Tuesday, August 16. 2005
Judy Press wrote an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Israeli disengagement is a bold step." Like most hasbarah, her piece is so full of errors that it defies any attempt to reply. I had trouble getting past the first paragraph:
Of course, in May 1967 the Arab armies weren't amassed anywhere near Israel. Much of Egypt's army was tied down in the civil war in Yemen. No Arab country expected to "wipe out" Israel. None wanted a war with Israel in any shape or form. There was merely a diplomatic crisis that had occurred with the U.N. removed monitor troops from Egypt, allowing Egypt to shut down Israeli shipping through the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel's pre-emptive attack targeted the prospects for a diplomatic solution as much as it did its Arab neighbors. Israel had been hankering for a border fight ever since the 1949 armistices. Israel tried to provoke a war with Egypt in 1954 when Mossad agents planted bombs in Cairo and Alexandria in what eventually came to be known as the Lavon Affair. Israel did attack Egypt in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, ostensibly to help the U.K. and France topple the Egyptian government and take back the Suez Canal. Israel repeatedly provoked border incidents with Syria, and occasionally attacked towns in the West Bank and Gaza, nominally belonging to Jordan and Egypt. There was nothing surprising about Israel's victory in the 1967 war: Israel destroyed Egypt's air force in the first hours of the war, leaving Egypt's tanks defenseless. Only the campaign to take the Golan Heights from Syria took the full six days. This may have been unexpected to outsiders, but Israel's military had no doubt of its plans or its success.
The Gaza strip was never part of Egypt. It was part of Britain's Palestine Mandate, and was included (along with adjacent lands) as one of the parts of the Arab partition of Palestine proposed by the U.N. in 1947. Egypt held Gaza as a protectorate pending formation of a Palestinian state, which at the time was impossible both due to Israeli opposition and Jordan's annexation of the West Bank. Had Egypt considered Gaza to be part of Egypt, they would have insisted on Gaza as well as Sinai as part of the 1979 peace deal. That Sinai might be 90% of the land area of Sinai plus Gaza is one of those meaningless numbers that propagandists throw out to confuse the issue.
And that's just the first paragraph. They're all like that. The question is how to focus on the main problem without getting lost in all the errors and innuendos.
Here's a draft of a possible response:
Still, the idea of trying to boil so much correction down to so few words leaves much unsaid. Blaming the Palestinians for the ill-fated Oslo Peace Process overlooks the doubling of the number of settlers during the period, but just as importantly ignores the fact that the three prime ministers elected after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination had all been opponents of Oslo. How coincidental was it that peace failed on the watch of political leaders sworn to oppose it?
The bottom line is that several million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank live under a military occupation without essential political and human rights, and that several millions more live in exile, unable to return to their homes or to start new lives. This started for complicated reasons where nobody, including the major powers in Europe and America, behaved with much insight or fairness, but it has continued way past the point of any possible reasoning because it suits the political interests of parties in Israel and, sad to say, in the United States. Virtually no Arab these days rejects the right of Israel to exist at peace within its pre-1967 war borders. (The exceptions, I suppose, are the al-Qaeda types, who are enemies of most Arabs and all Arab states.) No Arab state represents even a potential threat to Israel. During the two years when Barak was promising to negotiate a final resolution to the Oslo process there was no anti-Israeli terrorism. Yet most Israelis feel themselves as embattered as ever, in large part because they have been taught to view as their God-given right the power to take the land of from those who have lived on it for many generations and to deprive those people of their rights and dignity.
One thing we should pay careful attention to in the publicity that comes out of the Gaza settlement evacuation is what the settlers have to say about the people who make up 99% of Gaza's population. Many of these statements are profoundly, shockingly racist -- a typical line I heard today was that Arabs were sub-human. In many cases settlers are determined to destroy their property lest it fall into Arab hands -- again, today I saw a clip of a settler torching his house as he left it. Nor are these aberrations: Israel's official policy is to bulldoze all the settlement dwellings, as indeed they did when they withdrew from their Sinai settlements. It speaks much about Israel today that this whole sorry episode (by which I mean the 38-year effort to plant settlers in Gaza) will end in rubble.
Postscript [Aug. 19]: In the August 18 edition, the Eagle published two letters in response to Press' column. I'm reprinting them here:
I don't know Bohn, but I gather that he's a retired Mennonite minister, and that he's spent considerable time in occupied Palestine as part of the Christian Peacemaker Teams' projects there. I've met several people who have worked with CPT, especially in Hebron, where the Baruch Goldstein incident took place. Even without Goldstein, the Hebron settlement is notorious for its constant attacks on and harrassment of Hebron's Palestinian residents. At the time (Feb. 25, 1994) Goldstein's act shocked most Israelis, leading to calls to dismantle the settlement (Kiryat Arba). When Rabin refused to take action against the settlement, he essentially allowed that the Oslo Accords could be wrecked by Jewish extremists. In 1995 Rabin was assassinated by another Jewish extremist, and Oslo deteriorated from there. Goldstein died in his attack, which in addition to killing 29 injured another hundred. He should be remembered as the first of the suicide bombers. His tombstone reds: "His hands are innocent and his heart is pure. He was killed as a martyr of God."
Two incidents in recent weeks have followed Goldstein's example, with Jewish settlers opening fire on Palestinian civilians, hoping no doubt to disrupt the "disengagement." These people are on the extreme right-wing fringe of Israeli politics -- so far out that their Kach party has been outlawed. That gives most Israelis an excuse to pretend that the extremists are not representative of Israel, but the fact is that what the extremists do resonates so perfectly with Israel's more mainstream right-wing parties that they have an ability to influence events far beyond their numbers.
These extremists are disproportionately represented among the settlers, especially in settlements like Kiryat Arba that were founded by political movements (as opposed to most settlements, which were founded by the government for some kind of security rationale). But most of Israel's settlers are there for economic reasons -- the settlements are highly subsidized -- and not for ideological reasons. Polls have indicated that more than half of all Israeli settlers would gladly return to Israel with some reasonable compensation, and those numbers have been demonstrated in Gaza. Those people didn't make the news. I suspect that had Sharon not been so ambivalent (or more likely, duplicitous) about removing the Gaza settlements their numbers would have been far greater.