Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'll Have The Truth-Based Peace Please, Hold The Double-Standards

The following column was submitted to the University of Connecticut Daily Campus, which refused to publish it. Correspondence with the Daily Campus is posted separately.

I'll Have The Truth-Based Peace Please, Hold The Double-Standards

by Laura Gottfried
UConn Grad Student, Judaic & Middle Eastern Studies

It seems that everyone has an opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict these days, whether they have researched it or not. Fortunately, most people do want peace and are able to recognize the people and actions that continue to prevent it. However, there are times when individuals in influential positions fall prey to propaganda, and use it to try to justify their long-established prejudices. Sadly, such individuals only serve to personify one of the biggest obstacles to peace. This pivotal situation can only be understood through honest research, a thorough understanding of the region's history, and firsthand perspectives. Propaganda and sensationalized sound-bytes with little historical basis really do not help anyone. World citizens who genuinely want peace in the Middle East should educate themselves on the historical context in which the conflict arose. It is also important to develop an agreed-upon set of standards to which both sides will be held, before reviewing the history to see by whom and in which instances these standards were compromised. These are things that any credible journalist or historian should be expected to provide.

First, let's clear two things up. Until 1948, the word "Palestinian" referred to any one of the many ethnic groups who lived within the British Mandate - including Jews and Christians, and where over fifty different languages (Peters 228) were spoken. Somehow the word has come to define only one of these ethnic groups, namely Arabs, the majority of whom are of the Muslim faith. I will discuss the origin of the word Palestine later. Just keep in mind there was never a nation or state by such name. Secondly, "Zionism" is just "Jewish nationalism", a movement to return to their original homeland, and have a Jewish majority - the same way 59 Muslim nations have Muslim majorities, and many Christian nations have Christian majorities. The negative distortion of the name came during a time when anti-Semitism was still rampant. To this point, our state's own Yale University finally had its Jewish quota lifted (that is to keep Jews out, not in) in the 1960's by Dean of Admissions R. Inslee Clark. I cannot think of many other nationalistic movements that have been subjected to such harsh criticism as Zionism. It means Jews want a small piece of their homeland where they can finally feel safe. That's the big bad truth.

Now let's briefly review a history of the land. For the sake of consistency, let's use the classic argument that both sides of the conflict seem to agree on. That is, just because native people have been conquered or kicked off their homeland, this does not negate their claim to it. It is reasonable to assume that any true advocate of human rights would agree, no matter how small a minority group has become due to centuries of persecution.

Considering that practically no other nation on earth consists of a majority population of its land's "original" inhabitants, it is interesting - not to mention extremely ironic - that Israel, of all countries, is subjected to such scrutiny over land rights. But it is important to acknowledge this double-standard, and give those who have so narrowly put a burden of proof on only one nation the evidence they want. The land that encompasses historical Israel (later renamed Palestine) presently houses the nations of Jordan and Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Archeological and historical evidence clearly show that it is the Jewish people who remain the oldest existing population to maintain a continuous presence on the land up through present day. To be fair, the Canaanites were there first, but had disappeared by the 1st century CE. Ancient Egyptian texts from the reign of Amenhotep II, along with the Merneptah Stele which is housed in the Cairo Museum, confirm the existence of the Habiru (Hebrews) as well as Israel as far back as the 13th century BCE.

Despite many attempts to conquer them, the Jewish people remained the main settled population of the land for over sixteen hundred years. (Gilbert 1) The Romans finally conquered Jerusalem in 63 CE, eventually killing over a million Jews. The Romans then destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in 70 CE. This story is depicted on the Arch of Titus, which can presently be found at The Forum in Rome. Coins that bore the phrase Ivdaea Capta (Judea Captured) were proudly issued throughout the Empire. The most lasting effect of Roman conquest, however, is the brand new name the land received. In the 2nd century CE, in an attempt to wipe out all Judean influence, Emperor Hadrian renamed the Kingdom of Judea Palaestina, from the Hebrew word Pleshtim. This was Hadrian's intentional reference to a long-gone enemy of both the Jews and the Egyptians - the Philistines (Goliath was a Philistine). Modern-day scholars agree that the Philistines hailed from what are now the Greek islands of Crete and Cyprus, and bear no relation to the Arab Palestinians of today. It is a sad irony indeed that the word Palestine itself actually stems from an ancient Hebrew word.

Now let's fast forward much, much later to the arrival of the Arabs - 636 CE to be exact. Muhammad, Islam's Great Prophet, had already lived and died without ever having set foot in Jerusalem. In fact, Jerusalem is not ever mentioned in the Qur'an, although the nation of Israel is. Yet in 685 CE, the Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on top of Judaism's holiest site, the Western Wall. No Jewish and Christian structures sit atop any Muslim holy sites. (Of course, one cannot even set foot in the modern city of Mecca if they are not Muslim. Thankfully, Israelis do not subscribe to that type of thinking, and all religions are welcome in Jerusalem.) Arab rule was brief, lasting only until about 750 CE when the last Omayyad Caliph was defeated. Numerous outside groups tried to make Palestine (yes, Hadrian's name stuck) part of their empires - the Egyptians, the Persians of Iraq, the Christian Crusaders, the Seljuq Turks, the Mongolians, and even the French. Remarkably, the Jews remained a steadfast presence in their homeland, though their numbers were thinned by persecution and their "dhimmi" status under the Ottomans (who were not Arabs). At the end of WWI, the Jewish homeland came under the final foreign control of the British Mandate government. So...who has been occupying who?

In the years leading up to the British occupation, numerous historical accounts refer to the scarce population of 19th-century Palestine. The 1857 reports by James Finn, the British Consul in Jerusalem, and the book The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, both provide good firsthand descriptions of the land at that time. The Palestinian Jews tended to reside mainly within "The Holy Four" cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed. In fact, the first printing press in Asia was established by Jews in Safed in 1563. However, the influx of European Jews to the available desert land resulted in a huge influx of Arab migrant workers from surrounding nations. Jewish settlements like Rishon L'Tzion provided vast improvements to the once barren land. Work on Jewish settlements resulted in "better wages and unparalleled opportunities" (Peters 201) for impoverished Arabs immigrants who had previously been at the mercy of foreign effendis (landlords). During Ottoman rule, these migrant farmers sought to avoid taxes and conscription to the Ottoman army, choosing to be tenants on the land, instead of ever seeking to own it. Jewish immigrants legally purchased land from the foreign landlords (albeit at exorbitant prices).

In order to appease the growing Arab population, the British appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1922, despite his recent massacre of Jews in prayer at the Western Wall. Al-Husseini, a close friend and supporter of Adolf Hitler, proudly welcomed the swastika, made Mein Kampf a best-seller in Palestine, and formed the Nazi Scouts for Arab youth. Although Palestinian Jews had been being subjected to massacres for centuries, British officers stationed in Palestine during the 19th and 20th centuries reported an increase in such attacks, especially under Haj Amin al-Husseini. In 1929, al-Husseini passed pamphlets out to his fellow Muslim Arabs urging them to massacre Jews. (Note: he also promoted the murder, persecution, and expulsion of those Muslim Arabs who did not share his sentiments.) On August 23, Arabs conducted a surprise massacre on the native Jewish population of Hebron, killing old men, Yeshiva students, burning and desecrating synagogues, and chasing them out of their ancient city for good. Firsthand British accounts of the slaughter are too graphic to print here. Look up Hebron and see who occupies the ancient Jewish city today. Does the world care?

Sadly similar to today, the Arabs' massacres of Jews ironically gained them support under British rule. This can be seen in several significant, history-shaping decisions - most notably, the thousands of illegal Arab immigrants to Palestine that went unchecked by the British (Peters 226-340). Despite the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the only group ever restricted from immigrating to the historical Jewish homeland were Jews. (See the White Paper of 1939.) Holocaust victims and children were often turned away and sent back to death camps.

The most important concession to the Arabs though, came in 1921 when Britain gave 80% of its Mandate of Palestine to a wealthy Hashemite family to rule, naming it Transjordan (re-named Jordan in 1946). The sole objective of this was the creation of a Palestinian Arab Muslim state. According to the Peel Report of 1937, the huge territory had a population of only 320,000 people. Jews were forbidden from living there, so even the ones whose families had lived on the land for centuries were forced out though legislation or persecution. And the world didn't blink an eye.

In 1947, the UN Partition Plan provided for the establishment of a Jewish state and another Arab state on the remaining 20% of the British Mandate. (See which way Great Britain voted.) After centuries of persecution in the Middle East and in Europe, the Jews gratefully accepted the tiny sliver of their homeland, with the hope that they might finally live in peace. The Arabs immediately rejected it, and voiced their (well-documented) intent to make Palestine empty of Jews. Sadly, this open hatred was just historical repetition, and nothing new. Most importantly, it was not - as many propagandists would have people believe - in response to Zionism.

It was this centuries-old racism towards Jews that motivated Arab nations to start openly preparing for a full-scale attack on Jews, as soon as Israel announced her statehood. Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha, the Arab League's Secretary General in 1948 warned, "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades." (Morris 219) The Arab village of Deir Yassin lent its full support by cutting off the supply route to Jerusalem. Desperate not to face another Holocaust, the Jews of the Irgun and Lehi first asked the village to surrender - which differed greatly from the classic Arab tactic of the surprise massacre. The Jews then attacked in one of the few instances where they retaliated against the centuries of massacres they had been subjected to. Jewish authorities punished members of the Irgun and Lehi anyway. In contrast, the Arabs' frequent (and much more violent) tactics were typically ignored or even rewarded, as previously mentioned. Martin Gilbert, one of Britain's leading historians, estimates that nearly "one per cent of the total Jewish population" (307) in Palestine was wiped out by Arab massacres between 1947 and 1948.

However uncomfortable it may be to discuss, the fact remains that there have been countless instances of Muslim violence against people of other faiths, as well as against fellow Muslims, throughout the centuries. Consider for example, Banu Quraiza, the 7th century Jewish tribal village that was massacred by Arabs who then changed the name to...(ready for this?) Medina - the Second Holiest City in Islam. For more examples, research the following: Jews of Damascus, Marrakesh, Fez, Tlemcen, Oran, Constantine, Tunis, Dajayya, al-Mahdiya, Zliten, Zawiya Gharibya, Great Synagogue of Aleppo, Tripoli, Ethiopian Jews, persecution of Baha'is in Mazandaran and Najafabad where a Baha'i cemetery was bulldozed, Christian persecution in Kosovo, the Philippines and Thailand, persecution of Buddhists in Yala Thailand, "Palestinians Killing Palestinians", Nasr el Din Nasr, Suleiman Bey Toukan, Sheikh Ali Nur Khatib, Shlomo Argov, Monica Lehrer, Tali Hatuel, Hillel Neuer's Banned UN Speech, Qiryat Shemona, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Emadeddin Baghi, Rabbah al-Quwai'i, Khaled Abu Toameh, Samir Sadagatoglu, Rafik Tagi, Gul Masih, Ayub Masih, and the genocide of 80 million Hindus (the largest in history), just to name a few. If certain people think Israel's retaliations to attacks are "atrocities" then where is their outrage at these events? Do these victims get a voice? Those who skewer Israel without mentioning any of these tragedies belie their own true nature.

It would be difficult to thoroughly re-cap every war that has been launched against Israel. However the historical context of the Six Day War is worth mentioning particularly because the details of it are so often skewed by journalists who grasp at revisionist-style historyin order to confirm their own already-established prejudices. It is well documented that Egypt was planning to attack Israel with the willing help of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Algeria. Egyptian President [at the time] Nasser stated, "We knew the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba meant war...the objective will be Israel's destruction." It is also well known that The Gaza Strip and West Bank had each been under the military control of Egypt and Jordan respectively (interestingly, with no complaint from Palestinian Arabs). Israel repeatedly stated that it did not want a war with Jordan, and asked King Hussein not to attack. Jordan responded by firing 6,000 shells into Jewish civilian areas. Count how many times Jordan attacked before Israel finally retaliated. Note the number of attacks Jordan waged on Israeli civilians even after a UN cease-fire was brokered, until finally, Israel was left with no choice but to take the land from which they were being constantly shot at (also known as the West Bank). The land was legally acquired by Israel - by the same wartime standards as any other nation that acquired land through defensive wars without being subjected to the hypocritical wrath of other nations over it. It is baffling when nations guilty of land takeovers and conquests criticize the notion of displaced "native" populations. It is blatant hypocrisy when they then condemn Israel, one of the few nations on earth whose native Jewish population has remained and returned to the land, despite unbelievable persecution.

UN Resolution 242 is another element that is essential to understanding not only the conflict, but the opportunities for peace that have been rejected again and again. All too often, this easily-accessible historical Resolution is explained completely incorrectly by journalists who, for their own reasons, choose to repeat propaganda rather than research the history. In reality, UN Resolution 242 is the first time in history that a country has been asked to relinquish land that was legally captured in a defensive war. Once again, not only is this double-standard rarely even mentioned, but the second half of the Resolution is often ignored. It calls for the termination of all claims or states of belligerency. Thus, it is actually the Palestinians who are in violation of Resolution 242. They want the extermination of Jews more than they want their own state. Want proof? Look at the government charter of Hamas, the party that was recently elected by a strong majority in Palestinian elections: "Jihad, the Movement is a universal one . . . Whoever denigrates its worth, or avoids supporting it . . .whether intentionally or not, will wake up to find himself overtaken by events . . . Priority is reserved to the early comers . . . The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!" (translation from Palestinecenter.org). It also says the "[Zionist] scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion . . . Leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason." Sadly, it is clear some people actually support these hateful ideologies.

It is important to acknowledge that the territories of Gaza and the West Bank never actually belonged to the Palestinian Arabs, since they rejected the offers of land in 1937, 1948, and 2000. In fact, Israel has agreed to a Palestinian state more times than the Palestinians have. Therefore, anyone - including members of the UN - who claims Israel is "illegally occupying" land that was legally acquired in a defensive war is either ignoring history, or flat out lying for reasons only they can explain. Assuming Israel were to go along with the double-standard other nations don't even hold themselves to, to whom would Israel "return" the land? Egypt and Jordan don't want it back. And Palestinian Arab leadership has refused every opportunity to have their own state. Perhaps the statement made by PLO Founder Ahmed Shuqeiri to the UN Security Council offers a hint as to why: "It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria."

As the lone democracy and most religiously-tolerant nation in the Middle East, Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid (Egypt is second). But at least Israel has positive, humanitarian and scientific contributions to show for it - more than the rest of the Middle East combined actually, for those who appreciate proportions. The Palestinian territories, on the other hand, clearly do not have much to show for the billions of dollars in foreign aid they have received (GAO-06-1062R) - both from legitimate and not-so-legitimate sources (IMF Report 2006). But, at least the aid was able to buy Suha Arafat two palatial residences in Paris, worth millions. After an international audit in August 2002 caught him skimming millions of dollars from The Palestine Investment Fund, Yasser Arafat ordered all future audits be kept secret.

Obviously, the situation today is not much better than that described by King Hussein of Jordan in an Associated Press interview in January 1960: "Since 1948 Arab leaders . . . have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal." (Peters, 23) Currently, Islamic governments control over 99.9% of the land in the Middle East and the territories under the Palestinian Authority have become breeding grounds for the hatred that has haunted the Jewish homeland for centuries. Sadly, many Palestinians would sooner send their own children to their death, rather than utilize their potential (and all that foreign aid) to create that state they claim they have always wanted but consistently reject. In order to test the "land for peace" theory, Israel gave Palestinians the Gaza strip - which they now use peacefully to launch rockets onto the Israeli neighborhood of Sderot. And yet, certain people, groups, and nations, for reasons only they can explain, continue to pander to the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic governments that support them - all which have some of the worst human-rights violations on record - even against their own citizens.

The UN is especially guilty of engaging in flagrant favoritism towards wealthy, oil-rich Islamic nations while selectively ignoring the countless human rights abuses of these same nations. The UN went so far as to change the definition of "refugee" to accommodate Palestinian Muslim Arabs who had lived on the land for only two years or more in 1948. And yet - Human Rights advocates take note - the UN has yet to address the 850,000 Jewish refugees that were persecuted and forced from their homelands of Aden, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and others. These human rights violations need to be openly recognized and acknowledged. It is crucial to support those who uphold human rights, and not inadvertently give credibility to those who do not.

One side has clearly and beyond a doubt been attacking not only Israel, but any person or nation that believes in freedom and respect for all human beings, for centuries. For those that continue to subscribe to the notion that "both sides are equally wrong" are not only harming the peace process with such an unproductive slant, but such propaganda greatly disrespects all the innocent people who have died in the name of hate. To suggest that all the innocent victims throughout the centuries, and from all parts of the world are part of the problem, this only serves to lend insight into the conscience of a person who asserts such ideas. It is worth considering the empirical possibility that one day those that support and justify such violence may inadvertently wind up on the receiving end of it. And if they have already established the precedent that even the victims are seen as wrong, who will be their voice?

Given that so little is known about the Middle East by most people, it is clearly not a popular subject to talk about. But neither were many tough issues in history that desperately needed a voice. No human rights abuse was ever solved by covering it up or ignoring it. The long-dead victims would certainly agree. The propaganda that is being used to justify persecution, oppression, and the taking of innocent lives is shameful. And people who repeat such propaganda without checking the accuracy of what they are repeating play a big role in inhibiting peace. People need to make sure they are not unknowingly supporting the very ideologies they claim to be against. Peaceful world citizens who do not have a problem with one tiny Jewish nation need to be able to express that without fear of persecution. All human beings deserve to live in peace without constant threats of annihilation just for trying to exist.

Suggested further reading: The following books, documents, maps, and other sources contain additional references as well as firsthand accounts from the important Mandate period. (To give you an idea, From Time Immemorial is one of the largest single compilations of research on the subject, with over 1,800 citations, most of which reference British Mandate documents that are freely available to the public.) These historical texts are widely-acknowledged, respected and accepted by Middle East scholars seeking to understand the full picture, and are refuted only by those whose propaganda-driven agendas are negatively impacted by their existence. Additionally, I have selected some autobiographies of people who have lived through conflict in various areas of the Middle East and have shared their tragic yet courageous stories.

The Caged Virgin and Infidel, both by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also wrote the script of Submission, a film created by Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was then assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri. Ms. Ali now lives in hiding.
Exile and Return (1978) and The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Sir Martin Gilbert (2002) Sir Gilbert is one of Britain's leading historians, and author of seventy-two books.
From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters (1984). Ms. Peters served as a Middle East expert in the Carter Administration and now serves on the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
Righteous Victims by Israeli historian Benny Morris
A History of the Jews by Paul M. Johnson
Why the Jews by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin
Now They Call Me Infidel by Nonie Darwish
Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabriel
The Case for Israel and The Case for Peace by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz
Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of 27th Session, 1935.
Peel Commission Report, July 1937
CRS Report for Congress: US Foreign Aid to the [Arab] Palestinians, Order Code RS22370.
Report No. 38207: West Bank and Gaza Public Expenditure Review
International Monetary Fund Mission Statement for West Bank and Gaza, December 17, 2006
Letter from the GAO-06-1062R USAID West Bank and Gaza Antiterrorism Procedures, September 29, 2006
GAO-07-443R West Bank and Gaza Funding
Human Rights Watch - www.hrw.org
Committee for Accuracy for Middle East Reporting in America - www.camera.org

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