History Must be Accepted for Peace to Work

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“There is no such thing as Palestinian people.”  Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously said these words in 1969, denying the history and ancient culture of the Palestinian people in the Middle East. At last Wednesday’s Israel-Palestine  debate between Professor As’ad AbuKhalil and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor, the quote was brought up, to which Consul General Tor responded by saying Israel is not a monolithic society and Golda Meir does not speak for all Israelis.  Hopefully, neither does the Consul General.

The Consul General described Palestinian nationalism as a “modern phenomenon.”   He told the audience there was no such thing as a Palestinian until 1948.  Recognizing that most of the crowd was not buying into such distortions, the Consul General condescendingly said to those assembled at the event, “You are all out of touch with the rest of the world.”  An archeology professor in the crowd from the Sorbonne University in Paris, who currently has a visiting appointment at Stanford, challenged the Consul General’s statement about Palestinians not existing until 1948, to which the Consul General responded, “It is a historical fact.”

I went to the event hoping to hear  ideas for peace, but instead heard a debate that gave no hope to ending the violence.  Consul General Tor was either horribly misinformed or intentionally misleading those in attendance about the history of the region.  Under the British Mandate, Britain ruled Palestine, and the Palestinians, from 1918-1948.  In 1948 the United Nations recognized the state of Israel after the British were unable to resolve the problem between the Zionist Jewish settlers and Palestinians, and turned the decision over to the UN.  Ironically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also established in 1948 and UN resolution 194 was passed,  giving refugees the unalienable right to return to their home in the event of war.  Israeli historians Benny Morris and Avi Schlaim have documented that at least 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly driven from homes and made refugees during the 1948 war, yet partly because of mistaken beliefs similar to the Consul General’s, the right of displaced Palestinians has either been ignored or denied. What the Consul General must have meant was that there were no Palestinian refugees until 1948.
Zionist writer Ahad Ha’am in his 1891  essay entitled “Emet me-Eretz Israel”  (Truth from the Land of Israel) refutes claims that the land was deserted.

Yosef Gorny is a professor of Study of Zionism and head of the Zionist Research Institute at Tel Aviv University.  His book “Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948” details the first encounter between Zionists and Palestine’s indigenous population. I encourage the Consul General to read it and then tell us there was no such thing as a Palestinian until 1948.

Consul General Tor does not appear willing to allow historic, dated, and proven facts of history to stand in the way of his argument.  Maybe my family tree can convince him.  I am 1⁄4 French, 1⁄4 Salvadorian and 1⁄2 Palestinian.  My Father is a Palestinian born in Jerusalem in 1958.  My grandmother and grandfather, born in 1920 and 1908 in Jerusalem, are both Palestinians.  Tell them there was no such thing as a Palestinian until 1948.  Please, Consul General Tor, tell me who I am a descendent of, for I am clearly mistaken.

The biggest problem with the Israeli government is that they know nothing about the people they are in conflict with.  The Consul General said he wants peace, but how can that ever be achieved as long as Palestinian hopes are shattered and history denied?  The misrepresentations spread by Consul General Tor, whether intentional or not, are enraging and offensive.  I do not deny your heritage, Consul General.  Please do not deny mine.  An understanding of both people’s history in the land is the only chance for survival, which is why I hope that you did not speak for all Israelis in saying there was no such thing as a Palestinian until 1948.

It is only through more discussion and debate that we can clear misconceptions and better understand this complicated issue.  Last week’s debate made zero progress towards a proposed resolution.  I encourage anyone, regardless of your stance, to submit opinions on the issue to the Foghorn.
Nicholas Mukhar is a senior media studies major and journalism and legal studies minor.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Journalist Philip Weiss on the Neoconservative agenda:

    “In terms of their politics, they were almost all Democrats and then as soon as the Democratic party suggested that it wasn’t going to have a strong military, Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, the grandfathers of this movement, they went Republican. Why? Because they said, back in the 70’s, a strong American military is needed to protect Israel.”

    Download an mp3 of Phil saying the above here (9:45 minutes in)
    http://antiwar.com/radio/2008/07/12/philip-weiss/

    Watch the BBC documentary “The War Party”, part 1 of 5

    Read Phil’s blog on the Neocons, AIPAC, Israel/Palestine @ http://www.philipweiss.org

  2. An excellent piece. Thank you, Nick, for writing it.

    I do think, however, that the debate was actually very productive and engaging in many ways: notably in getting discussion going on the conflict on our campus, but more importantly illuminating the stark contrast between the official Israeli position and a position that calls for universal human rights and justice for both Jews and Palestinians in the historic land of Palestine. Especially in light of the current state of the Israel/Palestine conflict, there is absolutely no way that an official representative from the State of Israel – whose role it is to tow the official line – would find any common ground or understanding with a truly contrasting view, because this is indeed the stubborn position of the current (and previous) Israeli government(s) – to continually combat any grain censure from world opinion and international human rights organizations (including Israel’s own leading human rights organization, B’Tselem).

    Because this is a very charged issue with very real human consequences (let us not forget that more than 900 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed with impunity just a matter of months ago) the speakers defended their positions with vigor and vigilance.

    By the same token, the audience was admirably well-informed and spoke out with both passion and precision, again and again pressing the key issues – especially to Mr. Tor: Israel’s egregious violations of human rights, international law and the flagrant practice of war crimes; Israel’s historical practice of low-intensity ethnic cleansing, pre-emptive war, and the imposition of apartheid-like and prison-like conditions on the West Bank and Gaza, respectively; and the continual the denial of history, means of survival and self-determination for the Palestinian people.

    Mr. Tor – as you mentioned – condescendingly and patronizingly scolded the audience that we were “out of touch with the rest of the world.” Apparently he wasn’t listening when Professor AbuKhalil enlightened him of the fact that every year the UN General Assembly votes on a resolution, usually titled something along the lines of “Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine.” Each year, for decades now, the vote has been the same: the WHOLE WORLD on one side… and the US, Israel and sometimes a few Islands in the Pacific (depending on the value of the dollar that year), on the other. Indeed, it is Israel who is continually and perpetually out of touch with not only world opinion, but international law. One could go on and on, ad nauseam, on that score – Geneva Conventions, UNGA resolutions 194, 242, the 2004 World Court opinion, and so on…

    The question “Peace or Perpetual Conflict?” Is a question that depends on one thing: Justice. The best and only barometer for “justice” is the universal application of international law to the ultimate foundations of the conflict. The parameters for international law to be applied in this case are for a just resolution of the conflict are NOT complex in the least – they are actually remarkably and starkly clear, and have been for forty years now – all one has to do is look. And so our collective slogan remains – and must remain – the same: “No Justice, No Peace.”

    Unfortunately, some ill-informed observers often mistakenly see this is as an “uncompromising” position, or that “one has to be able to make some concessions and compromise.” I like to remind such people that since 1948 and the founding of the state of Israel, ALL CONCESSIONS in terms of international law have come from the Palestinians. On the other side of the equation, Israel has expanded settlements, annexed territory through war (illegal under international law) and has been continually bombarding, blockading and/or occupying the civilian inhabitants of neighboring countries for 60 years now. So what has this strategy of compromise, collaboration and concession won the Palestinians? “Perpetual conflict” for one and more bloodbaths like what we witnessed in Gaza during December/January.

    Gandhi also put it best when he said that, “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” Those “fundamentals” are what is owed to the Palestinian people under international law, nothing more and nothing less. Israel has to first just RECOGNIZE, for example, that Palestinians have the right of return on their side, before practical discussion could EVER even begin on how to affirm and implement that right in the context of the present demographic and other physical realities.

    But ultimately, the only true solution in Israel/Palestine is a One State Solution (to which professor AbuKhalil also referred): for Israel/Palestine (like South Africa before it) to become A STATE OF ALL ITS CITIZENS – where citizenship, rights and entitlements do not depend on ethno/religious affiliation, but are universal. It is so basic that it’s an 18th century idea.

    To read more on the One-State Solution, some good, basic and short articles:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-makdisi11-2008may11,0,7862060.story
    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070618/makdisi
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16671
    http://onestate.net/pages/declaration.htm

    Remember, “No Justice, No Peace.”

  3. Thank you to both of the above comments for the information and thoughful insight. I appreciate the support. The Consul General clearly came to USF with an agenda to spread the misconceptions of the Israeli gov’t, and thankfully most of the audience was far too educated on the issue to buy into the distortions, as i mentioned in the piece. Clearly, the thought is as long as they lie about the existence of indigenous Palestinians, they dont have to follow any UN resolution that gives rights to Palestinian refugees. As Professor AbuKhalil so eloquently said, the punishment of the liar is that he will not be believed when he tells the truth.

  4. I am fairly clueless about the Israel-Palestine debate but I found the article very interesting. I was unable to attend the discussion but after reading the article and hearing what was said from attendees, I understand how someone (especially one of Palestinian decent) could be offended. Nicholas wrote a strong piece, showing the flaws in Consul General Tor’s statements, while avoiding vicious attacks on him and offensive generalizations. The piece was very well written and I look forward to reading other articles by Nicholas.

  5. Thank you to the above comment. I’m glad the piece attracted someone who would normally not seek out information on the subject. I hope more people will try to learn more about the topic and I will try to keep you satisfied with future columns.

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