In Palestine, Arab wounds are self-inflicted

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on July 18, 2014

Guest opinion: There is an easy solution to the endless conflict in Palestine: the Arab peoples of the region must accept that Jews have a right to live in their ancestral homeland with the democratic sovereignty it aims to protect. If they did this, there would be no reason to lob rockets into Israel, and hence no need for Israel to retaliate.

The behaviour of the two sides could not be more ethically disparate to any fair-minded observer. Hamas, whose charter states the goal of destroying Israel, makes its attacks with intent to extirpate. When the Israel Defence Force returns fire, it takes the unprecedentedly-humane step of attempting to contact civilians to warn them of impending strikes. Hamas deliberately targets civilians and Israel’s comparatively-low casualty count owes to its infrastructure of shelters to protect its citizens, not a moral distinction of an

Arab David and a Jewish Goliath. Hamas, meanwhile, fires its weapons from the vicinity of civilians—a war crime which ensures casualties on its own side.

P.E.I.’s own Island Peace Committee, which held a rally yesterday at Province House, believes that the Arabs are the sole victims and calls for “an end to the occupation, as it is the primary cause of injustice that underlies violence in the region.” (“Violence” including suicide bombing, by the way.) Their campaign is full of euphemism, inaccuracy, and oversimplification which belie the facts.

First, the use of the term “Palestinian” to refer exclusively to the area’s non-Jewish population is misleading. This word is not indigenous to or descriptive of a distinct, historical Arab nation. In fact, it was only revived from centuries of disuse by Arthur Balfour in his 1917 declaration of British support for a Jewish homeland “in Palestine”. Being a previously-extinct term of Roman origin, it was no doubt chosen to suggest an even-handedness on Britain’s part. The Ottoman Empire, which collapsed after its defeat in World War I, never had a province named Palestine or one that corresponded to the territory of what is now meant by the term.

During the British mandate, “Palestinian” referred principally to the Jews, not the Arabs. For instance, the Jewish newspaper published in English was called the Palestine Post, now the Jerusalem Post. Furthermore, the use of “Palestinian” by today’s anti-Israel activists connotes Arab entitlement to the whole territory, supposedly because it was theirs before the Jews showed up. But this is also incorrect. The area in the late 19th century through Mandate Palestine saw significant immigration from both Jews and Arabs, both of whom have an equal right to be called Palestinians. Jews, in fact, inhabited Judea well before there were such things as Christianity, Islam, or the Arabic language, with a continuous population well before Zionism.

When anti-Israel folks speak of an illegal West Bank occupation, they make it sound as if there were once a Palestinian Arab state who controlled it before Israel took over. But before the 1967 war, the West Bank was actually controlled by Jordan, who annexed it in 1948. As Jordan makes no claim to the West Bank now, it is not legally clear what state is in fact being occupied. Of course, it is clear that a people — the Palestine Arabs — are subject to foreign rule, but a state of their own can be established through negotiation.

Nor is it true that Israel refuses the possibility of a peace agreement. Nay, it longs for one. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered a West Bank state along 1967 lines with land exchanges, a secure tunnel connecting the new state to the Gaza Strip, cession of Judaism’s holiest site in the Temple Mount, and the incremental absorption of 5,000 Arab refugees into Israel. The delegation of the Palestinian Authority never responded and the negotiations collapsed. This was only one of many offers made by Israel in the past two decades.

So the proverbial ball of peace lies firmly in the Arab court. It is not the Israelis who deny the right of Arabs to live in their own state, but the most powerful local Arab organization — which enjoys much public support — who denies such a right to the Jews. Any activist group with peace in its name should lobby for an Arab return to negotiations, not more smearing of Israel.


Jackson Doughart is a graduate of UPEI and Queen’s University.