Maybe arguments are not important. Maybe, as Jonathan Haidt (video, 1 hr. 32 m.) says, logical arguments are window dressing used to justify conclusions forced upon us by deep-seated emotional motivations. Maybe those who demand that we “free Palestine” on US campuses and UK streets simply disdain the Jewish people and their state. Maybe we should just tell them to go to hell and maintain our military deterrent capability.
Maybe. But the arguments against Israel all rest on the foundation of the Palestinian Narrative. Just in case there is anyone left who can be persuaded by facts and logical reasoning, it’s important to refute the Narrative. And in case the concept of international law hasn’t been so perverted by the perfidious UN and our enemies in Europe and the Mideast as to be completely worthless, it’s important to do so in order to provide a basis for legal rulings and diplomatic resolutions by international bodies.
Most importantly, in order to dispel the doubts planted in the minds of our remaining friends (few as they might be) by the propaganda pervading all kinds of media, educational institutions, churches and liberal synagogues, charities, and so many other institutions, it is imperative to refute the Narrative.
The Narrative has various forms and incarnations, which may be more or less persuasive. But they all make several main false claims:
Claim: The Palestinians were here first. They are natives; we are colonists. They have aboriginal rights. Sometimes they even claim to be descendants of Canaanites or Philistines who predated the Exodus from Egypt.
Claim: European Jews came to Palestine as a result of the Holocaust and stole the land belonging to Palestinians.
Claim: The actions of Israel amount to ethnic cleansing or even genocide against the Palestinians.
Claim: The definition of Israel as a Jewish state constitutes apartheid.
Claim: There is a “right of return” in international law that entitles the descendants of Arabs that fled in 1948 to “return to their homes” and/or receive compensation.
Claim: There is a “right of resistance to Israeli occupation” that justifies everything from rock-throwing to bombing buses and pizza parlors.
There is much more, but I think these are the most essential claims of the Narrative. It provides the basis for international legal and diplomatic attacks against Israel, as well as support for a Palestinian state on the grounds of aboriginal rights and self-determination.
The claim to aboriginal rights – which implies the right to live in one’s historic homeland as well as some degree of self-government and title to ancestral lands – is made by both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples (yes, there is a “Palestinian people” – I’ll get to that). Both peoples claim to be the extant people with the longest connection to the land. In order to decide between them we need to ask 1) how long have these peoples existed, and 2) to what extent are they connected to the land?
In the case of the Jewish people, there is evidence of the existence of a people with a unique language and religion who self-identified as yehudim (Jews) for at least several thousand years. The Bible tells about their migration to the land of Israel and tells a story whose protagonists are God, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel. Their religious rituals express the yearning of those exiled to return to the land, and have done so for hundreds of years. Even the Qu’ran refers to a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel.
There is a large amount archaeological evidence for the Jewish presence in the land of Israel back to the First Temple period (before 587 BCE), and even as far back as 1200 BCE. There is also genetic evidence that most of those today calling themselves “Jews” have a common origin. The strong taboo against intermarriage with non-Jews testifies to their belief that they are not just a religious group, but a nation. Their common origin, language, religion, customs, and – very importantly – self-identification establishes them as a people or nation.
What about the Palestinians? The fantasies about Canaanites and Philistines are just that, with those peoples gone centuries before the Common Era. Before the mid-1960s, the Arabs of Palestine did not even identify as a separate people, considering themselves part of the greater Arab nation. After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Palestinian Arab leadership argued that those parts of the empire which were to become the Palestine Mandate were actually “southern Syria,” with no unique political identity. The Palestinian Arabs themselves did not have a unique language or religion, and their origins were multiple. Although some were probably descended from native Jews or from the original 7th century Arab conquerors of Palestine, many Arab clans came much, much later.
Allen Hertz notes that disease, war and famines had greatly reduced the population in Palestine by the early 19th century, but
…from time to time, there have also been repeated waves of fresh migrants drawn from various ethno-religious groups, whether from adjacent regions or further afield. …
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, regional rulers like Zahir al-Umar (Bedouin), Ahmet al-Jazzar (Bosnian), and Mehmet Ali (Albanian) invited farmers and other Muslim migrants from Egypt, the Balkans, and elsewhere to help repopulate the land. In addition, there were always newcomers who arrived without authorization. For example, from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Bedouin from neighboring regions significantly migrated to the Holy Land, where some became sedentary, as encouraged by the Ottomans.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Ottoman government from time to time sponsored settlement in the Holy Land by Muslim refugees — such as Tatars, Circassians, and Chechens who had to flee their homelands due to widespread Russian persecution. Thus, we can readily understand why the detailed article on greater “Palestine” in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (though egregiously omitting the Druze) refers to no fewer than twenty ethnic groups. Namely, listed among the locals are Arabs, Bedouin, Jews, Persians, Afghans, Nawar, Turks, Turkomans, Armenians, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Bosnians, Motawila, Kurds, Circassians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Algerians, and Samaritans. …
The 1930 Hope Simpson Report, the 1937 Peel Commission, and the local administration’s 1946 Survey of Palestine all agreed that there was not much effective control of land frontiers which, during the interwar period, remained mostly open to undocumented Arab migrants seeking opportunities in Western Palestine. The attraction there was the Jew-driven local economy which was famously rising faster than in the neighboring Arab countries. …
It is probably true that with a few exceptions, most of today’s Palestinian Arabs are descended from people who migrated into the region no earlier than 1830.
What finally melded the disparate collection of “Palestinians” into a Palestinian nation was opposition to the Jewish state. But even after 1948, Palestinian Arabs still saw themselves as part of a greater pan-Arab nation, and only after 1967 – under the tutelage of the KGB, which explained the public relations value of becoming a movement of national liberation – did they begin to refer to themselves as a nation.
The claim that the Jews colonized Palestine as a result of the Holocaust is popular, because it is usually followed by the argument that “native” Palestinians ought not to suffer as a result of the crimes of Nazi Germany. There is some irony inherent in this, when one considers that the leader of the pre-state Palestinian opposition to Jewish sovereignty, Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, aided Hitler by recruiting Muslims to serve in the SS and broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Arabic from Berlin for much of the war.
But not only were Jews present in Palestine since biblical times and more appropriately called “native” than the Arabs, but the idea and implementation of Jewish sovereignty began long before the Holocaust. Indeed, the pre-state yishuv had most of the institutions necessary for a sovereign state that could properly provide protection and services for its citizens in place by the 1920s and 1930s.
It should also be pointed out that the Jews did not take control of Palestine from the Arabs. There was never a Palestinian administration; the Ottoman Turks were supplanted by the British colonialists, and it was the British that were thrown out by the Zionists. One way to describe the events in Palestine in the first half of the 20th Century is as a struggle by the Jews to reestablish sovereignty and the Arabs to prevent them from doing so.
Land was not stolen from the Arabs by the Zionist settlers. It was purchased, at exorbitant prices, from landlords who were either absentees or rich local Arabs. It is true that after the War of Independence, land that had been abandoned by Arabs who fled was appropriated by the new government and became state land, which was then often leased to Jews. This was to some extent morally problematic, but it is hard to see what else the state could have done – especially considering the hostility of much of the Arab population, which had just been defeated in a war that would probably had ended in another genocide of the Jews if it had gone the other way.
The claim that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing or genocide is an important part of the Narrative. The accusation of genocide is easily refuted: in 1960 there were about 1.3 million Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean; by 2015 this number had grown to about 5.1 million. By contrast, the real genocide of the Jewish population in Europe by the Nazis reduced it from 9.5 to 3.8 million between 1939 and 1945. The “evidence” given for genocide consists of anecdotes about individual Palestinians who were killed – almost all of these in conflict with police or IDF forces – or casualties in war. In neither case was an effort made to kill Palestinians simply because they are Palestinian, and indeed, the IDF takes unprecedented measures to protect enemy civilians in wartime.
Entire books have been written about the 550,000 – 700,000 Arab refugees who fled their homes before or during the 1948 war (about 160,000 remained and ultimately became citizens of Israel). However, it seems clear that only a minority of the refugees were expelled by Israeli soldiers; the majority left out of fear of the fighting, especially as a result of false rumors of Jewish brutality (I would call it psychological projection: they expected the Jews to do what they would have done in similar circumstances). By contrast, every single Jew in those parts of Palestine that were captured by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 was either killed, driven out at gunpoint, or forced to flee.
The claim that Israel is an apartheid state also does violence to the language, and to the history of South Africa where actual apartheid existed. Palestinians and their supporters say that the fact that Arabs in Judea and Samaria do not live under the normal Israeli legal system and do not have the right to vote constitutes apartheid. Some even say there is “apartheid” inside the Green Line because of discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.
In Judea and Samaria, at least 95% of the Arab population lives in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Theoretically they can vote in PA elections, although the PA hasn’t held one in 9 years, for reasons of its own. But although the PA is something less than a state, without an army or control of its borders or airspace, it does control the economic, social and cultural life of its population. It is responsible for policing, education, media, public health, and more. The PA is another country for all practical purposes. No Jews live in those areas. Indeed, Jews are forbidden by Israel to enter PA-controlled areas for their own good, since they are likely to be lynched.
Real apartheid, as it was practiced in South Africa, consisted of parallel societies for whites and “coloreds.” Every aspect of life was regulated according to skin color. Within the Green Line, Arabs and Jews have the same rights, including the right to vote and hold political office. There are no segregated drinking fountains or beaches as in apartheid South Africa. Jews and Arabs are not forbidden to marry or have relationships. There is a certain degree of social separation which is not legally mandated, but is a result of cultural differences, and some discrimination. But as those who lived in apartheid South Africa will testify, there is simply no comparison.
Israel is a Jewish state, which means several things. One of the most important is the Law of Return, which allows a Jew anywhere in the world to come to Israel and acquire citizenship. Yes, there is no “law of return” for Palestinians. But this is not apartheid. Any country has the right to establish rules for immigration, and it can use any criteria it wants to. All Israeli citizens have equal rights, but not everyone in the world has an equal right to become a citizen.
“Jewish state” also means that Israel has a state religion, Judaism. There are numerous countries that have state religions, including all Arab countries, the UK, Finland, Italy, and numerous others. Judaism has a special status in Israel, with a government funded Ministry of Religious Services that provides financial assistance to Jewish institutions. However, there is little or no interference with the practice of other religions.
The claim that there is a “right of return” for Arab refugees is one of the most contentious claims in the Narrative. There is no such general right in international law; although the Geneva Conventions call for humane treatment of refugees, there is no requirement that they be returned to their place of origin. Further, the UN treats Palestinian refugees differently from any other refugees in the world, by allowing refugee status to be hereditary. The original 550,000 – 700,000 Arab refugees of 1948 have thus grown to 5 or 6 million today (depending on whom you ask). The Arab countries in which the refugees reside – including the PA – refuse to countenance any solution for these people other than “return” to “their homes” in Israel.
The right of return (or compensation, for those who prefer not to return) is sometimes said to be guaranteed by UN General Assembly resolution 194. But the resolution is non-binding, and applies equally to Jewish refugees. It says that refugees “wishing to … live in peace with their neighbors” should be allowed to return “home,” and certainly was not intended for grandchildren yet unborn to do so. It also calls for Jerusalem “to be placed under international control.”
The claim that there is a “right to resist Israeli occupation,” and that such a right justifies Palestinian terrorism against Israel, is a perverse and entirely bogus claim. One formulation argues that the “right” comes from the UN’s 1960 decolonization declaration, and the 4th Geneva Convention. The argument is that because of the illegality of the occupation under the 4th Geneva Convention, Palestinians are subjected to “subjugation, domination and exploitation,” a violation of their human rights forbidden by the decolonization declaration. But together with “the basic right of all human beings to resist their being killed and harmed, and a society to take armed actions to protect itself” this supposedly implies that “all Palestinian attempts to lift the yoke of Israeli oppression” are legitimate.
This is sheer nonsense, from start to finish. Judea and Samaria are not colonies, they are disputed territories that are arguably legitimate parts of Israel. Even if you believe that they are “occupied territories,” the 4th Geneva convention does not make the occupation illegal. And we mustn’t forget that at least 95% of the Arab population there is ruled directly by the PA, not by Israel. The so-called “resistance” is a murderously violent campaign whose objective is to cause the Jewish state to collapse so it can be replaced by an Arab-dominated one.
But supposedly this argument is strong enough to legitimize murder, even mass murder as has been committed multiple times by Palestinian terrorists!
The Narrative is seductive to the uninformed, especially if they are predisposed to support the underdog, whom they believe to be the Palestinians.
Perhaps that’s the final falsehood of the Narrative. The poor, oppressed Palestinians vs. mighty Israel. But of course for all these years they had the entire Arab world with its seemingly infinite oil money behind them. And of course the Europeans, who never met a Jew they didn’t (openly or covertly) dislike.
But now the geopolitical situation is changing, and the Arab nations have bigger problems than the pesky Jews (who never really were a threat to them anyway). The Europeans may not have noticed it yet, but they do too. Much bigger problems.
Maybe now is the time to deploy facts and logic against the Narrative?