As Arabs, we are very adept at demanding that our human rights be respected, at least when we live in liberal democracies such as in North America, Europe, and Israel. But what about when it comes to our respecting the human rights of others, particularly Jews?
When we examine our attitude towards Jews, both historically and at present, we realize that it is centered on denying Jews the most fundamental human right, the right without which no other human right is relevant: the right to exist.
The right to exist in the Middle East before 1948
Anti-Zionists often repeat the claim that before modern Israel, Jews were able to live in peace in the Middle East, and that it is the establishment of the State of Israel that created Arab hostility towards Jews. That is a lie.
Before modern Israel, as the historian Martin Gilbert wrote, "Jews held the inferior status of dhimmi, which, despite giving them protection to worship according to their own faith, subjected them to many vexatious and humiliating restrictions in their daily lives." As another historian, G.E. von Grunebaum, wrote, Jews in the Middle East faced "a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms."
The right to exist as an independent state
Zionism stemmed from the need for Jews to be masters of their own fate; no longer to be the victims of discrimination or massacres simply for being Jews. This project was accepted and formally recognized by the British, who had been granted a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations. The Arab world, however, never accepted the recognition formulated by Britain in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and it never accepted the partition plan approved by the United Nations in 1947, which recognized the right of the Jews to their own state.
The Arab refusal to accept the Jewish state's right to exist, a right that carries more international legal weight than almost any other country's right to exist, resulted in several wars, starting with the war of independence in 1948-1949. The Arab world still does not today accept the concept of a Jewish state of any size or any shape. Even Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace agreements with Israel, do not accept that Israel is a Jewish state, and they continue to promote anti-Semitic hatred against Israel.
The right to exist in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem
In 2005, Israel evacuated all its troops and all Jewish inhabitants from Gaza, in the hope that this would bring peace at least on that front, and to allow the Gaza Strip, vacated by Jews, to be a flourishing Arab Riviera, or a second Singapore, and perhaps to serve as a model for the West Bank. The experiment failed miserably. This is a case where Jews willingly gave up their right to exist on a piece of land, but sadly the Palestinians of Gaza took it not as opportunity for peace, but as a sign that if you keep on shooting at Jews, they leave -- so let's keep on shooting.
There are many opinions among Zionists as to what to do about the West Bank. These opinions range from a total unilateral withdrawal as in Gaza, to a full annexation, with many options in between. At the moment, the status quo prevails, with no specific plans for the future.
Everyone, however, despite the treacherous UNESCO's rewriting of history, knows that before that piece of land was called the West Bank, it was called Judea and Samaria for more than two thousand years.
Everyone knows that Hebron contains the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, within the Cave of the Patriarchs, and it is considered the second-holiest site in Judaism. Every reasonable person knows that Jews should unquestionably have the right to exist on that land, even if it is under Arab or Muslim jurisdiction. Yet everyone also knows that no Arab regime is capable or even willing to protect the safety of Jews living under its jurisdiction from the anti-Semitic hatred that emanates from the Arab world.
East Jerusalem, which was carved away by the Kingdom of Jordan from the rest of Jerusalem during the war of independence, is part of Jerusalem, and contains the Temple Mount, the Jews' holiest site. The Old City in East Jerusalem was inhabited by Jews up until they were ethnically cleansed by Jordan in the war of 1948-1949.
Although Israel has twice in the past, first under Prime Minister Ehud Barak then under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, offered East Jerusalem as part of a Palestinian state, that offer is not likely to be made again. Jews know that it would mean a new wave of ethnic cleansing, which would deny the Jewish right to exist on the piece of land where that right is more important than anywhere else.
The right to exist in the Middle East now
During Israel's War of Independence, Jews were ethnically cleansed from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and in the years that followed, they were ethnically cleansed from the rest of the Arab world.
Today, Israel's enemies, many of them Arab, are challenging its right to exist, and therefore the right of Jews to exist, on two fronts: threats of nuclear annihilation and annihilation through demographic suffocation.
Iran's Islamist regime has repeated several times its intention to destroy Israel using nuclear weapons. Just in case Iran is not "successful," the so-called "pro-Palestinian" movement, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has a different plan to destroy the Jewish state: a single state with the "return" of all the descendants of Palestinian refugees. The refusal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat to accept any two-state solution presented to them is part of that plan.
The right to exist elsewhere
Anti-Zionists claim that Jews are imperialists in the Middle East, as were the British and the French, and like them, they should leave and go back to where they belong. This analogy is of course not true: Jews have an even longer history in the Middle East than do Muslims or Arabs.
Do Jews belong in Europe, which tried only a few decades ago to kill every Jew, man, woman, or child? Do Jews belong in North America where until a few hundred years ago, there were no Europeans, only Indians?
Saying that Jews "belong" in such places is not reality; it is just a convenient claim for anti-Zionists to make.
The Jews will not give up
As Arabs, we complain because Palestinians feel humiliated going through Israeli checkpoints. We complain because Israel is building in the West Bank without Palestinian permission, and we complain because Israel dares to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists. But how many of us have stopped to consider how this situation came to be? How many of us have the courage to admit that waging war after war against the Jews in order to deny them the right to exist, and refusing every reasonable solution to the conflict, has led to the current situation?
Our message to Jews, throughout history and particularly when they had the temerity to want to govern themselves, has been clear: we cannot tolerate your very existence.
Yet the Jews demand the right to exist and to exist as equals on the land where they have existed and belonged continuously for more than three thousand years.
In addition, denying a people the right to exist is a crime of unimaginable proportions. We Arabs pretend that our lack of respect for the right of Jews to exist is not the cause of the conflict between the Jews and us. We would rather claim that the conflict is about "occupation" and "settlements". They see what radical Islamists are now doing to Christians and other minorities, who were also in the Middle East for thousands of years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was even born: Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Copts, Assyrians, Arameans, and many others. Where are these indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and Egypt now? Are they living freely or are they being persecuted, run out of their own historical land, slaughtered by Islamists? Jews know that this is what would have happened to them if they did not have their own state.
The real Arab grievance against the Jews is that they exist. We want the Jews either to disappear or be subservient to our whims, but the Jews refuse to bend to our bigotry, and they refuse to be swayed by our threats and our slander.
Who in his right mind can blame them?
Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.