The Arabs' Stake in the Middle East

The Arabs’ Stake in the Middle East By Richard C. Peterson Source Most of us who live in the urbanized Western nations have a very casual relationship with the land upon we live – if we have any land at all! In the United States, for instance, the average homeowner moves from one property to another about every five years. Similar patterns are now evident in the man Population centers of Europe. Normally, the Western man’s selection of a home is not regarded as a permanent decision. A home is viewed from the start as something to be easily disposed of as one moves up or down the economic ladder. Not So in the Middle East! In the Middle East, however, land carries a much broader significance. The roots of the majority of the people who call these arid hills and plains their home run deep. To families in this area of the world, the land is tightly interwoven into almost every facet of their daily lives. For many, of course, the often parched, barren earth of the Middle East is the source of their very means to survival. Even the most affluent urban Arab shares this in common with the poorest rural fellah. The very essence of their national identity, the roots of their religion, culture and uniting sense of shared destiny are firmly embedded in the very soil of this timeless land. “One’s Own Land” For these and other social and economic reasons, the factor of land is of central importance to the often ethnically diverse peoples today known collectively as Arabs. As an example, land held by individual families has frequently been in those families through many generations. Parents and other close relatives may well be buried within its boundaries. To those living today, it is regarded an honor to bequeath, in turn, this normally modest but richly treasured inheritance to their children, and those after them. One Arab put it this way in explaining the complex, heartfelt desire “to live on one’s own land”: “We buried our dead there fifty years ago, two hundred years ago. I do not understand how anyone can say we should accept land in some other place [as compensation] when we are tied to this land. We have a spiritual tie. Our souls are bound to this land. Our traditions are bound to this land.” Because of this intensely emotional, unifying, identity-supplying bond the Arab has with his land, it is inevitable that the struggle for land – specifically the land of Palestine – lies at the core of the explosive drama now unfolding between the Arab peoples and their Israeli neighbors. Who “Owns” Palestine? Until this present century, Arabs were the primary residents of Palestine. Sweeping into the Levant in the seventh century A.D. during the initial outward spread of Islam from the Arabian peninsula, the Arabs proceeded to settle and develop a loose-knit society while vigorously converting the neighboring communities to their newly found faith. As Islam swelled across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, widely diverse peoples became united — first by the common thread of religion, today by the additional thrust of Arab nationalism. Even though Arabic-speaking peoples — Moslem and Christian – have comprised the bulk of Palestine’s population since the Jews’ diaspora began in the second century A.D., the area has never been completely devoid of Jewish residents. The Jews in Palestine have waxed and waned according to the political and military climate through the centuries, moving in and out of the region as necessity required. The attraction of Palestine for the Jews through the centuries has basically been religious. But in the middle to late 1800’s, new political aspirations were being expressed by a long-dispersed people seeking a secure national homeland. However, a Jewish return en masse to Zion, or Palestine, whether on religious grounds of divine grant or on legal claims of prior ownership, has provided an insurmountable obstacle to Arabs seeking an essentially Arabic society in the Middle East. The result has been today’s enmity between nationalistic Israelis and equally nationalistic Arabs. The Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.N., Jamil Baroody, summed up the Arabic view during the October Middle East flareup: “Zionism [the Israeli political desire to establish a national homeland in Palestine] was predicated on the premise that God gave Palestine to the Jews. And time and time again I have said that God was not in the real estate business.” Israelis view it quite differently. The Rallying Point For an Arab “nation” traditionally torn by rifts and infighting from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, the “Palestinian question” has proved in many ways a successful — and convenient – rallying point. The more idealistic among the Arabs still cherish the dream of a future Nahda, or Arabic renaissance, uniting the massive lands of the Middle East and southern Mediterranean coasts under common banners of language, culture and religion. There is simply no room for a state of Israel in the midst of this idealistic vision. Thus the localized issue of the Palestinian problem has blossomed into a widespread, fervent marshaling of pan-Arabic emotions throughout the Arab world. Also entering the picture is the intense religious attachment of the Arabs to Palestine. Though most in the Western world might assume the Holy Land to be important only to Christians and Jews, the area of Palestine and especially Jerusalem is of major significance to Moslems as well. Some of Islam’s most sacred shrines are in Jerusalem, and the impact of having those holy places under the control of non-Islamic peoples has added greatly to the entire Middle East dilemma. Who Is to Decide? Thus, to Arabs as well as to Israelis, the enigmatic question of “Who will decide?” remains pivotal. After all, who will finally determine the boundaries of nations and peoples so that all can live at peace? Who really owns the earth and who really determines the destinies of the Arab and Israeli people? Statesmen and diplomats seem to have forgotten the answer – if they ever knew. . Check out the maps located – here. An short explanation surrounds them.]]>



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