WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE…

Given the hateful rhetoric on both sides of the Israel- Palestine question–most recently the speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for Israel to be wiped off the map–Dr. Nur Masalha provides a reasoned perspective. A Palestinian historian, author of Expulsion of the Palestinians and other books on the Middle East, he teaches at St. Mary’s College, University of Surrey, Britain. Regarding Ahmadinejad’s comments, he writes: “They are both empty rhetoric and highly damaging to the Palestinian cause. They are empty rhetoric because they are part of a long tradition in which Arab and Muslim leaders make bombastic statements on Palestine without the slightest intention of putting them into effect. They are damaging to Palestinians because they distract attention from the catastrophic situation under Israeli occupation and from the campaign of assassination the Israeli army is conducting in the West Bank and Gaza, which has killed more than two dozen Palestinians since the summer pullout from Gaza. But Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric also raises a key issue at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict: the need for Palestinian Muslims and Christians to make a clear distinction between our political struggle against institutionalized racism and ethnic cleansing in Palestine-Israel and the fact that we and the Israelis will, ultimately, have to live together as equal citizens under some form of secular democracy–rather than wipe each other out. Muslim fundamentalists (Ahmadinejad included) have miserably failed to understand the reality in historic Palestine. In the process of brutal colonization of the country, a Hebrew-speaking “nation” has emerged, with its own distinct language, culture and flourishing literature. There are 5 million to 6 million Hebrew-speaking Israelis, and no one has the right to talk about wiping them out. Acknowledging the current binational reality is completely different from legitimizing the colonial process by which this reality has come about. The fact that the Israelis are trying quietly, but systematically (although not always successfully), on the ground to do to Palestinians in the West Bank what Ahmadinejad seems to suggest should be done to Israel should only encourage us to seek an alternative, humanist vision, away from political Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.”