Defining Neighbors

Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter

Jonathan Marc Gribetz
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    Defining Neighbors
    Book Description:

    As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, aspiring peacemakers continue to search for the precise territorial dividing line that will satisfy both Israeli and Palestinian nationalist demands. The prevailing view assumes that this struggle is nothing more than a dispute over real estate.Defining Neighborsboldly challenges this view, shedding new light on how Zionists and Arabs understood each other in the earliest years of Zionist settlement in Palestine and suggesting that the current singular focus on boundaries misses key elements of the conflict.

    Drawing on archival documents as well as newspapers and other print media from the final decades of Ottoman rule, Jonathan Gribetz argues that Zionists and Arabs in pre-World War I Palestine and the broader Middle East did not think of one another or interpret each other's actions primarily in terms of territory or nationalism. Rather, they tended to view their neighbors in religious terms-as Jews, Christians, or Muslims-or as members of "scientifically" defined races-Jewish, Arab, Semitic, or otherwise. Gribetz shows how these communities perceived one another, not as strangers vying for possession of a land that each regarded as exclusively their own, but rather as deeply familiar, if at times mythologized or distorted, others. Overturning conventional wisdom about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gribetz demonstrates how the seemingly intractable nationalist contest in Israel and Palestine was, at its start, conceived of in very different terms.

    Courageous and deeply compelling,Defining Neighborsis a landmark book that fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter and of the Middle East conflict today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5265-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Transliterations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On the final Saturday of October 1909, two members of Palestine’s intellectual elite met for an interview in Jerusalem. Eliezer (Perelman) Ben-Yehuda, fifty-one at the time, had immigrated to Palestine from Russian Lithuania nearly thirty years earlier. Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi, eight years Ben-Yehuda’s junior, was born in Jerusalem, though he spent much of his adult life outside of Palestine, in France and Istanbul. These men had much in common, aside from their shared city. Both had received traditional religious educations—Ben-Yehuda in the Hasidic Jewish world of Eastern Europe, al-Khalidi in the Sunni Muslim environment of Ottoman Palestine—and, like...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Locating the Zionist-Arab Encounter: Local, Regional, Imperial, and Global Spheres
    (pp. 15-38)

    When Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda sat together that Saturday in October 1909, they met in Jerusalem.Where, though, was Jerusalem in the autumn of 1909? Attempting to answer this seemingly simple question is in fact a complicated task, and the challenge highlights the numerous geographical, social, cultural, political, and intellectual levels of encounter that are studied in this book. The following pages place Jerusalem in its local setting in Palestine, and Palestine more broadly in its Ottoman, Middle Eastern, and European contexts. As we shall see, the categories of religion and race employed by the communities of Palestine...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi’s “as-Sayūnīzm”: An Islamic Theory of Jewish History in Late Ottoman Palestine
    (pp. 39-92)

    Eliezer Ben-Yehuda published his interview of Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi for the readers of Ben-Yehuda’s Hebrew daily newspaperha-Ẓevi.¹ In the interview, al-Khalidi rejected the creation of Jewish colonies in Palestine and, while he would support the rights of individual Jews to immigrate if they were to accept Ottoman citizenship and assimilate into the Arab environment, he vigorously denounced mass Jewish nationalist immigration to Palestine.² While the exchange recorded inha-Ẓevicertainly reveals al-Khalidi’s hostility toward Zionism, it also offers other insights into how these two men understood one another, and the peoples they represented.

    For Ben-Yehuda, al-Khalidi was a respected...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Concerning Our Arab Question”? Competing Zionist Conceptions of Palestine’s Natives
    (pp. 93-130)

    In a 1913 internal Zionist memorandum, “Concerning Our Arab Question,” the Galician-born Hebrew writer and educator Yehoshua Radler-Feldmann, who had immigrated to Palestine in 1907, explained that “in Palestine we can hear two contradictory opinions: the one underrating the Arab question, the other perhaps exaggerating it.”¹ Indeed, in the final years of Ottoman rule in Palestine, there was regular discussion in Zionist circles about what it meant for Zionist ambitions that there were hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish natives in the Land of Israel.² Radler-Feldmann’s simple assertion, however, was not merely a description of reality; it was aninterpretationof...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Imagining the “Israelites”: Fin de Siècle Arab Intellectuals and the Jews
    (pp. 131-184)

    “Among the peculiarities of history is that Egypt has today become a place of refuge for the Jews coming from Palestine,” notes the author of “The Jews and the War,” an article published during the First World War in the Egypt-based Arabic journalal-Hilāl. After all, “in antiquity,” the author elaborates, “Palestine was the place of refuge for those who escaped after their exodus from Egypt.”¹ During the Great War, many Jews fled Palestine while others were expelled by the Ottoman authorities who were suspicious of all nationalist activity within their realm.² Between 1914 and 1915, in the months before...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Translation and Conquest: Transforming Perceptions through the Press and Apologetics
    (pp. 185-234)

    One could hardly fathom a more evocative example of the complex role of language and translation in the encounter between Zionists and Arabs in Late Ottoman Palestine: an urgent call in Hebrew by a Palestine-born, Arabic-speaking Sephardic Zionist for a Hebrew translation of an Arabic translation prepared by a Palestine-born Christian Arab of an English text by a British-born Ashkenazic American Zionist. The three individuals involved in this 1911 affair are already familiar to us from previous chapters. The original, English text in question was Richard Gottheil’s 1906 entry on “Zionism” in theJewish Encyclopedia, one of the main sources...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-248)

    Ultimately this book has explored the ways in which the categories of religion and race functioned within a complex of categories used by Zionists and Arabs to define one another in the increasingly nationalizing environment of Late Ottoman Palestine and the broader region. I have argued that while there were deep concerns about land in the encounter between these communities, the parties related to one another not as perfect strangers competing for territory, but rather as groups with intertwined histories, cultures, beliefs, even blood. These points of intersection and commonality could at times produce a sense of shared interests while...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-268)
  13. Index
    (pp. 269-288)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-290)