The Kingdom of Jerusalem
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain.
The existence of the state of Israel is a constant obsession for the Muslim world in general, and the Arab world in particular, but apart from harping on about the evils of Zionism and the daily atrocities meted out to the Palestinian people, it seems very little thought has been given to the actual nature of the state of Israel and its historical antecedents. This is crucial because if we are to determine the shape of the future, we must first understand the past. In other words, we need to find a historical precedent for the state of Israel. Luckily one such clear precedent exists in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and as we shall see, the similarities between the ancient Crusader kingdom and the modern state of Israel are uncanny.
The first crusades were launched in 1095 AD by European Christians with the original aim of assisting the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks. However, the aim soon changed to the capture (or recapture as the crusaders saw it) of the Holy Land. The Kingdom of Jerusalem came into existence with the bloody capture of Jerusalem in July of 1099 and from then on expanded to include several Mediterranean port cities. Just as the original aim of the crusades was not the capture of Jerusalem, so was the original aim of the Zionist movement simply to provide a homeland for the Jewish people, with no particular mention of the Holy Land. In both cases, this quickly changed.
The crusaders sensed Arab weakness and moved in. So did the Zionists sense the ease with which they could seize control of Palestine, and thus from 1880 onwards a slow and steady process of immigration to Palestine was begun with the aim of changing the very demographics of the area before the eventual declaration of independence in 1947 (?) The end result in both cases was the same: the capture of Jerusalem and its surrounding areas by a non-indigenous power. In the case of the crusades the invaders were European Franks and in the modern example the bulk of the Zionist settlers were Ashkenazim (European Jewry). In both cases, the fall of Jerusalem sent a shockwave through the Arab world and led, initially at least, to a general military mobilization and in the long-term to an increase in political Islamist thought.
After the fall of Jerusalem, the Crusaders pursued an expansionary policy that mirrors the land gains made by Israel in the last 50 odd years. The land surrounding Jerusalem was quickly captured and then preparations were made to fight off the inevitable Arab counterattacks which came from largely two directions: The Fatimids in Egypt for one and Damascus and Mosul in the Northeast for another. In the case of Israel, the Arab invasions followed the historical patterns, with Egypt, Syria and Jordan mobilizing to crush the newly founded state. Both military actions failed and the Crusader state survived, as did Israel.
From then on, after the failure of several attempts to dislodge the invaders, the surrounding Arab kingdoms began to come to terms with the changed situation. In fact, many local Muslim rulers made alliances with the Crusaders, whose initial religious zeal had begun to give way to pragmatism. This is truer of those crusaders who settled in the new kingdom and began, slowly but surely, to imbibe local customs and traditions. Becoming quickly accustomed to politics in the Middle East, they often were called upon by the local Arab rulers to aid them in their internecine feuds and made liberal use of the cult of the Assassins as was the custom among their Arab neighbours. Thus, the Crusaders were able to exploit Muslim disunity in order to strengthen their own position.
Alliances with the Crusaders came at a serious price however. Not only were those rulers branded as infidels and collaborators by their political opponents, they also had to deal with the simmering resentment of their own subjects, who were undoubtedly swayed by the propaganda against their rulers. Naturally, much of this rhetoric was intended to deflect discontent in their own populations, but as a result there a began a slow but inevitable process of radicalization among the population of the Middle East, which was speeded by every new defeat and every new alliance made by the Muslim rulers with the kingdom of Jerusalem. And while initially there were those who may have accepted the existence of the kingdom, these voices became increasingly marginalized as time went by.
The similarity of this situation with the present one cannot be overlooked. The initial reaction to Israel was nationalistic in nature, and the states that originally opposed Israel were headed by governments that were largely secular and overtly nationalistic, even the PLO, which was founded in 1964 with the stated aim of destroying Israel, was a nationalist organization. Jordan was of course a monarchy, and it quickly learned the cost of tapping nationalistic sentiment when the PLO attempted to create a state within a state, leading to the events of Black September. The defeat of the nationalist regimes in the six day war and the Yom Kippur war led them to tacitly accept the existence of Israel, much to the chagrin of their demoralized populations. While they overtly maintained the rhetoric of opposition, both Egypt and Jordan made treaties with Israel, thus opening the way for their condemnation by other Arab nations that were vying for leadership roles in the Arab world. The opposition of these states too, was largely confined to lip service, but the role of this lip service in the changing nature of the conflict cannot be underestimated. Peace with Israel, followed by the Lebanese civil war was in fact the death knell of state-sponsored Arab nationalism, which would henceforth wane and become an anachronism which, while it still hangs on to a semblance of existence has long since ceased to be relevant.
Henceforth the only other credible opposition was to be Islamic in nature, and it dealt a major blow to the old order by the assassination of Anwar Sadat. All sides had used religious rhetoric in the conflict and were now to learn that this particular genie does not return to the bottle so easily. This became painfully obvious in the Lebanese civil war as well. The battle lines were religious and sectarian from the outset, and the support to the various factions by regional states exacerbated the religious divides. It also led for the first time, to the existence of a credible guerrilla movement that was overtly religious in its ideology in the shape of Hezbollah, which remains the most credible armed opposition to Israel and the most powerful militia in Lebanon. Similarly, Hamas has long since eclipsed the PLO as the main opposition to Israel in the occupied territories and is regarded by none other than the head of research of Shin Bet (Israeli intelligence agency) as “an authentic product of Palestinian society under Israeli rule, more so than the PA”. The rise of suicide bombings is clear proof of the prevalence of an extremist ideology
The weaknesses of the Crusader kingdom and the modern state of Israel are also similar.. The Kingdom of Jerusalem would never overcome its geographical isolation from Europe, nor would it ever push far enough east to create an easily defensible front. For almost its entire history the kingdom was confined to the narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, almost exactly mirroring the present day borders of Israel; land beyond this was subject to constant raids and warfare. As we have seen and continue to see, Israel’s overweening military superiority is no guarantee of security. Along with international pressure, it was incessant guerilla attacks that forced a withdrawal from the Sinai, just as repeated strikes into Lebanon have done nothing to increase Israel’s security and have in fact increased resistance to Israel. Even within the West Bank and Gaza, no amount of Israeli firepower has had any effect in stopping the violence.
Of course, in the modern era, geographical isolation is no longer a factor. While the crusaders could be easily cut off from their sources of supply in Europe, Israel is under no such constraints. While the crusaders could only count of sporadic spurts of support from Europe, Israel has gained from sustained and coordinated support, as in the Suez crisis when Egypt had to face combined Israeli-Anglo-French operations. Moreover, just as the Crusaders decided to secure their position by means of a political alliance with the then superpower, the Byzantine Empire, so has Israel long since cemented its alliance with the USA. The alliance with Byzantine was based on common interests, with the Byzantine emperor looking on the kingdom as a bulwark against his long-term Muslim rivals. So is the US-Israel alliance based on the perception of common interests; the existence of Israel provides the USA with a permanent outpost in the Middle East. The difference is that while the alliance with Byzantine was more an agreement between the crusader king and the Byzantine emperor, Israel’s alliance with the USA is institutional and apparently unshakeable.
The real dangers to the crusaders were two-fold: For one, in order to maintain military and economic strength, a constant supply of men and material from their European allies was essential. However, once the actual conquest had taken place, the only way to ensure this supply was if there was a perception that the Holy Land was in danger of being lost. As such, peace with the surrounding Muslim rulers would result in a drying up of aid for the crusaders. The other danger was ideological in nature. If the crusaders settled permanently in the lands they had occupied and achieved peace with their neighbours, what was to prevent them being absorbed into the greater middle east?
The political structure of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was close to the feudal setup that prevailed in Europe at the time, just as the political setup of Israel is similar to the parliamentary democracy system prevailing in the west. The vassalage system that the Crusaders imported into the Middle East gave a great deal of power to the local lords, who often ruled their fiefs as independent of the King in Jerusalem. This led to a dilution of the zeal of the crusaders since, despite the efforts to repopulate the area with local Christians and Franks, the areas ruled by the crusader lords remained mostly Muslim and the original fanaticism of the crusaders had to be replaced with a more pragmatic approach. This approach did not sit well with those, such as the Knights Templar, who considered themselves to be the ideological guardians of the kingdom. This group and its allies successfully thwarted any attempt to achieve a long-term rapprochement. Evidence suggests that even the great Saladin bin Ayubbi was quite content to let the Crusader kingdom survive as a buffer between him and his rivals. It was the provocation from the Knights Templar, who broke repeated truces, attacked a caravan escorting Saladin’s sister and even attempted to attack Mecca that finally caused him to take decisive action. Were it not for the fanaticism of the Templars, who had become a state within a state, the kingdom of Jerusalem may well have become an accepted part of the fabric of the Middle East.
This too, is the situation faced by Israel today. Despite efforts to bolster the Jewish population, Israel retains a large and growing Arab population in Israel proper. Over time, demographic trends indicate that this population will grow to such an extent that it will have a sizable presence in the Israeli Knesset. At that stage, Israel will be faced with the choice of continuing as a Jewish state or a democratic state, chances are that it will no longer be able to continue as both. However, this will never be allowed to take place, because standing in the way of this development are the Templars of our time: the hard-line Zionists in the Israeli army, the and the intelligence agencies and indeed, in the corridors of power in Washington. For these groups, the ideological purity of Israel is paramount and in their view peace equals death for Israel, or at the very least a loss of power and influence for themselves. They are correct; if a state of peace begins to prevail in the Middle East, there will come a time when international Jewry will no longer be willing to blindly support Israel’s actions. At that stage even Israel’s supporters in Washington will be hard-pressed to explain why Israel needs so much military aid if it is truly at peace. A fair and just settlement of the Palestine issue will also pull the rug out from under the extremist elements in the Muslim world, whose existence provides both Israel and the USA ample excuses to intervene in the region. For these precise reasons, the Zionist extremists and their allies will continue to thwart any chance for peaceful reconciliation and continue to indulge in provocations such as collective punishment and strikes into civilian areas which will in turn lead to more uncompromising resistance in the shape of attacks and suicide bombings. After all, for the Zionist establishment a few Jewish civilian casualties are a small price to pay for an unending war and the perpetuation of an imperialist agenda.
The ending of the crusades carries a severe warning for us today, which Israel, the USA and the entire Muslim world should pay heed to. It was the depredations of the crusaders that fomented Muslim unity. The crusades gave rise to Zengi, then Nur-e-din and finally Saladin, all of whom sought first to unite the Muslims and then move against the crusaders. However, these were all people with whom a peaceful compromise was possible. When the crusaders, convinced of their military superiority and that God was with them, overextended themselves they were utterly defeated by the humane and highly civilized Saladin, who then proceeded to retake Jerusalem in 1187 CE. In an exceptional act, he allowed the civilians to go free, exacting no reprisals and permitting no looting. Just as Israel today will not accept a just peace, so did the Crusades continue despite the magnanimity of Saladin, who allowed Christian pilgrimages to continue. The result was that the next great ruler to emerge in the Muslim world to oppose the crusaders was Sultan Baibars of the mamluks. When Jerusalem fell again to the Mongol allies of the crusaders, Baibars showed no mercy. There were massacres of civilians and entire populations of Frankish who had settled in the region were sold into slavery, so much so that a chronicler recounts that ‘a lily-white Frankish woman could not sell in the bazaar for more than a penny.’ Baibars was not merciful to his allies either, and went on to murder both the Caliph and the Sultan he nominally served.
With Israel destroying all its Palestinian negotiating partners in succession, first the PLO and now Hamas, they are paving the way for an uncompromising extremist ideology to take hold across the Middle East. While Hamas gained power by following the rules of democracyand would have tacitly accepted the existence of Israel, Islamic Jihad has no such agenda. Israel’s assault on Lebanon, far from destroying Hezbollah, will push the majority of the Lebanese, and indeed the majority of the entire muslim world population into Hezbollah’s arms. It is no accident that Osama Bin Laden and his followers constantly evoke the Crusades in their speeches against the Arab rulers and the West. With the Muslim rulers discredited, the propaganda of Jihad against the invaders has passed onto groups like Al-Qaeda. To those who feel that the Muslim world is too weak and disunited, I would like to remind them that when Baibars took power around 1250 CE, all that remained of the Muslim world was Egypt, the rest having been destroyed by the Mongols. Even the US occupation of Iraq cannot compare to the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongol Hulaku Khan. Nevertheless, within 300 years of Baibars the Muslim Turks had taken Constantinople and were hammering at the gates of Vienna. Israel and its allies, and indeed all warmongers, would do well to remember that while a Saladin appears only once a millennium, there is no shortage of Baibars’ waiting to drown their enemies in blood.
The article has been written by a Pakistani Journalist.