve a refugee crisis it did not create.
Do you think the Arabs really care about the plight of their refugees? I would submit to you that Israel, of all the Middle East states, has treated the Arab refugees with more fairness and more compassion.
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about:
The Jordan Times reports that "Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who have long been denied many civil rights including the right to work, now face a new obstacle in their precarious lives."
Under a bill introduced by parliament last year, Palestinian Arabs will be deprived of their right to own property. Those who already own property will not be able to pass it on to their children.
Now just imagine if Israel passed such a law? Can you imagine the international outcry? What would the United Nations have to say about this? How would the media establishment in the West view such a draconian ploy?
Yet, this is happening in an Arab country virtually without comment – except here.
And take a look at the transparent rationale for this action in Lebanon, as described in the Jordan Times: "The Lebanese parliament passed the law on the grounds that it wants to protect the right of the Palestinian refugees to return eventually to their homes which they fled after the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian lands in 1948."
Don't you love that? "We are protecting your rights by denying your rights."
While Israel has bent over backwards to accommodate the Palestinian Arabs – especially those victimized by the 1948 war – the Arab nations have only sought to exploit their misery. That exploitation continues today. It is overt. It is a matter of law. Yet the world sees it not.
Ever since I wrote a column in October 2000 called "Myths of the Middle East," readers from around the world have asked me what is meant by the term "Palestinian."
The simple answer is that it means whatever Yasser Arafat wants it to mean.
Arafat himself was born in Egypt. He later moved to Jerusalem. Indeed, most of the Arabs living within the borders of Israel today have come from some other Arab country at some time in their life.
Arabs continue to flock into Israel today. They continue to move into the Palestinian Authority. They immigrated there even before it left Israeli control.
The Arabs have built 261 settlements in the West Bank since 1967. We don't hear much about those settlements. We hear instead about the number of Jewish settlements that have been created. We hear how destabilizing they are – how provocative they are. Yet, by comparison, only 144 Jewish settlements have been built since 1967 – including those surrounding Jerusalem, in the West Bank and in Gaza.
Is this a new phenomenon? Absolutely not. This has always been the case. Arabs have been flocking to Israel and its environs ever since it was created and even before, coinciding with the wave of Jewish immigration into Palestine prior to 1948.
Winston Churchill said in 1939: "So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population."
And that raises a question I never hear anyone ask: If Israel's policies make life so intolerable for Arabs, why do they continue to flock to the Jewish state?
This is an important question as we see the Palestinian debate now shift to the issue of "the right of return."
According to the most liberal claims by Arab sources, some 600,000 to 700,000 Arabs left Israel in and around 1948 when the Jewish state was created. Most were not forced out by Jews, but rather left at the urging of Arab leaders who had declared war on Israel.
Yet, there are far more Arabs living in these territories now than ever before. And many of those who left in 1948 and thereafter actually had roots in other Arab nations.
This is why it is so difficult to define the term "Palestinian." It always has been. What does it mean? Who is a "Palestinian"? Is it someone who came to work in Palestine because of a bustling economy and job opportunities? Is it someone who lived in the region for two years? Five years? Ten years? Is it someone who once visited the area? Is it any Arab who wants to live in the area?
Though Arabs outnumber Jews in the Middle East by a factor of about 100 to one, the Arab population of Palestine was historically extremely low – prior to the Jews' renewed interest in the area beginning in the early 1900s.
For instance, a travel guide to Palestine and Syria, published in 1906 by Karl Baedeker, illustrates the fact that, even when the Islamic Ottoman Empire ruled the region, the Muslim population in Jerusalem was minimal.
The book estimates the total population of the city at 60,000, of whom 7,000 were Muslims, 13,000 were Christians and 40,000 were Jews.
"The number of Jews has greatly risen in the last few decades, in spite of the fact that they are forbidden to immigrate or to possess landed property," the book states.
Even though the Jews were persecuted, still they came to Jerusalem and represented the overwhelming majority of the population as early as 1906.
Why was the Muslim population so low? After all, we're told that Jerusalem is the third holiest city in Islam. Surely, if this were a widely held belief in 1906, more of the devout would have settled there.
The truth is that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land persisted throughout its bloody history, as is documented in Joan Peters' milestone history on the origins of the Arab-Jewish conflict in the region, "From Time Immemorial."
It is also true that the Arab population increased following Jewish immigration into the region. The Arabs came because of economic activity. And, believe it or not, they came because there was more freedom and more opportunity in Israel than in their own homelands.
It's time to inject the component of freedom into the discussion. In recent years Freedom House, the human-rights organization that monitors the way the nations of the world treat their own citizens, has found a there's a big trend worldwide away from totalitarianism and authoritarianism and toward freedom – except in the Arab world.
There are 22 Arab states – all varying degrees of police states. If the U.S. continues pushing for a Palestinian state under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, there will be 23.
Let's hope and pray that this administration is beginning to get it. There are some strong indications that is the case. The impending Iraq campaign could represent a watershed event in the history of the Middle East.
Imagine a free Iraq.
Imagine a free Afghanistan.
Imagine a free Iran.
Imagine a free Lebanon.
It could happen. If we set out goals high and we act responsibly and we are courageous and steadfast in waging this war on terrorism – this war we did not start – it could happen.