Tuesday, March 8, 2016 12:32 pm
By Owei Lakemfa
Our country is a secular state, but the Nigerian spirit teaches us to stand up for justice, defend the weak, the repressed and the oppressed. Nigerians are so fair-minded that even in football, if our national team is not playing well, we sometimes switch support to the visiting team. We are also quite religious; the Holy Books teach us to be our brother’s keeper.
It is in this context, I think most of the attacks in the social media against President Muhammadu Buhari’s expressed support for Palestinians do not reflect our national spirit, are ahistorical and uniformed.
During his State Visit to Qatar, on February 28, 2016, he told Emir Tamim Bin Hammad Al-Thani, “I want to assure you that we will stand side by side with you, until our brothers and sisters in Palestine achieve their desired objectives…Our support for various Security Council resolutions restoring and respecting 1967 boundaries with Jerusalem as capital of Palestine is firm and unshaken.”
What President Buhari said is not a new policy; this has been our position for decades. I recall that when the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) on December 14, 1982 adopted the Nigerian Students Charter Of Demands, they pledged to oppose “Zionism anywhere it raises its head until it ceases its hostility to the Palestinians and a home is created for the struggling Palestinians” The Charter demanded that “the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) be allowed to open an office in the country…”
So great were the pressures from progressive forces in the country, that within months, Nigeria granted full diplomatic recognition to the PLO which in 1984, sent Ambassador Samir Baker as Palestinian ambassador. By the time he left 21 years later, Baker was the longest serving envoy and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Nigeria.
Some of those who oppose the President’s pronouncement, erroneously ascribed religious motives. Let me clarify that Palestinians, like Nigerians, are both Muslims and Christians like the wife of Yasser Arafat, Suha Daoud Arafat who was Roman Catholic.
Secondly, Israel is not, and has never claimed to be a Christian state. In fact, a number of those who helped to create it, were neither Christians nor evangelists; they were atheists! They included Theodor Herzel, the Austro-Hungarian journalist who founded the Zionist Movement, David Ben-Gurion (Green) founder and first Prime Minister of modern Israel, Moshe Dayan, former Defence and Foreign Minister, and former Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yitzak Rabin. Hence, when the Israeli constitution was being written and some Judaists wanted to add a clause that the God of their fathers brought them to the new Israel, the leaders argued that he had done very little for them, and therefore deserve no mention. The atheists won!
The Palestine is homeland to various peoples; Jews, Arabs, Palestinians and the Europeans who became the Israeli ruling class. Even before God called Abraham from his father’s house in Ur of the Chaldees -Present day Iraq- Palestine was homeland to various nationalities.
It might be important to point out that the Palestine was not the first homeland of returnee Jews. Back in 1882, Mordecai Manuel Noah had created one in the Grand Island, in the Niagara River, United States.
In 1903, Britain carved 13,000Km of the Mau Plateau (present day Kenya) and gave it to the World Zionist Organisation to build the Jewish Homeland. The Organisation at its 1903 Sixth Congress in Basel , voted 295 to 177 votes to accept the British offer. After exploratory visits, the Zionists developed cold feet fearing that the indigenous Massai population may resist a huge influx of Europeans which was essentially what the migrating Jews were.
The largest Jewish homeland ever established before present day Israel was the Birobidzhah given by the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) based on the policy enunciated by its leader, Joseph Stanley that there can be no nation without a defined territory. The homeland thrived with Jews across the world migrating there until the Second World War almost terminated the existence of the Soviet Union itself. This homeland was depopulated with the rise of present day Israel. When the USSR was dissolved on December 26, 1991, many of the Jews in this homeland migrated to Israel and Germany.
There is the issue of President Buhari mentioning Jerusalem as capital of the Palestinian State. First, this is the international position especially by United Nations and the 94 countries that recognize the Palestinian State. Secondly, it is an open secret that East Jerusalem is the ancestral home of the Palestinians who occupied it until 1967 when it was seized by Israel following the Arab-Israeli War; the real capital of Israel is Tel Aviv.
Those who read religious motives to the issue of Jerusalem, need to know that it is a Holy City to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To Judaists, Jerusalem is its holiest city where King Solomon built the First Temple on the Temple Mount and Herod the Great built the Second Temple part of which is the Western Wall, better known as the Wailing Wall because many Judaists often weep there over the destruction of temples.
To Christians, Jerusalem is holy because that was the city Jesus was brought as a child to the temple, where he chased out the traders from the temple, had the Last Supper and was crucified. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be built on the crucifixion site.
The holy cities of Islam are Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem Prophet Mohammed (SAW) met the prophets, ascended to heaven and was given the instruction that Muslims should pray five times daily. The Dome of the Rock, built on Mount Temple, is a holy site of Islam.
Violence, begets violence; the violence between Israel and Palestinians must end. Jews cannot have a homeland and deny their neigbours the right to theirs. The Igbos say let the kite perch, let the eagle perch; there is enough room for all; The Yoruba say the sky is wide enough for birds to fly without bumping into each other; the world has enough space for the Israeli and Palestinian States to co-exist.