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Jewish World Review
Jan. 13, 2009
/ 17 Teves 5769
What Arab propagandists don't want you to know about Gaza
Lawrence M. Reisman
The January 8 edition of The New York Times contained a provocative op-ed
article by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi entitled "What You Don't
Know About Gaza.". It presumes to inform its readers of "a few essential points that
seem to be missing" from the public knowledge of the recent conflicts in Gaza. Several
observers have already noted that Professor Khalidi has played with the facts, even to the
point of offering outright falsehoods. The media watchdog group, CAMERA, has two beautiful articles
refuting the good professor.However, missing from his "few essential points" are some
other facts which would illuminate the public's knowledge of Gaza and what has been
About the Gazans, Professor Khalidi writes that "Most of the people living in
Gaza are not there by choice," that they are the descendants of those who lived outside of
Gaza and were driven there "by the Israeli Army in 1948." Whether they were expelled
from their homes by the Israeli Army, the fled from the fighting, or they left at the urging
of Arab leaders is a question that will be debated for years to come. However, the fact
that they were kept in Gaza for the past 60 years is due to the Arab regimes that have
ruled Israel's neighbors since 1948.
In the wake of Israel's War of Independence, the
United Nations was ready to resettle all the Palestinian refugees in other countries. This
would have been similar to the exchange of Greeks and Turks after World War I or the
exchange between Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs in the wake of India's independence
from Great Britain and the creation of Pakistan. Initially, Syria, was planning to resettle
Palestinian refugees in its northern regions. Palestinians, whenever they have been able
to leave their refugee camps, have thrived and made a positive contribution to their new
places of residence. The current prosperity of the Gulf States would not have been
possible without the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have gone there.
So why haven't the Palestinian refugees been resettled? Because the Arab states
have insisted on their repatriation in what is now Israel. The Arab states have been the
force keeping them in their camps and in their misery, so they could be used as a weapon
against Israel. In 1958, former UNRWA director Ralph Galloway declared that "The
Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open
sore, as an affront to the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel." In 1960, King
Hussein of Jordan accused the Arab countries of using the Palestinian people for selfish
political purposes. Note that both these statements were made prior to Israel's
occupation of Gaza in 1967. (1)
About the occupation of Gaza, Professor Khalidi writes that "The Gazans have
lived under Israeli occupation since the Six Day War of 1967. Israel is still considered to
be an occupying power even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in
2005. ... As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva
Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip." I leave it
to others to answer the professor as to what extent Israel still "occupies" Gaza.
CAMERA has done so quite well, and I urge the reader to consult them. But still, given
the historical context of the occupation, there is more that has to be said.
Reading Professor Khalidi, one would think that the occupation of Gaza began in
1967, but it did not. It began in 1948, when Egypt occupied lands that the UN intended
for a Palestinian Arab state and in effect annexed them. When Israel took Gaza in 1967,
it became a successor occupier, and it is therefore important to examine its record in
comparison with the Egyptians. At the height of the first intifada, Time Magazine noted
that Gaza "in 1967 was one of the most underdeveloped swatches of land in the world." (2)
Israel took over a region that had an unemployment rate of 60%, an average life
expectancy of 48, an infant mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births. No more than 20%
of the population had electricity, 14% had running water, and per capita income was
$100 per year.
In 1988, Time was able to write that "half of Gaza's residents have
running water, compared with 14% two decades ago. Nearly 80% own refrigerators and
television sets, up from 3%. Per capita income rose in the West Bank from $300 in 1968
to $1,400 today, and in Gaza from $100 to about $1,000." By 2002, the Israeli
occupation had resulted in even more progress in both the West Bank and Gaza. Per
capita income had risen to $1,715, infant mortality had decreased to 15 per 1,000 live
births, life expectancy had risen to 72, and Israeli-originated vaccination programs had
virtually eradicated polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles. 90% of all home had
electricity, while 85% had running water. During the Israeli occupation, the first
universities in Gaza were established, while the percentage of children in schools rose far
out of proportion to the increase in population.(3)
One would think that Israel, far more than Egypt, complied with the
responsibilities imposed under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the
civilian population of the Gaza Strip. However, the Palestinians seem to think otherwise.
As PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi put it, "Those of us who came under Israeli
occupation in 1967 have languished in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip
under a unique combination of military occupation, settler colonization, and systematic
oppression. Rarely has the human mind devised such varied, diverse, and comprehensive
means of wholesale brutalization and persecution."(4)
I'm not surprised by the Palestinian mindset. One need not have been an admirer
of Meir Kahane to see some truth in his comment that toilets cannot buy loyalty or
gratitude. Nor do I deny the Gaza Palestinians the right to decide for themselves which
occupation, Egypt's or Israel's, was more oppressive or which one more brutal.
Certainly the universal Palestinian tendency to demonize the Israelis should come to no
surprise. In the pre-state era, Arab League Musa Alami said of Palestine and the Jews, "I
would prefer that the country remain impoverished and barren for another hundred years,
until we ourselves are able to develop it on our own." (5) However, the readers of The New
York Times should be allowed to see the Israeli occupation in its entirety and judge for
themselves just how oppressive it has been.
There is, however, one more thing about the Israeli occupation that The Times's
readers should keep in mind, and that is that Israel never intended to occupy Gaza for all
time. Immediately after the 6 Day War, Israel announced its intentions to return all
occupied territories in exchange for recognition and peace negotiations. In the face of
Arab intransigence, Israel held on to the West Bank and Gaza. When negotiations finally
came with Egypt in 1979, Israel tried to hand back Gaza along with the Sinai, but Egypt
didn't want it back. At that point the only candidate to take Gaza was the PLO, still
openly dedicated to Israel's destruction. When the Oslo process finally started, Israel
couldn't wait to return Gaza to Arab administration, and indeed, by 2002, 90% of its
inhabitants lived under PA jurisdiction.
With regard to what Professor Khalidi has said about the cease fire and about
"war crimes" has been answered adequately elsewhere. With regard to Israeli attacks on
civilians, even the Times is reporting, without embellishment, how Hamas is placing its
military installations near hospitals, schools, and residences. The reader will learn how
Hamas has taught the civilian population to climb to the roofs of apartment buildings
which contain military targets to shield them. However, I would call attention to
Professor Khalidi's final paragraph:
This war on the people of Gaza isn't really about rockets. Nor is it
about "restoring Israel's deterrence," as the Israeli press might have you
believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the
Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: "The Palestinians must be
made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they
are a defeated people.
There is a valid question as to whether Moshe Yaalon said what he is quoted as saying.
Again, the reader is advised to consult the CAMERA web site. However, the readers of
The New York Times must be reminded of what this war is about from the viewpoint of
the Palestinians. If you ask them, they will say it's about "ending the occupation." I will
not quibble with that goal. All I ask is that you consider how they define "the
occupation" - what is being occupied and who is doing the occupying. It is plain and
open for everyone to see. You can find it stated in the textbooks used in Palestinian
schools. It's set out in the curricula of the Palestinian Universities established under
Israeli occupation. It's their in the media, and in PA and Hamas publications. To the
Palestinian, the occupation is not just about the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
It's about West Jerusalem, Galilee, the Coastal Plain, and the Negev. It's Beersheva and
Tel Aviv as much as it's Hebron and Nablus. And the occupier is not the State of Israel.
The occupier is every Jew who lives in what was once the British Mandate of Palestine.
This is the occupation they seek to end. And the readers of The New York Times should
not ignore that fact.
1. Both quoted in Joan Peters From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict
over Palestine, chapter 1.
2. Micahel S. Serrill, Dean Fischer, and Johanna McGeary, "Middle East In the Eyer Of a Revolt", Time Magazine, January 25, 1988
3. See Professor Ephraim Karsh's "What Occupation?" in Commentary, July-August, 2002
4. Quoted by Karsh, ibid.
5. Quoted in Bennny Morris, 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, page 15
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Lawrence M. Reisman is a Manhattan-based media analyst specializing in Jewish and Middle Eastern affairs.
© 2008, Lawrence M. Reisman