Books

The Three-Thousand-Year Battle for Palestine

By Aisha R. Masterton

The Holy Land has been fought over for more than three thousand years. Today’s battle between Zionists and Palestinians is just the latest chapter. Three books can fill you in with the history: Madina to Jerusalem, Encounters with the Byzantine Empire Palestine, Beginner’s Guide, both by Ismail Adam Patel, editor of Al-Aqsa journal, and A History of Palestinian Resistance by Dr. Daud Abdullah, lecturer in Islamic Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Madina to Jerusalem is a short history of the Muslims’ expansion in to the Sham (Syria) after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), a period which is not usually written about in great detail. This book is clearly written and suitable for people of a young age, as well as those who do not have much time to read more densely-written histories. Thematically, it is divided into three parts: the first gives an account of the battles over the Sham between the Byzantine and Persian empires, up to the seventh century CE; the second tells of how Muslims gradually spread to the borders of the Byzantine empire and eventually took control of the Sham; the third makes an interesting exploration into the motives for Muslim expansion, weighing up the evidence from different historical sources.

As Patel explains, the temple of Solomon  was destroyed, captured by the Persians, then captured by the Greeks, who dedicated the site to Zeus; captured by the Jews, who ruled it for a century; taken over by the Romans, who built a new temple to Jupiter (Zeus); ruled by the Christians, who banished the Jews; taken over again by the Persians, who, with their Jewish allies, massacred the Christians; then taken over by the Muslims who allowed both Christians and Jews freedom of worship.

Part one is somewhat stiffly written, and could do with more rigorous editing, as there are some repetitions and grammatical errors. Patel also writes as if he assumes that the reader already has some knowledge of Byzantine history, suddenly mentioning the names of certain characters without much introduction. It is when he moves into part two that the writing comes alive and he turns history into a readable narrative, as the Muslims gradually move in on the Sham, eventually taking over its towns. Here he gives an interesting account of the rules of engagement and of military strategies.

What can be seen from the Muslims’ takeover, which Patel calls “liberation” - a word that smacks uncomfortably of the Soviet Union - is that it was standard practice for the Muslims to allow the inhabitants of the Sham to continue living as they had before: to maintain their properties, go about their business and worship freely according to their religion. The strength of the Muslim empire came about, therefore, from allowing a multi- cultural, pluralistic society. There was no interest in forcing that society to become a homogenous Islamic state.

In part three, Patel successfully disproves any assertion that Muslims expanded for material reasons: after they conquered the Sham, there was no mass emigration from Arabia. Quite literally, they saw it as their duty to spread the message of Islam or to collect the jizya from those who preferred not to convert.

Palestine, Beginner’s Guide is set out like a textbook and would be ideal for teaching in schools. It is also good for adults who may find the political complexities of the issue difficult to grasp at times. It is divided into thirty-two short chapters, with photos, illustrations, fact boxes and quotations. This is a balanced account, which tells of the history of Jews in Europe and their persecution for the last thousand years (“1391: 50,000 Jews killed on the Island of Majorca; 1420: Jewish community annihilated in Toulouse, France”), but which also gives a succinct and informative account of the architects of Zionism and subsequent Zionist aggression against the inhabitants of the Sham, both Muslim and Christian.

Some shocking statements include: “In 1941 the US passed new immigration laws, which made it impossible for the persecuted Jews of Germany to enter the USA (107),” and Ben-Gurion’s words: “The catastrophe of European Jewry is not, in a direct manner, my business (109).” Zionists have displaced nearly six million Palestinians, who now live in exile around the world. Zionist gangs’ terrorist activities forced Britain to finally leave Palestine in 1947.

Patel also reveals the strategies employed by the Zionist government in order to justify its invasion of Lebanon in the 1950s, using extracts from the Prime Minister’s diary: “Israel should provoke Lebanon’s Muslims to attack Lebanon’s Christians in the hope of igniting a Civil War in Lebanon” and “The Chief of Staff supports a plan to hire a [Lebanese] officer who will agree to serve as a puppet so that the Israeli Army may appear as responding to his appeal to liberate Lebanon from Muslim oppressors (153).” Palestine, Beginner’s Guide concludes by calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to live in peace and proposes not a separate state for Palestinians and Jews, but a single state for all, using post-apartheid South Africa as a model.

A History of Palestinian Resistance, which was commissioned by Patel, is a slimmer volume than Palestine, Beginner’s Guide, but is more suited to adult readers, although it also sets out to be a textbook, with questions at the end of each chapter. It consists mainly of text and is divided into twenty chapters. Again, it begins with a history of the Sham, showing clearly that the ancestors of the Jews were not the only ones to have a long history in that area: “When [the Israelite tribes] invaded the land of Canaan in the twelfth century B. C. [two thousand years after the Canaanites] the population of the country included […] the Canaanites, the Hittites, Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites and Philistines (2).”

The main focus of this book, however, is the history of Zionism and the Palestinian uprising. The style is more emotional and Abdullah overlooks the problems that have existed within the Palestinian resistance itself, entitling one chapter “Fateh Keeps the Struggle Alive,” while we now know that Palestinians have voted with their feet because of Fateh’s alleged corruption and infighting. Nevertheless, its brevity and conciseness ensure that it remains readable.

These books, lucid, surprising and informative, put today’s conflict in its three-thousand-year context, making one question: When are we ever going to learn? (islamonline.net)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2010 on page no. 27

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