Rewriting history, Abbas calls Israel a ‘colonial project’ unrelated to Judaism
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Palestinian leader sets out his thoughts on Zionism

Rewriting history, Abbas calls Israel a ‘colonial project’ unrelated to Judaism

In speech ignoring Jewish ties to holy land, PA head implies European Jews chose to die in Holocaust rather than go to Palestine; claims Ben-Gurion forced Mideast Jews to Israel

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council, a top decision-making body, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council, a top decision-making body, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday night implied European Jews during the Holocaust chose to undergo “murder and slaughter” over emigration to British-held Palestine, and alleged that the State of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion imported Jews from Yemen and Iraq to the country against their will.

The Palestinian leader further asserted that the State of Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” to safeguard European interests.

The PA leader delivered a mini-lecture on his understanding of the history of Zionism on Sunday, claiming the Jewish state deliberately stirred trouble in Arab countries in order to forcibly move Middle Eastern Jews into the sparsely populated nascent state.

Abbas, in his address, made no mention of the Jews’ historic presence and periods of sovereignty in the holy land. Israel is the only place where the Jews have ever been sovereign or sought sovereignty.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

The comments were made near the beginning of a two-and-a-half hour speech by the Palestinian leader to a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in Ramallah, which largely focused on a response to United States President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In response to the address, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday that Abbas had “lost his senses.”

“Colonialism created Israel to perform a certain function. It is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism, but rather used the Jews as a tool under the slogan of the Promised Land,” said Abbas, who added that he was borrowing from the scholarly work of Egyptian intellectual Abdel-Wahab El-Messiri. El-Messiri wrote an eight-volume Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism.

Once the State of Israel was created, Abbas maintained, Israeli leaders were hard-pressed to get Jews to immigrate to the country.

The Palestinian leader suggested the Jews of Europe — six million of whom would be killed by the Nazis — chose to remain in their home countries during the Holocaust, rather than emigrate.

“The Jews did not want to emigrate even with murder and slaughter. Even during the Holocaust, they did not emigrate. By 1948, Jews in Palestine were no more than 640,000, most of them from Europe,” he said.

In fact, from 1939 to 1945, the British mandatory authorities prevented almost all Jewish immigration to Palestine, at the behest of the Arab states.

In order to fill the nascent Jewish state, Abbas asserted, that Ben-Gurion begrudgingly began bringing Jews from Arab lands to Israel by force.

“Ben-Gurion did not want Middle Eastern Jews to come [to Israel]…but when he saw the vast land, he was forced to bring Middle Eastern Jews… that didn’t want to come. From Yemen they flew 50,000 Jews…They didn’t suffice with 50,000 Jews. Then they went to Iraq, which had large reserves of Jews,” said Abbas.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.

Illustrative: Jews of Aden awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Abbas claimed the Israelis cut deals with the Iraqi politicians “to take away the citizenship of Jews and force them to emigrate.”

“They did not suffice with this and gathered all the Jews in Arab countries, from Morocco to Algeria and Tunis, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon,” Abbas said.

The establishment of the Jewish state in 1949 was met with violent riots, looting, and attacks on local Jewish populations in countries throughout the Middle East, including Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.

Some 900,000 Jews fled, or were forced to flee, their homelands following the creation of the State of Israel. As a result, the Jewish population of the Middle East (excluding Israel) and North Africa shrank from 856,000 to just 4,400 today.

In his remarks, Abbas reiterated his demand that Britain apologize for its 1917 Balfour Declaration, which endorsed the idea of a Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Yet, according to the Palestinian leader, the history of the British-Jewish connection to Palestine actually reaches back to the rule of Oliver Cromwell in 1653.

“He thought of moving the Jews from Europe to the Middle East, to this region, because they wanted this region to be a frontier to protect convoys and interests coming from Europe to the East,” Abbas said of Cromwell, whose plan never came to fruition.

Abbas then traced the history of European colonialism in Palestine from Napoleon Bonaparte, who also said the Jews should have a state in their historic homeland, through American attempts to set up colonies in the 1850, first with local Palestinian Jews, then with American Christians.

Arriving at the story of Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern Zionism, Abbas said Herzl was primarily interested in setting up a Jewish homeland in order to aid European Jews. Focusing on the early Zionist slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land,” Abbas claimed the father of Zionism had called for genocide of the local Arab population.

Abbas alleged that when Herzl visited Palestine and saw people living there, the father of Zionism said: “We must wipe out the Palestinians from Palestine so that Palestine will be a land without a people for a people without a land.”

The Zionist leader is not known to have advocated for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Famous picture of Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland (photo credit: CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)
Famous picture of Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland (photo credit: CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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