In his 1984 bestseller, “The Haj” (Doubleday, NY), Leon Uris captured the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict through his two protagonists: Haj Ibrahim, muktar of the village of Tabah in the Ayalon Valley of Mandatory Palestine, and Gideon Asch, a pre-Israel Palestinian Jew, whose familiarity with Arab life, language and culture made him an honorary Bedouin.
Uris’ dialogue astutely reveals the vast differences between the Arab and Jewish mindsets – deeply rooted in their cultural differences. Uris focuses on the Jewish liberal, cosmopolitan culture of openness, practicality, compromise, and humanism in contrast to the unforgiving desert culture of the Arabs, where betrayal, distrust, hate and vengeance are commonplace.
As the story unfolds, we discover that the Jews of a kibbutz (called “Shemesh”), who bought land from an absentee Arab-Muslim landowner, had also bought the water rights, and that water had previously served the neighboring Arab village of Tabah.
An angry Arab villager from Tabah enters the Kibbutz Shemesh with the intention of stealing something and killing someone if possible. Caught stealing by a young girl from the kibbutz, he tries to rape her and beat her, but her screams cause him to flee.
The story takes place against the background of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. These murderous riots, incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini (Hitler’s ally), rocked all of Mandatory Palestine.
Asch, secretary general of the kibbutz, and Haj Ibrahim meet alone and a dialogue ensues. Asch says, “We should be proud. The valley stayed peaceful during the riots.” Ibrahim replies, “Who had a choice, your hand controls the valve on our water.”
Asch asks, “Suppose we did not have the water arrangement. Would you have encouraged your people to riot?” Ibrahim answers, “During the summer heat my people become frazzled. They worry about the autumn harvest. They are drained. They are pent up. They must explode. Nothing directs their frustration like Islam. Hatred is holy in this part of the world. It is also eternal. If they become inflamed, I am but a muktar. I cannot stand against the tide.”
Ibrahim continues, “You see Gideon that is why you are fooling yourselves. You don’t know how to deal with us. For years, decades, we may seem to be at peace with you, but always in the back of our minds we keep up the hope of vengeance. No dispute is ever really settled in our world. The Jews give us special reason to continue warring.”
Gideon: “Do we deal with the Arabs by thinking like Arabs ourselves?”
Ibrahim: “You cannot think like an Arab. You personally, maybe, but not your people, I’ll give an example. There is a clause in our water agreement we did not ask for. It says the agreement can be terminated only if it were proved that someone from Tabah committed a crime against you.”
What Ibrahim is saying here is that, were the situation reversed, the Arabs would shut off the water to the kibbutz, and let the Jews die of thirst.
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