Professor Alan Dowty discusses new book detailing Israel-Palestine conflict
Christopher Parker | Friday, February 21, 2020
Alan Dowty, a faculty fellow at the Kroc Institute, addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its roots in a discussion of his new book, “Arabs and Jews in Ottoman Palestine” on Thursday. Dowty showcased his research in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.
Dowty traces the dispute back to 1882, specifically the arrival of a strange group of foreigners.
“My basic thesis is that the East / West, or if you like, the European / Middle East cultural clash is at the center of this,” he said.
Dowty’s thesis explores the escalation of conflict during two waves of Jewish immigration to Ottoman Palestine, called “aliya.” Dowty said the second wave saw themselves as the pioneers of Jewish Israel. Because of this, the second aliya has received most historical attention.
“The second aliya was very assertive as opposed to the first aliya,” Dowty said. “They were opposed to Arab labor in the Jewish settlements, which created a great deal of conflict, and therefore, this is where it begins, so a lot of historians say.”
Historical accounts from the first aliya reveal their own pattern of dispute, which undercuts the claim that these tensions began in the 20th century. Dowty argued that the reason this violence goes unexamined is because of its scale.
“The first aliya clashes with Arabs did not have any bearing on political relations with the Arabs as a body,” he said.
Rather than when immigrants arrived, Dowty believes the European attitude of emigrating Jews consistently motivated antagonism between Jews and Arabs, across both of the aliyas. He quoted early Zionist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who saw Jewish emigration as a civilizing mission, believing Arabs to be “impoverished paupers and total illiterates.”
“This is positive, this gives meaning to what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re bringing civilization to a backward part of the world. [This is] what I call the benefit theory: the idea that they were bringing the benefits of Western civilization to this area of the world. This was the main rationale that Zionists adopted. Zionists were European.”
The relationship between Europeans and the dying Ottoman Empire was not a friendly one, Dowty said.
“Among the population, big surprise — hostility toward Europeans, going back to the crusades, which they never forgot,” he said.
The Jewish immigrants, on the other hand, had no plans for assimilating, Dowty said.
“This was the one place in the world where they went because they didn’t have to adjust to somebody else,” Dowty said. “They will form their own society, they will become a majority and all will be well.”
For Dowty, the conflict began the moment European Jews arrived in Palestine without regard for the culture already in place. He cited several examples that support his case.
“What happens with the non-European Jews, the Sephardi? People who have lived in the Ottoman empire for two generations who are culturally a part of it? Well, they were very critical of European Zionists,” Dowty said. “Two of the early settlements were of Sephardic Jews, and neither had significant problems with their neighbors.”
He also discussed the German Protestant immigrant populations who were not Jewish but also faced hostility among Arabic neighbors. Together with his observations about struggles during the first aliya, Dowty believes this conflict must have began as a clash of cultures.
“One of the Jewish teachers … said that the natives of the land respect no one who does not speak Arabic. And that’s generally true,” he said.