Horowitz ad full of holes and pitfalls
This Monday, Sept. 19, Student Life chose to publish an advertisement, titled “The Palestinians’ Case Against Israel is Based on a Genocidal Lie,” sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a group that, according to its website, is “dedicated to the defense of free societies whose moral, cultural and economic foundations are under attack by leftist and Islamist enemies at home and abroad.” In particular, the Center aims to combat what it perceives is a leftist and anti-Semitic trend on college campuses.
In the advertisement, the Center makes two main claims. First, it argues that Israel does not occupy Palestine because “when Israel was created in 1948, there was no Palestine to occupy. There has never been a political entity, state or country called Palestine in the Middle East.” Second, it places the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians, as it claims that “there is one reason and one reason alone that there is no peace between the Arabs and Israel, and this is because since 1948, the Arab aggressors have refused to live side by side with a non-Muslim, non-Arab, Jewish state.” Unfortunately, upon further examination, both of the Center’s points appear extraordinarily problematic, as does the presentation and rhetoric of the advertisement.
The advertisement goes on to argue that when Israel was created, there was no Palestine to occupy, so any arguments that Israel is occupying Palestine are founded on a lie. Palestine, however, was a political entity before Israel was created in 1948. In fact, Palestine has continually existed, in some form or another, since at least 1922, when the League of Nations passed the Mandate of Palestine.
In addition, Palestine had existed as a political entity at various points in history over the course of thousands of years, even if the land had been under the reign of the Ottoman Empire in the years before 1922. In fact, the vast majority of the nations (both Arab and non-Arab) that constitute the Middle East today were part of the Ottoman Empire until the early part of the 20th century, as the Empire had spent hundreds of years conquering land. Their inclusion in a larger empire, however, has no impact on the legitimacy of the nationalistic tendencies among the various populations just as, for example, the nationalistic tendencies of the Lithuanian populace were not illegitimate because that land was included in the USSR in the late 1980s.
Finally, the advertisement’s argument here is built on a semantic house of cards. Even if the land used to create Israel did not have a centuries-long tradition as “Palestine,” the simple fact remains that there were Arab (and other) individuals living on that land in 1948 who now feel as if their land has been unfairly taken. In fact, prior to the creation of Israel, there was nothing other than a set of fairly arbitrary borders separating Palestine from the surrounding Arab countries; therefore, it is certainly logical that, at the time, the population may have identified very strongly with the citizens of those countries rather than as a separate political group. The shared experience of perceived Israeli occupation and oppression over the past 60 years, however, has certainly reinforced (if not created) a Palestinian identity that is separate from the identity of the other Arab states, and there is no reason that this identity is any less valid if it is only 50 years old instead of 70.
The advertisement’s second main argument is that the sole reason for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the refusal of the “Arab aggressors” to live side-by-side with the Israeli state. The truth, however, is that both the Palestinian and Israeli sides have contributed to the fighting in a variety of ways, going back to 1948. In fact, at the beginning of the conflict, up to one million Palestinians were displaced from their homes in the Arab-Israeli War, and many of them have still be unable to return to their homes or claim their property.
In addition, throughout the entirety of the conflict, Israel has established hundreds of settlements in Palestinian territories. In fact, even today, Israel maintains those settlements, despite over 30 years of U.N. resolutions affirming the fact that they violate the Geneva Convention. Moreover, and perhaps more practically, any settlements legitimately hurt the chances of a lasting peace in the area, as they establish Israeli boots on the ground in areas that Palestine would probably claim in any two-state solution, leading to a fractured Palestine crisscrossed with Israeli checkpoints, which would appear to be unacceptable to Palestinian leadership.
Furthermore, Israel has more recently pursued a blockade of the Gaza Strip that has contributed to an extraordinarily high rate of poverty and unemployment in the area. In fact, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, has specifically declared this blockade a human rights violation, as it restricts vital supplies from the Gaza Strip, a classic (and illegal) example of collective punishment. Recently, Israel has eased the blockade somewhat, but a U.N. assessment completed this year concluded that the humanitarian impact of the blockade is still unacceptable, as close to 40 percent of inhabitants are unemployed and more than 50 percent have food insecurity issues.
Finally, not only has Israel participated in a number of initiatives that have indirectly hampered the peace process, but Israel and Israelis have also killed a large number of Palestinians. In fact, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli humanitarian group founded by a number of prominent Israeli citizens, including members of the Knesset, since 1987, Palestinians have killed 1,503 Israeli individuals, while Israelis have killed 6,385 Palestinian individuals.
Obviously, both of the death tolls cited in the preceding paragraph are far too high, and it is certainly not true that Palestine can claim pure victim status in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as there has been a litany of incidents of state-sponsored terrorism and other humanitarian violations over the past 60 years. That being said, it is also impossible to find Israel blameless in this conflict. Instead, both parties to the conflict have committed a variety of acts that have stalled the peace process.
In addition, the highly charged rhetoric and one-sided viewpoint of the David Horowitz Freedom Center advertisement will only lead to equally charged backlash, with any constructive dialogue crushed as a result. Instead of trying to assign blame to one side, the Center (and others) should be working to identify the best way to find peace in the region.
Although the exact nature of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is not yet certain, what is certain is that bold headlines declaring the other side’s position a “genocidal lie” and advertisements crammed with hate-filled rhetoric will only perpetuate violence in the region.
2. Crenshaw, Martha. The Consequences of Counterterrorism. Russell Sage Foundation. 2010. Pg. 356. http://books.google.com/books?id=eqrbWrjrvDAC&pg=PA356#v=onepage&q&f=false
3. United Nations Security Council Resolution 465. 1 March 1980. http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/3822b5e39951876a85256b6e0058a478/5aa254a1c8f8b1cb852560e50075d7d5
4. Associated Press. “U.N. Human Rights Chief: Israel’s Blockade of Gaza Strip is Illegal” 14 Aug 2009. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,539363,00.html
5. “Easing the Blockade.” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. March 2011. Special Report. http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_special_easing_the_blockade_2011_03_english.pdf
6. B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. http://www.btselem.org/statistics