Alternative history — I wish we could go back to the Ottoman Turkish Empire

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the attendees during a rally to show their solidarity with the Palestinians, in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. EMRAH GUREL / AP

The Palestinian Islamic resistance forces are waging a religious, cultural and social war against Israel and its western allies. This war is not simply “anticolonial” or “anti-apartheid.” It is not being fought under the banner of the lame international human rights regime, but rather under the banner of Islam, justice, mercy and sacrifice for the sake of God and for the sake of the whole Muslim nation as well as all the Arab nations and all peoples under oppression. 
The message of the unified Islamic forces led by Hamas, which is the strongest bloc militarily in this axis, is resonating across the globe, reinforced by a horrific gushing stream of the blood of thousands of Palestinian children. In turn, this stream of blood, more than anything else, reveals the ideological nature of the Israeli government and its religious and cultural Zionist underpinnings, which Sari Nusseibeh clearly expressed in a 2011 article in Al Jazeera titled “Why Israel can’t be a ‘Jewish state’”. Nusseibeh wrote that “if we consider the subject dispassionately, the idea of a ‘Jewish State’ is logically and morally problematic because of its legal, religious, historical and social implications.” He goes on to spell out the implications of this term (“Jewish State”), hopeful that, once these are spelled out, “most people — and most Israeli citizens, we trust — will not accept these implications.”
Below, I quote at length the seventh implication that Nusseibeh analyzes, because it is so clearly playing out right now on our TV screens:

Recognising a “Jewish state” in Israel — a state which purports to annex the whole of Jerusalem, East and West, and calls Jerusalem its “eternal, undivided capital” (as if the city, or even the world itself, were eternal; as if it were really undivided, and as if it actually were legally recognised by the international community as Israel’s capital) — means completely ignoring the fact that Jerusalem is as holy to 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims, as it is to 15–20 million Jews worldwide.

In other words, this would be to privilege Judaism above the religions of Christianity and Islam, whose adherents together comprise 55 per cent of the world’s population. Regrettably this is a narrative propagated even by renowned Jewish author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who, on April 15, 2010, took out full page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post and claimed that Jerusalem “is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Qur’an”. Now we do not propose to speak for native Palestinian Arab Christians — except to say the that Jerusalem is quite obviously the city of Jesus Christ the Messiah — but as Muslims, we believe that Jerusalem is not the “third holiest city of Islam” as is sometimes claimed, but simply one of Islam’s three holy cities. And, of course, despite what Mr Wiesel seems to believe, Jerusalem is indeed clearly referred to in the Holy Qur’an in Surat al-Isra’ (17:1):

“Glorified be He Who transported His servant by night from the Inviolable Place of Worship to the Aqsa Place of Worship whose precincts We have blessed, that We might show him of Our tokens! Lo! He, only He, is the Hearer, the Seer.”

Moreover, Muslims wanting to take a similar, religiously exclusive narrative, could point out that while Jerusalem is mentioned 600 times in the Bible, it is not mentioned once in the Torah as such — a fact that any Biblical Concordance will easily confirm. Of course we do, however, recognise the importance of the land of Israel in the religion of Judaism — this is even mentioned in the Qur’an, 5:21 — we only ask that the Israeli government reciprocate this courtesy and allow Muslims to speak for themselves in expressing what they consider, and have always considered, as holy to them.

There is another reason, more serious than all of the seven mentioned above, why Palestinian leaders — and indeed no responsible person — can morally recognise Israel as a “Jewish State” as such. It has to do with the very Covenant of God in the Bible with Ancient Israelites of the promise of a homeland for Jews. God says to Abraham in the Bible:

On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis, 15:18–21; NKJ)

The ancient Israelites then go on to possess this land in the time of Moses, upon God’s command, as follows:

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. (Deuteronomy, 7:1–2; NKJ)

“Hear, O Israel: You are to cross over the Jordan today, and go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourself, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the descendants of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you heard it said: ‘Who can stand before the descendants of Anak?’ Therefore understand today that the LORD your God is He who goes over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and bring them down before you; so you shall drive them out and destroy them quickly, as the LORD has said to you.” (Deuteronomy, 9:1–4; NKJ)

The fate of many of the original inhabitants is then as follows:

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua, 6:21; NKJ)

And this continues even later on in time, as follows:

Samuel also said to Saul: “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel, 15:1–3; NKJ)

Now it is very easy to cherry-pick quotes from scripture permitting or enjoining violence. One could cite, out of context, verses such as the “sword verse” in the Holy Qur’an:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and establish prayer and pay the alms, then leave their way free. God is Forgiving, Merciful. (Al-Tawbah, 9:5)

One could even cite verses — again out of context — from Jesus Christ’s own words in the Gospel, as follows:

“But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’” (Luke, 19:27; NKJ)

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew, 10:34; NKJ)

Today, as the Gaza Strip is being bombed to smithereens over the heads of its mostly refugee and young population, as the West Bank is experiencing brutal repression, as Palestinians are being killed in the name of a “Jewish State” that has become a “Judeo-Christian” tradition, Islamic forces are showing us a different path, a disciplined, moral, incredibly courageous revolutionary path, one that is alternative to Western lies and deceptions.
And so, while listening to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s passionate stance on the Israel-Palestine war while addressing a massive pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul in which he also accused the West of being the main culprit in the war on Gaza and reiterated that Hamas is not waging a terrorist action but a liberation struggle, I couldn’t help wondering, what kind of alternative history we would be experiencing today had the fertile crescent not allied itself with the British during World War One, which needed the help of the Arabs in defeating the Ottoman Empire.
In a set of letters called the ‘McMahon–Hussein Correspondence,’ the British promised the Arabs that if they rebelled against The Ottoman Empire (which had sided with Germany in the war), that they would get their own independent state. However, at the very same time, there was a clandestine agreement in the works with France and Russia to carve up the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves. This was known as the ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’. The territory promised to the Arabs was not a part of their bargain, and this betrayal set the groundwork for chaos and catastrophe in the years to come.

Now we are in those “years to come.” And the West is still setting the stage for more chaos and catastrophe in years to come, as they continue to support a vicious “Jewish State” unconditionally.
In the multi-ethnic Ottoman Turkish Empire, Islam was the ideological binding agent. Religious communities belonging to the People of the Book retained their protected status based upon the so-called Millet system (milla means ‘nation’) and had autonomy where internal matters were concerned.
 I wish we could go back to the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Note: First published in Medium

Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.


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