Many student and alumni readers of The Harbus took offense at last week’s article, “Sharon vs. Arafat: An Alternative Approach to Peace in the Middle East.” At best, the article displays a partial and flawed understanding of Middle East history. At worst, it misleads readers into accepting lopsided logic.
Among the troubling arguments are the following:
On Yasser Arafat:
Recent reports that Yasser Arafat has shown himself to be an untrustworthy participant in the peace process have assumed the plausibility that attaches to any claim that is repeated often enough, whether or not it is true.
Yasser Arafat joined the PLO in the nineteen sixties. Since then, Arafat’s PLO and the organizations under its umbrella have murdered thousands of civilians around the world. A large percentage of their operations have targeted children specifically.
In the final days of the Clinton administration, Yasser Arafat flatly rejected a series of peace plans offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. Despite overwhelming world opinion supporting Barak’s offers, Mr. Arafat did not once bother to even propose a counter-offer. Forget the word “untrustworthy.” I challenge the word “participant.”
After Camp David, Arafat triggered the current Palestinian uprising with the intention of forcing further concessions out of Barak. Instead, he brought about Barak’s political demise and ushered in the Sharon government.
In the course of this uprising, Arafat has encouraged and facilitated dozens of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Just last month, while blatantly defying the arms-control regime in place, Arafat attempted to smuggle over fifty tons of illegal offensive arms from Iran aboard the Karine A, a Palestinian Authority-piloted ship that was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in the Red Sea. In the overwhelming majority of cases, such arms specifically target civilians.
Following the example of leaders like Saddam Hussein, with whom he sided in the Gulf War, Arafat has endangered the lives of Palestinian children, supporting rock-throwing demonstrations at the front line in exchanges of fire between PLO officers and the Israeli Army as a horrifying public relations tool.
On February 4th, for instance, Arafat is reported to have addressed a crowd in Nablus and repeated “jihad” while praising Faris Awdah, a Palestinian child who committed suicide by attacking Israeli soldiers.
The atmosphere Arafat created and continues to perpetuate is a major reason for the anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments in the Palestinian streets. Palestinian media and education systems controlled by Arafat produce a barrage of propaganda in which children are taught to want war and that becoming a suicide bomber is a noble aspiration.
For example, according to The American Israel Public Affairs Committee website, the Palestinians’ version of “Sesame Street,” called “Children’s Club,” is reported to have segments in which children sing “we will settle our claims with stones and bullets” and “when I wander into Jerusalem, I will become a suicide bomber.”
Furthermore, even on September 11, 2001, the Palestinian Authority’s official daily newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida is reported to have lauded suicide bombers such as the ones that “taught the US marines a tough lesson” in Lebanon, and described the bombers as being “honorable.”
In conclusion, the article’s assertion that Arafat’s credibility problems stem from repetition of reports is either painfully na‹ve or downright misleading.
On Ariel Sharon:
Sharon … is also a warmonger… his country’s ultimate strongman…
There are no political “strongmen” in Israel. Ariel Sharon was elected in the only democratic elections that take place in the Middle East. He is subject to reelection. He is subject to trial by media and to open debate by his citizenry. He governs within a system of checks and balances, with a vibrant and potent political opposition. These are anomalies in the Middle East where they are unique to Israel.
The article is not only quick to crucify Sharon but highlights false historical statements as well. No one found Sharon complicit in the tragic massacre at Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon. The author fails to note that the perpetrators of this massacre were Lebanese Arabs responding in kind – though clearly criminally – to what was the latest round in an ongoing feud between Palestinians and Lebanese Christians.
As Defense Minister during Israel’s war in Lebanon, Sharon was found “indirectly responsible” for failing to intervene in this tragedy by an Israeli board of inquiry. Citizens of Israel should be proud that their country defends the freedom of expression that allows such public inquiries and maintains the high moral standards that force it to confront its culpability in such tragedies. Such standards would be refreshing if they were applied to other armies – including Western armies – that occasionally and inevitably suffer such misjudgments.
On Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict:
By continuing and accelerating the settlement program in the territories that Israel conquered by force and occupies illegally, [Sharon] hopes to outrun the peace process…
Jordan was carved out by the British in 1926, and granted to Hashemite Bedouin Sheik Abdullah of the Arabian Peninsula in return for services rendered in Britain’s battle with the Turks in the First World War. As simply as that, seventy percent of Palestine was thus converted into an Arab, non-Palestinian state. (Though Palestinians compose the majority of Jordan’s population.)
The remainder of Palestine – everything West of the Jordan River – was divided by the United Nations into a proposed Jewish state and a proposed Arab state. Though dismayed at the dilution of their dream of returning to the land of Israel, the Jews of Palestine accepted United Nations partition.
The Arabs did not. Five Arab armies and additional irregular forces, mainly composed of Arabs living in Palestine, invaded the newly born State of Israel on the eve of the British departure. The ensuing war claimed the lives of a full one percent of Israel’s population but produced a viable Jewish state.
The territory in Western Palestine that remained in Arab hands at the end of the war is known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – the very territory the Palestinians currently claim for a state of their own, the very territory offered by Barak at Camp David. The article labels this territory as “Palestinian land” that “Israel conquered by force and occupies illegally.” This is highly misleading.
There never has been a Palestinian state. When this land was under Arab control, after 1948, there was no call for a Palestinian state. On the contrary, Jordan annexed the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Egypt annexed the Gaza Strip. In 1967, Israel “conquered” this land from Jordan and Egypt – not from the Palestinians – in a war initiated by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The call for a Palestinian state only went up after the war when the land had already come under Jewish control!
Certain elements of the Arab Muslim world are existentially insulted by the existence of a non-Arab, non-Muslim entity in their midst that challenges contiguous Muslim hegemony from Morocco to Indonesia. While this is arguably a key reason behind the Arab rejection of Israel, unfortunately, the Palestinian people are a tragic result of this rejection. In Israel’s War of Independence, Jews who were expelled by the governments of almost every Arab country were welcomed into Israel.
The Arabs who fled the land of Israel whether because of fear, being driven out, social unrest or in order to fight for Israel’s destruction were not absorbed into the surrounding Arab countries – not even Jordan. They were placed in refugee camps, labeled “Palestinians,” and cynically used as a rallying cry for the prolonged war to end Israel’s existence and to divert attention from the internal
problems confronting the Middle East’s corrupt and undemocratic governments.
Today, the majority of the Israeli population is in favor of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Repeatedly, Israel has offered to give this land up in return for peace. One must note, however, that the West Bank that the article labels as “Palestinian land,” “illegally occupied” by Israeli settlers houses the tombs of Abraham, Joseph and Rachel. It is the land of the Jewish Bible, where Israel’s forefathers walked and where the nation of Israel was born.
The willingness of the people of Israel to part with such a significant piece of the heart of their homeland says quite a bit about their desire for justice and peace.
On Israel’s Right to Defend Itself:
One particularly offensive current that flows throughout the piece is the disturbing premise that Israel has less of a right to exist in peace and security than any other country, that Israel somehow has less of a right to use force against terror than does this great country, that it is all right for President Bush to demand Osama Bin Laden “Dead or Alive” and for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to “prefer the former,” but not alright for Israel to target terrorist ring-leaders who mastermind the murder of teenagers in nightclubs and families at pizza parlors. To think otherwise would be to place a lower value on Israeli lives than on other human lives.
On United States Foreign Policy:
A significant problem with the United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East, and in many other parts of the world, is that the ideals of this great nation are not always reflected in its diplomacy. This causes a dissonance between our perception of ourselves as Americans and others’ perceptions of us.
The U.S. stands for democracy, freedom, tolerance, and respect for human life, yet it supports many regimes that stifle all of these values. In doing this, the U.S. creates temporary allies, who may be quick to abandon us as soon as their short-term interests diverge.
U.S. actions also ensure a bitter citizenry in these countries, where the average person, frustrated with his or her corrupt and brutal government, vents his or her frustrations on the superpower backing that government. This is the pretext used by the Osama bin Ladens of the world.
Yes, we ought to work on reflecting this nation’s ideals in our foreign policy. But failure or slowness in doing so is no justification for terrorism. Moreover, changing our behavior to suit the demands of terrorists, as last week’s article suggests we do, is not only cowardly, but also foolhardy. Neville Chamberlain taught us that. It is called appeasement.
Bravo to the United States of America for standing firmly behind its only true ally among Middle Eastern governments, the only democracy, the only free press, the only government that safeguards religious freedoms and respects human life. Bravo for our firm support for Israel.