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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Professor Farah's response
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At 24-06-08 20:45, Professor Randa Farah wrote:
 
Dear Mr. Ostroff:,
 
I read both the letter you sent to Westersn News and this email message.
 
Let me begin by telling you that I was born in Haifa as a third class Palestinian citizen of Israel and spent my childhood living under Israeli military rule. By the time I was born, the Hagana turned IDF (which had a well prepared military plan to seize the land and expel the population - thus 1948 was not a 'defensive' war or for that matter a war of independence, a misleading term) ensured that the land 'was cleared' of the majority population of this ancient society that had inhabited its homeland for centuries. To ensure the majority of the population forcibly expelled or which fled out of fear do not return, the traces of their villages and urban neighbourhoods were destroyed. Those of us who were able to remain in what became Israel in 1948, were not even called Palestinians, but members of  'minorities'  or ‘non-Jews,’ or in Israeli popular culture ‘Aravim milukhlakheem’ (not unlike dirty niggers).
 
Our spaces suddenly shrunk. With the help of the JNF most of the land was stolen and Jewish- only communities emerged. We suddenly were forced to get permission from some European immigrant turned colonial officer to move around in our own homeland: for example to visit my grandfather who lived less than half and hour from Haifa. We were denied basic rights such as studying our own history in segregated schools, we were not allowed to form political parties, and the rest of what goes with martial law, in the meantime Israel continued to confiscate our lands - as it is still doing now.
 
 I also lived in the West Bank and personally witnessed your 'democracy' - in the 1967 war, and its aftermath, where Israel launched a brutal campaign of repression: land robbery to expand Jewish settlements, the destruction of the three villages - Imwas, Beit Nuba and Yalu, the humiliation of the population, forced uprooting of people and trees, the demolition of homes, check points, the torture of thousands in prisons, a pass system, a colonial configuration which over time Israel has refined, for example by building an apartheid which the International Court of Justice declared illegal under international law -  it is not even built along the Green Line but rips through villages swallowing more land and confining Palestinians into ever-shrinking enclaves.  Israel has intensified its 'quiet deportation' of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem by revoking their residency rights to  transform the historical Palestinian city - once the centre of religious and cultural diversity  - to one where the majority are only Jews.

Under international law, Israel has no right to change the demography, geography, economy, etc of occupied territories, but this is exactly what Israel did, which exposes its real aim of the 1967 war: not to defend itself but to expand on other people’s territory. But even here, Israel has changed legal and historical terminology, from ‘occupied territory’ to ‘disputed territory’ to fool western audiences. It would be interesting to conduct a study of how Israel has reached new heights in the manipulation of history, archaeology and international law and of course language (eg ‘present absentees’ or ‘unrecognized villages’).
 
Please do not bring up again the Partition Plan, or the notion of security and self-defense, I find it insulting having heard it all my life disseminated throughout the world, while I and hundreds of thousands, now millions of Palestinians lived and live a reality that contradicts this fictive discourse. The Partition Plan was rejected by the Arabs indeed, but you did not finish the story: Israel agreed to it only so that it can use it to launch a wider military campaign to devour more than its share as it did indeed. You certainly do not live in an area that was decided for you by the UN! More than that the Palestinians, who at least since the seventh century had lived as the absolute majority of the population until their eviction in 1948 owned over 92% of the land, so why is it so surprising for you that they rejected such an unjust Plan that gave a third of the population (Jews were much less in the early 20 century) the most fertile land constituting over half the territory? Why would any people agree to divide its land or give it freely to a minority population, most of whom had just recently arrived? So, please when you write about the Partition Plan, make sure you complete the story, falsehoods are worse when they result from omissions. You did the same with the JNF, where you failed to mention that the JNF will be compensated for every cm of land any Arab will get, which really does not change anything and allows it to continue its racist policies!

Most of the JNF land it holds today is not ‘kosher’ I am sorry to say, but look up Israeli statistics and you will find it was land which belonged to Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their villages. I often wondered how Jewish immigrants felt when they moved into homes where the furniture, walls, pictures, and personal items of Palestinian families told them that this was not their home? Or, did they even think about the fact that they lived on land which had been for centuries cultivated and harvested by another people?
 
Need I tell you about Gaza, where Israel is strangling 1.3 million people, or al-Naqab and what your government is doing there? Check the Adalah website on racist practices within the Green Line, or Betselem – your own Human Rights organization for the WB and Gaza and it will give you a pretty clear picture. These practices (seizure of land and population expulsion) began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and continue until today.
 
It thus amazes me how Israeli society can live with such denial and amnesia, or how it has come to internalize its own myths, such as: the land was empty, Arabs fled on their own (can you imagine willingly abandoning one’s home and property?), security of Israel, Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, etc. I find it bizarre that you can live such a virtual reality while living in a completely different one. Perhaps it is difficult to face the truth, when for centuries the Jews were victims of European racism and to realize you have turned into a settler-colonial state/society. That awareness, however, is necessary for future peace and needs courage. This implies having to begin viewing Palestinians - the indigenous population, as a society that you have destroyed and brutalized, not as obstacles to your 'civilizational' mission in the 'barbaric' East.
 
In western societies, Israeli PR campaigns have been remarkably successful: you repeat the same old slogans and pour millions of dollars to reiterate falsehoods. But the truth is slowly emerging and the silence is being broken, whether by courageous Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, or by well known peace activists such as Desmond Tutu, or even by a previous US president, such as Jimmy Carter, to name just a few.
 
But what I find most disturbing in Israel's marketing campaigns is how it has the audacity to point the finger at Arab governments blaming them for the conditions under which the Palestinian refugees live. While Arab governments are to be blamed for oppressive policies not only against refugees but their own populations, let us be clear, Israel bears the prime responsibility for the fate of the refugees.
 
Pointing the finger at Arab governments is exactly as if someone who stole your house, killed your son, imprisoned your daughter, expelled your mother, confined your father in the smallest room of your house and denied him free movement in the rest of the house, expelled you outside the house where you had to take refuge at the neighbor's, but then - yelled to the world: it is the neighbour's fault, they are not treating him properly!
 
Since the emergence of the Zionist movement and well before Israel was created, there were plans drafted and developed to transfer and resettle Palestinians outside their homeland. In some cases these were envisioned as ‘swaps’ for example bringing in Jews from North Africa and transferring Palestinians in their place. Israel has been relentless in ensuring that the expelled population would integrate and resettle elsewhere but their homeland, but they have refused, wouldn't you?
 
I don't think my message will change your mind, but maybe in the future history will. Someday, the rest of the world, including Israelis, will listen and finally believe the little boy who in Andersen’s tale cried out that the ‘Emperor has no clothes on!
 
Best,
Randa Farah
 
 
Where shall we go after the last frontier, where will birds fly after
the last sky? -Mahmoud Darwish-
 
The olive tree is like an old friend. It knows all my life and gives me wise counsel. I should like to be buried under it. - Paul Cezanne
 
Randa Farah
Associate Professor
UWO, Department of Anthropology
Social Science Centre
London, Ontario N6A 5C2 Canada
Tel: (519)661-2111ext. 85088 Fax: (519) 661-2157

 
--- On Tue, 6/24/08, Maurice Ostroff  wrote:
From: Maurice Ostroff <maurice@trendline.co.il>
Subject: Speech obscures Palestinian suffering”
To: rfarah2@uwo.ca
Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 10:17 AM
 
June 24, 2008
 
Dear Professor Randa Farah
 
I refer to the article in “Western News "Speech obscures Palestinian suffering” to which you subscribed. I
In considering a response I browsed the university's web site from which I learned of your admirable work with Palestinian refugees.
 
As an Israeli citizen, I really do express my very sincere admiration for your humanitarian work in endeavoring to assuage their plight, even though I do not see completely eye to eye with you about immediate practical remedies. For example I believe you will agree with me that the discriminatory restrictions placed on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be removed urgently.
 
I believe it is worth considering the views of some prominent Arab commentators such as Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al -Arabiya television. In an article "40 Years: The Real Stigma" that appeared in Asharq Alawsat on 09/06/2007, he wrote inter alia
 
"Our insistence to lock the Palestinians in camps and treat them like animals in the name of preserving the issue is far worse a crime than Israel stealing land and causing the displacement of people. The 60 year-old camps only signify our inhumanity and double standards. Israel can claim that it treats the Palestinians better than their Arab brothers do. It gives citizenship to the Palestinians of 1948 as well as the right to work and the right to lead a somewhat normal life, although they are treated as second-class citizens.
 Blame lies with the Arab League and Arab governments that took part in or kept silent about this moral scandal. Rather than seeking to help them or provide for their demands, they preoccupy Arab public opinion with conferences and hollow rhetoric on the issue and on refugees.
Finally, we have to be true to ourselves and ask whether the way of life of these one million people is fair".
 
You can read the entire article at http://www.asharqalawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=2&id=9216
 
 
Professor Farah, in attaching my open letter to the signatories of the Western News article, I ask you to please consider whether the intemperate rhetoric containing incorrect information directed against President Davenport and the JNF, enhances or diminishes the worthwhile work you are doing.
 
I would very much appreciate your considered response
 
Sincerely
 
Maurice Ostroff


Maurice Ostroff's current response

June 27, 2008
Dear Professor Randa Farah
 
Thank you very much for your detailed reply to my open letter. I fully understand and empathize with the pain you suffered and continue to suffer.
 
From personal knowledge, I also know intimately of the pain of the homeless Jewish refugees, or displaced persons (DP’s) as they were called, who survived the European Holocaust as well as those expelled from Arab countries, all of whom have been rehabilitated in Israel. Perhaps this will help you to appreciate my difficulty in understanding why the rich Arab counties have not done the same for the Palestinians.
 
With regard to the JNF, I repeat what I wrote to your colleague Professor Heap. I cannot claim to have read every word in the large number of documents he quoted, but from those I have studied so far, I find no reference to the JNF having expelled anyone and I will appreciate it if you will please quote a specific reference justifying this allegation.
 
It is of course true that Canada Park is situated on what were three Palestinian Arab villages Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba. As a layman, I am unable to judge the military considerations that led the late Yitzhaq Rabin, who was then Chief-of-Staff to order their destruction. I therefore can neither condemn nor condone it, but it is absolutely clear that emptying these villages was neither instigated by, nor carried out by the JNF as claimed in the article in Western News.
 
I believe that academics have a duty to place matters in perspective and not to withhold facts, which may be at variance with preconceived opinions. Violence and razing of villages was not all one-sided. For example in the four months after the 1947 UN partition resolution, some 850 Jews were killed by Arabs.
 
In December 1947, a convoy of four vehicles was attacked on its way to Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz that had been established in 1932. Ten members of the kibbutz were killed. This was followed by a siege of the kibbutz by hundreds of Arab militants. On January 16, 1948 a detachment of 35 Israelis were massacred by Arabs while attempting to bring medical supplies and food. Their stripped, mutilated bodies were found the next day by a British patrol
 
Although Kfar Etzion surrendered on May 13, all but four of the members were nevertheless massacred. The attackers looted the buildings before razing them to the ground and wantonly uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees.
 
Unsurprisingly, I differ from you in the interpretation of certain events. For Israel, the 1948 war was indeed a defensive war.  How else would you describe the situation in which the Jewish population comprising approximately 600,000 people all told, including the elderly, infants and invalids, was attacked by five Arab armies who killed 6,000 Jews and wounded countless numbers?   Without in any way diminishing the tragedy suffered by Palestinians, surely, any serious academic discussion of the 1948 war cannot ignore the frightening call by prominent Arab leaders to murder the Jews and exterminate Israel, as quoted in my open letter.
 
You ask me not to bring up the Partition Plan, but its rejection by the Arabs and acceptance by the Jews is an undeniable fact of history. Had the Arabs accepted the partition and had five Arab armies not immediately attacked the newborn state, there would be no Palestinian refugees today.
 
However Prof. Heap raised a valid ethical question, about the morality of a third party using property gained originally by another party by expropriation and I have sympathy for his views. Canada Park is one example. Another is the Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. According to BC News, the expropriation of 10 Acadian villages to create the park caused enormous disruption in the lives of more than 1,000 people whose families had fished and farmed the land for generations. http://tinyurl.com/4bz9yh
 
But let’s face it. Trying to convince each other of our relative guilts will not improve the lot of the refugees for whom you are doing a great humanitarian service. Is it not more important to do something NOW to ameliorate their plight? In this respect, I am disappointed that you did not address the views of Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, whom I quoted in my email to you.  Do you disagree with his appeal to resettle the refugees rather than preoccupying Arab public opinion with conferences and hollow rhetoric on the issue and on refugees”.
 
I refer also to a BBC Doha Debate broadcast on April 14, 2007. The motion put to the house was "This House believes the Palestinians should give up their full right of return,"
 
Bassem Eid, Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group spoke in favor of the motion. Speaking from practical experience, as he lives in a refugee camp, he stressed the practical situation of Palestinians living in misery in refugee camps for 60 years. He said the time has come to exert pressure on Arab governments to absorb the Palestinian refugees and to end the discrimination against them, by treating them as citizens and allowing them freedom to move and work. Do you disagree with this view?
 
He was opposed by Ilan Pappe and Ali Abunimah, who advocated that, no matter what circumstances they continue to suffer, Palestinian refugees and their descendants should stay where they are so as to continue demanding a right to return to Israel. From the comfort of their homes in Israel and Chicago, Pappe and Abunimah both rejected Eid’s plea that urging the downtrodden refugees to continue the unrealistic demand for return, is a cruel imposition serving only to block a resolution of the conflict, thus perpetuating their sojourn in refugee camps.
 
In an email exchange between Eid and Abunimah published on the Guardian's “Comment is Free” blog, Eid wrote “We are losing time in not doing what is necessary to reach peace . . . Consider also that since Israel left Gaza in September of 2005, the Palestinians have created chaos. So who will make this right of return applicable? In January 2007 there were 17 Palestinians killed by Israelis, but there were 35 Palestinians killed by Palestinians, so, right or return or right to live?  …I am still living in a refugee camp but while I am living in a hole I must stop digging . . . I envy you because you live in Chicago. I can only imagine the wonderful life you live”.
 
Ali Abunimah responded “I don't think its right to try to reduce this to a personal issue and to try to play off my privileged position against your suffering”.
 
It is frequently claimed (incorrectly) that Palestinians are the only refugees who have been unable to return to their homes, deliberately ignoring the fact that millions of refugees have indeed been resettled in host countries.
 
In a November 1957 paper, "Century of the Homeless Man," published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dr. Elfan Rees, Advisor on Refugees to the World Council of Churches, wrote: “No large-scale refugee problem has ever been solved by repatriation, and there are certainly no grounds for believing that this particular problem (the Palestine refugees) can be so solved…The facts we must face force us to the conclusion that for most of the world refugees the only solution is integration where they are”.
 
In terms of Article XIII of the 1945 Potsdam declaration signed by Stalin, Truman and Atlee, approximately 15 million Germans who had well established homes and businesses in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria were forcibly relocated to Germany. They lost title to the property they left behind, and no arrangements were made to compensate them for their losses.
 
The creation of Pakistan similarly resulted in the relocation of millions of people. Immovable property left behind by these refugees was seized by the respective governments to help settle the incoming refugees.
 
All were successfully resettled in host countries and none of those many millions were entitled to claim a right to return to their ancestral homelands.
 
Blaming Israel in general, or the JNF in particular for all the ills suffered by the Palestinians, diverts attention from the important question that needs to be answered - why only the Palestinians, among the millions of refugees in the world, have been deliberately left to rot as political pawns, pacified by the false hope of return, rather than be absorbed by their brethren in neighboring countries?
 
Professor Farah, though we differ in our views, I respect your opinions and I would appreciate a considered reply?
 
Sincerely
Maurice Ostroff
 
 


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