When James Wolfensohn and Mort Zuckerman raised $14 million to buy the Gush Katif hothouses from Israeli farmers to give to the Palestinians, many people were surprised. “We thought it was a chance to show the Palestinians that there were more benefits from cooperation than confrontation,” Zuckerman explained.
Zuckerman’s New York Daily News reported on September 22 that ” a week after they [Palestinians] descended like locusts on the greenhouses… looters continue to pillage what should be a prize asset for a fledgling Palestinian state.” In response to this wanton destruction, Zuckerman said, “I’m just sad that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces…. It’s almost inexplicable.”
Later in the same article, 29-year-old Samir Al-Najar explained why he and eight of his men destroyed a half-acre greenhouse at the Neveh Dekalim settlement. He would probably rebuild the greenhouses he said, “but I want the greenhouses to be our own, not Jewish ones.”
Attempts to convince the Arabs that they have more to gain materially by embracing the Jewish State than by trying to destroy it, is not a new phenomenon. Yosef Gorny notes that in 1907, Yitzhak Epstein, an intellectual and teacher, declared that the Arabs “must, for its own good let the Jews into the country, for it is powerless to improve its situation and to extricate itself from its poverty and ignorance by its own efforts; only our people can provide for their needs.” It was to be a win-win situation. The Jews would reclaim their homeland and the Arabs would be able to improve their lives.
In 1921,Winston Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, echoed the same theme of “economic blessing” on a visit to Palestine. He urged the Arabs to give Zionism a “fair chance,” since Zionism would be “accompanied by a general diffusion of wealth and well-being.and by an advance in the social, scientific and cultural life of the people as a whole.”
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said he shared the view of many early Zionists that Jews would be welcomed back once the economic progress they brought with them “would convey a blessing to the Arab people.” Years later he admitted that he was “naïve then to imagine.that the Arabs think like us.” In 1936, for example, he acknowledged that “the economic blessing” had no impact on Arab leaders: “Even if they admit-and not all of them do-that our immigration brings material blessing to the land, [t]hey say-and from the Arab viewpoint I think rightly so-‘None of your honey and none of your sting.'”
Al-Najar’s rejection of the Jewish hothouses was the same sentiment expressed to Ben-Gurion by a leading Arab intellectual in the 1960’s. The Arab leader acknowledged the achievements the Jews had created in Israel, but it was irrelevant to him. He wanted the land to remain desolate until the Arabs themselves were capable of achieving these same feats. Even if this would take a hundred years, he was prepared to wait.
Disregarding the experiences of previous Israeli leaders, Shimon Peres continued to espouse this failed approach in the early 1990’s when he said, “A higher standard of living is a precondition for mitigating the tensions among the Middle Eastern countries.” He wanted to fight poverty in the region “as if were a military threat.” That the Arabs have never renounced their desire to destroy Israel, that they persist in teaching hatred of Jews in their schools under Mohammad Abbas and assailing them in their mosques is either ignored or only perfunctory demands are made that it be stopped.
In light of the Wolfensohn-Zucker fiasco, perhaps we should finally understand that the Arabs will not be bought off. Zeev Jabotinsky, leader of the Revisionists, appreciated this fact in 1925 when he wrote, “. I do not believe that we can reconcile them [the Arabs] to the possibility of a Jewish Palestine by offering them the bribe of economic amelioration. “
The destruction of the hothouses and of the synagogues in Gush Katif raises fundamental questions about the nature of Israel’s “peace partners.” What type of people delights in destroying synagogues, continues to live in squalor out of sense of pride, yet takes hand-outs from the U.N., and when given a thriving business opportunity levels the site because they want to build their own someday? The British, the U.S., the European Union and Israel have enabled Arab leaders to engage in this self-destructive behavior for decades by giving in to their endless whiny and unjustified demands, providing them with money that is rarely used for the welfare of their people, and not holding them accountable to agreements they make.
As long as the West and Israel continues this pathological response, the Arabs will wallow in their own self-pity, glory in their victimhood and focus their energy on ways to destroy Israel and the West.
Dr. Alex Grobman has an MA and Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in contemporary Jewish history.