Jews, Gentiles and the road to Jerusalem
The current Palestinian-Israeli conflict is what the late Kingsley Mbadiwe would have called the ‘battle of bicycle versus caterpillar’. Mbadiwe was a master of the superlative metaphor, and he used that expression to describe the closing days of the Nigerian Civil War.
There is nothing civil about the ongoing conflict in the ancient land of Palestine, which the Jews call Israel. In the Holy Bible, there is the story of David, armed with a catapult, who was pitted against Goliath, the mighty hero of the Philistine. Today, it is the Arabs who are armed with the catapult. They are pitted against a merciless opponent who is armed with the best and deadliest weapons science has yet devised.
The Jews believe that their ancestors witnessed the first dawn of humanity. Indeed, the most famous creation story is recorded in the Bible where God planted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That mythical garden, according to the author of Genesis, was between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates, now in present day Iraq.
Adam and Eve, since there were no other humans, had no other choice than to become husband and wife and they first gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain, in a fit of anger, killed his brother. God, since there were no policemen or judges then, took the matter into his hand and sentenced Cain to wander about till the end of his life.
But Adam and Eve managed to have other children after Cain invented murder. Only Seth was recorded in the Bible, the others were not mentioned by name. Seth ultimately became the ancestor of Abraham who lived in the present-day Iraq before migrating to the Middle-East. He is believed to be the primogenitor of both the Jews and the Arabs. Their conflicting claims to the same piece of real estate is what has led to the killing field that we are witnessing in Gaza and occupied West Bank today.
So far, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed and almost 1,500 Israelis. The United States government, once the dominant policeman of the world, is apparently using the conflict to test its latest weapons.
Though the Jews and the Palestinians believe they have a common ancestor in Abraham, they do not have a common vision or narrative. In the Torah, the holy book of the Jews, the Philistines (Palestinians) are regarded as the enemy. But then after the Abrahamic period, came Joseph who led the Jews into exile in Egypt. Then Moses came and led them out. It was David, who was made king in Hebron, who conquered Jerusalem and seized it from the Jebusites (Palestinians).
Since then, Jerusalem and the surrounding real estate, has changed hands; the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans and by the turn of the 20th Century, the Ottoman of Turkey.
The Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War and its empire was parcelled out among the victorious powers. Britain got Palestine and most of the Arab lands, including Egypt and Arabia. It helped to create a new country called Saudi Arabia, named in honour of Prince Saud, a friend of the British, who was proclaimed the first king of the new country. Prince Saud is said to be a direct descendant of Holy Prophet Mohammed.
The British also promised many of their Arab colonies independence following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Arabs of Palestine, unhappy that they did not get a definite promise of independence from the British, supported Germany during the Second World War. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, made a high-profile trip to Berlin in 1941 to pledge his support for Adolf Hitler.
In 1945, Britain and its allies became victorious in the Second World War. The Palestinians waited in vain for the independence of their homeland. The Jews, who were in the minority, were also waiting for the same piece of land.
Earlier, in 1926, Lord Arthur Baffour, the Lord President of the Imperial Council, made a declaration that the Jews have the right to a homeland.
The Jews, especially those called the Zionist, seized on it, and by the end of the Second World War, were insisting that Britain should help them get a homeland. Britain proposed to get them a parcel of land in Kenya or Australia, but later agreed with the Zionists that it would be better if they got a part of Palestine.
The Zionists believed there was no alternative to an independent Jewish State. For many centuries, the Jews were facing persecution in European societies and caricatured in drama and literature (for example Fagin in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist and Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) as evil people.
When Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, he made the Jews the object of his hatred and ultimately killed six million of them in what became known in history as the Jewish Holocaust. At the end of the Second World War, all the victorious powers; Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, agreed to divide Palestine into two, giving the Jews the smaller part of it.
With the certainty of getting a new state, Jews started migrating to Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs, though officially opposed to Jewish immigration, saw it as good opportunity to make money. They sold their land to the Jews at premium prices. The Jews kept coming. The Palestinian Arabs kept selling.
By 1948 when the United Nations agreed to split the old Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the Jews had already bought more than 20 per cent of the land. The Arabs rejected the partitions. The Jews accepted it. The Arabs declared war. The Jews declared the independent state of Israel. Many wars later, fathers are still burying their sons and there is no end in sight.
The Israelis and the Palestinians have a lot to learn from the Yoruba. For the Yoruba people, history is about relationship and not really about right or wrong, or the correctness of the narration. It is the embedded lessons and the protocols agreed upon by the ancestors as a result of that history (or myth).
In the Yoruba creation story, Oduduwa came from heaven and landed in Ile-Ife with a celestial chain, armed with the soil of heaven and a cock. He poured the soil on the water that covered the earth and the continents took form. Land continues to expand from Ile-Ife (Land of Expansion) and humanity dispersed from that spot from all corners of the earth. But we know no journalist witnessed the creation of the world!
Interestingly, science, anthropology, evolution and archaeology support the Ife theory more than the Garden of Eden story. All scientific research about the origin of man point to Africa, especially the Nile Valley in East Africa, as the first place where human life took form.
The emergence of Homo Erectus and later Homo Sapiens occurred in Africa. The discovery of iron and fire, the greatest discovery of the human race, occurred in Africa and were carried out by our ancestors. There is enough scientific evidence to support the belief that all other races migrated from Africa: the Jews, the Europeans, the Arabs and the Indians.
The black complexion has survived on every continent as natives till today. This is the land where both the Jews and the Gentiles have their roots. All civilisations in the world have their origins from this continent of ancient mysteries and modern miseries.
Mythology also credited Oduduwa with two other roles apart from taking part in the emergence of the First Dawn. He was the father of the human race. After hundreds of years and Ile-Ife had become a substantial settlement, he also invented the unique Yoruba kingship system. At the core of the obaship system is the Arole Theory, which states that every Oba, who can trace his origin to the House of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife, has the right to independence. He inherits the position and precedence of the first occupier of his throne.
That theory was thoroughly shaken in the 19th Century when three new powers emerged outside the Oduduwa constellation. These were Ilorin, Ibadan and Ijaiye. The result was a war, which could not be resolved until the British came to organise an armistice in 1886 as a prelude to colonial rule.
The Yoruba, after a painful experience that lasted for almost 70 years, have learnt that war does not solve any problem. Today, the inheritors of that collective memory, have learnt to engage in a lot of verbal warfare without actually going into the shooting-war. The lesson from the Old Ones of Ile-Ife is that humanity is one, why go to war with your brothers and sisters? If talks fail, engage in more talk until talk begets fruit.
That is the lesson that must be imbibed by the warring children of Abraham in the Middle East. If indeed they believe that Abraham was their father, then they would unite to find justice in the temple of equity. Equity demands that the Palestinians must be granted the right to their own land. No number of sophisticated weapons and mass killings, as it is going on now in Gaza, can stop the hunger for a Palestinian independent homeland.
It is the birthing of the Palestinian homeland that can be the ultimate guarantee of peace and security for Israel, not the weapons of war. War does not solve any problem. That is the lesson from the Old Ones of Ile-Ife.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.