Op-Ed: Time for Israel to Help the Kurds
There is a people who, like the Jews, can trace their ancestry in their homeland back thousands of years. They are the Kurds, and it is highly instructive to review their remarkable history in conjunction with that of the Jews. It is also necessary to review the historical injustices imposed upon them over the centuries by hostile neighbors and empires.
Even though it lives in a terrible neighborhood and desperately seeks friends, Israel cannot and must not evade its unique responsibility towards the Kurdish people, who also suffer from the depredations of their hostile neighbors. The Jewish state must not ignore the Kurds, who remain stateless and shunned by the world and who seek, at last, the historic justice they have craved for centuries but been denied - an independent, sovereign state of their own.
Fact: There has never existed in all of recorded history an independent sovereign nation called Palestine - and certainly not an Arab one. The term "Palestine" has always been the name of a geographical territory, such as Siberia or Patagonia. It has never been a state.
Fact: On the other hand, Kurdistan with a population over 30,000,000, has an ancient history and an enduring nationhood scattered throughout northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
There are some twenty Arab states throughout the Middle East and North Africa, yet a hostile world demands that another Arab state be created within the mere forty miles separating the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan - within the territories of Judea and Samaria; the very biblical and ancestral Jewish heartland.
If this hostile world has its way, Israel, a territory no larger than the tiny principality of Wales or the state of New Jersey, would be forced to share this sliver of land with a new and hostile Arab entity to be called Palestine. The Jewish state would see its present narrow waist further reduced to a suicidal nine to 15 miles in width - what an earlier Israeli statesman, Abba Eban, described as the Auschwitz borders.
The shared history of the Jews and Kurds is unique. When the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken from their land by the Assyrians in 721-715 BC, biblical Israel was depopulated and its Jewish inhabitants deported to an area in the region of ancient Media and Assyria - a territory roughly corresponding to that of modern-day Kurdistan.
Assyria was, in turn, conquered by the Babylonians, which led to the eventual destruction of the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. The remaining two Jewish tribes were expelled to the same general area as that of their brethren from the northern kingdom.
When the Persian conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Jews to return to their ancestral lands, many Jews remained with their neighbors in Babylon.
The Babylonian Talmud refers in one section to the Jewish deportees from Judah receiving rabbinical permission to offer Judaism to the local population. The Kurdish royal house and a large segment of the general population in later years accepted the Jewish faith. Indeed, when the Jews rose up against Roman occupation in the 1st century AD, the Kurdish queen sent troops and provisions to support the embattled Jews.
By the beginning of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was firmly established in Kurdistan, and Kurdish Jews in Israel today speak an ancient form of Aramaic in their homes and synagogues.
It is interesting to note that several tombs of biblical Jewish prophets are to be found in or near Kurdistan. For example, the prophet Nachum is in Alikush, while Jonah's tomb can be found in Nabi Yunis, which is ancient Nineveh. Daniel's tomb is in the oil-rich Kurdistan province of Kirkuk; and Queen Hadassah, or Esther, along with her uncle Mordechai, are buried in Hamadan.
After the failed revolt against Rome, many rabbis found refuge in what is now Kurdistan. The rabbis joined with their fellow scholars, and by the 3rd century AD, Jewish academies were flourishing. Shortly after the Arab conquest in the 7th century, Jews from the autonomous Jewish state of Himyar, in what is today's Saudi Arabia, joined the Jews in the Kurdish regions. However, under the now-Muslim Arab occupation, matters worsened, and the Jews suffered as dhimmis.
In 1138, a boy was born into a family of Kurdish warriors and adventurers. His name was Salah-al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub - better known in the West as Saladin. He drove the Christian crusaders out of Jerusalem even though he was distrusted by the Muslim Arabs because he was a Kurd.
Saladin employed justice and humane measures in both war and peace. This was in contrast to the methods employed by the Arabs. Indeed, it is believed that Saladin not only was just to the Christians, but allowed the Jews to flourish in Jerusalem and is credited with finding the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, which had been buried under tons of rubbish during the Christian Byzantine occupation.
The great Jewish rabbi, philosopher, and doctor, Maimonides, was for a time Saladin's personal physician. Even then, the Arabs were aware of the close relationship that existed between the Kurdish people and the Jews.
Today the world clamors for a Palestinian Arab state but strangely turns its back upon Kurdish national independence and statehood. The universally accepted principle of self-determination seems not to apply to the Kurds.
The brutal fact in realpolitik is that the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians have many friends in the oil-rich Arab world - oil the world desperately needs for its economies. The Kurds, like the Jews, have few friends, and the Kurds have little or no influence in the international corridors of power.
The Kurds have their own unique language and culture, which the Palestinian Arabs do not have. They have had a sense of themselves as a distinct people for many centuries, which the Palestinian Arabs have not had. They have been betrayed repeatedly in the past 100 years by the international community and its promises, while the Palestinian Arabs have been betrayed only by their fellow Arabs. On the basis of pure realpolitik, the legality and morality of the Kurds' cause is infinitely stronger than that of the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians.
During the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were gassed and slaughtered in large numbers. They suffered ethnic cleansing by the Turks and continue to be oppressed by the present Turkish government. On the other hand, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds displayed great political and economic wisdom.
How different from the example of the Gazan Arabs who, when foolishly given full control over the Gaza Strip by Israel, chose not to build hospitals and schools, but instead bunkers and missile launchers. To this they have added the imposition of sharia law, with its attendant denigration of women and non-Muslims.
The Kurdish experiment, in at least the territory's current quasi-independence, has shown the world a decent society where all its inhabitants, men and women, enjoy far greater freedoms than can be found anywhere else in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, and certainly not in Iraq, which descended into ethnic chaos once the U.S. military left and is now fast disintegrating as a state.
The leaders of the free world should look to Kurdistan, with its oil reserves, as the new nation statethat needs to be created in the Middle East. It is simple and natural justice, which is far too long overdue.
A Palestinian Arab state, on the other hand, will immediately become a haven for anti-Western terrorism, a base for al-Qaeda and Hamas (the junior partner of the Muslim Brotherhood), and a non-democratic land carved out of the Jewish ancestral and biblical lands of Judea and Samaria upon which the stultifying shroud of sharia law will inevitably descend. In short, it will be established with one purpose: to destroy what is left of embattled Israel.
Israel tried to help the Kurds in 1961, when the Jewish state was the only nation to actively support Kurdish aspirations. According to Mordechai Nisan in his book Minorities in the Middle East, published by McFarlane in 2002, in 1966 the Kurdish leader, Mustafa Barzani, told a visiting Israeli emissary, Arieh Lova Eliav, that “in truth, only the Jews cared about the Kurds.”
Mr. Nisan also added that in 1980, Menachem Begin revealed that "from 1965 to 1975 Israel provided weapons and military advisors to the Kurdish resistance fighting against powerful Arab enemies." Regrettably, the United States, which had also been supporting the Kurds, ended its assistance in 1975, essentially forcing Israel to do the same.
Finally, it is also natural justice for the Jewish State to fight in the world's forums for the speedy establishment of an independent and proud Kurdistan, with its Kurdish population of over 30,000,000, scattered throughout northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
An enduring alliance between Israel and Kurdistan would be a vindication of history, a recognition of the shared sufferings of both peoples, and bring closer the advent of a brighter future for both non-Arab nations.
It is the Kurds who unreservedly deserve a state and now is the time. The invented Palestinian Arabs have forfeited that right by their illegitimate claims to the Jewish homeland as well as by their relentless aggression, crimes, and genocidal intentions towards Israel and the Jews.
Victor Sharpe is a freelance writer and author of the trilogy Politicide: The attempted murder of the Jewish state.