Wednesday, 16 May 2007

My son, the peace broker!

By Khaled Diab

My mother worries about her kids. Despite her commitment to independence, personal choice and individual freedom, she sometimes cannot help herself. Part of the problem is that she’s the proud owner of a fully functioning, top-of-the-range, active imagination (anyone who thinks my solutions to the world’s ills are quirky ain’t met me ol’ mam!).

Then, there’s the Egyptian in her. She may have travelled quite widely and lived in three different countries but, like most Egyptians, the idea of venturing too far away from the beloved embraces of the Nile Valley is seen as an adventure, a grand voyage into the strange.

So, you can image my trepidation about telling her that I, son of one of the most grounded and placid countries on Earth, was trekking off to the volatile land of the dispossessed. Although I’d mentioned, during my last visit to Egypt, a vague desire to go to Israel and Palestine to see for myself the situation on the ground, I was still not entirely sure how she’d react to an actual visit.
With all the other challenges of the trip, I decided it was best not to have a worrying, or worse, potentially disapproving mother to deal with. So, I phoned her before I left on the pretext of some family business but did not mention my trip.

The day I returned, I called her. “Mama, do you know where I’ve been?”

“No, where?” she asked with curiosity.

Then, I dropped the bombshell. “I’ve been doing my bit to try and solve the Middle East conflict,” I began sheepishly. “I was in Palestine and Israel.”

“Weren’t you afraid?” she asked predictably, although her tone was surprisingly light.

When I explained to her the purpose of my visit, she responded proudly: “My son, the peace broker!” Luckily, it sounded more tongue-in-cheek than her normal proud pronouncements about her children and so didn’t wind me up.

“Are Israelis as frightening as we’re led to believe?” she queried.

“No, they’re not. They’re actually a lot like us. May be half of them are originally from Arab countries.”

“That was the biggest mistake the Arab countries made in this conflict: expelling their Jewish populations,” she reflected melancholically. “Do you think any of them want to come back and live here?” she asked in the naïve innocence she sometimes displays.

Some of the older ones might be interested in returning to their former homes and others might want to visit, but a couple of generations have been born there and their home is Israel, I ventured.

She asked me about my impressions of Israelis. “Most ordinary Israelis just want peace and to get on with their lives,” I said.

“That’s one of the troubles with the world: ordinary people get on just fine, but their leaders spoil it,” she reflected.

“The Arabs have been begging the Israelis to sign a peace agreement for years. Why haven’t they then?” she asked more soberly.

We talked about Israel’s fractured, fragmented and factionalised political landscape and other factors holding back peace. To be fair to the Israelis, I also pointed out that the Arabs have missed opportunities to reach peace with Israel over the decades.

“But we were concerned with questions of justice back then. What kind of modern world would we have built had we just approved of a country that was created on the dispossession and displacement of an entire people? We dreamt of a better world than that,” she said, revealing the pan-Arab idealism of her youth.

She had grown up at a time when the charismatic Gamal Abdel-Nasser was the first indigenous Egyptian leader (apart from Mohamed Neguib, who was actually a Nasserite figurehead) in some 2,300 years. The last native Egyptian pharoah was King Nectanebo II, who ruled from 360-343 BC!

Jews talk of the two-millennium long exile. Well, Egyptians had their own version: an internal banishment. For more than two millennia, a continuous string of foreign rulers took over the Egyptian mantle and the natives were deprived of their right to self-determination, second-class citizens in their own country. Sometimes there were periods of great prosperity’ at others, there was persecution; but at all times, Egyptians were not masters of their own destiny.

Nasser had appeared like a saviour and promised to change all that; to return pride to the Egyptian people – a message he later extended to the whole Arab people. My mum had grown up in those optimistic, idealistic times. But the domestic and regional failures kept coming in thick and fast and the Egyptian nationalist and pan-Arab dream gradually faded until it was dealt a killer blow by the comprehensive military humiliation of 1967.

“No modern country should be founded on religion,” my mum remarked. “The answer is a secular society for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

©Khaled Diab.


deb said...

See whay I mean that indoctrination begins at home?
Way to go, Mom!

Jonathan said...

I am very confused.

Your mother remembers that the Arab countries expelled their Jewish populations. Actually, more Jews were expelled from Arab countries than Arabs from Palestine in 1948.

Then she says: "We were concerned with questions of justice back then. What kind of modern world would we have built had we just approved of a country that was created on the dispossession and displacement of an entire people?"

Where was the justice in Egypt's expulsion of its Jews? Aren't the modern Arab states responsible for the dispossession and displacement of the Jewish populations they expelled?

Has this though never occurred to your mother? Has it never occurred to you?

Khaled Diab said...

Jonathan, I'm also very confused - which part of "biggest mistake" don't you understand?

Deb, good luck with your own 'indoctrination' endeavours! ;-)

IsraeliMom said...

Your mom sounds sweet! I love her no-nonsense direct approach, and you got lucky too - not too much of a reprimanding speech ;)

Jonathan said...

I understand the difference between a mistake and a crime.

Khaled Diab said...

Thanks, IsraeliMom, my mum is a great woman!

Jonathan, of course the various episodes in various countries were terrible crimes, that goes without saying, as was the earlier ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Robbing anyone of their home is atrocious.

It is also good to recall that the crimes committed against Middle Eastern Jews were two-way - they were stuck between two warring sides.

Prior to the arrival of aggressive Zionism in the neighbourhood, Jews lived generally peaceful, well-integrated and decent lives in the Middle East.

In my own native Egypt, Egyptian Jews, despite a certain amount of violent protest against events in Palestine/Israel, were in no hurry to leave and Egypt was in no hurry to expel them. "We, Egyptian Jews, feel secure in our homeland, Egypt," one Jewish journalist wrote.

That all changed with the Mossad-masterminded Lavon affair of sabotage which led, sadly, to the wholesale distrust by the Egyptian population of local Jews. Then, Israel's invasion of the Sinai in 1956 was the nail in the coffin.

I once met an old Egyptian-Israeli in Sinai and his nostalgic tales about life in Alexandria almost brought a tear to my eye. An English friend has an Egyptian Jewish 'uncle' who did not want to go to Israel and has lived in exile in the UK for decades. These are all sad and terrible stories - but Israel aggressive militarism and intrigue bears a large burden of the responsibility for the plight of Middle Eastern Jewry.

What confounds me is your hostility and insistence on employing an insulting tone towards my mother and myself. This is unacceptable. Debate the issues, if you wish, but do not take personal stabs at my family.

bataween said...

The 'certain amount of violent protest against Zionism' you refer to included the murder of 70 Egyptian Jews in 1948 riots.
As this extract from an article by Israel Bonan and Rami Mangoubi explains, Jews were discriminated against well before Israel and Zionism:

"As early as the 1869, long before Zionism came into the picture, the Egyptian government enacted "Nationality Decrees" that were interpreted by bureaucrats so as to exclude Jews, even those residing in Egypt for centuries, from obtaining citizenship. Successive decrees culminated in Egypt’s 1929 Nationality Laws. As a result, the great majority of Egyptian Jews, including those in Egypt prior to the start of Arab rule in the 7th Century, were declared non-Egyptians, or “Stateless” (gheir mo’ayan lel’gensseyah).

The Jews were now at best guests, but soon the guests were to be given the boot. Shortly after the Nationality Laws were enacted, employment laws were drafted restricting the hiring of “non-Egyptians” even in the private sector. The creeping employment laws led to the 1947 “Company Law”, which mandated Egyptian citizenship for 90% of employees in privately and publicly held companies. The Company Law, in one full swoop, denied most Jews, as well Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic groups, of their livelihood. Political circles had an ethnocentric view of Egypt, and these laws were effective tools of ethnic cleansing.

Often forgotten as well is the Egyptian fascination with Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. Political movements like “Misr el Fitat”, the Free Officers, and the fundamentalist Brotherhood rooted for Nazi Germany during the battle of El Alamein, admittedly out of anti-British sentiment, knowing full well that such a victory would mean the extermination of fellow Egyptian Jews. As they saw it, the lives of Egypt’s Jews, even those who lived in Egypt for many centuries, were a trivial price to pay.

The fascination with Nazism in these political circles survived even Nazi Germany itself. In the 1950’s, the Egyptian government gave refuge to notorious war criminals like Johannes Von Leers, Goebel’s assistant and author of “The Evil Nature of the Jews”, and Dr. Scheer, a war criminal wanted for mass murder.

Von Himmel was even offered a private house in the fashionable neighborhood of Giza, all the while Jews were seeing their property confiscated, and was honored with Egyptian citizenship. Yes, the same citizenship denied to Jews residing in Egypt for centuries was offered to a Nazi war criminal!

The main reason for treating these criminals so respectfully had nothing to do with Israel and Zionism, nor did it have any other intricate political reasoning. It was in part a result of the overwhelming anti-Semitism that was shared among those in Egypt’s political elite who ended up grabbing power in the fifties."

Khaled Diab said...

Bataween, I suppose for an ardent Zionist it is comforting to believe that Jews were being systematically persecuted in the Middle East before the creation of Israel. But the facts do not back this up.

Of course, it was not heaven and there were episodes in which minorities were discriminated against throughout its history - particularly by its foreign rulers.

But I really do not appreciate your willful twisting of history to fit your ideological colours.

For instance, the article you quote speaks of an 1869 Egyptian nationality law - there was no such thing. In 1869, as part of a modernisation process known as 'tanzimat', the Ottoman Empire, under whose jurisdiction Egypt fell, granted all its subjects Ottoman citizenship regardless of their ethnic or religious identity. This is hardly a measure of discrimination!!

The Nebi Daniel Association of Heritage of Jews from Egypt ( describes Egypt says of the Jewish presence in Egypt: "The Jewish establishment believed in a secure future in Egypt and did not want to appear disloyal to the Egyptian state by displaying openly Zionist sympathies."

As to the nationality issue, indigenous Egyptian Jews had Egyptian nationality. The tens of thousands of Jews who immigrated to Egypt in the late 19th century and early 20th century did not have nor wanted Egyptian citizenship, since, owing to the elitist mixed court system set up by the Europeans for their own subjects, Egyptians were 2nd class citizens in their own country. They often still are, since having a foreign passport grants you more rights in Egypt today than an Egyptian one.

Izzy said...

Hi Khaled,

I appreciate your mom’s recollections, and you seem very balanced in your original and follow up replies. So I am going on the assumption that you are level headed and fair and would like to know more about the History of Jews in Egypt.

You main point was to highlight the fact that it was only because of Zionism and Israel that all the ills were visited on the Jews of Egypt; and once in a while you bring up half a truth of history to support your arguments; and pray tell who does not. Yet I am still going on the assumption that you are fair minded, and want to know more not less; because history at times and internal propaganda in Egypt are sometimes at odds with one another (and I venture to say everywhere else when it suits the purpose of national this or national that).

Well, you probably guessed already that I was born in Egypt, and as I like to tell people; I am not an Egyptian Jew; I am a Jew born in Egypt; I am sure the nuance will not escape you.

We might as well address the first topic of why not Egyptian Jews. You brought up the much ballyhooed issue of foreigners were treated differently in the old days, and that is why the Jews did not wish to acquire Egyptian citizenship, yes I learned that in school back in Egypt too.

So here is a puzzling observation, during the Six days war of 1967, there were over 400 Jews from Egypt (with their families) that were “Stateless” (or “apatride”). Would you not say that it would have been a lot better to have an Egyptian identity and nationality than to have none? I am not sure that you will suggest that it was beneath dignity of the Jews of Egypt to accept Egyptian Nationality and that they much preferred to be stateless instead, with no country to call their own, in time of need!

All these stateless, born in Egypt Jews, were actually incarcerated in ’67 some of them for over 3 years, just because they were stateless with no country to fight for them. I am sure you wish to know, for the history of it, how they were let go in 1970 from Tura & Abu Za’abal? The US Embassy together with the Spanish government issued then passport according them Spanish citizenship (I refer to that as a good denouement for the Spanish inquisition 500 years hence).

(Oh btw, you did not answer to the Nationality laws of 1927, that last puzzling factoids above, was the end results of it. Or was that because of Zionism too?)

Do not get me wrong Khaled, I am a very balanced commentator as well, and I like nothing better than to see the Jews of Egypt reconcile with Egypt, the way we speak of our experiences in a few of our forums, we become nostalgic for whatever good life we experienced; so I am not answering you out of rancor but purely to imply, that any reconciliation cannot occur really without proper accounting for what happened, a “sulha” my good man is about accepting the wrong doing and apologizing for it (which means whatever wrong we did Egypt, you are welcome to tell us what it was as well).

You passed over Bataween’s comments (she quoted from my coauthored articles); 70 dead in riots, the Company laws, which affected not just Jews, but Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese … Was that because of Zionism too?.

You also suggested the mistrust after the Lavon affair, was that guilt by religious association; then in the US we should then consider all Muslims to be guilty by association much like Osama Ben Laden (do you know that I drafted a letter to the editor for the Boston Globe and asked him not to publish opinions in his editorial section that even hints of that, because I suffered from it and I preferred to stand up for the Muslim community instead)

And you talk about ’56 when Israel attacked, are wars started on a whim, (oops I take that back our Iraqi war did start on a whim); you seem to have forgotten that the new charismatic Pharaoh Gamal the I, blocked the navigation in the straits of Tyran to Israeli navigation; don’t you consider that an act of war? And how is that relevant to the Jews of Egypt, I like to repeat to my friends that I was “men el bet lelkoleya we men el koleya lel bet” transliterated “I went from home to school and back), and yet we had assigned mukhabarat tracking every step we took, identified every friend we befriended and had a dossier a mile long on each of the 5000 of us left in ‘67.

Finally, on a last note, I really wanted to address your dear mom’s comments about Israel was started on the backs of the disenfranchised Palestinians, but I’ll leave it for another day and another time.

It is nice knowing you.

Khaled Diab said...

Hi Israel

Marhaba! It's good to have a genuine Jew from Egypt here.

My quest is for 'truth', not ideology, and, like you, I am all for "sulh".

I freely and willingly admit that crimes were committed against Egypt's Jewish minority - I have not once denied it. But these occurred in reaction to events in Palestine.

It is no coincidence that the gradual stigmatisation of Jews in Egypt occurred in parallel with the acceleration of Zionist migration to Palestine - a misplaced and unfair show of solidarity with Palestinians. Just as it was unfair for the Palestinians to pay the price of the persecution, pogroms and genocide targeted at the Jews Europe; it was unfair for Egyptian and Middle Eastern Jews in general to pay the price for the persecution of the Palestinians.

That does not excuse such discrimination - but helps explain it.

History is a dangerous political weapon. And it is often convenient to portray the enemy of the moment as the eternal enemy - but this simply was not the case. I found it sad and shocking how many Israelis claim/believe that they underwent 1,400 of persecution in Muslim lands. If there is going to be 'sulh', then Arabs need to admit that they committed unacceptable crimes against their Jewish communities in reaction to Zionism; and Israelis need to admit that there were good times with the Arabs and good relations can be restored. Seeing the whole world through the narrow prism of persecution is not fair to Jews nor to those societies where they prospered throughout history.

You raise the issue of the 1929 nationality laws. Looking at them as a manifestation of discrimination against Jews is an incredible over-simplification. The time in which the law was passd was a period of narrowing nationalism in many parts of the world. In Egypt, the 1928 law has to be seen in the context of the reawakening of Egyptian identity and Egyptian pride which started under the Albanian Mohamed Ali. This had its good side for Egyptian self-determination and pride but also had an ugly underbelly.

Jews are fond of saying that they had 2,000 of living as other people's guests, dependent on the goodwill of others. And Zionism - and the uncompromising nationalism and arrogant swagger - is a reaction to that history. Well, ordinary Egyptians lived for 2,300 years as guests in their own country, dependent on the goodwill of foreign rulers. That also resulted in a strident form of uncompromising nationalism. And when these to nationalisms came into contact, the results were disasterous.

So, the 1929 law was not anti-Jewish, it was anti-foreign domination. And, unfortunately, those 400 Jewish families you mention got caught in the crossfire, as did Armenians and Greeks (at least those that wanted to become Egyptian). But thousands of Jews also had Egyptian nationality and were respected and loved members of society. Leila Murad, Egypt's greatest diva before Umm Kalthoum, springs immediately to mind.

I think it is incredibly sad that Egypt and the other Arab countries no longer have their Jewish communities. They played a dynamic part of society and perhaps could've acted as a bridge with Israel, drawing it into the region.

Khaled Diab said...

Many Egyptian Muslims and Christians still suffer from Egypt's outdated nationality laws, namely those Egyptians born to non-Egyptian fathers. A 2004 change to the law tried to address this discrepancy.

Izzy said...

A conversation happened between Daoud Hosni and his friend Tal'at Harb. It related to the Directorship of the Egyptian Theater.

Tal'at: You know, Daoud, how much I wanted you to be in charge of the theater, but, ya khusartak fi'l Yahud (its a pity you are Jewish).
Hosni: Tal'at, I was born a Jew, I lead a Jewish life and I will die a Jew...

[1] Mourad El Kodsi (Murad Al-Qudsi), Just for the Record-- In the History of the Karaite Jews of Egypt in Modern Times, Wilprint inc., 2002, p.218.

Dear Khaled,

I thought I start with this quote, I am sure you know both characters in the caption above (if you want to read a bit more about Daoud’s history :

I never, and will never deny that we had good days, in Egypt, and I appreciate your candor and your willingness to accept that bad things happened to the Jews of Egypt; and I commend you for it; I’d say it is most likely the influence of your dear mother on you, who unlike you must have known and befriended Jews in Egypt way back then. I only wish that these old timers, will reflect a bit more about their experiences with the Jewish community to their progenies, I am sure it was not all that bad.

You wrote: “But thousands of Jews also had Egyptian nationality and were respected and loved members of society. Leila Murad, Egypt's greatest diva before Umm Kalthoum, springs immediately to mind.”

That was the second time, with authority, that you stated (the first being in the original blog), that also indigenous Jews held Egyptians citizenship!!

Let me at least explain, and may be after we’re done, we can both of us accept it as the discrimination that befell not only Jews but all, what should I term them, “Non Muslims” and may be that will cover Armenians, Greeks and what have you.

Indigenous, I was born in Egypt, both my parents were born in Egypt; do I qualify for being indigenous? In any other country, my birth even in their embassy or a flag ship or … will give me the choice of becoming a citizen of that country; so how come we were denied?

You also brought up in your response to the Nationality decrees of 1869, the fact that the “Tanzim” was a good thing for the Egyptians, undeniably so … but who were the Egyptians … notice our careful wording in the original article … " that were interpreted by bureaucrats so as to exclude Jews, even those residing in Egypt for centuries” ; all you had to be was Muslim and did not need to prove anything; but for Jews (as well as other minorities) you had to show that you, your parents and grandparents were born in Egypt, in an age where such documentation hardly existed!!

And yet, I still would not deny that we had our good days (that we keep reflecting so positively on) “yom assal we yom basal” transliterated “days of honey and days of onions”.

I agree with your statements about things got progressively worst when the overall allegiances shifted with the events in Palestine … progressively worse; we were tolerated before and less later … if that is a definition of Nationalism, and only discrimination against minorities (of which Jews were part of) that I do not accept; because that also happened to the fate of the Coptic Christians in Egypt (another larger minority, more indigenous than any) … and from the comments that your dear mom and you made (and I chose to postpone my answer to earlier) no country should be build on religion … that seems to fly in the face of the fact that … Egypt is a Muslim country, much like Saudi Arabia among others.

I am sure you wish to distance yourself from that observation, and I would not blame you … but that IS the end result of all what happened "progressively" in Egypt.

You brought up Leila Murad, I am sure you are aware that she converted to Islam; and her acceptance was thus conditional … Did you know she was tried and found innocent, of being a Zionist, after she visited Palestine; and married her prosecutor after all!! That is the reason I brought up Daoud Hosni’s story above.

Trust me Khaled, that I wish the momentum was there for a “sulh”, here is another thing you don’t know (it happened in the US); we asked the Ambassador of Egypt, if the current Egyptian government is ready to issue an apology for the Jewish community that suffered under “older regimes” (much like the US did the Japanese for WWII incarcerations) … I am sure you can figure out his response to that, in an open forum.

You’re welcome to read my Exodus story, and learn a bit about what happened to us in 1967, as the last telltale remains of a community in Egypt:


Izzy said...


it seems the html tags are not working properly, my links came out garbled.

My exodus story is in :

Khaled Diab said...

Thank you, Israel, for more insights - which are fascinating. I will certainly read your exodus story.

I think it is safe to say that we agree on the facts but we seem to differ somewhat on the precise nuances those facts signify.

Let my start by saying that I think, even under the 1929 law, you should've qualified for Egyptian nationality. And the fact that you did not get it is a black mark against Egypt. So, your parents applied and were denied it?

As you yourself acknowledge, before the arrival of Zionism, it was not a question of being Jewish par se.

I don't think it was an issue of 'non-Muslim' either. If it were, then the Copts would've been regarded the same as the Greeks and Armenians - which they were not. I don't know a single case of a Coptic Egyptian who did not receive automatic Egyptian nationality.

In addition, the slogan of the nationalist movement was Egyptian first, whatever religious allegiance second. At marches they always carried a flag with a crescent and a cross - and I think sometimes a star of David. Of course, this was an ideal and abuses almost certainly occurred - as they almost certainly do today.

After nearly two and a half millennia of foreign rule, the questions wasn't religion but 'foreign domination'. Unfortunatelt, this meant that Egyptians took - and still take - too narrow a view of what constitutes being an Egyptian. This was exacerpated by the fact that many, but not all, of Egypt's minorities - along with the ruling aristocracy - looked down on the mass of the population and tried to disassociate themselves. Until the nationalist movement, being 'baladi' (of the country) was almost a dirty word. This caused a certian amount of bitterness towards 'foreigners'.

Of course, it was unfair to lump Egypt's ancient Jewish community together with 'foreigners' where it happened. But you must also recall that around two-thirds of Egypt's Jewish community were recent immigrants and many could not even speak Arabic. In addition, the number of Jews in Egypt was so tiny that most Egyptians were unlikely ever to come across one.

Ideally, everyone living in Egypt - particularly those who have been there for generations - should've had the right to apply for and receive Egyptian nationality, in my opinion. The law has had many victims, including the offspring Egyptian women married to foreigners. I have an Egyptian friend whose father was Palestinian and until a recent amendment to the law, she was stateless.

But, contrary to what you assert above, this kind of open-minded view of nationality is a relatively recent idea and the only countries where you become a national just by being born there are immigrant countries or countries with large empires. In the UK, such a law was passed in 1915. But by the time my brother was born in the UK in 1984, it had been scrapped a year before. The only reason my brother has a British passport is because he was a dependent of my father when my father became 'naturalised'.

Egypt has always been open to the world, but it's gradually been shutting itself of. Now it needs to reopen itself.

Izzy said...

I’d like to correct a few assumptions, in 1929, my father was still a teenager; and his father had moved to Egypt from Tunisia, at the turn of the century. We kept the Tunisian passport; my comments were based on friends of mine that went through that exact described experience.

Wanting something Khaled, and having it be true are two different things; I am sure you’ll agree. In 1929, a lot of Jews (and I am sure others as well) lost their citizenship, not got it. The causes and effects of history on the quality of life are, as we can well imagine, varied … If interested there are several scholarly books on the subject, that can help you get some extra background, that I am sure was not available to you learning history in the classroom in Egypt (they certainly were not when I was studying back then).

The imagery of the Crescent and the Cross, might have been genuine, the Star of David is a bit of a stretch, as I said wishing is one thing, reality is another.

You quoted Nebi Daniel, early on: "The Jewish establishment believed in a secure future in Egypt and did not want to appear disloyal to the Egyptian state by displaying openly Zionist sympathies.". What would you have them say or do, being a tiny minority, as you suggested yourself (we were 80,000 mid century, in a population of roughly 20 Million plus); march in the streets in support of Zionism, ... a secure future ... meant “akl el aish” (making a living and supporting ones family); the Company Laws alone deprived them in 1947 from working in the major Jewish enterprises (I am sure the name of Cicurel rings a bell; the sugar refineries, the transportation industry, Bank Masr…..).

You know something Khaled, While this was happening in Egypt, 6 Million others were being slaughtered across the Mediterranean; so why dwell and pick only on Egypt while this kind of discrimination was a worldwide passtime…. I take all that back, Egypt was no different (and certainly more benevolent, only 70 died in the riots of ‘47) to her Jews than let’s say Germany in ’39.

What drew me to your blog, were some of the assertions made earlier, about Zionism and its adherents. I also ventured into more of your other posted articles and your following and their commentaries.

Invariably, most of the dialog groups and forums and interfaith groups, have an ante that at times I do not wish or choose to pay. I consider the ante a concession and a biased “going in” imposition that offers nothing in return for me.

To be more specific, I am a Zionist; with my own views on what Zionism means, and having to drop that so I can dialog, is not something I wish do.

Just to be more specific, I do not believe in the apartheid notion of Zionism or that it is a land grab as portrayed by some of the commentaries I read, or aggressive Zionism ….; but something more noble and ethical.

Also I do not believe that Israel, and Jewish presence in Israel is or was done on the backs of Palestinians, as atonement for the Holocaust, or that is was ethnic cleansing as suggested earlier; all these concepts and notions are alien to me and do not reflect truism or factual discourse and interpretation of history (neither do I believe in the Balfour declaration, …. or in the tooth fairy either). Since I do not wish to proselytize with my own interpretations, in your blog; I’ll sign off and let you be comfortable in the notions you choose to accept instead.

It was a pleasure chatting with you.

Khaled Diab said...

Israel, your demands for others to acknowledge your suffering - which I have amply done - and then your outright denial of the suffering Zionism has inflicted on the Palestinians has really left me speechless and terribly sad.

I'll leave you to wallow in whatever illusions and denials of history make you comfortable.

Izzy said...


My good man, when or where did you hear me say, the Palestinians did not suffer?

Where and when did you hear me say, we are, as Jews from Arab countries, the only ones that suffered?

NEVER did and NEVER will.

To have all these ills visited on Zionism hurly burly is what I strenuously object to.

Was it Zionism that started the war in ’48?

Was it Zionism that let the Palestinians suffer for 60 years in camps as wards of the UN instead of being absorbed in other Arab countries?

Was it Zionism that kept them disenfranchised when their Arab brethrens flush with oil dollar could not lend them a hand?

Were the Palestinians dignity on the mind of other Arab countries, when they decided to make them a cause celebre for others to pity, instead of getting them back the dignity they deserve and have them be full members of the world society instead?

Here are some UN statistics that you may find of use: 726,000 Palestinians were left without a home after the six Arab countries started a war with Israel pursuant to the partition in 1948, and they also allude to 856,000 Jews who were displaced from 10 Arab countries. You do the Math Khaled.

Where are we as Jewish refugees from Arab countries today, why our fates are different, I am sure you want to know, we certainly started in the same dire straits as the Palestinians did.

Community after community, lend us a hand to restart our life, their first obligation was to preserve our dignity as a refugees and to give us the first push so we can find our way in life, wherever we found ourselves, dispersed in the four corners of the world; not left us for 60 years as a sore thumb on the conscience of the world.

Khaled, there is a lot of accounting that needs to take place, yanking and tugging on one end of the rope, before we start a dialog is what I objected to. I am right and you are wrong, going in; where is the fun in that?

You are a sensitive person, and so am I, but still I don’t wish to ante up and acknowledge what you consider to be universal truism, when your truth does not hold up to scrutiny.

Be well

Khaled Diab said...

I have to tell you this straight - you are incredibly self-righteous and it is this unwillingness to admit fault that holds back prospects for peace.

Yes, the Arabs failed to clean up the mess created by Zionist designs on Palestine - and for that they deserve huge criticism. But that does not absolve Zionism of the crimes it committed against the Palestinians.

Before you go away and tend to your stable of high horses, please consider this question: if the UN came today and forced a partition plan or even a peace settlement on Israel, would you accept Israel's right to resist it?

I will repeat my original point: you demand that Arabs acknowledge the crime they committed against their Jewish populations, but I have not heard any such apology for Zionist crimes forthcoming from you. All you are capable of doing is hanging the entire blame at those 'stupid' Arabs door. Once you recognise the nightmare upon which your Zionist dream was constructed, then we can all gain closure and move forward and appreciate the nicer aspects of Zionism! If blaming everything on the Arabs is the only ante you're willing to accept, then there is sadly no point in dialoguing with you.

Izzy said...

Now, now Khaled,

Was that too much to ask?

Part of maturing as a person, or as a nation; is to accept responsibility for ones actions and inactions. I am glad, you see that the comedy of errors we call the Middle East is a bit more complex than to suggest and leave everything at the doors of one and only one culprit; which you seem to still feel based on your chicken and egg theory to be Zionism.

I am sure you are aware of National self determination, an accepted principle of Human rights, endorsed by the UN members since inception.

You ask, will they have accepted the partition today as an international body; and I ask you why not accept. Wouldn't you feel it is a double standard on their part “Not to accept”?

I am sure if I try and explain it to you with today’s sensitivity, may be you’ll appreciate it a bit more.

Here we have a dictator by the name of Joseph Broz Tito, held the reigns of Yugoslavia, it seemed for ever. He kept his iron hand and will over an agglomeration of a variety of ethnic people within the artificial boundaries of what was once called “Yugoslavia”. One had to be a real history buff, to know of the turmoil between its different factions, sorry I was not.

Well no one lives for ever, or so it seems, and Tito passed on, and within a few years, the country came apart; after untold sectarian violence. The UN was called upon again, to pass its judgment on 4 different (and now a fifth Montenegro wants to secede as well) budding nations, with national aspirations to live within secure borders away from the other 3 or 4.

I guess the UN must have done the right thing and approved the dissolution of a once integrated country that we all knew and loved called Yugoslavia, and which is no more.

So pray tell, why wouldn’t the UN as a body accept that 2 people living in Palestine, at each other throat for G_d knows how long (I will be happy to share with you what happened in the 18th and 19th century to the Jewish community residents, oh yes they were a few of them there too, a verifiable fact) and one wanted self determination, the other did not (please use the same template example of Yugoslavia and how Serbs, and Croats and … wanted to secede while others did not…), and now ask the UN to mediate their partition. What would the UN do today?

Mind you the partition itself would not have caused the Palestinian refugees problem, because they had a home to call their own in Palestine, and/or Israel at the time. If you continue to insist that Israel as a country has no right to exist, you will find my tin ears unsympathetic, in today’s world that would be “double standard”.

Now we can talk about the Tamil, and very soon a 3 way partitioned Iraq will come before the UN for mediation; because the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurdish cannot seem to let go of each other throats; and what will the UN do? Partition, or not Partition that is the question; isn’t?

Then you ask me, if there were excesses during a war that was waged by 5 Arab armies against a newly instituted entity in ’48.

That Khaled, is a fair question to ask. But mind you in a dialog not as a going in imposition. And you know something, I don’t mind answering you, before we officially accept to dialog without preconditions, and because you were as forthcoming about your acknowledgments vis a vis the Arabs.

Yes Khaled, there were excesses, and yes there still are; and you will find that I wrote about that too; in defense of ending the “occupation”. What still puzzles me about ending it, is to whom does Israel give the keys to?

We all saw what happened when Israel left Gaza, is that what we want for the rest of the country, or a more orderly transition?

We need some cool headedness when Middle East topics are broached, going in suggesting the calamity “nakba” was caused by only one culprit, even after it is explained with today’s sensitivities, is to insist on being wrong headed.

Level the playing field, and introduce fairness in the dialog; and you’ll find yourself with a very reasonable and understanding partner, who does not want to live in the past but move forward. A partner who does not want to look and spend time solving the riddle of which came first the chicken or the egg, but instead what do we do now.

Both Israel and the Palestinian state right to exist to me was and is and always be “UNQUESTIONABLE”. If it is the same for you Khaled, we can start over again, if not; pity, because you are a smart, erudite and well educated man.


Khaled Diab said...

You will notice that my dialogue has always been moderate, tolerant and accepting. But I do not find you're glossing over the inconvenient facts helpful. And please do not insult me and my intelligence by making such outlandish claims as: "If you continue to insist that Israel as a country has no right to exist".

For crying out loud, how can I visit a place and write about it if I don't believe it exists?

I have never once and never will deny that right. But to describe the crimes committed in the name of Zionism as mere 'excesses' strike me as a coping mechanism for someone who cannot face the ugly legacy of his political dreams. You are free to do that. However, the danger in all that is the victim - i.e. the Palestinians, not the Arabs as a whole - is recast as the villain.

And I am future-oriented. My focus has been trying to find ways out of this mess. Yours has been to come here and shout 'J'accuse'. Self-criticism is the first step to enlightenment. Try that every once in a while.

rina said...

Well, gentlemen, I don’t have anything substantive to add to the discussion since I don’t know much about Egypt’s and Egyptian Jews’ history, but I would like to add a general comment, if I may.

Your argument reinforces my opinion that, while knowing one’s own history is very important for every people, there are times when it’s better to put history aside. These are of course the times when both sides are using history to justify their actions in an ongoing conflict. It is for a reason that history is considered a humanities discipline and not an exact science: even in recent, well-documented events, it is not that easy to separate fact from fiction. But even more to the point, sometimes the facts themselves are not in dispute, yet the adversaries find such ways to interpret them as to come to completely different conclusions. It was very interesting to follow Khaled’s comments from Israel together with those of Anat’s, his hostess there. According to her, it happened more than once that an argument broke out about the meaning of events, as opposed to their historical accuracy.

My point? It is of course very interesting and enlightening to read a thread such as this one and hear the opposing views. However, I think that since we live in such difficult times, people of good will on all sides have to agree to disagree (at least to a point) about the chain of events, or action-and-reaction interpretations of history, and concentrate on what needs to be done right away. Really, once the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the thing of the past and everybody is free and safe, the academics can continue these arguments until they’re blue in the face (or until they achieve tenure, whichever comes first). Right now, it seems to me, such arguments only alienate those who ought to be getting together and, well, peace mongering. No?

News Service said...

Dear Khaled,
You wrote:
"And please do not insult me and my intelligence by making such outlandish claims as: "If you continue to insist that Israel as a country has no right to exist".

For crying out loud, how can I visit a place and write about it if I don't believe it exists?"

Compare what Israel CLAIMED to what you wrote. You wrote:
"How can I visit a place and write about it if I don't believe it exists"
Israel Bonan did NOT claim that you believe the state of Israel doesn't exist, but RATHER that you claim it has no right to exist. That's different. And in your article, you quote your mother as saying that a state cannot be based on a religion. But Israel is not a country based on a religion. It is the state of the Jewish people. Do we infer that you do not believe there is a Jewish people?

Do you recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination (don't tell us that you know Jews exist, and Israel exists - it is not relevant. I know cancer exists, but I don't approve of it).

You write about resisting partition. In the 1880s some time, my grandmothers were born in Jerusalem, which was not part of anything called Palestine. Many Arabs were born there too. What your approach seems to be saying, is that it was perfectly OK for the Arabs to invite, for example, Izzedin Al Qassam to come to Palestine in 1922, from Syria where he was born, but there was something wrong when my grandmothers wanted to invite their friends to come as well.

Why was it wrong? Why was not NOT racist to pressure the Turkish government to limit Jewish immigration, and to import Muslims from Bosnia and Circassia?

In mandate times, the leader of the Arab Palestinians was Hajj Amin al Husseini. You can find pictures all over the Web of this man with his friend Adolph Hitler. What he proposed to do to the Jews of Palestine was quite a bit worse than what the Jews did to the Arabs. He made no secret that he intended to do in Palestine what Hitler had done in Europe. And the Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Syrian and Saudi governments set out to help him.

What would have happened if the Arab side had won in 1948, is illustrated by the cases of Jerusalem. Every single Jew living in the old city of Jerusalem was removed forcibly. Systematic ethnic cleansing: war crimes. Those Jews were not Zionists for the most part, and their families had lived there for several centuries. That was the humane solution of the Jordan Legion. Compared to the massacre in Gush Etzion, it was very humanitarian. The "crimes" did not start in 1948 however, they go back at least to 1920, and perhaps much further back. No Jews were left in the West Bank or Gaza after 1948. Not even one.

It seems that someone is ignoring inconvenient facts.

If you want to turn over a new page in history that is fine. Marhaba - bevakasha. But this page must begin with mutual respect and acceptance, and admission that the Jewish people have a right to a place in the world too. And it must include a realistic understanding of what _both_ sides did.