In which I bait myself into writing more about Israel

When I’m in the mood for a zesty bite of ultranationalist Zionism, I look no further than the blog of Rabbi Andrew Jacobs. This month, Jacobs offers up the usual dose of warmed-over, slanted half-truths that passed for indoctrination in your average Saturday School classroom back when I was a youngling. My personal favorite bit was the irony of his later posting in defense of Florida’s teachers because the situation’s multifaceted and you have to assign parents due responsibility for their children’s poor performance….while implying that the Palestinian cause is morally empty in part because of bad things that people who weren’t even their ancestors did to Jews in the Levant 1000 to 2500 years ago. But I digress. As completely absurd as that is, it’s still just a matter of opinion and the rabbi is welcome to be as silly as he wants with those.

Where I start having a problem is with the repeating of lies. Howler #1:

The “Palestinian” community made absolutely no claim to [the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem] until Israel acquired control of them in during the 1967 war.

Now, those of us who have studied history because we find it interesting, and not solely to justify our extant political views, tend to read things in addition to neoconservative propaganda to inform ourselves. Allow me to translate how the rabbi’s sentence reads to us:

I have not a single fucking clue about the contentious history of the Palestinian people in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

There’s a word for the idea that the Palestinian refugees were docile subjects of Jordan who renounced all claims to hold and govern these lands until the Israelis invaded them in 1967: the word is “lie.”

Howler #2:

Israeli settlements that were built in undeveloped, uninhabited areas of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 are completely legal. The facts to back it up: The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements.

100% false. This is, if anything, far more shameful than just baldly stating wrong facts. It’s the work of someone who’s learned from a true weasel, an old hand at misrepresenting the issues in play.

The facts:

  • Under international law, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. Period. Talk to any lawyer who specializes in this branch of the law and they’ll invariably tell you that settling an occupied or annexed area that nobody else recognizes as legitimately yours is not legal. It doesn’t matter whether the area is the West Bank, Kuwait in 1991, or East Timor after 1975.  The “legality” here comes from the fact that Israel itself considers some of the settlements legal under its own law, which is a little like an 8-year-old declaring that he’s allowed to hit his little sister as much as he wants because he’s decided to use his own rules for acceptable behavior rather than those set down by his parents.
  • The idea that settlements must be legal because Oslo and other agreements don’t prohibit them is a crafty example of a surrounding a lie with facts. It’s pure chutzpah. The reason that these accords haven’t prohibited settlements isn’t that the Palestinians agreed all along that settlements were perfectly OK. It’s that the parties to the agreements couldn’t agree at that time on how to resolve the settlements issue, so the issue of settlements didn’t make it into the accords. That doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that the settlements are legal. It’s as much a non sequitur as it would be for Latrell Sprewell to claim that choking P.J. Carlesimo was perfectly appropriate because nowhere, nowhere did anything in his contract with the Warriors prohibit coach-choking.

This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, when our religious leaders wring their hands and look around for irrational, dishonest people to blame for an intractable situation in the Middle East as Israel enters her 63rd year, it’s time many of them looked in a new place: the mirror.

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  1. I must take this opportunity to respond to your false allegations against me and my postings pertaining to Israel. I do so to make myself clear. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

    First, in reference to the fact that the “Palestinian” community made no claims to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, you chose to leave out this important line from my article: “The territories that Israel gained control of after the Six Day War were previously controlled by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt nations involved in the 1949 Armistice Agreements.” These regions were NEVER controlled by a “Palestinian” nation.

    You also left out: “In 1967, Israel did accept UN Resolution 242-Land for Peace Formula- which called for Arab states to make peace, recognize Israel’s right to exist and to negotiate with Israel to create new, more “secure borders.” In return, Israel was to withdraw from some of the territory it had captured in the 1967 War. Arab states rejected the formula in their Khartoum Resolution with its “Three NOs”—no peace, no negotiations and no recognition of the Jewish State. In the 1979 Peace Treaty with Egypt: When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and made a sincere peace offer, Israel welcomed him. Although Israel had discovered oil and gas in the Sinai, Israel gave the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt (91% of all the land captured in the 1967 War), dismantled all Jewish communities that had been built, ceded its oil drilling infrastructure intact and gave up the oil revenues the wells had produced. In 1981, President Sadat was assassinated by Egyptian extremists for striking a deal with Israel.”

    And let us not forget that the original two state solution presented by the UN in 1947 was flat out rejected by the Arab world. Israel accepted her part of the plan but was attacked for doing even this. You can’t ignore these basic facts.

    As far as the settlements – you are wrong.

    The Historical Context of Settlements

    Jewish settlement in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory has existed from time immemorial and was expressly recognised as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided as follows:
    “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use”.

    Some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule, while settlements such as Neve Ya’acov, north of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea and Samaria, the communities north of the Dead Sea and Kfar Darom in the Gaza region, were established under British Mandatory administration prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. To be sure, many Israeli settlements have been established on sites which were home to Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people’s deep historic and religious connection with the land.
    For more than a thousand years, the only administration which has prohibited Jewish settlement was the Jordanian occupation administration, which during the nineteen years of its rule (1948-1967) declared the sale of land to Jews a capital offense. The right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and the legal titles to the land which had been acquired, could not be legally invalidated by the Jordanian or Egyptian occupation which resulted from their armed invasion of Israel in 1948, and such rights and titles remain valid to this day.

    International Humanitarian Law in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

    International humanitarian law prohibits the forcible transfer of segments of the population of a state to the territory of another state which it has occupied as a result of the resort to armed force. This principle, which is reflected in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was drafted immediately following the Second World War. As International Red Cross’ authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms, the principle was intended to protect the local population from displacement, including endangering its separate existence as a race, as occurred with respect to the forced population transfers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary before and during the war. This is clearly not the case with regard to the West Bank and Gaza.
    The attempt to present Israeli settlements as a violation of this principle is clearly untenable. As Professor Eugene Rostow, former Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs has written: “the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there” (AJIL, 1990, vol. 84, p.72).
    The provisions of the Geneva Convention regarding forced population transfer to occupied sovereign territory cannot be viewed as prohibiting the voluntary return of individuals to the towns and villages from which they, or their ancestors, had been ousted. Nor does it prohibit the movement of individuals to land which was not under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and which is not subject to private ownership. In this regard, Israeli settlements have been established only after an exhaustive investigation process, under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Israel, designed to ensure that no communities are established on private Arab land.
    It should be emphasised that the movement of individuals to the territory is entirely voluntary, while the settlements themselves are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice.
    Repeated charges regarding the illegality of Israeli settlements must therefore be regarded as politically motivated, without foundation in international law. Similarly, as Israeli settlements cannot be considered illegal, they cannot constitute a “grave violation” of the Geneva Convention, and hence any claim that they constitute a “war crime” is without any legal basis. Such political charges cannot justify in any way Palestinian acts of terrorism and violence against innocent Israelis.
    Politically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations. Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on its historic and religious connection to the land, and its recognized security needs, but also on the fact that the territory was not under the sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense, imposed upon Israel. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain legitimate claims to the area. Indeed, the very fact that the parties have agreed to conduct negotiations on settlements indicated that they envisage a compromise on this issue.

    Israeli-Palestinian Agreements

    The agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians contain no prohibition whatsoever on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, it is specifically provided that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. Indeed, the parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement.
    It has been charged that the prohibition on unilateral steps which alter the “status” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is contained in the Interim Agreement and in subsequent agreements between the parties, implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The building of homes has no effect on the status of the area. The prohibition on unilateral measures was agreed upon in order to ensure that neither side take steps to change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the ridiculous interpretation that neither side is permitted to build homes to accommodate for the needs of their respective communities.
    It is important to note, that in the spirit of compromise and in an attempt to take constructive confidence building measures in the peace process, successive Israeli governments have expressly recognized the need for territorial compromise in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory and have voluntary adopted a freeze on the building of new settlements. In this regard, the present National Unity Government, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has officially declared that it will not build any new settlements, while remaining committed to the basic needs of the existing settlement communities (Government of Israel, Policy Guidelines, March 2001).

    Thank you for listening and reading.

  2. Rabbi Jacobs: I left out the line on who previously controlled these territories intentionally, because it’s irrelevant to the question of whether Palestinian nationalism existed pre-1967. (Unlike you, I’m not writing primarily because I’m interested in building a moral indictment of one side or the other, but because I’m interested in cutting through the myths and making sure that we are at least working with correct historical facts.)

    The entire thrust of this section of your post asserts that the entire idea of a “Palestinian” is a fiction, that “Palestinians” don’t exist per se except as an artificial historical construct, and to support these claims you say that the Palestinians never asserted rights of self-determination in the territories until post-1967 (that’s the section I quoted). That is simply false as a matter of historical fact; they most definitely did assert these and similar claims. Although a Palestinian state was stillborn in 1948 because of the events of the war, which led to the West Bank and Gaza becoming controlled by Jordan and Egypt, Palestinian nationalism as a viable and distinct political force existed regardless. It’s simply ludicrous to claim otherwise – how can you possibly explain Jordanian history in the 1950s, such as the assassination of King Abdullah I, without including a nascent Palestinian nationalism as a major driver of these events?

    If I’m reading you correctly, you seem to be saying that you can’t have nationalism or a movement for national liberation without having a country taken away from you first. By this reasoning, since the Palestinians never controlled a country, there was no “Palestinian nation” in existence in the 1940s up through 1967, therefore there wasn’t any such thing as a “Palestinian”. Is that what you’re really saying here? No offense intended, but that’s incredibly stupid and illogical. Ever heard of a country called Italy? It didn’t exist as a country until around 1860. By your definition, Garibaldi and the other nationalist revolutionaries who fought through the 19th century for Italian unification were fighting for something incoherent and illegitimate, because, after all, with no Italy invented yet, an “Italian” was just a bogus concept with no claims to self-government. How about India? Not a country until 1947. Mostly a bunch of warring little kingdoms until the British showed up. I guess that sucker Mohandas Gandhi was just roaming around the subcontinent for decades without any reasonable purpose whatsoever.

    As for my “ignoring” the Arab world’s rejection of the creation of Israel in 1947: I don’t ignore it! I fully agree that it happened! But again, the reason I don’t feel compelled to mindlessly repeat the fact over and over, like a Catholic schoolboy reciting his penance of seven Hail Marys and four Our Fathers, is that I’m not interested in litigating who is “right” in the conflict; I’m interested in solving it. We will never have peace if we can’t stop dicking around like this and treating who was right or wrong in 1948 (or 1967) as a crucially important question. My point is, by the 21st century, “to the victor go the spoils, especially if you were morally right anyway” is not accepted as a legitimate rationale for territorial conquest. The world community does not accept it. You may not like that, but the conflict won’t be resolved until Israel backs down somewhat in the face of that basic reality and agrees to give most of these lands back to the people the British intended them to go to (i.e., more or less the Green Line).

    As for settlements, did you even read what you yourself just copied and pasted? The settlements issue was agreed to be left deferred to later permanent status negotiations. Deferral, agreeing to put off resolving the issue for later accords, is NOT THE SAME THING as a tacit Palestinian or third-party endorsement of existing or future settlements and thus does NOT DO ANYTHING to confer legitimacy on the settlements. It is dishonest to claim that it does confer this legitimacy, which is what you’re doing by claiming that settlements are perfectly kosher because they weren’t covered in the accords. (If you aren’t, in fact, making an appeal to the authority of the accords in permitting settlements, why, then, would you drag accords into this anyway?)

    The settlements are illegal under international law, and the case you’ve posted for them above is paper-thin and wouldn’t persuade 99.9% of international lawyers. You haven’t actually rebutted anything I’ve said here; you’ve just asserted the same nonsense that you posted originally. The additional material that I’ve supposedly left out does not, in fact, contradict my claim that you’ve been posting complete falsehoods. It’s just a blizzard of unrelated crap designed as an appeal to emotion so the reader goes “OOH ARABS BAD UNREASONABLE PEOPLE” and neglects to notice that you haven’t addressed the points I made. Frankly, I expect better writing and argumentation from someone who graduated from rabbinical school.

  3. Clearly there are some things we will simply never agree on and I know that I will not change your opinion. I’m sorry you do not like my writing. But I am so glad you are reading it.

    I am curious, when you refer to a Palestinian nation fighting for liberation – liberation from what exactly? The only valid answer you can give is liberation from the Jews. The fact is they want the Jews out – even though the Jews have called Israel home for 4,000 years. This is no secret and history time and time again has shown us this. You choose not to look back, but, by doing so, you fail to share crucial facts: the UN Partition Plan was accepted by Israel and rejected by the Arab world; the 1948 war was brought on by the Arab world in an effort to destroy the new State of Israel; the 1967 war was brought on by the Arab world in yet another effort to destroy Israel; the Khartoum Resolution – a response to 242 – shut down any hope of negotiations; the 1973 war was an attempt to destroy Israel; the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon paved the way for the 2006 war; the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza paved the way for the nightmare of Sderot and surrounding areas…….You seem like a smart guy, you know that the PLO’s mission was the destruction of Israel. Hezbollah and Hamas still have this mission. Liberation? Liberation is really just code word for undermining Israel, a nation that has every right to exist.

    I would be delighted if a true two state solution could be reached and accepted…However, as someone who knows my history, I question how this can happen when the ruling party of the PA and so many other powers that be are still not willing to recognize Israel’s basic right to exist as a sovereign nation. You talk about solving the problem – let me tell you, recognition of the right to exist would go a long way.

    As far as the settlements, why should Palestinians have to approve of/endorse settlements? Particularly settlements that existed long before 1948!? There is nothing illegal about Jews going about their lives in these areas. Israel has placed limits on settlement activities. But it seems that you, like so many, would be happier if the West Bank was “liberated” of any Jewish population centers.

  4. Now we’re at least getting somewhere!

    Your first point here is basically that Palestinian nationalism is inherently, fundamentally anti-semitic in nature and therefore…well, I’m not sure what, exactly. Evil? Invalid as a cause? That’s a valid opinion to have, but it’s not germane as a response to what I’ve been posting in this thread. If you go back and read what I’ve said here, nowhere in the thread do I make a claim that the Palestinian national liberation movement is good, malign, valid, or invalid. Rather, the points I’ve made on this subject about the Palestinian national identity have not been moral in nature, but rather responding to a specific false factual claim in your original post that pre-1967, Palestinian Arab nationalism (and the accompanying claim to the lands in the West Bank and Gaza) didn’t even exist. It existed. The Palestinians asserted claims to these lands before 1967, and based their claims on a national identity.

    But apart from that, I want to also address your point head-on: it’s simply not true that the concept of Palestinian national liberation is intrinsically defined by “liberation from Jews.” When I talk about a movement for national liberation, I’m referring to a very specific definition used by historians: a struggle for national self-determination, that is, the right to live in your homeland and govern yourselves based on a specific national identity. For Palestinian Arabs, this struggle has at various times over the last 100 years been aimed at wresting self-determination not just from Israel, but also from everyone else who has controlled these lands: from the Ottoman Turks, from the British, and from the Jordanians (also, presumably, the Egyptians, but I’m less familiar with the specific history of Gaza). It’s all too easy to simply say “Palestinians are fighting Israel just because they hate Jews and want to push them into the sea.” (If it’s really the case that Palestinian Arabs just have always defined themselves by a hatred of Jews, why did they leave the 19th-century Old Yishuv in relative peace? You’d think they would have tried to wipe it out while the community was nice and small and relatively defenseless.) The actual facts of the Palestinian Arab national movement, its relations with Jews in the region, and its history are much more complicated.

    On the settlements, it’s hard for me to say much about your last paragraph without plunging both of us into a deep conversational rathole. But by way of a response, let me turn around your point: why should Israelis have to approve if Palestinian Arabs want to assert a similar right of return, to resettle West Jerusalem and many other places in Israel where their ancestors had settlements for countless centuries? The reason they wouldn’t approve, of course, is that doing that would amount to a de facto one-state solution, and nobody would tolerate it – pragmatically, Israel can’t allow that if it wants to remain a Jewish state; you’d have an Israel that went rapidly from 20% Arab to over 50% Arab. Apart from that, though, the moral difference between the two cases does not seem convincing in the year 2010. It amounts to saying to young Palestinian Arabs, “Sorry, suckas, might makes right. We can settle the West Bank as much as we want because our grandpas won; you can’t come back and settle Israel not because of anything you did, but because your grandpas lost.” Not exactly an exalted conception of human rights.

  5. Not certain where we are going, but I’ll tag along for a bit.

    Regarding Palestinian nationalism – my initial point was that there has never been a nation of Palestine (despite the fact that it was offered and refused in 1947 and could have again been established under Jordanian rule from 1948-1967 – but was not) and, therefore, the implication that there is a need to free the nation of Palestine from the clutches of Israel is a lie.

    You have redirected our discussion to the existence of Palestinian nationalism. Certainly there was and still is Arab nationalism, but scholars question how this nationalism played out among Arabs in the land of Israel. Your reference to the Arabs of Israel wanting a homeland begs the question – why not accept the offer presented by the UN? King Abdullah was willing to do so. The infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was not. No coincidence that he was linked to the assassination of King Abdullah which you make mention of. And probably no coincidence that the Grand Mufti was a Nazi and an ally of Hitler!? Without question the nationalism that you refer to was, in essence, fear that the dhimmi status (subservient status) of the Jew was crumbling fast.

    Another question that must be asked pertaining to your discussion of Palestinian nationalism – why didn’t the Palestinian nationalists create a nation between 1949 and 1967? Jordan kicked all the Jews out – wouldn’t even let the Jews visit the kotel – why wasn’t a state created at this time? The Jews can’t be blamed for the failure of the Arab world to create Palestine in 1949!

    The answer to this question is related, of course, to the fact, as you mention, that there were many other players vying for power in the area. You suggest that Palestinians have spent 100 years trying to wrestle national self-determination and reclaim their homeland from Israel and others. Certainly, the British messed things up something good in the Middle East. As far as the Ottomans and the Jordanians and Egyptians, I will leave that to the historians. But the Jews? Since her founding in 1948 the “Palestinian nationalists” you make mention of have been committed to driving Israel into the sea. To deny this is to rewrite history. Israel did not take the Palestinian homeland away from the Palestinians! The fact that the Palestinians do not have a sovereign country – blame Jordan, Egypt, Britain, the Ottomans, the failure of Palestinian leadership…blame the folks who turned down the UN Partition Plan. Blame the folks who decided to attack Israel in 1948, 1967, 1973….blame the terrorists who blow themselves up and launch missiles over Israel…blame the folks who killed a teenager from my community on a trip to Israel a few years ago….blame Hamas for refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. This would be appropriate!!! Instead, people like to blame Israel who has been linked to the land for over 4,000 years, who was given the land by the United Nations in 1947, who has been attacked countless times by her Arab neighbors while successfully defending herself, who returned Sinai, who gave the Palestinians Gaza and parts of the West Bank, who is willing to negotiate a 2 state solution and work towards peace…….Unbelievable!

    You ask why the 19th century yishuv was left alone? I must point out that the 19th century yishuv suffered its share of threats and attacks….but, let us not forget that Jews certainly paid “protection money” (see David Landes, Palestine Before the Zionists) to the Arab powers that be and the dhimmi status kept the Muslims in a superior position. It was when the Jewish community began to grow in size and power that the Arab world’s “nationalism” increased.

    And where would our dialogue be without the topic of settlements? The fact of the matter is, had Jordan not have attacked Israel in 1967, the issue of settlements in the West Bank would not be an issue. The issue of East Jerusalem, would not be an issue. But she did attack. And, in an act of self-defense, Israel acquired the West Bank. And in 1988, Jordan gave up all claims to the region. Today, Israeli settlements make up 1.36% of the West Bank. 1.36% (see jcpa.org) The reason that the settlements are still such a hot issue has nothing to do with whether or not the Jews have a right to be there or not – it has to do with the fact that Jews are living on (and in many cases have been living on for centuries) 1.36% of land the Palestinians see as belonging to them. Again, this goes back to the mission of pushing the Jews into the sea.

    By the way, besides being a person with ideas, who are you?

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