The Real Occupied Territories
Violent settlers clash with the indigenous people. They take away their property and drive them off their land. Murders occur daily. Women are kidnapped and raped. There is no judicial recourse. The indigenous people are often relegated to the lower strata of society and the government makes sure they are kept there. This is the tragic state of affairs, when those people who lived peacefully on their land before the settlers came, are now being dispossessed of their property on the one hand, and are treated no better than slaves by these colonial occupiers on the other.
Now most people, especially if they work for the UN or for an assortment of other antisemitic organizations would automatically assume that the above description is about Israel and the “occupied West Bank.” But in point of fact, it is not about Israel. It has nothing to do with Israel. Rather, it is about Egypt and the pre-revolution Arab majority’s persecution of the indigenous non-Arab Coptic community, the descendants of the ancient Egyptians. (This was also the case under the post-revolution government of Mohammed Morsi.) But this could also be about any of the other lands and peoples in the Middle East, especially in, what people refer to today as the “Arab world”.
When people think of the “Arab world”, they tend to think “Jews and Arabs”. This is totally wrong (and for those people who should actually know better, it is totally racist). In fact, most of this “Arab world” i.e. the member countries of the Arab League aside from those on the Arabian peninsula, have been a kaleidoscope of minority, indigenous, non-Arab, peoples, some of whom are even mentioned in the Bible, aside from the Jews in Israel – the Maronites of Lebanon, descendants of the ancient Phoenicians; the Assyrian Christians, descendants of the ancient Assyrians; the Kurds, descendants of the ancient Medes; the “Marsh Arabs”, descendants of the ancient Sumerians; the Nubians of Sudan; the Berbers of North Africa. In addition to the occupation, many of these peoples often suffer from severe persecution and forced Arabization, regardless of whether they are Christian or Muslim.
I should emphasize though, that I am not anti-Arab. Legitimate criticism of Arabs does not make one anti-Arab. Indeed, there are many Arabs who fully realize that they live on other people’s lands and would be willing to be productive members of that society should the indigenous peoples of these lands liberate themselves from the occupation – an occupation that began in the early 7th century during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed.
The first Arab encounter with other peoples in other lands was simply to spread the word of Islam and seems to have been voluntary and peaceful. But since the death of the Prophet, Arab armies, determined to spread Islam around the world, began wars of conquest from their homeland Arabia. At first, they came as liberators and rightly so. The previous Christian rulers of the Byzantine Empire, who ruled much of the Middle East, were known for their cruel treatment of the various peoples under their authority, whether Jewish, Christian or other. Arab Muslim rule, on the other hand, ushered in an era of peace and prosperity in what came to be known as the Islamic Golden Age (which at times, was not so golden). Some of the conquered peoples adopted Islam while others retained their old religions thereby coming under an official set of codes defining their placement in society – the Pact of Omar. According to this Pact, they were considered “dhimmi”, protected minorities, free from persecution, as long as they paid a special tax and worshipped one god; in addition, they could not serve, or were limited in number to government jobs, they had to wear identifiable clothing, and were considered to be inferior, second class citizens. Sometimes the non-Arab Muslim peoples were treated not much better. However, these rules were often not strictly enforced, but in later centuries, they were, and its enforcement, at times, took the form of bitter persecution.
Since the end of the Golden Age, the fortunes of each indigenous community have fluctuated depending on the ruling authorities as well as historical circumstances. As was often the case, historically, the Arabs were not the sole persecutors in the region, especially if an indigenous people’s territory straddled the border of “Arab” territory and another empire. In fact, the major empires throughout history – the Greek, Roman and Byzantine, Turkish, Persian, Mameluke, Spanish, French, British, etc. – were not exactly considered innocent bystanders. Nor do this region’s indigenous peoples themselves, come out of history with clean hands. In fact, had the Arabs never invaded their lands, there would still have been internal and external strife or all-out wars, and/or injustices against neighbors. But one thig is certain though. Had the Arab occupation and colonization ended a long time ago – at least within the last century – then the level of violence and persecution we have seen in the area since then and until today, would have probably been cut 90%.