Radiant Horse Manure : Israel Under fire
“[I]t’s Incandescent Horse Shit” was the phrase utilized by the mathematician and philosopher, David Berlinski, to express his disgust and bewilderment at the pretensions of Alan Guth’s inflationary theory of Big Bang Cosmology.(1) Having noticed the blatant arbitrariness of the entire theory, its failings, and its Rube Goldberg like assembly(2), the normal equanimity of scholarly discourse failed him, and the luminance of supposed scientific insight was described in terms more appropriate to its substance, equine fecal excretions of pungent olfactory sense.
Berlinski is a skeptic’s skeptic. He has amassed a great deal of enemies in the scientific community mostly because he neither cares for their pugnaciousness nor their want of respect. I applaud and cheer him in every effort. One scientist found himself at the epistemological bottom when he said that Berlinski uses the “powers of doubt” to attack scientific pretensions to knowledge, this he found to be more of sophistry than critique. But “Doubt,” to capitalize it and thus embolden it with the power of a universal, is an essential component of scientific method, and is usually induced by someone waving red flags when they need to be waved. Berlinski holds a red flag in either hand, and waves them with great effect and great consequence.
I highlight the case of Berlinski because the phrase used by him in relation to Guth’s theory can as easily, and with greater severity, be used in the case of a book entitled A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland. It is surely and unabashedly “Incandescent Horse shit.”
Laymen reviewers of the tome have complained that it is incredibly “detailed,” one women going on for almost a thousand words on Amazon.com complaining that the book was too expansive, and that it required foreknowledge of the region. It was not an introductory text, “do they have a Middle east for Dummies?” she queried. If not for the “selected bibliography” — a good way to tell that a book is not properly sourced, and thus not worthy of consideration beyond that of an Op-ed — I would have assumed Cleveland used as his only source the “Middle East for Dummies” edition.
The 500+ page exasperation qualifies as “Incandescent Horse Shit” in its entirety and I would be delighted if someone had the time and patience to dig through the manure. But here I will be referring to and elucidating Cleveland’s bias against the state of Israel and its formation. In this book, he carelessly omits relevant facts, diminishes Arab intransigence, and white washes the role of Islam as it relates to the formation, and rejection, of the state of Israel.
Let us begin with this sweeping declaration that encapsulates the entire perspective on the formation of Israel that this book provides:
Jewish immigration and land acquisition lay at the heart of the communal tension in Palestine. The Zionist objective was to build up the Jewish population of the mandate through unrestricted immigration so as to have a credible claim to the existence of a national home. In order to settle and feed the immigrants, it was necessary to acquire as much cultivable land as possible. In pursuit of these twin objectives, Zionism resembled a project of settler colonialism undertaken at the expense of the local Arab population. The Arabs of Palestine recognized that the goals of Zionism represented a threat to their existence and they opposed them by attempting to negotiate with Britain to restrict immigration and land transfers: when that tactic failed, they turned to armed revolt.(3)
Before engaging the facts, we need to first examine where the tone of the passage is propelling the reader. A historian’s credibility should be judged on the language he employs when presenting a situation — Jewish Immigration to Palestine — which spanned nearly 60 years. So when Cleveland proclaims that “Zionism resembled a project of settler colonialism undertaken at the expense of the local Arab population” and that “the Arabs of Palestine recognized that the goals of Zionism were a threat to their existence,” some Berlinski style flag waving must commence, and questions need to arise, and they need to arise immediately.
If Zionism resembled a project of colonial settlement at the Arab’s expense, who did the perceiving? And since it is in the past tense, who stood around in the mandate anywhere between 1882 (the first aliyah, which he alludes to but doesn’t mention, as it doesn’t fit the narrative of colonialism, as the Ottomans were in power then, and only western powers are colonial) and 1948 and said “this looks like colonialism,” wrote it down, and archived it, so that it can be cited as a credible disposition that occupied the minds of the Arabs? Also, when he maintains that Arabs “recognized” that this was a threat to their existence, in what ontological terms? As Arabs? As Palestinians? As human beings? And when he uses the leading term “recognized” instead of the more scholarly “believed” or “thought” or “were concerned” he is suggesting that the Jewish immigrations were, in fact, an objective threat that he, the Arabs, and the reader should also recognize as it relates to all three ontological categories. This line of thought can lead one to believe that the Jewish goal in the region was to ethnically cleanse the entire area, and a great number of people now believe it. But it is, in fact, “Incandescent Horse Shit” as the facts will demonstrate.
The first traces of foul odor can be detected in the conjecture that there were, at all times, and at every moment throughout the mandate, one centralized and homogeneous goal of the Jews, and one centralized homogeneous theme of concern or belief of the Arabs. This is false. When Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat in 1895, making the case for the necessity of the Jewish state, it was both novel and controversial within the European Jewish community. The expose made no implication as to where the Jewish state was to be located, but was an argumentative tract on its necessity, as Herzl writes:
The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised(sic) countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.(4)
Jews had always maintained a presence in Palestine since the revolt against Rome in the 1st century CE., so any notion of colonialism fails, and as Alan Dershowitz writes:
Palestine was never without a significant well-documented Jewish Presence. By the time the ottoman Turks occupied Palestine in 1516, approximately 10,000 Jews lived in the Safed region alone. In the sixteenth century, according to British reports , “as many as 15,ooo Jews lived in Safed, which was “a center of Rabbinic learning.” Many more Jews lived in Jerusalem, Hebron, Acre, and other locations. Jerusalem, in fact has had a Jewish majority since the first population figures were gathered in the nineteenth century, and, according to the British consul in Jerusalem, the Muslims of Jerusalem “scarcely exceed(ed) one quarter of the whole population.” …. By the middle of the nineteenth century—thirty years before the first aliya of European Jews— Jews also constituted a significant presence, often a plurality or majority, in Safed, Tiberias and several other cities and towns.(5)
The increase in Jewish immigration was not always seen as a detrimental situation by many in the Arab community, and in many instances it actually caused the Arab population to swell, as Jewish innovation brought jobs and opportunity to the peasant Bedouins and Arabs.(6) The notion that there was any stable or consistent Palestinian people that felt “threatened” by Jewish immigration is false. In fact, many Arabs and other ethnic groups moved from places like Egypt and Turkey to Palestine after the Jews had built up the infrastructure on the land.(7)
As far as Cleveland’s claim that “Jewish immigration and land acquisition lay at the heart of the communal tension in Palestine” we can regard it as an unbelievably stupid thing to suggests given the above accounts, and is further diminished by the analyses given by Benny Morris, a historian who is thought to lean against the Zionist narrative, and is considered by many to be biased against Israel, when he stated:
“historians have concluded that only several thousand families were displaced following land sales to Jews between the 1880’s and 1930’s.” My emphasis(8)
Leave it to a scholar to interpret land sales as forced “displacement.” And as Alan Dershowitz surmises:
Even years later, when Jewish land purchases were increasing, it was found that “the quantity of Arab land offered for sale was far in excess of the Jewish ability to purchase.” A professional analysis of land purchases between 1880 and 1948 established that three quarters of the plots purchased by the Jews were from mega landowners rather than those who worked the soil. Even as pro-Palestinian a writer as Proffesor Rashid Khalidi acknowledges that there were considerable land sales by “absentee landlords.” David Ben Gurion, former Prime minister of Israel, instructed the Jewish refugees to never by land belonging to local “fellahs or worked by them.” I challenge anyone making a case against Israel to produce any objective data…that contradict this historic reality. (9)
As far as Jewish land acquisition being the “heart” of the tensions we can be safely assured that this was not the case. Jews brought more Arabs to the region, built the infrastructure, provided housing, hospitals and sewage systems, and in general made the region a more congenial place to live. If we are to establish the cause of the tension, then we must look elsewhere.
In the entire section under the heading 1929 not once does Cleveland say anything about the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron. The only thing referred to is the “Wailing wall Disturbance” where he characterizes the massacre of Jewish civilians and the subsequent riots as being “provoked” by Jewish demonstrations demanding equal access to the holy sites of Jerusalem, as Jerusalem had been claimed as a waqf by the Grand Mufti.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin AL-Husseini stirred up anti-Semitic riots on numerous occasions. This had very little to do with land, and a lot to do with the Mufti’s desire for power and his manipulation of the intolerance imbedded in Islamic culture. Rumors were spread that Jews were killing Arabs, and then there was an actual massacre of Jews. This cycle continued until the Jewish residents of the area finally armed themselves and began defending themselves for the first time in nearly 2000 years.
Cleveland’s book is full of “Incandescent horse shit” and it is lacking in actual analysis. The Grand Mufti, who was an adviser to Hitler(10), is said to have been “moderate.” That should be the quod erat demonstratum. But the real luminance here, the real crime, the real disturbing aspect, the one I saved for last, is that this book is required reading as an authoritative text on the Middle east for anyone studying to receive a Bachelors Degree in History from Kennesaw State University. This constitutes shameful and embarrassingly large piles of “Incandescent Horse Shit.”
8) Ibid. Page 25. Quoted by Dershowitz. Morris, Benny.
10)ibid. Page 40