by Salahdin Koban
There are two minorities in the Middle East who share similar fates: Israelis and Kurds. Historically, both repeatedly were persecuted. Although they are neither ethnically nor religiously related, within the two groups there is a discreet mutual sympathy. Of the nation states created in the Middle East last century by Britain and France, Israel and Turkey are the exceptions. Zionism is a national revolution by the Jewish population that says to survive we need our own state and we go back to the Holy Land and ancient Kingdom of Judea. Zionism means to be a Jewish patriot. Everything else is Middle East conspiracy theory. From the beginning, the Zionist movement tried to convince the international community of its intention and it took more than half a century.
The Kurds have tried to convince the international community of a Kurdish nation state; however, there was no real leadership negotiating with the French and Brits. The end result was Kurds are still living in four countries as a minority and their status varies from country to country. The solution of the Kurdish question is one of the most important Middle East issues and is rarely discussed, until now the Kurds have had an ambivalent relationship with the West.
The Jewish nation in 1920 laid its foundation for independence in 1948. The organs of a state emerged with the Haganah, the forerunner of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). By comparison, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), since its establishment in 1992, has managed to create state institutions which are somewhat professional, albeit often under the influence of party or tribal lines.
Contact between Israel and the Iraqi Kurds intensified especially after the outbreak of the Kurdish uprising in 1961, when Kurdish historian Ismet Scherif Wanli, then living in exile in Europe, was able to persuade Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to make contact with Jerusalem. Wanli himself acted as a middleman and met with leading Israeli politicians such as Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres. His efforts were supported by the secret service of the Iranian Shah, who at the time stood up for the Kurds and sent some Israeli representatives to Kurdistan. However, their attempts to start talks between Wanli and the US government were blocked by Washington.
Later, early during phase of Baath rule in Iraq, secret Israeli-Kurdish relations became closer. Barzani and two of his sons travelled to Israel several times between 1968 and 1973 and Israeli envoys stayed in Kurdistan. Arab rumours circulating about them at the time hinted at several thousand. In truth, writes Ofra Bengio, the most important Israeli historian for Kurdish and Iraqi history, there were no more than a handful of Israelis who were involved in several areas — from humanitarian to military aid. With Iran's consent, Israel initially supplied the Kurds with weapons until Tehran put an end to the cooperation in 1975 under an agreement with Baghdad.
The question of the Palestinian Authority often arises when the issue of how the Kurds could establish relations with Israel. All people have a right to their own nation state. The Arab Palestinian nation was effectively established with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964. There are 22 Arab states effectively created by France and Britain by various treaties. The Palestinian Autonomous Authority has repeatedly rejected its own state.
The Israelis managed the unthinkable — creating a nation from a diaspora spanning more than 100 countries. The two large groups are the Ashkenazi European Jews and Mizrahi, the oriental Jews. There is still an Israel Kurdish community which emigrated gradually in the 1950s — one of the most important factors in nation building IDF. Regardless of whether you are Ashkenazi or Mizrahi, you first have to resign to the fact that with time and mixed marriages integration has succeeded despite early challenges.
The KRG still does not know how to advocate internationally for its cause; whereas, Israeli efforts have proven their effectiveness recently Trump’s recognition of the Golan for Israel. From the Golan Heights, from 1948-1967, Syria bombed lower Israel again and again, threatening it both militarily and politically. Furthermore, those who started wars in 1967 and 1973 and are surprised when losing territory after a defeat do not understand realpolitik.
What did the Kurds do when they administered Kirkuk and other disputed territories from 2014-2017? On the Golan, the Israelis recognized the Druze as a minority and won them over. In Kurdistan no integration of the minorities was promoted, but parallel worlds were created. With the Kirkuk fields again in the hands of the Iraqi central government they thanked the minorities and spat first on the Kurdish flag. The Druze are also a part of the IDF, not as an independent group, but wholly, which serves the country independent of one’s future.
The KRG has party units, and then minority units — disintegration in perfection! Why is there no conscription? It would be good for women and men to do their military service. They would understand where they live. Kurdistan is not Dubai societally, so the appreciation and integration of the administration would progress.
On the referendum, it's easy to blame your own failures on others; the Israelis won't lead and fight for you. For example, the Israelis don't want US soldiers to fight for them. Unfortunately, there are are victims of conspiracy theories — Israel does not control the world, if you want your own nation state, you have to fight for it yourself.
The paths of Israelis and Kurds will cross again because historically just as today their opponents are the same.
Salahdin Koban is a member of Germany's CDU Party. He was the first German-Kurd to run as a candidate in a German Federal Election, 2017. He is member of the German Israeli Group and Republicans Overseas in Germany. His main field is foreign policy.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.