Saturday, October 18, 2008

Israel / Palestine: Trouble Getting the Facts Straight?

Those of us who work in Palestine / Israel are often faced with not only questions but also perplexity when we visit the US and share our experience. The difference between what we report, what we have seen, and what the common understanding of the situation is in the US is so tremendous, that the truth takes a while to sink in. Also many people will honestly acknowledge a lack of understanding of the basic facts and history of the region. This blog entry will not try to summarize the last 70 years or so (and no, it’s NOT been going on for thousands of years—so let’s stop saying that), but I’d like to present some recent sources of information on the situation, notably based on recent interviews of two Israeli Prime Ministers and the visit of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC to Israel / Palestine.

[1] There actually IS an occupation and conquest of land going on, and the expected end result of current Israeli policies if Palestinians comply with Israel’s every whim will not be peace. That’s why Israeli policies are opposed by informed people of conscience in the world. Antisemitism is a problem but it’s not the root of this particular problem.

RESOURCE: Here are 12 minutes worth listening to. Thanks to Sabeel ( for providing a recording of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC, The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane’s October 5th sermon on the topic of his recent trip to Palestine. Click here and listen.

[2] There actually ARE solutions, which parameters are widely known and agreed upon. Those are essentially framed by international law. They were agreed upon by different Israeli and Palestinian constituents during the Taba discussions (after the failed Camp David negotiations in 2000, which were doomed from the start and did not align with past international agreements); they were reframed by the Geneva Accords; and departing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally recognized they were inevitable solutions, but only as he is departing from his role as prime minister. Current policies of Israel are only partly justified by security concerns but mostly serve to support the continuation of conquest.

RESOURCE: I will quote extensively from an interview of departing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The full English translation from Israel News Today can be downloaded from Yahoo News among others.

Ehud Olmert recognizes that "The time has come to leave the territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with various arrangements, and the Golan Heights as well."
He pins the flaws of the governmental system in Israel on the reality of the occupation. "There is no government because there are no borders." He admits that he erred in his foreign policy

Olmert also recognizes that Israel locks itself in a dead-end scenario with its security approach. (This is also stressed by the fact that he made these statements only after losing his position. While Prime Minister he was as aggressive as any, and even let himself be pushed by the US into a destructive war with Hezbollah which wrecked havoc in Lebanon and Northern Israel in 2006.)

He says: "We face the need to decide, but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace." When the journalist asks about Jerusalem, Olmert says: "Including in Jerusalem with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites." He continues: ""Whoever wants to hold on to all of the city's territory will have to bring 270,000 Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won't work. A decision has to be made. This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years."

[3] The aggressive militarist policy of Israel, which leads it toward more and more wars, will not achieve security. It is also clear that Israel is not the weak power surrounded by ferocious enemies; it IS the dominant power in the region. Here again, it is instructive to hear what Olmert has to say at the end of his term as Prime Minister.

"I ask, let us assume that in the next year or two a regional war breaks out and we reach a military confrontation with Syria. I have no doubt that we will roundly defeat them; we are stronger than them. I am telling you, Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. We can face any of our adversaries, and we can face all the adversaries together and win. I only ask myself, what will happen when we beat them? First of all, we will pay prices, and they will be painful... As a person who sits on this seat, you have to ask yourself where you direct your efforts, do you direct the effort at making peace, or at constantly becoming stronger, stronger, and stronger in order to win the war...And I say, we are strong enough as we are. The strength we have today is great, and it is sufficient to face any threat. Now we have to see how we use this infrastructure of force in order to build peace and not to win a war."

[4] Of course the people of Israel want peace, but Israel's actions are far from having been pro-peace. Since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox Jew who opposed peace agreements with the Palestinians, the dominant thrust of Israeli politics has been to conquer more land, which means limiting the freedom of Palestinians, taking their land and pushing them out progressively. And this trend continues to a large extent.

RESOURCES: As an illustration to the continuous drive to occupy Palestine, former Prime Minister Benjamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu was recently interviewed by the Financial Times. (Click here to read this article.) Netanyahu was the darling of the American media when he was prime minister given personal charm, his flawless English and his closeness to American culture. But as soon as he was in office, he put a stop to the past efforts of Rabin to make some headways toward peace.
Even now, what Netanyahu proposes is a series of disconnected Palestinian cities supposedly kept at peace through economic development projects. It is impressive that someone as visible as Netanyahu would openly speak of abandonning the idea of a Palestinian State, but some US politicians also continue to raise that prospect.

The fact that the political default mode in Israel continues to effectively put obstacles to peace is also acknowledged in Olmert's interview referenced above. He says:
"What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me. The time has come to say these things. The time has come to put them on the table...The goal is to try to reach for the first time the delineation of an exact border line between us and the Palestinians, where the whole world-the United States, the UN, Europe-will say, these are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, we anchor them in formal resolutions of international institutions. These are Israel's borders, and these are the recognized borders of the Palestinian state...Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel's basic security?"

Olmert goes on to report that he told a group of "the most central people in the decision-making processes on the most crucial issues in the country"; "When I hear you, I understand why we have not made peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians for 40 years, and why we will not make peace for 40 more years with the Palestinians and the Syrians."

Olmert even refers to the current situation with Iran and seems to respond to the too easily thrown around idea that 'Israel will take care of it.' Having led the country, he seems to have lost some appetite with part of the rhetoric of power and war.
"Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself...The assumption that if the United States, Russia, China, Britain and Germany don't know how to deal with the Iranians, we Israelis will know, we will do, we will act, is an example of loss of proportions."

[5] Finally, it's important to be clear about the fact that the historical truth CAN be understood. Of course, different views will prevail, but the essential parameters of what has really happened in this land are accessible to us. The notion that 'it's too complicated to figure out,' is simply a tool to force complacency on us while violence goes on and is condoned directly or through silences notably by the US government. (I'll add some book references as a Post Scriptum.)

I hope this served to update some references and facts about this sad conflict. I have not taken time to go into Palestinian and Arab World politics here. Those are already heavily debated and critiqued usually in a flow of excuses for whatever Israel chooses to do at any point. They probably deserve a better treatment. But I was only trying to balance this by pointing to recent evidence for what is really going on and correct misleading assumptions about Israel, which too often find their way into American rhetoric and support, without critical review.


PS: I can't provide an exhaustive list, but some of the links on this blog will prove useful. And here are some books I recommend among an infinite library of books on the topic (most easily found on
* To understand why the Camp David negotiations led under President Clinton failed, read Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002 (Hardcover) by Charles Enderlin.
* For a general history of Israel / Palestine from an honnest Jewish perspective, read: Healing Israel/Palestine: A Path to Peace and Reconciliation, by Rabbi Michael Lerner (
* To understand the basis for a peace resolution, read: The Geneva Accord: And Other Strategies for Healing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Terra Nova) by Michael Lerner
* To understand the Oslo Peace Agreement and the process which led to it, read: This Side of Peace by Hanan Ashrawi
* For a personal account of a Palestinian Christian family's history, read Palestinian Memories: The story of a Palestinian mother and her people by Alex Awad. (
* For detailed historical reviews of the facts, read any of the books by Benny Moris (notably Righeous Victims) and Illan Pappe (including The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine), two leading Israeli historians of totally different political leaning.
* For a focus on Christianity in the land, read Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 by Donald Wagner.
* Palestine: Peace not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter provides an interesting look at the future.
* The One State Solution by Virginia Tilley provides the best analysis of the conflicting Israeli constituencies I have read so far.

It's also important to realize that shameful disinformation and propaganda books have circulated and sadly gained undue recognition. Just as the "Elders of Zion" was an antisemitic text, racist and baseless, which still finds its ways into extreme-right antisemitic literature, "From Times Immemorial" is a racist manipulation and fabrication of history. It has been totally discredited in serious circles, but sadly still finds its way in reading lists in the US, and was vastly tapped to support a very dishonest propaganda book by Alan Dershowitz. (Norman Finkelstein deserves the credit for taking down a lot of these deceptions.)


David said...

The dishonest propaganda book you mentioned (by Alan Dershowitz) is called The Case for Israel. Oddly enough, Natalie Portman was his research assistant on that one, the only good reason that either Emily or I have found that I shouldn't try to date Ms. Portman.

Elrig said...

That's commitment to principles. Mabrouk.