Sunday, 24 June 2007

The other right of return

Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims. We Arabs should recall the many Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Izzy said...

Hi Khaled,

As I wrote in the Guardian commentary, it is a well balanced article.

I did not want to mistake the forest for the trees, and point out differences; it was and still is for me a good starting point for the topic you broached in the article.

I do not know whether you wish to continue our "interrupted" dialogue or not, but I 'll leave that up to you.

Once again a good article

Iraqi Jew said...

Khaled, I read your article in the Guardian and the comments following it. I left Iraq in 1972 so I know what it was like living in Iraq after the mass immigration in 1950. I would never ever go back to relive that exeprience - being at the mercy of consecutive governments that used the Jews as scapegoats every time they wanted to consolidate their power. I did not immigrate to Isreal rather chose a western country. It is interesting to note that I applied to several western countries and was accepted by all. Not one consular official ever denied me a visa on the pretext that I already have a homeland. I appreciate that you brought up the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab lands as this can be a point of leverage if ever peace talks are resumed between Israel and the Palestinians.

bataween said...

Hi Khaled
I applaud you and thank you for broaching this topic on the Guardian website - it is high time people saw 'the other side of the story'. However, advocating 'a right of return'for Jews from Arab lands is a non-starter, as Iraqi Jew says. Many Arab countries invited their Jews to return in the 1970s, but who would go back to hell? A Jew did return to Iraq and was never heard of again. Link to my website here

Khaled Diab said...

Thank you, Israel. You're always welcome to share your thoughts.

Iraqi Jew, thank you for sharing your experience. I can imagine that in Saddam Hussein's and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr's Iraq being anything other than Sunni - i.e. Shi'ite or Kurd - could be a liability if you did not tow the right line.

Thank you, Bataween, for your kind words and your review of my article. The right of return would be largely symbolic for now but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss its future potential - once peace reigns. However, I don't share your pessimism for the future - but, then again, our interpretation of history and the future seem to be quite divergent.

Khaled Diab said...

Just to be clear, Bataween, because I had a look at the post on your blog: I did not suggest that Zionism had no role to play. What I said was that Middle Eastern Jewry, like the Palestinians, were caught in the crossfire between European Zionism, European and Ottoman colonialism and Arab nationalism. Basically, had no Arab-Israeli conflict and oil emerged I believe that Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews would've been leading largely happy and contented lives in the Middle East.

Your insistance on blaming everything on those 'evil' Arabs is really a non-starter for me and as long as refuse to see and acknowledge the crimes committed by Zionism, our dialogue cannot move forward. It really makes me sad that you insist on blackening centuries of tolerance and good ties because you cannot face up to the ugly underbelly upon which your Zionist dream is built. Anyway, we've had this debate before and it is becoming rather circular, so if you will excuse me, I will break this futile cycle.

bataween said...

I do not and would never blame everything on those 'evil Arabs'. My parents and relatives always had excellent relations with their Muslim neighbours and friends. Arab nationalist governments are, however, a different matter. I disagree that Sephardim/ Mizrahim would have been leading happy and contented lives if it were not for oil / the Arab/Israeli conflict. You only have to look at the plight of other Middle Eastern minorities - Assyrians,Catholics, Copts, Mandaeans, etc who have also been repressed/ethnically cleansed. What did they have to do with Zionism? The problem lay with an intolerant and exclusivist Arab nationalism, and nowadays lies with an intolerant and bigoted Islamism.
You were fair-minded enough to point out in your article that the non-Zionist Iraqi Jews were massacred in the Farhoud. Before them 600 Assyrians were massacred in 1933. There's the rub.

izzy said...

Hi Khaled,

Your answer to Iraqi Jew: … could be a liability if you did not tow the right line. … If you meant by it loss of life and limb, then yes.

Facing our own mortality in these situations is a jarring experience (I hope you had a chance to read about my own experience), facing death is like etching with acid on ones psyche. So ROR for Jews is a nice sentiment, but not something “we” look forward to; besides the minority status of a few hundred or even thousands in Egypt for example in the midst of, unfortunately, 80 Million, hostile towards Jews (I can cite you today’s examples) population, will be a cause for perpetual angst that only people who have experienced it can relate to it. As to ROR for Palestinians, while it may not be the most rational of all solutions that could be formulated, compensation is a must and cannot be waived away.

I know the reference is being made, for a new kind of future that is not here yet; it is our hope as much as yours that someday it will come to be. May be our children’s children can learn to live a little bit more harmoniously than our generations and the ones that came before us.

Khaled, I tried initially to dissociate our discussion from any preconceived notions about one or another ideology; alas I was not successful in sensitizing the discussion away from such issues.

I know that you have your sensitivities, and so do I; and it would have been to our advantage to talk as equal about the future. In case I did not express my reservations correctly, and explained the whys and wheretofors, I’ll try one more time, because it is an important subject for us to be aware of.

Mind you, I did not ask that this subject not be discussed, not at all; but to discuss any subject with a biased outcome from the start becomes a useless endeavor; you’ll agree that open mindedness and fairness requires fairness of treatment from the both of us.

Khaled, you were born in Egypt, and you are a Muslim, yet you find yourself today in Belgium; did you have to throw a renter out from the apartment building or house you currently live in? I’ll venture a guess, NO.

Did you take away a job from the indigenous population in Belgium by your very presence in Belgium? Again, my guess is still, NO; even though to the Belgians who may be at times a tad xenophobic, their answers will be G_d knows what!

In essence, it was and is okay for a native Egyptian, to find yourself in Belgium living as a productive citizen, paying your taxes, contributing to the economy of Belgium and enjoying the rewards of your labors.

Do we know how many Muslims of all original nationalities currently live in Europe? Is that by design or just a manifestation of enterprising people wanting a better life for themselves and their families, or may be even borne out of experimentation with career, likes and dislikes etc.

May be you do see what I am getting at, some will see that as a grand incursion, as the eternal jihad (that even Salah El Din could not accomplish in his heydays), that ultimately wishes to Islamize Europe one country at a time, and introduce Sharia’a as the law of the land. We certainly heard that often enough repeated on and on, from England, France, Denmark ….

Please do not get me wrong, all this is cr_p to me, but it is unfortunately motivated by one form of “ism” or another. Abolish all “isms”, and I’ll go along with it, we all become citizens of the wide open world. I am a Trekky seems like for ever, and I ascribe to a day when that would happen, but we are not there by any stretch of the imagination.

So where am I going with this; well, why a David suffering from the Russian pogroms could not find a safe haven in a land of his dreams. He goes there, buys swamps that is malaria infested (and gets sick in the process), paid atrociously for it as well and reclaims the land, makes it arable, and lives off its produce.

Or Abe, running from Germany or Jean from France … acquiring at top price the sand dunes that we call Tel Aviv today and erects a metropolis that is next to none by today’s standards.

Did they contribute to the improvement of the standard of living, at the time, of that country? Did they displace any Palestinians in the process? Did they have grand designs to usurp lands and wrest it from the existing population, by force? Somehow I am still stuck with my same answer, NO.

This Khaled is my case stated as clearly as I can make it. I also hate, much like yourself and your dear mother, to see a nation built on the misery of others, and yes before I stop my soliloquy I do not believe that G_d is a real estate agent either, and or gives land to people he likes etc…

I have tried to describe it to you, in terms of today sensibilities and say simply, that you are welcome to debate any or all of what I wrote here (and there is more to cover of course) but not prejudge it or ask me to shed its concept before we can dialogue. And don't let atrocities as and when they occur bias you, because they happened from both ends and both ends were and are guilty of atrocities.

There is a lot more to discuss, and I do not wish to take up any more space about this subject, only to hear you express your opinion, and to understand my sensitivities and where I come from on this topic.

PS: Do we want to dialogue in this area or do you have a better place to dialogue in, it seems we have people interested in what we have to say (and I wish, and I hope you do, want to see them participate)? I look forward to it.

I wrote my reply before I had a chance to read your reply to Bataween and vice versa. I hope you understand that I am as above board as you are, and really wishes for this dialogue to continue.


Khaled Diab said...

Izzy and Bataween,

I wish to respond to your comments with due consideration. However, at the moment I am snowed under with work and deadlines, so I won't be able to attend to them until the weekend.


Khaled Diab said...

Izzy and Bataween, what your analysis overlooks is that pan-Arabism is not unique. With the fracturing of Ottoman and European imperialism around WWI and WWII, lots of different competing nationalisms emerged.

In addition, the original brand of Zionism was also an exclusive form of nationalism. Moreover, it borrowed freely from the supremacist European attitudes of the time in which it was born. It is telling, for instance, that the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine do not feature in his thinking, except as a grateful population for the 'civilising' influence of Zionism.
"We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism," he wrote in Der Judenstaat.

Only one Arab character appears in Herzl's novel - and he is just there as decoration to show that the locals ought to be grateful for the arrival of Zionism. In his memoirs, he wrote of what he thought should be done to the Palestinians: "Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." Now that doesn't strike me as either tolerant or inclusive.

That said, I sympathise with the Jewish desire for a homeland, for a figurative roof of their heads, what I object to is how this enterprise was executed and the open racism of early Zionism.

I should point out that, in practice, early Zionist settlement of Palestine had certain commendable elements. As colonial movements went, it was pretty benign, given that, in the first waves, the land was purchased, albeit from another imperial master.

Moreover, pan-Arabism as an intellectual movement was inclusive of all the minorities of the Arab World. However, in the context of the conflict with Zionism, the once prominent position of Jews in this movement dwindled. In addition, once pan-Arabism moved out of the hands of intellectuals and into the hands of dicatotors, their main concern was holding on to power, not abstract values.

I will end on an important point. In Zionism, many Arabs see the face of Ottoman and European colonialism. In pan-Arabism, Zionists see the face of their repression in Europe.

Besides, getting bogged down in history, as Rina suggested on another thread, is counterproductive, since we and our offspring should not continue to pay forever for the sins of their forebears. Let's try to look forwards for a change.

izzy said...

Hi Khaled,

I will not “quibble” too much with what you wrote, so we can discuss the future a bit more, by preference, rather than the past.

Any ideology (specifically related to nationalism) when it starts, it identifies the reasons for its inception with enough clarity; beyond that, and specifically when it comes to execution of its plans, practical considerations, and period norms have a way of asserting themselves in the picture. There is always, the good cop/bad cop scenario that unfortunately develops to carry the exigent nature of any execution and of how things ultimately unfold.

Given that, you still found a way, to detract from one nationalistic position and add to the other (aside from what you ascribed, I am sure correctly, to Herzl) you wrote: …. . As colonial movements went, it was pretty benign … Colonialism at the time implied evil exploitation of a country and a people, and it was hardly that benign concept type of settlement and hard work that describes the origin of the movement.

Also you wrote: … Moreover, pan-Arabism as an intellectual movement was inclusive of all the minorities of the Arab World …

Your statement in a way attributes goodness to Pan –Arabism; when the definition of an Arab really never included minority such as Armenians, Greeks … let alone Jews. Beside to address that issue vis a vis Zionism which relates specifically to Jewish nationalism, will get us into a discussion of the origin of religion, tribal associations, separation of church and state (which were one and the same when all 3 major religions were formed), and sufficiently dark alleys that can be worthy of a PhD dissertation. BTW, which I adore and find very stimulating nonetheless.

Khaled, I personally could not care less what Herzl said or meant 100 years ago, he was who he was, said what he said (and I am sure Mizrahi Jews were not treated the same way as European Jews, and still aren’t for all I care) in the grand scheme of Zionism … to me it is the here and now, and how ideologies can be streamlined to parallel and not clash; to add value to a global society and not destruction of what we all, as human being of conscience and reason, do not wish to see happen.

That brings me to the here and now, the Middle East quagmire, an honest description of what is, is not an issue we can deal with in a detached and rational way only. It requires us to look not only at logic but emotions as well. As human beings, much as we like to call ourselves at times pragmatic, we really cannot ignore the emotional side of that issue; and if we do, we do it at our own risk, in a way.

To deal with emotion only, will be just as bad as dealing rationally only. I understand from what you are proposing, and may be I am a bit off in its details, that you wish to view a bilateral Right of Return as a desirable solution. I personally view that option as a purely emotional one that is not supported by logic (the logic of today situation). Given the healing nature of time, the turn over of generations, if and only if they (future generations) see hatred (of other cultures, religions, other nationalism …) as unacceptable, they see nationalism as a noble sentiment (to be viewed as, a close example would be sportsmanship, conducive to fair competition and advancement of all) instead of a cause of tensions and holy wars and clash of cultures … then I see that as the optimal solution because it addresses both the emotional and the rational.

For that to take place, we need to pave the way for the healing that needs to take place first, and to engage both people in the bilateral contact that needs to bring them in close and cooperative contact over a period of time, whether in situ (in that area, per se) or globally such as you and I (conversationally) and other forms of interaction e.g. in academic, business, etc… settings.

Hatred and clashing that has been going on for so long cannot just be dropped and ignored overnight as a mere nuisance; it is real and it is still in an infectious, ingrained and recalcitrant state as far as feelings, behavior etc … goes. Before I continue and explore other possibilities, I’d like to hear your feed back as to whether I am misreading your position and that may be we can look at a different solution space or discuss that option further.

Khaled, I like to let you in on one of my secrets, I personally debate to learn and expand my range of view and positions; I do not debate seeking to win or to suffer a loss, to me debating is to understand other point of views for me to either adopt, change and alter my own views or stay the course as GW likes to say. I hope our debate will add more dimensions to my knowledge because that is what I seek first and foremost, and I hope you share that attribute with me.

Be well

bataween said...

As you say, Khaled, lots of different nationalisms emerged, one of which was Zionism. I don’t think Zionism was any more racist than any other nationalism or any more 'European supremacist' than Arab nationalism, much of which was influenced by European Fascism. The bottom line is that Zionism is the self-determination of the Jewish people in their own state, a refuge not just from European persecution, but the constant sense of vulnerability to pogroms in the Arab world as well. Even if Arab governments were sympathetic to their Jews, they often failed to protect them from a wild and unpredictable mob. Much to the envy of Berbers and Kurds, the Jews, who have always belonged in the Middle East, have managed to set up the only non-Arab, non-Muslim state. The Arabs have 22 states: their prevailing ethos has always privileged Islam and often Sunni-ism. I don’t know when pan-Arabism was inclusive of all minorities: it seems to have been a very short-lived period if it ever existed. Show me a single Arab Muslim state where minorities do not feel threatened, if they haven't left.

Khaled Diab said...

Israel, I found this to be the most pertinent part of your post:

"... we need to pave the way for the healing that needs to take place first, and to engage both people in the bilateral contact that needs to bring them in close and cooperative contact over a period of time, whether in situ (in that area, per se) or globally such as you and I (conversationally) and other forms of interaction e.g. in academic, business, etc… settings.

Hatred and clashing that has been going on for so long cannot just be dropped and ignored overnight as a mere nuisance; it is real and it is still in an infectious, ingrained and recalcitrant state as far as feelings, behavior etc … goes"

The reason I went to Israel and the reason I have set up this blog and engage in debate is because we desperately need dialogue between both sides to help the healing process and, more importantly, to humanise the other side.

I happen to think that the Mizrahim and Sephardim can play a crucial and central role in this bridging and conciliation process. But to do so, they need a balanced view of their heritage - i.e. pride in the fact that they came from the Middle East and in the privileged and successful positions they often held in Arab societies. A Mizrahi Israeli I know is, in fact, working on a thesis re this briding role and she will be writing an article about it for this blog in the coming months.

This is why I find Bataween's apparent and unforgiving hostility towards the Arab world unhelpful and counterproductive. In Egypt, the context I know best, minorities have always thrived. Things have become tense with the economic stagnation and massive unemployment of recent years. But you will do well to remember that the Armenians fled Ottoman persecution and settled in Egypt, where, although well-integrated, they still have the freedom to run their own schools and churches.

In addition, it was Christian intellectuals who were the biggest advocates of pan-Arabism. And quite a few of Egypt's most prominent anti-British nationalists, as I pointed out in my article, were Jewish. Bataween, you know what I would find daring of you? I wrote an article about how the Arab world owes its Jews a huge apology. May be it's time you wrote an article on your blog that shows Arab treatment of Jews in a positive light. Or perhaps that is too much to expect from someone so filled with anti-Arab sentiment.

bataween said...

Dear Khaled

Few Arabs are as brave as you were in stating that the Jews deserve an apology for the way they have been treated. Too many Arabs live in denial, sugar-coating inconvenient facts, refusing to believe that conditions for Jews before Israel - and other minorities - were anything but idyllic.

I am not 'apparently unforgivingly hostile' to the Arabs. I am indeed proud of my 2,700 year Iraqi-Jewish heritage; all I ask it that you acknowledge that I, as a Jew, have my legitimate place in the Middle East. Of course there were good times and many an article on my blog is redolent of Jewish nostalgia for the good life. But my blog strives only for the truth, and if that truth is unpalatable it should not be distorted. That incontrovertible truth is that minorities in the Arab world in the last 50 years have had a rough time. (You only have to read the writings of Magdi Allam and Masri Feki (, who advocates for minority rights in Egypt, or visit, a blog run by a Bahraini Sunni Muslim, to read about the treatment of Bahais in Egypt, for instance.) A million 'foreigners' once lived in Egypt, and helped make it a cosmopolitan, dynamic, sophisticated country. How many are left? The film The Yacoubian Building showed how in 50 years Egypt has changed for the worse; one of the key factors was the expulsion of non-Muslims.

You mention that Armenians were given sanctuary in Egypt in 19th century - admirable. But the sad truth is that only 6,000 Armenians still live in Egypt today out of a pre-1952 population of 60,000. Are Egyptians asking themselves why this is so?

izzy said...

Hi Khaled,

I don’t know if you will see my answer, it seems we connect every 2 weeks; but I’ll continue the thread and hope to hear from you.

Khaled, the issue is really not between you and me; I understand what you say and I can see that you relate to what I say as well. The problem lies with the fact that nothing will move forward without Arab governments owning up to what “is”, vis a vis the Mizrahi community that once stood at 800,000 and now at less than 5,000.

I respected the fact that started this thread, acknowledgment; these governments do not wish to acknowledge what happens to the Jews that lived in their countries for centuries. I too would like to say, forgive and forget, the only minutae I call for is acknowledgment; and unfortunately it is not coming any time soon.

This is not about turning the other cheek, that works when you are more than sure that by doing so, you are not going to get slapped again (because you sense regret in the initial action). Well Khaled, there is not much regret displayed, yet. Did we have good times; undoubtedly, even amidst all our anxieties we found the people we respected and who respected us and created a haven of sort to take the sting of what was happening unchecked.

You have to remember, that most of my generation grew up during or before 1952 and the Nasser’s era; and we experienced the brunt of the bad things, so it tastes bitter sweet for us; never only sweet.

Let me share with you some anecdotal evidence. As a kid of 11 years old, we went at school on a field trip (mind you it was a private school College de la Salle), to a textile factory; upon return I wrote an essay on what I saw (in Arabic), 2 others did as well in French & English. We all got accolades for a job well done personally; then the monthly school paper comes out and my name alone is not listed as someone who submitted an essay, only the other 2. Guess what, the factory we went to was owned by 2 Jewish businessmen, one of them my own uncle. That is the experience at 11 years of age that leaves indelible marks on any one going through it.

Another uncle, build an electronic service business, after they sequestrated his business, he was slapped in front of his employees (to whom he provided for, for years and years) by the care taker of his business in the process of usurping his right to his own business. I was 14 then.

I watched my own father, who worked as a Director of operation for a movie distribution business, and his anxieties when that business was sequestrated and he did not know whether he will have a job the next day or not to support his family.

I can go on, and most of the ones that are still alive will relate similar experiences, and among ourselves we mix it with the good old days, when we stopped at Groppi for a cake or ice cream, or ate at Mohammed Ali or or or…

Yet we “will” forgive and forget, and we are willing ready and able to do that and all we ask for is “acknowledgment” (not yours, you are a mensch, you already understand that). The falsifications and denial is more than rampant and un-abating. So if we show or display certain hostility, it is not directed at you, or the good people we once befriended, it is mostly against callous and unfeeling bureaucrats that rather lie than face the facts. Facts are, we were 800,000 and now less than 5000; and we did not leave by choice.
Our mission, if we decide to accept it (it is impossible :) alright) is to keep spreading our individual positive messages; you, for garnering support for what you seem to intuitively adopt, among your people, and me, among mine. May be we can make a dent.

Be well,