COMMENTS ON THE " INTIFADA" ROUNDTABLE

 

The comments below were submitted by Eugene Feit <EFeit@herzfeld-rubin.com>
These comments were posted Friday, May 11, 2001 at 16:45:52 (EST):

REPLY TO LEE STEINBERG:  Lee Steinberg 's comment is based on the erroneous presumption that the principal, or only cause of the Intafadeh and the violence is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, with all its indisputably horrible aspects, both for the occupied and the occupiers. Unfortunately he could not resist the inflammatory yet trite comparison of the Nazis in Poland with Israelis/Palestine. These days everyone someone does not like is compared to a Nazi. People who study history should know better.

Massoud actually refused to focus on the central issue, as have most Palestinians, which is: "What is [ to the Arabs ] the acceptable presence/status of Israel and Israelis in the land ?"
 [ IF ANY ! ]

No Arab spokesman, it seems, can acknowledge that the political tragedy of the Palestinians is their inability to say yes to any compromise, except to hint that, maybe,... maybe they might agree to a compromise they rejected a generation ago ..... in total denial of current and historical realities. This has been a massive political bankruptcy. Palestinians often blame other Arab states for encouraging their inflexibility by promising total victory in some future armed struggle. Those Palestinians who might favor real compromise have historically been silenced ( or murdered ) if they expressed this opinion. We do not know how many there were or are, or might have been if this were an acceptable part of the PUBLIC Palestinian political dialogue.

It is neither compromise nor realism to insist on a status quo ante to undo the movement of millions of people [ Jewish as well as Arab ] over 50+ years. Some Arabs say the acceptable status quo ante goes back 80 or 100years. They are only willing to concede that Jews with roots from the Ottoman era may stay, as subjects of an Arab state.

Americans are all working and living on Native American land, and we Americans often violated our OWN laws to get that land. Shall we all just leave? Even with our well developed legal system, and our elevated sense of justice, I do not see any chance that Syracuse NY, or Montana or Cape Cod will be returned to Native Americans anytime soon, nor do Native Americans seriously advocate this.

 

Those who place the entire focus on the "occupied West Bank" and Gaza should try to remember that before 1967 there was no peace. NYMAS recently heard a speaker on the diplomatic history of 1967 say that the Israelis pleaded with King Hussein not to attack. If no Jordanian attack; then no occupation of the West Bank. If no Egyptian blockade [which was an act of war and violation of both international law AND the 1956 ceasefire agreements] then no "6 Day War".....at least not until the next crisis.

Sadat seems to be forgotten. He called the Israelis on what they said they wanted for peace.....and land was returned, and even settlements uprooted. Contrast Arafat. His response last year to the most dramatic Israeli offer of compromise ever was not only to decline, and to fail to make a corresponding compromise offer from the Palestinian side, but to leave the conference. Rather than work with his own political constituency , he took a conscious decision [ in violation of the Oslo accords; basis for all these discussions ] to use violence as a negotiating tool. That is why Oslo is now no longer viable, along with a large part of the Israeli constituency for compromise.

Eugene Feit


The comments below were submitted by Lee Steinberg <Lee.Steinberg@domino1.cuny.edu>
These comments were posted Saturday, May 4, 2001 at 22:26:45 (EDT):

Reading the American media on Israel/Palestine should give everyone a sense of what the Germans read in their newspapers in 1939 about Germany's occupation of Poland complete with its German victims who were forced to retaliate against Polish terrorists.

Take a look at the following map to see what Israel is occupying:
http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/en/maps/westbankdpl2000

A person reading and viewing American media today is left as ignorant as the proverbial "good" German was then. Instead of the occupation and its ethnic cleansing, our press, in the spirit of Leni Riefenstahl, discusses Israeli victims without mention that the action is not taking place in Israel. While Israel's Palestinian citizens are aware of their country's borders, that bit of knowledge eludes our media.

Ignorance of or indifference to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, makes impossible any serious discussion of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Professor Massoud's presentation, whatever one's criticism of it, put the ongoing occupation at the heart of the Israeli/Palestine conflict. This is where it belongs. Like our media, the supporters of Israeli policy choose to look beyond this reality.

US support for the occupation and its ethnic cleansing has caused the loss of American military lives let alone the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. Until Americans acknowledge the occupation and its deadly consequences, lives will surely continue to be lost.

Lee Steinberg 




The comments below were submitted by Eugene Feit <EFeit@herzfeld-rubin.com>
These comments were posted Friday, March 29, 2001 at 10:26:45 (EST):

In January NYMAS heard Joseph Massoud of Columbia University. Judging him to be an intelligent and articulate speaker, I anticipated, if not a balanced presentation, certainly an accurate and perhaps interesting discussion. To say I was disappointed is a gross understatement. Mr Massoud was flagrantly loose, or worse, with facts and data. Although well informed, he seemed to choose to distort and misrepresent.

The speaker made several statements presented as fact which were inaccurate. When challenged during Q&A he retreated from some, denied making some, and simply sidestepped the others. Some of his statements I cannot challenge directly but were so fantastic as to arouse skepticism in anyone.

Several of the speaker’s claims are presented here in quotes although I cannot and do not represent that these were his exact words. In response I present my appreciation of the facts and my comments. Although the speaker referred to Israel as a "dictatorship" it has had a vigorous multiparty democracy for 53 years, with Arab citizens voting [ they are about 12% of the electorate ] and electing several Arab members to the Knesset [parliament ]. The Israeli press is notoriously feisty, partisan and always ready to criticize the government. The judiciary is famously independent and has issued numerous rulings contradicting the government, including rulings protecting the rights of individual Arabs, and even Palestinian prisoners. There are numerous active human rights organizations. Prior to the recent wave of violence, there were some Palestinian voices who were (very quietly ) complaining that they have fewer protections of individual liberty under Arafat’s Palestinian Authority than under the previous Israeli occupation.

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1. "Jerusalem now contains 33% of the area of the West Bank:" The speaker said the expansion of the Jerusalem municipality is used by the Israelis as a device to keep territory while falsely advertising that they are prepared to return more than 90% of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

A. There was a map hanging just over his shoulder as he spoke. Even a Jerusalem triple the size shown could not have equaled a third, or a tenth of the West Bank, which is an area of 2,278 sq. miles. If Jerusalem were the size of New York City it would not be 15% of the West Bank. The area of Jerusalem is appx. 43 sq. mi. [ Encarta Encyclopedia, 2000 ed. ], and that includes the western part of Jerusalem which has always been Jewish, and which has been Israeli since 1948. That is less than 2% of the West Bank.  The speaker’s statement was a gross exaggeration, even allowing for any possible recent expansion of municipal boundaries.

2. "Israel demands a special recognition of its right to exist:" He asserted that Israel is asking for some special and unreasonable form of recognition. He claimed it was asking for de jure recognition when standard diplomatic recognition is only de facto. He used the example of the US recognition of the USSR in 1933, which he said had been de facto only.

A. As a lawyer I am well qualified to contradict him, and when I did so he said he had not said, or had not meant to say what he did. Standard diplomatic recognition constitutes recognition of a state and its regime in law, and this includes certain legal rights to be recognized even in the courts of the recognizing state when the other state has reason to assert those rights. It is de jure and not de facto, and the US-USSR is a prime example of such recognition despite that some outstanding political issues and resentments remained. Also, note the following on the subject from Abba Eban, Israel’s premier diplomat [ although now many years out of power ]:

"Nobody does Israel any service by proclaiming its right to exist. Israel’s right to exist, like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and 152 other states is axiomatic and unreserved. Israel’s legitimacy is not suspended in midair awaiting acknowledgment. ... There is certainly no other state, big or small, young or old, that would consider its ‘right to exist’ as a favor, or a negotiated concession ..." New York Times, Nov. 15, 1981

 

3. "‘Israel’ failed to help European Jews during the Holocaust" This statement was made with no apparent context, and no supporting authority or explanation.

A. This statement seemed to be nothing more than a gratuitous insult. Had there been an Israel, its very existence would have saved many who could have escaped Europe had they had a destination. What purpose did such a statement have other than to disparage the Jewish Agency [Jewish authority in Palestine preceding the 1948 State of Israel ] and Israel to the audience? The Jewish Agency in Palestine had no legal or governmental authority before 1948. They lobbied from the start of the war for a Jewish military force to be recruited and trained, which was not done by the British until later in the war. They tried to facilitate and assist emigration of European Jews to Palestine, or to anywhere safe. This was a long and largely unsuccessful struggle, including a sad and shameful history for the British specifically, and the Allies generally.

The Arabs rigorously opposed any Jewish immigration to Palestine even late in World War 2 after awareness of the outlines of the Holocaust. [The British White Paper of 1939, issued in response to Arab pressure, severely restricted Jewish immigration. Even its limited quotas went unfilled during the war. This remained in effect even after the war.]   Jewish Agency agents were active in Europe throughout the war. A special force infiltrated Hungary in 1944 in an organized effort to save the last remaining intact Jewish community in Nazi occupied Europe. The effort failed, as others had failed before, in part because there was no place where the refugee Jews would be accepted. This experience became a primary motivating factor for the creation of Israel as a state.

4. "The 1947 UN Partition was grossly unfair to the Palestinians:" The Jewish community constituted appx. 30% of the population but was allocated more than 55% of the territory. After the conquests of the 1947 -48 war they possessed 75% of Palestine. The speaker did not say what partition of territory, if any, would have been fair then, or might be fair today as a compromise for peace.

A. The British census of 1946 showed a Jewish population of 608,000 and an Arab population exceeding 1,200,000. These estimates were used by the UN in 1947 and yields a population at least 33% Jewish. [ UN Report: "The Origins of the Palestine Problem," 1978, Part II, page 21, and Part I, p.80, citing 1947 UN documents ] Much of the 1940s Jewish immigration into Palestine had been illegal under the 1939 White Paper, so the Jewish population probably would have been understated for the same reasons that illegal immigrants everywhere do not advertise their presence. A very large part of the Jewish zone was the Negev Desert, which was hardly populated at all. Discounting the Negev, the ration of the two partition zones in the populated areas approximates the population balance. Also note that the City of Jerusalem was supposed to be an international zone. This contained a large Jewish population which had been a majority of Jerusalem’s population since the late 19th century. [ Turkish census of 1876, French data from 1896. ] There were never any measures taken by the UN to give effect to the international zone, which was widely considered to be unrealistic and was not accepted by either Israel or the Palestinians.

One subject that is rarely mentioned is Arab immigration from surrounding areas during the British mandate. By all accounts of Western travelers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, [ e.g., Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad ] much of Palestine appeared to be a desolate and undeveloped place, a backwater in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman tax policy in the 19th century discouraged investment, and prevented recovery from 18th century conditions so severe that they are said to have virtually depopulated the area. [ Palestine and the Palestinians, Farsoun and Zacharia, Westview Press 1997,p.22 ] Most Palestinians lived in the hills, less accessible to military authorities and nomadic marauders. However :

"At the culmination of a quarter century of Mandatory Rule, Palestine had been radically transformed in demographic terms. The population of Palestine had increased tremendously – from 750,000 at the 1922 census to almost 1,850,000 at the end of1946 – an increase of nearly 250%." UN Report, supra, Part 1, p.80, fn 20 citing British government sources

While Jewish population increased largely from immigration to more than 600,000, the Arab population nearly doubled from appx. 650,000 to 1,200,000. The British Mandate, and the Jewish migration, stimulated economic activity and this attracted Arabs from elsewhere in the region. Compare the nearly 100% increase in the Arab population of Palestine from 1922 to 1946 with about 40-45% population increases in Egypt and in Turkey during appx. the same period.

5. "There was no Arab attack until May 1948 [the declaration of the Israeli state]" The implication of this statement was that the Arabs did not initiate the 1947-49 war, and only attacked after a provocative act by Israel. Therefore they bear no historical burden or responsibility for the resulting realities.

A. Partition was voted by the UN at the end of November 1947. Arab attacks began immediately as riots and developed into military action soon afterward. In the first three months after partition, casualties totaled appx. 2,800 ( including 869 dead), dwarfing the recent "Intifada." [UN Report, supra, Part II, p. 39 ] Two separate Palestinian militias, supplemented by foreign Arab volunteers, engaged in military operations before May 1948. Regardless of the strategic effect, this was not a pacific community.

"Ever since January 1948, the Arabs had been endeavoring to cut the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and thereby isolate the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy City. ... Early in January the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman. ... They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine ..."  A Soldier With The Arabs, Sir John Bagot Glubb, London, 1958; pp.79-80.

The speaker was introduced, in part, as an expert on the above author: "Glubb Pasha" British commander of the Arab Legion of TransJordan, who spent his life with the Arabs and was no friend of Israel. The speaker did seem to agree with part of the following, also written by Glubb:

"The Arab League, under Egyptian leadership, decided to call upon its members to attack the Jews." ... "Arab governments were largely responsible for the ruin of the Palestine Arabs. By raising the hopes of the latter, they made them intransigent." A Soldier With The Arabs

On April 4, 1948 appx. 1,000 Arabs under the command of Fawzi el- Kaoukji, commander of one of the two rival Palestinian militias, attacked the strategic Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek in a drive toward Haifa. They used twelve 3 inch mortars, armored cars and seven pieces of artillery ranging from 75mm to 105mm. [ Genesis: The First Arab Israeli War, Dan Kurzman, New Amer. Lib, 1970 ] This certainly qualifies as a military operation in scale and nature, whether or not competently executed. After the attack failed, the Arab population of the surrounding hills simply fled, perhaps with the militia, perhaps in fear of anticipated retribution.

The following is quoted from the statement of Jamal Husseini, representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the UN Security Council, April 16, 1948:

"The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We had told the whole world that we were going to fight."

The Arab armies of neighboring countries had to wait until the formal British withdrawal in May 1948 to attack. The British generally took a laissez-faire attitude to most violence from November 1947 through May 1948. They were disgusted with the Mandate, and with Arabs and Jews and wanted no more British casualties. However, an intrusion by the army of a neighboring state could not have been tolerated.

6. Refugees The speaker used figures in the millions that included not only original refugees but what have now become succeeding generations born to refugee families. It also includes many people now comfortably settled not only in some Arab countries but in Europe and America. His number of an original 780,000 refugees in 1948-49 was not much above other estimates. Many of these were "internal" refugees in that they did not leave Palestine but relocated to Arab controlled territory. Some "internals" moved again at the time of the 1967 war.

A. The British and Israeli estimates (519,000-650,000) of Palestine refugees were lower. The UN has used the figure 726,000. [ UN Report, supra, Part II, p.43 ] Even without authoritative information we can nevertheless make assumptions based on our general knowledge of the history of warfare that these people were not all expelled any more than that they all left voluntarily in confident expectation of the promised Arab victory, as Israeli propagandists have often said. Refugees everywhere leave because they want to go to a safer place to avoid combat, or because of the disruption and destruction of war, or lack of food, or because they fear retribution from the enemy if they stay, or being labeled collaborators if they do not leave, or because they are forced out. The answer here is probably all of the above, as is usually the case. There may even have been those who preferred to await the expected victory elsewhere.

There was a mass Arab exodus from Haifa, after the Israelis took control of the city. Previously there had been significant Arab-Jewish civic cooperation. Jamal Husseini of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee told the UN Security Council on April 23, 1948: "The Arabs would not submit to a truce but they rather preferred to leave their homes in the town..." A dispatch of April 26, 1948 by U.S. Consul General in Haifa, Aubrey Lipincott, reported that "local mufti-dominated leaders" were urging Arabs to leave and most were going. British police reports of April 26, 1948 confirmed that the Jews were attempting to persuade the Arabs to stay and giving assurances for the safety of persons and property. Prime Minister Ben Gurion dispatched Golda Meir to Haifa specifically to try to reassure the Arabs and dissuade them from leaving. The Economist of London on October 2, 1948 reported a British eyewitness account:

"During subsequent days the Jewish authorities... urged all Arabs to remain in Haifa and guaranteed them protection and security. ...However, not more than 5,000-6,500 remained. [ appx. 10% of the Arab population ]"Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Arab Higher Executive urging all Arabs in Haifa to quit. ...it was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades."

 

In 1967 there was little, if any, accusation of organized or systematic expulsions by Israel, nor of attacks on civilians, yet 400-500,000 Palestinians fled, some for a second time.  [UN Report, supra, Part II, p. 54 fn11: The Demographic Transformation of Palestine, Abu Laghod, Northwestern Univ. Press, 1971] A majority of a sampling of refugees questioned gave as their principal reasons "fear of airplanes" and other war related concerns, and "shame" over yet another Arab defeat. Only a minority complained of any direct Israeli threats or actions.  [Palestine and the Palestinians, supra, p. 135] Indeed, at that time Israel hoped and expected to negotiate a peace after its overwhelming 1967 victory, and expected to return most of the land it had just captured very soon. The response was the united Arab policy of the" three nos:" " No negotiation, no recognition, no peace."

There were not many Jewish "internal" refugees in 1948. Jewish forces were generally successful, so Jews were not often displaced, but where those few Jewish settlements were overrun by Palestinian Arabs, many inhabitants were killed. The entire Jewish population of the Old City of Jerusalem was expelled to Israeli held territory, after conquest of the ancient Jewish Quarter by the regular forces of the Arab Legion of TransJordan in 1948.

Starting in May 1948 Jewish refugees flowed into Israel from Arab countries as well as the refugee camps of Europe. In all 733,000 Jews came to Israel from Arab lands. There is rarely any mention of these refugees, perhaps because they were assimilated into the society, although not always comfortably or happily. The speaker seemed to straddle a contradiction when he commented, accurately, on the discrimination suffered by the "Sephardic" [ Oriental ] immigrants in Israel, presumably because, although Jewish, they resembled the Arabs from whose nations they arrived. Yet they cannot be ignored in any discussion of equities of the past 50 years. These Sephardic immigrants and their children have constituted the majority of Israel’s population since appx. 1980 and are among the strongest supporters of the right wing political parties. They tend to be most suspicious of Arab intentions and compromise proposals generally. It has been the native Israelis and those of European descent who tend to support the left and the Labor Party which has led the efforts to compromise land for peace.

Contemporaneously, in 1947 there was also a partition of colonial India. This was at the insistence of the Muslim population and its leadership which absolutely refused to become a minority, even a very large minority, in Hindu India. This despite the fact that since its inception Muslims had been a prominent part of the leadership of the revolutionary, and soon to be ruling Congress Party. The partition process was extremely violent. Estimates of the total number of refugees exceed 10 million. Most were expelled from their homes or fled under direct threat of violence. Columns of Hindu and Muslim refugees often passed each other in opposite directions, sometimes attacking each other. The Sikhs were particularly victimized because their home province of Punjab was itself divided. Nearly all Sikhs fled or were expelled from Pakistan to India. We have heard little of these refugees since 1947 because they have been long since integrated into their new circumstances, even in such poor countries.

Eugene Feit

February 15, 2001