Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A rebuttal: Intellectual honesty warranted in debate about Israel-Palestine conflict

Zaina Awad '09 is a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem. She writes in response to Neta Levanon's last post, continuing the online debate begun earlier.

In her latest blog entry, Neta writes that a bi-directional analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was missing from my response to her first post, "In defense of a compassionate Israel." She is correct: Such analysis was missing from my post, but simply because I wrote in response to her entry which also showed no sign of any such analysis. Let us not forget that in her first article, Neta chose to blame everyone but the "compassionate" Israelis for the failure of the Middle East peace process.

I, too, believe that a bi-directional analysis of this conflict is necessary, but the first step towards that goal is surely some kind of intellectual honesty and accountability about our history. Palestine was never “a land without people for a people without land,” as has been claimed, and the way in which 900,000 of the 1.3 million Arabs who lived in Palestine before the creation of the Jewish state suddenly disappeared on Israel’s birthday in 1948 simply cannot afford Israel’s supporters the “cleaner conscience” that Neta apparently clings to in her writing.

In order for the creation of the state of Israel, a homeland for the Jews, to succeed, the land it was built on needed to be emptied of any non-Jew living there. Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann, described this quest as "a miraculous clearing of the land, the miraculous simplification of Israel's task” — but these events were not so much miraculous as the result of a carefully executed plan (see David Hirst’s exhaustive research on this topic in The Gun and the Olive Branch). That plan was clearly articulated by Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, when he said that the goal of Zionism was to "spirit the penniless population [i.e., the Arabs of Palestine] across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country” (see T. Herzl’s Complete Diaries, Volume I, pg. 8). Herzl wanted to give Palestinians one of two options: They could either stay in their homes, unable to provide for their families because they were denied employment, or leave their homes and work in a different country.

Neta writes, "from the very onset of Jewish immigration to the region, prior even to 1900, the Jews acquired the land legally by purchasing it from Arab landowners." By 1929, Zionists owned only 6.6 percent of Palestinian land, part of which they did not purchase from the owners but came to them through land concessions from the British mandate administration (see William Polk’s research of British Mandate census reports in his book Backdrop to Tragedy). However, this quantity of land was wholly insufficient for the Zionist plan for a Jewish state. Neta states that the Palestinians should be blamed for the failure of the U.N. Partition Plan of 1948. What, then, are we to make of Plan Dalet, the Zionist blueprint for claiming through force and terror most or all of Palestine which began on April 1, 1948? Yigal Allon, an Israeli military leader at that time, described the strategy of Plan Dalet:

“I … gathered all of the Jewish Mukhtars … and asked them to whisper in the ears of some Arabs, that a great Jewish reinforcement has arrived in Galilee and that is it going to burn all of the villages of the Huleh. They should suggest to these Arabs, as their friends, to escape while there is still time. … The flight numbered myriads. The tactic reached its goal completely. … The wide areas were cleaned.” (See Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch).

Neta also claims that “rumors” of Jewish massacres of Arabs were propagated not by Zionist entities but by the Arabs themselves. However, Erskine Childers, an Irish scholar who, in the 1950s and 1960s, conducted his own exhaustive investigation of radio monitor reports from BBC and the CIA, found no records of Arab nations calling for a Palestinian evacuation. In fact, he found the opposite, “repeated monitored record[s] of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put” (see Christopher Hitchen’s reports on Childer’s research in his book Blaming the Victims).

The machinations of Plan Dalet began well before the British withdrawal and the date set by the U.N. for the creation of two separate states. The Deir Yassin massacre occurred on April 10, and other forced expulsions, were the reasons that Palestinians rejected the U.N. plan a few weeks later — a plan which completely ignored the demographic reality on the ground by giving 60 percent of the land to an immigrant group which constituted less than a third of the population.

Neta characterizes this attitude as the Palestinian “aversion to peace.” I give you this scenario: A stranger knocks down your door and kicks you out of your home. According to him, it is his home because his ancestors lived there thousands of years ago. But you hold the deed and the keys — you and your family live there. You take your case to the courts, and the judge rules that you have to give most of your home to that stranger. If you refused to settle for this, could anyone in their right mind accuse you of having an aversion to peace?

Neta also uses Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a land it had occupied for 38 years and on which it built 13 illegal settlements, as evidence that Israel does want peace with the Palestinians. Israel did withdraw from Gaza, but it still maintains control over Gaza's borders and airspace. Israel has sealed Gaza off from the rest of the world; Gaza's residents cannot lead normal, prosperous lives under such conditions. Asking Gaza's residents to establish the grounds for a Palestinian state under such circumstances can be equated to tying up a man's arms and legs and ordering him to swim.

Furthermore, Neta's claim that there is no proof that Israel was responsible for the shelling of Gaza beach and the murder of seven members of the same family is nonsense. According to reports and interviews conducted by CNN, BBC, and the Guardian, a Pentagon military expert, after conducting research on the materials found at the scene as well as the injuries from which the victims died, stated that “the likelihood that the Ghalia family was killed by an explosive other than one of the shells fired by the Israeli army is remote." Israel's army may deny this, but forgive me for not being so naive as to believe them when they have committed and continue to commit such atrocities in the Palestinian territories.

Neta also wrote that she believes Palestinian schools do not teach their students about similar massacres committed by Palestinians. In my case, I did not get my information or opinions as the result of being brainwashed; in fact, I attended an international school in Jerusalem, not a Palestinian school. But I have lived here for 18 years, and I know what I and my family, who have lived here for centuries, have been through as a result of the creation of the state of Israel and the continued occupation of Palestinian territories.

When my father was a young teenager, a Zionist soldier ordered him to tell his family to leave Silwan, their village in Jerusalem. He told my father that the tanks were coming, warning him that if my family and the other villagers stayed in their homes, they would be killed. Even if Neta chooses not to believe me because of my suspect background or education, there are plenty of Israeli and Jewish scholars who have opened their eyes and spoken the truth (such as Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, and Noam Chomsky). Where does Neta's information come from?

As I have already stated, I agree that a bi-directional analysis is necessary on the parts of both Israelis and Palestinians. Neta accused me of not condemning Hamas' and Hezbollah's actions. While doing so, she merely admits the atrocities committed by the state of Israel — I hear no strong condemnation on her part. She makes it sound as if such acts were an unavoidable but forgettable part of Israel's past. She wrote that Israelis are taught about the Deir Yassin massacre as "an example of a tragedy and an event not to be repeated." But the Deir Yassin massacre was not an isolated event in Israeli history. Such massacres have been committed repeatedly by Israel and Israel persists in murdering Palestinians to this very day.

I am not proud of Hamas' and Hezbollah's actions during this conflict. As I said in my last post, I feel no happiness when I hear of suicide bombings and the deaths of Israeli civilians. I strongly condemn such acts, because I know that two wrongs do not make a right. I believe they are irresponsible, inhumane, and not at all conducive to peace.

Nevertheless, my condemnation of these acts is not enough, because the very root of the problem still exists. Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian land, a blatant violation of several United Nations resolutions and every applicable international law, still exists. History proves that Israeli aggression leads to Palestinian retaliation. I agree with Albert Einstein, who in the 1930s wrote, “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state” (see R. Garaudy’s The Case of Israel: A Study of Political Zionism).

I am sure that Neta will respond to this post by again pointing a finger at me and blaming my attitude in this conflict for why peace still does not exist in the region. I have enough respect for her readers to hope that they will see these accusations for what they really are, an excuse for people like Neta to maintain her "cleaner conscience." If Neta remains unwilling even to try to see this conflict from a balanced perspective, she and I will just have to agree to disagree.


Anonymous Zachary Hughes said...

Ms. Awad has certainly demonstrated an ability to write inflammatory rhetoric and make use of lies and half-truths to advance her agenda. This post and her previous one are both riddled with inaccuracies and exaggerations that are hardly even worth enumerating one by one. However, there are a few moments that I found particular objectionable and which I believe must be pointed out.

First, Ms. Awad quotes an unnamed "Pentagon military expert" as saying that "the likelihood that the Ghalia family was killed by an explosive other than one of the shells fired by the Israeli army is remote." That quote is an accurate one; those words were spoken by Marc Garlasco, who is currently a researcher at the NGO Human Rights Watch. However, just a few days after speaking those
words, Mr. Garlasco retracted them.

On Monday, June 19th, Mr. Garlasco met with Major General Meir Klifi, the head of the IDF commission that exonerated the IDF of any responsibility for the Gaza beach blast. After their meeting, Garlasco and HRW declared that the IDF had done a "competent job," and HRW conceded that they could not contradict the IDF's findings. (See Yaakov Katz and Judy Siegel-Itzkovitch, "Gaza beach blast victim wakes," The Jerusalem Post, 20 June 2006.) Ms. Awad's use of Mr. Garlasco's earlier quotation without any reference to his later change of heart is typical of her selective use of quotations and facts.

Almost laughable and borderline anti-Semitic is Ms. Awad's claim that "there are plenty of Israeli and Jewish scholars who have opened their eyes and spoken the truth (such as Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, and Noam Chomsky)." First of all, it is completely unclear to me why she feels the need to even say that "Jewish" scholars have agreed with her. The implication is that Jews automatically and unthinkingly are inclined to side with Israel, and that only the three Jews she cited have been able to rise above this clannish impulse and "[speak] the truth." But she is giving those three "scholars" much more credit than they deserve.

Nobody debates Noam Chomsky's contributions to the field of linguistics. But his political commentary is a wholly different story. He was an outspoken supporter of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and once defended Slobodan Milosevic against accusations of a massacre in Srebrenica. In March 2006, before this outbreak of violence, he made a visit to Lebanon during which he met with Hassan Nasrallah and other members of Hezbollah and expressed his support for the armament of Hezbollah. (See here for more). Finally, despite being born to Jewish parents, Chomsky is a well-known anti-Semite who has well-documented connections to Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis on the right and left end of the political spectrum. (See Werner Cohn, "Partners in Hate: Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers," Cambridge, Avukah Press, 19995. Available online at

Her citation of Benny Morris also demonstrates an ignorance of academic norms and the degree to which Morris's theses have been empirically refuted. Morris has been shown time and time again to have invented quotes and quoted out of context (perhaps Ms. Awad has been taking lessons?). Efraim Karsh, in his book "Fabricating Israeli History," cited numerous examples of Morris's inaccurate use of the historical record. (For a brief synopsis, see Kenneth Levin's "The Oslo Syndrome" (Hanover: Smith & Kraus, 2005), pp. 295-298.)

Perhaps taking a cue from these scholars she admires, Ms. Awad lied when she stated that "it [Israel] still maintains control over Gaza's borders and airspace..." For obvious reasons, Israel controls its own borders with the Gaza Strip, just as the United States controls its borders with Canada and Mexico and all other sovereign nations control their borders. But Israel does not control the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt. The Palestinians control that border. (See the "Corrections" in the 2/5/06 copy of the San Francisco Chronicle; their columnist David Biale made the same mistake).

This comment has become much longer than I intended it to be, but I believe it would be unconscionable to continue to allow Ms. Awad to publish her half-truths, lies, and incendiary rhetoric unchallenged (not to mention her unwarranted personal attacks on Ms. Levanon, who sought only a civil and intellectual discourse). I respect Ms. Awad's right to form her own opinions and share them with others. But I cannot respect anyone who manipulates the truth in an effort to advance their agenda. The conflict in the Middle East is tragic enough; one need not lie to make it seem even more so.

Zachary Hughes, WWS '08

6:02 PM  
Blogger sherene said...

Are we supposed to count ourselves grateful that Zachary Hughes’s conscience could not suffer to be silent on the issues raised by Zaina Awad’s blog entry that he felt compelled to write a comment which in itself is so insulting and snide that it can’t even be taken seriously? The way in which Zachary Hughes so easily labels Zaina a person he does not know personally and clearly does not care to know, an anti-semite and a liar, is completely unbecoming, insensitive, and does not even deign a response. But ignoring for the moment his unwarranted personal attacks on the character and integrity of a fellow student, the readers of this blog should know that Zachary’s opinions are as baseless as his insults.

Firstly, for all that Zachary deplores Zaina’s supposed “selective use of quotations and facts”, I find it interesting that he chose to cite the Jerusalem Post, possibly Israel’s most right-wing and least impartial newspaper, as apparently irrefutable evidence that Marc Garlasco was wrong in determining that Israeli shelling did indeed result in the deaths of the Ghalia family on a Gaza beach in June. Human Rights Watch, the organization for which Marc Garlasco conducted his investigation, released a statement the day after meeting with the IDF on June 19th (referenced by Zachary) stating that “the meeting revealed that the IDF’s conclusion that it was not responsible for the deaths on the beach [and] was based exclusively on information gathered by the IDF and excluded all evidence gathered by other sources.” In fact, the head of the IDF commission which determined oh-so-quickly that Israel bore no responsibility for Huda Ghalia’s dead family refused to acknowledge the validity of any of HRW's evidence gathered from Palestinian sources on the basis that Palestinians “have no problem lying.” This external evidence included the records of HRW researchers and multiple independent journalists on the ground that the Ghalia family was killed during the time frame of Israeli shelling activity (which the IDF denied), hospital records showing when the injured civilians were admitted to hospital, and artillery fuse shrapnel removed by Palestinian doctors from persons injured by the blast. General Meir Kalifi refused to include any of this material in his commission’s investigation by claiming a Palestinian conspiracy to falsify evidence, to which Marc Gerlasco responded that “If the Israeli allegations of tampered evidence are to be believed, many Palestinians would have to have engaged in a massive and immediate conspiracy to falsify the data … the conspirators – witnesses, victims, medical personnel, and bomb disposal staff – would have had to falsify their testimony, amend digital and handwritten records, and dip shrapnel into a victim’s blood. It beggars belief that such a huge conspiracy could be orchestrated so quickly.” (

Second, Benny Morris, whether Zachary approves of him or not, remains a well-regarded, well-read, and highly respected historical researcher and author on the Israel-Palestine issue by many more than just Zaina Awad. I have yet to take a Politics or History class on the Middle East that does not include in its reading list an article or book authored by this man. I do not agree with everything Benny Morris has said, including his current opinion that David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) made a mistake by not removing every single Arab from the state of Israel at its founding, but nonetheless Benny Morris’ academic credentials cannot be so easily dismissed. I especially could not do so on the basis of anything written by Efraim Karsh, whose work I first read in 2002 when he stated the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land did nothing but benefit the Palestinians. Having personally spent most of my life existing under this apparently benevolent occupation, I can say unequivocally right now that Efraim Karsh is as ignorant as they come.
Commentary magazine, July 2002

Thirdly, Zaina did not lie in stating that Israel still maintains control over Gaza’s borders and airspace. Zachary’s comment that the Gaza border with Egypt is not under Israel’s control is completely irrelevant to the context in which Zaina discussed the issue – the context of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Gaza and the West Bank are acknowledged by the international community and supposedly Israel itself as the territorial foundation for a future Palestinian state, but Israel’s actions in completely blocking any shared access between the West Bank and Gaza by sealing the Gaza border with Israel is making the vision of a Palestinian state wither into nothingness. The United States may control its border with Canada, but Canada also controls its border with the United States – Palestinians were given no such trappings of sovereignty as a result of Israel’s withdrawal.

Finally, I would like to address Zachary’s opinion that Zaina’s referencing of Jewish and Israeli scholars is somehow “laughable and borderline anti-semitic.” Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Benny Morris (among others) are almost universally recognized as Israel’s “New Revisionist” historians – and the reason they were given this label was their clear departure from the version of Israel’s history that was written by Zionist Jewish authors up to the 1980s, when archive records released by Great Britain and the United States (among others) revealed evidence that this traditional history did not nearly tell the whole story. Avi Shlaim (notably the only academic that Zachary did not defame in his comment) explained the relevance of this generation of Jewish historical scholarship thus:

“The traditional Zionist rendition of the events of 1948 is familiar to all of you. It lays all the blame for the war and its consequences on the Arab side. This is a nationalist version of history and, as such, it is simplistic, selective, and self-serving… Unless and until Israel acknowledges its share of the moral responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, this dispute will not be solved.” (

In this context, there is nothing anti-semitic or laughable in referencing Jewish Israeli scholars who did the unthinkable two decades ago when they challenged Israel’s selectively compiled and factually incorrect history of its birth and exposed themselves to virulent criticisms of being self-hating Jews and anti-Zionists as a result. The New Revisionists were not the first to question the Zionist history of Israel, but they were among the first to do so from within Israeli and the world Jewish community, and that is why their work was so groundbreakingly important. You may not agree with them, but labelling Zaina an anti-semite for attempting to point this out is bigoted, ignorant, and unfair.

To conclude, Zachary, you and your opinions deserve no consideration when you use a public forum to toss around such derogatory words as “liar” and “anti-semite” about someone you do not know simply because you disagree with her viewpoints. If you actually knew what those words meant and how much weight they carry, you would not use them so easily in discussing an issue so convoluted and complex that every issue is a shade of grey.

10:48 PM  

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