Surely, when someone speaks of “irrational Maori ghastliness with spitting, smugness, self-righteousness and the usual neurotic Maori politics…” he’s launching a diatribe, rather than initiating a debate. I’m not sure how one engages with a person who makes that sort of statement, or even whether one should bother to do so. Perhaps the best thing to do with “broadcaster” Paul Holmes — who once described former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a “cheeky darkie” — is ignore him*. Incidentally, why are New Zealand’s newspaper op-ed pages (totally?) dominated by right-wing columnists like Karl du Fresne — a man who apparently doesn’t realize that the answer to the plight of the Palestinian refugees is justice, not charity. But that point aside, why should the Arab states — or any states, for that matter — facilitate the Zionists’ ethnic cleansing of Palestine?
Returning to the subject of Maori, I find the statement: “No-one in their right mind wants to see Maori fail; every New Zealander has a vital stake in Maori succeeding…” patronizing and condescending. I feel like responding: “But it’s easy to ensure Maori succeed. All you have to do is pat them on the head and give them sixpence. Then, if they don’t perform as expected, you give them a good boot up the backside.” As in much colonialist literature, the statement treats the “native” as a museum specimen, who really should do the “decent thing” and stay in his glass case.
* In September 2003, he [Holmes] repeatedly referred to then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a “cheeky darkie” during a rant on his radio show, as well as using “darkie” to refer to black people generally. — Wikipedia.
This article by Rachel Shabi is from The Guardian of December 16, 2010. It carries the preamble: “The Israeli government’s demand that Palestinians recognise exiled Arab Jews as ‘refugees’ is political point-scoring.” Most, if not all, of the points have been made before. But as the Israelis invariably argue that “what we did to the Palestinians is no worse than what the Arabs [later] did to the Jews in Arab lands”, it’s always good to see the points restated.
While the US has given up pressing for a freeze on illegal settlement building, one Israeli minister has been cranking up the volume on an issue he apparently considers more pressing. The deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, recently launched a new initiative to demand that Palestinians “recognise Jews who exiled from Arab lands as refugees”.
Ayalon’s initiative is in alliance with Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), whose mission is to put this issue on the international agenda.
The idea itself has been in circulation pretty much since the 1970s when the Palestinian refugee issue was beginning to gain traction within the international community. Since then, it has resurfaced pretty much whenever there are peace talks – hence its return during this latest, wilted round of exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
As Ayalon puts it, the initiative is explicitly a response to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return to the land of Israel”. The reasoning is: if Palestinians think of themselves as refugees, forced to leave their homes in the tectonic shifts that created Israel in 1948, so, too, were the Jews exiting Arab lands in the same seismology.
There are all manner of problems with this formulation. First, many Middle Eastern Jews dislike being called refugees. Some reject this label because they left Arab lands out of a pioneering desire to relocate to what would become Israel; some say they were uprooted from Arab lands, either by agitating Zionist emissaries, or by the shockwaves that Zionism sent through the Middle East.
Another thorn in the side of this argument is that Israel was created explicitly as a homeland for Jews, while for Palestinians, the homeland is the place from which they were exiled. That means there is no point in lauding Israel for “absorbing” the “Jewish refugees” from Arab lands, while chiding Arab countries for not doing the same with Palestinians – which seems to be the Jewish refugee claim’s secondary reasoning.
There are undoubtedly compensation claims to be made by Jews whose properties and possessions were impounded when they left some Arab countries – Egypt, Syria and Iraq spring to mind – but it isn’t clear why those seeking recompense would automatically wish Israel to represent them in this matter. In fact, many Jews both inside and beyond Israel have specifically declined the offer.
If Ayalon, or JJAC, or any of the other groups, were genuinely concerned for the history and legacy of Middle Eastern Jews, there might be better ways to express it. For instance, they might think about setting up heritage centres to commemorate Jewish life in Arab lands, or promote and celebrate their cultural, political and linguistic output, or address the ethnically-driven social imbalances that still exist in Israel between Jews of European and Arab origin.
But the fact that the sole and stated point of such initiatives is to corral the subject into the frame of Palestinian refugee claims means that, to Israel, the experience of Jews from Arab lands exists only to be hijacked and hocked for cheap, political point-scoring. After all, if there were no Palestinian refugees, would the Israeli government still be raising the issue?
There are significant points to make about the Jewish experience in Arab lands, caught in the crossfire of both Zionism and Arab nationalism: you could, for instance, look at why some Arab governments at the time did not handle the issue smartly, why they sacrificed Jewish communities for short-term political expediency, or did not sufficiently resist the rapid conflation of “Jewish” with “Zionist”.
You could also flip it around, and explore how much resistance existed in those countries, among Jews and Muslims alike, to the idea of Jews leaving Arab countries, or review how this departure was experienced as a loss, for both sides.
Or – and this is deeply unfashionable – you could study the long, vibrant experience of Jewish life in the Arab world and ask what went right, as a way of seeking templates for how to make things right again.
There’s no space for any of that in the “Jewish refugee” frame as endorsed by the Israeli government. And that’s yet another reason why it is so wrong-headed, anachronistic and possibly the worst sort of advocacy for Middle Eastern Jews.
In my previous blog entry, Did Arab radio broadcasts urge the Palestinians to flee?, I looked at the Zionist claim that the flight of most, if not all, of the Palestinians who abandoned their homes in 1948 was a response to broadcast instructions from their leaders. I cited Christopher Hitchens, author of the essay Broadcasts in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, and David Gilmour, author of Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians, who maintain there were no such broadcasts. In this entry, I look at why the alleged broadcasts are so important in the Zionist narrative.
But first, I will say what I mean by “broadcasts”. When I use this word, I am not referring to:
1. The broadcasts mentioned by Michael Palumbo in The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People From Their Homeland. “For several days [after the Deir Yassin massacre] Arab radio stations broadcast all the gruesome details of the crime,” Palumbo writes (p. 58). “Radio Cairo informed its listeners that by the . . . massacre the Zionists were ‘. . . gradually revealing their announced determination to exterminate the Arabs’ (BBC report #47, p. 71). The effect of these radio broadcasts from the Arab capitals and from the Jewish Arabic-language stations (emphasis added) was to devastate totally the morale of the Palestinians. The Arab governments expected that accounts about Deir Yassin would stiffen the resolve of the Palestinians (emphasis added), but instead they became convinced of the inability of their own forces to protect them from a similar massacre.”
2. Advice or orders to evacuate, issued by Arab leaders on an ad hoc basis in response to the exigencies of the situations in particular areas. As Benny Morris has noted: “. . . on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948″ (Irish Times, February 21, 2008). I see nothing extraordinary in this. I am sure that if my country were invaded, and were resisting the invader, such “advice” and “orders” would be issued as the situation demanded.
By “broadcasts” I mean the broadcasts allegedly made from Arab capitals/power centers in which the “order” to leave was always, in the Zionist narrative, coupled with (a) an explanation of the reason for the evacuation, and/or (b) a promise of a reward for evacuating. Hence “There is evidence Arabs residents were encouraged by Arab invaders to flee to give Arab invaders a freer hand (emphasis added) (www.naiveabroad.com/index.php?page_id=315), and “Thousands of refugees had left before the war began, ordered by the Arab leaders themselves to evacuate their villages, in order to facilitate the movement of Arab armies (emphasis added), and to avoid Jewish reprisals. Promises were made that they would return soon to benefit from the spoils left in the wake of the conquering Arab forces” (emphasis added) (Israel Today, by Alexander Ramati, 1962).
What these postwar Zionist reports of “broadcasts” do, of course, is retrospectively make all 750,000 Palestinians who fled, in most cases in terror and destitution, complicit in what is portrayed as a heinous crime — so that the consciences of Zionists, who perversely cultivate pretensions to moral superiority, need not be troubled by the refugees’ current plight. A contemptuous comment I have come across time and time again in internet discussion forums is: “The Palestinians gambled and lost [in 1948]. They have only themselves to blame.”
Blame adroitly shifted to the refugees themselves
Israeli diplomat, politician and historian Shlomo Ben-Ami examines this issue in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, 2006:
There is an old Zionist tale, constantly and indefatigably repeated down the years since 1948. It is the story that the Palestinian people lost their homeland because they followed their leaders’ orders to get out. They left to clear the way for the invading armies of the Arab states. After the Arabs had finished off young Israel, they hoped, all the people could come back and share in the spoils of victory.
We can well understand the attractions of such a theory for its proponents. It shifts the blame for Palestinian dispossession from the Israelis to the refugees themselves. According to the theory, they left their homes as part of the Arab invasion plot, which was genocidal in intent. Who can have much sympathy for those who intended genocide, even if they are shivering in squalid refugee camps? And who can blame Israel for not wanting them to come back again?
In other words, the Zionist conquest of Palestine, violent as it was, and as ruinous as it was to the indigenous population, involved no guilt whatsoever. Israel conquered a national territory out of the purest, most righteous instinct of self-defence.
Unfortunately, the story has not held up well over time.
It is not at all clear, as maintained by a conventional Israeli myth, that the Palestinian exodus was encouraged by the Arab states and by local (Palestinian) leaders. Benny Morris, (historian, Ben-Gurion University) found no evidence to show ‘that either the leaders of the Arab states or the Mufti ordered or directly encouraged the mass exodus’. Indeed, Morris found evidence to the effect that the local Arab leadership and militia commanders discouraged flight, and Arab radio stations issued calls to the Palestinians to stay put, and even to return to their homes if they had already left. True, there were more than a few cases where the local commanders ordered the evacuation of villages. But these seem to have been tactical decisions taken under very specific military conditions; they did not respond to an overall strategy either of the local Palestinian leaders or of the Arab states (p. 43).
As one would expect, the “evidence” adduced by the Zionists in support of their “story” is also flimsy. An internet site that lists items of “evidence” is United Jewish Communities, where you will find the following:
In his memoirs, Haled (sic) al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, also admitted the Arab role in persuading the refugees to leave:
“Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return” (The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, Beirut, 1973, Part 1, pp. 386-387).
Needless to say, this does not constitute evidence any more than the report in the Economist does (see previous blog entry). Evidence comes from someone who has direct knowledge of something, and who is able to provide precise, pertinent information that can be checked for accuracy against the evidence of others. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than opinion or hearsay.
Another point to be borne in mind is the one made by Mark Tessler in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1994:
…the Israeli case often utilizes Arab statements made after 1948. This point is emphasized by [Christopher] Sykes, an even-handed observer who in other instances provides information supportive of Israeli claims. Sykes notes that after the war “Arab journalists and broadcasters asserted on several occasions that the exodus was a planned Arab maneuver.” While such assertions were probably a mixture of boasting and rationalization, the important point is that they were made after the refugees had left. Nevertheless, according to Sykes, “they gave Zionist propagandists their cue” (Crossroads to Israel, 1917-1948, p. 354).
Not for the last time, vain Arab posturing played straight into Zionist hands.
The following passage is from an essay by Christopher Hitchens entitled Broadcasts in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question:
It is probably safe to say that nobody interested enough in the Middle East to have even overheard an argument about it can be a stranger to the story of ‘the broadcasts’. Confronted with the charge that the Palestinian Arabs were forcibly dispossessed in 1948, Israeli propaganda resorts routinely to the claim that the Palestinians did indeed run away, but that they were induced or incited to do so by their own leadership. For example, the official Israeli government pamphlet on the refugee question, first published in 1953, states plainly that the Palestinian exodus followed ‘express instructions broadcast by the president of the Arab Higher Executive (the Mufti)’. The same claim has been repeated before the United Nations, by countless Israeli diplomats in numerous countries, by overseas Zionist organizations, by pro-Israeli academics and journalists and by hundreds of thousands of honest partisans of the Israeli cause who in all probability believe it.
Considered from almost any level of moral elevation, the question of whether the Palestinians ran away ‘under orders’ or ‘under pressure’ is a secondary one. Whatever may have prompted their flight, they had a right to expect to return home after the end of hostilities. Nobody has so far been so bold as to deny that that right was stripped from them. But alas the argument about the Palestinian refugees has not been carried on in any elevated manner. Thus the simple question, did they flee or were they driven out, assumes an importance of its own. To put it no higher, an awful lot of moral capital has been sunk into the argument. The claim that ‘broadcasts’ were transmitted urging flight has become virtually totemic. It is clung to with an almost neurotic zeal. What is the evidence for it?
In January 1986, the Israeli historian Dr Benny Morris published an article of extraordinary importance in Middle Eastern Studies. Dr Morris had obtained a copy of a report by the intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces, entitled The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947 – 1/6/1948. These months saw almost half of the refugees leave their homes, and thus may be taken as ‘typical’. The IDF intelligence made a meticulous study of the departure of these 391,000 people, and listed three major causes in their assigned order of importance:
1) Direct, hostile Jewish operations against Arab settlements.
2) The effect of our hostile operations on nearby settlements…especially the fall of large neighboring centers.
3) Operations of the dissidents.
Report came from Economist writer in Cyprus
Later in his 11-page article, Hitchens cites an article by Erskine Childers in the London Spectator of May 12, 1961. In the article, Dr Childers expresses his bafflement over the Israeli propaganda claim that Arab Palestinians were urged to flee by their own leaders:
Examining every official Israeli statement about the Arab exodus, I was struck by the fact that no primary evidence of evacuation orders was ever produced. The charge, Israel claimed, was ‘documented’, but where were the documents? There had allegedly been Arab radio broadcasts ordering the evacuation; but no dates, names of stations, or texts of messages were ever cited. In Israel in 1958, as a guest of the Foreign Office and therefore doubly hopeful of serious assistance, I asked to be shown the proofs. I was assured they existed, and was promised them. None had been offered when I left, but I was again assured. I asked to have the material sent to me. I am still waiting.
While in Israel, however, I met Dr Leo Kohn, professor of political science at Hebrew University and an ambassador-rank advisor to the Israeli Foreign Office. He had written one of the first official pamphlets on the Arab refugees. I asked him for concrete evidence of the Arab evacuation orders. Agitatedly, Dr Kohn replied: ‘Evidence? Evidence? What more could you want than this?’ and he took up his own pamphlet. ‘Look at this Economist report,’ and he pointed to a quotation. ‘You will surely not suggest that the Economist is a Zionist journal?’
The quotation is one of about five that appear in every Israeli speech or pamphlet, and are in turn used by every sympathetic analysis. It seemed very impressive: it referred to the exodus from Haifa, and to an Arab broadcast order as one major reason for this exodus.
Hitchens continues: “Dr Childers was sufficiently intrigued to turn up the original Economist article, which had appeared on October 2, 1948. His first suspicion was aroused by the use of the bland euphemism ‘incident’ to describe the notorious massacre of the Arab villagers of Deir Yassin. Further checking showed that the report in the Economist, which made a vague reference to ‘announcements made over the air’ by the Arab Higher Committee, had been written from Cyprus by a correspondent who used an uncorroborated Israeli source. It hardly counted as evidence, let alone first-hand testimony.”
Citing the same Spectator article, David Gilmour, author of Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians, quotes Childers as saying: “There was not a single order , or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948. There is repeated monitored record of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to stay put” (P 67).
Gilmour continues: “Additional evidence of the attitude of the Arab leadership is contained in a letter from the Arab Higher Committee, dated March 8, 1948, which specifically asks Arab governments to cooperate in preventing Palestinians from leaving their country. The letter says: ‘The Arab Higher Committee has resolved that it is in the interests of Palestine that no Palestinians should be permitted to leave the country except under special circumstances…’”
Describing the allegation the Palestinians fled in response to broadcast instructions from their leaders as “extraordinary”, Gilmour says: “…it has been shown to be false time after time, and it is difficult to see what the Zionists hope to achieve by endlessly repeating it”. But presumably, they continue to repeat it because they hope that if the lie is told often enough, for long enough, it will eventually metamorphose into truth.
Click here for Part 2 of this article.
By Jason Koutsoukis. Published on April 23, 2009, by The Age (Australia)
GAZA CITY – A coalition of Jewish and Arab human rights groups have criticised as inadequate an Israel Defence Forces investigation into its activities during the January offensive in Gaza.
The IDF’s internal investigation found that no Palestinian civilians were harmed intentionally by IDF soldiers during the 23-day offensive, which killed more than 1300 Palestinians and wounded more than 4000.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak hailed the report as further proof of the IDF’s moral stature.
“The IDF is not afraid to investigate itself and, in that, prove that its operations are ethical,” Mr Barak said.
When civilians were killed by IDF fire, the report found that this resulted from operational mistakes that were “bound to happen during intensive fighting”.
But a coalition of Israeli human rights groups, which includes B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Yesh Din, The Public Committee Against Torture and Rabbis for Human Rights, said the only way to truly investigate alleged war crimes was through an independent inquiry.
“Military investigation results published today refer to tens of innocent Palestinian civilians killed by ‘rare mishaps’ in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead,” they said in a joint statement.
“However, data collected by Israeli human rights organisations shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to ‘mishaps’ but as a direct result of the military’s chosen policy implemented throughout the fighting.
“If the military claims that there were no major deficiencies in its conduct in Gaza, it is not clear why Israel refuses to co-operate with the UN investigation team, which requests an investigation of alleged violations of international law by both Israel and Hamas.”
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza also called on Israel to co-operate with the UN investigation team.
The IDF inquiry was conducted by officers not involved in Operation Cast Lead and focused on reports of civilians who been targeted intentionally, and also attacks on civilian infrastructure, UN facilities and the use of white phosphorus.
It said the worst example of mistaken fire was an attack on a family home in Gaza City’s Zeitoun district, which killed 21 members of the same family.
According to the IDF, their deaths were the result of an equipment malfunction.
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