First our commonalities: we are both children of the soil.
Jews fondly call the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) their homeland; we reserve the same affection for Kurdistan, the land of our ancestors.
Jews ruled their homeland for nearly a thousand years—but mighty Rome destroyed their sacred temple (built by Solomon) in 70 AD and turned them into refugees.
We are still living in Kurdistan, but as subjects of Turks, Persians, and Arabs.
The Romans didn’t last long. After a brief Persian interlude, Arabs conquered the land of Israel, now called Palestine, and settled with the local population.
But one thing stayed constant: Whether it was old Israel or new Palestine, Jerusalem remained consecrated for Jews, Christians, and Muslims—all esteeming Abraham as their cherished patriarch.
In the Middle Ages, a Christian Europe conquered Palestine, including Jerusalem.
A resurgent Muslim Middle East took back the city under the leadership of our Great Saladin. The Kurdish ruler treated captured Christians fairly, leading Dante to place him in purgatory, not hell, in his celebrated poem, The Divine Comedy.
In 1917, Palestine had another consequential change in ownership. This time Brits replaced Turks as custodians of the Holy Land.
When the place was still in Turkish hands, a movement known as Zionism emerged in Europe. It sought to protect European Jews from the rising tide of virulent nationalism that scapegoated them and subjected them to pogroms.
Theodore Herzl, whom some feel foresaw Hitler’s Holocaust, worked hard to spark a migration, a second exodus if you will, from Europe to Israel. But when he appealed for permission, Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Ottoman Empire was as deaf to his pleas as Turkish leaders are to ours today.
Herzl visited his beloved Israel as a tourist and died not knowing if Jews would ever be granted his fondest hope of living there in peace.
When war erupted in 1914, the growing nationalism that he feared eventually raised hopes for Jews, Kurds, and many other homeless peoples in the world.
This was because new states soon arose, including a projected homeland for Jews, by way of a British guarantee—the superpower of the day.
Addressing Lord Walter Rothschild, an ardent follower of Theodore Herzl, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared: “His Majesty's government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
For a people without an army, this was as good as the “manna from heaven” that God had provided the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt.
Zionist Jews rolled up their sleeves and invested heavily with capital to buy land and something even more precious than money—refined human capital—to till it.
Two years after the momentous declaration, the Jewish population of Palestine doubled to 60,000, but the Palestinians still outnumbered them ten to one.
Though the numbers were stacked against the Jews, they had one advantage that the Palestinians lacked: Jewish literacy rates soared above their Palestinian neighbors: 86 percent to 22 percent.
Israel embodied what James Madison, a founding father of America, had wisely observed, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.”
But tensions remained, especially between opposing faiths in close contact with one another, eventually triggering clashes.
Some Zionists, to their credit, came to Palestine with the best of intentions to serve all its inhabitants. One was Siegfried Lehmann (1892-1958). A protégé of Albert Einstein and a doctor by training, he had initially dedicated his life to helping Jewish war orphans in Europe.
Sensing the alarming rise in anti-Semitism, he and his wife moved to Palestine with their wards in 1927 and founded Ben Shemen Youth Village. Serving the sick and the poor, he became a trusted go-to person not just for the Jews but also the Palestinians.
For every Siegfried Lehmann, however, there was a Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) who saw Arabs as interlopers and itched to forcibly expel them. Amos Oz, one of the best-known Israeli authors, accused Dayan of pursuing “living space” policies associated with Nazis.
Israel is a fact of life today and enjoys the peace of force with its neighbors. It does what Thucydides observed 2400 years ago: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
Force may be necessary for self-preservation, but its gratuitous use to dominate others will eventually turn the Zionist undertaking into a fool’s errand.
The Israeli lesson for Kurds isn’t the domination of our foes by force but the emulation of its 86 percent literacy rate at its birth.
In Palestine, if you could put aside the plight of Palestinians for a second, that literacy rate has introduced a vibrant European society into the sleepy Middle East.
With only half of it, we too could better prepare the world to adopt our cause and help us add another story of freedom to humanity’s age-old struggle for complete redemption.
Plato put it best: “Ripeness is all.”
Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.