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by Naim Dangoor Appeared in "Chronicles" in July 1983

A suggestion was put forward some time ago that the Kurdish problem could perhaps be solved by promoting a federation of present-day Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This is a wishful dream and unrealistic. Such a federation would upset the balance of power in the region and pose a serious threat to peace. It would be opposed and resisted by Israel and its Arab neighbours alike. The presence of Kurdish minorities in these four countries is not enough reason for uniting them in one entity with one end in Europe and the other end in Central Asia. But a union of a different configuration has a better chance of resolving not only the chronic Kurdish problem, but also other minority problems there, including the Palestinian.

The area covered by Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Arabia is a precise geo-political and historical region, being the cradle of civilisation, the fountain of monotheism, the crossroads of three continents and the home of many ancient national groups. Its fertility and strategic importance made it the prey of foreign invaders throughout history. The Arabs were destined to play a unique role in the historical development of this region. Sheltered in their desert, they were relatively immune from foreign invasions, but were always ready to pounce at the right time on neighbouring territories. Thus, after centuries of warfare between the Byzantine and Persian empires that sapped their energies, the dessert Arabs, under the banner of Islam, could defeat both powers. By their ability to subsist in conditions not suitable to their rivals, the Arabs have been able to retain and consolidate their conquests and to fan out into the outlying regions of the Middle East as the general climate became warmer. This process has continued both in peacetime and in the wake of military action. Likewise, by destabilising the region, the Arabs have succeeded in creating a continuous flow of emigration from the Middle East - of Jews, Kurds, Lebanese, Christians, Assyrians, even the more advanced Arabs, who are scattered all over the globe but who would have been invaluable to the development of the region. By the same process a sizeable Israeli diaspora has been mushrooming in Europe, Canada and the U.S.A. Middle Eastern politics and events have to be viewed and understood in this light. After the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire nothing came out of the self-determination that was promised by the Allies to the various national groups of the Middle East. It is said that the Ottoman "millet" concept, under which a large measure of autonomy was granted to various racial and religious minorities, had to give way to the modern national concept - but this has not succeeded. "Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Seljuk Turks, Persians, Assyrians, Telkaifis, Armenians - how mould such a composite collection of races into a single nation? Sunnis, Shias, Jews, Christians, Sabians, Yezidis - how to lessen the friction between such a variety of creeds?" (The Heart of the Middle East by Richard Coke).

In the end imperial and oil policies favoured treating with the dominant Arabs and everything was handed over to them. There has been an obsession in the world in modern times that democracy means the rule of the majority. Majority rule as an expression of democracy only holds true in a homogeneous society where the differences are over minor issues. In a society divided by race, language, religion or colour, the rights of all groups, large and small, must equally be ensured and protected. This principle would solve Ireland, Africa, Cyprus and the Middle East.

Of course, once in the saddle, the Arabs would not agree to share power with the other groups or allow them any form of self-rule. Hence, the Assyrian massacre of 1933 and the relentless suppression of Kurdish uprisings in their struggle for autonomy. In 1918, a few months after the Balfour declaration, Prince Feisal, later King of Iraq, declared before a large audience at the Albert Hall, "Palestine for the Jews and Arabia for the Arabs."

Subsequently Arab attitudes changed. When the U.N, voted the partition of Palestine in 1947, the Arabs agreed to accept a previous plan of Jewish immigration without a state. When Israel was established, they agreed the partition plan. Since the Six Day War, they have offered to accept the 1967 borders. These are all false promises, for the Arabs cannot in the long run accept situations which go against the grain of pan-Arabic aspiration. Their aim would always be the elimination of Israel as a foreign body, or cancer as they call it.

After the establishment of Israel, many Palestinian Arabs fled mainly on the advice of Arab governments who wanted them out of the way and were confident to bring them back in triumph. Shortly thereafter, there was an exodus of similar numbers of Jews from Arab countries to Israel and it was widely recognised at the time by the powers and indeed by the Arab governments themselves, who allowed their Jews to leave for Israel, that there was thus a logical and desirable exchange of populations - like many others that took place after the war in Germany, India and other countries. But while Israel absorbed its refugees after many years of hardship in transit camps, the Arabs deliberately left theirs unsettled, although they had all the money to settle them, and kept them as a political weapon and a lever against Israel in their continuing effort to defeat the Jewish state.

The Palestinian refugee problem was created as the direct result of Arab refusal to recognise Jewish political rights in the Middle East. Zionism was the liberation movement of the Jewish people. To the extent that it sought to destroy the State of Israel, the PLO was not a liberation movement, but an arm of Arab imperialism.

The Arabs say that the Palestinian problem must be solved by Israel. The Israelis maintain that it is an Arab problem. In fact, it is a regional problem if only because of the interest taken in it by all the neighbouring countries. This and other problems in the Middle East cannot be solved piecemeal. The solution must be global, for there can be no peace for the Palestinian refugees while the material and political rights of the Jewish refugees are ignored. The solution must be global for there can be no peace in one corner of the Middle East while 20 million Kurds cannot attain autonomy; while the Armenians and Assyrians remember their massacres and their stolen lands; while the Shiah majority in Iraq are oppressed; while the Arabs control 5 million square miles of territory and non-Arabs are denied any territory. These are not isolated problems and must be solved together. The solution must be global for there can be no peace in the Middle East while a few Arab rulers squander most of the oil wealth and embark on ruinous adventures. The solution must be global, for peace, law and order in the Middle East are indivisible. The Arabs have acted irresponsibly in their attempt to Arabise the whole region. As such they have forfeited the right to lead the Middle East.

The reason why the Arab-Israeli conflict has not come to a decisive conclusion, even after four major wars, is that the two sides have not been playing the same game and it was thus impossible to have a meaningful score. The game that Israel has accepted to play is Russian Roulette or You-Can-Only-Lose-Once. The game of the Arabs is Winner-Takes-All. It is clear from this scenario that neither Israeli victories nor Arab defeats can be conclusive. Only Israel's defeat can be conclusive.

The minorities of the Middle East must realise that they have to co-operate with one another to achieve a just regime in the region; if they don't hang together they will hang separately. In 1976 I sponsored, with the help of the Minority Rights Group, a symposium on Middle East minorities at St Anthony's College, Oxford, which provided a venue for the exchange of views on the problems of the Middle East and their solutions. It might be useful now to undertake a feasibility study and to prepare a blueprint for a federal project.

As a Middle Eastern refugee myself, I watch with dismay the unfolding of events in the Middle East - the destruction, the loss of young lives, the waste of money. The central issue is not the artificial Palestinian problem but Arab refusal to face realities; the trouble is not Zionism but Arab imperialism, not the Nile to the Euphrates accusation levelled at Israel but the dream of the Atlantic to the Gulf, and beyond, of many Arab leaders. As the Arabs face an increasing Iranian threat with increasing concern, they soon must come to realise that their only possible saviour is Israel, which too would not tolerate Iranian penetration of the region. Blind nationalism is not in the best Arab traditions and, in the past, Jews co-operated closely with Arabs in war and peace, especially in the fields of commerce, agriculture and industry. During the golden age of Islam all races had equal access to wealth and power.

The peoples of the Middle East who often suffered together under foreign domination but were never united in freedom could then organise themselves into a confederation that would seek neither to Arabise, Islamise or Sovietise the Middle East; a confederation that would ensure autonomy, freedom and prosperity to all the people of the region who will be free to live and work everywhere. A regional development board would ensure that the vast wealth of the region is utilised for the benefit of all. Such a grouping would fit well with the neighbouring pattern of Iran, Turkey and Egypt.

The tradition and personality of Abraham, revered in all parts of the Middle East, and who is referred to as the friend of G-d in the Old and New Testaments and the Koran, can be used as a basis to forge the union, with a federal capital named after him.

Sceptics might say that it will take them ages before everyone concerned accepts this arrangement. But once the solution is identified the time element becomes immaterial. There is a local saying that he who follows the right path will eventually reach his destination.



All the four Rabbis missed the point. The reason why the Jews were exiled to Babylon was to demonstrate that the Middle East was one region and that the peace of the region is individual. In this case the imbalance between the land of the rivers and that of Palestine will always end up in aggression from the Babylonian side. The lesson, therefore, is that Israel must not embark on a revival without pacifying the land of the rivers, Saddam's missile attack on Ramat Gan during the Gulf War is an illustration of this point.

It is said that history repeats itself. Like a good teacher, History will keep repeating itself until the lesson is learnt. The lesson in this case is that Israel must become involved in the politics of Iraq if there is going to be lasting peace for Israel in particular and for the Middle East in general.

Two generations ago the population of Iraq was 3 million, and now it is nearly 30 million without any immigration from outside with a potential of further increase to 40 or 50 million. This and Iraq's wealth in oil and water will eventually put Israel in the shade.

This problem should be the top priority for Israel to tackle.


Some time during the third century A.D., in one of the two great Jewish academies of Babylonia, four rabbis discussed the question as to why the Holy One, blessed be He, chose Babylonia as the place of exile for the people of Israel. Rabbi Hiyya, himself a native of Babylonia, thought it was because they would not have been able to survive the severe decrees of Rome. Another native of Babylonia, Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedath, sought the explanation topographically - namely that Babylonia was a low-lying land, resembling the nether world, and from such a land the Jews would soon be redeemed. A third sage, Rabbi Hanina bar Hamma, suggested the reason that the language of Babylonia was akin to that of the Torah. The fourth and last of the group, Rabbi Yohanan bar Nappaha, was brief and much more direct: G-d, he said, sent the children of Israel back to their mother's home.

It will be noted that the deliberations of these four worthy sages took place almost exactly eight centuries after Nebuchadnezzar, drove the population of Judah into exile in Babylonia.

From The Jews of Iraq

by Nissim Rejwan



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