As an orthopedic surgeon for 30 years in Washington, D.C., I see patients from all over the world and from every walk of life. What has become clear to me is that everyone is fundamentally the same. As a rule, I shy away from political or religious discussions with my patients, as they have no bearing on their care. But occasionally, the discussions are thrust on me.
Several years ago I treated a professor of political science from a local university and had established a good rapport with him. On his last visit before saying goodbye, he popped a question.
“You are a very kind, thoughtful and ethical man. Are you Jewish?” he asked.
When I told him I was, he asked, “Then how can you live with the unlawful Zionist occupation of Palestine?”
Taken aback, I knew that I simply couldn’t dismiss him outright nor would I be able to quickly sway him with counter arguments.
So, I asked him a question in return: “How long have people lived at the western end of the Fertile Crescent?”
The answer is more than 9,000 years, and in all that time, more than 30 nationalities have claimed that sliver of land along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as their own, having achieved hegemony over it for a period of time. Its position as the major crossroads between Asia and Africa has made it so. So, if that were the case, by what right does one nationality claim exclusive eternal rights to that entire land?
For Muslims, the worldview is that because the Prophet Mohammad is the “last prophet,” the entire world must eventually accept his mission — much the same way the Christians and Jews feel about their messiahs. Only then can the world achieve peace in the “brotherhood of man.”
The world is thus divided into two realms: 1) Dar al Islam, lands that have already been brought under Islam’s sway, and 2) Dar al Harb or Dar al Jihad, lands that are yet to be so, i.e. the rest of the world.
Under Islamic law, any lands that have already been “liberated” by the forces of Islam through history, either by force or peaceful means, may never revert back to rule by “non-believers.”
Although the best known flashpoint is the Israeli “occupation” of “Muslim” lands, the same can be said for Spain, also known as “Al Andalus.” And Southern France, which was conquered by Islamic armies in the late 7th century and was ruled by Muslims for 700 years until the end of the 15th century, when the last of the Muslim Moors were ejected from Spain in a 200-year effort to reconquer the land for Christianity. The same can be said for southeastern Europe, Albania, the former Yugoslavia and even parts of Hungary. At its zenith, Muslim armies reached to outside the gates of Vienna.
Anyone who believes that Muslims are at peace with the re-conquest of those lands by Christian Europe is simply naïve. Note the conflict between Muslim Bosnia and Kosovo and Christian Serbia. I have spoken to many Muslims who fully expect that eventually, Al Andalus will revert back to Muslim rule. If this is the case, how could “land for peace” or a “two-state solution” be possible as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Muslims are taught from childhood that Jews have no valid narrative that ties them to that piece of real estate. In fact, Muslims consider Jewish political domination of Palestine as nothing more than a temporary political aberration of history that must be reversed at the earliest possible time, and have never relinquished claims on the entire country for a moment since Israel’s inception on May 15, 1948, known by Muslims worldwide as “Al Naqba,” the catastrophe, a day that shall live in infamy.
So back to my patient. I asked him what his definition of occupation was. His response was “the unlawful military seizure and settling of land that belongs to another people.”
I asked then: “Is all occupation illegal? Is there a statute of limitations to this illegality?”
His response is that there was no statute and that all occupation is illegal. Where did he live? “Fairfax, Va.,” was his reply. I then asked if he or his family had any historical claim to that land? He responded that there was none, as he was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had emigrated from the Middle East 25 years prior.
I asked him whether he realized that he was living on land that for 10,000 years belonged to the Cherokee, Iroquois and Monacan Indian Nations and that they had been driven off their lands by military force without compensation, forced into what amounted to refugee camps called “reservations” which they have been living in for about 150 years. He was the latest occupier of that land.
He responded that those people were nowhere to be found. I suggested that he visit the Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, and he would find out that all these tribes are still living all over Virginia in these reservations.
So finally, I asked him, “As an ethical and sensible person, how do you justify living on Native American land, and had you ever made the slightest effort to recompense these tribes for their land that you’re living on, especially since you have no historical claim to that land? How does it feel to be an occupier?” He had no answer.
When will it be common knowledge that the conflict in the Middle East is nothing more at its heart than a land dispute between two nationalities with equal but contrasting narratives?
In most left-leaning universities in the United States, students are being exposed to just one of the valid narratives, that of the Palestinians. Not only is that intellectually dishonest, but it will ultimately be counterproductive to the cause of peace.
Leo Rozmaryn, M.D., is a reconstructive hand and microvascular surgeon and author of the Jewish historical fiction novel “Lone Soldier.”