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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: In my opinion, the Middle East would be a prime case study for integral theory, but not many papers have been written on the topic from that perspective. Therefore, I have asked Ray to write about his views on the Middle East problem for a long time. "Integral notes on the Israel/Arab conflict" was his response to that request.

From: Integral Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict

Reply to Meyerhoff

Ray Harris

In his reply to my recent article Jeff Meyerhoff accuses me of error. Fair enough. I always pay attention to any suggestion I've got my facts wrong. I sometimes do get it wrong, but I try to be careful and not write anything until I'm reasonably sure I'm on solid ground. I wouldn't have tackled the Arab/Israel question a few years ago for these reasons. However Meyerhoff's response is so full of errors and 'spin' that I found little of value in it.

Land and immigration

First let me tackle the central argument in his response, that it is really about 'land' and that according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs this trumps the higher order need of identity.

“Maslow's and Wilber's hierarchy of needs fits much better with my approach which asks first about material conditions: Are people eating enough? Who gets what material goods and how much? Are people safe? An integral theory in concert with Maslow and Wilber should look to the "ontologically primitive"[15] material conditions and see their influence on the later developmental stages.”

I agree that lower order needs affect later developmental stages and say exactly that in 'Thoughts Toward an Integral Political Economy', where I also suggest that a surplus at one level creates the conditions for the next level of development to arise. Meyerhoff really should have heeded my disclaimer and read my other articles. If he had he would also have discovered that I place issues of tribal/ethnic identity at the level just above food and land security.

And his argument would make perfect sense except for one thing - Jewish immigration helped create an economic boom in Palestine and improved the conditions of Arabs in general, so much so that there was a subsequent Arab population explosion. The exact nature of the increase in the Arab population is in dispute. The Arabs say that it was due to a rapid increase in the birth rate and some Israelis say it was due to significant Arab immigration. Whatever the cause Meyerhoff will need to explain why an allegedly starving population under threat of having their land stolen actually increased its size and even attracted significant Arab immigration. This is critical issue because some Israeli historians argue that some Palestinians are descended from Arabs who immigrated at the same time as Jews (and have no more claim than Jews).

This takes us to the next important point; one I didn't expand on in my original article but which Meyerhoff's critique necessitates. But first I'd like to address the way in which Meyerhoff jumps across time periods and assumes that the condition of the Palestinians today matches their condition in the 20's, 30's and 40's. I would agree that the 'current' condition of the Palestinians is both dire and tragic, but I would also argue that they bear a good part of the blame for their current plight. How did they turn away from a period of increasing prosperity in the 20's and 30's to find themselves suffering sanctions and embargos and a potential civil war today?

Okay, the issue I didn't expand on is the moral hypocrisy of 'some' anti-Israeli polemicists and this centres around the issue of the right to immigrate – the right of Mexicans to immigrate to the US, the right of Africans to immigrate to Spain, the right of Eastern Europeans to immigrate to Western Europe and so on. The reasons for immigration vary but we can suggest two broad reasons, fleeing persecution and seeking a better life. The standard progressive position is to have sympathy with immigrant groups, except it seems, when it comes to Jewish immigration to Palestine. Here there is a unique reversal and the rights of the resident population exceeds the rights of the immigrants. Apparently Arabs and Muslims are exempt from the demands of multiculturalism. Think about it. In almost the same breath I've heard a progressive friend attack white Australian attitudes to Muslim immigration, accusing Aussies of racism, and then say the Jews had no right to emigrate to Palestine because the Palestinians had been there first. But it's not just Western pro-Palestinians who have double standards but also many Muslims who argue they have the right to emigrate where ever they wish but who argue vehemently that the Jews don't belong in Palestine.

Most of the Jews who immigrated to Palestine did so legally. They bought or rented land and set up businesses. Most of them were not particularly dedicated to the Zionist cause. Many of them lived peacefully and co-operatively with their Arab neighbours. What happened? Well, what happened was the Arab rebellion of the 20's and 30's and the '48 war, in which neighbouring Arab states attacked the new state of Israel on the eve of its declaration. This played into the Zionists hands perfectly. The hard men of Zionism rose to power because they were successful in defending ordinary Jews from attack by hostile Arab forces. It doesn't matter if these hostile forces had popular support or not. If someone is threatening you then you defend yourself.

You see, I don't deny the existence of Zionist plans to create an Israeli state and the plan to remove Arabs. This is a matter of history and it's generally accepted in Israel that such a plan existed (the argument centres on how serious and certain the plan was). However, not all Jewish immigrants were hardcore Zionists, in fact there are many Jewish critics of Zionism. But it is also true to say that hardcore Arabs played on the fear of Zionism to basically scare the bejesus out of non-aligned Arabs (and Christians). Arab villagers were told the Jews were going to rape their women and kill their children. During the '48 war tens of thousands of Arabs fled their villages in 'fear' of such an attack, not because they were 'actually' attacked. These form the bulk of the refugees. What happened to the Arabs that stayed? Guess what? They were integrated into Israeli society where, despite serious patterns of discrimination, they have a higher standard of living than their non-Israeli neighbours. In fact Israel has just announced the promotion of an Arab Israeli to a cabinet position. The fact is that Jewish culture is largely tolerant and many Jews are progressive. Like any society it has right wing nationalists and extremists, as does Arab society. I would argue that the use of violence by a right wing Arab minority movement in the 20's and 30's aided the Zionist cause and the '48 war consolidated their grip on the Israeli defence establishment. Had right wing Arabs not resorted to violence the Zionists might have found it harder to pursue their plans.

How does Meyerhoff explain the position of Arabs in Israel today? He says they are second-class citizens. Are they? What country is free of racism and discrimination? How do Latinos and African-Americans fare in the US? Is there no racial, religious or ethnic discrimination in Arab society? Is Meyerhoff holding Jews to a higher standard?

Finklestein and Chomsky

Meyerhoff quotes Norman Finklestein extensively. Pity. Finklestein has been criticised for being a liar. Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life has said,

'No facts alleged by Finklestein should be assumed to be facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.'

In his book The Case for Peace Alan Dershowitz makes a damning indictment of both Finklestein and Chomsky. I said in my article that the Israel/Palestine debate was ridden with propaganda. Finklestein would seem to be a propagandist and his views should be treated accordingly. I do not know if Dershowitz's claims are accurate or whether he represents just another propaganda position. In any case any 'integral' approach needs to be aware of the quite serious accusations made against Finklestein and the Finklestein/Dershowitz flame war. Dershowitz has said that Finklestein is a favourite of the neo-Nazi movement and has been quoted as supporting the holocaust denier David Irving. Who's right? Finklestein or Dershowitz?

The myth of Islamic tolerance

Meyerhoff quotes a number of sources that suggest that Muslim societies were beacons of tolerance. At various times some were. At various times some Jews prospered. But he also needs to be aware of the substantial literature that argues that Islamic societies were not as tolerant as his selected sources suggest. An integral approach has to sort through competing narratives. The respected historian (and co-editor of the Encyclopaedia of Islam) Bernard Lewis has said,

'European travellers to the East in the age of liberalism and emancipation are almost unanimous in deploring the degraded and precarious position of Jews in Muslim countries, and the dangers and humiliations to which they were subject. Jewish scholars, acquainted with the history of Islam and with the current situation in Islamic lands, can have no illusions on this score. Vambery (1904) is unambiguous: “I do not know any more miserable, helpless and pitiful individual on God's earth than the Jahudi in those countries.'

An example of how perilous the position of Jews was under Islamic rule is revealed on a closer examination of the mythically tolerant Muslim rule of Spain. What is often not mentioned is that several laws were in place that ensured Jews and Christians were second-class citizens, including the special jizya tax. I've mentioned the dhimmi laws before. What I can assure Meyerhoff is that in all Muslim societies Jews had to mind their place. They were tolerated just as long as they kept within certain bounds. In Granada, Spain, 1066, an Arab mob crucified the Jewish grand vizier, razed the Jewish quarter and massacred 5000 Jews - they were incited by radical imams who thought the Jews had grown too powerful. Sound familiar? The existence of the dhimmi laws legalizes discrimination against non-Muslims. Meyerhoff really should investigate the dhimmi laws; many of them are simply outrageous and all of them far exceed the type of discrimination Arabs face in Israel. Let me emphasise this point. Israel grants greater rights to non-Jews than Muslim societies do to non-Muslims. The dhimmi laws have not been removed from sharia law and they are alive and well in the minds of many Muslims. In 2001 Sheikh Ibrahim Mahdi said on Palestinian Authority television:

'We welcome, as we did in the past, any Jew who wants to live in this land as a Dhimmi…Those from amongst the Jews and from amongst those who are not Jews who came to this land as plunderers, must return humiliated and disrespected to their countries.'

The dhimmi laws existed in every Muslim country. One leader would relax the dhimmi laws but another would restore them. In India the Shah Jahan is remembered for his tolerance and syncretism, but his successor Aurangzeb reintroduced the jizya tax and a number of other discriminatory laws.

The same applied in Jerusalem. Under some rulers Jews were permitted to enter the Dome of the Rock to worship at the foundations of the Second Temple, at other times Jews were barred. Reports from the British consul to Jerusalem (1839-1914) suggest the Jews of Jerusalem lived in appalling conditions:

'It is a fact that the Jewish subjects…do not enjoy the privileges granted to them….this evil may in general be traced …: i. to the absence of an adequate protection whereby they are more exposed to cruel and tyrannical treatment. ii. to the blind hatred and ignorant prejudices of a fanatical populace….iii.  to the starving state of numerous Jewish population.'


'Like the miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by one because he crosses his path, and cuffed by another because he cries out - to seek redress he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him; he thinks it better to endure than to live in the expectation of his complaint being revenged upon him.'

Under Jordanian rule Jews were barred from the Old City altogether, including the Wailing Wall. The current protests over repair work at the site ought to make the position perfectly clear. This is the most sacred Jewish site. Jerusalem is Judaism's Mecca. Yet Muslims control the site under the claim it is their 'third' most holy site. And what would the Muslim reaction be to Jews controlling Mecca? Who has shown constraint? Who has shown tolerance? During Jordanian control of the Old City resident Christians (mostly Armenian) faced a number of restrictions on access to holy sites (the Jordanians even ordered Christian schools to teach the Koran). Under Jewish rule Christians now have free access.

I had been considering writing another article on Islam, one that would examine the 'myth' of Islamic tolerance. Perhaps I should now do so as a corrective to Meyerhoff's selective quotes. I mean, in one sense he's right. The writers he quotes do say those things, but other writers have claimed that such writers gloss over harsher truths. I'm sure Coptic Christians in Egypt might have a different view of Muslim tolerance, as do the Jews of Egypt. The Hindus have a different understanding of Muslim tolerance and rule. All of these voices must be balanced in an integral view. We should also take into consideration the human rights records of Muslim societies today. Even the most progressive and tolerant Muslim societies have serious human rights problems. The record is there. Take a look.


All Meyerhoff has done is to select some alternative views. So what? Anyone who has studied the issue knows these voices exist and also knows about the controversy surrounding Finklestein and Chomsky. By all means read them, but also read their critics. You decide.

Meyerhoff's central thesis that this about land is partially correct - it is about land, but land AND identity. Is it a Jewish land or an Arab land? With Jewish immigration the economy of the region boomed. This increased the wealth of many Arabs, it also increased opportunity (how else to explain Arab immigration?), but it also, like all mass migration, caused disruption to traditional ways of life. One of the most disruptive was the change from a feudal system under Ottoman landowners to a modern economy that had little place for traditional tenant farming. Of course mass Jewish immigration caused problems and resentment, but was the problem immigration itself (including Arab immigration) or was it 'Jewish' immigration? I would suggest that it is about both. The Arab residents resented the rapid changes to their traditional way of life in the way that all resident communities react to new immigrants. There is always distrust and discrimination against new arrivals. But Meyerhoff would have to be blind not to recognise the fact that these immigrants were Jews was especially galling to fundamentalist Arabs and Muslims. I believe I made it quite clear that the problem was not moderate Palestinians or Jews but the extremists of both camps – the orthodox 'Zionist' settler movement which seeks a 'Greater' Israel and the orthodox Sunni and Shia who want to see the destruction of the state of Israel and the Jews put back in their place. If it wasn't due to the actions of the extremists I believe the one state solution would have been possible. If Arab nationalists hadn't attacked 'Jews' indiscriminately in the 20's and 30's the Zionist extremists would not have become as powerful.

I agree that Israel should accept the '67 borders, but there are two things we need to acknowledge. The Israeli borders have expanded every time Arabs have attacked Israel. The key word here is 'attack'. If the Arabs had not fought against the UN declaration that created Israel, Israel would be smaller than it is now. The '48 war was a disaster for the Arabs because it made the Jews very fearful. Meyerhoff should acknowledge this fact. The timing of the '48 war could not have been worse, it happened at the time the full extent of the holocaust was being uncovered. Let me put it in blunt terms. The Jews had every right to be 'shit' scared. Arab rhetoric gave them every reason to believe they would be wiped out in Palestine as they had been in Europe. The reason Israel is so heavily armed now is because it has been attacked several times and is in a geographically strategically weak position. Or does Meyerhoff think the Israelis haven't faced serious Arab aggression?

The war also revealed the weakness of the Arabs (despite their military superiority at the time) and actually made the Zionists stronger and even more determined. It made them realise they might actually be able to get away with creating a Greater Israel. Had the Arab powers allowed the UN mandated state of Israel to exist in peace, Zionist ambitions might have been contained and a Palestinian state realised.

The second and most important thing is that even if moderate Palestinians reach a peace agreement there will still be extremist Muslims who will never accept it. In fact it can be argued that extremists sabotage such agreements whenever they can. You see; it's not the moderates the Israelis fear, it's not the moderates firing missiles into Israel or blowing up civilians with suicide bombs. There can only be peace when Muslim extremists renounce violence, until then Israelis will feel insecure, suspicious and hyper-defensive.

Meyerhoff is wrong to say I don't support Palestinian self-determination. I actually support self-determination as a general principle for all people, but only when self-determination is viable and is not based on discrimination against weaker minorities (and nor do I lump all progressives into one group – in fact I qualified my comments with 'many' – many is not 'all').

I definitely don't support Hamas. I regard them to be an Islamo-fascist organization. There can be no reason to support fascists – even if they can make the trains run on time.

Meyerhoff should recognise the actions of fellow Arabs in causing the current plight of the Palestinians. I was watching the recent Doha debate on BBC World. The motion before the house was that Iraq needs a dictator to fix the current sectarian conflict. Speaking against the motion was the controversial British MP George Galloway. I mention this only because he made an interesting comment. To the cheers of the largely Arab audience he invoked (in Arabic) the image of a Greater Arabia. He declared that in his extensive travels throughout every Arab speaking country he found that the Arabs were one people. As he put it, 'one land, one language, one god and one people.' The reason I found this interesting was because Galloway is vehemently pro-Palestine. So if the Arabs are one people why haven't they absorbed the Palestinian refugees who came to them for, well, 'refuge'?

I now invite the reader to look at a map of the Middle East and to look at the size of this Greater Arabia of 'one language, one god and one people' and then to look at the borders of Israel and the occupied territories. Look at how small Israel is. Look at how small the desired Greater Israel would be in comparison to the desired Greater Arabia Galloway invoked to enthusiastic applause.

This is the disconnect for me - a Greater Israel would still be very small in comparison, about the size of Vermont in the US. This is as far as Zionist ambitions go (although most Israelis would accept the '67 borders). In which case I say to Meyerhoff that if it is about land it's about the stunning miserliness of the Arabs. With all that land and all that gas and oil they can afford to be generous. They have plenty of land and the Jews only want a little. If, as Galloway and his appreciative audience seem to believe, the Arabs are one people then there really is no Palestine as a distinct Arab identity, just as there is no Jordan or Syria. If it is about land it is about the refusal of Arabs to let Jews have any land at all. I mean, it's a bit one sided isn't it? Jews no land - Arabs lots of land, Muslims get their first, second AND third holy sites and the Jews get what – nothing (but you can live amongst us as dhimmi)?

By the way – I actually would suggest that without a strong government enforcing unity in Iraq, left to their own devices the Sunni and Shia would naturally end up at each other's throats. Sunni extremists regard Shia as apostates and Shia still harbour animosity over the death of Ali and Hussein. In the West the Catholics and Protestants gave up fighting after centuries of bloody sectarian violence. The Sunni and Shia have yet to be reconciled and violence was and is inevitable. Saddam contained it by simply suppressing the Shia.

Meyerhoff unfortunately falls into the myth that the problems in the Middle East are all due to outside imperialist interference. The reality is that the Middle East has been difficult to control. The Iraq war is clear evidence of the reality of imperialist ambitions in the region, as the British, French and Russians learnt the hard way. In fact let me ask Meyerhoff this question - what would have happened in the Middle East if the Western powers had not been involved in any way, if they had kept their imperialist ambitions to themselves and taken an isolationist approach? Would the Arab masses have overthrown their rulers and created a progressive Islam? Or would the various royal families and elites have fought each other for control? What would have happened if the British hadn't supported the Saud family? Would the al-Rashid still rule Riyadh and the Hashemites rule Mecca? What about oil? Would it still be in the ground? How would the Arabs get it out of the ground and who would they sell it to (the West had already developed the technology, especially the US who were still tapping their own oil)?

Hands up all those who think the Middle East would have descended into a civil war until one or more caliph/dictators arose (who would then have still needed Western technology just as the Ottomans did – primarily military)?

And on a final, perhaps strange note – Meyerhoff reveals a distinct bias when he says the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unjustified. He ought to know that such an assertion is highly controversial and disputed by many historians who argue that a land invasion of Japan would have cost more military and civilian lives than the bombing. The Battle of Okinawa clearly showed that many Japanese civilians were prepared to commit suicide rather than surrender.

Ray Harris, January 2007

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