Israel is in the heart of the Muslim Arab world, not in the “Middle East”

Spencer Tunick’s photo-shoot in Caracas, Venezuela

The term “Middle East” is often used to hide the fact that the region is largely Muslim and culturally Arab and that Israel, forcibly nestled at the heart of it, is a violent Zionist colonial imposition on the region — both politically and culturally.

How would it sound if you kept hearing on news reports about Israel the phrase “Arab World” substituted for every reference to “Middle East”? Wouldn’t that make you wonder what the Zionist Jewish state is doing there in the heart of it?

A similar subterfuge is constantly taking place by food editors, who often refer to Palestinian Arab cuisine taken over by Israel as Mediterranean to avoid mentioning the words “Arab” and “Palestinian” as in:

One of Israel’s most popular cafe chains … is about to make its North American debut with new outposts in Toronto and Boston. In Israel [the chain is] known for … its Mediterranean and Italian-style fare.

The image above is by the artist Spencer Tunick, whose career has been devoted to taking photographs of large groups of nude people in public locations. In 2011, hundreds of Israelis took part in a Tunick nude shoot in the Dead Sea.

Tunick’s work in the Dead Sea

Notice how the Israeli nude bodies in the image are forming the shape of Palestine, whose Palestinian Arab body politic was (and continues to be) preyed upon by the foreign body of the Zionist Jewish project.

To the vast majority of people in the Arab world, such liberal, some might say hedonistic, displays as the activity depicted in the photograph (hundreds of naked people floating in the Dead Sea and posing nude on the beach) are anathema. Tunick’s art event in the heart of a Muslim Arab conservative region, where many women still swim with all their clothes on, graphically illustrates how the violent imposition on Palestine of a colonial state with a Western ethos in the form of Israel can be out of place in the region and a target of detestation.

Israel, in other words, is an interloper — it does not belong in the Arab world where it was planted by force, against the will of its Palestinian-Arab inhabitants, both Muslim and Christian — the overwhelming majority in 1947–48. The Western colonizers who founded the apartheid state have imposed many elements of their culture on Palestine (some good, some bad) while at the same time stealing (co-opting), not only land and erasing Palestinian history but also traditional Palestinian Arab culture and food and making it their own.

“Middle East” was coined by the British reflecting its European-centered view of the world and differentiating between the “Near East” — i.e. Turkey, and the “Far East” — i.e., China. Shouldn’t regions of the world be designated by reference to their own culture, rather than how they are situated in relation to European powers? In the case of the “Middle East”, that would be the Arab world, and the Zionist Jewish entity is an interloper there.

The fact is, the culture of the Arab region is Arab, and that means it is a culture very much informed by Islam, a culture that Arab Muslims, Christians and Jews identify with. And it is a culture that European Zionist Jews regarded as inferior, in keeping with what Edward Said calls the “dispossessing movements of modern European colonialism.”

The notion that some cultures were advanced and civilized, others backward and uncivilized; these ideas, plus the lasting social meaning imparted to the fact of color (and hence of race) by philosophers like John Locke and David Hume, made it axiomatic by the middle of the nineteenth century that Europeans always ought to rule non-Europeans.

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Rima Najjar is an activist for justice in Palestine, researcher and retired professor of English literature at Al-Quds University in the occupied West Bank, Palestine.

Note: Part of this article was first published on Quora as an answer to Why does Israel have a negative image across the Middle East?