In today’s 140-character world, it’s all too easy to blur the line between fact and fiction, and apply false assumptions leading to fallacious beliefs. When I opened last week’s edition of Felix, I was greeted by an article entitled “The Balfour Declaration: A Century On”. I was eager to read on: an opinion most likely opposing my own, and written by an Imperial student – thus presumably logically thought out and supported by evidence. What better way of challenging one’s own beliefs? Unfortunately, I got as far as the second sentence, before I began to find unsubstantiated arguments and sweeping generalizations.
The extent to which the author misses the central basis of Zionism is clear from the outset, when she defines Zionism as a “cause, which aims to establish a safe, Jewish homeland.” Find me another definition of Zionism that excludes a mention of the land of Israel. She goes on to say “(Zionism) does not take into account the fact that their homeland of choice was already inhabited by the Palestinians.” The assertion, as it comes across, is that the Jewish aspiration for a homeland just happens to focus on Israel. It fails to recognise the deep emotional connection between Jewish people and the region that spans millennia. There is no mention of the undisputed archaeological evidence of Jewish statehood there two-thousand years ago. No mention of the thousands of years for which Jews have prayed the words “l’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim” – “next year in Jerusalem”.
One of the most troublesome tropes the author uses, not once but three times, is the phrase “ethnic cleansing”. Not only is this demonstrably incorrect, but it is shamefully hurtful to those who have suffered such atrocities. If Israel follows a policy of ethnic cleansing, how would you explain a nearly five-fold increase in the Palestinian population since 1948? If fingers are being pointed, then how do you reconcile the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from nearly all Arab countries in 1948 (leaving under 4,000 remaining), with the 1.4 million Arab citizens that now make up 20% of Israel’s population. The author refers to the founders of Zionism as “those who wished for the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians”. Can these be the same people that, in 1948, put their name on the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which states that “We appeal… to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace… on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation…” What possible basis does the author have to make the unfounded claim that the early Zionists wished to create a “solely Jewish sate”? On the contrary, David Ben Gurion (the first prime minister of Israel) wrote in a letter in 1937 “We do not wish … to expel the Arabs and take their place … there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.” To falsely accuse these founding fathers of the horrendous crime of ethnic cleansing is an inexcusable offense to the truth, a commodity so precious in the pursuit of peace and justice.
This forms the basis of the problem with the other common buzzword that the author brings up – the libellous accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state”. As Kenneth Meshoe, a black South African who lived through apartheid, puts it, “because it is so inaccurate, it betrays the memory of those who suffered through a real apartheid.” The inconvenient truth is that Israeli Arabs enjoy full and equal rights – there is not a single Israeli law that singles out Israeli Arabs, or treats them in any way differently from other Israelis. It is a frequently ignored fact that out of 120 seats in Israel’s Knesset (parliament), 13 belong to an Arab party, the Joint List. In what example of apartheid does one see those that are supposedly being discriminated against in positions at the highest levels of law, science and media?
The crux of the problem is signified when the author claims that the Balfour Declaration supports “two conflicting and mutually exclusive movements.” Unfortunately, it is this type of narrow minded thinking that presents a real barrier to peace; to believe that your very existence must be at the expense of your enemies’ precludes any chance of a peaceful resolution. Furthermore, it must be noted that in the Israel-Palestine conflict this hurtful belief is very much one sided. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states “We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation…” Meanwhile, at the 1967 Arab League summit, eight Arab leaders agreed upon the Khartoum Resolution, which contained the Three No’s: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it…”
The author asserts that the Balfour Declaration did not help those fleeing anti-Semitism. Tell that to the Jews worldwide, including those who have already fled anti-Semitism from across Europe and the Arab Nations, who are celebrating the centenary of Balfour, in the knowledge that they are now safe from persecution. Rather than lamenting Balfour, I would argue that we should celebrate it for what it has created – a beacon of hope for Jews worldwide – and what, with a bit of work, it can create - a peaceful contribution to the region.
Referring to sweeping generalisations as “widely agreed” facts, and basing arguments on emotive buzzwords might make a good story. But when solving a centuries-old conflict, that affects the lives of millions of people every day, arguments must be based on facts. From first-hand experience of dealing with peacefully minded Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, there is no need for Zionism and the quest for Palestinian sovereignty to be conflicting. Finger pointing and looking for a fight gets us nowhere – working together, building bridges, and seeing each other for what we are truly worth is the only basis for a lasting peace in the Middle East.