In last week’s Felix, members of the Imperial College Friends of Palestine wrote an article entitled ‘Palestine: apartheid, ethnic-cleansing and discrimination’. It was a well-written piece, arguing against an earlier Felix article defending the Balfour declaration, itself a response to an earlier article (quite a trail forming here). Although, as I say, I thought the article well-written, there were also some flaws in the logic, some unsubstantiated propositions, and some unspoken truths ignored by the authors, and obscured to the readers. My opinion is irrelevant to what the reader’s should be; however, I want to take up the mantle of the first rule of integral journalism, which, in the words of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, is “an obligation to the truth”.
There are several points the authors make that are either incorrect or incomplete, and I would like to take this opportunity to address them, if I may. In brief, they are:
- That Theodore Herzl’s idea of Zionism is the inviolable definition of Zionism today, to everyone who has ever believed in it, and continues to believe in it
- That no one of the three Abrahamic religions has any preferential claim to the land of Israel or to the city of Jerusalem, since it is a Holy place to them all
- That Palestinians are the sole victims of this conflict, with, to quote the authors, “countless cases of young Palestinian boys and girls being attacked by illegal Israeli settlers”
- The implication that the “checkpoints….random searches and detentions carried out late at night” are simply a means for the Israelis to punish the Palestinians for being Palestinian, and are not a legitimate security concern
Again, I hope from the above list it is clear that there are facets of their article with which I agree, and, my politics aside, remain truths in this bitter conflict. With these, I am taking no direct issue. However, I do want to address what I see as incorrect or incomplete representations of the reality.
First, the authors argue that there is no specific need for Zionist settlers to have chosen Palestine, since Herzl, a founder of the explicitly named Zionist movement, was not expressly intent on creating the Jewish home in the land at the time called Palestine. The gaping error of this statement is twofold: one, it presumes that the parameters by which a particular contributor to an ideology sets out his or her vision are the same parameters by which all subscribers to that ideology believe in it. By the same logic, all Socialists believe in everything Stalin and Mao believed in, and should therefore be held in contempt for all the parameters of ideology vested by these wretched men. Second, the argument also ignores the reality that Herzl founded but a single strain of what is now called Zionism – Political Zionism – and, by his nature as an assimilated Jew, did not have overt religious ties to the Holy Land. This manifested itself in his largely political approach to creating a Jewish homeland, which, as the authors correctly note, was not specific to the land then called Palestine. As the authors encourage later on in their piece, I would encourage the reader to give but a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page for Types of Zionism. It takes but a few second to establish that Political Zionism is but one part of Zionism, and was not the first part at that – a look at the Wikipedia page for Theodor Herzl will provide further links to corroborate this, for those interested. To claim, therefore, that Zionism does not have specific ties with the Land of Israel is simply incorrect.
The second point of contention lies in the assertion that no one Abrahamic religion has any stronger claim than the others to establishing itself as a permanent presence in the Holy sites of Israel. This is odd, given their implied principle at the end of the article that those people who laid first claim to a region should have a right to be there. The first Temple in Jerusalem – built by the Jewish King, Solomon, to serve God according to the Jewish tradition – was built, by the latest possible estimates, in 832 BCE, and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer II in 422 BCE. Jesus was born in approximately 4 CE, and Mohammed in approximately 570 CE – over 1,400 years after the building of the first Jewish Tempe in Jerusalem. The Land of Israel is mentioned from almost the very beginning of the Hebrew bible, and Jerusalem itself is mentioned over 660 times in the same text. The Land of Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem is an immovable central tenet of Judaism, and it has been long before the birth of Christianity and Islam, and it always will be. For likely 1,000 years before Christianity, and over 2,000 years before Islam, Jews have been serving God in Jerusalem, as they continue to do today. To assert that the three religions claims to the Land of Israel, and the City of Jerusalem, are historically equivalent is laughable and infantile, especially in the light of the authors later argument that Arab residents of Palestine were there first, so they have an unimpeachable right to dwell there. This is a historic and logical inconsistency. They also state that “none should have a larger claim [to Israel and Jerusalem] over the others”. Whilst I have demonstrated that this is not inherently true, this betrays the fact that members of the IC Friends of Palestine have no idea of the on-the-ground reality of what life is like in Israel; it is one of the most vibrant, religiously diverse places on the planet. Jews pray at the Kosel HaMaaravi, the Western Wall, whilst a few meters behind, Muslims worship at the al-Asqa Mosque, and Christians immerse themselves in the spiritual wonder of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Armenian Greek Orthodox Christians walk in flowing black robes, as burqa-clad Muslim women shop in the stalls nearby alongside Jews. Jerusalem is a model of religious tolerance, and to paint a picture otherwise stems from either dishonesty or ignorance.
Third, the authors comment that there are “countless cases of young Palestinian boys and girls being attacked by Israeli settlers”, but ignore completely the violent atrocities, committed by those, purporting to represent the Palestinian people, carried out on innocent Israelis – children included. Denouncing one side whilst ignoring the other implies support for the actions of the side framed as the victims; here, the Palestinians. The instances of Palestinian violence, deliberately targeted against innocent civilians, are commonplace; there are so many instances I honestly don’t know which to cite, but I would urge those interested to read some references here. I will choose one example for an illustration of my point, but it is typical of the kinds of events that members of the Palestinian people perpetually perpetrate, and glorify. In 2011, Amjad Awad and Hakim Awad entered the home of the Fogel family at night, and murdered five of the eight members of the family as they slept. They killed the father, Ehud, and the mother, Ruth. They killed their son, Yoav, who was 11. They killed their daughter, Elad, who was four. They killed their daughter, Hadas, who was 3 months old; she was decapitated. The victims showed no remorse, and delighted in re-enacting their crime before the court. The mother of the murderers called them heroes, and there were fireworks and celebrations in the Gaza strip, where Palestinian adults handed out sweets to Palestinian children to celebrate this act of atrocity. I wonder if these are the people with whom the IC Friends of Palestine side, failing to mention the crimes they perpetrate whilst they denounce the “attacks” of Palestinian boys and girls. If they oppose these crimes, they appear to be doing so extremely quietly.
This leads swiftly into my fourth point – that the IC Friends of Palestine imply that the numerous “checkpoints….random searches and detentions carried out late at night” are an unfounded practice by which Israelis willingly oppress their Arab population. As is demonstrably clear from the above example, and the hundreds of other incidents that have occurred, these checkpoints make perfect sense in light of the continued violence of members of the Palestinian community. That is not to say that this is endorsed by the Palestinian people, or by their official bodies – although cartoons such as this suggest otherwise – but it does justify the rigorous security that Palestinian violence has made necessary in today’s Israel.
However, I agree with the some of the tone of the article authored by the IC Friends of Palestine; there is a approach to political dialogue today that picks sides, that scoops up a single set of facts and ignores all those others that may represent a different reality, instead choosing to pick facts that suit a pre-conceived political agenda. Whilst I feel that the IC Friends of Palestine are themselves grossly guilty of this, it remains a truth on both sides. Everyone seems to feel like they must stand on one side of a fence, and know their enemies as well as their friends. But issues like this are complex, with fault and virtue on both sides. Perhaps if each were able to admit their own mistakes, and acknowledge the challenges faced by the other side, they could engage in a constructive negotiation that leads to peace and mutual prosperity. However, it is fallacious to assert that the Israelis hold the only blame, as a brief look at the long list of Palestinian violent incidents will confirm; equally, it is unjust to demand that we believe that all Israelis are peace-loving, and that it is the Palestinians alone who are blocking a productive peace process. Many Israelis harbour a hatred for the Palestinians, in much the same way that many Palestinians harbour a hatred of Israelis. Until people can learn to stop taking sides, and picking baskets of facts to throw at one another, these issues will fester, and, I fear, never abate.