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Can Kurds learn freedom from Israelis?

By KANI XULAM 13/8/2017
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.


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Azad | 13/8/2017
Israel was the first state which supported a nationalist Kemalist Turkey. Israel supported Turkish nationalisim against Kurds brcause it served their intrests. Dont look at what people say use your own brain. Not a singel Kurdish Peshmerga or YPG have a Israeli weapon in their hands but many weapons the Turkish army have are from Israel. Over 90% of the unarmed drones Turkey uses to bomb Kurds are from Israel. Israeli pilots are trained in Turkey. This coparation also continues under Erdogan. You dont belive me check it yourself. Israel would never end this coperation it serves their intrest they dont care about Kurds. Just wait till nationalist racist CHP wins election and Israel would bomb Kurds with Turkey together. Kurds must learn from their mistakes and rely on themselves not trusting relying in others.
orthodox communist. | 13/8/2017
with all due repect but education without enlightment is even mroe dangerous than ignorance. look at these so called liberals, they believe they possess knowledge just because they have a degree or read kafka or heidelberg. in reality they are making things even worse by spreading their so called educated thoughts without any connection to peoples reality. i believe in the old school, a hord of sheep need a sheperd. end of story. thank you.
FUTILE TASK | 13/8/2017
I appreciate the Israeli people for the persecution they have suffered over the centuries; still the Kurdish case is unique. Moreover, the world views the Kurds with much more sympathy than Jews. In one article after article you are bringing stories from other peoples and trying to show how they achieved their liberation as if the Kurds lacked inspiration or determinatin . In all those cases there is nothing ,indeed, that could teach the Kurds ; a futile task . A friend.
Hersh | 14/8/2017
Kani you're making no sense with your latest pieces, for goodness sake when did we ever taken someone else land? or are we planing too? What are all these ridicules comparisons with Algerians Poles and Jews?
Reber | 14/8/2017
The Jews did what they had to do, they didn't take all the land by force either, they bought a lot of it. The Arabs were rewarded by 22 countries after WWI, stretching from Iraq and the Gulf to the other side of Africa, they're NOT the victim. The original patch of land the Jews took was tiny, but their Arabs neighbors who could've easily taken in a few hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs and assimilated them choose to attack Israel with the full intention of drivng them into the sea. We Kurds know that there is no negotiating with Arabs, they'll sign anything when weak and attack the first opportunity they get. Good for Israel that they are so powerful that they can protect themselves.

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