Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, or al-Quds?

In a recent comment by Pam over at News and Views From Jews Down Under, she writes:

And by the way Mike, I totally agree we should not refer to Judaea and Samaria by its Jordanian name change to West Bank. If we acquiesce in our enemy’s de-Judaization, we may as well start calling Jerusalem Al Quds.

Well, maybe we should call Yerushalayim “al-Quds.”  Why not?

Western liberal Jews have so capitulated to the “Palestinian narrative” that they think within terms created by the enemies of Israel.  That is, most western liberal Jews have, over the years, adopted the language that the enemies of the Jewish people use to describe the alleged atrocity which is the existence of the Jewish state..

This is what I refer to as the Palestinian Colonization of the Jewish Mind.  It is the unconscious embrace of terminology developed by the enemies of the Jewish people that suggests Jewish guilt and aggression in stark contrast to supposed “Palestinian” innocence and victim-hood.

Instead of talking about Judaea and Samaria, we talk about the “West Bank” which is a Jordanian term that erases Jewish history on Jewish land.  For 3,500 years Judaea and Samaria was the heartland of the Jewish people.  No other people in the world has ever had a country comprised of that land but the Jews.  And, yet, with a mere conceptual switch provided by Amman we turn off the lights.  It’s both terrible and pathetic.  We sell-out our own posterity in order to maintain Politically Correct anti-Israel terminology and sensibilities developed by those who are hostile towards us.

We talk about the “Occupation,” sometimes with a capital “O” which stresses the idea that a Jewish presence on Jewish land represents not only an atrocity, not only a military occupation, but the foremost, singular military occupation on the planet. Thus the capital “O.”  It is as if western liberal Jews who use such terminology believe that the alleged “Occupation” of the “West Bank” represents the uber-Occupation or the Original Occupation or the Archetypal Occupation.

Whatever else that capital “O” might mean, it means the Jews are guilty as hell and are trying to defend that which is indefensible.  Any pro-Israel Jew who speaks of Occupation is doing the Jewish people a terrible disservice because not only is such terminology inaccurate in ways both historical and contemporary, but such language condemns the Jewish people of the Middle East, and those of us who support them, as aggressors.  It doesn’t matter how much any one of us may care about our fellow Jews, or care about Israel, if we speak of Occupation than we’ve already admitted Jewish guilt and wrong-doing and thereby open the door for anti-Zionists and the BDS racists to defame us.

This, needless to say, has the further effect of contaminating potential allies and friends throughout the western world who might otherwise be more sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish minority in the Middle East and it has the effect of neutralizing pro-Israel advocacy.  If even pro-Israel Jews honestly think that Israel is a racist, imperial, colonial, aggressor-state that is Occupying the “Palestinians” then why should any decent non-Jewish Americans, or Europeans, or Australians have any sympathy whatsoever for those Jewish criminals Occupying an indigenous people?

Furthermore, western liberal Jews – and, once again, I am a western liberal Jew – very often speak with hatred in their hearts concerning their fellow Jews who happen to live in Judaea and Samaria.  These people are the much despised “settlers” and somehow the word “settler” has come to mean illegitimate, bad, and wrong.  In the way that we discuss such things, Arabs have villages while Jews have settlements.  Villages are nice, human things wherein indigenous people go about their daily lives, whereas “settlements” are viewed as an imperial encroachment upon those villages and upon the innocent indigenous population who reside their and have done so since Time Immemorial.

We also tend to refer not to the “Arab-Israel” conflict, but to the “Israel-Palestine” conflict.  When we use the latter terminology we’ve lost the debate before the conversation has even begun in the eyes of very many non-Jewish western liberals.  After all, if it is an Arab-Israel conflict this means that it is a conflict between the tiny, historically persecuted, Jewish minority in the Middle East versus the much, much larger hostile Arab-Muslim majority.  Using the term “Arab-Israel” also allows us to place the conflict within the larger historical context of Jewish history under Arab-Muslim imperial rule since the fall of Yerushalayim to Mr. Muhammed’s armies in 637 CE.

Instead, most progressive-left western Jews refer to the Israel-Palestine conflict which is something else entirely.  By designating the conflict under these terms we change the entire dynamic of the discussion in a manner that puts the Jewish minority back on their heals.  If it is an Israel-Palestine conflict it suggests that a Jewish majority is in conflict with a much weaker “Palestinian” minority and this will incline very many well-meaning western liberals to automatically side with who they see as the underdog.  Furthermore, using the term Israel-Palestine entrenches the post-colonial view that the Jewish State of Israel is a foreign implant upon indigenous “Palestine.”

It goes even further than that, however.  When we speak of Israel-Palestine it implies that there was at some time a sovereign country known as Palestine and that the “Palestinians” are a separate and distinct ethnicity from other regional Arabs who are engaged in a movement for national liberation, which is something that most westerners would be sympathetic towards.

In these ways, and many others, the language that we use to discuss the conflict predetermines the outcome of the debate and when we use the language that was developed by the enemies of the Jewish people than we might as well hand over the keys of al-Quds to the Waqf and be done with it.

There is a way out of this rhetorical dilemma that well-meaning western Jews have strapped us with.

It’s called an appreciation of history.

What we need to do is expand our understanding of the historical time-line of the conflict, as well as our understanding of the actually physical space wherein the conflict is taking place. The ongoing Arab-Muslim war against the Jews of the Middle East did not begin in 1967, nor in 1948.  Arab-Muslim hostility toward the Jewish minority in the Middle East has been continuous since the Jews of the Arabian peninsula refused Mr. Muhammed’s offer to capitulate to the religion that he invented.

From that day to this there has been endless, Koranically-based, Arab hostility toward the Jews on Jewish land that Mr. Muhammed’s armies conquered in 637.  The Arab-Muslim conquerors forced the Jews, and the Christians, into second and third class citizenship under the boot of Arab imperial rule within the dominating system known as dhimmitude and once we freed ourselves from that oppression, they launched a war against us that continues to this day.

That is the rightful context of this discussion, both historically and contemporarily.

Also, of course, it is not about Israelis versus “Palestinians,” but Jews versus the larger, intensely anti-Jewish Arab world around them.  It’s not Jerusalem (or Yerushalayim) versus Ramallah, but Jerusalem versus Ramallah and Cairo and Beirut and Riyadh and Tehran and Tripoli and Doha and Algiers and Manama and N’Djamena and Moroni and Djibouti and Asmara and Rabat and Tunis and Damascus and Mogadishu and Khartoum and Abu Dhabi and Sana’a and even that is not the full extent of it.

The conflict is an Arab and Muslim religious aggression against the Jews that has been ongoing for 14 centuries and in this aggression it is the Jewish minority which is the victim of the much larger conquering population.

Until such a time as western liberal Jews grasp the extent, in time and place, of this conflict, and until we stop using the language of the majoritarian aggressors to describe the persecution of the Jews, we can expect little sympathy from the western world.

Why should they sympathize with the Jews or the Jewish state when we fail to even sympathize with ourselves?

So, yes, we might as well call Jerusalem “al-Quds” and then maybe the Jews of Israel can “return” to Germany or Poland as the well-respected American journalist, Helen Thomas, suggested right before she kicked the bucket.


Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at