Jews and Mus­lims in the Arab World: Haunt­ed by Pasts Real and Imagined

Jacob Lass­ner and S. Ilan Troen

  • Review
By – March 2, 2012

In this schol­ar­ly exam­i­na­tion of the imped­i­ments to peace between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans, Lass­ner, who teach­es Jew­ish civ­i­liza­tion at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, and Troen, who teach­es Israeli stud­ies at both Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty and Ben-Guri­on Uni­ver­si­ty, note that any mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict calls for an under­stand­ing of Arab cul­ture lead­ing to a real rather than stereo­typ­i­cal image of Arab soci­ety. Employ­ing an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach, the authors draw on their con­sid­er­able knowl­edge of reli­gion, ancient and con­tem­po­rary his­to­ry, as well as bib­li­cal schol­ar­ship to place the antag­o­nism of both sides to one anoth­er in an under­stand­able context.

If the cur­rent peace process is to achieve results, the authors argue that it will require a new con­ver­gence of Mus­lim and Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, not one based on Mus­lim tri­umphal­ism and Jew­ish com­pli­ance as in the past, but on mutu­al respect.” Because both sides evoke his­to­ry and reli­gion to jus­ti­fy their right to the land, the road to peace may be a long and dis­tant one. In the authors’ chap­ter on the Islam­ic move­ment and the role it plays in the con­flict, they note that more than any­thing else, the very pres­ence of Israel on sacred Mus­lim soil has served to fos­ter nation­al con­scious­ness and a sense of uni­ty in the Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries as well as in the rest of the Arab world. The authors note that fol­low­ing the 1948 war, when Jor­dan annexed the West Bank, and Egypt occu­pied Gaza, it did not lead the Pales­tini­ans to demand their own state. Rather fol­low­ing the June 1967 war, when Israel occu­pied both the West Bank and Gaza did a Pales­tin­ian nation­al con­scious­ness emerge.

Lass­ner and Troen devote many chap­ters to describ­ing how the past bears on the present between the adver­saries. In one of their most con­tro­ver­sial argu­ments, the authors write:

It seems remark­able that with­out ever hav­ing had a nation­al poli­ty, lan­guage, or his­toric iden­ti­ty that could be described as dis­tinc­tive­ly Pales­tin­ian, the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of Pales­tin­ian Arabs has lit­er­al­ly invent­ed and legit­imized Pales­tin­ian nationhood.”

In the process, Pales­tin­ian schol­ars have gone to great lengths to negate the con­nec­tion between the Jews of the ancient world and present day Jew­ry. Add to this the empha­sis that Islamists make in regard to the per­fidy of Jews as they selec­tive­ly read the Koran and oth­er reli­gious works, and you have a great many obsta­cles to over­come before one can nego­ti­ate such issues as bound­aries, the sta­tus of Jerusalem, and the right of the Pales­tin­ian refugees to return to present day Israel.

This is a remark­able work of schol­ar­ship and a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to our under­stand­ing of the conflict.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions