Graeme Carle

Beyond Chutzpah

Although New Zealand is about as far as you can get from Israel without bumping into the penguins, our local zealots are standing too close to the Palestinian tree to see the Arab forest.

In their crusade to rid the world of Zionist colonisation, I like to point out, they’re actually siding with the largest and longest colonisation in history. Consider the origins of the two names: a Jew comes from the land of Judea; an Arab from the land of Arabia. Doesn’t that tell you who’s colonising whom in the land of Judea today?

And we can see it in the light of our own country’s colonial history.

Eight hundred years ago, our indigenous Maori people became the First Nation in what they call Aotearoa and the rest of the world now knows as New Zealand, when they dropped down from the north in the 13th century CE. Three hundred years ago, the British also dropped anchor here and in 1840, our founding peace-treaty was signed at Waitangi. Twenty years later, the British settlers broke their side of the bargain, illegally confiscating vast tracts of land and now, two hundred years later, we’re still sorting out the mess.

How’s this relevant to the Israel-Gaza war? Well, almost three thousand years before the Maori became our First Nation, the Jews became the First Nation of Israel. Escaping slavery in Egypt in 1446 BCE, they battled for the land of Canaan, establishing Jerusalem as their capital city around 1000 BCE. They lived there until the Assyrians exiled most of them in the 8th century BCE, the Babylonians exiled them again in the 6th century BCE, and the Romans exiled them again in the 1st and 2nd century CE.

In fact, in 135 CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian sought to wipe the name of Israel off the map, renaming it Syria Palaestina, and Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, and forbidding Jews to enter their beloved city under pain of death. Thus the name Palestine, beloved and chanted in our local anti-Zionist rallies, was the ethnic-cleansing label chosen by the Roman colonialists.

For the next 1,800 years, the Jews were mostly in exile but small communities clung to the land. Under the yoke of special taxes and persecution from Christian and Muslim overlords alike, their only political sustenance the closing words of their annual Passover Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem!” At last, in November, 1947, the United Nations recognised their historical link to the land, and those words became a reality.

The Arab back-story is very different. Though of similar antiquity, they were united by the Arabian religion of Islam in the 7th century CE and burst out into Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia and what was then the Persian Empire. By the early 8th century, they had colonised everything in their path: to the west, all of North Africa and the southern tip of Europe (today’s Spain, Portugal, and Provence), and to the east, central Asia and what today we know as Pakistan.

While the Maori were just establishing themselves in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Ibn Khaldun, the renowned 14th century historian, was describing the Arab’s colonising of North Africa: “the Berbers, the original population of the Maghrib, have been replaced by an influx of Arabs… The Arabs outnumbered and overpowered the Berbers, stripped them of most of their lands.”[1]

Today, the Arab empire comprises 465 million people in 21 nations (plus the Palestinians) and occupies 13.3 million sq kms. Whereas the Jewish “empire” is 15 million people, half of whom live in 1 nation, Israel, in 20,770 sq kms – in New Zealand terms, the size of our region of Northland, or in the USA, the tiny state of New Jersey. In other words, the Arabs outnumber the Jews 31 to 1; in nations 22 to 1; and in land area 642 to 1! Yet the Jews are being asked by the United Nations to give up more so the Arab Empire can have yet another state, no. 22.

The situation is further complicated by Arabian religious and cultural colonialism. Islam, after all, spread the language and culture of Arabia because the Muslims’ holy book, the Qur’an, is written in Arabic, a language now spoken by 420 million, outnumbering the 9 million Hebrew speakers 47 to 1. There are also 1.8 billion Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population, outnumbering the Jews 119 to 1.

This then is the Arab forest with Israel a tiny clearing in the middle of it. And today, with the vociferous support of our local anti-Zionists, it is overshadowed by (if you’ll excuse the prolonged metaphor) the Palestinian tree threatening to crash down on them due to Iran’s chain-saw.

Contextualise this, as the cool kids say, for decolonisation today. The European empires – Portuguese, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, and German – relinquished their colonies in the 20th century; the British and Americans formally renounced their colonial ambitions in the Atlantic Charter of 1941. The Arabian Empire has done neither.

So, in the Jew-Arab dispute, who are the imperialists? Are the Jews claiming Mecca and Medina, or are the Arabs claiming Jerusalem? Who’s colonising where? Helpful hint: it isn’t the Jews. And here in New Zealand, we’ve learned a good Jewish word for this sort of wilful misrepresentation, and that word is chutzpah.

[1] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. by Franz Rosenthal; Princeton Classics, 2015.

About the Author
Graeme Carle lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand and has worked as an inter-denominational minister for five decades. He has twice visited Israel and has written nine books on some of the most puzzling parts of the Bible such as Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation in which Israel obviously has a starring role.
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