Jerusalem, the holiest city for three main religions of the world – Islam, Judaism and Christianity has always been the subject matter of dispute in a long never-ending decades of conflict between Palestine and Israel. Recently, the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump has declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel causing mixed reactions throughout the world.
Historical facts show that Jerusalem and the areas where modern Palestine and Israel are located today have been occupied for thousands of years by the Jews, the Arabs and the Armenians. The strategic location of Palestine along the coast of the Mediterannean Sea made it vulnerable to colonisation by distant States with imperialistic ambitions.
When the Romans colonised it between the years of 66-136 AD, the Jews were gradually evicted initiating the starting point of Jewish diaspora all over Europe. This region was renamed Syria-Palaestina by the Romans. The displacement of the Jews continued during the Crusade in 1099 until this region was placed under the administration of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, Palestine was a region with majority Muslim population.
After the fall of this once mighty kingdom in 1914, Palestine was placed under British rule that supported the establishment of a Jewish nation inside Palestine via the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Since then, the Jewish community all around the world migrated into Palestine and the numbers kept on increasing year after year.
In 1936, the Arabs revolted against the British and the Jews. The British adminitrators then established the Peel Commission to identify the causes of the revolt. The Commission reported that the source of the conflict is deeply rooted in the desire of both the Arabs and the Jews to rule the same land.
In order to solve this problem, the Peel Commission then suggested for Palestine to be divided into two nations – one for the Palestinian Arabs and another for the Israeli Jews. The Jews contended that Palestine was their traditional ancestral land, a contention that was strongly rejected by the Arab World. This fact, till today remains a subject matter of debate.
As a result, the Palestinians did not agree to the ‘two-nation plan’ solution and waged war against Israel with the assistance of the neighbouring Arab nations in the region. The largest battles against Israel took place in 1948 and 1967. Israel was victorious in both wars leading to Palestine to lose more lands that once used to be part of their territory.
Like Palestine, the Malay kingdoms on the Malay Peninsula have also experienced series of colonisation by a number of imperialists such as Siam, Portuguese, the Dutch, the Japanese and the British. For example, Kedah was once invaded and annexed by Siam in 1821. However, through diplomacy, Siam returned the throne of Kedah to Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Halim Shah II in 1842. Despite losing Perlis and Satun (now part of Thailand), Kedah managed to regain its independence and exist till this day as one of the world’s longest-reigning sultanates.
Pattani also shared the same experience. Although it was once a sovereign kingdom, Thai annexation in 1909 has placed the Malay-majority territories of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat under Thai rule. Although revolts against the central government do take place, it is however not as severe like what is going on in Palestine.
Singapore, an island once part of the Johor Sultanate officially became a British crown colony in 1824. Other Malay states in Malaya gradually became protectorates of British after the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874. British colonial administration encouraged the migration of the non-Malays particularly from China and India to support the British growing economic needs and interests in Malaya.
As a result, Malaya experienced a significant alteration in ethnic demographic composition within its population, just like Palestine under the rule of different powers. Malaya, now Malaysia transformed from a Malay State into a nation composed of a multi-cultural and multi-racial population. Years of British rule has resulted in Singapore, a territory once ruled by a Malay sultan to become a majority Chinese-populated nation today, forming 76.2% of its total population.
Being a multi-racial country, other than the 1969 incident, severe racial flare-ups is uncommon in Malaysia. This scenario is atypical in Palestine and other multi-racial countries all over the world. The high level of tolerance of the Malays has resulted in millions of non-Malays became citizens of Malaya without much hesitation in 1957.
Now, Malaysians of different races work together in building this successful nation. The world has recognised Malaysia as one of the most peaceful nations on Earth as indicated by the Global Peace Index in 2017.
On top of that, the Malays in Singapore and southern Thailand could accept their status as minorities even though traditionally, Singapore and provinces of southern Thailand were once part of ‘the Malay lands’.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is still ongoing and one thing for sure, the Palestinias are the ones losing out. While Israel is acknowledged as one of the most technologically-advanced nations on Earth, Palestinians are still suffering from poverty, violence and war.
Perhaps it is now time for the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews to resort to diplomacy. The tolerance of the Malays and the non-Malays has allowed Malaysia to become a country it is today – progressive, peaceful and rapidly developing. This approach could be emulated by Palestine to rebuild its nation.
In addition, Malaysia has always maintained a cordial relationship with Singapore, a neighbouring State that caused racial frictions when it was in the Federation 52 years ago. Ever since independence, Singapore and Malaysia co-exist peacefully needing one another without much of a conflict.
The disunity of the Arab World and the lack of Palestinian statehood has provided Israel a platform to continue colonising West Bank causing Palestine to gradually lose huge chunks of land. Despite receiving global condemnation, Israel is persistently building up new settlement in the Palestinian side of the West Bank as they realise the importance of effective occupation under international law in acquiring new territories.
Unless Muslims nations stand united against Israel, Palestine has limited bargaining power to balance the strength of Israel. The solidarity of the Muslims world through the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) recently in supporting East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine is praiseworthy. However, does this actually carry much weight?
Diplomacy is still the best way in solving this dispute. It is time for Palestine and Israel to emulate ‘the Malay tolerance’ approach so that both nations could co-exist. At the rate Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank, it is not surprising that Palestine would one day vanish from the face of the Earth – unless an extra-ordinary miracle takes its course.