The “Palestine Question” Reconsidered
by Prof. Dr. Türkkaya ATAÖV
The unceasing and sanguinary conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is causing appalling agony in the conscience of world public opinion as well as in the everyday lives of the two feuding parties. Rationale and sensibility require a conclusive terminus to slaughter that not only brings anguish to families but also brutalizes societies. There have been recurring alienation, endless enmity, repetitive wars and accompanying calamities such as humiliation, expulsion, displacement and loss of lives. This tragedy, lasting about six decades, is an unbearable burden on the moral sense of all with sentiment and judgement. Plainly, this cannot go on. Now finding ourselves over the threshold of the 21st century, we should expound and argue persuasively that this state of affairs needs to be changed.
We Turks are understandably sensitive over the volatile controversy. We share common borders, exquisite culture and peaceful objectives with our Arab neighbours. We always had excellent relations with world Jewry. We take pride for having opened our land to them, principally during the European Inquisition of the late 15th century, and again before and after the Nazi Holocaust. Our behaviour in both cases was much more than accommodating and bestows on us well-earned dignity and ethical grandeur.
It is no coincidence that no blood was shed between the Arabs and Jews during the long Ottoman centuries in that ancient land of Pale stine. These two communities and others were separately represented in both the Ottoman parliaments of 1876 and 1908. The peaceful coexistence then is proof that they can live together in harmony, under different circumstances, within the boundaries of a larger state.
Remembering the past
Turkey indeed enjoys a special standing between the Palestinians and the Jews. It is only consistent with the Turkish past that this country’s foreign minister, Abdullah Gül, paid his respects at Yad Vashen. The most famous Holocaust museum in the world, it was created in 1953 to commemorate the memory of close to six million Jewish victims. Situated on the former Arab land of Ein Kerem, on what has been renamed the “Mount of Remembrance” (Har Ha’Zikaron), Yad Vashen is a huge, sprawling complex of tree-studded walkways intermingled with museums, memorials, monuments, archives and sculptures. The museum was expanded in1963 to honour “Righteous Gentiles” - non-Jewish persons who risked their lives, freedom or safety, without expecting any monetary compensation, in order to rescue Jews from death or deportation. We are again proud that the names of a number of Turks appear there.
The name of the former King Muhammed V of Morocco should have been added to the above list as well. He refused to surrender the Jews of his country to the fascists, stating courageously and in the full consciousness of patriotism that he had “only Moroccan citizens”.
We shall have a much more peaceful world if we implant in our minds that victimhood does not belong to only one side only (The same truth applies to the history of Turkish Armenian relations). Only 1,400 meters to the north of Yad Vashem lie the remains of the Palestinian victims of Deir Yassin. What occurred in Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948 (or in various other places) may be found not only in the columns of the New York Times of April 10 and 13, but also in the statements of the Irgun and Stern commanders of those days.
Our eyes are, nevertheless, set on the future. About 200 writers, professors, journalists and other intellectuals recently came together at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to discuss ways and means that might be employed to attain a bloodless and tranquil morrow. Participants included prominent individuals from Israel, Palestine and other Arab countries as well as experts from as far afield as Canada and Australia, Russia and South Africa. Foremost among the proposals under discussion was the idea of “one democratic and secular state in Israel/Palestine”.
Such options are not entirely new. Distinguished Jewish intellectuals like Arendt, Benvenisti, Berger, Buber, Ellis, Herskovitz, Klepfisz, Magnes, Menihuin, Rubenberg, Tsemel and others emphasised Jewish-Arab cooperation and unity in the past. Outstanding names on the Arab side are Edward Said, Naim Khader, Ghassan Tueni and others. I would also like to recall that Muammer Al-Khaddafi published a small book, entitled Isratin, available in several languages. The latter is a timely treatise drawing attention to a repressed option that looks, at first glance, less practical bur more virtuous
Just and enduring peace is possible. It was the order of the day during the 400 years of Otoman presence. Of course, many things have occurred since then. But one has to start on the road to mutual tolerance some time. As Rami Adwan, a Palestinian from North Gaza, proposed at the Lausanne Conference, a people-to-people program for Arabs and Israelis should be adopted as a system of educating the public in the virtues of peaceful coexistence. The “Cultural Coffee Shop” experience in East Jerusalem is an initiative worth expanding. Peace is not an illusion; it can be achieved with human effort. Many realities of our day were the utopic visions of the past.
The author is Professor Emeritus in International Relations at Ankara University. He is acknowledged worldwide as an outstanding analyst of the Palestine question. His numerous books and articles have appeared in twenty languages. He participated at the Lausanne University Conference, quoted in this article, and is currently preparing a book in the English language, which is to be published in Europe.