My wife hates going to a souk. It’s not just the noise, it’s the constant hassle – people trying to sell you stuff, in broken English. I love it. What we have to understand is that the Arabs do it differently. On holiday, tourists want the experience and maybe to buy a few souvenirs. We see something beautiful and want to look at it. The shopkeeper sees us looking and thinks, “Ah, that’s what she was looking for”, so when he tries to sell it to us he gets confused because we don’t seem to understand the process. Buying and selling in the Arab world is not merely a business transaction it is personal and, often, communal.
Read the account of Abraham’s purchase of a cave to bury his wife, Sarah, in Genesis chapter 23. From the first seven verses we could get the impresion that Abraham is asking and the Hittites are agreeing the land as a gift. Verse 8 to 11 continue the impression with Abraham saying “I’ll give you the market price” & Ephron’s reply “No, I give it”. In the end, there is agreement, Abraham will have the field and cave and Ephron will receive his asking price of ‘four hundred shekels of silver’.
It is worth bearing that in mind when reading the McMahon-Husseini correspondence. (this can be found as an appendix in ‘The Arab Awakening: the story of the Arab National Movement’ by George Antonius. pub.1938 or in the British Library Archives). Whilst couched in ‘diplomatic niceties’, from the first letter, from Amir Abdullah to Mr. Ronald Storrs and the subsequent ‘Notes’ between Sharif Husain (sic) and Sir Henry McMahon, they are very much to the point. In my view McMahon’s Note dated October 24, 1915 gave Husain to understand that Great Britain agreed to independence for the larger part of the Arabian peninsula, excepting Baghdad and Basra, Alexandretta, and ‘portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo’. That is to say, an independent Arab state including today’s Saudi Arabia, the Sinai, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria, excepting the coastal regions, Iraq, excepting Baghdad & Basra, Kuwait and a small portion of southern Turkey.
It is interesting to note Chaim Weizmann’s conversations with Husseini’s brother, Feisal and their agreement that the Jews and Arabs could work together. Weizmann obscures the Zionist intent to create a Jewish state, while his attitude to democracy and to Arabs is evident in his reaction to the British proposal for a legislative council with Arabs (by far the majority of the population) as a majority; ‘I had pointed out that to talk of elected Arabs representing their people was to contradict the democratic principle which it was supposed to further’. This at a time when in Britain women had not yet been granted the vote might be regarded as typical imperialist arrogance. And from a European from Russia where even today democracy is a strange animal. For the Zionists democracy must wait until they formed the majority, or, when war in 1939 prevented, they would wait, continue with terror then obtain the land by force.