Lessons from ‘The Haj’

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In his 1984 bestseller, “The Haj” (Doubleday, NY), Leon Uris captured the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict through his two protagonists: Haj Ibrahim, muktar of the village of Tabah in the Ayalon Valley of Mandatory Palestine, and Gideon Asch, a pre-Israel Palestinian Jew, whose familiarity with Arab life, language and culture made him an honorary Bedouin.

Uris’ dialogue astutely reveals the vast differences between the Arab and Jewish mindsets –  deeply rooted in their cultural differences. Uris focuses on the Jewish liberal, cosmopolitan culture of openness, practicality, compromise, and humanism in contrast to the unforgiving desert culture of the Arabs, where betrayal, distrust, hate and vengeance are commonplace.

As the story unfolds, we discover that the Jews of a kibbutz (called “Shemesh”), who bought land from an absentee Arab-Muslim landowner, had also bought the water rights, and that water had previously served the neighboring Arab village of Tabah.

An angry Arab villager from Tabah enters the Kibbutz Shemesh with the intention of stealing something and killing someone if possible. Caught stealing by a young girl from the kibbutz, he tries to rape her and beat her, but her screams cause him to flee.

The story takes place against the background of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. These murderous riots, incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini (Hitler’s ally), rocked all of Mandatory Palestine.

Asch, secretary general of the kibbutz, and Haj Ibrahim meet alone and a dialogue ensues. Asch says, “We should be proud. The valley stayed peaceful during the riots.”  Ibrahim replies, “Who had a choice, your hand controls the valve on our water.”

Asch asks, “Suppose we did not have the water arrangement. Would you have encouraged your people to riot?”  Ibrahim answers, “During the summer heat my people become frazzled.  They worry about the autumn harvest. They are drained. They are pent up. They must explode. Nothing directs their frustration like Islam.  Hatred is holy in this part of the world. It is also eternal. If they become inflamed, I am but a muktar. I cannot stand against the tide.”

Ibrahim continues, “You see Gideon that is why you are fooling yourselves.  You don’t know how to deal with us. For years, decades, we may seem to be at peace with you, but always in the back of our minds we keep up the hope of vengeance.  No dispute is ever really settled in our world. The Jews give us special reason to continue warring.”

Gideon: “Do we deal with the Arabs by thinking like Arabs ourselves?”

Ibrahim: “You cannot think like an Arab.  You personally, maybe, but not your people, I’ll give an example.  There is a clause in our water agreement we did not ask for.  It says the agreement can be terminated only if it were proved that someone from Tabah committed a crime against you.”

What Ibrahim is saying here is that, were the situation reversed, the Arabs would shut off the water to the kibbutz, and let the Jews die of thirst.

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  • TK Heekin

    another voice from the recent past is the movie, "Lawrence of Arabia," made in 1962. Before p.c. The movie runs the theme of tribalism throughout; it runs 'inshallah" throughout; it runs the principle of looting throughout. Taken together these three congruent themes show the pimitive mind of the Arab/islam as it has always existed and remains in tact today. There is even the homosexual rape of Lawrence which is a constant theme in muslim prisons.

    • PhillipGaley

      Sure, time out of mind, so many of our guys—styled as politicians, think-tank people, scholars, authors—have predicated our posturing foreign affairs as though, over there, they were dealing with some kind of nascent Canadian. Our guys need to be force fed this article in say, 100hrs of training, until they are able to recite the logical pronouncements which stem from the facts of an individual's life in any of the ME nations—instead of religion, rather, domination by a criminal ideology producing various kinds of physical and mental abuse of women and children, eternal vengeance and hatred, trickery and mistrust, fatalism and hopelessness, fear and poverty—in a word, all of the very worst of tribalism, . . .

  • StephenD

    If you think on it, it is a brilliant strategy for the trade route bandit Mohammed. Instill a centering hatred of a people and a fatalistic mindset ("If it be Allah's will"), leaving no room for individual thought nor (the upside for them) individual responsibility; A hatred shaped and honed to appear as "protective" rather than assertive. A great feat, especially if you can funnel this to serve you (as Mo did). Hey, the strategy still works to this day!

  • samsgran1948

    When I read The Haj many years ago, I believed that, after a lifetime of magnificent writing, Mr. Uris had jumped the shark. Since then, however, I have come to the sad conclusion that Mr. Uris had written the absolute truth.

  • aspacia

    Uris writings are superb. I enjoyed the The Haj but while reading remembered that ethnically Uris is Jewish, and this may have colored his perspective. Before the stones fly, remember that we all have biases.

    • ajnn

      1. huh ? uris was jewish ?

      maybe not.

  • Cynic

    Well, facing the facts does colour one’s perspective.

  • http://stichija.lt Stichines nelaimes

    Wow, amazing post thank to you very much…

  • Sound&Fury

    Westerners assume that there are certain universal values like love & mercy, but Uris' book portrays a very different way of thinking for the average "Palestinian" that is alien to us. Not a book to read if you like happy endings. It ends on a more sobering & prophetic note.

    • aspacia

      Yes, if memory serves Haj murders his daughter.

  • Raymond in DC

    "The Jews of Israel, especially the left-leaning among them, have not yet learned that they are not living in Europe but in a semi-arid desert region called the Middle East."

    It's not just that they fail to recognize they're not dealing with Europe. It's that the rules that applied to Europe and everyone else don't seem to hold when Israel is at war. Who, for example, could have imagined delivering fuel and food to Germany when they were at war? Heck, the Brits were *bombing* Germany's fuel stores. Yet Israel is *expected* to provide fuel, electricity, water, food and consumer goods, even as Hamas arms and trains for the next round while firing off the occasional rocket for good measure.

  • Gary in NC

    Uris captures the essence of Arab life through his character Ishmael: "So before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of Arab life. It was me against my brother; me and my brother against our father, my family against my cousins and the clan; the clan aganst the tribe; and the tribe against the world. And all of us against the infidel." (The Haj, Leon Uris, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY 1984, p15)

    • Ghostwriter

      Not exactly a recipe for peace,isn't it.

      • SpiritOf1683

        And it is a reflection of what has been hidden behind a Leftist wall of political correctness and multiculturalism, and smears of racism and bigotry against anyone who brings this subject up. If anyone wants to know why Israel needs its wall, its well-traimed military personnel and its nukes, this is it, because Israel mans the front line against barbarianism.

  • Tanstaafl

    This is our greatest failure. The arrogance of thinking that there is such a thing as "universal values", the presumption that the values of others would resemble ours and that the fantasy of wishful thinking will protect us from grim reality.

    Time to "Cowboy Up".

    • Bamaguje

      There is such a thing as "universal values", hence Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Pagans, atheists and other non-Muslims have no problem with the 1948 UN Universal declaration of Human Rights.
      But since Muslims have a problem with issues like gender equality and religious freedom, they came up with their own "Islamic Declaration of Human Rights" in Cairo- Egypt 1990.

      • tanstaafl

        You just proved my point.

    • aspacia

      Yes, we assume too much. There is a huge amount of violence and hate stemming from certain cultures. However, these cultures same the same about the West.

      • SpiritOf1683

        We certainly do make assumptions and ignore hard historical facts. But that's political correctness and multiculturalism for you. And I'm afraid this will prove so costly to us over the course of this century. The fruitbats who predominate in the West think you can stroke a crocodile just like you can with your pet cat or dog, and think a Great White Shark is little different from a goldfish – the Leftist looks at them both being a type of fish.

  • Ellman

    'The Haj' is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read, and I have read many. It reveals, through Ibrahim, the culture and mentality of the Arab Muslims, which exists to this day. It sheds much light on the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the true reasons they continue and probably will until Armageddon eliminates one or both of the conflicting parties. The Arab War against Israeil is an eternal one, commanded by their holy Prophet and perpetuated by eternal hatred and vengeance. Read it and you will understand why peace will never be achieved between these parties even if they continue existing for 100 generations. The Arabs must change, but they never will.

    • Victoria

      I read The Source by Michner, Exodus & the Haj back to back. amazing books all!
      Until we realize that Muslims really mean it (like Hitler who few believed would do what he did) we will fall. one of the problems i see is that people don't really believe evil exits. they honestly believe people are born 'good'. Please people, THIS IS JUST NOT TRUE. goodness is a learned behavior. the ranks of the Islamists and their appeasers will continue to grow cuz their hearts,minds are covered over with darkness. the truth is Satan is real,he is evil, he is active in the world & he owns them but God is active in this world too!
      Now who do you think is gonna win that battle?

      • SpiritOf1683

        Churchill believed Hitler would do exactly waht he set out in Mein Kampf, and was ridiculed for the best part of six or seven years – from 1932 right up until the eve of World War II. People only started to believe Churchill once the Nazi Germany – Soviet Union Non-Aggression treaty was signed in August 1939 which isolated Poland and signed its death warrant, and even the biggest ignoramus around at that time knew that war was a matter of when, not if – and by then it was too late. The damage caused by the previous four or five years of appeasement couldn't be undone. There was no turning back to 1935 or early 1936 when Hitler could have been stopped, and perhaps toppled through being stopped.

  • zed

    What would the tittle in french be, please, if it has been translated at all… ?
    Thank you.

    • Atikva

      La traduction française s'intitule : "Le Hadj". La FNAC indique que le livre serait disponible chez Chapitre et Thé à la Page.

  • Lady_Dr

    If Israel is to defeat their neighbors they must show strength in Middle Eastern terms – totally strength. They have it, now they must use it and stop listening to the talking heads of the world's capitals with their fancy educations and pc mindsets. Maybe what Israel needs is a Jewish redneck at the helm.

    • lostlegends1872

      Elementary, my dear lady. I read the Haj years ago, given to me by a girl to read so I'd learn what Arabs are about. She had spent two terms on a arch. dig at a place called Tel Dor on the Israeli coast. She had plenty of experience with Arabs, all of it bad. I also read Uris book "Battle Cry" in high school. Uris, a Jew, enlisted in the Marines and fought in the Pacific. The word Haj is a play on the arab word for pilgrimage. You could say the word Haj means a pilgrimage to self destruction. While in journalism school I took a class on the treatment of foreign affairs by the press here and abroad. The prof. went on one night about the Middle East. He was anti Israel. I knew him to be a socialist. I raised my hand and mentioned The Haj. I said a friend had recommended it to me but I hadn't read it yet. (Actually, I had). I asked whether he'd read it, and if so, could he recommend the class read it. He promptly went ballistic and threw a tantrum. I had tricked him into showing his anti – Jewishness and he never caught on to my ploy. Now the class knew what I knew and they could see him for what he was and judge him accordingly. My Haj was accomplished, with no casualties. Uris would have smiled.

  • madeleine7

    This book ( copyrighted in 1984) is absolutely uncanny in its prophetic view. It is all summed up , right at the end, in the dialogue between Dr. Mudhil and Ishmael. In my book ( 525 pages) it is on pages 522 ad 523, My hair stands on end when I read it.

  • Lightning Jack

    No one lives in peace with Islam, Islam cannot peacefully coexist within itself.

    Western Civilization had better wake up to the reality that it is dealing with a people and feudal, totalitarian ideology which relishes death and glorifies the indiscriminate killing of others for its cause.

    Either you fight it unmercifully and give no quarter to its demands, or you will live in totalitarian slavery.

    • SpiritOf1683

      No one lives in peace with Islam, Islam cannot peacefully coexist within itself.

      And it is the biggest singular crime that a 14 centuries old fact like this has been buried beneath a mountain of political correctness, multiculturalism, and slanders of racism and bigotry against anyone who comes out with that simple historical fact.

  • Gary

    "The Haj" reflects a negative & quite pessimistic view of many aspects of Arab/Muslim culture & beliefs (especially during the period of the 1920's to 1950's). It is very positive about many aspects of Jewish/Israeli attitudes, culture & beliefs. Is the bias of Leon Uris justified? Is it based on a fair analysis of Middle East history & the teachings & practice of Islam? Or is a distortion? It would be interesting to read the views of Arabs/Muslims in the Middle East about this. What writings can be offered as counterpoint?

  • LarrySingleton

    This book and Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabrielle should be sold as a gift set.
    Add Slavery, Terrorism and Islam by Peter Hammond. Indoctrination U. and The Professors by Horowitz, The War Against Boys by Sommers, Ivory Towers on Sand by Kramer.