Saladin and the current Arab-Israeli Conflict

October 2, 1187: Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and leader of the Muslim forces battling the Crusaders in the Holy Land, captured the city of Jerusalem. Interestingly, this anniversary was only covered by two newspapers, Haaretz and al-Hayat. While Haaretz managed to shed some light on the narrative of the battle and how the city was captured, the Arabic article was more interested in Saladin, the leader, including his character and what lessons we can learn from him.

The fascination with Saladin is very old, though the Arab-Israeli conflict has raised it to a new level: now, we hear of him in movies and soap operas, not to mention fiery rants from religious scholars and political leaders who consistently push Saladin in their argument about “the liberation” of Jerusalem.

Undoubtedly, Saladin was an exceptional leader, not just as a military commander who was victorious over his enemies. Saladin was also a knight and chivalrous warrior leading many of his enemies to look to the Arabs with appreciation and fairness. However, I am not sure that Saladin is relative to the Palestinian cause. In fact, I think the fascination with Saladin reflects how many Arabs drew wrong parallels between the crusaders of the past and the Zionists in the present. Crusaders never claimed a historical link—unlike the Zionists—to the holy land and they were equally hostile to the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople (that initially controlled Jerusalem before the Arabs).

For years, I followed bitter arguments among Arabs about Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict; many openly or quietly subscribe to an oversimplified claim that Zionists ( just like the Crusaders) are a colonial power that has to be kicked out of the land. Others are for a one-state solution and ironically, do not withstand the Israelis with whom they want to unite. There are a few pragmatics who still support the two-state solution, but observed the decline of the Oslo-agreement and the current unfavorable environment that discourages any future negotiation.

All groups are not willing to dig deep in the psychological barriers that seem to be the main obstacles against solving the century-old conflict, the perspective of each side, and not even interested to differentiate the current conflict from previous ones that may look similar. In this context, I would like to highlight a few simple facts:

Firstly, Israel is not French Algeria or Moorish Spain; both had native countries (France and Islamic Morocco) that sponsored and protected the settlers of the disputed land. The United States is certainly not equivalent to the previous examples. The ranting of Netanyahu in the United Nations General Assembly and his bomb diagram proves my assertion.

Second, South Africa is another false example to follow for many reasons: The blacks of South Africa did not demand the right of return to the land confiscated by white Africana, and they never viewed the rest of Africa as a strategic depth that can protect and sponsor them. They also had a leader who offered reconciliation, a concept that is currently rejected by many Arabs and Israelis.

In addition, Israel/ Palestine have neither Saladin nor Richard Lion Heart, the kinds of leaders who are willing to fight each other until a decisive victory by one side; nor the Mandela-de Klerk type, who are willing to solve the crisis peacefully and initiate reconciliation. Instead, we have myths and apocalyptic assumptions: the champion on the white horse, who will liberate Jerusalem, versus “the villa” (Israel) that would be destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Yesterday, there was an interesting debate between Khalid Elgindy (Brooking institute) and Jonathon Schanzer (Foundation of defense of Democracies) on my Twitter timeline. These debates is essential, but I think it important to answer the question of empathy that – I think— lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict before discussing any solution: Are both sides willing to accept each other? If yes, then the Mandela formula may work, but if the answer is no—which if honesty is a virtue, we should admit that it is the right answer—then let’s be frank with ourselves and admit it. Only then, the two-state solution may look appealing and convincing despite the “painful compromises” that may be needed.  Otherwise, we have to wait for long time for the repeat of Saladin’s moment in 1187 that may or may not happen.

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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23 Responses to Saladin and the current Arab-Israeli Conflict

  1. jamesvand2 says:

    It’s refreshing to find someone that knows what they are talking about when it comes to the middle east.


  2. Nervana, I think you are missing a couple of very important points.

    One, as someone who has been involved with trying to solve this problem and knows not only “my side” but the Arab side as well, I can say that the people of our little region of Israel/WB are willing to live with each other, and let bygones be bygones.

    Two – The Jews in Israel will not accept any kind of “One State” solution. This is being brought up (correctly from their view) by all those who share the vision of a Middle East without “foreigners”. If someone wishes, I can elaborate on this.

    Three – Anyone who looks at the map (this is a bad problem when people speak about “two states”, but have no idea at best, or do not care enough to actually look at the map and read it) can see that there is no room for a viable Palestinian state in the WB.

    Four – while the world slept, Israel has become not only a economic power, a vastly superior military power which has hi-tech capabilities that are not known about which will only be used facing a strategic threat – but has most importantly built a strong society. Israeli leaders (and its economic elite) may act stupid, may make mistakes, may even have a degree of corruption, but they are strongly unified by a common wish: to continue to strengthen this country in all directions.

    Do I need mention the latest huge discoveries of gas – discoveries that Israel has played down, but will be used to power the next generations?

    As such – I am trying to push forward the “simple” solution that all those besides those who:

    1. Dream for the death of Israel
    2. Work for Peace and are making tons of money – as long as there is never any peace (politicians, journalists, org workers, peace orgs, etc)
    3. Are named King Hussein

    This solution is to take all of the land of the British mandate, Israel/West Bank/Jordan and split this large area into two states, along the Jordan river with Palestinian cantons in the WB.

    These two states will live under one federation which will have a common secular constitution and bill of rights. There will be a system of the sharing of all natural resources and sea ports.

    The Palestinian state will be where all Palestinians in the Diaspora will be allowed rights, just as Jews from the Diaspora in Israel and will be entitled to a system of reparations.

    The federation will allow for a military of both states with federal cooperation between them both.

    Religion, while not having any political power or connection to the states or federation, will be sanctioned by law. Religious coercion will not be allowed.

    I see such a federation surging ahead with prosperity for all involved. I hope I do not have to explain what a real peace will mean for this region.

    I expect that within 10 years, most states in the Middle East will be lining up to join …

    Zvi Lando


  3. @RoccoKlein says:

    Nervana, one question: who, on a whole, do you think is more open to the other’s claims and narrative: israelis or palestinians?


  4. Interesting proposal, Zvi, but I think it may be even more difficult to achieve than the two-state solution.


  5. sophi37 says:

    Insightful comparisons (and differences) in history.


  6. Carlos Baran says:

    The bottom line is that Iran does not obtain Nuclear weapons. Loved your insight, but Islam extremists intend for one thing only, to destroy Israel and bring the World back to the 9th century, and enforce sharia law on all non-believers of Islam. It’s too late for talking, sadly, but I hope your in a safe place.


  7. nervana111 says:

    Never too late. As long I am still breathing, I will talk, write and try to expose extremism and pray for peace.


  8. ahmad says:

    Muslims are not trying to enfore the sharia and that bull shit that just came ouf of Carlos mouth , you can’t understand that cause u are brain washed by zionists media companies , it’s as simple as that , Isreal was built by genocides , do you even realize how many innocent arabs that israel have killed during the past years ??? , not to mention destroying the image of islam by their media and conspiracies


    • nervana111 says:

      Pardon me, who is Carlos. No mention in my piece of that name.


      • carlos baran says:

        Learn how to spell & read, and then maybe you will understand, who is really brainwashed and how many Jews & Christians have been killed by Muslims & friends over the last few centuries. Please don’t e-mail again Thx


      • ahmad says:

        carlos the guy that posted before me


    • ahmad says:

      carlos listen :
      1- insulting my english is really stupid cause english is my secondsary language
      2-i can easily correct my mistakes ,and write a better constructed english , i was just trying to make u understand the idea fast cause i don’t have much time
      3- i read more than you
      4-writing with a good english vocab doesn’t mean your right
      5- i feel sorry for you my friend , i hope one day your going to see the truth that the american government have hidden from you.


    • ahmad says:

      Muslims did not kill anybody , those muslims they make you see on tv , you know the ones who blow themselves ? these are created and supported by the american government , they have nothing to do with the real islam. I can bring you facts about isrealli genocides if u don’t believe me . maybe ur just racist and don’t like arabs ?? maybe … i have lots of christian friends and i know some jews who don’t support israel . Think about it carlos , the USA have existed 200 years and already started 10 major wars against arabs and other nationalities . I suggest you watch videos of george carlin and read books from an arab point of view , maybe you’ll understand.


  9. ahmad says:

    Muslims are not trying to enforce the sharia and that bull shit that just came out of Carlos mouth , the idea came out of people who are brain washed by zionists media companies , Israel was built by genocides on the blood on many arabs who only wanted a land to live , do you even realize how many innocent arabs that israel have killed during the past years ??? , not to mention destroying the image of islam by their media and conspiracies. They ruined everything , this world is now ruled by zionists corporations , our societies is full of materialistic people ruled by corrupted politicians , everything that’s happening is to protect and serve israel , the united states have launched 5 major wars on arabs causing death and destruction , is this how you spread democracy ?, all the USA wars were started for two reasons fuel and control over the arab world . the Isrealli government is trying to make you abhor muslims so you won’t feel bad when they kill them , it is not the zionists land , it is as simple as that , this land belongs to palestinians and jews are welcome to live with all arabs , but you have to understand that zionists doesn’t want peace it’s a culture based on hate , corruption and death . They have created those muslims extremists (who are not true muslims ) to make you abhor islam cause it’s a religion that stands against corruption if u like it or not , everything u hear on the media about islam is WRONG , it’s all a big lie and u believed it . The zionists and i don’t call them jews are no different then the crusaders , why can’t arab people have the right to live in the eastern lands alone , just like Americans , Europeans lived happily alone in the western lands without any control from foreign people . YOU look at the middle east and it’s full of puppet arab governments who keeps supporting the zionists corrupted system you have to admit and free your mind , stop listening to the media , every information you receive from the media is being manipulated and controlled by Zionists. Israel existence is a spit in the face of humanity , you haven’t seen how isrealli soldiers torture innocent arab civilians stripping them of their homes and their children in gaza and lebanon . in 2006 not so long ago isrealli forces caused 3 genocides in south of lebanon , i am trying to show you that they are murderers brain washed people who doesn’t have any humanity left in their hearts. There’s is no religious cause here , the jew religion is being used by corporations and politicians who wants more for themselves and less for everybody else , do no get fooled , it’s all bull shit the system we live in is trying everyday to tell us that the good guys are winning the cops and government are on your side , israel is the protector of all that is good and holy , this is pure american bull shit ideas.


  10. ahmad says:

    Fight your illusions


  11. ahmad says:

    SO the american government is allowed to have nuclear weapons along with israel but iran can’t ??? wow how fair ! , take all nuclear weapons away not just from a specific country , fairness !


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  13. Johnb513 says:

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