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Jaime Kardontchik

Geoffrey Levin’s book ‘Our Palestine question’

I read with interest Professor Levin’s interview published today in the Times of Israel, on occasion of publishing his book “Our Palestine Question”. I also browsed through his book at Amazon’s website. It motivated me to send an email to all the 17 professors of his “Middle Eastern and Jewish Studies” department, at the Emory College, Georgia, suggesting they recommend their students my book “The root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the path to peace” for reading and discussion in class. The image of the self-flagellating and self-righteous Jew that Professor Levin and his book evoke is so depressing.

For the reader, I enclose below a short relevant section of a chapter in my book that puts the Arab-Israeli conflict in the broader perspective of the fight for survival of non-Muslim minorities subjected to the centuries-long Arab colonization of the Middle East and North Africa:

Religious intolerance or national oppression?

“An occupier arrived in the seventh century, and took over the whole region. In the twentieth century arsonists set fire to the main building, forcing the Jew [in the Arab countries] to jump out of the window. “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people”: Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldean Christians, Maronites, Copts, also jumped for their lives. And not just the Sunday people: Mandaeans, Yazidis and ‘heretical’ and sectarian Muslims have been jumping out of the windows too. The difference is that the Jew found refuge in the embattled homestead, his original abode. Populating it continuously through 2,000 years, Jews never surrendered its title.”

(the above is a paragraph from the book by Lyn Julius, “Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish civilization in the Arab world vanished overnight”)

Joel Veldkamp, a director of the “Christian Solidarity International” organization, had an interesting observation [1]: at first sight one could interpret that we are dealing here with a problem of religious intolerance in the Islamic world. This is not the case. According to Veldkamp, referring to the Armenian genocide in 1915:

“Today, we have become used to thinking of religious persecution as, by definition, an attack on religious freedom. Yet the twentieth century’s worst instance of anti-Christian persecution – the Armenian genocide – did not fit the “religious freedom” category so neatly. The architects of the genocide were not, after all, trying to keep Armenians from worshipping Jesus, building churches, or reading the Bible … They were trying to exterminate a Christian people (whether practicing or not) that they had long held in subservience but had come to see as a threat to their power.”

The second example provided by Lyn Julius, the Assyrians, is perfectly clear, especially for Jews.  The Jews know who the Assyrians are: they are not a religious community. In the peak of their hegemony, the Assyrians forcefully exiled the Jews to Mesopotamia in 721 BC, after they conquered the kingdom of Israel, marking the historical beginning of the Jewish diaspora. The Assyrians are an ancient people, not a religious community. Assyrians speak a native language commonly known as Assyrian, neo-Aramaic, or Syriac. It is a pre-Arabic language that derives directly from Aramaic, the ancient lingua franca of the Middle East. Assyrians are overwhelmingly Christian: They were the first people that adopted Christianity (in the first century CE.), well before the Christian religion was adopted in Europe. As in the case of the Jews and the Armenians, the Assyrians became another non-Muslim minority in the lands conquered by the Muslim expansion after the 7th century. The Assyrians suffered their own genocide during World War I in the hands of the Muslim Ottoman Empire: around 275,000 Assyrians were killed in 1915. Another massacre of the Assyrian people occurred later in Iraq, in August 1933, when over 100 Assyrian villages were destroyed and looted, and an estimated several thousand Assyrians were killed. The accounts of this latter massacre were horrific. One was given by the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church, Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (published close to the events, on February 1934) [2]:

“The inoffensive population was indiscriminately massacred, men, women and children alike, with rifle, revolver, and machine gun fire … Priests were tortured and their bodies mutilated. Those who showed their Iraqi nationality papers were the first to be shot. Girls were raped and women violated and made to march naked before the Arab army commander. Holy books were used as fuel for burning girls. Children were run over by military cars. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children were flung in the air and pierced on to the points of bayonets. Those who survived in the other villages were now exposed day and night to constant raids and acts of violence. Forced conversion to Islam of men and women was the next process. Refusal was met with death.”

The Assyrian people are today dispersed over the whole world. Their total number is around 3-5 million. Their largest communities are in Iraq, Syria, the United States, Sweden and Germany.

The massacre of the Assyrian minority in Iraq, in August 1933, occurred only a few months after Iraq had obtained independence. The implications for the then Jewish minority in Palestine had the Jewish leaders worried [2]. Eight years later, in 1941, over 180 Jews were murdered in a pogrom in Baghdad. Then, in 1948, Iraq participated in the invasion of the Arab armies in their intent to eliminate the nascent Jewish State.

The Muslim colonizers

From Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, and from the 7th century on, Muslims began an expansion and conquest of vast territories, extending from the Middle East in the north, to North Africa in the west. Many minorities became suddenly entrapped and embedded in the new Muslim-dominated world. Some of these minorities disappeared over time, following a process of forced Islamization. Others put a high value on their history, and kept on for centuries their cultural traditions, language, and religion, in spite of the pressure and oppression of their Muslim colonizers.

In the next section, we will go back to the Jews, who suffered the successive colonization of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs.

References

[1] Joel Veldkamp, “The persecution of Armenian Christians is not just a religious freedom issue”, October 3, 2023

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2023/10/the-persecution-of-armenian-christians-is-not-just-a-religious-freedom-issue

[2] Paul A. Isaac, “The Urgent Reawakening of the Assyrian Question in an Emerging Iraqi Federalism: The Self-Determination of the Assyrian People”, Northern. Illinois University Law Review 209 (2008)

https://huskiecommons.lib.niu.edu/niulr/vol29/iss1/4/

***

My book “The root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the path to peace” (February 2024 edition) is available at Amazon (including in its Spanish and Hebrew editions). It can be also read and downloaded (pdf) for free by all at:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364057784_The_root_of_the_Arab-Israeli_conflict_and_the_path_to_peace

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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