Sheikh Abdul Palazzi, professor at the Research Institute for Anthropological Studies in Rome, was in the United States recently guest lecturing at Yale University on the possibility of bringing democracy to the Arab world. Having read numerous items about the sheikh, we were interested in meeting him. We caught up with him in New York as he was preparing to return to Italy.
Jewish Press: Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Palazzi: I was born in Rome 42 years ago to a Syrian mother and an Italian father. In addition to teaching at the Research Institute, I also teach a post-doctoral course on Middle East studies, I’m the secretary general for the Italian Muslim Association and the Muslim chair of Islam-Israel Fellowship at the Root and Branch Association.
Do you think democracy can ever come to the Arab world?
The United States has a real opportunity now to accomplish just that. The best proof is Afghanistan. Things are really turning around there and they can do the same thing in Iraq. After the first Gulf war ended the Emir was left in place in Kuwait. Slavery is rampant in Kuwait, but no one tried to replace the Emir with a real democracy, or to abolish slavery. Everything was left in place. But this time if the U.S. proves that it wants the globalization of democracy, it has a real chance to accomplish it in Arab countries. When you show the Arab world that you side with Arab leaders who kill them or enslave them, they lose all hope of change. An example is Arafat. When you build him up and the people know who he is, they have no hope of a change. I am terribly concerned that President Bush speaks of a Palestinian state. I am afraid that once this war with Iraq is won, the pressure on Israel to create a Palestinian state will be enormous. You cannot get rid of one terrorist state and then create a new one. And the Palestinian Authority will be worse, because they are the true allies of Saddam Hussein.
You know the terrorists always claim to be followers of the Koran.
The Koran is being misread. The Koran forbids mistreatment of Jews and the state is obligated to protect them. At the time of the Ottoman Empire Jews held positions in the government. The Koran says before the end of days the Jews will return to their land. At the end of World War One, Sharif Al Hussein, the leader of the Hashemite family and governor of Mecca said, when he saw the Jews returning to Palestine, “We are seeing what was foretold in the Koran. When others settled there the land stayed barren, but now the land recognizes its original sons and it is producing.”
It’s too bad the Palestinian Arabs don’t know that.
They can’t know it because these passages have been removed from their books. The PA selected only certain sources for their books. All of the proofs are deleted. But in other Islamic countries you do find all proofs in the Koran. You know, before 1967, Islamists referred to the Jews as Palestinians and the present-day Palestinians were called Jordanians. In Jerusalem, Imam Tabari, an important cleric, wrote an important book, “Lives of Prophets and Kings” He described the life of King Solomon and the Temple he built. Anyone who denies this not only denies history, but denies Islamic sources.
The Palestinian Arabs even deny that the Holy Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.
I was part of an international delegation that visited Israel in 2000. The Wakf took us to visit Al Aksa. Right outside of the Dome of the Rock is a small chapel on the eastern side. “What is this place?” I asked. “It is the place where Solomon stood to dedicate the Temple,” was the reply. “Then why do you deny this?” I asked. With a smile I was told, “For political reasons.” Mecca and Medina are the holiest places for Islam. Jerusalem is shared with Jews and Christians. Why, according to Islam, did Mohammed go to Jerusalem? To meet all the prophets from other religions who worshiped there. Islam is faith in monotheism, faith in prophets, faith in humanity. The basic distinction is monotheism versus idolatry. And this concept it shares with Judaism.
This is just one of many instances of historical revisionism on the part of the Arabs.
Another example of history being forgotten concerns the 1919 agreement between Chaim Weizmann and King Faisel of Jordan and Iraq. The agreement said that the Jordan River was the border between the Jewish state and the Arab state. The Arabs did not oppose this. Then the British came and created Saudi Arabia, taking land from Jordan. So they told them to take some of the land back from the Jews. When the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was created, control of Mecca and Medina was thereby given to Wahabbism, the most primitive tribe of all. Islamic scholars were horrified. Then oil was discovered and they became all powerful and forced everyone to believe in Wahabbism and killed whoever didn’t. With the passing of years they became more sophisticated. Wahabbism in its original form is still practiced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It is their official religion.
Regarding the situation in Iraq, are you surprised by the way the French have acted?
Unfortunately, no. France has reached a new low level. They want the regime of Saddam to survive because they have a financial interest in him.
What about the Vatican?
Tariq Aziz was warmly welcomed by the Vatican and the Franciscan Monks prayed with him for Bush to repent. The pope approved the war against Milosevic – was he worse than Saddam Hussein?
We recall that the pope didn’t condemn the Arab gunmen who took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last year.
No voice of dissent is heard inside the Catholic church. In the past there were many instances where bishops and cardinals voiced an opposite point of view. But not this time. The Franciscan priest inside the Church of the Nativity acted as if the Arabs were just seeking refuge from the Israelis. He is now visiting Italy and has such deep-rooted anti-Semitism that he is speaking out against Israel wherever he goes.
The Arab bishops who depend on their dictators for appointments are increasing inside the Vatican. The best bishops and cardinals are retiring, leaving a terrible vacuum. Cardinal Martini was an honorable and brilliant scholar from Milano. He said you cannot accept opinions of dictators in religious matters.
After his retirement he was sent to Jerusalem. He was accepted by the Latin Patriarchate only because the pope sent him, but they don’t like him and refer to him as “the Zionist.”
What is your view of the now discredited Oslo peace process?
Oslo was a basic mistake, and unless Israel takes steps to end it and publicly renounce it, we cannot expect the rest of the world to do so. When we in Italy try to stop the European Union from transferring money to Arafat, they answer us that even Israel is doing so. And why shouldn’t Bin Laden hope to be forgiven like Arafat was? Oslo abolished one of the basic principles of international law. If you are a terrorist, your crimes will not be forgiven. The world needs to be reminded of that.
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The day after our interview a suicidal Arab terrorist blew up a bus in Haifa. A protest was immediately organized outside the PLO mission in New York by Rabbi Avi Weiss. Sheikh Palazzi, about to leave the country, joined Rabbi Weiss at that protest. It was the first time a Moslem sheikh took part in such a protest.