“You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once—there has to be a limit.” –Edward Said, Orientalism
With his critical quote, Edward Said, author of the renowned, controversial work Orientalism, basically encompasses the belief that many people from all over the world have adopted in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Said and others who share his opinions view the history of Israeli state action in the region as well as its very existence as a disruptive and often brutal presence among the surrounding Arab states. Indeed, Said’s mention of former victims venting their rage by victimizing others obviously refers to the Jewish government of the contemporary Israeli state “bullying” the Palestinians, because they (the Israeli government) feel that they are owed a land of their own after a tragedy such as the Holocaust.
Thus stands the argument of the Jews (once themselves a people of the Middle East) returning from Diaspora in Europe to help the West “conquer” the Arab Middle East. Such a claim is perhaps initially feasible, provided the amount of Western imperialism in the region throughout history. However, what this argument fails to address are the thousands of Jews who have immigrated to the new State of Israel from Diaspora in the Middle East, from places such as contemporary Iran, Turkey and the Arab states. Sasson Somekh, author of the memoir Baghdad, Yesterday, is an example of such a Jew hailing from Iraq–as is Roya Hakakian, a Persian Jew who witnessed the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. What part do these Jews play in a scenario that classifies all Jews as Europeans or as Europeanized? Surely, Middle Eastern Jews who did not live through the Holocaust had their own reasons for immigrating to and helping develop the State of Israel—and, given their origins in Arab and Muslim countries, would hardly all seek to brutalize and usurp land from non-Jewish Arabs.
The fact remains that, until an incentive behind the devotion to Israel exhibited by so many Middle Eastern Jews can be revealed in terms of the Jewish “need” to victimize others, no one can solidly refer to Israel’s existence as just another result of Western colonization of “Oriental” lands.