On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love. Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” – while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.
CAMERA Note: While a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites is certainly controversial, it reveals much about Kristof’s bias that he sees a possible way for Israel to save itself from potential nuclear annihilation as “crazy.”
As for a “100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem”, it’s a safe bet he means only Jewish settlements. Since the land is disputed land, not “Palestinian land”, shouldn’t any building freeze be placed on both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs – or neither?
Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.
After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog, ( http://nytimes.com/ontheground
) nytimes.com/ontheground, was flooded with counterarguments – and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:
Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously … until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today – those “settlers” – have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)
True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements.
CAMERA Note: This analogy doesn’t work on any level. Jews have legal and property claims to Hebron. They own property there and were living there until the Hebron Massacre of 1929, in which dozens of Jews were killed and mutilated. Many survivors who tried to return were stopped by the British (who were in control at the time due to the British Mandate). Some Jews did manage to return to their homes, but they were forced to leave again by the British during the Arab Revolt (1936-39).
Furthermore, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are disputed lands until, according to UN Resolution 242, final negotiations will decide the borders. American Christians do not have sovereignty claims to Jerusalem. Kristof’s analogy is illogical.
And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.
CAMERA Note: Israel hasn’t insisted. It has repeatedly tried to arrange a “two states for two peoples” solution. The Oslo Accords of 1993, not to mention the Camp David or Taba talks in 2000, apparently never happened in Kristof’s alternate reality. Israel had offered a plan that would have led to Palestinian control over as much as 98% of the West Bank. The Arabs refused the deal. But previous “trust-building” agreements had been made which gave the Palestinians control over their daily lives by their own elected government. These agreements included pledges by the Palestinian Arabs to stop the violence and incitement against Israel. The Arabs never fulfilled their part of the agreement. As a result of the numerous terrorist attacks emanating from the Palestinian Authority areas, Israel took back security control, but the West Bank is still officially under the day to day control of Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.
One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)
So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land – and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.
CAMERA Note: First of all, in some places the fence deviates into pre-1967 Israeli territory, and in other places it deviates to the other side of the pre-1967 line. This is because the fence’s path is determined by topographic and strategic concerns and is not the land grab that Kristof implies.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as exclusively “Palestinian land,” or “1967 borders.” There has never been a sovereign country called Palestine. [Palestine is the name the Romans gave the Jewish kingdom of Judea in 132 CE (AD) to punish the rebellious Jews.] The land is disputed and the “67 borders” are actually an armistice line from 1949, never intended to be a border, as indicated by the language of UN Resolution 242, which states that secure and defensible borders will be decided in final status negotiations.
If there is a long term peace, the security fence can easily be dismantled. But dead Israelis can never be brought back to life.
While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)
B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.
CAMERA Note: First of all, B’Tselem’s statistics and claims are notoriously unreliable, as this CAMERA analysis demonstrates. To cite just one example, B’Tselem has in the past identified as a Palestinian civilian killed by Israel a terrorist who attacked a Bat Mitzvah party in Hadera, killing six guests, before he was shot and killed.
Moreover, contrary to Kristof, mere numbers don’t tell the story. For example, many more people die in car accidents than in terrorist attacks, but we are much more appalled by the terrorist attacks. This is likely because decent people are horrified when human beings intentionally set out to murder innocents, particularly when a non-violent reasonable solution has repeatedly been offered. This barbarism apparently doesn’t matter to Kristof.
Palestinian terrorists target Israeli civilians; Israeli soldiers target terrorists. Since the Palestinian terrorists frequently commit the war crime of firing from within Palestinian civilian areas, thereby putting civilians in mortal danger, it is inevitable that Israel will inadvertently and regrettably hurt some non-combatants when they [Israel] fire back at the terrorists. But that is the fault of the terrorists, not Israel.
Furthermore, notice how Kristof doesn’t mention that these “Palestinian minors” include terrorists and combatants. There are many Palestinians under the age of 18 who are actively involved in violence against Israel.
To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it was once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)
This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they – and the settlements – also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.
CAMERA Note: There’s no evidence that better Israeli security reduces peace prospects. It can be argued that when an aggressor’s violence is no longer successful, he is more likely to accept a peace agreement. Unfortunately, the Palestinian extremists have never experienced being totally “unsuccessful” because they have long been bolstered and funded by the UN and the EU, as well as Iran and Syria.
Additionally, shouldn’t it be the aggressor side that needs to demonstrate its peaceful intentions first? Why should Israel, the side whose civilians are continually being attacked, take down an effective protection? If the Arabs truly seek peace, they will stop the violence. They know that when the violence subsides, the checkpoints come down.
And how do settlements (neighborhoods) reduce the prospect of peace? If there is true peace, why should it matter where Jews live? After all, 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. Why does Kristof favor ethnic cleansing of Jews from a potential Palestinian state? Doesn’t that smack of bigotry and double standards?
If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.
CAMERA Note: Kristof doesn’t explain how Israel’s making itself more vulnerable to Syrian, Iranian and Palestinian attacks will help bring peace.
Such a proposal that Israel put itself at great risk might be taken as more than armchair pontificating if Kristof moved his own family to Jerusalem and made sure that he, his wife, and his children rode the buses and strolled the streets everyday.
If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution – and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.
CAMERA Note: While the Israelis may hope to live side by side with a peaceful Palestinian state, it doesn’t mean that absent that, they must accept a hostile Palestinian state intent on their destruction. If the Palestinians ever turn away from extremism and can finally accept the permanence of a Jewish state living beside them, and promote this acceptance and co-existence to their own children in their schools and mosques, then peace is possible. Until that time, Israel can hunker down and wait. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have their own elected government, such as it is.
Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.
CAMERA Note: This is the “reasonable” Abbas who sent a letter of congratulations to the family of the recently released Samir Kuntar, the terrorist who bashed in the head of a four-year-old girl. The same Abbas who allows vicious anti-Israel incitement in his government-run newspapers, including allegations that Israelis are conducting Nazi-like experiments on Palestinian prisoners and have released wild pigs to chase Arabs out of the West Bank, and in the latest conspiracy-theory, huge rats into eastern Jerusalem that allegedly mysteriously attack only Arabs not Jews.
As for the checkpoints, settlements and alleged undermining, these were addressed in earlier comments.
Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.
CAMERA Note: “London never walled in Catholic neighborhoods?” Apparently Kristof’s expertise does not extend to Northern Ireland either. There are walls (or so-called “peace lines” ) running throughout Belfast, separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Here’s one photo of such a wall in west Belfast:
Click here to see more photos of Belfast’s “peace lines.”
In addition, Kristof ignores the fact that the two conflicts are completely different: England wasn’t fighting to protect its homeland from utter destruction. Sinn Fein sought to oust the British from Northern Ireland, not from England itself, while the Palestinian extremists seek to annihilate Israel. That is, Kristof has once again created his own reality.
Furthermore, Israel has been extremely restrained in the face of relentless terror attacks. Building a separation barrier has reduced terrorism and therefore (prior to the escalation of rocket attacks against Israel), the need for large-scale counter-attacks.
That notwithstanding, it is highly questionable whether it was British “restraint” that made peace possible. Google that conflict and you’ll find many theories.
I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly. I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground
, and join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kristof
We at CAMERA hope that Mr. Kristof, as a New York Times columnist, will finally study the history and politics of the Middle East before authoring yet another ill-informed rant on the subject. And the same goes for studying up on Northern Ireland too.