by Rajnaara Akhtar (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 7, Rajab, 1426)
Palestine -- Beginner’s Guide by Ismail Adam Patel. Al-Aqsa Publishers, Leicester, 2005. Pp: 234, with more than 100 images and 50 maps.
By Rajnaara Akhtar
Ismail Adam Patel is a writer, speaker and activist on the question of Palestine, and has contributed to the debate since founding the Friends of Al-Aqsa organisation in 1997. His attachment to Palestine and Jerusalem stems from firsthand witness of the occupation and the resultant destruction of Palestinian society.
Palestine -- Beginner’s Guide is intended to be a simple history of the Holy Land that is so fiercely fought over today on a battleground of faith-based sectarianism. It traces the claims to the land of all three monotheistic faiths, covering the period from 6,000 BC to 2004 CE. While the history of Palestine is full of conflicting stories based on different scriptures and religious beliefs, Ismail Patel has concentrated on the facts arising from modern-day findings on historical civilisations, verses from the Bible, ayaat from the Qur’an for narratives of the ancients, Islamic tradition for the stories of prophets and messengers, and contemporary sources for the issues arising from the creation of Israel and the occupation of the Palestinians’ homeland.
The book is divided into 32 short chapters, looking briefly and succinctly at major aspects and influences in the history of Palestine in the first ten chapters; covering the ancient civilisations and superpowers, the Christian era, the Islamic era, the Crusades, the Mongol Invasion, the Mamluk period and the Ottoman Empire. The rest of the book is concerned with the Zionist movement, the establishment of Israel, and the Occupation.
The author sets out the events which eventually resulted in the establishment of Israel, clarifying the role of the British in promising Palestine to the Jewish people of Europe, and the UN’s complicity in all this. The founding of the Zionist movement and its somewhat secular ideology are explained, and the roles of major players in the movement, including Herzl, Weizmann and Lionel de Rothschild, are described and explained.
Israel’s birth was not a spontaneous and unpremeditated event in 1948, but a long-thought-out process spanning the first half of the twentieth century. The book traces the gradual migration of Jewish people to Palestine and the concentration of resources for the war of 1947-1948, for which the Arabs were very ill-prepared both in combat skills and in weaponry. This state of affairs has persisted to this day: the Palestinian resistance is woefully ill-equipped to challenge Israel’s army.
The key to Zionist domination in Palestine was the panicked departure of the Palestinian population and mass executions such the massacre of DeirYassin; these are discussed to explain why the Palestinians fled their homes in fear for their lives. Ismail Patel suggests that this was a deliberate ploy to frighten the original inhabitants of the land into taking flight; according to Patel, the oft-repeated myth, that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own accord with the encouragement of Arab leaders, is simply not true. To combat this ‘official Israeli account’, a number of well-documented massacres are listed and explained.
The book then moves to the political strategies adopted during Israel’s early years, its involvement in terrorism against Western states, and its expansionist ideology. The major power shift in the Middle East was set in motion by the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War (1967), after which Israel began its occupation of the West Bank, Ghazzah, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and parts of Southern Lebanon. This was when the UN Resolutions againstIsrael began in earnest, responding to Israel’s breaches of international law.
The book then goes on to cover other significant events, including the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), the war on Lebanon, and the first and secondintifadas, and the failed peace processes. Ismail Patel clarifies some common (indeed almost universal) misconceptions about the peace processes, such as the reality of “Barak’s generous offer” and why Yasser Arafat rejected it. The use of maps and images helps to explain the fallacy of the Israeli offer and the continued Palestinian resistance to conceding still more of their homeland in exchange for a dubious peace. The book concludes with a list of facts about the Palestinians’ lives under Israeli occupation (including a refugee count), prison populations, land confiscations and UN Resolutions againstIsrael.
With more than 100 images and 50 maps, the book is a straightforward read for people of all ages, providing easy references for teachers and researchers. Although some images are poor in quality, the overall effect is not lost and the wealth of facts demonstrates an immense depth of research. The unambiguous, straightforward language also aids understanding of the long and sometimes complex history of the universally agreed Holy Land. This book is an ideal introduction to the history and reality of Palestine, “the land that We have blessed” (al-Qur’an 21:81).