A Geraldo Rivera (“Geraldo at Large”) Fox News Channel special, “Israel Caught in the Crossfire,” filmed in Israel and the Palestinian territories, aired July 8, 2012 (10 PM Eastern). The hour-long documentary – involving Geraldo reporting mostly from Israel and his brother Craig Rivera reporting from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – dealt with several issues including the chances for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs leading to a “two-state solution.”
The first half of the broadcast included Rivera interviewing Israeli officials about the revived controversy surrounding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, four Israeli soldiers who operate an Iron Dome anti-missile battery responsible for destroying incoming rockets from Gaza, Israeli officials concerning threats from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, the American presidential elections, and controversy over conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Major network coverage rarely allows official and other representative Israeli voices such an opportunity to convey their views. In doing so, at no time did any Israeli interviewed propagandize against Arabs or mention any major related problem such as official Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel.
At 35 minutes, Craig Rivera, following a brief interview of a Gaza City hotelier, appeared in Ramallah (West Bank) to speak with Zahi, identified as a “Palestinian businessman” (Zahi Khouri is the Coca-Cola franchisee for the West Bank). Asked how a peace agreement might be achieved, Zahi said: “It takes bold leaders to stand up and say, ‘Look guys, it’s behind us; we need to live together.’ War is not an option.” But then asked, “What are your greatest fears?” Zahi lashed out at the United States and Israel: “Ignorance about the situation in Washington. They are just destroying Israel. They are feeding it with steroids, without thinking about winning the war for peace.”
One of the things we pride ourselves on over the decades of coverage of this conflict is the relationship we have with people on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide. You are about to meet one right now. She is a Palestinian legislator. She is a friend. I have known her for decades. The doctor joins us from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Doctor, thank you so much for being with us. It [West Bank] certainly seems to be doing better than the last time I saw it.
• Note: Ashrawi is not a medical doctor but rather holds a Ph.D. in literature. Rivera uses the term “occupied West Bank” without pointing out the area’s disputed legal and unresolved sovereign status. A more comprehensive term would be “disputed territories” of the West Bank.
Ashrawi responds to Rivera’s greeting by blaming Israel for nearly all problems faced by the Palestinian Arabs:
It is my pleasure to be with you Geraldo. It certainly seems so and appearances can be deceptive. We have tried very hard to build institutions, to create a system of democratic good governance, to energize an economy, to carry out elections. But unfortunately you can go so far with institutions and building before coming face to face with the limits of the occupation. When you have such a strong system of control where your resources are not at your disposal, particularly the water, the land is not at your disposal, there is no freedom of movement for people or goods. You have hundreds and hundreds of checkpoints that separates one Palestinian town from another. So, that limits your ability to function.Unfortunately now, the occupation is redefining itself as a system of control without responsibility and no matter how much we try we are facing — we are in danger of facing a collapse. It’s not that we have a dependent economy on donors. Let me explain — yes, donors have been very helpful. But our own resources are being utilized for the benefit of the occupier. We cannot use them. Seven to 8 billion dollars a year are going to Israel. If we can make use of our 7 to 8 billion that the occupation costs, we certainly would be very prosperous.
Refuting Ashrawi’s charges:
• “Seven to 8 billion dollars a year are going to Israel. If we can make use of our 7 to 8 billion that the occupation costs …” Rivera does not ask what Ashrawi is talking about. A November 2007 CAMERA report showed that “Despite receiving the highest per capita aid in the world [for entities with populations larger than one million] over the past fifteen years [$304 in 2005 second only to the war-torn Republic of Congo that year], the Palestinian economy has declined …” during that period. Most of the cash aid goes to the Palestinian Authority and related non-governmental organizations, and a considerable portion is lost to corruption rather than invested in growth-sustaining private enterprises. The Palestinian populace believes that their government is corrupt. In a recent opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, “…72.9% answered that there is corruption in PA institutions under the control of President Mahmoud Abbas.”
• Ashrawi’s allegation blaming Israel, “resources are not at your [Palestinians’] disposal, particularly the water …” is refuted by several studies: “[W]ater sources and per capita usage among Arabs on the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem [have] increased under Israeli development” ; “[T]he proportion of Israeli usage of West Bank aquifer waters has decreased since the 1950s” ; “Palestinian farmers also routinely overwater their crops through old-fashioned, wasteful flooding methods …[and] at least one-third of the water being pumped out of the ground by the Palestinians (again, in violation of their accords with Israel) is wasted through leakage and mismanagement. No recycling of water takes place and no treated water is used for agriculture” .
“The Water Authority’s report contains figures which not only disprove the claims about discrimination, but which also demonstrate how the Palestinians themselves are responsible for the precarious state of their water supply” . “Since 1967, when Israel began to administer the territories, the Palestinians have received far more fresh water than ever before. Under Israel’s administration, Palestinians’ share of water from aquifers that extend across both sides of the Green Line has risen while Israel’s own share of water from these aquifers has decreased. In addition, and despite water shortages of its own, Israel transfers more than 40 million cubic meters of water per year to Palestinian water providers from aquifers inside pre-1967 Israel – which is the principal source of Israel’s water” .
• Ashrawi’s allegation, “[T]he land is not at your [Palestinians’] disposal …,” is another propaganda bite. Jewish residents in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), live in communities (“settlements”) comprising less than five percent of the West Bank. Israel has started virtually no new communities in the West Bank in years, and withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. What limited new construction in existing settlements that has taken place in recent years has been “in-fill” within pre-existing boundaries. The settlements did not prevent Israeli-Palestinian talks and agreements from the 1993 Oslo accords until 2009. Under the Oslo Accords, Israel turned over control of all the large Palestinian population centers, leaving more than 95 percent of Palestinian Arabs living under their own leadership. Israeli forces reentered them temporarily to counter the terror war of the second intifada. In 2005 Israel’s withdrawal of all its military forces and civilians – 8,000 settlers – was followed by a quadrupling of the number of rocket attacks on Israel proper originating from Gaza.
• The allegation, “[T]here is no freedom of movement for people or goods” is another Ashrawi distortion. Due to incessant attempts by Palestinian terrorists, Israel established various security restrictions, some of which inconvenience Jews as well as Arabs. Israel has curtailed them, including roadblocks and checkpoints, during relatively quiet periods, only to have to reintroduce them when violence again increased. West Bank checkpoints can be compared to stringent security inspections air travelers in the United States have had to pass after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in this country. Further, when Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation improves on the West Bank, the number of West Bank checkpoints has been reduced.
At 49 minutes, Geraldo Rivera asks Ashrawi to comment on the declaration as a World Heritage site of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity “despite the vehement objections of Israel and the United States who fear that decision to declare it as a World Heritage site was more political than cultural [Palestinians sought the status as an endangered World Heritage site seemingly at least partially in order to qualify for UN funds to pay for needed repairs to the church site].”
Ashrawi’s lengthy monologue terminates only with a commercial break:
It is a matter of tremendous concern for us and actually significant to us as Palestinians. We are the heirs and the extension of the oldest existing Christian tradition in the world. We are Palestinian Christians seeking to be vindicated in a sense that Christianity is part of our identity, part of our heritage, part of our culture. We are an ancient culture.I don’t believe it when people say Jerusalem is so-many years Jewish, so-many years Christian, so-many years Muslim. Jerusalem is a land even greater than its religious heritage. It has a people, it has a history, it has a culture. Why not go back to the Canaanites? We can trace our existence back centuries. We feel in a sense that this is a recognition of our identity, of our culture, also of the fact that Christianity is an essential component of this Palestinian identity and it is a tribute to the authenticity of our culture and identity and we want it to be seen as such.But also we want to save this culture and heritage from being annexed, from being distorted, from being confiscated by Israel. And it has done a great deal. You are in the Old City of Jerusalem; it’s a Palestinian city, we’ve been there all our lives. The Palestinians have been there for centuries and yet people are free to call it an Israeli city. It is not. It is an occupied Palestinian city. So, in many ways all of these confiscations attempt at recreating reality and forging a new reality and super-imposing an Israeli existence over Palestinian land. This has been tremendously painful to all of us -– negation of our rights, negation of our identity even as you have heard about negation of our humanity when it talks about our humanity about not loving our children or something. This is very painful. We have been living in captivity under a very brutal military occupation that has confiscated everything. So now, we are trying to reclaim our heritage, our identity and tell the world not only that we exist but that we have rights, we have substance, we have humanity. And the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem … [Rivera invokes a time-out for a commercial break].
• Ashrawi’s claim that the Palestinians “are an ancient culture” whose “existence goes back centuries” is unfounded. Before 1920, as Daniel Pipes, among other scholars, has pointed out, Palestinian Arab nationalism did not exist in any general s ense (see, for example, “The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine,” Summer, 1989, Middle East Review). The “ancient culture” claim invoked by Ashrawi makes use of the fact that the name “Palestinians” derives from “Philistines.” But the Philistines, a Mediterranean Sea people that settled the southwestern coast of Canaan in the 12th century BCE, were not Arabs. They warred intermittently for roughly 700 years with the nearby Israelites, until being defeated by Babylonia just before 600 BCE. The Israelites and their capital, Jerusalem, would fall to Babylonian armies also, in 586 BCE. But whereas the Philistines vanished as a people, the Israelites would return from Babylonian captivity as the Jews, to rebuild Jerusalem and their Temple. Ashrawi’s attempt to rewrite history is transparent to anyone who knows it.
According to a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ article, “Christians Flee Growing Islamic Fundamentalism in the Holy Land”, the central cause of the flight by Palestinian Christians is Muslim intimidation. “This includes assaults by Muslim men upon Christian [Arab] women, demands for ‘protection’ money and illegitimate land seizures.”
Ashrawi has long claimed that she descends from the world’s first Christians. If so, her ancestors most likely were not Arab but rather from among the predominately Jewish and other non-Arab residents of the Holy Land, from whom the first followers of Christ came. The Arab conquest of the area did not occur until six centuries after the time of Christ.
At the 53-minute mark in the report, Rivera asks Ashrawi, Mark Regev (spokesman for the Israeli prime minister’s office) and Dan Gellerman (Israel’s former UN ambassador) for their hopes and outlook regarding the Arab-Israel conflict.
Regev said: “Peace. We and the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world will finally live in peace. The only way to do that is through talking. My government – [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu – calls for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any pre-conditions whatsoever. I know the Palestinians see things differently from us but the only way we are going to bridge gaps is through talking and it is time to start.”
Ashrawi responds with propaganda sound-bites:
I certainly would like to see peace but peace with justice, with humanity, with morality not peace of power politics, of subjugation of the nation or stealing the land and resources, keeping us as though we are a sub human species. We need the peace that is based on international law and on justice which means Israel has to stop stealing our land, stealing our resources, crying peace when at the same time it is destroying the very foundations of peace by annexing Jerusalem, changing the character of Jerusalem, evicting Palestinians, destroying our homes, stealing our water, our resources and saying they want peace. If you want peace you act in a way which is consistent with the requirements of peace. And I hope Israel has the sense to do that because no occupation has ever lasted forever, no subjugation of a nation has ever lasted forever and I am afraid this would backfire in everybody’s faces not just Israel. It will lead to tremendous destabilization of the whole region.
Occupation is a word which has been used and misused over and over again. For the first 20-years of Israel’s existence, as Doctor Ashrari knows very well, we did not occupy one inch of Palestinian soil and yet we did not have one second of peace with the Palestinians. I believe that what we should do is sit down at the table. We should stop making speech making a substitute for peace making and we should get down to business. We are standing here in Jerusalem a city of prayer, of hope, and of miracles. It was Chaim Weizmann, our first president of the state of Israel, who said, “In Israel the impossible we do it once, miracles take a little bit longer.” But I would also like to remind Doctor Ashrawi of what the late Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel said, that “There will not be peace until the Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate us.” Once that happens we can sit down; the differences aren’t that big. We can achieve peace and a life of respect, prosperity and security both for the Palestinians and for the Israelis.