This is an abridged version of radical Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery’s column of Oct. 10th, “Crusaders and Zionists“:
LATELY, THE words “Crusaders” and “Zionists” have been appearing more and more often as twins. In a documentary about ISIS I just saw, they appeared together in almost every sentence uttered by the Islamist fighters, including teenagers.
. . . THE TWO historical movements were separated by at least six centuries, and their political, social, cultural and military backgrounds are, of course, totally different. But some similarities are evident. Both the Crusaders and the Zionists (as well as the Philistines before them) invaded Palestine from the West. They lived with their backs to the sea and Europe, facing the Muslim-Arab world. They lived in permanent war.
At the [Crusader] time, Jews identified with the Arabs. The horrible massacres of the Jewish communities along the Rhine committed by some Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land are deeply imprinted in Jewish consciousness.
Upon conquering Jerusalem, the Crusaders committed another heinous crime by slaughtering all Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, men women and children, wading “to their knees in blood”, as a Christian chronicler put it. Haifa, one of the last towns to fall to the Crusaders, was fiercely defended by its Jewish inhabitants, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim garrison.
I WAS brought up hating the Crusaders, but I was not conscious of the abysmal hatred Muslims felt for them . . .
When Arabs couple us with the Crusaders, they clearly want to say that we, too, are foreign intruders, strangers to this country and this region.
That’s why the comparison is so dangerous. If the Arabs entertain such a deep hatred for the Crusaders after six centuries, how are they ever to become reconciled with us? Instead of wasting our time on the debate about whether we are similar or not, we would be well advised to learn from the Crusaders’ history.
THE FIRST lesson concerns the question of identity. Who are we? Are we Europeans facing a hostile region? Are we “a wall against Asiatic barbarism”, as Theodor Herzl proclaimed? Are we “a villa in the jungle”, according to the famous dictum of Ehud Barak?
In short, do we see ourselves as belonging to this region or as Europeans who accidentally landed on the wrong continent? To my mind, this is the basic question of Zionism, going back to its first day, and dictating everything they have done to this very day. In my booklet “War or Peace in the Semitic Region”, which I published on the eve of the 1948 war, I posed this question in the very first sentence. . . .
Israel suffers from a deep-seated sense of existential insecurity . . . Since Israel is in many ways a conspicuous success story and a world-class military power, this sense of insecurity often gives rise to wonderment. I believe that its root is this feeling of not belonging to the region in which we live, of being a villa in the jungle, which really means being a fortified ghetto in the region.
It could be said that this feeling is natural, since most Israelis are of European descent. But that is not true. 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. At least half of the Jews have come here (they or their parents) from Arab countries, where they spoke Arabic and listened to Arab music. The greatest Sephardi thinker, Moses Maimonides (Rambam in Hebrew) spoke and wrote Arabic and was the personal physician of the great Salah ad-Din (Saladin). He was as much an Arab Jew as Baruch Spinoza was a Portuguese Jew and Moses Mendelssohn a German Jew. . . .
WHEN ISIS and other Arabs use the term Crusaders, they do not mean only the medieval invaders. They mean all American and European Christians. When they speak about Zionists, they mean all Jewish Israelis, and often all Jews.
I believe that this coupling of the two terms is extremely dangerous for us. I am not afraid of ISIS’ military capabilities, which are negligible, but of the power of their ideas. No American bomber is going to eradicate these.
It is getting late. We must de-couple ourselves from the Crusaders, ancient and modern. 132 years after the arrival of the first modern Zionists in Palestine, it is high time for us to define ourselves as we really are: a new nation born in this country, belonging to this region, natural allies of its struggle for freedom. [Avnery’s entire essay is online at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1412954246/.]