Professor Elaine Hagopian
Book Review by Professor Elaine CHagopian
Holy Land Studies (Edinburgh University Press). May2005, Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp. 101-103.
Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, Sharing the land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle, (Pluto Press: London & Ann Arbor). 2004.
Mazin Qumsiyeh has written an extraordinary book in which he provides a meticulously-researched and demonstratively compelling case for a single democratic, secular and pluralistic state in Canaan. He prefers Canaan to Israel and/or Palestine, both of which are burdened with emotional baggage. Canaan is historical and “neutral”. Qumsiyeh states the purpose of his book is “ … to provide a vision for peace based on human rights supported by international law.” In pursuit of that vision Qumsiyeh clears the way by providing documented and comprehensive responses to all of the issues put forth by Zionists to demonize Palestinians and deny them their legal and moral rights. These include Jewish/Zionist mythological claims to the land dating back 2000 years before the alleged Jewish diaspora; Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem; violence and terrorism; and the actual cause of the failure of so-called peace plans, especially Oslo. He also addresses, head on, the assertion by Zionists that Zionism is the answer to anti-semitism and that Israel is a democracy. He notes that Israel uses these two constructed images to “justify” its violation of humanitarian and international law in “defense” of Israelis and Israel.
Qumsiyeh has pulled together a wealth of existing data on the various issues and applies his keen analytical mind to them. The result is an enlightening clarity which exposes the absurdity of Zionist claims. Starting with the original inhabitants of Canaan he concludes, based on the many sources he consulted, that these Semitic-speaking, multiethnic, and multi-religious communities shared Canaan collaboratively and peacefully then, and they can do so today. He demolishes the Zionist claims of a single Jewish origin in Canaan by demonstrating that Ashkenazi Jews (European), dominant in Israel today, do not share genetic affinity with Oriental Jews. Therefore, the Ashkenazis’ assertion of a “rightful” return to an alleged ancient Israel is faulty. On the other hand, Oriental Jews and Palestinian Arabs do share genetic affinity. He draws the conclusion that Palestinian/Israeli coexistence is possible especially when knowledge of this genetic “kinship” becomes known along with the present realities on the ground. Nonetheless he insists that Ashkenazi Jews now live in Canaan, and the foundation for coexistence includes them.
Having clarified the historical context, Qumsiyeh follows with chapters that systematically take on all the issues and excuses which Israel and its US supporters have argued to stymie efforts for a durable peace. His final chapter fleshes out his vision for a durable peace based on human rights and international law. He makes it clear that attempts at a solution, which are not rooted in human rights and international law, have been and will be doomed to fail. He encourages Palestinians, Israelis and others of like mind to form the nucleus of a movement to educate and advocate for democratic secular state in Canaan based on equality and mutual respect.
As other serious scholars, he attributes the failure of Oslo Israeli determination to force Palestinians to accept cantonal Bantustans and other degrading features, and to reject legal Palestinian refugee rights . Sovereignty in any meaningful way was precluded. Such unjust “peace” efforts will not produce a durable peace but will continue to generate Palestinian resistance to Israeli subservience.
Throughout his book, Qumsiyeh draws on comparative cases of issues such as refugees and citizens’ rights which were settled in accordance with human rights and international law. He asks, “why not the same for Palestinians?” His analysis makes the double standards applied to Palestinians stand out in relief.
Qumsiyeh argues convincingly that by denying the rights of refugees, attempting to maintain control over the 1967 territories and violating Palestinian human rights, Israel has made a travesty of humanitarian and international law. No peace can be had if the full set of Palestinian rights is not addressed and if Israel continues imprison Palestinians behind an extended wall. He further notes that the interconnectedness of Israeli and Palestinian societies and the numerically near equal demographics between both peoples make it impossible today to pursue a two-state solution. Logic and morality drive toward a one-state solution constituted carefully to insure equality of all citizens and to safeguard cultural and religious rights. His analysis demonstrates conclusively that his vision is logical, feasible, and inevitable no matter how long it takes
I do have one minor observation. On page 149, Qumsiyeh gives the impression that the British Mandate officially began in 1920 by stating that Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner of Palestine (1920-25) replaced the British military governor in Palestine “as soon as Britain had secured the League of Nations mandate….” In actuality, it was the Supreme Council of the Allies at the San Remo Peace Conference that conferred the Mandate for Palestine to Britain on April 25, 1920. The League of Nations was approved in January 1920 by the Versailles peace conference, but it did not exist as such when Ottoman territories were transferred. The League of Nations Council approved the British Mandate for Palestine on July 24, 1922. The Mandate itself was officially put into effect on September 29, 1923. True, the military administration of Palestine was replaced when Samuel, himself a Zionist, was appointed High Commissioner in July1920, but the League Mandate had not been secured at that time. Nonetheless, with Samuel’s appointment in 1920, a shadow British Mandate was de facto initiated.
My minor observation in no way compromises the extraordinary scholarship demonstrated in the book and the originality of its contribution. Qumsiyeh has given us a real road map to a durable peace. He provides a factual foundation rooted in Palestinian/Israeli reality for pursuing a just peace for all people living in modern-day Canaan. I recommend this book to others without any qualification as the most sophisticated analysis of the Palestine/Israel conflict I have experienced to date. Its form and style make it accessible to interested readers. His work is a tour de force for which he must be congratulated and thanked.
Dr. Elaine C. Hagopian
Professor Emerita of Sociology
Simmons College, Boston