Thank you for having me and for giving me the opportunity to talk to you. I hope that what I will say will be informative and enlightening.
For every story there are two sides, but facts have only one side. I will not restrict myself to give the Arab side of the story but also some facts about the origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict that the Americans in their great majority do not know.
All the attempts being made today to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict are based on the fact that Israel is the strongest of the two parties and can therefore impose its will. They are not based on international law, and most importantly, they are not based on justice. They are based on the fact that might is right. In the Declaration of Principles signed on September 13, 1993 in Washington, the word just appears once at the beginning in the cliché "just, lasting and comprehensive peace". This Declaration is NOT a peace agreement that goes into the details of how the peace is going to be achieved. It is supposed to lay down the principles upon which the conflict will be solved. Justice, unfortunately, is not a very appealing word. By contrast, the statement issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 1989 and entitled Toward Peace in the Middle East, the word justice appears almost in every page, along with other principles "rooted in a moral assessment of the problem." When I listen to the Israeli politicians or when I read their columns that appear every now and then in the American press the word justice is conspicuously absent. Unfortunately, the "free" media in this country is not interested in justice either. This is what I want to talk about. I want to talk about things that Americans do not usually read or hear about in the media.
There are three categories of people. Those who know the whole story of the tragedy of Palestine, they know its origin and how it started and how it developed but for some reason they stand against it. I was always baffled by that. So I asked this question to a knowledgeable man and his answer was political expediency. These are mostly the politicians, the media people and every one who wants to boost his or her own career. The second category is made up of laymen who get their information not from specialized sources (history books, journals) but from the first category of people and so their information is incomplete, often times distorted and sometimes just plain wrong. The third one is made up of those who know the whole story and don't hide it. This is unfortunately a very tiny minority in the United States.
So misinformation and even disinformation are the main culprit. For the American public to figure out how the problem can be solved they have to be informed. They must look for the root cause, sometimes through thick layers of distortions, in order to be able to form an opinion and evaluate the solutions being proposed.
Let me give an example. We keep hearing the expression Arabs & Jews. This expression is based on a false premise. Its like comparing apples and oranges. The right equivalent to Jews would be Christians or Muslims (members of different faiths); the right equivalent to Arabs is Hebrews (members of different races or ethnic groups); other counterparts would be: Palestinians vs. Israelis or Arabism vs. Zionism. I am a Christian Arab. Not all the Jews are my cousins and neither are all the Christians nor all the Muslims. My cousins are the Hebrews, the Jews who live or used to live in the Arab countries. Arabs and Hebrews are both Semitic people and both words are made up of the same Semitic three-letter root (`rb & `br ). The Jews of Europe, the Ashkenazi, are Jews but not Hebrews (Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for Germany). Nor are they Semites in the first place, a fact that points to a misuse of another term, that of anti-Semitism. As a matter of fact, the Ashkenazi Jews have no historic link to Palestine. They descend from the Khazars, a Tartar people of Turkish origin who converted to Judaism at the time of Charlemagne in the 8th century. Their homeland is located in south-eastern Russia between the Caspian and the Black seas.
This confusion and others are deliberately cultivated by the pro-Israel forces so that the public mixes all these notions together and keeps injecting religion into the debate. It is then easier to throw at anyone who criticizes Israel the detestable accusation of anti-Semitism which has the effect of tying one's hand, tongue and pen. It takes a lot of courage for anyone to ignore this accusation hanging like a sword of Damocles over him. It should be emphasized however that religion is not intrinsically the problem. It is only part of it in the sense that it is exploited for political purposes. The Zionist project or enterprise was never a religious one. The Zionist founders of Israel are all atheists or agnostics, from Herzl all the way down to Ben-Gurion, Shamir, Rabin and so on. When Herzl, for example, considered the location of the Jewish state, Palestine was one of the choices, "Shall we choose Palestine or Argentina?" wrote Herzl in his book The Jewish State. It was merely a question of finding a "vacant space." Herzl tried to obtain "territorial concessions" in Mozambique. Other locations considered were the Belgian Congo, Cyprus, Sinai and Uganda. It was only after Herzl death that the World Zionist Organization decided in 1905 in favor of Palestine. It is ironic today to hear the Israeli leaders saying that God gave them the Land of Israel, a term that, incidentally, never appears in the first six books of the Bible, that is the Pentateuch plus Joshua. (Instead the Bible refers to the Land of Canaan, which means that the Hebrews were coming to settle in a land already settled by another people).
Furthermore, the majority of Israelis today are secular. They don't care about religion. This runs against the very notion of Jewish people, as it is understood in the Bible, that of a religious people obeying God's command. When Jimmy Carter, a deeply religious person, visited Israel in 1973, he expected to see an Israel with a biblical character. He didn't. So when he met with Golda Meir, the then Prime Minister, he told her about "the general absence of religious interest among the Israelis" and added that "during biblical times, the Israelites triumphed when they were close to God and were defeated when unfaithful". But she indicated to him that "this was not a matter of concern to her because there were certainly enough 'orthodox' Jews around." A rather revealing answer (see his book The Blood of Abraham). Therefore, to define Israel as a Jewish state, in the biblical sense, is deceptive. The best definition is the one given by Maxime Rodinson who characterized the state of Israel as a Colonial-Settler State. The British were instrumental in the creation of the state of Israel; and now the Americans are instrumental in sustaining it.
If you look at the Zionist leaders in the past and the Israeli leaders today, they are all either born in Europe or from parents originally from Europe. Yitzhak Rabin, presently Prime Minister, while born in Jerusalem in 1922, his real name is Rabinovitch; his father is the American Nehemia and his mother the Russian Ronda. Shimon Peres, real name Persky, was born in 1923 in Vishneva, Belorussia. Yitzhak Shamir, real name Yzernitzky, was born in 1915 in Ruzinoy, Poland. Menahem Wolfovitch Begin was born in 1913 in Brest-Litovsk, Poland. Golda Meir, maiden name Mabovitch, was born in 1898 in Kiev, Russia; was married to Morris Meyerson; after settling in Palestine in 1921 changed her name into Meir. David Ben-Gurion was born in 1886 in Plonsk, Russian Poland; his real name is David Gryn. Moshe Dayan was born in 1915 in the kibbutz Deganyah Alef; his father Shemuel came from Ukraine to Palestine in 1908. Teddy Kollek was born in 1911 in Vienna, Austria. Abba Eban was born in 1915 in Cape Town, South Africa; his real name is Aubrey and his mother is originally from Lithuania. The present and the first Presidents of Israel are from the Russian family Weizmann. Ezer, was born in Tel Aviv in 1924; his father Mikhail settled in Palestine in 1914. Chaim was born in 1874 in Motol, Poland, which was part of the Russian Empire. The previous President, Chaim Herzog was born in 1918 in Dublin. Unless we change the etymological meaning of the word homeland, there is no way Palestine can be the homeland of these people. As the columnist, Joseph Sobran, put it, "How is that people who have been born and bred in Brooklyn or Minsk can claim to own Palestine?"
* * *
It has been said that the Palestinians made a mistake by refusing the UN partition plan of 1947, whereby Palestine would have been partitioned in two states, one "Jewish" and one Arab. By contrast, the Zionist leaders accepted partition. The truth, of course, is much more complex than that. While they did accept that part of the resolution calling for the creation of a "Jewish" state, they did not accept the territorial limits of that state, nor did they accept the parallel Palestinian state envisioned in the resolution. Israel acceptance was, in fact, a tactical one. Ben-Gurion declared that the new state had been established only in "a portion of Israel" and that "we have to set up a dynamic state bent upon expansion." But let us for the sake of argument suppose that this was the case. Imagine someone claiming that your house is his and after a heated discussion the matter is presented to an arbitrator who finds that the best solution given the circumstances is partition. Would you go along with partition?
I believe most of you know the Bible story of King Solomon (1 Kings 3.16) who ordered the partition of the child. While no two situations are identical this Bible story can be enlightening. What was the real mother's reaction? No partition. The real mother renounced her son in order to save his life. Could the Palestinians have renounced their homeland to save it? I wonder what would have been King Solomon's approach to give this land to its rightful owners as he gave the child to his real mother? I am telling this story so you won't be too harsh on the Palestinians for refusing partition. This is after all what any reasonable person would have done. How can the Zionists/"Jews", the great majority of whom had been in Palestine less than 30 years, have claims equal, if not superior, to those of native Palestinians. The Zionists accepted partition in the pure knowledge that the Palestinians would not. And the Palestinians were bound to oppose their own dispossession. The irony is that the force they have used became "Arab aggression" in world eyes and the force used by the Zionists against the natives came to pass, deceptively, as war of "independence."
* * *
Where do we go from here?
1. It seems to me that the first thing is to recognize that the Palestinians were the victims of an injustice of an enormous proportion. Their homeland was taken from them by a foreign people. The following statistics will demonstrate that. In 1919, before the colonization of Palestine started in earnest, the Jews, mainly native Arab Jews, constituted 9.7 percent of the population and owned 2.04 percent of the land. In 1946, in spite of all the colonization efforts, the Jews, mainly non-native Eastern European Jews, constituted 35.1 percent of the population (see population map) and owned 7.0 percent of the land (see land ownership map). Today, the situation is reversed. Out of 5 million Palestinians, 2 million live in the Diaspora whether as refugees or as citizens of other countries. The remaining 3 million live under Israeli rule: 1 million as third class citizens of Israel (the second class being the Oriental Jews) and 2 million live under a brutal Israeli military occupation in their own homeland. The responsible party for this tragedy are the Zionists. They must have the honesty to admit that they perpetrated the crime of displacing a people from its homeland and stealing its land, something that the Hebrews didn't do when they came to the Land of Canaan some 3,000 years ago.
In 1895, Theodor Herzl noted in his Diaries that something had to be done about the Palestinian natives:We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.During the thirties, Joseph Weitz was the director of the Jewish National Fund, the agency that was set up to purchase land in Palestine. His diaries and papers were published in My Diary, and Letter to Children. In 1940, he wrote:It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No "development" will bring us closer to our aim, to be an independent people in this small country. If the Arabs leave the country, it will be broad and wide-open for us. And if the Arabs stay, the country will remain narrow and miserable... and the only solution is Eretz Israel, or at least Western Eretz Israel, without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point! ... and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village, not a single tribe. And the transfer must be directed to Iraq, to Syria, and even to Transjordan. For that purpose we'll find money, and a lot of money. And only with such a transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers, and the Jewish question shall be solved, once and for all. There is no other way out. [Emphasis added]What Joseph Weitz is advocating is in fact ethnic cleansing. But instead of using the term he uses transfer as a euphemism. While the media was quick to pass judgment on David Duke, even though he repudiated his past, and accused him of using code words, this same media conveniently failed to see in the word transfer, used today by Ariel Sharon and by Gush Emunim, a code word for ethnic cleansing. Moshe Dayan in an article printed in Ha-Aretz, April 4, 1969 acknowledged, without using the term, that what happened in 1948-49 was ethnic cleansing.We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here. ... Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these villages and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahala [Dayan's own village] arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat--in the place of Jibta, [Kibbutz] Sarid--in the place of Haneifs and kefar Yehoshua--in the place of Tell Shaman. There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population. [Emphasis added]2. The second thing is to recognize that--after all that--Israel was not able to destroy the Palestinian identity. This process of destruction of the identity started with the denying of the existence of a Palestinian people. In an interview published in the Sunday Times of London (June 15, 1969) Golda Meir said:There was no such thing as Palestinians... It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist. [Emphasis added]This is worse than ethnic cleansing. This is killing the identity of a whole people. Israeli leaders and particularly the Likud, if you carefully listen to them, always avoid using the term Palestinian people. Instead they say the inhabitants of the territories or the Palestinian Arabs which means by implication that they are Palestinian Jews. That is why it was so important for Israel not to recognize the PLO. Recognizing the PLO which represents the Palestinian people will necessarily mean recognition of the Palestinians as a people. The recent recognition by Israel of the PLO is an enormous step forward. I do not minimize it but it is still not enough. Israel has yet to recognize the Palestinian's right of self-determination and their right of return to their homes and homeland. It has yet to recognize also that it is an occupier. Zionism, Israel's ideology, needs to reform itself and move away from an ideology built upon expansion at the expense of the other and on the exclusion of the other to an ideology that accepts the natives of Palestine, as human beings with inalienable rights.
3. The third thing is to recognize that the only solution for this problem is to give a state to the Palestinians. Coexistence is virtually impossible in the present condition where Palestinians have to live under the shadow of an army of occupation. Giving the Palestinians a state on one fifth of their homeland would not do them justice but will certainly put an end to this disgraceful occupation that the Israelis, looking for justification, cynically called it "the most humane occupation in history."
* * *
Let us now look at the situation as it is today and ask ourselves what is Israel up to? The PLO's objective is clear. The Palestinians want to get rid of the occupation and establish a state of their own. But what about Israel?
If it was up to Israel, it would have done today what it did in 1947. It would have driven out by force the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and annexed these territories and the whole problem, as far as Israel is concerned, would have been solved. This is Israel's first and preferred choice. Unfortunately for Israel, in this age of television this cannot be done. Israel was not even able to do in 1967 what it did in 1947. This doesn't mean that there is not in Israel today voices calling for the "transfer" (a code word for expulsion) of the Arabs from the "Land of Israel". Rehavam Ze'evi, who was a minister in Shamir's cabinet, is openly for mass deportation of Arabs, even Israeli Arabs, to other countries.
What must be emphasized is that Israel will never do anything that runs counter to its Zionist ideology unless it is forced to. Israel has finally recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Israel didn't take this step because it came to its senses, or because it came to the wonderful conclusion that indeed there is a Palestinian people and the PLO is its representative. The intifada forced Israel to do so.
Israel didn't "withdraw" from Gaza because it wanted to, but because it was forced to, by the Intifada. Didn't Rabin say to the members of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1992 that he wished "Gaza would sink into the sea. But since that is not going to happen a solution must be found to the problem of the Gaza Strip?" (New York Jewish Week Sep.11-17, 1992). As I see it now, Israel will never withdraw from the West Bank. It will take a lot more than what it took in Gaza for Israel to withdraw from what it calls Judea and Samaria.
Similarly, Israel didn't withdraw from Sinai willingly or because Sadat made a great impression on Menachem Begin. Israel withdrew from Sinai because it could not say no to the President of the United States, its only benefactor. Jimmy Carter's book Keeping Faith, Memoirs of a President is a must for anyone who wants to know how Begin did everything he could, and failed, to sabotage the talks in Camp David.
Israel's ultimate goal is not a secret. Israel has a plan for the West Bank, i.e., for Judea and Samaria and it will implement it if it can. The West Bank constitutes less than 20 percent of pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine. Israel has so far seized more than 70 (73.6) percent of just the West Bank under different pretexts. It has never ceased to build new settlements or expanding existing ones, in spite of Rabin's pledge to the contrary, in order to get the $10 billion loan guarantees. It is completing a 400-kilometer network of "settler roads" in the West Bank that are off limits to Palestinians at a cost of $600 million. With these roads the West Bank is going to be fragmented into "a Swiss cheese" of Palestinian towns surrounded by Israeli settlements (see map 1b). To achieve this highway project, Israel is ordering the confiscation of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian property, including many homes and farms. The purpose of the new highways is to enable Jewish settlers to bypass Palestinian cities and villages, as they move to and from Jerusalem and from one settlement to another. These links serve to strengthen the status of the settlements as integral parts of Israel.
At the same time, these highways, and the settlements they serve, form barriers that help to advance the dismemberment of the West Bank which will be disconnected into two parts or cantons or better yet bantustans. (Bantustans are those homelands or "reservations" that the previous apartheid government of South Africa wanted to establish for its Black population). By making any contact between these bantustans extremely difficult, Israel will be able to maintain its subjugation of the Palestinians. If Israel has its way, this is what we are heading to (see map 2).
The Oslo Agreement, officially called the Declaration of Principles started this process. If peace is what is needed to be achieved between the Israelis and the Palestinians, then any observer with a minimum of objectivity will have to recognize that this Declaration of Principles is fundamentally flawed. It should be emphasized also that this Declaration is not much more than an agreement to seek an agreement at a later date, though it was advertised as a peace treaty.
This Agreement basically reflects the inescapable balance of power between the two sides on the ground. It is true that Israel has recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people (the one and only concession made by Israel), but it has not recognized that the Palestinians have legitimate national rights. On the other hand, Arafat and the PLO unilaterally made one concession after the other without even securing and independent international mechanism which will guarantee the implementation of the Agreement. It requires the Palestinians to cease resistance to Israeli occupation while they continue to suffer under that occupation. It requires Syria to normalize relations fully with Israel even as Israel continues to occupy Syrian soil. It requires all the Arabs to befriend Israel while they live under the shadow of its nuclear arsenal and need its permission to pray in Jerusalem.
Because of the fact that the balance of power is in its favor, the government of Israel doesn't have to worry if it doesn't implement important sections of the Agreement such as: to redeploy the army outside the populated areas of the West Bank by July 1994, which is a pre-condition for the talk on expanding interim self-rule to the West Bank; to allow holding Palestinian elections in July 1994; to secure a safe passage between Gaza and Jericho; to release all Palestinian prisoners. Israel, in fact, has selected to implement from the Agreement only those aspects which guarantee its complete control of borders and security matters and which grant it a veto on all matters of importance to Palestinian life.
There are three main flaws in the Oslo Agreement.
1. Settlements. The discussion of the issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories is postponed until the beginning of the third year after the implementation of the Agreement. To begin with, by putting its name to an Agreement that omits reference to the status of the settlements, the PLO has implicitly weakened the moral and legal arguments against these enclaves. As for Israel, it undertook to negotiate the future of the settlements, but in the meantime it continues with massive enlargements of existing ones and creating new ones, particularly in and around the Jerusalem area. While Rabin is speaking about "separation", his government has increased settlements in the West Bank by 10 percent in two years and is planing on building 30,000 new homes in the coming three or four years, in addition to 13,000 already approved for East Jerusalem. All for Jews only. Rabin is simply carrying out what Begin has started, that is cut the West Bank into bits and pieces so that there can be no possibility of any territorial compromise over the West Bank. Back in 1980, Meir Merhave, the economics editor of the Jerusalem Post told Time Magazine of March 31, 1980: The West Bank "is to be carved up by a grid of roads, settlements and strongholds into a score of little Bantustans so that (the Palestinians) shall never coalesce again into a contiguous area that can support autonomous, let alone independent existence."
2. Refugees. The exclusion of the issue of the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 and 1967 wars--the more than 2.6 million Palestinians living in refugee camps or scattered in the wider diaspora--from immediate discussion. According to the international law those Palestinians should be given a choice of either returning to their homes or of being compensated. For many Palestinians, abandoning the refugees of 1948 would be tantamount to abandoning the Palestinian cause itself. It is ironic to see that Russian Jews are invited to "return" to a country in which they have never set foot while Palestinian refugees who were driven out of their homeland by force and terror 47 years ago are totally ignored.
3. East Jerusalem. This is another important omission in the Oslo Agreement. The issue at stake here is not simply one of an occupied city, for Jerusalem is of immense religious significance. Whenever the Palestinians mention Jerusalem Israel immediately accuses them of violating the Oslo Agreement, according to which the final status of the Holy City will be determined in negotiations scheduled to start by 1996. Meanwhile Israel does not miss one opportunity to declare that united Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state, as if such a declaration is not violating the same Agreement. The continuous building of settlements in around Jerusalem (another violation) is causing so much alarm for the Christian community all over the world that eight American religious leaders wrote a letter on March 6 to President Clinton accusing Israel of negotiating in bad faith on the status of Jerusalem. Among those who signed the letter Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; The Most Rev. Edmond Browning, President Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; and The Rev. Herbert Chilstrom, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Let me quote extensively from the letter.Above all we ask that the Administration uses its influence to prevent this vital issue from being settled by force of vents or the creation of facts on the ground...
We come to you because developments on the ground in the Jerusalem area leave less and less for negotiations in the last phase of the peace process:
. In contravention of international law, more and more land is taken out of Palestinian hands and placed under Israeli control by annexation, expropriation, and private purchases, often coercive or of questionable legality;
. Israeli planning for "Greater Jerusalem" is an open secret; and
. Israel's assertion that Jerusalem will remain the "eternal and undivided capital of Israel" is widely interpreted as a claim of exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the city that preempts genuine negotiation.
We are concerned:
. that the Administration is backing away from the long-term United States policy that East Jerusalem is subject to UN Security Council Resolution 242 regarding territories occupied by Israel armed forces in 1967;
. that the Administration is failing to recognize and support Palestinian rights and interest in Jerusalem;
. that the Administration is not using its considerable influence to halt Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and continued expansion into Palestinian areas.
... The future of Jerusalem must not be preempted by the actions of any one party. Only a negotiated agreement that respects the human and political rights of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the three religious communities (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) can lead to a lasting peace.
* * *
What makes this conflict very difficult to solve is the involvement of the U.S. since the 40s on the basis of domestic politics rather than consideration of policy, justice and security interests. Domestic politics kept playing a major role in this foreign affairs issue, something that should not have happened. As far back as 1946, President Truman told a group of diplomats called home to report to the State Department on the deteriorating U.S. position in the Middle East: "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents." Until today American Middle East policy is being directed by a minority pressure group using the leverage of domestic politics.
Senator William Fulbright died two months ago on February 9, 1995. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of few American politicians who was fully aware of the existence of a pressure group in the U.S. which seeks to inject the Arab-Israeli dispute into domestic politics. Knowing that in foreign policy American interests must come first, he never allowed himself to be deterred by the almost pathological orientation of the United States toward Israel. In his book The Price of Empire, he wrote: "So completely have many of our principal officeholders fallen under Israeli influence that they not only deny today the Palestinian national aspirations, but debate who more passionately opposes a Palestinian state." These are very strong words. Senator Fulbright also had memorable interventions about the Middle East on the Senate floor. Missing from every account, however, both in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the so-called "newspapers of records," which devoted a half page or more to this remarkable Arkansas Democrat, was any mention of his strongly and his often voiced Middle East views. In the five Washington Post stories on the Senator, there was not one word about his resolute Middle East stand. This is how free the media is.
How in the world can anyone judge a conflict in which he is a party. This is unfortunately the situation of the United States, a situation that led Charley Resse, a syndicated columnist based in Orlando, to say: "The United States has no Middle East policy. Israel does, and the United States carries it out. This is a disgrace and will prove a tragedy for Palestinians and Israelis alike." (Orlando Sentinel, March 20, 1995)