YONELA DIKO: Erstwhile colonisers must correct their sins in Palestine


In his critically acclaimed book Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron, Menachem Klein traces a time of a lovely and buoyant community of Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, living together in peace and harmony, with cross-cultural traditions and customs.

A time when shared heritage and common struggle bound their humanity and took precedence over religion and race and misplaced patriotism.

Klien is supported by many other scholars in remembering these glorious times in the Holy Land. Memoirs of Ya’akov Elazar from Jerusalem reminisce of times when “the Muslim women cooperated respectfully with the customs of the Jewish religion… the Muslim neighbours allowed the Jewish women to pump water necessary before the Sabbath.”

A time where "Muslims would even join their Jewish fellow man in reciting religious prayers".

So, when did the poison that has divided these brothers and sisters enter their hearts and minds in such a corrosive and bloody manner?

Many past residences seem able to trace the exact time when this poison of division entered these sacred shores.

For them, the seeds of division were brought to these lands by both the diaspora of Zionists and Arab nationalists, who, after years of being dispersed across the world, particularly in Europe, now feeling displaced and persecuted, remembered this land between the river and the sea as part of their identity distinguishable from the other.

These immigrants, especially immigrant Jews, came with their polarising worldview from a divided Europe at war and with targets on their backs, holding on tight to their threatened customs and lifestyle, did not adapt to the cultures of Palestine. Locals could never fully embrace them as their own but as foreigners.

This has been confirmed by many past residents of these lands that for a long time, you could distinguish between “Arab Jews" and Jewish immigrants from Europe. It is said that non-Ashkenazi Jews were seen as awlad al-balad (“sons of the land”) and yahud awlad al-arab (“Jewish Arabs”).


According to University of Washington associate professor of Jewish studies and comparative religion, Mika Ahuvia, the dispersion of Jews across the world (creating a Jewish diaspora) began around 586 and 587 BCE, when some Jews (mostly elite) were exiled to Babylonia and Egypt.

This Jewish diaspora would remain dispersed through the Babylon Empire, the Persian Empire in 539 BCE, and would ultimately be taken to the ends of the earth by joining his armies of Alexander the Great in 334 BCE.

The unrelenting theme about the Jews in the diaspora, whether exiled among the Egyptians or among the Greeks, is their perceived separatism and unsociability – a theme that continued, even when the Roman Empire took over Egypt and other territories.

While scholar David Nirenberg in his book Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition accuses the Greeks of exclusion, in that to Greeks, exclusion is part of their sense of self as a sovereign people who felt superior to others, I think Jews suffered the same trait, which made it difficult to coexist with others in foreign lands.

Conducting oneself with a sense of superiority and exclusion in foreign lands does not make for many friends.

This separatism and unsociability of Jews has been much more expressed in Europe, so much so that when delegates from 32 countries met in the French resort town of Évian-les-Bains between 6 and 14 July 1938 to discuss ways to help Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi Third Reich, according to West Virginia University's Professor William Brustein, despite Nazi German offering its Jews to the world, most countries including the US, Great Britain, and Australia, offered reasons why they did not want to host more Jewish refugees.

Countries like Poland and Hungary even requested to be relieved of their Jewish ‘burden’.


Historians and archaeologists agree that both Jews and Palestinians share a genetic pool found in ancient Canaan. It is clear then that the rivalry itself is not based on genetic differences, but perhaps, dare I say, on the Jewish diaspora's traits of unsociability and separatism.

When the British took over Palestine, effectively in 1923, in two decades, 100,000 Jews from the diaspora entered Palestine. After the World War II, the British coloniser was pressured to take more Jewish immigrants left homeless after the Holocaust. The British refused. In the end, the British ultimately abandoned Palestine and let the Jews and Palestinians fight it out.

It is a miracle that most of the colonised world did not descend into ethnic, cultural, and religious conflicts when the colonisers finally left.

Palestine is but a microcosm of what could have happened in much of the world were it not for sacrifices made by oppressed people, and skill of native leaders to draw a future from the rubble.

While Palestine has seen many colonisers in over 2,000 years of continuous struggle, the last coloniser, the British, after promising both Jews and Palestine statehood, decided to jump ship when they could not stop the confrontation among natives.

Britain must take full responsibility for the current conflict.

The British made and broke promises, documented in the Balfour Declaration, to the Jewish diaspora to secure their support for the first World War. Establishing a Jewish national home in Ottoman-controlled Palestine was the first seed of the current bloodshed that seems to have no end.

The British had made a similar promise to Arab nationalists. In the end, none of the promises were met, and Britain left Palestine at the edge of war for a nation state by both Jews and Palestinians.

The damage that the colonisers have done to our world is incalculable. They have sliced and diced countries, splitting natives, turning brother against brother, sending many into exile, and leaving irreparable damage behind them.

The conflict between the Zionist diaspora and Arab nationalists is a colonial legacy that is haemorrhaging too much blood.

All the Empires that have exiled the Jews over two millennia and made them live like foreigners far away from home must take responsibility for how the Jewish diaspora turned out, and the persecution they have suffered over the years, especially in Europe.

Jews and Palestinians may have lived in these lands since time memorial, but it was not a Jewish state.

If the Zionists insist on an exclusive Jewish State, then the Palestinians deserve their own state in the land, equipped with a strong military and protection from all enemies, domestic, and foreign. Erstwhile colonisers must make this happen.

Only when the state of Palestine is established, with equal capabilities as the Jewish state, can peace and harmony be restored.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson for the ANC in the Western Cape.