Palestine notes: How Europe projected its unique antisemitism disease on the Middle East
A quick chat designed to tell you something you need to know about the politics surrounding Palestine.
Palestine notes is inspired by the Pass notes in the British imperialist propaganda rag, also known as the Guardian.
I like the format of the Pass notes and feel that it can be a good medium to inform the uninitiated about the various aspects of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, the politics surrounding Palestine, and the Palestinian fight for freedom from the settler colonial apartheid state of Israel.
Search for “Palestine notes” in the search box for previous articles in this series.
Name: European antisemitism.
Age: Centuries old.
Appearance: Earlier, it looked like Jewish persecution by Christians in Europe; now, it’s anything and everything that Israel and the Zionists disagree with.
Are you telling me antisemitism is a uniquely European phenomenon? Yes, 100 percent. Jews dispersed across the world after their expulsion from Jerusalem over 2 millennia ago and encountered marginalisation and outright hostility in Europe. They were forced to live in ghettos and faced episodic violence, which, at times, amounted to pogroms. Then the Nazis under Hitler went on a never-seen-before genocidal slaughter of the Jews beginning in the early 1940s with the express aim of getting rid of all Jews in Germany.
If the Europeans were terrible to the Jews, I am sure non-Europeans were no better. Or are you telling me the Jews were safe in other places? The Jews certainly didn’t face persecution in the Middle East, including in historic Palestine — in fact, in any of the Muslim-ruled lands — where they lived alongside the indigenous Muslim and Christian populations.
What are you saying? Aren’t Muslims virulently antisemitic? Caitlin Johnstone recently wrote: “The greatest trick white anti-semites ever pulled was getting Jews to leave western society and move to a foreign country to spend their lives beating up Muslims.” I would argue that the second-greatest trick the white antisemites ever pulled was imposing upon the non-Europeans the notion that they were also antisemitic just like them.
Since you are making such bold claims, I am sure you have evidence to back them. Of course I do. Examples of Muslims’ peaceful coexistence with Jews abound. Jews flourished not just in the Middle East but also in Muslim-ruled Spain (711-1492).
I will tell you the incredible story of Samuel HaNagid (also known as Samuel ibn Naghrillah and Isma’il ibn Naghrilla). HaNagid was a Talmudic scholar, poet, and warrior who ruled Muslim Granda for 2 decades and led the Muslim armies in battle against invading Christian forces.
In an introduction to his book Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid, Peter Cole writes: “The first major poet of the Hebrew literary renaissance of Moslem Spain, Shmuel Ben Yosef Ha-Levi HaNagid (993-1056 c.e.) was also the Prime Minister of the Muslim state of Granada, battlefield commander of the non-Jewish Granadan army, and one of the leading religious figures in a medieval Jewish world that stretched from Andalusia to Baghdad.”
Wait, a Jewish Prime Minister in a Muslim state?! Did I get that right? Yes, you got that exactly right. In his book, Cole writes: “He [HaNagid] successfully led Badis's [the King of Granda] forces into battle for sixteen of the next eighteen years, serving either as field commander or in a more administrative and Pentagon-like capacity as minister of defense, or chief of staff. In his various public roles HaNagid helped establish Granada as one of the wealthiest and most powerful of the thirty-eight Taifa or Party States of Andalusia, and he continued to serve both Moslem and Jewish communities until he died.”
That’s an incredible story. Wait till you hear about Moses Maimonides.
Now, who’s that? Also known as Rambam, Maimonides is widely considered among the greatest Jewish scholars. He was born in Muslim Spain and flourished there. A polymath, he served as Saladin's personal physician! Yes, the Saladin. The man who decisively conquered Jerusalem from the marauding Crusaders and kept them at bay. Can you imagine a Christian ruler of Saladin’s stature trusting a Jewish doctor for his health in the medieval era?
I can’t. I know. You know what happened at the coronation of Richard the Lionheart of England, Saladin’s rival in the unsuccessful Third Crusade for the conquest of Jerusalem?
No. What? Pogroms against Jews.
Oh! I should have guessed. I am glad you are starting to see a pattern in the historic European contempt for Jews. Although, to his credit, Richard is reported to have been incensed by the violence.
Anyway, let me continue my story about the Jews in Muslim lands.
When Ferdinand and Isabella took charge in Spain following the Reconquista in 1492, they issued the Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion). It required the Jews in Spain to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Over 13,000 Jews were executed following the Christian reconquest of Spain. Those who fled were welcomed by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II to settle in the Muslim Ottoman lands.
Moreover, Bayezid II didn’t just welcome the fleeing Jews; he arranged for his navy to bring them to his lands. According to an article in the Israeli outlet 972: “In August 1492, he sent his navy to Spain to evacuate the expelled Jews to the empire, where he granted them permission to settle and become citizens.”
Perhaps because of his awareness of Christian attitudes towards the Jews, Bayezid II “sent a special decree to the governors of his European provinces, ordering them to receive the Jewish refugees well.”
Historian Firas Alkhateeb writes in his book Lost Islamic History: “Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II ordered his military and governors to welcome any Jewish refugees from Spain. A sizeable Jewish community descended from these Spanish Jews remained in Istanbul until the twentieth century.”
On the Muslim generosity towards the Spanish Jews, one Turkish historian wrote: “In the Ottoman mind, Spain was a major antagonist, and the Ottomans made little distinction between the plight of the Andalusian Muslims and that of the Jews when both communities were threatened by Spain, and both appealed for Ottoman aid and protection.”
In short, the Ottomans made no distinction between the persecuted Muslims and the persecuted Jews.
Oh! And do you know when the Spanish formally rescinded their expulsion order?
No, I don’t. On December 16, 1968, after more than 476 years!
Those were medieval times. I am sure the Muslim-Jew ties would have been strained later. Not at all. In fact, when the Nazis were hunting Jews, there were recorded instances of Muslims doing all within their means to save Jews in Europe. Take, for example, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the Imam of the Grande Mosque de Paris during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. He “led a clandestine effort that offered protection, shelter, and travel assistance to about 1,700 French Jews after the Nazis and the Vichy government began targeting the community for deportation to Auschwitz.”
On July 16, 1942, when the French collaborationist government sent 13,00 Jews to Auschwitz, these words of the Imam were read throughout immigrant hostels in Paris the very next day: “Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The old, the women, and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our own children. The one who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune — or sorrow — lasts.”
And the Imam wasn’t the only Muslim attempting to save Jews from the Nazis. Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga, Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, and Nuro Hoxha were among the many, many conscientious European Muslims who did their best to save Jews from the gas chamber.
Moreover, it was the Muslims of Palestine who gave the fleeing European Jews refuge in their own homes at the height of the Nazi pogroms. Their current Western benefactors had deserted them and were turning away ships full of fleeing Jews, preventing them from landing on their shores, but the Muslims opened their arms.
Take, for example, the story of the St. Louis ship carrying over 900 fleeing Jewish refugees. They reached Canada in 1937 but were turned away. The Canadian government apologised only in 2018 for its inhuman act. “We apologise to the 907 German Jews aboard the St. Louis, as well as their families,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “We are sorry for the callousness of Canada's response. We are sorry for not apologising sooner.”
One should take Trudeau’s apology with a sack full of salt, considering he and his fellow Canadian parliamentarians just this year gave a Ukrainian Nazi standing ovation.
What happened to the passengers of the ship? They tried landing in the United States. But I am sure it won’t surprise you when I tell you that the United States also turned the refugees away. They were forced back to Europe, and a third of the passengers were murdered.
Moreover, shortly after turning the ship away, the US rejected a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety.
But Muslims were different? Yes, they were. Arab Muslims, especially in Palestine, treated the Jews as fellow Semites and welcomed them into their own homes, which, to their great surprise and utter misfortune, were taken over by the once-refugees. The welcoming Muslims had now become refugees.
Mohamed Hadid, the father of models Gigi and Bella, had his family kicked out of their home in Safed, Palestine, in which his father had hosted two European Jewish families. He recently recounted his family trauma: “When I was only nine days old, my mother, taking my two-year-old sister with her, returned to our home in Safed. Safed had almost been taken over by the Jewish residents there. My father, a professor at Haifa University, was also not at home. When we arrived at the part of our home that belonged to my mother and our family, they did not let us in.”
Unfortunately, the Hadids aren’t an aberration. Historic Palestine is full of stories like that of the Hadids.
Do the Jews acknowledge the generosity of Muslims towards them? Israelis and their supposed sympathisers in the West have tried hard to whitewash the story of the 1948 Nakba, in which over 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, more than 15,000 were murdered in over 50 massacres carried out by Zionist terrorists, and 500 of their villages were ethnically cleansed.
However, there are some Israelis with a conscience. Even a former Haganah terrorist acknowledged the Muslim contribution to the survival of Jews over the ages. The late Uri Avnery, who was also a member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), once wrote: “Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times ‘by the sword’ to get them to abandon their faith.”
All of this is news to me. Unfortunately, the European propaganda to paint Muslims in general and those of the Middle East in particular as antisemitic savages as a way to shift their guilt has led to the concealment of the cordial relations between Muslims and Jews throughout history.
I am sure the Zionist transgressions since the late 19th century, especially from 1948 onwards, have not helped matters either. No, they haven’t. However, Palestinians haven’t lost sight of the fact that their enemy is the violent racist death cult of Zionism and not Judaism. And as Joseph Massad has cogently argued, Palestinians are the last of the Semites bravely resisting antisemitism.
The Columbia University Professor writes: “The Jewish holocaust killed off the majority of Jews who fought and struggled against European anti-Semitism, including Zionism. With their death, the only remaining ‘Semites’ who are fighting against Zionism and its anti-Semitism today are the Palestinian people. Whereas Israel insists that European Jews do not belong in Europe and must come to Palestine, the Palestinians have always insisted that the homelands of European Jews were their European countries and not Palestine, and that Zionist colonialism springs from its very anti-Semitism. Whereas Zionism insists that Jews are a race separate from European Christians, the Palestinians insist that European Jews are nothing if not European and have nothing to do with Palestine, its people, or its culture. What Israel and its American and European allies have sought to do in the last six and a half decades is to convince Palestinians that they too must become anti-Semites and believe as the Nazis, Israel, and its Western anti-Semitic allies do, that Jews are a race that is different from European races, that Palestine is their country, and that Israel speaks for all Jews. That the two largest American pro-Israel voting blocks today are Millenarian Protestants and secular imperialists continues the very same Euro-American anti-Jewish tradition that extends back to the Protestant Reformation and 19th century imperialism. But the Palestinians have remained unconvinced and steadfast in their resistance to anti-Semitism.”
I agree with Mr. Massad. He’s hard to argue against. By the way, even the children of Palestine bear no ill will toward the Jews despite the Israeli butchery they have witnessed for their whole lives. They are smart enough to differentiate between Zionist terrorism that is ruining their lives and the ancient faith of Judaism.
The intact moral compass of Palestinian children was reflected in Max Blumenthal’s tribute to Refaat Alareer following his assassination by the Israeli terrorists in early December.
Blumenthal writes: “Refaat also assigned his students The Merchant of Venice. He encouraged the class to view Shylock, Shakespeare’s Orientalized, avaricious Jewish character, as a sympathetic figure who was struggling to retain a modicum of dignity under an apartheid-like regime.
“When his students completed the play, Refaat asked them which Shakespearean character they sympathized with more: Othello, the Venetian general of Arab origin, or Shylock, the Jew. He described their response as the most emotional moment of his six-year teaching career: One by one, his students declared an almost visceral identification with Shylock.
“In her final paper, one of Refaat’s students reworked Shylock’s famous cri de coeur into an appeal to the conscience of her own oppressors:
“Hath not a Palestinian eyes? Hath not a Palestinian hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means,
warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer
as a Christian or a Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Do say: “Wow! Muslims have been so cool with the Jews throughout history and continue to be so.”
Don’t say: “Let’s learn history exclusively from Western textbooks and Western leaders and Western media.”
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